As noted earlier in this article, I think a warmer source might be the best choice for W900 here. Think something like the Luxury&Precision DAPs. Sony is also known for producing more audiophile tuned audio players, unfortunately I don‘t have a Sony at my disposal to test. So we‘re left with other gear to look at.
As usual my main source was my reference DAP, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000 (such a cumbersome name). I know, it directly contradicts with what I wrote before, not a warm sounding player at all, but it is still my reference. The one I know best, that helps me analyze products with ease.
I also said it before, W900 is not as efficient as other monitors I have. Keeping that in mind, it is just normal that I had to turn my sources a little louder than usual to get to the same listening levels.
All my tested sources were silent and have not shown signs of hissing with the AAW, which is quite nice.
Astell&Kern – SP1000
The Korean flagship DAP is definitely among the very best in its class. It certainly is the costliest. The AK has a very dynamic and engaging sound with good musicality and incredible extension. It sounds very convincing and impressively layered with high amounts of details. The precision of the AK is something truly unique in a DAP. The sound stage is also one of the, if not the, biggest in a portable player. Excellent separation and great amounts of air make this an one-of-a-kind piece of gear.
Astell&Kern – AK120ii
The AK120ii, a product that I have now owned twice. About two years ago I have decided to sell it, in order to raise some funds for something bigger – the AK380, also gone now. The AK120ii strikes with its musicality and precision. Of course it is not on the same level as the SP1000, but let’s keep in mind that this bugger was introduced over four years ago. It has been a landmark in audio since then, nowadays there are a lot of other offers that rival its sound, but definitely not its user interface and features. The 120ii sounds narrower than the SP1000 and is not as layered. The SP recreates your music so effortless. The AK120ii also has a nicely big sound stage with impressive layering. It also is a touch smoother up top and hence matches the AAW W900 better.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2
My beloved FPGA DAC, probably my most loved product this year. Hugo2 very much is like the SP1000, but sounds a notch more organic and has a more analogue reproduction with silkier top. Bass is dynamic and extremely well textured, mids are natural and clear, highs are widely extended and have a great touch of harmony over them. Lots of emotions and a damn fine sound stage with superior separation and hard to look away resolution. It is one of the highest rendering devices I know and like the SP1000 does everything so effortless.
Chord Electronics – Mojo
Mojo is also a product I have owned not just once, though it definitely hasn’t seem as much playtime as it has gotten in the pre-Hugo2 times. Nowadays I mostly use it for review purposes. It still is a stellar little DAC that outshines all of its competition. It is mightily resolving as well, but doesn’t sport the insane precision of its bigger sibling. Mojo has a more digital touch to it, with a pitch black background and very nice instrumental separation and layering. A nice touch of musicality is also hidden in its sound.
Cozoy – Takt Pro
Tiny doesn‘t begin to describe the form factor of Takt Pro, if Mojo is portable, then what is Takt Pro? It features a pretty powerful sound with loads of dynamics and great layering. It‘s nicely balanced with a great organic touch.
Luxury&Precision – L3 Pro
Before the AK120ii came back into my life a few weeks back, the L3 Pro was my business trip DAP. It‘s impressively smooth and soft with good detail retrieval and precision. The warmer signature of the L3 Pro fits W900 like a glove and makes it a very enjoyable combination. If it weren’t for the cumbersome interface and lack of updates Luxury&Precision would be very hard to beat as they have some of the best sounding units out there.
Luxury&Precision – L5 Pro
Just like the smaller L3 Pro, L5 Pro is a warmer source with a smooth and detailed signature. With more sensitive gear it tends to hiss though, not with the AAW W900. I set it to ultra-low gain and all is well. It offers a few digital filters to shape the sound. I set it to fast roll-off. The combination sounds very organic with good separation and a nicely big sound stage.
Did you know that Luxury&Precision has a new flagship DAP coming up? The L6. Word on the street is that the firmware did see some improvements and that they will also get rolled into their current line up. Let‘s all hope for the best. Oh and yeah, there‘s a review coming up for that one as well! So keep your eyes on this space for more.
So many flagships have been introduced lately, some of which we will compare the W900 to today. Readers who paid attention to previous articles here might already know which models I am talking about. We‘re looking at products from very renowned brands such as Noble Audio, 64 Audio and JH Audio. A very tough competition.
All mentioned prices are for the custom build versions, all of the manufacturers also offer their products in an universal form, most of them are cheaper as universal design.
64 Audio – A18t (18BA, 2999$)
The A18t has made quite an impact on my persona. With an army of 18 balanced armature drivers per side and the outstanding Tia high driver the 64 Audio is definitely a very unique product. I don‘t know of any other in ear monitor incorporating this many drivers. The A18t has an overall fuller bodied sound with a more organic presentation. Sound stage is deeper, wider and taller on the Tzar. It has higher resolution and more liquid and more dynamic bass that reaches deeper and sports more sub bass rumble. Mids are lusher and with better layering. Treble is also very extended, just like the W900’s, but is airier. It also is of brighter tone, but isn’t as sharp as the W900’s upper regions. It is softer and richer.
Noble Audio – Katana (9BA, 2099$)
Katana is very similar to the AAW in tuning. Both are very balanced and have a great sound stage and impressive layering and resolution. Though Katana renders a finer picture with more micro details. Lows on W900 are airier and more organic, Katana’s reach lower with a harder punch and fuller body. Mids on both models are very much alike, well rendered and clean. Katana has more emotion in this segment though. Highs are rather different. While both have a bright signature, Katana goes for a warmer presentation with more body and pleases on a longer run.
Noble Audio – Kaiser Encore (10BA, 2099$)
Noble‘s co-flagship and offspring of the legendary Kaiser 10 is the more fun of the two top-of-the-line offerings. It has a more dynamic bass with harder impact. Bass body on both the AAW and the Noble is very much alike, with the W900 being more organic and airy in this spectrum. Mids again are similar, great resolution and layering. Encore though is more precise and has better detail retrieval and outstanding imaging qualities. The new Kaiser also has a more forward treble tuning, but in comparison to the AAW it is richer, fuller and more energetic.
JH Audio – Lola (2DD/6BA, 1745$)
Lola, unlike the others in the ring, is not a flagship model, but just like the W900 she’s a hybrid. In contrary to the Singaporean it uses the dynamic drivers for mids. A pair of proprietary bass balanced armature drivers can be fine tuned with the bass-dial. You can set bass to your desired level, something the AAW can‘t. Or any other CIEM in my possession to be fair. Lola reaches deeper and has a tighter low end with bigger body. The AAW W900’s is airier and a touch more organic in presentation. Mids are fuller and lusher on Lola with loads of emotions the W900 misses. Lola is darker tuned all in all, with more laid back highs that don‘t sparkle as much as the AAW’s. Lola is more enjoyable over time though. W900 has a bigger sound stage with better resolution and better layering. All aspects Lola falls short.
Advanced AcousticWerkes has focused on making great sounding hybrid monitors, they have set out to make the best of all, that‘s why they have one as their flagship model. The W900 is a very conflicting monitor for me. For one I like its balance and great resolution, but it took me very long and a lot of experimenting to get treble to a point where I could live with it. I am not a treble-shy person, this made it especially hard for me. Now with labkable’s Titan Au I finally have found something that makes it not just acceptable but an outstanding monitor. A happy end after all.