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Astell & Kern Billie Jean review


Would you buy the AK Billie Jean?

  1. Yes

  2. No

  3. Will consider/KIV

  1. Focux
    Dear folks,

    This is my first review on Head-Fi, pardon and kindly notify me if there are areas which need polishing.

    For the longest i have been using my iPhone X as my main source for music (well not really it was only launched less than a year back). Earlier today i finally got a microSD for my Fiio X3 Gen 1 DAP (real old by now), managed to transfer all my files (mostly FLAC but 16bit). As i'm very used to how music sounds from my iPhone, i do apologize in advance if i may have missed out something that i should be aware of. Main IEM has been the IE80 for around 5 years along with the discontinued Sony XBA-40. These Billie Jean's are USD349 (now you get some bluetooth freebie). Bought these in Singapore for SGD499.
    Without further ado, here is my, "review" :)

    Packaging/contents etc.
    Fit and finish are up to par, no demerit points there (pictures don't do these justice), cable might appear cheap to some but it does the job just fine (hated IE80 stock cables). Standard gold plated L jack, 2 pin connector, palm sized carrying coin-like zip case with extra tips inside a zip-lock of it.

    Jerry's face on the back


    Admittedly, i am a sucker for anything red or with streaks of it

    "Bore" seems to stick out somewhat

    Testing "equipment"

    yeah went out to get a microsd just for this lolol :L3000:

    Very old Fiio X3 Gen 1 (EQ off, gain set on High)

    Sennheiser IE80 (both IEM's are similarly priced where i am)

    Songs used:
    Paramore - Misery business, That’s what you get
    Simple Plan - Your Love Is a Lie
    Muse - Butterflies and Hurricanes, Time Is Running Out
    FIR - Our Love (mandarin)
    The Unguided - Collapse My Dream
    Rainie Yang - Black Moon
    Coldplay - Viva La Vida
    Michael Jackson - Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean
    Ayumi Hamasaki - Is this love, Mad World (Japanese)
    Avril Lavigne - When You’re Gone, My Happy Ending, Nobody’s Home
    Evanescence - Bring Me To Life, My Last Breath,
    Green Day - Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Basket Case
    Cigarettes after sex
    Dean Lewis – Waves
    The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Face Down
    Ed Sheeran - Perfect

    IE80: Single Dynamic Driver
    AKBJ: Dual Balanced Armature

    Both are within about SGD30-50 of each other

    Impressions of IE80 (with songs played above)

    sort of veiled in comparison

    could be smoother

    vocals nowhere near as pronounced or put forward

    sub bass sounds sort of muddy

    At times comes across as thick and opaque

    AK BJ:
    more defined imaging

    Hear more bass than actually feeling it (sometimes a tad too much on the ie80, DD driver afterall)

    Separation better than IE80 but sound stage not so

    Extension on highs fairly defined

    Pace is enjoyable

    Generally warmer sound sig

    Cymbals, percussion shakers and maracas are very well articulated, quite a joy across all tracks

    AK BJ more articulate overall

    Timbre is good

    Just about as prominent as mids are, hear more than feel it. Clear and not muddied

    Tight and punchy


    Well presented, not too forward but definitely more present than the IE80’s.


    Rather defined and doesn’t sound airy and upper treble doesn’t seem to roll off (YMMV)


    Separation is distinct, much better than the IE80’s. cymbal hits come across well structured and crisp, decay is welcomingly gradual

    Sound stage/Imaging:

    Sound stage nowhere as wide as the IE80 but definitely not shabby by any means. Imaging is good; no issue with L/R/U/D


    "Holistic" overall presentation

    Very smooth mid-range

    Comes across as intimate sounding

    Built quality doesn’t disappoint


    For some reason,

    Comfort could be better

    Accessories package or rather the lack thereof are utter rubbish lol

    Some closing brain farts:
    For some reason I feel that my DAP is faulty but I could be wrong. Highs came across harsh to my ears but I suspect this has to do with my source (tested on laptop, iPhone X and Fiio X3 Gen 1). Gain was set on high during testing. That aside, the song Billie Jean was an immense joy to listen to (yeah the name ikr); it was as though this IEM was tuned for this song but of course I’m going off tangent here. Us and them by Pink Floyd was also a pleasure. The entire album by Cigarettes after sex was darn soothing in every aspect (especially K and Apocalypse). Basket Case and 21 Guns were very smooth throughout; I particularly enjoyed Perfect by Ed Sheeran as the snare drums were real sharp and with the strumming of guitars accompanied by Ed's voice, this track was very wholesome.

    Will edit this OP in time as the BJ's get more burn in time and also give updates to my impressions using S sized tips (review was conducted with default M sized ones). Please do share with me your thoughts, will do my best to answer your questions if any :gs1000smile:
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2018
    TigerAlex, hotdog108 and youurayy like this.
  2. youurayy
    Great review! How resolving are these when compared to the XBA-4 ?
  3. Focux
    hi sorry, don't mind me but how do u mean by, "resolving"?
  4. youurayy
    Hi, by "resolving" I mean the reproduction of details -- i.e. In the visual domain you can compare that to different "resolutions" of a monitor, e.g. 1024x768 vs 3840x2160.

    The opposite of "resolving" would be "veiled" or "muddy", or something like that.
  5. Focux
    oh i see,

    hmm, i'd say a solid 8/10 minimum
  6. crinacle
    Here's some constructive criticism if you don't mind.
    • 4 pictures of the packaging is too much. Select one or two (the fourth picture shows enough information), the rest is just "noise".
    • Cut down on the pictures. Two pictures at the same angle just with/without flash is too much. Random picture of tips in a bag also not necessary.
    • Random picture of an SD card still in the packaging. Just a description is enough.
    • Picture of an old FiiO DAP and a Sennheiser IE80 in a review about the Billie Jean. Not necessary, just a description is enough. However, a shot of the IE80 and the Billie Jean together may be more useful.
    • I'm fine with the short bullet-point writing style but I think it's a little too shallow. Not saying that you should be writing paragraphs upon paragraphs but maybe a little more elaboration is appreciated.
    • A common mistake many reviewers make is to ignore the weaknesses of an IEM. There is no such thing as a perfect IEM. It is good to look at a balanced perspective of both positive and negative.
    TL;DR: too many pictures, write a little more, don't just talk about the good points.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2018
    buonassi likes this.
  7. Focux
    noted with thanks! =)
    DAVID_54 and buonassi like this.
  8. youurayy
    so XBA-4 is 8 and Billie Jean is 10 ? :)

    I may be a minority but let me just say that enjoyed that review exactly because it was different in those points. (I like lot of pictures.)

    And it's good to talk about negatives - IF there are negatives which stand out and _impact_ the overall experience - otherwise if we force ourselves to find negatives, it may give the reader worse image of the product then it actually is. (Just my 2 cents!)

    ps. I'll be comparing the Billie Jean to Utopias next week:)
  9. Focux
    i don't own the XBA-4 but the 40; although not with me atm, from memory the 40 is much darker and to some extent may actually hinder resolution
    youurayy likes this.
  10. youurayy
    Too early for big opinions, but the more I listen to them, the more I enjoy them. They need a nice dac/amp, they aren't forgiving.

    *wrong thread lol, i will post to the main one also

    Last edited: Jul 24, 2018
    Focux likes this.
  11. ejong7
    Nice go on your first attempt! One advice I would give is to move this review so that it's under the item page. Makes it easier for people to search for reviews of the items.
    buonassi and Focux like this.
  12. Focux
    Oops I need to find out how to do that

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