When I woke up this morning, life was simple. Cold shower, a little coffee mixed with RedBull, then off to the subway to commute to work. But when I arrived at our Manhattan office, sitting on my desk was the new AAW A3H – a universal IEM retailing for a solid $299. Now things are complicated. Because, at this price, this earphone sounds far better than it should. But just how badly does this baby beat out its competition?
AAW A3H Review
Inside the box, you’ll find a carrying case, the earphones, six pairs of eartips, a 1/4” stereo adapter plug, an airline adapter, and a warranty card.
Using a 2-pin connection, the braided cable measures a standard 4 ft (1.2 m) long and terminates in right-angle 3.5 mm plug.
The AAW A3H makes use of a hybrid 3-driver design with a 10 mm dynamic driver covering the low end, while two balanced armature drivers handle the mids and highs. Instead of using the usual RC crossover method, AAW offers their own proprietary method, the TrueXross – a passive crossover method designed for better phase and arrival.
All of these drivers remain visible through the housing, as the inside cover has been molded from a translucent plastic. Meanwhile, our review model features an outer faceplate flecked with gold – a classy-but-flashy look that demands one’s attention.
In hand, these earphones feel light but not cheap. They exude a impression of a solid build, as well as one of comfort. Once placed in my ears, the AAW A3H seems to melt away to reveal a world of sound.
Frequency Range: 10-40,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 22 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 103 dB
As we can see from these specifications, the AAW A3H offers a fairly wide frequency range, though with perhaps more attention lavished on the highs than the lows. A low nominal impedance of just 22 ohms makes these earphones a cinch to drive, and you could easily pair them with a smartphone or a personal audio player. Volume won’t be an issue either, as the a decent sound pressure of 103 decibels provides adequate levels under most (if not all) parameters.
The A3H hosts a pretty impressive low end. Detailed and articulate, my test tracks showcase a natural and energetic sound that still proves accurate. Despite that 10 mm dynamic driver, bass never sounds too crazy or over-emphasized. Instead, the tempered bass works in tandem with the detailed character of this low end to provide a crisp and contrasting monitor-grade sound.
When it comes to the mids, I was a little disappointed. While not as forward-leaning as my go to IEM, the Mackie MP-240, the performance here remains tight and clean. Vocals and instrumentation still come across as very accurate, with the mids in general sounding just a tad bit recessed. The resultant sound seems to put a little extra emphasis on the lows and highs, but the mids still sound great with vocal-heavy artists like Jimmy Eat World, Counting Crows, Modest Mouse, and MF DOOM.
Smooth female vocals and the slightest brightness mark the AAW A3H’s high end. While the ample extension immediately reveals itself, it never becomes too piercing or uncomfortable. Even when pushing this high end to its limits on my favorite high-end test track, Max Richter’s Spring 1, the A3H remains detailed but reserved. Like the lows, the highs show a bit of character but never stray from an innate sense of accuracy.
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of soundstage lurking here. Just a tad bit narrow, the sense of space still renders instruments in a seemingly three-dimensional way. In terms of depth, the soundstage appears airy and relaxed.
Despite the somewhat-flashy facade, the AH3 remains a competent IEM with definite monitor chops. An overwhelming sense of balance and accuracy do as much to recommend this earphone for critical listening as for music enjoyment.
If you’re in the market for an IEM that works well for critical listening but still retains a fun, engaging sound, the AAW AH3 offers an enticing option. The mix of accuracy and musicality can’t be discounted, and do much to recommend this earphone for most listeners.
For folks preferring even more extension in the highs and lows, and with slightly more pronounced v-shaped sound signature, I would recommend the Final Audio E5000. At $279, this earphone will actually cost you less, while sounding just a smidgen more emotive for rock, hip-hop, and electronica. That being said, it may not sound as accurate as the AH3, lacking the same attention to detail in the mids.
Personally, I would take the AH3 over anything from Westone or Shure for monitoring needs, but I’d still recommend the Mackie MP-240 for truly professional purposes. At $199, this no-frills monitor offers a meatier midrange, though it may lack the energetic and fun sound that permeates the AH3.
For a fair price of just $299, the AAW AH3 delivers an accurate and engaging sound that will leave you reeling. A robust soundstage further compliments the slightly v-shaped sound signature, leaving me with the distinct impression of an earphone that can do almost anything. The MajorHiFi take? It doesn’t get much better than this at $299.
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