It is truly an honor to be writing for a magazine with such a knowledgeable, hard-working, audio loving staff as we have here on THL. My take to gear is a bit different than the others. I came to audiophilia from the music listener’s world, and that is what colors my analysis…I’m not sure I’d spot a spike at 10k if it hit me in the face. If it makes the Elvin Jones’ ride cymbal sound too hot, though, I’m all over it, so that is how I analyze gear. I did download one of those frequency sweeps for my computer, though; figure that’s how to learn to relate the two. Anyway, enough digression, let’s move on to the review.
Aëdle is a relatively new company, founded by Baptiste Sancho. They have one previous offering, an on ear headphone that received good notices. Their focus seems to be both on fine audio AND on luxury, with superior materials being used on their gear and boxing.
I generally don’t focus much on unboxing; the only use I have for the boxes once I take the item out is to keep accessories (if they don’t fit in an included case), or to keep for resale; I don’t care if it comes in a brown corrugated box. But, since the impression of luxury starts with the presentation, let me say that the box is indeed impressive, standing vertically, with a door on the front allowing you to view the contents through a clear plastic window, and read about the technology inside the door. Pulling the outside up opens the box and allows access to the contents. It comes with 2 packs of tips, six silicon and six foamies, a leather pouch/case, and an airplane adaptor (anyone want to buy 100 airline adaptors…?)
From the inside of the “door”:
A custom 10mm dynamic driver uses the right amount of air locked in its acoustic chamber to deliver robust, natural and warm lows while progressively yielding to the clarity and high output of a one-way balanced armature driver.
Hybrids are nothing new these days, of course, but usually more than one BA driver is used. There is also said to be no crossover, using positioning and the interior of the shell to achieve driver balance. It is unusual to have one dynamic and only one balanced armature; usually two or more are used.
As far as the luxury aspect of the headphones goes, they do have it covered. The ear guides are leather (brown in the ones I received, black is available as well). The metal of the housing is very attractive and classy looking. The case/pouch, a brown leather affair that looks like a change purse, is nice looking (but not terribly protective). I managed to lose it minutes after opening the box. The cable is a gold colored vinyl outside with a built in mic (I don’t do much talking with my phone/earphones, but I did test it for the volume, and it did work well for my HTC10 and my Android based Pioneer XDP-300R DAP). The cable is removable with an mmcx connector, which I didn’t realize at first, as it sits flush with the body and the ear guide, and doesn’t come out easily. I did, however, try to use a different mmcx cable I had, but the canal in the body didn’t allow for a fit (hopefully, Aëdle will come out with a balanced cable that can be used with them). The body is round, etched with fine concentric circles, and is attractive, resembling a very classy ear bud.
|Cost||Approx USD 360.00|
|Type||Hybrid inner ear monitor (1 x DD, 1 x BA)|
|Driver Types||Dynamic 10mm, and single Balanced Armature|
|Frequency Range||20Hz – 20 kHz|
|Sensitivity||109 dB / 1mW|
|Jack||3.5mm gold plated – straight – 4-pole|
|Cable||1.25m fixed OFC with on-cable controls|
|IEM shell||Machined aluminium with two tone coating finis|
Ergonomically, I found them fairly comfortable to wear; the over ear guide, which I sometimes find annoying, wasn’t uncomfortable with these, and did cause the body to point in the exact angle needed to get a good fit and seal. Having said that, the nozzle is very short; this makes it difficult to get a good seal, and I didn’t find any of the included tips to work for me. After going through the ones I have in the house, large SpinFit gave a good seal, though I often had to readjust to keep the seal, and got a bit sore after using them a while. The cable has very little in the way of microphonics (the stitched leather ear guides?), and don’t transmit footsteps much (less than most in ears, making them OK to use on my dog walks). Isolation was average; most of the usual suburban noise didn’t bother, but loud cars/lawnmowers did get through; they might not be the best choice for noisy plane/subway travel.
I don’t listen much to my phone (though the htc10 is a good sounding phone to my ears), except to stream the best radio station in the world, WFMU.org, so I did use it this way, and the phone did drive the Aëdle adequately. I then went to my DAPs, which is how I do most of my portable listening. The following is a cautionary tale of the importance of component synergy. I was using my Pono mostly (I have an iBasso DX90, which I don’t listen to much since getting the Pono; I hear a discontinuity in the sound, even though the technical performance is good), until I got a review sample of the Pioneer XDP-300R. This sounds considerably different than the Pono, brighter, more open. Until I got the 300R, I was finding the ODS-1 too dark, rolled off, not enjoyable to listen to. The 300-R turned out to be a better match for it, getting much better performance out of it.
I’d describe the sound of the ODS-1 as sort of a backward J (or a U with the right side shortened); that is, the bass is strong, the mids slightly recessed but good detail, the highs also good detail, but attenuated some. When I say the bass and mids are strong, I feel they compete with the best in this range, and are better than most.
Jazz is a good place to listen to the highs-cymbal riding, high hats swishing drive the music, and jazz drummers excel in getting different sounds with different touch from them. I put on “Don’t Mind If I Do”, from the Microscopic Septet’s recent fabulous CD, Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me (Cuneiform Records, CD rip to FLAC). The ODS-1 gets good cymbal sound, texture, the attack of the stick, those little details that take it from a swishy background to a real sounding kit. This was attenuated, though, and went way into the background when the whole band came in (there is a tendency for the highs and some detail to haze a bit when there is too much going on).
To evaluate mids I went to the recent 5 cd historical compilation by NRBQ, High Noon-A 50 Year Retrospective, and put on “When It Rains at the Drive In” (Omnivore Recordings CD rip to FLAC). Vocalist Al Anderson’s vocal’s came through nicely, slightly recessed but rich, along with all the details this amazing band throws into the mix, guitar arpeggios, keyboards that sound like a xylophone (not too much musical information, so everything is rendered clearly and convincingly).
Bass is where these babies really strut their stuff. How about Otis Redding and Carla Thomas arguing on “Tramp” (The Dock Of The Bay-Atco 24/192 FLAC download)? The bass drum pounds through my skull, and the bass player’s sound is deep, round, and when his fat bottom comes in, thick, tactile, man, the track COOKS!
OK, how about soundstage, layering, air, you ask? Put on a great classic album, the Neville Brothers Fiyo On The Bayou (16/48 aiff rip of the Mobile Fidelity CD), played “Hey Pocky Way”, and I’m in New Orleans at Mardi Gras, second lining with the partiers. Depth? Layering? We got these in spades. Width is about average, but good separation of the background vocals. Air is good but a bit attenuated; there’s a slight haze to the sound, but it’s mild and innocuous (better than lesser in ears I’ve auditioned). The band in the room is rockin’, and I really can’t sit still listening to this, man! (Pace, which relates to the bass performance, is very strong, and this track swings like mad!)
I had noted some confusion in difficult musical passages, so I went for a big band release, the recent Cerebrus by John Zorn (Tzadik, CD rip to FLAC), and played “Gehegial”. This band has string bass, tuba, accordion, and more horns than you can shake a stick at. Sure enough, detail is fine when there is a soloist and rhythm section, but as layers are added, horns blare, the whole loses a tiny bit of clarity, and stage collapses a bit, cymbals recede. It still has the drive of a Mac truck, though, carried by the incredibly real bass sound. It comes close to getting the physical sensation of a bass in concert, the power, the texture, and the bounce.
Well, you may say, I could still be hearing limitations of the DAP I’m using. OK, wise guy, make me work harder, why don’t you? OK, I’ll connect to my PC gear (JRiver/LH Labs Revive/LH Labs Geek Out Signature Edition/MicroZOTL2 modified by Mojo audio with Linear Tube Audio’s LPS). What happens? Kept the same Zorn track on, clarity of the stage improved, no haze, no confusion in complex passages, depth increased (though width stayed about the same), and the treble/cymbals became more noticeable (though still a bit recessed). Horn blasts were sharp, incisive, driving, and the ODS-1 didn’t seem to lose its composure. Muddy Waters was there, I swear (“Good Morning Little School Girl”, Folk Singer, 24/176,400 SACD transfer to AIFF).
The acoustic guitar has presence (there are actually 2; Buddy Guy and Waters, who plays softly in mid stage, with Guy carrying most of the weight on the far left), the stand up bass of Willie Dixon, and a stripped down drum set played by Clifton James). This was actually a “sell out” album, Waters recording “Unplugged” in an attempt by the Chess label to cash in on the folk revival-Muddy was really an electric player. But it left an incredible musical and audio document, and Waters’ voice is rich, deep, the room is open, wide (but the instruments are laid out in a line right to left in sixties style stereo). Are these the same headphones I was listening to? I’m enjoying this too much to stop, so how about more Muddy Waters? This time, it’s Madelyn Peyroux singing “Muddy Waters” (Dreamland, CD rip to FLAC). The basic character is still there, but the richness, warmth, dimensionality of Peyroux’s voice, and rhythmic thrust make me not care if there is a slight haze over the proceedings, or the highs are slightly rolled off. One more, a track I know intimately, “Dixie Walker” by Henry Butler/Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9 (WAV download included with the LP). This little big band should test the ODS-1’s composure. When really driven well, though, it didn’t get confused; this rollicking N’awlins music just rocked away, Butler’s piano percussive and driving, acoustic bass with just the right body and drive (these don’t have the leading edge in real life BA’s tend to give them). And the highs are there; a bit down, but clear cymbal, fine layering of the large ensemble, width, depth, imaging, detail, the whole shebang. Sheesh!
I pulled out some competitive iems for comparison…
Westone W40 (list price $599, available $499)-These have been my go to iems for a while; they make a good combination with the Pono Player in balanced configuration. Since I didn’t have a balanced cable that works for the ODS-1, I used the Pioneer in single ended mode. The Westone was a bit dryer, had a wider soundstage that sounded more open, while the Aëdle had more depth. There was more clarity, and a “faster” bass, but that bass had less punch, authority, and detail. The highs went to the Westone, with more cymbal presence and detail. There was an overall slight haze to the Aëdle that the Westone didn’t have, but a rhythmic drive to the ODS-1 from that bass that surpassed the (quite good) Westone.
Audeo PFE-232-These are no longer available, and listed for about $600 when they were. They are open sounding, more so than the Aëdle, with a much stronger high end (close to overemphasized on the high end, but generally not objectionable). I love the fit on these; these dual BA in ears go in easily and give a good fit and seal. They are more close up sounding, have strong bass, though they have the “BA Bass”, fast, slightly stronger-than-real transients, good body but less detail than the ODS-1. The Aëdle has better body on vocals and a more organic bass sound, a bit less clarity, and, of course, less high end. (I’m starting to notice a pattern here)
Fidue A83-($239-$339 at different sites) is a hybrid iem, with 2 BA and dynamic bass driver. The sound is clearer, more open (losing on some warmth to the ODS-1). Bass is strong, still not in the ODS-1 neighborhood, but more a bit tighter. High end more detailed, open, close to but not excessive, with good integration, wider soundstage, nice cymbal sounds, good mids, and a pleasing presentation (been sitting in a draw for a long while; I was glad I dug them out). The ODS-1, though, gives a richer midrange (the sax on Celebrate Mzansi, from Africa Straight Ahead’s self-named album, is richer, warmer; the piano has more of the soundboard and body of the instrument fleshed out). And cymbals, while not as strong as the Fidue, are more detailed.
In summary; these are a very luxurious feeling iem, leather is rich, the packaging is nice. Even the sound leans towards the indulgent, high calorie side, like a fondue. They do scale up with (much) more expensive gear, and are enjoyable to listen to that way. AND they do have a rhythmic drive that’s infectious-they get that booty off the chair. They do sound good through my HTC10 and mate well with the Pioneer XDP-300R. So if you tend to use it at the desktop with fine equipment upstream, these could be for you. Not so much if you want them for out and about use, depending on how much the high frequency bothers you (it did bother me on portable gear). If you prefer an organic, warm sound that swings (and want it for home use), these could tickle your fancy.