AUDIOSENSE AQ4 Review: Beauty isn’t in WOW effect, but in natural balance

THE PLUS
-Smoothly balanced cohesive hybrid tuning
-Natural and dense timbre
-Warm yet well resolved
-Weighty note attack
-Both male and female vocal sound full and present
-Versatile tuning
-non spiky and free of sibilance and harshness
-Holographic soundstage and decent imaging
-Price value

THE MINUS
-Lower bass extension lack linearity
-Warm bass=not the cleanest or best textured
-Not the crispest or airiest imaging
-While snappy, highs lack a bit of sparkle and natural decay

TONALITY: 8.7/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.4/10
CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN: 8.2/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.8/10

Even if Audiosense is quite known and respected among chinese audio community, it’s more of an underdog here in western world. This is what i would call the ”chifi irony” where the most serious and professional audio companies get overshadowed by less experienced one.
Since they begin as an independant registered company 5 years ago (after working for other audio companies as OEM tuner-manufacturer), Audiosense have always been about Knowles Balanced Armature obsession, with whom they collab closely.

In the past I have tested near all their IEM model, from single BA T180 to triple BA T300, to finally get blown away by their flagship, the legendary Audiosense T800: a 8 knowles BA bass monster with energic yet very cohesive and lush W shape signature. From this day, when I hear Audiosense launch a new IEM, i go gaga…but kinda always wish for something that will be better than T800. Well, while the DT600 were very good, their L shape warm signature wasn’t as exciting and immersive as T800 to my ears. Still, I see that Audiosense learn from their experience because it was a big step up from AQ3 and other models of T serie.

Today, I will review their latest offering, the AQ4, an hybrid with one 10mm dynamic driver and 3 Knowles balanced armature. Let me tell you already: the tuning evolution still upon it’s game here!

EVERYTHING ABOUT TONALITY

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The AQ4 deliver a smooth balanced signature that hesitate between warm neutrality and V shape fun. It doesn’t sound like an IEM using balanced armature, its too warm and cohesive for that. Timbre is suprisingly natural and have good density as well as nuance. For the Harman target lover, it will be pleasant, but for those that find harman curve too soft, it will deliver enough dynamic fun too.

The tonal balance is thick as a whole but still keep definition of every single instrument in a warm, weighty way with good tactile relief and organic presence.

Bass is warmest part, it have a thick weighty slam too it that avoid important bleeding and embrace the lower mids gently. Its attack speed match well those of the BA since they are dampened in attack vividness. As an audiophile obsess by bass quality, i would say firstly that it’s superior in control and resonance than the AQ3 and doesn’t veil mids and treble, but it’s not the most flexible, transparent, clean and detailed bass. This is more of a thick thumpy juicy ”club bass” than a refined, well define and separated ”realist bass” that can extend naturally down to 20hz. Energice yet warm with just enough texture to not be too dark to perceive it’s roundness, AQ4 bass is more about well weighted quantity, energy and presence than quality of resolution, precision and speed. Still, I can enjoy jazz like Phronesis with the AQ4 because of the bass keep its balance and stay in the back yet deliver the punch, even if you can’t extract perfectly the acoustic bass line articulation. In the other hand, when it come to thick electric bass line, toms, digital kick and cello, we are in eargasm territory.

Mids are smooth, warm and lush, a bit lean in lower range but never thin or too light in weight. In fact, piano sound marvellous with the AQ4, since note weight and density is there as well as a pleasant smoothed timbre. Piano is a good instrument to test mid range versatility and AQ4 pass it with glory. Sure male vocal aren’t as full bodied as female, but still, the presence is there and they don’t feel recessed nor dry or lacking in density, they have texture nuance and no balance issue like too much lower or higher harmonic unbalance. They aren’t your typical balanced armature mids, its coherent and impressively natural, female vocal sound even better than Yume since they have a thick roundness, free of sibilance or shoutyness. Gentle yet wide in presence and romantic in tone, this will please female singer fan for sure unless they favorise lipsy analytical approach of the vocal. Weigh, density, with soft definition that sure affect crispnest and sharp resolution yet doesn’t get mix up or messy with busy track due to superb layering capacity of 3 knowles BA.

Highs are full, round and complex in nuance even if a bit dark in micro-details texture. The are extremely well balanced with rest of spectrum and never too energic or pushed fowards. I would say they can feel lacking in air, sparkly and snap, but not richness of sound info and layers. This is the type of treble that doesn’t creat wow effect at first, but show it’s richness is realist unforced details like box texture of strings that is there but not boosted, so if you do your critical listener you can dig and find new sound info and nuance in plentyness, whitout never going overlmed by energy or unbalance. Think about Final E4000 type of treble, and your not far from the presentation of AQ4 highs. Sure, this will lack a bit of bite for electric guitar or violin, or sparkle for acoustic guitar, but the bodied tone will be right and presence well define in layer. As well, we have minimal snap and brilliance to add a bit of energy. We can say to some extend that AQ4 add a bit of extra lower harmonic but in a pleasant colored way. We have as well some warm resonance to post attack, adding an analog feel to the sound.

EVERYTHING ABOUT TECHNICALITIES

While they are far from being bad and sure on par or better than anything like FIIO FH3, Audiosense AQ3, Dunu DK2001, I don’t think the goal of AQ4 is to focus on technical advantage of their drivers but more about achieving an organic, cohesive and appealing balance that will permit long immersive listening session without any fatigue. The slight bass warmth can even detract attention from technical talent.
Dynamic articulation and layering are excellent, yet not presented in a spacious open way, it’s coherent in addition without becoming and offer a wide spatiality.
Attack speed is a bit slower with the dynamic driver, but never sloppy. When it come to mids, you don,t feel you lack anything is dynamic and presence. Treble tough show more of the BA perfomance in term of speed in attack and precision in definition and snap, for example a very fast percussions solo with be easily rendered.
What impress too is how the different drivers work well in tandem and never feel imbalance.

Sides notes:
Eartips choice will greatly inflict on sound rendering as well as clarity of audio source. For amping, unlike most of Audiosense IEM, this time it can handle it but the sound benefit is minimal. Same for cable, it doesn’t inflicet alot on tonal balance and timbre. (personal eartips choice: KBear 07 wide bore yellow ear tips)

CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN-ACCESSORIES

Good construction overall, plastic is thick and of good quality, seem durable. Back plate is a bit generic in these sens it’s use often in chifi iem, but it look good nonetheless. Shape is organic and fit well. It’s light and comfy.

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Cable is quite good, litz copper braided, seem durable, and it’s the same as DT600 and T800 cable, the ear hook is a bit too curvy for my ears but we can get rid of it if we wish.

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As always, accessories are generous with Audiosense, but instead of pelican case like other models, it’s a (false?) leather carrying case with (false?) wool in it to keep warm your AQ4. We have 2 different type of silicon eartips in 3 size, and 3 size of memory foam eartips. A cleaning brush.

COMPARISONS

VS AUDIOSENSE T800 (8knowles BA-300$)

Let’s begin by saying the AQ4 is better balanced than the T800, i’m surprise myself to admit that, but it’s less of an energic W shape and bass is less boomy with AQ4. Still, bass is a bit slower and more prompt to add warmth to mids but have a more natural flexibility. Resolution, attack speed and overall technicalities go to T800, while tone is smoother and more natural with AQ4, texture might be less abrasive and detailed, but less fuzzy-grainy too. Soundstage and imaging is more holographic with T800, yet not as transparent and deep. We have more upper mids bite with T800, so rock will sound more energic.
All in all, T800 still create more WOW effect but to the cost of a less natural and cohesive tonality than AQ4.

VS TRI I3pro (1DD+1planar+1BA-180$)

More crisp airy U shape and analytical, notably less well balanced and cohesive between different drivers, the I3pro feel thin sounding appart bass that feel more boosted and resonant. Timbre is less thick and natural than AQ4 but have greater transparency and details in mid range. Treble is brighter, sharper, sparklier and snappier with I3pro, airier too. Soundstage seem bigger, taller and deeper. All in all, after AQ4 listen, the I3pro sound quite artificial and forced in treble, but more spacious open and energic.

VS IKKO OH10 (1DD+1knowle BA-180$)

OK, these gem pass test of time and still have a solid fan base and it’s for good reason, even if they have 1BA instead of 3 for the AQ4, they hold their ground without shame. But tonality here is very different here, its bright balanced V shape. What hit first is bass quality which is clearly superior to AQ4, its punchier, tighter, more textured and well resolved and better separated too, slightly less warm and boosted too. But limit of a single BA for mids and treble is shown in amoung of free sound layers we have, even if warmer, the nuance and articulation of layer is superior with AQ4, as well, timbre is notable fuller and lusher when it come to vocal which OH10 deliver in a brighter, shoutier way with more high harmonic push. Soundstage i this time wider and more open with AQ4 and imaging, while not as crisp, have more accurate positionning in a 3D space.
All in all, i find way more musical and enjoyable AQ4 due to fuller and more natural timbre and more cohesive balance, technicalities while near on par are more versatile and complete in rendering, only the bass have superior technicalities here.

CONCLUSION

While i didn’t like the AQ3 and was not fully satisfy with the DT600 balance, both having strange bass behavior, i wasn’t that confident I would enjoy the AQ4.
And I was SO wrong, to my ears, it’s the best achievment in term of multi drivers tuning from Audiosense, offering a balanced lively signature with a very refined cohesion between drivers that I rarely or ever heard in this type of multi-BA hybrid. This isn’t an easy task, and the choice to go warmish tonality was the right one, since even softed BA offer great presence and round definition if well done.
This permit the AQ4 to be greatly versatile in sound too, with a fast yet not agressive attack, warm weighty bass that doesnt veil mids, and snappy highs that doesn’t create splash or unwanted resonance.
In fact, the AQ4 sound like a single dynamic driver earphones with ultra flexible technicalities, this is the type of IEM that wow you in the long run, since you discover new nuance in your music when you travel in it. And the travel can be long since it’s fatigue free and smooth as butter.
A big win from Audiosense that proof they gain maturity with the experience of their last tuning, and a perfect complement to more bright and energic sound of the marvellous T800 flagship multi-BA.
If you search for a rich sound experience, smooth , lush and bassy with beautifull vocal and natural timbre yet well resolve and articulate in sound layers, or if you are afraid of artificial sounding hybrid with BA, the Audiosense AQ4 is a logical answer. And a great mid-tier IEM bargain too.
Highly suggested!!

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PS: I wanna thanks Audiosense for sending me the AQ4. I’m not affiliated nor influenced or pay by AS to promote their product.

You can buy the Audiosense AQ4 from Hifigo here:
https://hifigo.com/products/audiosense-aq4

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