- Jun 8, 2015
Easy to drive, asthetics, great build quality, deep bass, well-balanced sound.
Microphonics, the laid-back sound profile doesn't work well with energetic songs
The bottom line:
At $95.8, the AM850 is worth every penny.
Astrotec is well-known for their affordable quality headphones. They do have high-end offerings such as the AM1000 and the AX60, but it was their cheaper in ear monitors such as the AM700 and AM90 that really made the impact on the headphone industry.
The AM850 is Astrotec’s latest flagship in-ear headphone. Looking at the name, initially I thought it was just a regular upgrade of the AM800, which were released last year to replace the popular multi-awards-winning AM700. Well, I was so wrong. The Astrotec AM850 was greatly improved in almost every aspect, and should even be considered as a completely different product. However, those upgrades come with a cost. The AM850 is priced at RMB666 ($95.8), which is more than twice the price of the AM800 (RMB248/$35.7).
Type: Closed, dynamic
Rated input: 3mW
Driver unit: 10mm dynamic driver
Frequency response: 10-40,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 110 dB/mW
Impedance: 16 Ω
Cord type: 1.2 ± 0.3m, silver-plated OFC
Plug: Gold-plated straight stereo mini plug (3.5mm)
Supplied accessories: silicone rubber eartips (5 pairs), foam eartips (1 pair), silicon ear hooks (1 pair), a leather carrying case, an aviation plug adapter.
First impressions are important, and Astrotec knows that very well. The Chinese brand took a sophisticated but straightforward approach with the AM850’s packaging. It isn’t excessively extravagant, but still feels beautiful and elegant.
Inside the box you will find the headphones and all the accessories, including five pairs of silicone rubber eartips, one pair of foam eartips, two silicon ear hooks, an aviation plug adapter and a leather carrying bag.
The AM850 has a design which is quite different from its predecessors. Although the housing of the in-ears is still a combination of metal and wood, the arrangement of these elements is not the same, and the material has also been upgraded. The metal used for the AM850 is Aluminum alloy 7075, which has very good fatigue strength and is mainly used for aircrafts. The surface of the in-ears has hairline finish, and has been treated with anodic oxidation, so you don’t have to worry that they will pick up scratches easily. The back of the in-ears is made of Rosewood imported from Cote d'Ivoire, Astrotec claims that this kind of wood have extremely ideal density and can minimize the secondary reflection of the treble.
The cord of the AM850 is also nice. According to Astrotec, the silver-plated OFC used here can minimize the loss in the audio transmission. Coated in reinforced Kevlar fiber, the cable also has very high tensile strength. Unfortunately, I did notice an annoying amount of microphonics when the cord was brushing against my clothes.
The Y-split also looks modern and exquisite.
The headphone has a beautiful sturdy L-shape 3.5mm plug, which is compatible with 99% of the sources. Astrotec announced that they would soon release a version of the AM850 with lightning plug, but right now if you want to use these headphones with an iPhone 7 (Plus), you will need an adapter.
The AM850 isn't really breath-takingly beautiful, it won't make you go wow when you lay your eyes on it for the first time. But it is easy on the eyes and has a lingering charm. The headphone is also extremely polished. Unlike other entry-level headphones, there are no ugly mold lines on the in-ears or the Y-slit. With a metallic build, the headphone also feels extremely sturdy, and looks like it could survive some occasional drops.
Comfort and isolation
Then AM850 is lightweight, the right-sized nozzles and soft ear tips fit into my ears comfortably, I can wear them for hours and won’t feel any amount of burden. Once you insert the eartips into your ears, the headphone won't fall out easily, you can even wear it in gyms or during jogging.
The isolation of the AM850 is good, but not great. It could passively block most of of the noise from the outside world. But compared to the Monster Turbine, I do feel that the AM850 needs higher volume to drown out the crowd on a morning bus.
Beyoncé – Daddy Lessons
Alicia keys – Unthinkable
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Let’s Eat
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – White Privilege
Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
Maroon 5 – Harder to Breathe
Gavin DeGraw – Fire
DNCE – Cake by the Ocean
Demi Lovato – Cool for the Summer
Snow Patrol – Run
Emeli Sande – River
Drake – Controlla
DNCE – Body Moves
Little Mix feat. Charlie Puth – Oops!
Source: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, vivo X9, Meizu Pro 6 Plus, Shanling M5, iriver U100
Comparisons: Monster Turbine, B&O Beoplay H3, 1more E1001
The AM850 has a sensitivity rating of 110dB/mw and an impedance of only 16om, so it is extremely easy to drive, and should work fine with most smartphones and portable players. I have tried the AM850 with many different sources, and none of them had any problem driving the headphone to an earsplitting level when given enough volume. When it comes to sound quality, the A850 has a very sound profile that is more musical than Hi-Fi. Songs across a variety of genres sound neutral and clean and the sound engineer didn't tune them to emphasize certain frequencies. The sound is natural, realistic and balanced. The harsh bass and treble boosting prevalent with many other headphones priced below $100 are non-existent here.
Most of headphones sound a lot better with a dedicated audio player or with an amplifier, but I didn't really notice any significant improvement in sound quality when pluging it into my Shanling M5 than using it with my vivo X9.
There was a decent amount of bass and, in terms of sub-bass extension, these headphones could reach very deep. The sub-bass contained texture and lots of detail, and on certain tracks this became very evident. The mid-bass had nice punch and presence, as well. Both the Monster Turbine and the Beoplay H3 had a more prominent bass presence, and they might bring out more energy in a hip-hop track, but the boosting sound and dilution of details could be problematic for other genres of recordings.
There was a lot of warmth and clarity in the midrange, which is always a strong suite of Astrotec headphones. Vocals sounded rich, smooth, relaxed and fairly forward. Listening to Emeli Snade's "River", I could clearly hear her breathing in between notes. Compared to the Beoplay H3, the AM850 definitely has a much more natural and acurate presentation of her voice.
The treble of the AM850 was full, crisp and clear. Not overly bright, but it is very smooth, sweet and easy on the ears, and has ideal density for most of the tracks. The treble extension is decent as well.
One of the AM850’s most prominent sonic attributes is its remarkable soundstage. The headphone's spaciousness is easy-going, roomily and effortless. There are no real perceptible borders to the sides and that the soundstage varies in expansion, depending on the track being played. While listening to a song, I could close my eyes and imagine where instruments were placed while the track was being recorded. The layering is also very homogeneous, without any gaps in between.
Also, The AM850 had a tendency to magnify detail. As a result, some buried treasures we’ve missed in familiar recordings were exposed, like guitar clicks, inadvertent chair movements, and accentuated tape hiss, bringing a heightened degree of vibrancy and authenticity to the music.
The overall sound signature of the AM850 is pretty laid back, and more suited for listening to musical recordings. Fast and Hi-Fi tracks such as EDM may sound too lazy for you to enjoy them. For instance, I missed the enthusiasm while listening to DNCE's "Body Moves", which was supposed to be an energetic song.
The Astrotec AM850 has a lot going for it, but at the same time, it does cost much more than its predecessors. Still, if you're after a premium-looking headphone with musical, neutral and balanced sound, the AM850 could be an appealing choice. But if EDM or Hi-Fi centric tracks are what you are mainly listening to, you should consider other options.