Review: Astell&Kern AKT8iE mkii – Age of Consent

Sound

The TK8iE’s sound is sometimes brilliant, sometimes boring, but always impressive.

First the brilliant: its powerful, textured lows balanced against extended, texture-rich highs on taut mids. Lows yawn out high-pressure detail from the almost inaudible opening seconds of Markus Schulz’s Mainstage whilst spinning bright highs, and full, if dry-tipped, mids. If you’re a basshead dying for a high-end earphone, the AKT8iE might do it for you. That is, as long as you don’t like flab.

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Despite digging low, bass keeps its place. Positionally, it throbs most at the sides of the head, with a central anchor at the base of the neck. It is fast, immune to flutter, and makes residue-less translations to mids even whilst cleanly spitting out the fastest EDM and trance. In the earphone world, it has few to no competitors capable of maintaining as detailed a mid section in the face of Empire of Hearts’s throbbing bottom-end. Along its leading edges is a slight metallic tinge, which may help the AKT8iE mkii’s bass sound tauter than it is.

From memory, the mki version humped the mid bass too much. This marginally gummed up the to-mids transition zone. Three Fujiya Avic Headphone Shows ago, that was the only thing about which I had to whinge. My memory could be faulty. If it is, I apologise. If not, mkii has fixed the only fault I perceived in the mki.

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Wide-band mids are equally high-pressure, but they lack the metallic tinge of upper bass and upper mids / lower highs and therefore attract less slightly less attention. Bass/treble heavy music genres: trance and progressive, metal, etc., draw focus to lows and highs. This may be part of what delineates instruments so well. The TK8iE describes instrument niches very well; certainly better than most single-dynamic earphones I’ve heard. It’s not as scalpel-like as Ocharaku’s Sakura Plus – nor is at as pulpy -, but it’s not far off. It relentlessly upholds dynamics better than Sakura Plus, whose highs can veil higher-voiced midrange elements.

Sakura Plus also describes a wider and deeper stereo image. The TK8iE’s stage is rounder than it is wide, and far more compact than any Ocharaku FLAT4, whose sound stage is truly an out-of-head miracle. In comparison, the TK8iE’s stage describes a gentle arc in front of the head which extends almost to the shoulders before dipping in again from there. Full, round, and positionally accurate, it reminds me of a good close-range 2,1 system. Space between instruments is clear.

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The AKT8iE’s highs are clear, forward, and textured. Their slightly metallic edges aren’t harsh, but can exacerbates jitter and distortion in problematic players and DACs. They aren’t tripped up like the ER4 to model the ear’s sensitivity curves. Their metallic edge leads clean and airy percussion with fast decay.

Unfortunately, the AKT8iE mkii is more sensitive than its spec suggests. It reveals a lot of hiss from Astell&Kern’s XB10, a bit of hiss from their AK70, and nominal hiss from an iPhone 6. Naturally, you’ll hear hiss from a lot of desktop sources, on both the high and low end.

[update] If you had a hundred or so bones left in your budget, Campfire Audio’s Andromeda is an interesting companion. Particularly because its highs carry similar sound pressure, but with softer edges. Where the AKT8iE errs metallic, Andromeda errs organic. The AKT8iE reveals problematic THD and jitter more readily, but it fits more solidly in the ear and feels way way better. And the AKT8iE’s bass, while not deeper, hits more like a speaker. If Andromeda were as comfy, it would be hard to as handily recommend the AKT8iE over it. But for me, comfory comes first.

End words

I hope that the mkii holds up to the daily grind better than the mki appears to have. The latest TK8iE mkii is one of the best-sounding, most dynamic earphones I’ve ever had in my ears. And it is even more comfortable than it is good sounding. Its over-engineered accessories are completely forgivable in light of its incredible sound and fit. It’s a concession to which I give full, unbridled consent.

Well done.

Review: Astell&Kern AKT8iE mkii – Age of Consent
4.3 (85.38%) 26 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

15 Comments

  • Reply October 13, 2016

    Barun C

    Those are some high praises for the Beyer Flagship IEM. The best part of the article was right in the end with the term over-engineering. Anyway, you have very carefully chosen the words when you state “my favourite single-driver earphone of all time”. So that leads me to a few questions. An BTW, excellent review as always Nathan.

    1. Does it best the Single Driver Donguri Keyaki Ti Plus in terms of overall SQ & presentation?
    2. How well does it do in comparison to the BA driver TOTL CF Andromeda in terms of SQ?
    3. How is the isolation of the T8IE MKII ?
    4. Is there any noticeable cable noise?

    Thanks

    • Reply October 13, 2016

      ohm image

      I’m getting worse at these things.

      I updated re: isolation, Andromeda, and cable noise. As for Donguri Keyaki Ti… I don’t own it and I’ve not borrowed it. I will try to check it out in the upcoming Fujiya show. Thanks for the editing help!

      • Reply October 13, 2016

        Barun C

        Hey thanks a lot for addressing those points so fast. I hate to be so nit picky but it should be Comfort instead of Comfory in the Andromeda update before the End Words segment.

        Thanks for making it easier for me to decide upon my next UIEM purchase. Appreciate it.

  • Reply October 13, 2016

    cl ch

    thank you nathan, insightful review as always! i’ve always been a over ears headphone person, but life changes, i have recently embarked on an iem auditioning binge… i agree with you completely with the bass and comfort aspects of this iem, but i did find the treble texture to be more noticible than i would like.

    of the iems that i tried out, i really liked campfire’s line of BAs (except for the Nova, where the mids were too “thick” for my music), as well as the fitear TG334 and parterre. To be honest, aside from one glaring “flaw” (to me), the Parterre would have been my pick, as i listen to a good deal of ambient and live music. Unfortunately, it thinned out deeper male voices a little too much. I also liked Dita answer (truth) but it’s captive cable is a negative for me, Noble Savant has some of the spaciousness of the parterre but the fit was not too comfortable to me.

    Are there any other iems that i should try out?

    I currently own and love the lcd X, HD650 and the CA Orion (with litz cable), and my musical taste crosses most genres, esp genres covered in the Quietus and Pitchfork.

    i thank you in advance!

    • Reply October 18, 2016

      ohm image

      It’s going to sound like quite a step down (price wise at least), but why not check out Nuforce’s HEM2 or HEM6. You’ll save loads of dosh, but get more powerful male vocals as well as slightly toned treble. Good luck.

      • Reply October 23, 2016

        cl ch

        thanks for the tip, plus my wallet thanks you!

  • Reply November 19, 2016

    Al

    How do these compare to the Grade gr10e and Flare R2 pro? Are they a complete step above?

    • Reply November 20, 2016

      ohm image

      In terms of 3D z-axis and power, above, certainly. In terms of transparent linearity, no. For that, the GR10 still reign supreme in my opinion.

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    Musiclvr

    An you shed any light on the mkii’s contrast against the DITA Audio Answer (Truth Edition)? I own the DITA Truth and the Andromeda’s and find the Andro’s miss to be quite seductive whereas the DITA Truths mids are ever so slightly more detailed. I’m just wondering where the mkii sits in all this?

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      ohm image

      If you’re looking for texture detail, I find the MKII to be better, but for between-instrument contrast, Andromeda is king.

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    ezekiel_77

    Hi Nathan, since you have heard both, would you mind comparing briefly with Oriolus MK2? In terms of sound signature and head-stage. Thank you.

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      ohm image

      I’m afraid that I’ve heard MKII only for a few minutes, and not in direct comparison. Sorry to be of nothing help.

  • Reply March 11, 2017

    Peter Hyatt

    A most careful reading of the blurbs from AK (or is it Beyer?) strongly suggest that the only “improvement” is the glitch fix.

    I, too, bought an original that needed replacement (same issue as others) and had no problem with the guarantee.

    The sound is amazing; like nothing I have heard before in in ear monitors. For me, they are “once in a life time” purchase. The sense of fidelity and “lack of coloring” gives them balance. They are not bass heavy, nor bass light, but can handle all genre because they are intended to faithfully produce rather than aimed at any particular taste. This is why they go from the Beatles to Bach, easily.

    The production is, as described, like fine jewelry. They are the “Mercedes Benz” of in ear monitors.

  • Reply April 5, 2017

    Dante

    I’m trying to decide between the T8iE MkII and Unique Melody Martian’s.
    Which would you prefer for clarity and details?

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