Kicking off the round-up is an in-ear manufacturer born and raised in the cityscapes of Singapore. Advanced Acousticwerkes are renowned in the local scene for their value-oriented products, innovative hybrid designs and exquisite reshell work. Kevin Wang of AAW, to my surprise, brought four retuned variants of their previously-released models – including their flagship 8-plus-1-hybrid W900. All four monitors introduced a new house sound for AAW; one focused on top-end extension, upper-treble sparkle and smoothness in clarity. Along with those, he also brought an IEM developed in collaboration with Shozy, known as the POLA. It’s marketed as one of the first electret-dynamic hybrids available on the market, equipped with a fully-3D-printed metal-and-plastic shell.
AAW A1D: The A1D is AAW’s entry-level piece comprised of a single dynamic driver. Now, I’m an absolute sucker for bang-for-the-buck IEMs that perform way beyond their price range, and the A1D is exactly that. Enforcing AAW’s newfound focus on treble extension and air, the A1D comes equipped with a thick, atmospheric and impactful bass, counterbalanced by a sparkly, smooth and open top-end. Expected of a single-DD configuration, the A1D comes equipped with a scooped lower-midrange, but sufficient warmth from the bass richens the vocal region with a moderate amount of heft. However, because of its upper-treble lift, instruments remain more articulative in nature. Tone lies more on the neutral side with a palpable touch of warmth, but the lack of vocal focus makes the A1D more suitable for instrument-driven genres – like prog rock, electronica and even jazz to some degree. Regardless, the A1D is a fantastic all-rounder at its price, and sets a precedent for AAW’s succeeding efforts beyond here.
AAW A3H: The A3H is the IEM that drew the most attention – bar the POLA – at their booth, and for good reason. The A3H is yet another bang-for-the-buck release from AAW, pricing its clear, open and airy signature at a mere S$499. Despite its DD-fuelled low-end, the A3H is rather conservative when it comes to sheer bass impact. It has an upper-bass-focused low-end that makes it more of a melodious supporting player, while its sub-bass and mid-bass regions remain relatively linear. Though, with that said, bass notes come through with excellent authority – more so than on the A1D and A2H – so it’s certainly a case of quality over quantity.
The midrange again shows progression in resolution and clarity. The A3H performs admirably in cleanliness, detail retrieval and air. While it is articulation-focused, instruments never come across as harsh, sibilant or coarse. Vocals are forwardly-placed, open-sounding, yet borders just on the edge of smoothness; evoking the openness and air that have made brands like Jomo and 64Audio forces to be reckoned with. And, clearly, that’s a prize awarded to the A3H’s treble. Admirably extended with a lift in the upper-treble, it oozes clarity and headroom with zero aggression. Again, as was the case in the 64Audio line, its overall tone is on the brighter side of neutral. But, its DD-fuelled upper bass admirably keeps it down-to-earth, and completes a clear, airy and articulative signature that’ll keep AAW busy for the foreseeable future.
AAW W900: Now admittedly, I’ve had an extremely rocky relationship with the W900 – I find it absolutely lovely in balance and technical performance, except for an egregious lower-treble peak that – to me – spoils its entire signature. It strangely makes hi-hats the loudest sound in every mix, and I couldn’t bring myself to love it – no matter how hard I genuinely tried. So, when Kevin Wang told me they’ve made adjustments to their flagship, my interest was instantaneously piqued. What I heard immediately after, somehow left me even more perplexed. Instead of toning down the lower-treble peak to construct a more linear frequency response as well as a natural timbre, the W900 now has an upper-treble lift to compensate for its 10-12 kHz peak.
I must give the new W900 credit for executing this lift with beautiful smoothness. It’s an almost Tia-like response with a gorgeous amount of openness and air. But, as a result, the W900’s general treble region now sounds louder than the rest of the mix. The DD-powered bass still gives it a touch of richness, but listening to prog rock – for example – was a strange experience; cymbal crashes became more prominent than the lead guitars themselves. Now, I must admit that this wasn’t a unanimous opinion. A couple individuals I spoke to, who enjoy brighter signatures, liked what the W900 had to offer in clarity and air. Personally, I think it has an audience in enthusiasts of – say – the U18t or the Tia Fourte. But, they’re gonna have to release those gosh darn treble filters sooner or later to fully win me over.
AAW POLA: And now, we get to the star of the show. The POLA is an electret-dynamic hybrid that seeks to achieve both technological innovation and value for money. At the currently tentative price of 600-800 USD, the POLA is one impressive performer. The mid-bass is the engine of the POLA’s signature. Apart from bolstering the impact that dynamic drivers have become renowned for, the driver’s warmth contributes a lot of body to the POLA’s overall presentation. It’s an IEM filled with thick, almost-larger-than-life instruments within a present and engaging soundscape. Vocals are presented with great linearity; showcasing admirable coherence despite the unique driver configuration.
From the growl of the low-end, to the chestiness of the lower-midrange, to the clarity of the upper-midrange, instruments exist with great completeness – equipped with a clean, neutral tone and complemented with tons of detail from the upper-treble lift. The electret driver greatly impresses here, rendering generous volumes of air and sparkle without a harsh note in sight. The POLA is steeped in headroom, creating a charming sense of openness and clarity that manufacturers like Lime Ears build their name on. It doesn’t render the most precisely placed images, but bodily resolution is above-average for its estimated price range and stage organisation is admirable despite its generous note size. With the POLA, AAW have on their hands an addictively engaging IEM that’s guilt-free, versatile and competitively priced. Add to that the POLA’s 3D-printed body (which will be more polished by the time production begins) and you have yourself one heck of a package.
DITA Audio is another Singaporean manufacturer particularly renowned for their efforts in single-dynamic-driver IEMs. Their previous releases include the more musically-inclined Answer and Truth IEMs, their technically-proficient flagship Dream, as well as two upgrade cables made in collaboration with industry veteran Van Den Hul. DITA brought along all five of these products to CanJam, along with two prototype models: The Fealty and the Fidelity. These IEMs sound like they were made to bridge the gap between the Answer and the Dream; offering admirable technical performance plus an engaging sonic palate.
DITA Fealty: The Fealty – surprisingly – was the more clinical-sounding of the two prototypes. Because of an attenuated lower-midrange and a lifted upper-treble, the Fealty is a sonic cousin to the Dream in how its presentation relies on clarity and articulation. As a result, its notes are thinner than what I’d call natural, but sufficient warmth from an upper-bass bias and upper-midrange control prevent it from sounding overtly clinical. Unlike the Dream, the Fealty has an airier bass response. Instead of the former’s sub-bass focus, the latter has a melodic upper-bass that imbues a lighter tone onto its low-end. Again, vocals and instruments are technically sound, coming equipped with great clarity, headroom and air.
The presence region on the Fealty is definitely lifted, but sibilance is kept to an absolute minimum by way of admirable control. The Fealty has peaks in the lower-and-upper-treble, adding solidity in percussive embellishments, hi-hats, cymbals, etc. This also causes the Fealty’s brighter overall tonality, as well as the sense of air that surrounds each note. The Fealty definitely lacks the flagship Dream’s theatrical and precisely-resolved soundstage, but it compensates for its lack of depth with a superior sense of engagement. Instruments and vocals sound larger here than on the Dream, and they don’t sound as peaky either. The Fealty is a great effort from DITA – crafting a mean, lean, detailed machine that’s forgiving enough to be versatile. Although I do prefer the Fidelity in overall tonal balance, the Fealty is a great technical performer that brings the Dream’s finesse to more modest ground.
DITA Fidelity: The Fidelity is the weightier, heftier and more fun-sounding of the two. Although it still has DITA’s signature emphasis on clarity and air, the Fidelity is more forgiving than both the Fealty and the Dream, due to a more-controlled lower-treble peak and a richer bass. The Fidelity’s low-end is more mid-bass focused, which gives the IEM fuller notes and greater impact. Dynamics are more emphasised here than on the Fealty, but vocal presence is not lost due to an upper-midrange bump. This accentuation located around the presence region boosts vocal clarity and crispness, while the elevated mid-bass counteracts it admirably well.
Instruments sound less intimate and forward-sounding due to a better balance between the lower-and-upper-midrange, and the soundstage benefits as a result. One of the Fidelity’s greatest strengths is imaging precision. Although – again – not as strong as the Dream, it’s capable of great left-right separation and centre focus. The Fidelity is more roomy and inviting than the Fealty, while the latter is more engaging. The general treble region is lifted as per usual with DITA, but it bolsters the Fidelity’s impressive technical performance. Extension is about the same between the two prototypes, but the Fidelity benefits from greater linearity. This trait is crucial for the Fidelity’s black background, natural decay and richer tone. It still errs towards bright, but it’s well-balanced nonetheless; musical and technically-inclined all throughout.