I risk repeating myself from the opening remarks of Jomo Audio Trinity review but yes, 2019 really could be the year of the electrostatic hybrid monitor.
Since we did that review another one arrived at the office from Vietnam so this theme looks set to run and run. This time it is the turn of AAW and Shozy with their ‘reasonably priced’ collaboration, the POLA.
For those who may not be aware, AAW is Advanced Acousticwerks of Singapore and Shozy is based in Hong Kong. Shozy has put out a very wide range of audio gear such as the Alien+ DAP and the BG budget IEM.
AAW is an IEM and custom monitor manufacturer offering everything from entry to summit-fi level hybrid designs and has close ties with cable makers, Null Audio.
The POLA is priced at $800 for the universal and $900 for the custom version. The one here for review is the custom version which is not quite an exact replica of the universal though what has changed is not disclosed by the 2 companies.
So what makes the POLA different then to the others? Quite apart from the sound signature the POLA does not use any balanced armatures in its internal build like the Khan and the Trinity. This may be a factor in the lower pricing since the setup is slightly less complex.
The POLA is a single 13mm Graphene (carbon allotrope) dynamic driver and dual electrostatic tweeter hybrid design using a TrueXross 2 Way Crossover and a vented shell for the dynamic driver to breathe properly.
This has come a long way since the earlier prototype I tested at CanJam 2018. Back then the specs were similar (1DD and 2 stats) but the housing and size of the dynamic driver were quite different both in form and function. We still have that prototype here and there is a definite jump in both staging and resolution as well a killer upgrade in that low-end response.
Now during CanJam, I asked Kevin of AAW whether or not they would be making a custom version of the POLA. They said it was possible but they needed to consider a number of design issues. Well, that kicked-off almost 9 months of design iterations and finally a new ‘custom-universal’ design and yes, a custom alternative.
The custom POLA is offered by the AAW side of this partnership though you will have to order it on the Shozy main website or via your local POLA dealer. It will also cost you an additional $100 over the universal version on top of the cost of making some ear impressions and possibly shipping them.
Personally, I go custom every time over universal but you may differ. How patient you are and how much you want that perfect fit will make this great value or not.
For a custom design, you can elect to go with the stock universal scheme such as the one in the review pictures here or opt for something different within AAW’s own custom plate and shell options. They have plenty of funky colors and designs though personally, I quite like the stock design so I do not feel I am missing out on anything.
Now I did mention that internal specs or design layout will change slightly moving from universal to custom. As to what I am not sure as this is not being disclosed. I am presuming at this point its the driver positioning within the chambers and the tube lengths or even the phase timing on the crossover to compensate. Only they will know for sure and they are not telling me, spoilsports!
Design & Finish
The stock design is a tastefully finished redwood burl faceplate astride a smoked black translucent shell body using recessed 2-pin sockets at the top. There is a hint of green permeating from the shell color. This may be due to the final curing of the resin or some additional green finishing on the underside of the faceplate but it is a nice match and rather organic in tone.
The plates are not that deep-set but the acrylic polish overlay is nicely done so it does not look like a two piece or cheap design. This is a hollow acrylic shell and it needs to be to work that dynamic driver and the stats transformer boxes successfully inside such as a small body.
To the rear, you will find a small vent which allows the dynamic driver to properly breathe though it may reduce a little in terms of passive isolation compared to all-BA units. The final finish and polish are exemplary and there is nothing shoddy about acrylic materials used. This is a bubble-free zone.
Nozzle & Internal Build
For a custom monitor, the size is about average though the dual-bore nozzle is quite long. Now I do not mean long as in M-Fidelity SA-43 long. This is not a drum tickler but for an AAW design its reasonably long.
The translucent shells allow us a limited viewing angle to see that the dynamic driver is sitting right over the top of the widest part of the nozzle and the tweeters just on the nozzle opening itself to maximize their SPL. Placing them anywhere else might result in a very muted performance drowned out by the significantly larger dynamic driver.
Cables & Connectors
The POLA uses a standard recessed 2-pin 0.78mm socket that is designed to guide the cable over your ears and not straight down. I do have one slight issue with the pin positioning within the sockets. It seems the female ports are at a very slight angle making easy insertion, well, not so easy.
You do have to fiddle a bit to get the cable pins locked-in. You need to watch out not to force this in as you WILL bend your pins. If you find yours also is not a smooth motion just rummage around at a slight angle very lightly until you feel the pins grip then slide in. Ugh, I feel dirty now.
The pros of a recessed socket do mean it is quite stable and robust once locked-in so you won’t have any accidental bending and the socket is less likely to wear out over time like an MMCX.
This is an excellent stock cable. No surprise really given that AAW and Null Audio work closely together. The POLA comes with a 48″ Symphonym Tiburon UPOCC Copper Cable Litz 4-wire cross-braided in a very supple translucent PVC jacket. It retails separately for $169 so its not a throwaway accessory by any stretch of the imagination.
The finish on the cable is excellent also. The Tiburon uses a chrome-plated barrel with carbon fiber weaves and a matching chrome allow ring for the chin cinch. Inside each barrel is finished with rhodium plated copper contacts at the y-split and jack. The jack is gold-plated 3.5mm TRS as stock. I am not sure if you can get 4.4mm or 2.5mm but I guess you can email and request since they will modify the length also to your needs.
Comfort & Fit
Well, it is a custom design so it is a very accurate fit and very good passive isolation. However, we have seen plenty of custom designs here and even within “perfection’ there is variation.
Variation is usually down to the style of fit and seal on that nozzle. This is not a high-pressure style seal such as you find on the Layla. Nor is it a deep insertion like that of the M-Fidelity SA-43 or the 64 Audio A18. It also sits just that bit deeper than the more relaxed W300AR fitting I had from AAW a few years back.
This is less a design for stage artists and more for audiophiles on their daily walkabout or sitting back and relaxing on their commute. What that means is that rapid jaw opening and closing may break the seal ever so slightly if you used closed-jaw ear impressions. Less so I suspect with open mouth impressions.
If you have any fitting issues you have two options, Comply custom wraps or have it tweaked back at AAW labs.
I use Comply Silicone wraps which nail it and feel very comfy also. They simply stick around the nozzle increasing the contact points and pressure on your ear canal so zero breaks in the seal occur if your jaw hangs open. This converts that relaxed fitting into a tighter stage fitting.
Accessories & Packaging
AAW keep on improving their packaging and designs and in partnership with Shozy this is a well-presented custom monitor and represents decent value for the SRP.
The retail box is fairly understated but professionally done. Slide that off and inside you get AAW/Null Audio’s new large blue blue vinyl zipper case which holds all the accessories. It also acts as a splendidly oversized carry case which you can throw tons of cables, monitors and other bits and pieces inside. It is not the most pocket-friendly but definitely pouch or man-bag friendly.
The rest of the accessories include:
The excellent 48″ Symphonym Tiburon UPOCC copper cable
AAW carrying case
Flight & 1/4″ adapter
Assorted ear tips if you bought the universal, none with the custom version
All of this is backed by an impressive 1-year warranty on the POLA. You will find your warranty card at the bottom of the case to use as a reference. Do not lose it!
Click on Page 2 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons