AUDIOSENSE AQ3 REVIEW
THE PLUS: Smooth natural timbre, Vocal presence, Tonal balance, Solid construction
THE SO SO: Weak bass, average definition, imaging and soundstage, no treble sparkle-decay
AUDIOSENSE is a very promising Chinese earphones company that stand apart of the crowd because of their collaboration with Knowles company for the creation of multi-BA earphones. The best achievement they did until now is their flagship 8BA earphones call T800, which offers warm and bassy analytical sound in a panoramic soundstage. As well, single BA T180 was a great value and well-tuned iem with its limitation. Because of my overwhelming love for the T800, my expectation was surely excessive with the new AQ3 model, which is a Hybrid universal custom scoring 2 Knowles BA and 1 dynamic driver.
At 180$, the AQ3 enter one of most competitive sound value range which is the sub-300$ market and to some extent, it means it competes with it’s bigger brother the T800, but as well with IKKO OH10, Ibasso IT01s, Dunu DK2001, Oriolus Finschi, BQEYZ Spring1 etc.
Can it enter this bloody audio battle arena and win it? Let’s see in this review.
You can buy the AQ3 for 179$ directly from the official Audiosense shop HERE.
The AQ3 use 3 drivers. 2 Knowles balanced armature for mids and highs and one 10mm Titanium diaphragm dynamic driver for bass. All drivers are connected with a sound tube, which shows how serious acoustic design was done. Still, I’m not sure connecting a 10mm dynamic drivers with a small tube is a good idea.
Compared to all other T series models with the exception of T800, the packaging and accessories is an improvement. Well, it’s all about the fancy waterproof pelican case in fact, as the cable is the same nice 8cores SPC one as lower range models. We have a generous amount of memory foams ear tips too (3 pairs) and 3 pairs of silicone ear tips.
The construction is very nice, it’s made of 3d print resin plastic shell and a carbon fiber back cover with a metal nozzle and tightly implemented mmcx connector in housing. The housing is soft and slippy, it do not become hot or cold easily and the organic shape is very comfy. For a universal hybrid, the body isn’t that big at all, and way smaller than T800 model. The metal nozzle is quite long, so you will not encounter a fitting issues with the AQ3, in fact, they are among the most comfortable iem I own.
CABLE is, as always with Audiosense, of higher quality than what we could expect. Its a 8cores silver-plated cable with L jack. The mmcx connector are solid and the braiding is soft enough. You don’t need to upgrade cable with the AQ3, this one do its job perfectly.
At 18ohm of impedance and 102db of sensitivity, these are rather easy to drive and any audio source will do. Still, I would suggest pairing it with vivid and clear sounding DAP or DAC-AMP, so the overall sound gain in dynamic and clarity. These don’t like a warm or unclean audio source.
These block noise quite intensely, in fact, if you use memory foam it will become dead silent around you. As well, sound leakage is plain non-existent even at high volume. This can be very interesting for people recording vocal in home studio or working in an environment invade by people that suffer of hyperacusis.
SOUND SIGNATURE is a somewhat tamed W shape approach, where the mids, lower-highs have more emphasis. It’s a mellow near neutral sound, without any peaks anywhere, for the better and the worst. The bass have good weight but lack extension and find it’s place between boomy and muffled. MIDS are forwards, clear and full sounding, smooth without any sibilance but not very transparent or airy. VOCAL are very nice and surely the highlight of AQ3, they have a sense of emotional immediacy and emphasized presence. TREBLE is more about the lower and mid-treble, it soft, not particularly vivid, snappy or sparkly, no decay whatsoever, but good balance with rest of sound signature which is warm, slightly V shape with extra mids push and rolled off upper treble.
TIMBRE is soft, slightly warm, thick and free of any grain which is inherent to texture, so, not a lot of texture details either. Between liquid and lush.
TONALITY is natural, organic, very smooth without any balance issue. Balance is good but lack flexibility.
SOUNDSTAGE is intimate, taller than wider, with minimal deep. You are in the middle of the stage, with the signer at one feet of you backed with all it’s band.
IMAGING is very average and hollow due to a serious lack of space between instrument making it okay with layering but in a too compressed way.
THE GOOD part of AQ3 is its balanced tonality, natural timbre, and lush mid-range.
For the BASS, it’s well-controlled and has good weight and punch in mid bass. I like this mid-bass punch wich is well rounded without being too aggressive. It’s thigh, without a lot of decay and texture is soft.
The MIDS are rightly done, and I consider that rare in Chi-Fi. No sibilance, thick enough timbre with just enough transparency to show the background layer. Just a hint warm, they are gentle and natural. Vocal stay centered, they don’t invade sound spectrum and overshadow everything but still have an extra presence that saves them of sounding recessed. In some sense, the AQ3 is mid-centric in musicality but flat in technicalities.
HIGHS are on the line with the rest of the frequencies, percussions have body, they aren’t just made of ‘’metal’’, as well, they are nuance. No treble peaks, no aggressivity, but good macro-resolution.
THE SO-SO part of AQ3 is that it’s too gentle and lacks excitement, as well the whole sound tends to sound overly intimate. If you search for big airy soundstage or sharp imaging, you should pass.
BASS does not extend down to 20hz and is a little dulled in texture and presence with the exception of mid-bass. This dynamic driver really struggles to render proper sub bassline, which can sound muffled.
MIDS though great can congest with whole sound due to lack of edge and definition.
TREBLE lacks sparkle, snap and decay extension.
THE SHAMEFUL part is that the lower bass can create distortion at high volume, struggling with its airflow (or rumble). In fact, the whole bass isn’t good and I think it’s due to sound pressure in tube connecting it, the air just feels muffled, compressed, unnatural. As well, congestion does appear with busy track and even with simple music, pinpointing exact instrument position is more about the power of imagination here.
VS IKKO OH1 (140$)
Here, the AQ3 sound seriously more flatter-balanced and smooth in timbre compared to more U shape and bright OH1, which is more on the fun side of tuning.
Soundstage feels deeper and airier with OH1, and well, wider too, making the AQ3 sound a little congested at its side. Imaging while more intimate with AQ3, cover whole frequency equally with its sound layers, where the OH1 forgets enlightening a good amount of lower mids and give a lot of space to highs for wider separation. BASS is more cranked up in sub-region with the OH1, giving weightier slam and boosted presence for subline, AQ3 is just above flat, with average body and shy extension, concentrating its impact in more rounded mid-bass, but overall bass is slower with AQ3 and even weak at high volume. MIDS are more forwarded, thicker and softer with AQ3, free of any sibilance, wich the OH1 has time to time, timbre is brighter and more upper mids peaky with OH1 but this gives a more vivid attack and edgy resolution. TREBLE of both are on the delicate relaxed side, but AQ3 highs are thicker where OH1 is more sparkly and snappy, again, I feel whileAQ3 gives richer highs, it tends to lack brilliance and air to capt the attention like the OH1.
All in all, while I prefer the OH1 for its bass, soundstage and sharper clarity, the AQ3 has a more gentle and mature tuning.
VS MOONDROP STARFIELD (110$)
Both of these are rather mid centric, but the biggest difference is in how the sound expands in the air, Starfield having bigger soundstage to offer more spacious rendering.
SOUNDSTAGE is notably wider while the AQ3 has a strange mix of tallness and deepness making spatiality a little awkward. IMAGING is more holographic with the Starfield, which is due to a mix of better transparency and spatialization realism. BASS is thicker and more punchy in mid-bass with the AQ3, but its warmer and less detailed and do not extend as well in sub-region as Stardfiled bass, which is more transparent and have a better transition to mid-range too. MIDS are more intimate and slightly more forwards with the AQ3, but they are less wide and airy and lack the definition edge of the Moondrop, which in the end is tonally more accurate. TREBLE of both these iem is rather soft, but I feel the Moondrop is better balanced in highs and has more natural decay too.
All in all, the AQ3 cruelly lacks bass control and extension of Starfield, as well as soundstage spaciousness and overall tonal cohesion refinement.
Audiosense AQ3 delivers addictively lush vocal and impressively natural timbre for a hybrid earphone, but this do not mean they are well-tuned. While tonal balance isn’t bad, the weakest point is the bass response which affects the whole listening experience, as well, the use of 3 sound tubes results in a very intimate soundstage lacking in spatial layerings.
As my biggest hope for the AQ3 is to have better bass response than the ”all BA” T800, I must admit my disappointment is intense because T800 has better bass in both impact and control.
My suggestion is simple: skip this one and jump directly on the T800.