Here is an IEM so different than the others that I decided to come out of my IEM review retirement to talk about it. The Aurisonics brand is started by a group of music loving people out of Nashville Tenesse. My partner Moko had a listen to these a while ago and he was raving about its sound so we decided to stock them for the store. When the goods finally arrived, we threw a small meet to invite people to listen to the Aurisonics IEMs. There were two models, the universal fit ASG-1 and the custom fit AS-2. While some people enjoyed the sound of the AS-2, I don’t remember hearing one good comment about the ASG-1. And I totally understand why.
With the abundance of IEM reviews especially on sites like Head-Fi, customer feedback have become a big voice in the industry. Tons of new IEMs are introduced every week, and with the majority of them I see that they are trying to follow roughly the same pattern of tuning that would do very well on reviews: non boomy bass, non sibilance highs but still sparkly, and that all important midrange. Some have succeeded in creating that perfect review IEM, but even though they may pass a review with flying colors, I have yet to see one IEM that really stand out from the bunch. Of course you have super-expensive IEMs like the FitEars and while they stand out enough both in terms of price and sound, they are really too expensive for the common people. You also have big manufacturers like AKG coming out with a universal IEM with a previously unheard $1,300 price tag (at least from a mainstream manufacturer). But none of these have been able to force me to come out of my IEM review retirement until the ASG-1.
We have both the ASG-1 universal and the more expensive AS-2 demo unit at the store. And while the AS-2 is the higher end product, it actually is the ASG-1 that I find to be more interesting to write about (and I happen to enjoy more too). What we have here is an IEM tuned to be so dark that you can describe it as having no treble. Of course that’s just a metaphor, because no drivers these days, no matter how cheap, have a problem in producing the general treble frequencies. But the ASG-1 is just super dark. Air is not its thing, and on first listen you’ll be surprised on the sound that is completely void of air. You’ll probably hear a lot of people describing it as “muddy”.
The Black Black Sound
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an IEM or a headphone so dark. You may remember that all these talk about a dark sound is somewhat similar to the way I describe AIAIAI’s TMA-1 or the Audio Technica Pro700 Mk2, but they are differently tuned from the ASG-1. The AIAIAI TMA-1 is tuned for club music and the Pro700 Mk2 is a purebred basshead headphone, but I would categorize the ASG-1 as a musical IEM. Amid the lack of treble, you get a full bodied midrange all the way to the lows. And though the lack of treble may give an impression of dull and lacking detail, the midrange clarity is actually extremely good and mind blowing. In fact, the moment I hear that thick and full sounding mids paired with the clarity, I swear I must be hearing one of the best midrange in the IEM business.
This super dark sound it’s not an easy thing to appreciate. Yet one of the reason that I want to write about the ASG-1 is because I don’t think it tries to be a crowd pleaser. I figured that the guys who designed the ASG-1 tried to create something that sounds good to their ears, and when they have done that, they decided to stick with the sound and not worry about how the other 99% IEMs in the market sound. It tells people that this is their identity and they are sticking to it (although the fact that this is a revision 1.2 ASG-1 means that the company does listen to feedback).
If you spend some more time and you manage to get through that dark sound, I think you’ll be surprised to discover the magic behind the dark sound. This IEM grows on me like no other. It’s so dark that it makes the HD650 sound normal, and it’s even darker than the first revision LCD-2 was. With this sort of a tonality, we learn to see that detail and clarity is not in the trebles. The 15mm single dynamic driver produces sound with such effortlessness, with a timbre that sounds so natural and a super smooth texture. Apparently rather than buying an off-the-shelf driver, Aurisonics had the drivers custom designed, so that may explain why it’s able to do a smooth natural bass yet without the typical dynamic driver boomy-ness. Some people may question the fact that this IEM with a single dynamic driver costs as much as triple-drivers balanced armature models. But to my ears, a single well tuned dynamic like on the ASG-1 is worth more than triple or quad balanced armature drivers.
All this talk of the ASG-1 being super dark, full mids and lows and the supposedly well tuned single dynamic driver would mean nothing if it can’t do music. Well I really wouldn’t be raving about the ASG-1 if it can’t do music. At least to my ears, there is nothing like the musicality of the ASG-1. I’ve thrown it everything I have and it never fails to disappoint. Even genres that naturally appreciates good treble like Jazz and Classical, the ASG-1 somehow manages to bring out the music even with its lack of treble. Old analog recordings with grain and noise are played so well on the ASG-1, where those grains tend to be super-amplified on IEMs with “normal” treble levels. I’ve played the latest pop recordings on it, the big classical recordings, the 24/96 HD stuff, remastered Beatles, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, all sort of different stuff and the ASG-1 just played them with such effortless musicality.
I’m not going to talk for too long or try to explain every single aspect of the ASG-1′s sound because it’s just something that you have to listen for yourself. For me, it’s just great to see an IEM that has the guts to stand up and be different from the rest. Over time, I discovered that while IEMs like the Triple.Fi 10 and the Etymotics ER4 have big polarizing flaws, they managed to create their own following after the others have been overshadowed by the newer products. Obviously the ASG-1 today is not as big as the Triple.Fi or the Etymotics were when the two were first launched, but I do hope that this IEM would be able to have the same following that the other two has, years from now.
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