AKOUSTYX R-220 REVIEW: Smooth and nuanced reference monitor IEM

AKOUSTYX R-220 REVIEW

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SOUND: 8/10
CONSTUCTION&DESIGN: 8/10
PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES: 9/10
VALUE: 8/10

The PLUS: Flat reference sound, nuanced layering, no sibilance or harshness, Good resolution, fast transient response and attack, Generous Accessories
The SO-SO: Average soundstage and imaging, not the highest definition, rolled off bass extension, lack some snap, average cable with useless mic

AKOUSTYX is an American start-up manufacturer based in San Jose, California with their assembly line in Nashville, Tennessee NOT in China….which is something I truly admire nowadays where even big brands do not tend to care to assemble their product in their own country mostly to higher their benefit, not to lower the price of their final products. This fact tends to make the final product less rushed in production, which at the end can result in more trustable craftsmanship and quality check.

Behind their company, they have a team of musicians and audiophiles, which serve them to achieve acoustic qualities that will please as much musician searching for reference monitor sound than audiophile searching for musical reference sound. But the very R-220 model I will review today is specifically tuned for monitoring and on-stage musician.

At 200$, the R-220 is relatively accessible monitor earphones, unlike the R-210 that is a single BA, this model have 2 Knowles balanced armature to cover whole sound range with a neutral approach. These aren’t mean to enjoy music, but to ”understand” it.

Let’s see in this review if the R-220 sound is enough maturely tuned to do well it’s monitoring tasks as much fro a drummer, bassist, than a singer or harpist.

You can buy the Akoustyx R-220 directly from the official company HERE.

SPECS

Specification
Driver Dual Reference Balanced Armature
Impedance 29 Ω @ 1KHz
Sensitivity 109dB
Freq. Response 15-22.000Hz
Cable Length 1.2M (4.0 ft)
Microphone 4mm Omni Directional

 

PACKAGING&ACCESSORRIES

UNBOXING experience is a very rewarding one. The presentation is minimalist, but you are spoil by lot of accessories in the box. I’m often underwhelmed by the protective case included with earphones, not this time because we have a superb neoprene padded carrying case that has 2 pouch with a zip so you can bring an extra cable with the R-220. It’s really a well-crafted carrying case that I will use daily.
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As well, you have good amount of ear tips including their own-designed customization kit ear tips, silicone ear tips and a pair of memory foams ear tips. The cable include have a mic and is multi braided OFC cable that looks of good quality too.

CONSTRUCTION is simple yet well made. R-220 is the exact same IEM housing than the R-210 with black color instead of blue. It’s supremely small, and a unique look that looks like a mix of Etymotic and Final Audio F iem. Material of housing is a mix of aluminum alloy and polycarbonate plastic. Sturdy and classy looking iem that promises long durability.

DESIGN is nice and comfy, it’s so small that it will fit any size of ears. As well, you can both wear it over-ear or cable down. It must be noted that if you wear it cable down, cable will create microphonic. As well, with ear hook, over-ear design is less comfortable than with a soft flexible cable without ear hook. But, and this is an important BUT, if you use the earlock tips, the ear hook problem is partly solved as the fit will be very secure. Earlocks tips cancel any unwanted movement, but I don’t think it is very comfortable. In fact, I prefer using another cable and wear the R-220 cable down.

ISOLATION is impressive and it really acts like noise ears plug when used with memory foam tips. As well, sound leakage is inexistant, which is a big plus.

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DRIVEABILITY at 50ohm of impedance do benefit from good amping, should it be with a powerful DAP or with the help of portable amp. If not properly amped, the sound will be more congested and lack in dynamic impact.

SOUND

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These dual BA are tuned for on-stage musician and studio producer, the goal is to sound as neutral and realist as possible, not to be musical or colored to fit specific music style. It would be lying if I see the first listen put big smile on my face, no, it put a serious face that make me suddenly go in critical listener mode, putting me ‘’outside’’ the music, like a severe observer. I was suddenly judging mastering and producing quality of the music, not enjoying it. Still, some well-recorded bass light music was very enjoyable, but in a intimate, slightly cold way. Level of nuance is high with the R-220 as well as level of details, but as it’s flatly tuned, it mean it’s very balanced and not meant to throw at you boosted treble. Flat with rich brightish timbre and well done tonal balance, the R-220 is very fast in transient response and offer a clear resolution with a smooth definition.

SOUNDSTAGE is limited in space and very intimate, kinda stock in your head, BUT if you push the IEM deep in ears the headroom will expend making it quite good in both wideness and great deepness, as well as gaining in instrument separation space. Still, it’s among average for  the price.

IMAGING is great, very precise and balanced. Every instrument has a good level of clear positioning and never encounter problematic over-layering or mixing congestion. I’m very impressed by what 2 balanced armature drivers can deliver in terms of macro and micro resolution.

TONALITY is well balanced, flat, slightly dry and bright but in a well-polished manner. It’s natural without the warmth we can expect from this word.

TIMBRE is very appealing and follows the Knowles drivers ‘’house sound’’ which are among thickest sound BA, these don’t sound thin or too bright but have a wooly dryness to it, which means it keeps transparency even if it got nuanced texture and good body.

BASS is lean and near dead flat, and as we can expect from dual BA, it rolls off in sub-region, so no rumble, no slam, no air moving or natural extension. But, it has a very fast transient response that delivers fast attack and thigh decay so it keeps mid-range completely clear of any lows intrusion. I was surprise by the level of nuance and ultimate speed while listening to Antwood ‘’Overlay Network’’, sure, the rumble was tamed, but bass body and impact is so well defined and energic, keeping rest of imaging clean, and different range attacks as fastly accurate, the R-220 sure confirm that this track is perfectly produced as well as the fact it does not distort or became uncontrolled in the low end at high volume even with busy music. With bassier iem, this track was overly veiled in mids and some time to forwards in highs, which isn’t the case at all with the R-220.

MIDS are very linear too, until slow gradual boost in 3KHZ region, this tends to extract vocal easily by adding a hint of extra presence but avoid any sibilance too. Still, lower and mid mids are rather dry and soft in the attack, lacking definition edge, but keeping rather natural tonality. Some instruments like cello or saxophone will lack body, making them a little boxy sounding, but never in an overly displeased manner because of nuanced texture and good transparency they keep. Violin sound okay too, slightly bright and very fast in the attack, again they aren’t lush or have a wide airy presence. I would say R-220 mids are specifically tuned for imaging clarity as well as extra vocal definition. Again, I was surprised by high clarity that feels natural and highly nuanced in layers with a not so well recorded TRACK from sweet ‘’Cornelia Murr’’, unlike most other IEM that make quite recessed her vocal, here it has well define presence and good space of separation from rest of instrument, and honestly, I discover for the first time that she has 2 layers of her voice recording (a technique often used with singer).

TREBLE is mostly smooth, natural and richly textured. It isn’t vivid or sparkly and lacks a bit of natural decay, but resonance would affect overall sound separation so I think for the Studio purpose it’s a wise choice to keep the highs crisp and thigh. The attack is again very fast and well-controlled, balance is realist, the lower and mid highs add gentle texture and richness to overall sound without any grain or harsh brightness. I do encounter some rare upper treble aggressive spike in above 10khz region, it was high pitched metallic percussion that was already overly loud with all other iem I listen it to, so I don’t think it’s really R-220 fault, but this is to be noted we have extra upper highs presence that adds some brilliance and clarity to treble as well as add spatiality to the imaging. Anyway, I’m still unsure if I like this kind of treble, as it tends to make acoustic guitar lack edge and decay, but at the same time, it avoids any metallic timbre we can be scare off with balanced armature.

COMPARISONS

VS AKOUSTYX R-210 (120$)

The R-210 are very nice single BA iem, and I find them even more balanced in musicality than it’s bigger R-220 brother. In fact, in my review I say they sound more like a single micro dynamic driver than a typical balanced armature. The biggest difference with these 2 is imaging, bass, and treble. SOUNDSTAGE is similar in wideness but have slightly more deepness with the R-220. Imaging is more accurate and informative with R-220, which is evident in how sound is more layered precisely. BASS is warmer, rounder and more boosted with R-210, it’s less well controlled and fast in attack than R-220. MIDS are thicker, warmer and lusher with the R-210, while they are clearer and colder with R-220. TREBLE is notably more forward with the R-220, making the R-210 feel rolled off after 8khz while the R-210 continues to offer vivid highs in this region.
All in all, for audio enthusiast the R-210 offer a more natural musicality with smooth thick timbre and gentle treble but it does not have high technicalities of the more neutral and detailed sounding of R-220.

VS FINAL AUDIO F4100 (240$)

Single BA against Dual BA. Soundstage is more airy and out of your head with the F4100, confirming that R-220 is lower than average in this department. Tonal balance is better and more natural with the R-220 and timbre is thinner with F4100. BASS is more roll off with weak sub-bass control for the F4100 and make the R-220 sound more articulate and bodied and less muffled too. Mid-range is brighter with the F4100 and more prompt to sibilance, but it sounds more forward too, still, I prefer the fuller smoother mids of R-220. Now, TREBLE is way sharper, crispier, sparklier and energic with the F4100, it’s less balanced than R-220 but snappier and more lively with beautiful decay to it, it’s slightly more metallic and thinner in timbre than R-220 too.
All in all, the F4100 sounds extremely unbalanced and spiky compared to the more nuanced and smoother R-220.

VS BRAINWAVZ B200 (100$)

Dual BA against Dual BA. The Brainwavz B200 is 2 times cheaper and tuned very differently with more mids emphasis, warmer timbre, and darker treble. SOUNDSTAGE is again a more spacious and deep with B200, IMAGING is less accurate especially after upper mids where the instrument can feel distant. BASS is boomier and more boosted and can create distortion, lacking tightness as well as texture and control of R-220. MIDS are less nuanced and thinner but female vocal have more presence and better extracted of other instruments with the B200, as well, the definition has better edge and attack have more decay in upper mids. Lower and mid mids are fuller with R-220, flatter and better balanced. TREBLE is more sparkly with the B200 but with a metallic timbre that makes some instrument sound artificial, which never happens with smoother R-220.
All in all, B200 feels more mid centric and airy, but with weaker boomier bass and awkward tonal imbalance compared to flatter, more mature and technically superior R-220.

CONCLUSION

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The AKOUSTYX R-220 does his job well and will certainly please musician searching to monitor their instrument in a neutral manner. I think it’s sure better tuned for tracking a singer, saxophonist or violinist than a drummer, bassist, pianist or harpist, but still, all instruments from any range are easy to target, just not as nuanced.

I don’t think the R-220 should be bought for audiophile need, because musicality isn’t there, it’s a highly technical earphone with revealing yet inoffensive sound for long listening work. The fast transient response, as well as clear resolution, are the highlight, and the fact you do not have any sibilance or harshness in the treble is another big plus.

For 200$, you have a very capable Studio reference earphones monitor at an affordable price, and I think Akoustyx done their tuning job well.

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