Up next, we leave Asia for a little taste of the West. ACS Custom is an industry veteran from the United Kingdom, who’ve long specialised in silicone custom in-ear monitors. I listened to their flagship Emotion to stunning results. Take a look!
ACS Custom Emotion: The Emotion – next to FlipEars’ Axis – was the most surprising IEM I heard during my trip. The 5-driver flagship reminds me heavily of the Empire Ears Phantom throughout the upper-mids and treble. A 2-3kHz rise gives the Emotion intimate, rich and full-bodied vocals, while a 6kHz peak is responsible for articulation. Both imbue a roundedness and energy to the final timbre, which comes across immersive, natural and realistic – an organic standout.
Instruments are well-balanced and well-separated, whilst at the same time sporting realistic size. They fill pockets of the stage as resonant, bloomy notes, rather than compact packages of data as is usually the case with more hi-fi, detail-driven in-ears. However, the Emotion isn’t as shelved down past 8-10kHz as the Phantom is. There’s a healthy amount of air there, as well as crispness for hi-hats and snare drums. The Emotion comes across as the brighter – more neutral – of the two as a result, but the linearity of its treble preserves tonal realism, coherence and finesse without compromise.
Another contributor to this is a slightly calmer mid-bass. Kick drums for example are a touch clearer and skin-focused than warm or bloomy. But, the bass region as a whole has an immensely natural tone; soft on the ear and densified, yet authoritative, defined and well-layered all the same. This is an IEM that I can clearly see Phantom lovers absolutely adoring. Perhaps, even the Phantom’s detractors who ask for a touch more treble/less bass will find the Emotion as a viable alternative as well. As a smooth, engaging, natural monitor, I’ve hardly heard better throughout all of Japan.
JHAudio is a company that needs no introduction: Easily one of the largest in-ear brands the world has ever seen. In Japan, they premiered their latest universal collaboration with Astell&Kern: The Diana. Sporting a new sleek, metallic design – and a uniquely wholesome, rich signature – JHAudio and Astell&Kern’s latest is anything but standard fare.
Astell&Kern/JHAudio Diana: The Diana is a gorgeous vocal performer: Warm, enveloping and luscious, yet articulate as well. A healthy rise throughout the mid-bass and lower-midrange construct romantic, bloomy instruments that radiate warmth throughout the stage. However, the lower- and upper-treble combat it with sufficient articulation. There’s little effort made to clean the stage pristinely, but the treble brilliantly rides the line between crisply clear and tonally sound.
Cymbals and hi-hats cut through the mix with excellent sparkle – and a dip around 8kHz guarantees smoothness – but the star of the show is clearly those wholesome, gutsy lower-mids. Male vocals sound gorgeously rounded, and electric guitars sing with a belly full of fat, rich tones. It should be noted however, that female balladeers, violins, woodwinds and other higher-pitched instruments may come across sounding a touch too buttery, heavy or harmonic; chesty, perhaps.
Instruments are unapologetically large and intimate, but sufficient treble extension prevents them from ever congesting the stage. The image it posits is neither impressively wide nor deep, but there’s enough space between the listener and the performance to invoke a natural sense of headroom and air. The Diana is the epitome of romantic and lush done right. It’s thickly-coloured and knows it, but I can’t help but harken back to 70’s, tube-amp-driven guitars, rock vocals and undamped tom toms with JHAudio’s latest concoction: A luscious, bloomy and instantly engaging piece to look out for.