Review: Astell&Kern AK T9iE

AK T9iE
Lotoo – PAW 6000

The recently introduced PAW 6000 is Lotoo’s newest DAP. It features a sound that is very close to the flagship PAW Gold Touch. However, the PAW 6000 does not come with the same output power as the Touch. It spits 300mW into a 32 Ohm load. While that’s still more than enough to drive the T9iE, I feel the PAW 6000 does not handle it as well as the Touch.

You get a bigger bass, that has good control, but not to the levels of the bigger Lotoo. It reaches deep with good rumble and texture. Bass is fast and very precise with good attack and decay. You get a rich sound throughout all areas with nice body. Mids sound organic, natural and neutral in colouration. The PAW 6000 doesn’t misrepresent any sound, but stays true to the signal. You get good levels of resolution, transparency and layering.

Don’t expect a mighty sound stage though. It keeps the stage in even terms of width and depth, with good scales on both. Overall the sound is soft and smooth, with female and male vocals enjoying a good bit of emotions and blood. Mids are full, have good weight and sound realistic. Treble is silky and enjoyable with no issues of being too bright at all. Yet this pairing somehow fails to impress me. It performs well, no doubt, but it doesn’t create anything special for me.

Chord Electronics – Hugo2

The Hugo2 is probably the nicest pairing for the T9iE I came across. It handles these IEMs so incredibly well, it’s breathtaking. You get a superb bass, with deep extension and impressive resolution. Lows hit hard, fast and still have that wonderful DD airy bottom end.

The sound is filled with information. The Hugo2 fires in very high resolution and even the finest of details comes through with ease. Bass has good body, weight and layering. Mids are well formed, neutral in tone and nicely rich. You get an even-handed signature, that’s not overly tilting towards any region. Instruments sound organic, realistic and most of all precise. Everything sounds smooth, but with high resolution. It’s a sound without any grain or sharpness. Just very enjoyable through and through.

What the Hugo2 always manages to pull off, is to draw me into the scene. You get a holographic sound stage, with musicians appearing in front of you. Imaging and instrumental separation are top notch. The only draw-back I can spot is the darkness of the background. Personally I prefer a black background, where every beep is portrayed in spotlight. The T9iE fails a bit here. Although I might be nit-picking to be fair.

The Treble with the British FPGA DAC/Amp is fast, well defined and again harshness-free. I don’t get any sibilance, sharpness or uncomfortable amount of highs.

Comparisons:

We don’t see many single dynamic driver IEMs launched these days, as most of the market concentrates on the e-stat race. We see so many hybrids coming out, but single DD IEMs are rare. I would love to give you the comparison to the AK T8iE. But since I don’t have it on hands, and my last session with it was two years ago, I won’t be able to provide it to you. You won’t ever see me making comparisons based on memory. Nor will I ever give you show-impressions. Those are unreliable and not worth it in my opinion.

I can only compare the AK T9iE to what I have at home, and funnily enough, all single DD IEMs I have here are from the same brand: Dita Audio. Before you ask. No, I won’t do comparisons to any single DD Campfire Audio gear. Had it, heard it, didn’t like it.

All mentioned prices are in USD. Comparisons were done using respective stock cables.

Astell&Kern AK T9iE

Astell&Kern AK T9iE

Dita Audio – Dream XLS (1DD; 2,299$)

The Dream XLS is Dita’s latest and greatest single dynamic driver earphone. It’s a limited edition, but we managed to get our hands on it. At 2,299 USD it’s a whole thousand Dollars more expensive than the T9iE, should price be one of your concerns. I know it is one of mine.

Both models do have some things in common, but there is a noticeable performance gap between them. The XLS is superior in technicalities, as it stretches a bigger sound stage. Its resolution, layering and imaging are also ahead of the T9iE’s. The Dream XLS to me also has better control and structure, where complex situations are better mastered than on the AK IEM.

Where the T9iE outshines the Dream to me is sub-bass extension. It goes deeper and features bigger rumble and a more solid ground. The T9iE has an overall more balanced and neutral signature, where the Dream XLS does possess a hint of warmth. Especially the lower midrange portrays this exact warmth. Deep male vocals for example sound more visceral, meaty and just more engaging.

The Dream XLS to me has higher richness. A wetter sound that sparks more physicality. Treble is an area where the Dream and T9iE again have similarities. Both IEMs have good extension, but it’s the Dream that goes even higher. The T9iE and Dream both have a silkier top-end, that’s free of grain and sibilance. Dita’s Dream manages to tickle out micro-details with higher precision. It also portrays them more audible in the scene. Whereas the T9iE sometimes buries them below other frequencies.

Dita Audio – Fidelity (1DD, 1,299$)

Fidelity has been out for a while now, it has been introduced as one of the two Dita Twins. Both Twins come at the same price, but feature a different coating of the membrane, which results in a distinct tuning.

In comparison to the T9iE Fidelity is more upper range forward. It has harder edges in the upper-mids and lower treble region, which might not be up everyone’s alley. The AK hits harder and reaches deeper into lows. It puts more weight on each note and gives especially vocals more body. Which seem lighter on the Fidelity. Vocals also are less forward positioned in comparison to the AK T9iE.

The T9iE has higher resolution and renders at a higher degree. It separates sharper and creates a more structured sound stage. With Fidelity everything seems a bit more in one place, where musicians get more room with the T9iE.

Overall the AK T9iE is softer and smoother, where the Dita IEM is sharper, harder and sometimes also more piercing. Especially in the lower treble region the Fidelity seems to put out a lot of energy. This can result in sibilance, a problem which the T9iE does not have.

Astell&Kern AK T9iE

Astell&Kern AK T9iE

Conclusion:

With the AK T9iE Astell&Kern has updated their collaboration with Beyerdynamic. They created a monitor that sets new standards in terms of comfort. With the ergonomically shaped ear-tips they have definitely thought outside the box. They provide excellent seal and fit, without introducing any sort of fatigue. The build quality of them is very nice, if you can look past your own fingerprints on them.

The T9iE does make a lot of things right, but it isn’t flawless. It creates a superbly balanced and neutral sound with impressive extension. It has great dynamics, good resolution and a nicely natural appearance. The biggest hold-backs are the unrealistically large male vocals, a not so dark background and the fact, that it can’t keep structure in more demanding scenarios. Still, the T9iE can hold up very well against the current competition.

In a market that concentrates on squeezing more and more different driver types into earphones, it is refreshing to see brands push the envelope of what can be done with just one driver. Personally, I am a fan of well tuned dynamic drivers, and the T9iE is one of them. It manages to let me enjoy my tunes again, where I don’t have to analytically listen for a change.

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

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