Review: Astell&Kern Billie Jean – The One

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

 

Package:

Since my pair of Billie Jean’s is a review sample, it came without any mass-production packaging. It actually only arrived in a small box, where the monitors resided in. Looking at the website of Astell&Kern I see that these should come with three pairs of silicone tips and with a small A&K branded carrying case. You will of course also get a cable, that’s connected to the monitors. This cable to me looks like the standard Plastics One cable that most of the manufacturers supply, though it also is A&K branded, which you can see on the Y-split and the 3.5mm plug.

While digging the web for photos of the packaging I only came across this one by Astell&Kern’s own Alex An. He shared these photos of the blue Billie Jean. I assume the packaging will be identical for the red version:

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

Astell&Kern Billie Jean Photo courtesy of Alex An

We can see that Billie Jean comes in a flip-open cardboard box, where the carrying case and the monitors are stored in a cut-out padding.

Build Quality and Ergonomics:

The Billie Jean has a plastic body and a red striking carbon face plate. From the pictures on AK’s website it looks like the blue version has no coloured striking in the face plate. The nozzle of it is a bit longer than usual, but that’s in favor of the newly introduced external sound chamber. They use the industry standard 2-pin (0.78mm) connection, which is very nice for cable-rollistas like myself. The cable is detachable and is marked with a blue dot for left, and a red one indicates the right signal side. In order to have correct phases the dots have to face inwards.

When it comes to ergonomics and comfort, JH universals have never been my friend. That stopped with Billie Jean. It’s the first JH Audio non custom that easily fits my ears and which I can wear for longer periods without discomfort. Lieven has told me that the JH models he tried at Can Jam last month were also much smaller compared to the previous models he tried. The body itself is pretty small, but when you take the nozzle into account the overall size of it is bigger.

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

What I want to note is that both sides of my sample have already developed a crack in the housing, coincidentally almost on the exact same spot, roughly one centimetre after the 2-pin sockets. I have no idea how those cracks happened, I can only assume that when using an aftermarket cable they didn’t take it well. These cracks however don’t have any effect on the performance of the Billie Jean.

Sound:

As mentioned before, my sample came without any retail packaging, therefore I only had one set of tips pre-installed on the Billie Jeans. Luckily for me that tip did fit me. A good fit is always crucial when listening to In Ear Monitors. You can ruin so much with tips that don’t seal well, and the Billie Jean is no exception here. I tried it with other ear-tips as well, and not well fitting ones really suck out the body of it. So please, be smart enough to go through a selection of tips before you make any judgement to the sound.

There is good body in the mid-bass, but the Billie Jean doesn’t extend very wide into sub-bass, which makes it appear with a light presentation overall. Low ends have good texture and are decently dynamic. Mid- and upper-bass are more prominently placed in the picture which results in a clear V shaped signature. Bass does have good impact but a rather fast decay.

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

Astell&Kern Billie Jean

Lower-mids and mid-mids are slightly recessed, but don’t come across as too distant in my opinion. The weight in them is fairly organic, not too thick not too light. What struck me most about the midrange is the resolution that they sport. There lies great beauty in the upper midrange in my opinion, it’s a bit more forward but also richer, which has a nice sound to them.

The sound stage is very nice, sure it is not the as extreme as some higher tier models, but for this price I doubt anyone can complain about the Billie Jean’s performance. The stage stretches in good dimension in width, depth and height in rather even sizes. Instrumental separation is also one of Billie Jean’s greater abilities. Each instrument is carefully placed in the room with good amounts of air between each. The same goes for imaging, where you can easily spot the position of each musician.

Treble is again more forward and might be too much for some listeners, as it can become slightly hot at times. However, it is clean and fast. Where it could be improved though is air and extension. Still, treble is clean and clear to my ears. It’s fast and energetic with a slightly brighter tuning. It might not be the richest out there, but the upper mids make up for that.

Overall the signature is nicely dynamic and exciting, which might suit a lot of modern genres well. That does not mean that it can’t handle something like Classic Rock, Jazz or even Classical. Au contraire, its performance also makes less bass-heavy music very enjoyable. The Billie Jean on top is also mercyful when it comes to forgiving bad recordings.

More on the Billie Jean on the next page!

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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.

    9 Comments

    • Reply August 14, 2018

      Andrew Candeloro

      How would these be next the oriolus forsteni in terms of sound signature? Im leaning towards the forsteni but am scared of all the comments saying they are too hot sounding.

      • Reply August 15, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Andrew,

        thanks for your comment.

        Sadly I have never heard the Forsteni myself. If you have the chance to audition Billie Jean or the Oriolus, it would be best to do that. I know people can be very sensitive to treble, and I said it in the review that Billie Jean might be too much for some. So you really should give it a demo if you’re concerned about it. I’m fine with it, but that doesn’t mean you are…

        Cheers!

    • Reply August 17, 2018

      SRS

      I originally planed to buy a pair of Westone UM 30 pro but my local shop stop selling them. I tries these out to see if they would fit my taste. I like what I hear except for the mid. I find the mid range, especially the vocal, to sound unnaturally thin in comparation to other iems i tried that day.

      Can you suggest other iem in the same price range with similar sound signature but fuller mid range? Thank you!

      • Reply August 21, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Srs,

        I truly wish I could help you, but unfortunately I can’t. I know Berkhan is a fan of the Oriolus Forsteni, which has a similar price and might suit your taste. Though I’m not sure if it still is available.

        • Reply August 24, 2018

          Andrew Candeloro

          I’ve contacted oriolus and they said by end of August they should be available.

    • Reply November 14, 2018

      Sagar Shah

      Can you compare A&K billie jean with Etymotic ER4XR?

      • Reply November 14, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Sagar,

        thanks for your comment.
        Sadly I can’t, as I haven’t heard this one, sorry.

    • Reply February 12, 2019

      Sandro Mosca

      How does the Billie Jean compare to the Weatone UM 50 Pro?

      • Reply February 14, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Sandro,
        thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
        Unfortunately I can’t help you there, as I haven’t heard the UM 50 Pro, sorry.

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