Singapore-based AAW launches an impressive freshman Hybrid IEM
Mon Sep. 28, 2015
CustomArt Harmony 8 Pro ($1050)
These two IEMs are almost complete bass opposites. The H8P is a lightning fast fencer, attacking with quick parries and trust that pierce without hurt. On the other hand the AAW W500 is a bass thunderer, swinging with a big axe that maims. The H8P excels on speed; detail; and tone. The W500 takes the cake with decay; authority and overall sub-bass. Both IEMs score similarly with good bass tightness, although the W500 is just slightly better. Overall, the W500 scored much better because of the resounding victory in the sub-bass, but I could see different people liking one or the other.
The difference continues on to the mids. The W500 is much more energetic overall in the midrange; has better clarity; and also presents much more natural tone and timbre. That last point is a real weakness on the H8P, while being one of the W500’s big strengths. On the other hand the H8P is much arier in the midrange; and also boasts of slightly better detail retrieval- although neither are real standouts in mid detail. All in all, both have about equal evenness and consistency in the mids.
In terms of treble, both of them excel in very different ways. The W500 has significantly smoother and more sparkling treble; whereas the H8P is much clearer and has gobbles more extension. Both have a very natural sound with the ability to recreate cymbals and high-hats with aplomb; but both are also very slow (W500 just a bit faster) in the high registers.
The W500 is not really a size demon, and in this respect the H8P has it beat, with a deeper and taller (though slightly narrower) soundstage. Both of them also do very well with the presentation of said soundstage, with the W500’s being just a pinhead more consistent and the H8P’s being just a ant’s-breadth more airy. Really, though, splitting hairs. Imaging is perhaps where the two have the starkest difference. The H8P suffers from poor ability to place instruments accurately in terms of depth and width, and falls far behind the W500 on both counts. The H8P does redeem itself somewhat in terms of center image coherency, but the W500 is a real standout in this area and hence still manages to nudge ahead.
The H8P has amazing PRaT, and if that was your primary concern I’d probably choose it in a heartbeat (heh). The W500 has better balance overall though, and significantly betters the H8P in its ability to articulate each note clearly and succinctly. It also boasts much better musical resonance, and the same notes that flutter on the W500 almost seem to lose steam and peter out in comparison on the H8P. Finally where it comes to thickness there is really no contest. The W500 is not the thickest out there but it has quite a bit of girth- the H8P in comparison is frankly a little aneroxic.
Noble Audio Kaiser 10 ($1599)
The subbass on the K10 performs quite typically of a BA driver- light and shallow. Its really not a fair fight pitting it against the W500 heavyweight. Not surprisingly, the Noble IEM cannot compete with the W500 in terms of naturalness of decay or authority of bass- both typical areas of strength for a dynamic driver. On the other hand, the K10 bass does well on some other areas: it is clearly more detailed than on the W500; and has much better timbre. The two are just about even in terms of speed and tightness, though. Overall, the bass on the W500 wins, by quite a distance.
In the mids the situation is reversed. The K10 has a sublime midrange, with detail retrieval miles ahead of the AAW W500. What this means in practice is that you’ll hear every nuance in the breaths that the singer takes between notes; and if you listen to raspy voices in particular, they’ll sound much more raw and emotive on the K10. The K10 also has better timbre, with a tone that overall sounds more natural; and much better airiness and ‘carry’, a difference which is especially pronounced when the singer or musician hits a stunning vibrato note. On the other aspects- evenness, energy and clarity- the W500 scored higher, if only by an atom.
Both these IEMs excel at pairing a sparkling high-end with a smooth presentation, although the W500 is just slightly better, especially at that ‘smoothness’ part. The W500 also boasts clearly better naturalness, with notes that ring more true; and possesses slightly better extension. The K10 in turn has better clarity, with notes that ring clearer overall, and faster speed. Putting everything together, it was a tie in the treble.
Soundstage is not close. Well, actually, I take that back. The size was quite close- apart from width being clearly better on the W500, depth and height are actually quite similar on the two, with the K10 nudging slightly ahead on depth and vice versa on height. But soundstage quality isn’t close. The W500 creams the K10 in terms of both consistency and airiness across the stage, creating a beautiful presentation that’s constantly bubbly and alive. On the other hand- and no qualifiers this time- imaging really isn’t close. The W500 firmly beats the K10 on all facets, be it ability to image depth; width; or form a coherent center image. Fact is, if imaging matters to you- pick the W500 and don’t look back.
Where it comes to balance across the frequency spectrum, the W500 is good, but the K10 is just that bit better. As a pure-BA IEM, the K10 also boasts clearly better PRaT and, rather impressively, has good thickness that’s just a smidgen ahead of the W500. But the latter has its strengths too, posting much better scores in both note articulation and musical resonance. It is able to enunciate each note with great precision, and also has those ‘butterflies’ (not in your stomach) that seemingly help a note float gently outwards after the initial harmonic.
1964Ears | Adel A12 ($1999)
The A12 bass is plenty good for a BA-driver, but nonetheless the usual suspects emerge, as far as conclusions go anyway. The tiny bass drivers of the A12 simply can’t push enough air to best the W500’s shining dynamic driver in terms of bass authority or sub-bass slam. As well, the A12’s bass decay is significantly less natural than the W500’s. The one area where the A12 is clearly better is bass detail. The magical Adel port helps crowns the A12 “king of bass layering and detailing”, and putting it next to the W500’s bass- which is not really a top performer in this regard- only serves to further highlight just how good the A12 is. On other metrics- speed, tightness, timbre and extension- the two are just about neck and neck. Indeed, the A12 is the only BA driver to come anywhere close to the two dynamic bass drivers- the Lear LCM BD4.2 and the W500- in terms of sub-bass extension. Overall, the A12 puts forth a valiant effort, but it’s a victory for the W500.
In the mids the tables are turned. The A12 comes in as much, much airier and with slightly better timbre and tone overall. It also conjures up more detail and emotion than the W500. In addition, the best trait of the W500 mids- its steady evenness- is matched blow for blow by the A12. On the other hand the W500 has better mids energy- the A12 clearly aims to be more linear (and accurate), as opposed to presenting a set of energetic and forward mids. The W500 also nudges ahead by a hair for mids clarity, although both are really very good. All things considered, the A12 takes this round.
Up there in the clouds- aka treble- these two seem to be doing a yin-yang dance. They’re basically polar opposites. It may be easiest to start with the areas where they’re similar. For one, both have a beautiful naturalness of tone to the treble that’s very lifelike and enjoyable to listen to. For two, erm… That’s it! Wow that was fast. On to the differences. 1) Whereas the W500 could probably do with a lot more clarity, the A12 is crystal clear; 2) while the W500 is as fast as a slow-moving boulder, the A12 is as fast as a shrieking banshee; and 3) whereas the W500 treble extension is really quite middle-of-the-road as far as flagship IEMs go, the A12 is the tallest, most extended of the bunch. Flipping sides, the W500 excels precisely in the two areas where the A12 stumbles- namely, serving a treble that’s both a) sparkling and b) smooth. Between the two, I’d suggest that a treble-natic better be clear what he’s looking for, cos’ they really couldn’t be more different.
Both IEMs have marvelous spatial presentations. The W500 is wider, but simply cannot come close to the curve-skewing, mind-blowing depth on the A12. The two are quite similar in their height. The duo also boast just about equal amounts of pleasant, airy, spatial cues in the stage; but the W500 does a much better job sprinkling that air consistently and evenly all across your music. But while soundstage goes narrowly to the W500, imaging is a different story. The A12 uses Adel technology that’s so good it should probably be illegal; and while the W500 puts up a valiant struggle (even winning one round: center image coherency), it must ultimately tap out, outdone in particular by the amazingly accurate depth on the A12.
The twosome are just about equal in PRaT, although I rated the W500 just slightly ahead because of its almost mercurial sense of rhythm. I also gave the W500 significantly higher scores for its better balanced-tuning across the frequency response spectrum; and much better ability to have music resonate outwards like a gentle mist that is content to takes its time to dissipate. On the other hand, the A12 is the king of girth, managing to play back thick and lush notes of blue-cheese that simply captivates. The A12 also has slightly better note articulation and diction, although both are ranked among the top in this regard.
It doesn’t always have to sound morbid. Heartbeats are what sustain us. They are the ultimate sign of life- a happy by-product of an indispensable organ sending blood and oxygen through our bodies. In the same vein, the AAW W500 is an IEM teeming with life. Its unmistakable heartbeat pulses passionately through every note of your music; imparting it a vigour and vitality like no other. If you like your music mild, timid and docile, then just look elsewhere. But if you’ve got a strong temperament and don’t back away from a challenge, the hauntingly wonderful AAW W500 awaits…
Pros: Bass. Bass. Bass. So good I had to say it three times. Bass. There I go again. Also, awesome soundstage!
Cons: Although the rhythm is great, the speed is overall not the fastest
Overall Score: 88.8 (Almost Perfect)
In case you missed it, check out the IEMs reviewed in other installments of “Fit for a Bat!”