Updated: Jan 19
Pros: Very comfortable shell, Build Quality, Smooth mids (vocals)
Cons: Muddy and bloated mid bass, Lifeless treble, Weird tonality, Poor detail and separation
Driver Setup: 1 Dynamic Driver + 2 Balanced Armature Drivers
Price: $180 (USD)
Disclaimer: I borrowed the Audiosense AQ3 from mistereden on Carousell Singapore for review purposes. It currently retails at $249 (SGD)
This is a review of the Audiosense AQ3, a hybrid IEM. Audiosense made waves with their successful earphone, the T800. The AQ3 adopts a similar aesthetic but with different internals.
Accessories (Score: 8.0/10)
Packaging is simplistic yet very sleek. It comes in a large Pelican-style case which looks very sturdy. It may not be the most practical case to bring your IEMs around in everyday but it sure is a nice case you can repurpose or put your EDC stuff.
It comes with a silver woven 8-wire cable. Cable is simple, low-profile and sleek. It suits the buds themselves and is sufficiently functional.
Build Quality and Fit (Score: 9.0/10)
Audiosense have themselves a winning formula in this design. This is one of the most comfortable IEMs I have ever worn. I really hope they stick with this design and level of build quality for future IEMs (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right). The AQ3 is made with a 3D-printed resin filled shell. Each of the drivers are connected to tubes which combine up at the nozzle.
Sound (Overall Score: 6.5/10)
- Shanling M3s
- Fiio Q1 MkII
Music and Albums listened to
- Kingo Hamada – Midnight Cruisin’
- McFly – Anthology Tour and Memory Lane
- NEEDTOBREATHE – Acoustic Live
- PMJ – The New Classics
- La La Land Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- Grease Soundtrack
- AJR – The Click and Neotheater
Bass (Score: 5.0/10)
Usually in a Hybrid Setup, I would look forward to listening out for the dynamic driver timbre, especially in the bass. However, to me, this was the weakest point of the AQ3.
Kick drums that are supposed to sound quick and heavy sound like cantankerous giants lumbering through a narrow corridor and knocking everything over in their way. In simpler terms, it just sounds very clumsy and unrefined. Double Bass plucks sound nothing like plucks and it was excessively boomy and muddy.
There is a very big mid to upper bass bloat that bleeds severely into the lower mids. It is overpowering and intolerable for longer listening sessions. I can’t tell if the sub-bass is lacking or that the copious mid bass is overpowering everything around it. Everything seems really in your head and the stage is so congested it made me feel a little claustrophobic literally.
Everything became more subdued and listenable after much EQ (thankfully this IEM responds well to EQ)
Mids (Score: 7/10)
Arguably the best trait in this IEM but even that is not without its flaws. The mid bass is kind of muted, which I presume is the fault of the bloated bass from the dynamic driver. Saxophones are suppressed, stifled and muted in Kingo Hamada’s “Dolphin in Town“, very unfortunately.
I have read some reviews of this set saying the mids are luscious and smooth. While that is true to some extent, I would rather describe it as being closer to something being crudely sanded over with sandpaper, especially at places where it shouldn’t be. It makes the sound very thick but lacking in the much-needed technicalities. Instruments like euphonium and saxophones have plenty of body, which is impressive and a trait I really enjoy. However, some detail seems to be lost and it loses part of the sound that makes an instrument sound like what it is. Basically, tonality and timbre are kind of whack.
Another thing I liked about the upper mids was how deftly it avoids sounding harsh or shouty. Female vocals are forward and smooth without being sibilant. However, a lot of the texture in the vocals seem smoothened over and lost.
Treble (Score: 6.5/10)
Treble, just like the upper mids, avoids the harshness and sibilance and remains tame. Perhaps some might like the AQ3 for this trait. However, the treble didn’t do it for me either. Somehow the AQ3 manages to suck the life out of the treble such that cymbal crashes and Hi hats sound so lifeless. Listening to “Born to Hand Jive” by Sha Na Na, the hi hats and cymbals lacked the air and sparkle and just felt a little lame. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard worse, and I definitely prefer this over tinny, cheap-sounding treble, but this wasn’t what I was expecting from the AQ3s either.
I feel a little bad for being so harsh on the AQ3 but to be honest I had really high expectations for the set, with so many amazing hybrid releases in the SGD $100-$200 range. The AQ3 costs a little more than those and sits in the $200+ price range hence I was really expecting more from them.
Separation and detail retrieval are way below average, considering the price you are paying.
Audiosense AQ3 ($249) vs. Peacock Audio Spring ($180) (Review here)
I would pick the Reecho and Peacock Audio Spring over the AQ3 as I find it better in almost every way. Both are hybrids and are almost on par in terms of comfort. The Spring costs significantly less but does an amazing job.
The main difference between the two is the dynamic driver bass performance. The Spring also has a slightly emphasized bass region, but it sounds much better in tonality and has much more definition and the sub-bass extension is impressive. Decay is natural and much quicker than the AQ3.
Both these IEMs are more “vocal-forward” IEMs but I find the Spring the more enjoyable pair. Vocals seem to have more texture and the highs sound much airier as compared to the AQ3 where highs sound very constricted.
I may be slightly biased coming into the AQ3 with pretty high expectations for it, however, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. Forget all the technical jargon and terminologies, when you purchase an IEM and throw in over $200 of your hard-earned cash, the thing you would want most from it is simply to enjoy music. I struggled to achieve that with the AQ3, and it really frustrated me as I went through track after track really “trying to enjoy” it. This is not to say Audiosense created a monstrosity here, perhaps there are some people who may enjoy this signature, but I feel that certainly a much better job could be done especially for the asking price and there are some flaws that I simply cannot overlook in the AQ3. Nevertheless, I look forward to future improvements and hope that Audiosense doesn’t give up trying to improve its hybrid line.
Overall Grade: D
Click HERE for our grading list for earphones