Q was made to be the smallest audiophile grade earphone in the world. Taken that into account, it is truly TINY. It’s not even a centimeter in size. Compared to other earphones I have seen it is just a particle. Almost the entire body is covered by the ear tip. Q is supposed to disappear in your ear canal, and it does just that. It can be worn either way: cable up or down. I suggest wearing them over ear though. Not just for a better fit, but also for comfort. I have worn Q cable down and the strain on the cable did result in an uncomfortable fit. All three models have two things in common. First is that none has a detachable cable and second is that all share an open design which means they do have ventilation ports on the back of their housing. This usually results in better imaging and bigger stage, since the waves can flow more naturally, but also brings the disadvantage of poor isolation.
Ergonomically all offerings from AAW are top notch. They sit firmly and secure in your ear or canal. Nebula One and Two follow an ergonomic shape. The rounder part sits in the outer ear while the nozzle goes mildly deep into the canal. Comfort is very good with both Nebula’s as the weight is very well distributed. I never had any problems with One or Two, and could easily wear them for hours.
Q is different in this aspect. It does not come in an ergonomic form, though it also sits comfortably in your canal.
All earphones feature the same set of accessories. A gold plated 6.35mm jack adapter for use with full-sized amplifiers. An airplane adapter, a carrying case, three sets of silicone ear tips plus three sets of foam tips (S/M/L). Q does also feature a leather cable clip. Q’s carrying case is of leather and poorly calculated as the mini jack often didn’t find its way to the designated rest.
The first thing I noticed when listening to Nebula One was clearly the bass. It does reach very deep and is basically omnipresent. It is full and gives the entire presentation a very big body. Unfortunately for me that’s exactly where Nebula One has its flaws. The body is too big for my taste. Bass doesn’t only reach low, it also reaches into the mids and covers a few frequencies where I hoped they were left alone. This results in missing details. I stated earlier that I listen to a number of electronic genres. So I should enjoy a little more bass, right? Well, yes and no. In certain tracks more bass doesn’t hurt, but in the end bass is still a background instrument, meant to give beat and rhythm to the music. But when it comes out of the back and shoves you its groove in the face it just gets annoying. One of the songs, actually one of my favorite songs, was barely listenable due to the amount of bass was Massive Attack’s Teardrop.
Instrumental separation is good, Nebula One does bring out a good number of detail with its crispy highs. Treble never got boring or harsh. This one definitely stands out the most on the Nebula One. Soundstage is good, but not the best at the same time. It does expand in every direction giving the listener a 3D-like stage.
Isolation with Nebula One is very poor. As said, it is an open design, so a big amount of leakage is guaranteed. Personally I don’t see the point of open back in ears. They are meant to be used outside on the daily commute, where one doesn’t want to hear the world. At least I don’t.
Amplification is not necessary with Nebula One, unless you’re looking to alter the sound signature. So basically it comes down to how much bass you want or can accept, the One has plenty.
Fortunately Nebula Two didn’t inherit the boomy bass found in number One. Nebula Two is more detail oriented and has a very nice and flat tuning. Mids and highs are very organic and well pronounced, bass still reaches deep, but doesn’t get in the way of the midrange.
It does feature a great textured sound with very balanced tuning. Nebula Two gets out a fair amount of details of every track, without being too analytical. Overall the sound of Nebula Two can be described as enjoyable, organic and balanced. The sound stage is really impressive with Nebula Two and it definitely is amongst the best in its price range. It also does respond well to amplification. I had it hooked up to my ALO Continental Dual Mono and it gave Nebula Two wonderful lush mids and a very lovely musical presentation. In this combination I could absolutely enjoy the earphone. Very good with acoustic music, giving it a slightly warm tone and good body.
Just like Nebula One, Nebula Two has poor isolation. Too bad as I really like this one. But if it means I have to crank up the volume to simply enjoy the music on public transport and possibly damaging my hearing, it’s not really my thing. It might be yours though, or maybe you use your IEMs at home, in that case: no problem at all.
Lately I have observed some “wars” between manufacturers of inear monitors. First there was the driver war where everyone tried to surpass its competition with more and more drivers. But now it has taken a different direction and the number of drivers doesn’t count that much anymore. Now it’s about who can make the smallest earphone on the market. There’s Jay’s Q-Jays, there’s Final’s new F-Series and there’s AAW’s Q and definitely a good number of others. So far I think Q is the tiniest out there. It’s not even as big as my fingernail. As said before, it’s not even a centimeter in length. For our non-metric loving readers, that’s about 0.4” which is incredible for an earphone with this quality of sound.
The massive amount of body that comes out of this tiny little thing is impressive. It’s full, lush, fast, energetic and well textured. Straight out of my AK380 it has great detail, a huge soundstage and wonderful resolution. Imaging is also on the top part of the table. It expands well on all axes, giving you a nice 3D soundstage. One thing that has to be noted is that it is very much fit depending. If you don’t get a good fit it will result in dry bass and a kind of boring, lifeless overall sound. So finding a good fit is mandatory for this one, due to its design that can be a little trickier than with its siblings. I suggest you try all supplied tips and maybe even some others if you have some lying around.
Like Nebula Two it also responds very well to amplification giving it a bigger soundstage, more texture and lusher mids. Isolation is a lot better with Q than with the Nebula’s. It also does have a vent on its back, but not a lot of sound comes in. It rather gets out.
Another thing that might be worth mentioning is that getting Q out of your ear can be tricky. Since its body is as tiny as it is, you have to fiddle around to get a good grip on the body to pull it out. What has also happened to me, on more than one occasion, was that I did get the earphone out, but the tip still sat in my ear canal. The first time that happened was a little concerning. But after a while you know the trick to get all of it.
AAW’s knowledge in making custom in ear monitors definitely came in very handy when they designed and tuned their first universal fit in ears. All of their models feature great build quality and different signatures to meet the tastes of a wide number of audiophiles. How they have managed to fit such a sound in the body of Q still puzzles me.
Out of these three models my personal favorite is Nebula Two as it does have the best price performance ratio in my opinion. It sits very comfortably, is not fit dependent, offers a great sound and has very good build quality. If only AAW would’ve put them in a closed back enclosure. But then quite a bit of its sparkle would have been lost I guess. You can’t have it all.
The AAW N1 goes for around SD$149, the N2 for SD$199 and the Q is around SD$299 dollar. Singapore Dollars those are.
I want to thank AAW and Lieven for giving me the opportunity to write for Headfonia.com and the possibility to hear these little gems for myself. Hopefully it was as enjoyable to read as it was listening to the lineup of Advanced Acoustic