Avara Custom AV2 – The Shape of Water

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Presentation

The AV2 thrives on contrast. Bolstered by an exceptionally black background and an upper-register tilt, the AV2 produces notes that are clear-cut, clean and effortlessly dynamic. Although many in the budget category strive to achieve this through unsightly peaks – often introducing artificiality and fatigue – the AV2 does so with little compromise. Body, warmth and resolution in the midrange are deftly retained, and its treble lift averts digital. Although its tonal balance may need a track of getting used to – once adapted – the AV2’s presentation is one of the most musical in its price bracket. A spatially-intimate IEM, the AV2 doesn’t do much in the way of soundstage expansion. Despite this, it does construct a well-organised stage with relatively equal proportions; leaning more towards depth than width.

And, this phenomenon is caused by its vocal presentation; undoubtedly one of the IEM’s most outstanding facets. The AV2 presents voices with astounding clarity and air. If a singer is on stage, the spotlight is absolutely on them. Although that would imply a centrally-focused presentation, the AV2 resolves peripheral instruments with headroom to spare. Left-right separation impresses, and so does micro-detail retrieval; complementing the leads with a complete supporting cast. This will prove to be a Godsend for those who prefer instrumental genres. Although the horns or the electric guitar will take centre stage, the drums in the back will throb and the rhythm guitarists will too. The AV2 exhibits an even-handed stage that’s well-layered, clutter-free and blessed by voices which ring pure and crystalline; an ab-so-lute joy.

Bass

The AV2 is quite a-ways-away from being a basshead IEM; both in quantity and bloom. But, what low-end it does have to offer is presented with impressive quality. Extension, linearity and authority all have the potential to be best-in-class. Despite the implications of a neutrally-tuned or reference signature, the AV2 is equipped with an impressively stocky low-end. Emphasis is certainly placed in the mid-bass – adding energy to kicks, throbs and drops – but the AV2’s sub-bass is the clear standout here. Displaying proficiency in both rumble and texture, the AV2’s lows portray a clear grittiness that can only be attributed to excellent bidirectional extension. As a result, bass layering, separation and physicality all rank among the best that the budget segment has to offer.

With that said, however, the AV2’s bass isn’t the most accurate in timbral terms. Although it is incredibly clear, airy and well-defined, the energy already present in its lower registers – as well as the need to preserve midrange coherency – has left the AV2 with an attenuated upper-bass. The AV2’s low-end is dark in tone as a result; benefitting genres such as pop, rock, dance and R&B (where bass guitars are either synthetic or electric), and compromising on audiophile-inclined tracks where bass melody takes precedence. Instruments like upright basses and floor toms are still portrayed with excellent resolution, but they have neither the richness nor warmth required to properly convey emotion and ambience. It is a technically-proficient low-end with enough quantity to sound musical, but it never quite fits into the shoes of a traditional audiophile bass, no matter how hard it tries.

Midrange

The AV2’s midrange is the focal point of its entire presentation; the main event, the entrée du grande. Built upon a hump that encompasses the entire vocal range, the AV2 delivers a magnificently emotional tone. Evoking the old-time-y charm of IEMs like the Warbler Prelude, the AV2 boasts excellent smoothness, tactful articulation and strong definition. Its attenuated upper midrange may – at first – conceal its technical capabilities, but it proves crucial in solidifying its timbral foundation; a justly warm tone that exhibits power, depth and soul with inspiring ease.

The rise begins in the AV2’s lower octaves, equipping vocal notes with a meaty richness and a perceptible heft. Instruments and vocalists alike benefit from an unrestrained reproduction of overtones; allowing harmonics, resonances and reverb to ring through with remarkable resolution. And, because of all this, the AV2 showcases instruments with an effortless beauty; exquisitely linear, skilfully defined and blissfully romantic. Vocalists pull you in and entrance you into a silky arrest; captivating as any siren’s song. Voices sound massive and the spaces they occupy feel impossibly endless; stretching outwards into the farthest reaches of the stage. And yet, more impressively so, the AV2’s soundscape never feels crowded, nor does it ever seem tired. Fuelled by stellar coherence and top-end extension, the AV2 infuses its instruments with gobs of air; gifting its stage incredible transparency and depth.

But, despite all the emotional flair it elegantly portrays, the AV2 is an IEM that understates its technical achievements. Behind the intimacy of its presentation and the richness of its tone lies an upper-mid dip; the hallmark of an organic timbre. It’s a tuning choice that rarely ever rears its head at the entry-level, simply because it can eliminate all sense of clarity when improperly employed. And – rightly so – this dip is responsible for the adjustment period required to fully appreciate the AV2’s signature. Cymbals sound damped! Electric guitars lack bite! Pianos feel veiled! These were all my initial impressions when I heard the AV2 for the very first time. But then, I heard a woman sing, and – at that exact moment – everything else just clicked. Before I knew it, I was wholly immersed into the AV2’s sonic landscape: A vast corporeal space populated by layers-upon-layers of harmony; a natural and sincere reproduction of the recording.

Sonic transparency is subjective. Despite any and all attempts to ground it in science, it ultimately depends on how we individually perceive the real world. To some, transparency may mean ultimate clarity. And, to others, it could be timbral accuracy. I think transparency should be a sensible balance of both; a well-resolved and tonally-sound presentation that drops you right into the recording without breaking a sweat. This is what the AV2 strives to achieve. Whether by the sheer magnetism of the human voice, or the organicity of a wholly-replicated musical instrument, the AV2’s allure lies in its honesty; a pure and intimate experience mere inches away from real-life. Magical, magical stuff.

Treble

The AV2’s treble is its sole source of energy. Although it does maintain tonal coherence with the rest of the signature, it also assumes the responsibility of generating clarity and air. A relaxed lower-treble ensures excellent continuity from the upper midrange, and a steady lift from 12-15 kHz enhances the AV2’s detail retrieval and articulation. This rise does ultimately give the top-end a slightly brighter tone, but because of how linear the ascent is, the AV2’s treble avoids any sense of artificiality. Instruments remain delightfully smooth – losing little in the way of naturalness – yet benefit from the boost in transparency and separation. Similarly, due to the upper-mid dip, harmonics and overtones don’t end up over-accentuated. Embellishments like hi-hoot foots, ride bells, and guitar plucks don’t dominate the presentation; instead, they complete and complement the ensemble.

Top-end extension is a key player in the AV2’s overall performance. A linear drop-off past 17-18 kHz is responsible for the AV2’s remarkably black background and authoritative bass. Instruments build energy, vocals gain definition, and the soundscape receives an openness that perfectly complements its intimate presentation. Despite its constantly-populated stage, the AV2 combats congestion to great effect; doing away with any form of excessive warmth whilst retaining the cohesion that binds its elements together. As a result, the AV2 draws its musicality from technical performance and organicity in equal measure. Although that would imply a conflicting duality (like I often say is the case for the AAW W900 due to its lack of coherency), the AV2 strives because of its linearity. Fuelled by terrific top-end reach, the AV2 successfully mates naturalness with clarity; finding the best of both worlds with little compromise along the way.

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About Author

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

2 Comments

  1. Leehan on

    Hi, Deezel. Have you compare it to AV3? I’m curious about their line-up difference.

    • Deezel on

      Hi Leehan,

      Honestly, I haven’t heard the AV3 in months, so I can’t give you a very accurate comparison. Generally-speaking though, the AV3 has a more all-rounder-oriented signature. Its midrange is more in line with the bass and treble, though the mid-bass in particular is slightly accentuated for that “mainstream” sound typically associated with pop music, etc. It has the standard upper-midrange peak for clarity, as well as a linear treble response for versatility. I apologise if I can’t go into any further detail, but I hope this’ll suffice for now. 🙂

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