Advanced Acoustic Werkes A3H IEM

Advanced Acoustic Werkes is an audio company based in Singapore. Although not exactly a household name, even in the world of Head-Fi and audiophiles, however, that’s not to suggest that they don’t have some great products on offer. One such product is the Advanced Acoustic Werkes (AAW) A3H, a hybrid model available as both a custom and universal fit IEM.

I’m extremely thankful to my friend, Anupong, for sharing his own pair of A3Hs with me for the time it’s taken to complete this review.

Overview

The A3H costs $499 Singapore Dollars (roughly $470 AUD) and sits essentially at the top of AAW’s Musiker line (there is a differently tuned version of the A3H which sells for $50 more). For your 500 bucks you get a pair of IEMs, a very nice cable, a hard case, and normal IEM cleaning utensils. It’s a pretty good deal on paper, but let’s look closer at what you’re getting.

Specifications

  • Drivers:  10mm Proprietary Dynamic Driver + 2 x Balanced Armature Driver with 3 Way Passive Crossover
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 22000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 110 dB/1mw @ 5kHz
  • Impedance: 42 Ohm
  • 46″ detachable Null Audio Quantum Cable

So, as you can see, it’s a pretty standard 3-way hybrid with a good impedance level to hopefully avoid being picky with different sources, and a nice level of sensitivity. On paper then, the A3H looks the goods.

Design & Comfort

AAW A3H (6 of 11)So it looks the good on paper and it also looks the goods in ‘the flesh’ too. The A3H that I have on loan is a nice compact, molded shell made of dark, almost opaque grey acrylic with a tasteful dark wood insert in the faceplate. While maybe not quite at the impeccable standard of my Noble K10s, I would say that the finish on the A3H is extremely good and better than my UM Miracles, so AAW definitely turn out a quality product in terms of the quality of finish. There is a tiny bit of roughness at the point of one of the shells, but it’s nothing too bad and wouldn’t cause me to hesitate at all to buy a set of these.

AAW A3H vs Shure SE846Size-wise, the dynamic driver in the A3H requires a bit more space than an IEM employing strictly balanced armatures (BAs) as you can see in this comparison shot next to the quad-BA Shure SE846, but it’s still a nice compact housing that’s very comfortable in the ear. However, for those looking for IEMs you can sleep in, the A3H protrudes quite a long way out from the ear (in this universal configuration at least) and actually sits further out of the ear than the larger Noble K10s.

The final point to mention about the sizing of the A3H is the nozzle diameter. I think of this type of IEM as a semi-custom meaning that it’s molded like a custom IEM, but ends in a generic nozzle. Like many of these semi-custom IEMs, the A3H has quite a thick and chunky nozzle despite using just 2 sound bores to carry the sound (1 for the dynamic driver and 1 for the pair of BAs as far as I can tell). Normally I have trouble with thicker nozzle designs, but the A3H has shown me that the issue with most thicker designs are the ridges they include to hold the tips in place. As you’ll see in the pics, the A3H features a completely smooth nozzle which is surprisingly comfortable even though it’s thicker than most IEMs I find comfortable. In fact, I can only just fit the nozzle and smallest possible tip in my ear, but, once inserted, the fit is snug and comfortable even for longer sessions. Getting the smaller tips onto this type of nozzle is tricky, but once they’re on they seem to sit well and don’t come off as easily (and accidentally) as you might expect.

The Supplied Cable

AAW A3H nozzle and connector socketAccording to the AAW website the cable is made by Null Audio and is a silver-plated copper cable. All I can say for sure is that it’s one of the very nicest ‘stock’ cables I’ve seen with an IEM and easily rivals the FIDUE A83 cable for comfort, looks and quality. Anupong’s A3Hs have the 2-pin industry standard CIEM connectors so that’s what the cable has too, but the AAW website suggests that they favoured MMCX connectors in the past (the same as Shure, FIDUE and Audiofly) so I’m guessing you can get both sorts of connectors on AAW IEMs which is a great touch for those who are already in possession of aftermarket cables with specific connector types.

Because this set of IEMs are loaners from a friend, I can’t fairly comment on the accessories provided by AAW, but trust from the descriptions that you’ll get all that you would expect from a purchase of this type of product at this type of price and the compact hard case provided is a nice addition to the bundle.

Sound Quality

On first take, the A3H presents a sound like many of the other hybrids on the market – slightly V-shaped with punchy and dynamic sound combined with plenty of treble extension and detail, but I can’t just leave it there because the A3H is definitely as different from other well-known hybrids as it’s similar.

Treble

AAW A3H (4 of 9)The treble from the A3H is extremely similar to the FIDUE A83, but very slightly better balanced. One of the things which always strikes me about the A83 when I return to it after sessions with other ‘phones is that the treble, while highly detailed, smooth and non-sibiliant, is slightly over-done and unnatural. Of course we soon adapt to the imbalance thanks to our brain’s built-in EQ, but there’s no doubt that the treble is enhanced above neutral (and has some holes as well). The A3H is very similar in that it’s not quite neutral and natural, but it’s more coherent than the A83 and quicker to adapt to.

The treble from the A3H is very, very smooth and packs plenty of detail, but like the FIDUE A83 it does all this without getting nasty. There’s no sibilance from the A3H, but it’s not in any way rolled-off or smoothed over. In fact, the treble would be perfect from the A3H if not for the slightest hint of imbalance that very occasionally makes sounds slightly unnatural. To put this into context, the treble from the A3H is better than the FIDUE A83, different but comparable to the treble quality from the Shure SE846, but a step behind the treble of the Noble K10. Hopefully that gives you the sense that the A3H performs very well even if it’s not quite top-tier. For $500, the A3H compares very, very favourably.

As a small aside, it’s also worth mentioning that the slightly boosted treble of the A3H and its high sensitivity (110dB) can lead to some hiss when paired with certain sources. This isn’t a fault of the IEM as such so I wouldn’t hold that against it, but it’s good to be aware of.

Mid-Range

AAW A3H caseThe mids, while not the centre-piece of the A3H’s presentation, are solid and present. They are however slightly recessed compared to the bass and treble, but not excessively so. Vocals and mid-range instrumentals carve out their place in the overall presentation to create a focus point in the sound that makes the A3H instantly engaging and enjoyable, but occasionally, in busy passages, I found the treble and bass creeping forward and over-crowding the mid-range slightly. For the most part, however, the mid-range holds its own and is smooth and natural with just the right balance of dryness and soul.

In isolation, the quality of the mid-range is outstanding and with the right sources, the A3H has all the ingredients to excel. However, the A3H may not reward you as well with a source that’s in any way ‘trebley’ or v-shaped. I found that the A3H sounded moderately good with the slightly v-shaped Shozy Alien, but sounded excellent when paired with the FiiO E12DIY running the smooth and slightly warm OPA627 op amps. The warmer source really helps to allow the A3H’s beautiful mids to shine through and overcome the very occasionally dominant treble.

Bass

AAW A3H (8 of 9)I really like the bass from the A3Hs – it’s full and rich with good punch and while it’s slightly boosted I feel like it’s well-boosted with the majority of its energy coming down low and only a slight bloom in the mid-bass area.

The A3H certainly doesn’t boast a reference bass presentation, but instead it offers a highly enjoyable and musical bass presentation that enhances everything I’ve thrown at it. The bass from the dynamic driver is slower than balanced armature bass, but that results in an enjoyable warmth and musicality that some BA setups can lack. Every now and then I found the bass got a touch muddled, but only noticed this because I was critically listening at the time and would happily accept these momentary bursts of over-exuberance on some tracks for the enjoyment and engagement created for the vast majority of the time.

To put the bass into perspective, it is greater in quantity than the FIDUE A83 and Noble K10, and is similar in quantity to the Shure SE846 (using the blue filters). However, the SE846 sounds slightly leaner in the bass due to the speed with which the bass comes and goes. The A3H sounds fuller and a little boomier in comparison to the SE846 because of the differences between the slower response of its dynamic driver compared to the lightning fast response from the SE846. The A3H’s bass also tends to bleed more into the mid-bass whereas the SE846 keeps the boom mostly towards the sub-bass frequencies.

Before it starts to sound like I’m disliking the bass from the A3H I want to clarify that I really enjoy it. Sure, it’s not reference grade by any stretch and would not suit sound engineers or purists, but if you’re looking for a fun and engaging bass experience, the A3H is great!

Staging and Imaging

I really like how the A3H can craft an auditory image, but it’s quite source dependent due to the v-shaped tuning.

When I paired the A3H with just the Shozy Alien, the image was really unnatural. It was incredibly well-defined, but stretched in a completely straight line from one ear to the other with instruments seeming strangely separate from one another. In short, there was a major lack of coherence. The sound was interesting, but I wouldn’t want that sound for the long-term. That said, inserting the E12DIY changes the presentation completely and creates a wonderfully coherent image with excellent width and depth.

The issue with a v-shaped signature like the A3H (or indeed any ‘phone with significant peaks in its frequency response) is that it can interact negatively with the characteristics of the sources you use resulting in unnatural presentations. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy these types of ‘phones – it just means that you should try them (or a similar sounding ‘phone) with your source first.

Overall Summary

AAW A3H (2 of 9)I’ve highlighted a few shortcomings of the A3H to this point so you could easily assume that I don’t like them, but that’s actually not the case. As always, I like to present a balanced view as much as possible so I’ve included both the pros and cons of the A3H’s sound, but my overall impression of the A3H is definitely positive.

The A3H is a thoroughly enjoyable v-shaped IEM. It offers more bass than the A83 and a bit less treble which results in a more balanced and more fun overall sound at the ‘expense’ of some detail and subtlety. The soundstage and image can be highly coherent and detailed with the right sources and the overall experience is one that you can get lost in for hours of engaging and enjoyable listening.

If you’re looking to spend $500 on a universal IEM I would definitely recommend considering the A3H along with some of the other strong universal options like the Audiofly AF140 or AF180, and the FIDUE A83. If you’re looking for a custom IEM though, the A3H is a bargain custom that sounds great, assuming you like a v-shaped, engaging and dynamic sound.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

6 Comments

  1. Jared Basshead
    August 8, 2015
    Reply

    Very well comprehensive review. I read it thrice and liked the part where you compared it to fidue. The looks, both the monitor and the cable, looks way better than fidue, the more reason I’m inclined towards a3h.
    So, I contacted null audio and I’m not getting much response from them and this is before the order, they don’t even have the a3h universal product page which is kinda sad.

    I also sent a email to aaw and they said the universal is a made to order so I would like to know how much time they need to make?

    • August 12, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Jared,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sorry to hear of your troubles contacting Null Audio. I have no contact with them or AAW directly – the review pair belonged to a friend of mine so I’m not sure exactly how long it takes to get them. I hope you have some success with your communications in the future. The A3H are worth pursuing and are quite different to the FIDUE A83 – both are excellent.

  2. jfw
    March 15, 2016
    Reply

    How would you compare this to the Ei.3?

    • March 18, 2016
      Reply

      Personally, I prefer the sound of the Ei.3, but it depends a bit on your tastes. The Ei.3 treble is a bit rolled-off compared to the A3H so if you prefer brighter / more extended treble then the A3H might be a better choice. I just found the treble of the A3H to be a bit forward and prefer the overall sonic balance of the Ei.3 despite it’s very slightly rolled-off sound

  3. Deepak Simon
    July 18, 2016
    Reply

    How would these fair for a drummer?

    • July 22, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Deepak. I think it really depends on your personal tastes for your monitors. There’s no doubt that the A3H is a nice unit, but some people may find the treble too hot for use as a true monitor. Personally, I think I would lean towards a slightly warmer (less V-shaped) monitor like the Audiofly AF140 / AF180, or perhaps a Shure IEM like the SE215 or SE535 (although that might lack the bass kick you need). The Shozy Zero could be another good option, especially at its insanely low price too.

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