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Monday, November 19, 2012

[REVIEW] Astrotec AM90, AS100HD and AS200HD

Astrotec is a company that doesn’t seems to have much of a name in the headphone business, even though it has been found back in 2002 making and designing headphone for others. But with so many small OEM/ODM headphone companies in China, you simply won’t make a name unless you have something different to show for – and that’s exactly what Astrotec did a few months ago with the release of AM90 under their own brand, as one of the cheapest single balanced armature IEM in the market. They have also expanded their line-up with two small portable on-ears as well, among others. So far, budget market seems to be their main focus.


Driver: Single Knowles Balanced Armature
Frequency Response: 100Hz – 12kHz
Sensitivity: 109dB / 1mW (1kHz)
Impedance: 25ohm
Cable: 1.2m +/- 0.3m
Plug: 3.5mm stereo gold plated
Price: US$45


Driver: 40mm Open Back
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 25kHz
Sensitivity: 110dB / 1mW (1kHz)
Impedance: 32ohm
Rated Input: 30mW
Max Input: 500mW
Cable: 1.2m +/- 0.3m
Plug: 3.5mm stereo gold plated
Price: $35


Driver: 40mm Close Back
Frequency Response: 8Hz – 22.5kHz
Sensitivity: 115dB / 1mW (1kHz)
Impedance: 32ohm
Rated Input: 50mW
Max Input: 500mW
Cable: 1.2m +/- 0.3m
Plug: 3.5mm stereo gold plated
Price: US$35

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
You can easy tell AM90 is from China when you see the brown paper box with foam inlay - kind of rustic, but not in a bad way as it keeps the price down for what essentially a budget IEM. Packaging for the AS100HD/AS200HD on the other hand looks more upscale, but nothing particular to praise for either.

Accessories wise, you’ll get a soft pouch for either AS100HD or AS200HD, which is typical for on-ear. AM90 comes with a hard case, a pair of tri-flanges eartip, 3 pairs of single flanges (S, M, L), and a pair of foam tips with adapter core – not the biggest accessories pack we have seen in this price range, but nothing to feel ashamed either.

Build quality is where Astrotec truly excels. First, AM90 comes with a housing of its own design. This might seem trivial, but using your own housing design, not to mention in aluminium, is actually quite expensive. Well, the design itself might be a bit far from winning an award, it is still of really good quality. The cable used is also excellent – semi-transparent, remind me of MEElec cable, except this is a little springy and microphonics. However, it looks very well made and durable. It can be wore over-the-ear so microphonics can be cut down. As for the AS100/200HD - the overall build quality rivals that of Sennheiser PX series easily, and that is enough said. The headphone themselves are pretty similar to MEElec HT-21 actually, only the minor parts are different.

All and all, Astrotec’s offerings are made in such a way that they could compete with products that priced twice as high.

Sound Quality
All models have been given over 50 hours of burn-in before the review.

It is pretty obvious AM90 uses a Knowles Siren driver even without confirmation from Astrotec (though they do) as it has the exact same sound signature as Sherwood SE-777 and MEElectronics A151. So I won’t bother to write it a new one. Instead, I’ll quote what I have written previously: “Very warm and fairly musical, with a full sounding mid and bass. Treble is clean, very well extended but smooth, capable of showing a good degree of fine detail yet it is not the highlight of the sound. Mid is warm and full, slightly forward with a sweet vocal. Bass is also warm and bigger than average body, but slightly slower than expected and do not have a very strong impact, not quite a bass monster and roll off at near 20Hz yet a very good performance (both quality and quantity wise) as far as BA based IEM is concerned.” The main different between AM90 to SE-777 or A151 is soundstage, which is noticeably wider than the later two. Not sure how Astrotec is able to give a Siren driver that extra spaciousness, but perhaps it has something to do with the elongated housing. Though the soundstage has been improved, overall it is still relatively minor. While I do prefer AM90 a bit more, it is still more or less on the same level as SE-777 and A151 as far as technical ability goes.

AS100HD is warm and smooth. Bass has good impact and decent body, mid is well textured and the overall focus of the whole presentation with a tap of sweetness in it. Upper mid and treble is clean, but a little too smooth some time and could use a little treble boost to add back some missing sparkles. Soundstage is decent, even though it is an open end design. This is probably the side effect of the slightly forwarded mid and bass.

AS200HD is the fuller and warmer version of AS100HD.Bass has good impact like AS100HD, but much fuller and can come out mushy. Mid retains most of the texture, but also fuller and sweeter at the same time. The good thing is that the treble is also crispier and better sparkle to compensate for the added warm. Soundstage is sub-par, mainly due to the warmness and forwardness of the presentation. It really is more ‘surrounding’ than it is ‘wide and open’.

Both AS100HD and AS200HD, like MEElec HT-21, fail to challenge the king of budget on-ear, the Koss KSC75. Among the three however, HT-21 probably has the best treble extension (but need better lower end), AS100HD will have the best overall balance and smoothness (but could use a little more sparkle) while AS200 will have the richest and fullest of sound (but could have a bit more bass control). All three are priced similarly, but I think I like HT-21 just a little better more since adding bass tends to be easier to do than the other two options. But with the right EQing, all three should be right around the same level of performance, more or less.

I like A151 because it combines good sound, good build, and good price together, the same however can be said to AM90 as well. And so, I see no reason why I won’t recommend AM90 with the same Sonic Diamond I have given to A151, especially since both models can be found well under $50 regularly.

Both AS100HD and AS200HD are solid models, and like the previously reviewed HT-21, they offer good value. The only unfortunate thing is that KSC75 is still available for $15 these days and it is a tough opponent to beat.

A thank to LeadMeUrEars for the samples.

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Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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