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Within the chifi-sphere, there are many brands that, while not considered as “popular” by many, have developed their own dedicated followings. Brands like BGVP, KBEar or TRN may not have the sheer volume of sales that brands like KZ or Tin HiFi have, but you can’t go far without stumbling upon a diehard fan here or there who would swear by their IEMs.
I would personally classify Audiosense as one of these “cult favourite” brands, with their immensely popular T800 8BA model putting their name on the audiophile map. Now I wasn’t too impressed with the T800 myself, which brought about the ire of many users on social media and even got me banned from an audiophile Facebook group. So you can see why I’m not exaggerating when I say that Audiosense’s fanbase can get a little… culty.
The AQ3 is Audiosense’s new (and only) hybrid model in their lineup, though it’s not particularly cheap either. At $180, it slots itself as the second most expensive Audiosense model, only just below the flagship T800. With lukewarm reception within the IEM communities, they finally land in my hands. Does the AQ3 have what it takes to stand out from the competition, or will it simply meld back into the fog of normality?
Driver configuration: 2BA 1DD hybrid
This AQ3 was kindly provided by HiFiGo.
Signature & Tonality
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The AQ3 can be described as simply “bassy”, though “neutral with bass boost” might be subjectively more accurate.
If the 15dB bass boost on the graph scares you, don’t be. The AQ3’s bassline manages to stay relatively clean and well-controlled, with most of the emphasis focused towards the lower registers rather than the mid-bass. That said, it is still a lot of bass, but in terms of a basshead-ish IEM it’s actually one of the more tastefully tuned ones, and I could see myself using it occasionally if I were craving for a more robust low end response.
The midrange is actually surprisingly solid as well, with the AQ3’s tonal balance sounding pretty natural without any egregious peaks or dips triggering the uncanny valley effect. The note weight is slightly on the thicker, heavier side, though not to the point where I would call the AQ3 cloying or lacking bite.
Treble is arguably the AQ3’s weak point, being placed furthest from the rest of the frequency range. Percussions don’t sound completely nonexistent per se, but it’s clear that the AQ3 is more of a laid-back sound with less sparkle than most, which is not necessary a bad thing on its own but I would’ve preferred a little extra high end to at least balance out the bass bias.
Tone grade: B
The AQ3’s most obvious weakness would probably in its overall resolution. Notes tend to sound blunted and dulled, and as such definition takes a noticeable a hit. Fast-paced tracks fall apart on the AQ3, especially in tracks like metal with rapid percussive hits causing a sense of “claustrophobia”, so to speak.
It’s not the worst out there, but the lack of definition gets particularly distracting especially on instruments higher in pitch, where the problem seems to be localised. Overall, the AQ3’s presentation can be described as “soft” or even lacking in dynamics, which is a shame given that it already has a decent tuning carrying it forward.
Imaging capabilities are average, nothing out of the ordinary here. Sounds like your typical IEM.
Technical grade: C
The AQ3 is a tough call. I can say it’s almost there, but unfortunately the lacking technicalities aren’t doing a lot for it overall especially given that there are so many cheaper IEMs that have managed to be both well-tuned and technically proficient.
They’re not quite outperforming the competition and while they’re not the worst things out there, it’s hard-pressed to recommend them given the current state of the industry. An asking price of nearly $200 demands high expectations within the red ocean that is the chifi market, and unfortunately while the AQ3 manages to scrape by with what I’d consider as a “bare minimum”, it’s not quite deserving of the coveted tag of “worth the price”. At least to IEF standards.
In my opinion, audio is subjective, I’m just one guy on the internet, YMMV and all that. Don’t kill me, Audiosense fans.
Value Rating: N/A
The AQ3 is a nicely-tuned basshead-ish IEM that is very pleasant to listen to, though unfortunately lacking in the detail department that would have elevated it to a higher status.
Awarded grades are in reference to the Ranking List.