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  1. B9Scrambler
    Astrotec S60 5.0: Updated and Enhanced
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published Jul 10, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Improved battery life - Improved connection strength – Improved clarity and tuning balance – Size and comfort
    Cons - Minimal codec support
    Greetings,

    Today we're checking out a new version of Astrotec's S60, an affordable and very competent fully wireless earphone released at the end of 2018.

    While the new variant of the S60 looks virtually identical, it has seem some welcome updates to it's specifications and feature set making it even more versatile than it's predecessor. That said, given the similarities between the two earphones there will be quite a bit of overlap (read: copy/paste with editing) between this review and my prior S60 review. If you get a sense of deja vu, that's why.

    Anyway, let's dive in and see what Astrotec did to improve the S60.

    Disclaimer:

    Thank you to Astrotec for providing a sample of the S60 5.0 for the purposes of review. The thoughts here are my own subjective impressions based on time using the S60 in my daily life. They do not represent Astrotec or any other entity. At the time of writing you could pick up the new S60 5.0 for around 70 USD on Astrotec's official AliExpress store.

    AliExpress: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32945508077.html

    Personal Preferences:

    I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. In 2018 I learned that I no longer have a preferred signature and can understand and appreciate vastly different earphones. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

    Specifications:
    • Driver: Knowles RAF balanced armature
    • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz
    • Sensitivity: 94dB
    • Impedance: 28 ohms
    • Bluetooth: version 5.0
    • Range: 2.40GHz – 2.48GHz
    • Transmission Range: 10m
    • Support: HSP, HFP, A2DP, AVRCP, CVSD, mSBC, SBC, AAC
    • Weight (single earpiece): ~4.6g
    • Weight (charge case, no earpieces): 60g
    • Size (charge case): 64.5mm x 40mm x 27mm
    • Charge Time (earpieces): ~1hr
    • Charge Time (charge case): ~2hrs
    • Battery Life: 16 hours (4, plus an additional 12 from the charge case)
    • Water Resistance: IPX5
    • Charge Methods (charge case): USB Type C, wireless
    What's New?:
    • Bluetooth 5.0 vs. 4.2
    • Improved battery life: 4hrs of playback + 12h extra from the case vs. 3h of playback + 9h from the case
    • Right earpiece is now the primary and phones calls can be taken through either earpiece (left only previously)
    • Enhanced controls. You can now adjust volume; increase with a long press on the right earpiece, decrease with a long press on the left side. Double press on the right earpiece to skip to the next track, double press on the left earpiece to skip to the previous track.
    • The left earpiece can now be shut down independently
    • Improved sound tuning
    P1020652.JPG P1020653.JPG P1020661.JPG

    Packaging and Accessories:

    Packaging is one area where the new S60 differs most from it's predecessor. As seems to be the trend lately, the S60 is shipped in a small cardboard box covered by an outer sleeve. On the front is a classy image of the S60 and it's charge case sitting on a wood surface, a sprig of cattails nearby. Above is the Astrotec logo, and below some model information. Flipping to the back you find listed some features and contact information for Astrotec. Sliding the sleeve off you find a cardboard insert containing directions for pairing the S60 to a device, as well as the correct way to wear them.

    Lifting out the cardboard insert you find the interior split into two sections. The top section has the charge case securely set within a foam insert for protection during shipping. The bottom section contains a small cardboard box. On top, held in place by two tabs, is a plastic sheet in which the spare tips reside. Within the box is a usb-C cable and manual. In all you get:
    • S60 earphones
    • Charge case
    • Four pairs of unique silicone tips
    • usb-C cable
    • Manual
    The included tips are the same as those included with the original S60 and as such are not your traditional tips. Preinstalled would be a set of medium single flange, though they're angled to keep the tip flush with the body of the earphone. Another set is very similar but a fair bit larger. The next set is very squat and wide with three small indents around the base of the single flange. The final set is absolutely tiny and again, single flange. The material used for these tips seems to be of excellent quality. It is flexible, durable, and provides an excellent seal. While the variety in designs in nice, I worry that due to how unusual each tips is, some might have issues finding one that works for them. Lucky for me, the preinstalled set worked perfectly.

    Overall a solid unboxing experience, if somewhat unremarkable.

    Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

    The S60's ear pieces are entirely composed of plastic. The outer half of the shell is glossy black with a large, finely meshed vent for the microphone, while the inner half is matte black with a soft texture and six copper pads, two of which are used for charging. The face plate is one large multifunction button that depresses with a satisfying 'click', and with a pinhole opening for the LED indicator. The plastics seem chosen for lightness and as such do not feel particularly dense, yet they do not feel fragile either. The original version I had dropped a couple times resulting in nothing more than a small scuff on the left earpiece. I suspect the new version will be just as resilient, with scuffs being more visible due to the new coloration. Fit and finish is quite good overall with each component part fitting together nice and snug, including the nozzle mesh which is neatly applied. Of course, this would be necessary in order to achieve the IPX5 water resistance rating the S60 5.0 has been given. This level of protection should mean it0 is well protected from sweat, rain, and other things that would splash liquid on the device.

    The charge case is made from a mixture of metal and plastic. It is quite compact, easily fitting in the palm of your hand. I found it fit perfectly in the tiny change pocket in my jeans. The lid, printed with the Astrotec logo, is all-metal and gives the case a quality feel as well as some heft. This also means the hinge is metal too and plenty durable. The base of the charge case is plastic and looks to use a thicker version of the material found on the colored portion of the earpieces. At first I found it somewhat odd that they chose to make the lid metal. Opening it up all the way causes the case to fall over due to the weight discrepancy, but it makes sense when you realize the case can be recharged wirelessly. Wireless charging doesn't work through metal. The interior is lined with plastic inserts shaped to the ear pieces. The updated charge case for the 5.0 changes the color of the base to matte black, and adds foam padding to the interior to make the ear pieces fit in a bit more sung, and probably provide even more protection from accidental damage. Another nice touch is that the interior is magnetic, so you only have to drop the ear pieces in and they snap into place, exactly where they need to be to start charging. There is a USB Type-C port on the back should you not have a wireless charge pad handy, though I suspect people will have these pads commonly lying around in the coming years. More and more products are supporting this method of charging, and major phone manufacturers like Xiaomi are starting to include them with their products. Including both wireless charging and USB-C is an intelligent bit of 'future-proofing' on behalf of Astrotec. Nice!

    Considering they're filled with electronics, the S60 5.0's ear pieces are impressively compact. Pitting them up against a few fairly popular iems, they are slightly larger than the TinAudio T2 and nearly the same size as the BGVP DMG. Ergonomically it is very similar to the HiFiMAN RE2000, but much lighter and with all the edges rounded off. As a result of this very familiar shape and traditional ergonomics, the S60 5.0 feels like every other earphone, avoiding annoyances like ear hooks that other fully wireless earphones have to employ to keep them stable and secure. This also means the S60 5.0 is very comfortable and has an extremely low profile, so they are quite versatile. I have no issues using them while lying in bed, out in windy weather, or wearing them under a toque (Canadian winter hat).

    When it comes to passive noise isolation the S60 5.0 does a good job. There is ample ventilation sure, but the use of armatures instead of dynamic drivers and a form fitting design does a good job of blocking exterior noise. I can easily listen to the this earphone at fairly low volumes in noisy areas like the local coffee shop, and when walking around the city. They won't be replacing something with active noise cancellation, but they're certainly above average when compared to similar products.

    P1020675.JPG DSC_0898.JPG DSC_0904.JPG

    Sources and Connection:

    For the purposes of testing, a few different devices were enlisted for pairing with the S60 5.0; LG G6, LG G5, Asus FX53V laptop, F.Audio S1, Shanling M0, and Shanling M1. Taking the right earpiece out of the charge case automatically has it searching for a source device. Right is now the primary, while left is the secondary, opposite to the original S60. They automatically locate and connect with each other when out of the case too, which is nice. I have yet to experience the ear pieces unexpectedly disconnecting from each other. The S60 5.0 was quickly recognized and paired reliably with everything, including my Shanling devices which the original S60 refused to communicate with. This is awesome because when paired with the M0, you have a killer gym or workout setup.

    As with the original S60, connection quality was strong and stable. Where the original S60 would sometimes stumble on the initial connection, then stabilize, the new S60 was rock solid right off the bat. However, a few times I did experience random disconnects using the 5.0 with my laptop. Odd because I was only a few feet from the device with zero obstacles in the way.

    Range is average at 10m (~33ft). I'm able to set my source in a central location and listen pretty much anywhere in my apartment. As as is often the case when you start introducing obstacles or cover the source or earphones with your hand, the connection to stutter and potentially drop entirely. Compared to the original S60, the new 5.0 version provided a more stable experience through obstacles. Leaving my source in my office and crossing the apartment to the kitchen (around a corner and behind a wall with various pieces of furniture and electronics in the way) resulted in the original S60 stuttering where the new S60 didn't miss a beat. I wasn't expecting the connection quality to be any better. Glad I was proven wrong.

    Overall I find the connection quality to be quite stable and reliable, with only occasional hiccups that do little to mar the experience.

    Battery Performance:

    The S60 5.0 is rated for 4 hours of listening time plus an additional 12 from the charge case. This gives users a combined total of 16 hours of use. I was already pleased with the original S60's 12 hours combined given how tiny the earpieces are, so this was a welcome and unexpected upgrade. In my time with the S60 5.0, at the low volumes I listen I was able to reach the claimed four hours of use with ease. This was evident by the S60 dying just after I started my lunch break which is four hours after the start of my typical work day. As with the original S60, you are notified when the battery is running low. You can also check the battery life indicator added to the notification bar at the top of your device's screen, pending that feature is supported by your device

    It was nice to see that despite the additional battery life, charging the ear pieces still only take around an hour. That said, I rarely run them to empty, instead opting to top them up after every listen when I chuck the case back in my pocket. Not a best practice for battery longevity, but convenience wins out there. Charging the case itself still only take around two hours as well. Since the new S60 took over the old as my secondary daily driver for the duration of testing, I'd pop the case on the charger every couple days to ensure I never had to worry about running out of juice when out and about, or going away for the weekend.

    DSC_0905.JPG P1020667.JPG DSC_0895.JPG

    Sound Quality:

    The S60 5.0 does not sound vastly different from it's predecessor, however, the changes made do result in an improved signature. Given their similarities, I'm not going to go in depth with sound impressions and instead briefly outline the improvements Astrotec dialed in.

    Compared to the original, the 5.0 is slightly brighter with seemingly better extension. I found this improved clarity and gave the sound stage a small bump as well. The upper ranges sound more energetic which is probably the first thing a listener would pick up on when a/b'ing the two models.

    The 5.0's midrange is slightly more forward and a hint leaner which again helps improve clarity and vocal coherence. I found myself enjoying mid-focused tracks more through the S60 5.0 as a result since it provided a more well-rounded experience than it's predecessor.

    Bass was improved too with the mid-bass hump being dialed back a bit. This lets the S60 5.0's decent extension stick out a bit more. Texturing is improved too, and the lessened mid-bass makes this little balanced armature's punchiness and speed more prominent.

    Overall the new S60 is slightly brighter with a more forward, leaner mid-range and less low end thickness. Sound stage is slightly deeper but around the same size. It's a more detailed and well-rounded tune overall.

    Select Comparison:

    Nuforce Optoma BeFREE8 (149.00 USD): The BeFREE8 has a more v-shaped signature than the S60 5.0 with it's single micro-dynamic offering up better end to end extension. It's bass is deeper, hits harder though with less control, and is similarly textured. It's mid-range is a touch thinner and less prominent with similar air between notes. Treble is more prominent with more upper emphasis giving the BeFREE8 additional sparkle. Some might find this tiring, others might find it more engaging. Either way, I think it suits the v-shaped sound. The S60 5.0's upper end enhancements bring it's treble more in line with the BeFREE8, but with better control. The BeFREE8 has a larger and more spacious sound stage with more accurate imaging. Whereas against the previous S60, I found the BeFREE8 superior, I would put it on par with the revised S60 5.0.

    In terms of the rest of the product, they trade blows quite well with the new S60 5.0 coming up strong. First up, the BeFREE8 no longer has better battery life at 16 hours total. They both have 4 plus an extra 12 from the charge case thanks to the S60's enhancements. Given the BeFREE8's earpieces are larger and less ergonomic, this really makes the S60 5.0 look good. The charge case is almost twice the size of what Astrotec created and is all plastic with no support for wireless charging. Another point for Astrotec. Connection quality to the source device is pretty equally reliable between the two. Despite the BeFREE8 using some unique tech to connect the ear pieces to each other (NMFI), the S60 certainly wasn't shamed and was more resistant to forced disconnects (i.e. deliberately blocking the connection). NMFI is great when the ear pieces are being used properly and disconnects are very rare, but as soon as you take them out of line of each other the secondary ear piece will disconnect. I've found in the year and a bitI've been using them, it has led to the primary ear piece always running low on battery first. This is not a problem with either version of the S60.

    Despite the huge discrepancy in price, I enjoyed my time with the S60 5.0 more than I have with the BeFREE8, an earphone I am very familiar with by this point. With the new S60 5.0 you are no longer giving up anything to the BeFREE8 in terms of sound quality or battery life. And in my opinion the S60 is the more compact, comfortable, and overall more convenient product to take with you. While I haven't been able to take advantage of it yet, I consider the ability to wirelessly charge the case and USB Type-C big pluses since those are becoming more common place features and are absent in the pricier BeFREE8.

    Final Thoughts:

    The S60 5.0 isn't a rewrite of the Astrotec's truly wireless entry, but a refinement and enhancement of the overall experience. Everything about the product has seen tweaking here and there, even the packaging which is more compact and environmentally friendly. Visually it has been updated with a new colour scheme. Audio quality is similar but enhanced with a more balanced signature and mild technical buffs. New features have been added too, like additional media controls and Bluetooth 5.0 support. Even the case saw a simple addition in the form of foam in the lid to ensure a more secure connection for charging when the lid is shut. Can't forget about the extra four hours of battery life either.

    If you're looking for a sub-100 USD truly wireless earphone and do not want to pick up one of the numerous rebrands smattering the market, the new S60 5.0 is a great choice. Like the original, it is one of the more attractive, comfortable, and overall competitive offerings to cross my plate.

    Thanks for reading!

    - B9Scrambler

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Some Test Tunes:

    Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
    Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
    King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
    King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
    Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
    Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
    Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
    Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
    Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
    Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
    The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
    Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
    Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
    Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
    The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
    Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
    Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
    Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
    Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
    Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)
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