Disclaimer: The Astrotec AM800M was sent to us a sample in exchange for our honest opinion and does not have to be returned. Astrotec is not a site advertiser or affiliated with Headfonics. We thank Astrotec for this opportunity. The Massdrop AM-800 version is also now available until May 18th, 2018 at roughly half the retail price. Click here for more details.
A few months ago, team Astrotec sent me a set of classic style earbuds, the Lyra, which I adored and had regarded highly.
More recently, I’d received their inner ear AM800M, which I can only hope will survive the plethora of competition at the sub $50USD level.
Today’s budget market is extremely volatile, there are just too many great deals to name. Trial by fire.
Let’s see if the AM800M can survive a night alone in the catacombs of the low-fi-budget tier.
The AM800M comes in a standard cardboard box that flips open to reveal the IEM set inside of a foam insert. Behind that, a small pouch that includes some IEM tips.
Thankfully, a single set of foam tips were included, along with 2 sets of silicone. I greatly prefer the foam tips, due to excellent fit and comfort which can only come via rolling and squeezing the tip, which then lets it puff up a bit in your ear. That creates an excellent seal, as well as some good noise cancellation in a passive sense of the word. Great seal, great isolation. Simple as that. Beyond that, nothing else was really included outside of some paperwork and texts from the company.
Wood is always a good thing. It reminds me a bit of the old JVC woodie IEM’s of yesteryear. The problem is that the beautiful, blonde wood of the exterior and rear portion of the IEM is starkly contrasted and maybe even a little ruined by the aluminum casing that it sticks out of. A very odd choice, indeed, but that’s vividly subject and just my opinion. I’d rather have a true, flat-out, bare wood in all its glory look to it, instead of 2/3 metal with the last 1/3 wood.
For the most part, the IEM feels moderately hefty and considering it is partial wood and metal, I would assume this should weigh a lot more than it does. Sadly, it doesn’t. Because of that, it feels quite thin and lacking in my hand with again is a contrast to the parts I know it is made of. What that means is that the metal and wood feel thin and not hefty, or thick. Once again, Microphones plague the IEM and prevent me from using the IEM on any great home DAC or amplifier.
The 3-Pole Mic
3 pole, mic-enabled products are an annoyance to me subjectively and I don’t want to be stuck with only using them on a cell phone or a rare case where an amplifier had been set up to accept a 3-pole adapter. Despite that, the twisted cable offered feels good and the 3.5mm adapter head feels hefty and solid.
Yes, they have a standard AM800, without the mic. That is a wonderful thing. I feel like anyone who purchases the M version with the mic control will be flat out of luck if they ever want to use it on a home rig. It is little things like that, that I wish would not exist in Hifi anymore. IMO, toss detachable connections on them and let us purchase a standard cable, or include it too for an additional cost. As a mobile user, I don’t want limits. Call quality is just fine, most of these Mic-enabled IEM’s handle that well.
At this price tier, I don’t expect much in the way of quality. But, I am actually semi-impressed. Quality isn’t a problem on this level and I feel like the price is a very good bargain for what I am experiencing.
The problem is that the headphone doesn’t respond well to EQ at all. Meaning, it will sound funky and wonky with just a bit of a bass boost. The AM800M doesn’t sound bassy, to begin with, so I naturally just want more of it and try to squeeze out what I can with alteration. When I do that, I lose quality fast. Too fast.
Am I asking for too much at the $50USD and under tier though? I feel like I am. So long as you don’t touch the EQ, bass quality is fine. Don’t expect to add more than 1 or 2dB without a nice cliff and drop off.
This model lacks a sense of depth and heft, which is not a good thing when the product also is a bit punchy. It ends up sounding just a bit overblown and well wonky. Wonky is the best term I can use for describing a bass tonality that is sparse and unfocused feeling, as well as lacking a physicality that makes me happy. I’d not call it loose but it certainly feels thinner than what I am comfortable with.
For this same price, I am almost able to buy a used Flare Audio R2A and totally destroy the quality of this Astrotec. That is something new companies need to watch out for. The used market of yesterday catching up with the prices of new models today in the budget area.
Physical slam, dynamics, per say, are just a bit unappealing to me as a listen and I am not enjoying the lacking heft to the bottom end, along with a sense of dynamism that is floating into the negative spectrum of enjoyability.
The AM800M is actually pleasant to listen to from a physical midrange placement standpoint. The IEM is forward and lively. However, the physical placement of vocals in the void of the image appear overly rounded and unfocused again, I’ve heard better in this tier, but also far, far worse. As for overall fidelity and purity on a literal sense of appeal to my ear, the AM800M shoots above the $50USD mark and becomes a good deal.
If you like vocals, I’d be recommending this as your everyday beater, the one to toss in your bag and use on your daily commute. I do not recommend this to those with a fantastic portable source. If you have a cell phone, or a lower end music player, this is a good option for you.
The upper area of the midrange becomes a little too bright and nasal-like for me at times. Depending on the track quality, the AM800M offers a good sense of quality or a bad one. It is oddly prone to feeling a bit underwhelming between the mids and treble area (upper-mids).
Yet, the IEM also exudes a clear warmth to it. I’ve not heard that type of a sound signature in a long time. Most of the recent IEM’s over the past few years stopped sounding warm and musical overall. But, I do consider this AM800M on the warmer end of the spectrum overall. Once I got to the upper-midrange areas, things tapered off into areas I am not fond of.
The AM800M lacks treble quality enough to satisfy me, even at the $50 level. Just coming offsets like the TFZ S5 and similarly priced Shozy Hibiki (which both are just a bit more costly than this AM800M) becomes immensely hard to fairly rate this IEM in the sub $50 tier. That is because, for just a bit more, you can get a lot better treble elsewhere.
If you enjoy treble, save up a little for the Hikibi instead. If you do route toward this AM800M, expect a dry and artificial feeling and sounding upper end, which was further offset by the not so nice upper midrange areas sounding a little too nasally. I stress, again, for $50USD, it is just fine. It is there, but it is still okay and passable when you consider the aim of this model to begin with.
The mids, for the most part, are warm and vivid, but the upper end is really leaving a lot to be desired. It isn’t harsh. It is just lacking a sense of tonality that I consider enjoyable, or even objectively very good. I desire more heft and density, more of a tonality that aspires to be something with a gentle brightness, instead of overly dry and lacking. My ears pick up on too much of an artificial flavor up top, without a way to fix it via EQ. The IEM is also not able to fix itself up there with EQ, yet will offer more bite with more EQ to a certain extent if you so desire.
The AM800M has plenty of depth of field factor, which, at least in my opinion, is the star of the show. At $50 or so, this model offers good stage-forwardness, as well as width and height.
Separation of instruments is also pretty decent, but nothing special or worthy of writing home over. For what it is, you’ll get good imaging all around, without a lacking sense anywhere. At this price point, that is more than I could ask for.
Yet, again, when compared to a now used Flare Audio R2A, or a Hibiki, the AM800M lags too far behind. Both of the latter offer noticeably more realism and density factor to the entire spectrum. That becomes an issue for anyone like me, who is a soundstage nutcase and who values that spaciousness above all else.
At the $50 level, there really aren’t many, if at all, any real sound staging titans out there that I can even recall or name. I don’t judge it negatively here, because what is there, is still good to my ear and not lacking anywhere in the imaging department.
If you are into midrange and vocals, this is a good option for you. Again, as with a lot of recent additions to Lo-Fi audio over the past few years, this will be a great stepping stone and gateway for a new and budding audiophile to get interested in good audio.
I do not recommend it if you already have a great portable rig. I will recommend it if you want lively midrange and good staging properties, but, generally, do not care about toggling bass or treble on your EQ. If that is the case, I say go for it and purchase one. If not, there are better options out there.
I am very struck, in a negative sense of the word, by the partial woody aesthetics. It only makes me want a fully exposed woody housing or a full metal one. Both together, ruin the appeal of it as a full metal and highly well built and durable metal housing as well as ruining the appeal of a fully woody housing that is simply gorgeous to look at. One or the other in the future, please.
Beyond that, the IEM is still worth taking a listen to for any midrange enthusiast. If they tweaked the treble just a bit and offered just a bit more physicality and heft to the spectrum, I’d have rated this one a lot higher.
- Driver: 10mm Dynamic
- Impedance: 16 ohms
- Input: 3-12 mW
- Frequency response: 10 Hz – 40 KHz
- Sensitivity: 104 dB / 1 mW