1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

Notes Audio AT10

Rating:
5/5,
  1. WilliamLeonhart
    A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one
    Written by WilliamLeonhart
    Published Aug 5, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - - Extremely musical with more bass than the usual "analytical" ones
    - Looks great with an option to customize
    - Comfortable
    Cons - - Not a 100% complete product
    IMG_3022.jpg
    Bon jour, Vietnam (please read that in Kevin Conroy's voice).

    A troubled two-year start


    A few months ago, stuck in the US with a crappy laptop, I decided to recount my experiences with Vietnamese earphones. Notes NT.100 was among those, and it sure was the epitome of the scene. It was priced for the general public, sounding "ok so-so" albeit nicely packaged. It was at times the focus of many heated arguments - most of which were caused by the "We won't support Vietnamese industries because this is not Vietnamese-ly premium enough for me" mentality that is the norm here.

    Against this background, they still announced the AT10, a product destined to carry the "signature" Notes Audio sound. Yet the NT.100 fame was dying, and to make matters worse, a portion of sold NT.100s had problems with many reports saying it stopped working in one side or the other. Notes Audio disappeared for like 1 or 2 months, popped up to serve all the warranty requests then disappeared again. This time for much longer.

    17358875_1026656870800137_5048309092918023731_o.jpg
    The universal NT100 and the "itsfit" custom tips, from Notes Audio's facebook page. Which alerted me to the fact that they are still here.

    I thought they went out of business. Then all of a sudden, almost 2 years later one of their Facebook posts appeared on my News Feed. They announced a new service called "Itsfit" which offers CIEMs re-shelling and custom tips making. Then they even announced a $800 DAC/amp! Totally surprised, I went to get myself a pair of the tips, only to learn that Notes Audio is very much alive with a much larger team.

    So is the AT10.

    A different approach, a refreshing sound

    The reason (I feel) I have to recount the AT10's troubled history is because, taking into these difficulties, the sound quality is an achievement. Upon trying on the AT10 for the first time, I could already see that it was not developed for the wow factor. It doesn't have that airy sound that entry-level/mid-range IEMs often go for in order to impress first time listener that "our phones are instantly different from your typical mass-produced Beats and Beats clones".

    IMG_3029.jpg
    Perfect for NA NA NA NA NA
    And yet the AT10 is a truly pair for the sound lovers. In comparison with your typical balanced armature IEMs, the AT10 has a distinctively full sound that can easily be associated with dynamic drivers. In the context of that full sound, upon more careful listening, I started to find myself liking the non-boomy but still very pronounced bass, the smoothly harmonic thick mid ranges, the just-enough but detailed trebles.

    Already impressed, I had to spend roughly 1 hour talking the Notes team members into selling me a pair (they was rushing to deliver the first batch to the customers who held onto their pre-orders from 2 years ago). Now with the AT10 free from the iPhone and amped by my domesticated Chord Mojo (or just a humble ODAC+O2 combo), the sound continue to improve.

    IMG_3027.jpg
    A very Vietnamese combo. The O2 + ODAC are DIYed in Vietnam.

    What changed? Well, the layers become less difficult to discern, though the music was still too involving to stop listening and start writing. "How is it that I can't stop listen to this nothing-special sound?" came to my mind. The trebles isn't energetic like Grado, the mids isn't vinyl-honey like Audio-Technica, the bass doesn't punch like Fostex. And yet I still feel like I'm not missing anything. They key is that they play with each other really well to create a clearly harmonic, extremely enjoyable soundscape.

    It would have been customary for me to include a list of songs and how the AT10 perform on each, but for this particular pair, it's hard to. I think the newest, "signature" Notes Audio IEMs remind me of the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650. Not that they sound alike or in the same league, but they're the kind of headphones/earphones that leave you unimpressed at first then only to realize you're not missing anything.

    The devil in the details

    IMG_3030.jpg
    My iPhone doesn't do the AT10 justice. Outside they look really great. Sorta high end.
    IMG_3025.jpg
    This alternative box is water-resistant.


    According to Notes, achieving this sound wasn't easy. They had to custom their own dynamic drivers, had to gone through different design for the housing. Even the two tiny holes (to increase airflows) on the housing took was the results of months of experimenting.

    But the end product, while not quite finished, feels really polished. Not that it shines in the hand like an expensive pair of CIEMs, nor that it emits that wonderful flower-y scent like my Grados when they arrived. The devil is in the details: your ears doesn't hurt after an extended session, because AT10 was designed with the average Vietnamese's earhole size in mind; the cables have special coating to survive our extremely humid (and polluted) atmosphere; and the jack easily "dwarf" other in-ears' to last a longer time in your pants' pockets. The latter was the results of the NT.100's debacle: around 10% of Notes' first product had to get serviced because when the jack deform, you either lose one side of the IEMs or both.

    Anyway, this was all their words. I feel pretty comfortable with the AT10, but I still can't tell how long mine will last yet. Time will tell, but with really special looking (and feeling) cable, my hopes are way up.

    A somewhat unfinished product
    IMG_2873.jpg
    Next to another pair of Vietnamese earphones (AYA Nightingale YK-S) is the white AT10 without any faceplate. Its look didn't win me over.
    IMG_3018.jpg
    A pair of finished AT10 with the LP faceplate as a tribute to Chester Bennington. Notes told me they're looking at many options for customization.
    IMG_3021.jpg
    This beautiful package (on the left) is made by another Hanoian startup. An achievement in itself, because our core industries are not developed yet.
    Yet my AT10 is not a completed product. At first Notes wanted to give a LP-inspired AT10. I wasn't a fan of the band. Then a white AT10 without the "faceplate" that looked almost too cliched. I couldn't stand the heart-shaped plastic look, so I decided that the lightly used Batman-finish in this article was good enough. If anyone asked why mine looks so old, I'd just say the sound make it all up.

    But that's not a cause for complaint. Quite the opposite, it's the cause for celebration. It was a long, long time ago that I first heard about a company that dared make a Vietnamese UIEM product that's not for the masses, a product that is priced about what a normal Vietnamese would pay for earphones/headphones and has the sound quality to match. A product that competes globally, one that can by itself silence all those "oh you're just abusing our national pride to sell" trashtalks that have flooded our Internet for too long.

    I think that my long waiting is over.
      Dobrescu George and maker2708 like this.