Nocturnal Audio Avalon – Shoot to Thrill

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Presentation

The Avalon presents a lively, dynamic signature driven by the contrast between its visceral mid-bass and its crisp upper-treble. This is clearly not an in-ear monitor for those who prefer warmer, more laid-back signatures. Rather, it caters to audiophiles who want snapcrackle and pop to the nth degree. AEX technology cleanly segregates the Avalon’s extremes. As a result, it possesses a predominantly bright tone because of how prominent the top-end is. Instruments sound crisp, compact and blazingly fast. Transients dominate the soundscape, with warmer overtones sitting squarely behind. But, a sufficiently present midrange and a middle-treble dip ensure coherence and smoothness a large majority of the time.

Despite the Avalon’s specific tonal direction, it serves dividends in technical performance. The perimeters of the stage are well-defined, stereo separation is excellent and there’s an admirable amount of depth as well. Although an upper-treble rise can serve as somewhat of a cheat code in these regards, there’s obviously more to the Avalon’s performance than just top-end air. The image it posits is geographically coherent. The stage’s three axes are moderately proportional. And, the in-ear’s speed increases the perception of a black background as well. My only complaint would probably be in note thickness and decay. The Avalon’s tonal balance inherently produces thinner notes with swift decays. More body in the low-mids and the upper-bass to balance that out would be something I’d greatly appreciate in a future release.

Bass

The Avalon delivers deep, grunt-y and well-textured lows that effectively serve as the foundations of its presentation. It isn’t the warmest or most pillow-like out there, but it capably balances the top-end to arrive at a neutral tone. And, the physicality and clarity of the sub-bass frequencies nevertheless makes it a visceral, mean low-end to listen to. The mid-bass is comparatively more reserved. It’s a hair above neutral in terms of impact, but only injects the minimal amount of warmth to rein in the brightness of the top-end. Again, by no means is this a wet or thick low-end. Rather, it’s one with a focus on separation, texture and contrast. Whether it be between consecutive tom hits, or between the kick drum and bass guitar, the Avalon is surgical in making sure everything down low is heard evenly – nothing masking another.

Overall, the bass isn’t placed too far forward. It’s definitely in line with the rest of the frequency response. How it stands out then is by segregation and physicality. This is where AEX technology truly shines, effectively isolating it in its own pocket of space. with zero bleed in or out. With this in mind, the impact it’s able to then portray without overstaying its welcome is truly admirable. You can follow kick drums just as much as you can follow the main melody. Hip-hop beats are reproduced with the same clarity as the vocals above. In a space where bass regions are typically muddy, undefined and quantity for quantity’s sake, this is definitely a noteworthy achievement. With that said, the compromise is definitely in timbre. There is sufficient warmth in the tone to evoke realism, but I think it should naturally be a touch thicker. Again, this isn’t what the Avalon is in the first place, but it’s worth noting for audiophiles who may prefer a bit more warmth.

Midrange

The Avalon possesses a clean, detail-oriented midrange. Instruments aren’t particularly dense, but they do project with liveliness and vibrance. This is because of the Avalon’s prominent top-end. Vocalists sound airy and energetic with a forwardness to their articulation, despite the upper-mids sounding relatively linear. The lower-midrange is relatively more reserved. Chestier overtones sound distant relative to the throatier transients. So, vocalists may sound a touch dry at times; especially when mixed and mastered hotter. But, sufficient coherence is preserved here for a pleasing – albeit, slightly bright – mainstream timbre. And, raw definition is high as well for admirable separation and precise imaging.

But, this safe-ness is also where the Avalon may find critics. Instruments sound clear and well-defined, but they largely sound the same. The Avalon isn’t very discerning of the many textures and hues that a piece of music may carry. This is further exacerbated by the amount of energy present throughout the Avalon’s frequency range. Engineers may find the Avalon too peppy and broad for pure, professional work. But, casual listeners will benefit from these seeming cons. All genres of music will gain crispness, clarity and energy. And, the headroom the lower-mid dip provides brings openness and air too. So, if you don’t mind a situationally dry and neutral timbre, the Avalon’s midrange is as fun as it is versatile.

Treble

The most deliberate contributor towards the Avalon’s final signature is its sparkly, airy and ultra-crisp treble. Peaks along the lower- and upper-treble provide strong articulation. But, a dip around 8kHz effectively limits brittleness. As a result, the Avalon’s top-end gets away with sounding clean and decently refined too; neither diffuse on one end, nor strident on the other. The resultant structure is wispy and feathered. There’s not much body to treble notes, but they’re lively still. Despite the textural balancing act it manages to get by on, there is an inherent brightness to its tone. Those who prefer warmer sounds would be advised to refrain. But, this is a generally well-executed treble for those who prefer more of it.

Sufficient extension yields an open, airy ambience. This is then filled by large, musical images courtesy of the midrange. Perhaps, it isn’t enough headroom to give notes the depth and physicality they require to achieve flagship resolution, but that’s never what the Avalon was anyway. Great transient attack provides a sense of rhythm and pace. Again, speed contributes greatly to dynamism in conjunction with the mid-bass. And on a larger scale, there’s a fine balance between the extremes as well. The mid-bass does not overtly warm the stage, neither does it sound dull relative to the transients. It’s worth noting that background blackness is slightly marred by how bright some instruments can be. But again, this a treble for those who enjoy a little more bite, with above-average skill at the Avalon’s highly competitive price range. 

General Recommendations

The Avalon’s treble emphasis contributes heavily towards its crisp, clean and lean sig. Minimal warmth is present throughout the range, stemming from cuts in the upper-bass and lower-mids. So, it excels in the three following aspects:

Detail, openness and air: If you enjoy in-your-face detail with swift transients, cleanliness and high definition, the Avalon will have tons to offer in those regards. But, there’s always a fair amount of headroom surrounding each note, so those nuances rarely ever get sharp. The upper-treble emphasis also produces heaps of air, resulting in a crisp, open sound.

Percussion with a crisp bite: The Avalon’s articulation offers tons of snap to instruments like snare drums and cymbals. Combined with the in-ear’s impactful bass, there’s more than enough dynamism to go around. The lower-mid minimises those thick overtones as well. So, If you like your drums snappy, ring-y and tight, the Avalon crisp, clear signature is ideal.

Bounds of energy and contrast: Again, the contrast between the treble and bass incites contrast. There’s always a punchiness to instruments because of how sharp those transients are, which also translates to a sense of speed. If you’re into music like rock, metal, EDM or pop, the Avalon will instil tons of vibrance into those sorts of genres.

But, the Avalon’s significant tilt towards this signature makes it less ideal for the opposite end of the spectrum. If the following three qualities are what you look for in your next in-ear monitor, the Avalon won’t probably be for you:

Any amount of thickness or warmth: A tight, compact mid-bass and a dipped lower-midrange gives the Avalon a crisp, lean sound. Although it’s not anaemic by any stretch, notes are drier than they are wet. The thicker harmonics are certainly positioned a bit further back. If you want a pleasing, pillowy sound with euphony and warmth, the Avalon won’t deliver.

Forgiving smoothness:The Avalon possesses peaks in both the lower- and upper-treble. For most recordings and most audiophiles, they shouldn’t be too offensive. But, there is an inherent tizzy-ness to the Avalon’s sound. With hotly-mastered tracks, that tizzy-ness may turn into sibilance. It’s definitely situational, but smoothness is not guaranteed.

A thick, luscious bass response: One of AEX’s main talking points is a low-end with reduced decay, but that may go over better with some than with others. The Avalon’s low-end is tight, compact and drier than wet. Tonally, this is also the cause for the Avalon’s middling warmth. If you like your bass responses wetter and fatter, the Avalon may not suffice.

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About Author

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

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