Astrotec has been in the market for a while. They have been making a variety of IEMs and some of the best looking buds too. They have been very active with their entry level single DD IEMs but then suddenly they went under the radar for a few years and returned with higher end IEMs and buds. I have been looking forward to working on one of these IEMs. Astrotec was one of those rare Chi-fi IEM that I hadn’t heard in my life but that changes with their latest single DD IEM AM850 mk2. It is the reincarnation of their original AM-850 which tasted success back in it’s time but the time has changed a lot now. Does this 10mm single DD IEM with 2nd gen LCP driver has enough to make a wave?
Priced at $170 this IEM comes with switchable tuning nozzles and can be bought only in silver body paint. AM-850 mk2 goes head on against the BQEYZ Autumn, Tri i3 pro and Fiio FD3.
Get one from these links:
UNBOXING AND ACCESSORIES:
Unboxing this package is fairly simple. Open the flap and we are greeted by a sweet and classy looking hard carry case with leather type texture on it. The earpieces and tuning nozzles are placed under it. We get 2 pair of soft colored stem tips, 3 pair of clear tips and 2 pair of foam tips with the AM 850 mk2. The cable and all the tips are placed inside the case. There is a tips organizer under the foam which concludes the list of usable accessories.
BUILD QUALITY and ERGONOMICS:
Unlike the last generation of AM850, Mk2 uses light weight high strength aircraft grade aluminum alloy shell craved with 5-axis CNC cutting technology which increases it’s durability and resistance to external damages. The nozzle too is made out of metal. There are couple of breathing vents just under the nozzle. Astrotec has incorporated SQUAMA damper balance system in the cavity to reduce secondary refraction and reduce resonance.
AM850 mk2 doesn’t have a semi custom type shell but it has ergonomical curves to provide a bother free fit. I didn’t experience any discomfort even after 3-4hrs of usage. It’s nozzle too is deep enough, providing a secure and stable fit. I find the stock tips to be very comfortable. If needed one can fit any T200 sized tip as per their comfort.
AM850 mk2 ships with a clear coated 4 core 8N OFC SPC 3.5mm MMCX cable which compliments the IEM aesthetically.
This cable is very supple and isn’t bouncy, keeping it from any microphonic or memory issues. There is only one stress reliever on this cable, at the 3.5mm jack. All the connectors and Y splitter are in silver to match the earpieces. The Y splitter is tiny and the smoked cable slider looks good on this cable.
PAIRING WITH SOURCES:
Single DD IEMs are rarely temperamental when it comes to sources and the AM850 mk2 one of those IEMs. It doesn’t need a powerful source to sound good and can be driven out of mobile phones without much problem. Yes, mobile phones are not the ideal sources since they can reduce the quality and resolution but with something decent like the Redmi Note 10 pro, AM850 mk2 does sound very good. It doesn’t change a lot when used with the Shanling UA5 or TempoTec V1A. AM850 mk2 is willing to get along with nearly anything, just don’t pair it with bright sources.
This 10mm 2nd gen LCP driver IEM is not tuned for a musical or fun oriented sound but is more about clarity, precision and accuracy. It still is slightly V shaped as the region just after the vocals dips a bit but it still is a lot more balanced than competing IEMs like Tri i3 pro. It barely has any coloration but do sound slightly dry and leaner at times especially with female vocals.
I am using stock foam tips, neutral nozzle and Shanling UA5 for this review.
AM850 mk2 is a fairly balanced sounding IEM and if you came for a lot of bass, turn around, go home. AM850 mk2 doesn’t have a lot of bass on offer, not even with the bassy Tide nozzle. What this bass nozzle does is emphasize the lower end a bit while reducing the upper treble energy. The gain in lower end volume or weight is still not in the bassy category.
This lower end is on the leaner side for a dynamic driver and nearly lends in the region of BA driver earphones like TSMR4 pro and BGVP DM8. Yes, it moves a bit more air has more rumble than BAs but the volume is not much bigger. Thankfully the slam is on the softer side with reasonable sub-bass presence. The sub-bass don’t go as deep as the Penon Orb or ISN D10 but does still has good amount of rumble and feel. The mid bass is more voluminous, giving it enough body and fullness to stay away from being flat. The good thing is, notes have good amount of texture and details. All of this dynamic and reasonably juicy (not dry) feeling is because of the slower decay speed. Notes do stay a bit longer than BA based IEMs delivering reasonable body. The Upper bass is well controlled and nicely integrates into the lower mids. Coming from a bit more bass friendly IEMs like Kinera URD and Fiio FH9 I find this bass to be fairly on the leaner side.
The mid range of AM850 mk2 is handled nicely by the single DD driver, it does a nice job delivering higher details and resolution compared to the competition, the mid range is slightly pushed back but the vocals stand out. One standout feature is the natural timber, which is not metallic or tinny. It maintains nice sharpness and notes depth. I am not bothered by this extra bit of depth and shine and like to enjoy the delicate details. If you are sensitive to sharpness you might find it to be a bit uncomfortable. Notes are agile and crisp. The AB850 mk2 exhibits very good technicality and brings out the micro details with ease.
Both male and female vocals are crisp and clear with an accurate and natural tonality along with good amount of texture and transparency. The decay is paced with very good precision and accuracy but the notes end up being slightly leaner and less fuller which can induce little bit of discomfort for some. Don’t expect any organic or warmish feeling here. Instruments have good attack and bite. Notes are on the revealing side and the upper mid and lower treble instruments sound a bit too vivid at times. This leads to two scenarios. Those who can handle this will enjoy this a lot and those who like mellow and laidback listening sessions will find this tiring. In short, this IEM has plenty of bite and it rarely holds back, good thing is it barely has intolerable sibilance, especially with the foam tips. Mid rage is the least affected region with the nozzles, it maintains similar resolution, energy and clarity with all of them.
AM850 mk2 has very good amount of energy and sparkle. I like this kind of energy, the added crispiness and shine gives it a different type of appeal thanks to its class leading details and transparency.
Transition phase from upper mid range to lower treble region is nicely dome with very good transparency, even energy and clarity. The standout feature is its extension which is one of the best for under $200. It barely loses energy as the frequencies goes higher into the treble region. Level of details retrieval is class leading, it barely misses out on anything while keeping the timber close to natural. The bigger than average stage size helps a lot with instrument placements and density. AM850 mk2 is very good with separation, it has acceptable amount of air between instruments but the layered feeling is not that good. On the down side, notes can feel a bit jittery, brittle and less defined with busier tracks.
Effect of Air nozzle:
This nozzle dials the lower end a bit down and treble region a bit but its effects do not change the base signature or feeling of the AM850 mk2.
STAGE SIZE AND IMAGING:-
The Stage is fairly big for the price, it has bigger stage than both the Tri i3 pro and Autumn. The stage has nice width and height but the lack of depth gives it a flattish kind of feel. Even when the separation is very good and instruments have reasonably even density the imaging take a hit as the layering suffers a bit. AM850 mk2 does not have a strong back and fore ground contrast which robs it off of some dynamics and sonic abilities.
VS Final A3000:
This definitely is a cheaper single DD IEM but it’s from Final Audio so.. Is it better? The short answer is no. Its not that there is nothing to like about the A3000 but there is more to not like than to like here. What’s to like? It has a more engaging lower end with slightly slower decay speed. The sub-bass isn’t better but the mid bass is punchier and heavier with bigger volume. What’s not to like? Nearly everything else is not that good. AM850 mk2 has better control over energy while the A3000 is unnaturally sharp and peaky which leads to irritation and discomfort. A3000 is not accurate with tonality or timber and the treble extension is below par. Stage too is much smaller in the X-axis.
AM850 mk2 is superior with nearly everything.
VS BQEYZ Autumn:
Autumn has to be one of the best IEM under $200 and maybe the best single DD IEM in this price. BQEYZ has tuned this to deliver everything with fantastic balance and clarity.
Yes, Autumn with the treble module too has more Lower end volume than the AM850 mk2 with tide nozzle. This modular IEM has a bit more texture and a more layered lower end. Autumn comes in 2nd with the mid range though. AM850 mk2 has better tonality, more accurate timber and natural body while the Autumn kind of feels compressed but dials the energy slightly down. In the treble region Autumn takes the lead with a more nature tuning, better definition and robust notes. Strangely the Astrotec IEM has bigger and wider stage.
Who is the winner? Hmm, it’s more like a tie, pick the one that is closer to your preference. Both are excellent.
Those who are looking for an IEM with excellent balance, highest possible clarity and details under $200 will love this. But then this is a mostly sweet yet slightly bitter kind of IEM. It has some of the best transparency and details but the slightly jittery and agitated treble region can spoil the mood a bit.
I will love Astrotec to polish this treble region and bring us another IEM with similar tuning around this price or just simply change the cable.
For those who are interested: Can this jitter and extra energy be cured? Yes, get an ISN S4 or similarly capable cable and watch this IEM outperform other balanced IEMs like Autumn and Copplinn Alula with better control, clarity, timber and details.