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Astrotec AM-90 / AM-90-MIC Review

2


Reviewed May 2012

Details: One of the least expensive BA-based earphones on the market
MSRP: est. $45 (manufacturer’s page); $45 for AM-90-MIC model with mic & 1-button remote (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $40 from amazon.com$40 from ebay.com / $41 from lendmeurears.com for AM-90; $50 from ebay.com / $50 from mp4nation.net for AM-90-MIC
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 25Ω | Sens: 109dB | Freq: N/A | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrid, Stock silicone, Stock foam
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) silicone tips, foam tips, and soft carrying pouch (original version also came with triple-flange eartips and clamshell carrying case)
Build Quality (4.5/5) – Construction is solid, with all-metal housings and nozzle filters. Strain reliefs are flexible and the soft cable is above average in thickness and covered with a translucent sheath. It is one of the best cables I’ve seen in a while – quiet, flexible, and tangle-resistant
Isolation (3.5/5) – The tapered housings and inclusion of triple-flange and foam tips allow the AM-90 to isolate quite well
Microphonics (4/5) – Cable noise is low when worn cable-down and nearly nonexistent with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4.5/5) – The tapered housing design makes for one of the better straight-barrel form factors, with an elongated body that flares out gradually. The shells of the AM-90 are less likely to contact the outer ear than those of the Dunu Trident and narrower at the front than those of almost all other straight barrel earphones, allowing for a deeper seal. They might be a bit long for those with steeply-angled ear canals but for most they should be very comfortable

Sound (7.4/10) – The AM-90 is a smooth-sounding BA-based earphone that falls on the warmer side of things in terms of tone. It uses a Knowles SR (Siren) armature and – not surprisingly – doesn’t sound all that different from the SR-based MEElec A151. Both are some of the better such setups I’ve heard and the sonic differences between them are no greater than what one would instead anticipate from two revisions of the same product.

The sound signature of the AM-90, while slightly warm, is not unbalanced. Bass depth is decent enough – no match for dynamic-driver sets such as the id America Spark or VSonic GR99 but good for a single armature. Mid-bass impact is a hair lower than that of the A151 but control and detail are similarly good. The low end can be classified as punchy, but also not lacking in body and fullness for a BA-based earphone – seemingly a hallmark of the SR armature.

The midrange of the AM-90 is on the warm side but seems to be a bit more level compared to that of the A151. The AM-90 is a touch less mid-forward (but still more so than a Brainwavz M1, for example) and sounds fuller and smoother than the A151. The MEElec set is a bit thinner-sounding and also more dry but maintains clarity better on busy passages. The differences are small, however, and the two earphones are still far more similar to each other than they are to competing sets. Neither earphone has the crispness of a higher-end BA-based earphone and both lack the perception of added clarity that comes with emphasized treble.

The top end of the AM-90 is a touch more extended than that of the A151 and also less grainy but neither earphone can be recommended to fans of sparkly, prominent highs. Rather, the earphones are laid-back at the top and very, very smooth, doing a great job of cutting out harshness and sibilance. The VSonic GR06, for example, manages significantly better extension and energy at top but is also more fatiguing than the AM-90. Soundstage size, similarly, is not too impressive – the space is average and there’s not a whole lot of air compared to sets such as the GR06. However, as with the A151, the presentation is well-rounded, with some depth and height in addition to the width, good separation, and versatility in portraying intimacy as well as distance.

Value (10/10) – The sound signature of the Astrotec AM-90 may be nothing new next to other entry-level, single-BA earphones but it is the most reasonably-priced – and one of the best-sounding – Knowles SR-based sets I’ve heard. In addition, Astrotec’s OEM expertise shows in the excellent design – the solid isolation, sturdy housings, outstanding cables, and comfortable form factor. For a value-oriented product the AM-90 is not stingy on accessories, either, with a very nice hard case and good-quality tips included to make them work even for first-time IEM users. They are remarkably easy to get a seal with compared even to the A151 and therefore make an excellent stepping-off point into BA-based monitors.

Pros: Well-balanced, slightly warm Knowles SR sound; good build quality; great cable; comfortable tapered design
Cons: N/A


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

2 Comments

  1. neo5468 on

    Hey joker. I was thinking about buying Astrotec-am 90 and almost bought them, but than I found out this review:

    http://www.head-fi.org/products/astrotec-am90/reviews/8389#comments-title

    It says that mids and soundstage is close to non existend. I am planning to use IEM for music but also for movies. I watch a lot of movies so soundstage is important to me. If those arent so good for movies, which one do you recommend than? Steelseries flux?

    I want to buy thinksound ts02 which you said are great for movies but they are a bit too expensive. My budget is arround 50€. Your website is awesome and im reading it all the time trying to decide, and I almost bought this astrotec am90 but than I found out 1 review that completely changed my mind. Can you help? Thanks

    ps: iem’s have to be available on amazon uk or amazon de, otherwise I cant buy them. I live in Slovenia and in this country, they never heard of IEM so I cant buy any of them here.

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t like to comment on others’ reviews but it seems that reviewer has either never heard a balanced armature before or was looking for some other type of sound signature than the one these offer. It also seems like he didn’t get a good fit with them at all – when worn properly they are very comfortable.

      Anyway, rest assured there’s nothing wrong with the mids on these compared to other BA sets in the price range. In fact, the AM-90 uses the same driver as, and sounds similar to, many other single-armature sets – the Soundmagic PL50, MEElec A151, Rock-It R-20, Ultimate Ears SF4, and so on, so if the mids on these are unacceptable, the same would be true for all those sets as well.

      You can find the measurements for my AM90 here if you’re interested: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/AstrotecAM90.pdf . Compare, for example, to the quad-driver, $400 Ultimate Ears 900: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/LogitechUE900.pdf . You can see that aside from a small dip in the upper midrange, the AM90 has more midrange presence on the whole.

      The soundstage is on the small side but that’s expected from this type of earphone. If you want a broad stage, get an LG Quadbeat or VSonic VSD-1 instead. The Flux or is good too if those aren’t available to you, or the Sony MH1C if you can live with its j-cable and heavier bass.

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