AUDIOSENSE AQ3

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Pros: Smooth natural timbre, Vocal presence, Tonal balance, Solid construction
Cons: Weak bass, average definition, imaging and soundstage, no treble sparkle-decay
AUDIOSENSE AQ3 REVIEW

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SOUND: 7.5/10
CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN: 9/10
PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES: 9/10
VALUE: 7.5/10
AUDIOSENSE is a very promising Chinese earphones company that stand apart of the crowd because of their collaboration with Knowles company for the creation of multi-BA earphones. The best achievement they did until now is their flagship 8BA earphones call T800, which offers warm and bassy analytical sound in a panoramic soundstage. As well, single BA T180 was a great value and well-tuned iem with its limitation. Because of my overwhelming love for the T800, my expectation was surely excessive with the new AQ3 model, which is a Hybrid universal custom scoring 2 Knowles BA and 1 dynamic driver.
At 180$, the AQ3 enter one of most competitive sound value range which is the sub-300$ market and to some extent, it means it competes with it’s bigger brother the T800, but as well with IKKO OH10, Ibasso IT01s, Dunu DK2001, Oriolus Finschi, BQEYZ Spring1 etc.
Can it enter this bloody audio battle arena and win it? Let’s see in this review.
You can buy the AQ3 for 179$ directly from the official Audiosense shop HERE.

INTERN
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The AQ3 use 3 drivers. 2 Knowles balanced armature for mids and highs and one 10mm Titanium diaphragm dynamic driver for bass. All drivers are connected with a sound tube, which shows how serious acoustic design was done. Still, I’m not sure connecting a 10mm dynamic drivers with a small tube is a good idea.
PACKAGING
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Compared to all other T series models with the exception of T800, the packaging and accessories is an improvement. Well, it’s all about the fancy waterproof pelican case in fact, as the cable is the same nice 8cores SPC one as lower range models. We have a generous amount of memory foams ear tips too (3 pairs) and 3 pairs of silicone ear tips.
CONSTRUCTION
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The construction is very nice, it’s made of 3d print resin plastic shell and a carbon fiber back cover with a metal nozzle and tightly implemented mmcx connector in housing. The housing is soft and slippy, it do not become hot or cold easily and the organic shape is very comfy. For a universal hybrid, the body isn’t that big at all, and way smaller than T800 model. The metal nozzle is quite long, so you will not encounter a fitting issues with the AQ3, in fact, they are among the most comfortable iem I own.
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CABLE is, as always with Audiosense, of higher quality than what we could expect. Its a 8cores silver-plated cable with L jack. The mmcx connector are solid and the braiding is soft enough. You don’t need to upgrade cable with the AQ3, this one do its job perfectly.
DRIVEABILITY
At 18ohm of impedance and 102db of sensitivity, these are rather easy to drive and any audio source will do. Still, I would suggest pairing it with vivid and clear sounding DAP or DAC-AMP, so the overall sound gain in dynamic and clarity. These don’t like a warm or unclean audio source.
ISOLATION
These block noise quite intensely, in fact, if you use memory foam it will become dead silent around you. As well, sound leakage is plain non-existent even at high volume. This can be very interesting for people recording vocal in home studio or working in an environment invade by people that suffer of hyperacusis.
SOUND
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SOUND SIGNATURE is a somewhat tamed W shape approach, where the mids, lower-highs have more emphasis. It’s a mellow near neutral sound, without any peaks anywhere, for the better and the worst. The bass have good weight but lack extension and find it’s place between boomy and muffled. MIDS are forwards, clear and full sounding, smooth without any sibilance but not very transparent or airy. VOCAL are very nice and surely the highlight of AQ3, they have a sense of emotional immediacy and emphasized presence. TREBLE is more about the lower and mid-treble, it soft, not particularly vivid, snappy or sparkly, no decay whatsoever, but good balance with rest of sound signature which is warm, slightly V shape with extra mids push and rolled off upper treble.
TIMBRE is soft, slightly warm, thick and free of any grain which is inherent to texture, so, not a lot of texture details either. Between liquid and lush.
TONALITY is natural, organic, very smooth without any balance issue. Balance is good but lack flexibility.
SOUNDSTAGE is intimate, taller than wider, with minimal deep. You are in the middle of the stage, with the signer at one feet of you backed with all it’s band.
IMAGING is very average and hollow due to a serious lack of space between instrument making it okay with layering but in a too compressed way.
THE GOOD part of AQ3 is its balanced tonality, natural timbre, and lush mid-range.
For the BASS, it’s well-controlled and has good weight and punch in mid bass. I like this mid-bass punch wich is well rounded without being too aggressive. It’s thigh, without a lot of decay and texture is soft.
The MIDS are rightly done, and I consider that rare in Chi-Fi. No sibilance, thick enough timbre with just enough transparency to show the background layer. Just a hint warm, they are gentle and natural. Vocal stay centered, they don’t invade sound spectrum and overshadow everything but still have an extra presence that saves them of sounding recessed. In some sense, the AQ3 is mid-centric in musicality but flat in technicalities.
HIGHS are on the line with the rest of the frequencies, percussions have body, they aren’t just made of ‘’metal’’, as well, they are nuance. No treble peaks, no aggressivity, but good macro-resolution.
THE SO-SO part of AQ3 is that it’s too gentle and lacks excitement, as well the whole sound tends to sound overly intimate. If you search for big airy soundstage or sharp imaging, you should pass.
BASS does not extend down to 20hz and is a little dulled in texture and presence with the exception of mid-bass. This dynamic driver really struggles to render proper sub bassline, which can sound muffled.
MIDS though great can congest with whole sound due to lack of edge and definition.
TREBLE lacks sparkle, snap and decay extension.
THE SHAMEFUL part is that the lower bass can create distortion at high volume, struggling with its airflow (or rumble). In fact, the whole bass isn’t good and I think it’s due to sound pressure in tube connecting it, the air just feels muffled, compressed, unnatural. As well, congestion does appear with busy track and even with simple music, pinpointing exact instrument position is more about the power of imagination here.
COMPARISONS
VS IKKO OH1 (140$)
Here, the AQ3 sound seriously more flatter-balanced and smooth in timbre compared to more U shape and bright OH1, which is more on the fun side of tuning.
Soundstage feels deeper and airier with OH1, and well, wider too, making the AQ3 sound a little congested at its side. Imaging while more intimate with AQ3, cover whole frequency equally with its sound layers, where the OH1 forgets enlightening a good amount of lower mids and give a lot of space to highs for wider separation. BASS is more cranked up in sub-region with the OH1, giving weightier slam and boosted presence for subline, AQ3 is just above flat, with average body and shy extension, concentrating its impact in more rounded mid-bass, but overall bass is slower with AQ3 and even weak at high volume. MIDS are more forwarded, thicker and softer with AQ3, free of any sibilance, wich the OH1 has time to time, timbre is brighter and more upper mids peaky with OH1 but this gives a more vivid attack and edgy resolution. TREBLE of both are on the delicate relaxed side, but AQ3 highs are thicker where OH1 is more sparkly and snappy, again, I feel whileAQ3 gives richer highs, it tends to lack brilliance and air to capt the attention like the OH1.
All in all, while I prefer the OH1 for its bass, soundstage and sharper clarity, the AQ3 has a more gentle and mature tuning.
VS MOONDROP STARFIELD (110$)
Both of these are rather mid centric, but the biggest difference is in how the sound expands in the air, Starfield having bigger soundstage to offer more spacious rendering.
SOUNDSTAGE is notably wider while the AQ3 has a strange mix of tallness and deepness making spatiality a little awkward. IMAGING is more holographic with the Starfield, which is due to a mix of better transparency and spatialization realism. BASS is thicker and more punchy in mid-bass with the AQ3, but its warmer and less detailed and do not extend as well in sub-region as Stardfiled bass, which is more transparent and have a better transition to mid-range too. MIDS are more intimate and slightly more forwards with the AQ3, but they are less wide and airy and lack the definition edge of the Moondrop, which in the end is tonally more accurate. TREBLE of both these iem is rather soft, but I feel the Moondrop is better balanced in highs and has more natural decay too.
All in all, the AQ3 cruelly lacks bass control and extension of Starfield, as well as soundstage spaciousness and overall tonal cohesion refinement.
CONCLUSION
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Audiosense AQ3 delivers addictively lush vocal and impressively natural timbre for a hybrid earphone, but this do not mean they are well-tuned. While tonal balance isn’t bad, the weakest point is the bass response which affects the whole listening experience, as well, the use of 3 sound tubes results in a very intimate soundstage lacking in spatial layerings.
As my biggest hope for the AQ3 is to have better bass response than the ”all BA” T800, I must admit my disappointment is intense because T800 has better bass in both impact and control.
My suggestion is simple: skip this one and jump directly on the T800.


For more honest reviews, go to my official website HERE
Pros: Exceedingly well balanced, superb detail retrieval, smooth and clear treble, articulate mids, tight rich bass, realistic timbre, holographic staging with pin point positioning, imaging almost on par with the T800, premium build quality, design and overall package, zero physical or auditory fatigue
Cons: Doesn't amp quite as well as some (conversely plays well from any good source) and low sensitivity means not total 'headbangers' , be nice if the bass extended a touch with a bit more rumble
Only my second review so apologies in advance. I realised nobody seems to be reviewing Audiosenses transition into the world of Dynamic Drivers with the AQ3 being their first (hopefully of many) Hybrid available in the world markets.

Essentially they've taken some of the tech found in the revered T800, using a high and very high frequency Knowls balanced armature but using a high quality Titanium Dynamic Driver to take care of the lower and lower mid frequencies with the sound being presented to the ear via thessame 3 precision frequency guid funnels all encased in a stunning perfect translusant resin case as with the T800.

Unboxing is pretty much identical to the T800 opening the same black box you find the kit all nicely presented in a large premium plastic case, still unsure of this as its way to big to be a portable solution for the IEM's but could come on handy if your also lugging round a smalltto medium sized dac/DAP. Inside you find the IEM's, the same 8 core silver plated braded cable (which is fine, behaves well with excellent chin slider although for this review I did also use the TRN PURE silver 8 core cable for added clarity and response throughout), bag of silicon and bag of foam tips with a tiny servicing brush. You will likely need to be using the included tips as the nozzle of the AQ3 is larger than many I've come across, I did manage to stretch a pair of T400 foamies on just, split a pair trying though. I'm measuring the nozzle at over 6mm. After a bit of tip rolling I settled on the included medium sized foamies for testing.

Build quality is the usual exceptional standards set by Audiosense from a distance the could easily be confused with the T800, very similar style Carbon fibre face plate with the company logo tastefully descrete but with a lighter more silvery colour scheme Similarly using the same hypoallergenic translusant resin (do people really get reactions) again in a lighter color scheme allowing you to see deap into the guts of the AQ3 reveling ,as advertised, the 2 balanced armatures and a beafy looking 10mm Dynamic Driver with the 3 perfectly formed funnels feeding through to the nozzle ,unlike the T800 there's a more conventional screen, I'm hypothesising this act to dampen some of the more intense high frequencies, an issue with the T800. Looking around the shell you'll find another addition all small 'Bass Blowhole' for the Titanium driver to really 'breath'. All in all a very premium rugged design and build. More so their outrageously comfortable ,relatively light with great ergonomics and a nice deap (not invasive) nozzle. I had these on for hours at a time with zero fatigue

To the sound, as is traditional starting from the bass but pertinent to the AQ3 with the first incarnation of a DD in an Audiosense branded iem (they've been making iems under different names for years), evidence that their no one trick pony using just Knowles Balanced Armature. Bass frequencies produced by the premium Titanium Dynamic Driver are exceedingly tight, resolved and accurate, there is some sub bass rumble but not a lot of extention, it's more a case of controlled acute bass than teeth rattling sub here. This tight bass reproduction of the Titanium Dynamic Driver isn't indifferent from that of a BA bass driver and I think a stroke of genius as means it more naturally blends with the mid and upper frequency BA's. Despite being balanced armature the T800 actually reaches lower than the AQ3 but the AQ3 does more textured real bass. There's plenty of mid bass slam and upper mids slide smoothly into the mids with a very realistic timber (as there is throughout).

They've really gone to town tuning the AQ3 and from talking to them their extremely proud of the results. The T800's an astonishingly accomplished earpiece but could never be described as a balanced/neutral tuning. Despite being a hybrid the transition from the lower frequencues produced from the DD to the higher frequencies is absolutely seemless. Mids are exceedingly balanced and articulate with both male and female vocals being bang on perfect in the mix and mid frequency instruments perfectly poised with sounds scaling seemlessly into the treble, they really have done a stunning job with the crossovers

Handled purely by the Knowles drivers I was immediately impressed by how smooth the treble presents (in contrast to the T800 and its upper mid/lower high peaks). As expected micto detail retrievals excellent and higher frequency instruments like strings are very realistic and accurate. These aren't detail canons like the T800, trebles much smoother and more 'polite' . As with vertually everything I heard its just well done, perfectly tuned.

At first I found the staging just average but after a 10hr burn and some more listening it just expanded massively comparable to the T800 which is no mean feet, I did notice however on more complex music the AQ3 does struggle to keep up with the T800 but in gaming or watching well rendered film staging was almost holographic with pin sharp positioning. Imaging and stereo imaging is about as good I've heard on an iem easily beating my £350 Akg and again nearly on par with the T800.

I haven't heard many Hybrids in this price/class but from what I have heard their well priced (around £145 currently). Perhaps the Shouer Tape would be the closest mid-fi Hybrid and I'd take the AQ3 every time, it's just so seemlessly tuned much smoother through the frequencies and just generally better resolved.

Probably my first but also concluding impression of the AQ3 is its almost the bastard love child of well tuned DD iem like the Tin hifi T4 and sorted all BA like the T800. Taking the warmer tonality, more textured bass and lovely realistic timber of a quality Dynamic Driver blended with the pin sharp accuracy of a well tuned BA iem like the T800 with zero perceptible transition. If I could only take one I'd still take the T800 as it does things very few iems do but if you want a far more accessible and affordable iem for all occasions and genres you can't go wrong and I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if it were the AQ3. Probably my only criticism might be its so balanced it might lack that character of some earphones, not extending to almost artificial lows or indeed highs (that can be fun), it's just a sorted iem,possibly the best tuned I've heard at least and a great accomplishment by a company clearly passionate about their products. The AQ3's not a perfect 10 but not far off at its price point

Edit: Audiosense have since updated me that the AQ3 has an electronic crossover used on high high end Sony iems, this explains such a seemless marriage of the two technologies
R
rprodrigues
I've found the same conclusion. I will give the AQ3 a try.
Thank you.
XERO1
XERO1
FYI, it is impossible for any IEM that uses a conventional headphone connector to have an active crossover. An active crossover would require a separate power supply in addition to the signal coming from the source.
C
Captainbeefturd
Hi xeros, maybe that was lost in translation, have edited. Maybe they just meant just electronic crossover?

Comments

Gadzooks! Is there any reason for an unholy apprentice to this tortured path not to be bamboozled to the foundations of his bosom by what fully appear to be flat contradictions in the space of but two detailed reviews fresh off the bat? One claims the "imaging" is dismal, the other among the best he's ever heard! This is of course only one of many features within these reviews that generate when cross-referenced more confusion in the punter than almost anything else, and for one who has only just popped the AQ3 into his Ali X wheelbarrow in anticipation of the 'sale', it's all enough to explode into one giant BAH HUMBUG and rain down in pieces of molten, perfectly frustrated pieces......
 
Gadzooks! Is there any reason for an unholy apprentice to this tortured path not to be bamboozled to the foundations of his bosom by what fully appear to be flat contradictions in the space of but two detailed reviews fresh off the bat? One claims the "imaging" is dismal, the other among the best he's ever heard! This is of course only one of many features within these reviews that generate when cross-referenced more confusion in the punter than almost anything else, and for one who has only just popped the AQ3 into his Ali X wheelbarrow in anticipation of the 'sale', it's all enough to explode into one giant BAH HUMBUG and rain down in pieces of molten, perfectly frustrated pieces......

Is indeed a puzzle, I'm suspecting their may have been some quality control issues in the early batches (Audiosense did admit to having difficulties) combined with the fact this is a very subjective game on the whole, which could of lead to disparities with as you illude to, reputable reviewers having very different impressions (myself excluded from the 'reputable'). After a couple more months listening and seeing other reviews, I stand by 95% my comments, I hardly bother with my T800's anymore. I amend that they are more of a W shaped tuned to the ear, the forward mids threw me. My set certainly have more distinct imaging than eg my T800s and brauder staging. Staging seems a very subjective thing what can be Broad to some can be narrow to others. When I wrote my review I used a flat EQ, from seeing other comments I played around with elevated bass and they do do basshead more than earlier impressions (quite linear from the box) and become a more pronounced V shape then but still not much bass extension to my ears. There are very few universally acclaimed iems I know of, of the few I've seen even then impressions vary quite widely
 
Woukd it be amiss if me to suggest that at some point, reviewers such as NymPHONOmaniac get kind of (wait for it) 'spoiled' by the many audio riches they have at their disposal and operate, so to speak, with standards, reference-points and expectations that are beyond many of us? I'm a pretty severely disenchanted headfier at this point, as it happens, every one of my IEMs having either failed for some reason or are sounding terrible to me now. Yes I have all the 'fabled' ones, probably all falling into the sub $200 zone; yes I have an Atom amp, yes I have tried all the best tips... but the truth is every one of them now sounds metallic, pinched,. and dreadfully unmusical to my ears.. Which is why I am desperately hoping that paying over 300 NZ clams to acquire an AQ3 will make a new dimension of aural pleasure available to me!


I should probably have stayed with the string of joyful exaltant reports beneath the Ali listing itself!


But Captain Beef Turd I do thank you for being unrepentant! And just to make quite quite sure, you are saying that the AQ3 even beats out the T800 as far as you're concerned? Aren't you?
 
Woukd it be amiss if me to suggest that at some point, reviewers such as NymPHONOmaniac get kind of (wait for it) 'spoiled' by the many audio riches they have at their disposal and operate, so to speak, with standards, reference-points and expectations that are beyond many of us? I'm a pretty severely disenchanted headfier at this point, as it happens, every one of my IEMs having either failed for some reason or are sounding terrible to me now. Yes I have all the 'fabled' ones, probably all falling into the sub $200 zone; yes I have an Atom amp, yes I have tried all the best tips... but the truth is every one of them now sounds metallic, pinched,. and dreadfully unmusical to my ears.. Which is why I am desperately hoping that paying over 300 NZ clams to acquire an AQ3 will make a new dimension of aural pleasure available to me!


I should probably have stayed with the string of joyful exaltant reports beneath the Ali listing itself!


But Captain Beef Turd I do thank you for being unrepentant! And just to make quite quite sure, you are saying that the AQ3 even beats out the T800 as far as you're concerned? Aren't you?
Hey my friend, apologies for the late reply lots going on as you'd appreciate, although sounds like NZ doing something right, either that or enjoying it's splendid isolation.

You might be on to something, there does seem to be a need to critique sometimes. There are some reputable reviewers who've been lucky enough to have tried some tremendous gear who totally rate the AQ3 however, for example Porta Fi loves them and has a very similar impression to mine. I do find he gives a very honest opinion of what he likes and doesn't fall into many of those over hyped sub 200usd. He also found it very well balanced with excellent mids, linear bass and great staging. I've found myself agreeing with more of his stuff than any other reviewers personally, in fact 100% of the time from my purchases.

And yes I do prefer the AQ3 in 80% of situations except where it gets really complex where the t800's speed really pays off but there's a lot of work taming that upper mid spike, even with a knowels damper, to much hassle for my liking
 
The BIGGEST obstacle for me, what finally does my head in, I might identify as just this: the unfortunate uniformity of language and terminology that now seems unavoidable quite regardless of whether one is discussing a sub $200 offering OR something costing much (even much, much) more than that.

To an often technically stupefied person like myself, who to this day can't really tell a "spike" from a "hump", but who nonetheless has the most acute of sensitivities to all things aural, audio, and musical in general, there presents itself in words no obvious qualitative DISTINCTION between what is spoken of (at great length!) at the level of sub $100, sub $200 items and those costing twice, three times as much and more.

Seeking to determine from a review exactly what it is puts such and such a 400 clam earphone at several removes in its performance from its substantially cheaper brothers, Iargely fail. A reader can find nothing but a largely interchangeable description of events from which he can have no way of really knowing, from the details of the review itself - that is, if we absent any and all reference to price point - what definitively *distinguishes* these higher priced earphones from their lesser competitors and, needless to say, what might motivate him to choose them before he chooses their cheaper kin.


OMG,. I can only hope I have made the nature of this my distress clear to people! Soooo sorry to have so many woes!
 
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