Details: sub-$100 hybrid in-ear from China-based Astrotec
MSRP: est $87 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $70 from ebay.com; $70 from mp4nation.net; $90 from amazon.com;
Specs: Driver: BA+Dynamic hybrid | Imp: 12Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 12-23k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T-400, Stock foam, Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), foam tips (1 pair), over-the-ear cable guides, and metal carrying tin/case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – Very solid, as with the other Astrotec sets I’ve tried. The AX-35 uses machined aluminum housings and nozzle filters, and the brushed metal aesthetic is very appealing. The strain reliefs are flexible and the sturdy cable is covered with a translucent sheath. It’s a very nice cable – quiet, flexible, and highly tangle-resistant
Isolation (3/5) – Average noise isolation despite the earphones having housings suitable for a relatively deep seal
Microphonics (4/5) – Low when worn cable-down and nonexistent when used cord-up
Comfort (4/5) – The elongated nozzles and rounded edges of the AX-35 make it one of the more comfortable straight-barrel designs I’ve tried. The shells stay farther out of the ear, preventing fatigue, and also allow 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 (8.5/10) – The Astrotec AX-35 is a dynamic + single BA hybrid earphone that utilizes a Knowles ED armature driver and competes with the likes of the T-Peos H-100 and Dunu DN-900, albeit at a significantly more attractive price point. The signature of the AX-35 is somewhat v-shaped thanks the combination of bright, energetic treble and the mild mid-bass emphasis of the dynamic driver.
Though I wouldn’t call it bass-heavy, the AX-35 does have good low-end presence and punch. Its bass is not the deepest but the mid-bass emphasis is greater compared, for example, to the dynamic-driver VSonic GR07. The GR07’s bass is a bit tighter but less emphasized in the mid-bass region, and less impactful as a result. In fact, the overall bass quantity of the AX-35 is closer to that of the GR07 Bass Edition. This does result in the low end being less tight compared, for example, to the MEElectronics A161P, which is also based on the Knowles ED balanced armature, or the VSonic VC1000, but it also means that the bass quantity will suit a wider range of listeners. Indeed, improving on the bass response of single BA systems is one of the usual motivations behind hybrid designs such as this one, and the AX-35 does succeed in delivering bass.
The enhanced bass of the AX-35 combines with the thinner note presentation of its midrange to give the earphones a slightly v-shaped sound. Clarity is limited by the mid-bass but the AX-35 still manages to keep up with the more mid-forward Ultimate Ears 600. It lags behind VSonic’s higher-end GR07 and VC1000 models, both of which are more balanced-sounding and neutral in tone. The VC1000 especially makes for a stark contrast to the AX-35, with its strong mids making the Astrotec unit sound withdrawn and distant in the midrange.
At the top, the AX-35 has good presence and energy, falling a bit on the bright side of neutral. The treble sounded better to me at lower volumes but the mids aren’t quite strong enough at those same volumes for my liking, so I ended up taming the top end with foam eartips instead. The treble character is not unlike that of the MEElectronics A161P, which is based on the same BA driver – a little harsh and unrefined, but overall not far behind popular higher-end sets such as the VSonic GR07. What sibilance does show up can be tamed with the right eartips.
The presentation of the AX-35 is wide, with good air and separation between instruments. Earphones such as the Ultimate Ears 600 and MEElectronics A161P, which have more forward presentations, sound overly intimate next to the AX-35 and lack both soundstage depth and separation in comparison.
VSonic VSD1S ($49)
VSonic’s entry-level VSD1S is a dynamic-driver earphone with a slightly v-shaped sound signature. It has more bass, especially mid-bass, than the AX-35, which gives it a warmer tonal character but takes away from the midrange clarity. As a result, the AX-35 is clearer. It’s also brighter in tone, though the VSD1S is by no means dark-sounding. The VSD1S tends to be a little more sibilant while the AX-35 is a little splashier. The AX-35 has a slightly wider presentation, though the VSD1S is no slouch.
The Fidelio S1 offers up a more balanced sound while the AX-35 tends to be more v-shaped in response. The Astrotec unit has more bass but the extra enhancement comes in the mid-bass region, so it doesn’t have an advantage in bass depth. The Fidelio S1 is more mid-centric in comparison and has fuller, more fleshed-out mids while the AX-35 is a little thinner-sounding. Neither unit is especially smooth in the treble – the S1 has some emphasis in the lower treble region, which gives guitars a characteristic crunch, while the treble emphasis of the AX-35 comes in higher up, resulting in a slightly more sibilant sound. The AX-35 has a slightly more 3-dimensional presentation with better layering compared to the Philips, and is also noticeably more efficient.
The sound of the HiFiMan RE-400 is more midrange-focused compared even to the Philips Fidelio S1, so it provides a very striking contrast to the more v-shaped Astrotec AX-35. The AX-35 is bassier, but the RE-400 has a tighter, more controlled low end. The slightly looser bass and more recessed midrange of the AX-35 together cause it to sound more veiled than the HiFiMan set. The RE-400 is also very smooth at the top, whereas the significantly brighter and more energetic AX-35 can sound both harsh and sibilant in comparison. The AX-35 has a wider presentation than the RE-400.
Compared to T-Peos’ pricier H-100 hybrid, the AX-35 has a more conventional sound signature that should be less polarizing among listeners. It sounds fuller and has more bass than the H-100, albeit with a little more bloat as well. The H-100 sounds thinner and more scooped-out in the midrange, appearing a little clearer but also less natural from a tonal standpoint. The AX35 is more neutral and its presentation is less distant with better depth/layering. Its treble is surprisingly a little less forgiving than that of the brighter H-100, but overall I still think the majority of listeners will prefer the more inexpensive Astrotec unit.
Dunu DN-900 ($120)
Dunu’s DN-900 is another dual-driver hybrid, one that boasts fantastic deep bass but has only so-so clarity. The AX-35 can’t match the sub-bass prowess of the DN-900 but has similar overall bass impact. The DN-900 sounds a little thicker throughout but that doesn’t do its midrange any favors – it’s significantly muffled compared to the leaner AX-35. The Astrotec unit sounds more detailed and has brighter, crisper treble. The presentation of the two is about on-par but there’s just no making up for the comparatively poor overall clarity of the Dunu set.
Value (9/10) – Not only is the Astrotec AX-35 one of the most reasonably-priced hybrid designs on the market, it manages to skimp on none of the qualities that made me a fan of the lower-end Astrotec earphones – a polished design with great attention to detail, sturdy construction, and excellent user-friendliness. It makes for a very enjoyable listen, too, and the slightly v-shaped signature seems to particularly excel with electronic music.
Pros: Comfortable, well-built, and good-sounding hybrid earphones
Cons: Treble can be peaky in stock configuration; would have preferred a standard case to the included tin