I analyzed A8k sound performance paired up with LPGT and N6ii w/E01 (Class AB) while playing a variety of test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”.
As strongly recommended by manufacturer, I let A8k play for 200 hrs before starting my critical sound analysis. I did occasional sound checking throughout that time and noticed some changes with more rumble in bass and a little less harshness in treble, though it’s subjective. Also, I applied the included nozzle filter stickers, two filters on top of each other per side. And while I personally not too keen to share my FR captures since I have a hobby setup, I was actually able to capture (and to hear) a slight reduction in lower treble peaks after applying those filters.
The sound signature of A8k in different pair ups I tried is tilted toward being slightly mid-forward with extra emphasis on clarity of vocals and instruments, improved retrieval of details, and more vivid presentation of the sound with higher definition and resolution. The tonality is brighter, colder, crisper, very transparent, hardly any coloring. The retrieval of details and the level of clarity is quite high. Also, the sound has a super-fast speed with the transient response of note on/off being among the fastest and the cleanest I heard, in many ways reminding me of planar magnetic driver performance. Plus, when tried at higher than my usual listening volume level, I didn’t hear any distortion at all.
The bass has a deep sub-bass extension, audible rumble which is closer to neutral in quantity, and fast articulate mid-bass punch, with an overall bass being nicely layered and a little north of neutral in quantity. Lower mids are neutral, clean, lean, without too much body, while upper mids are revealing on micro-detailed level, nicely layered, more analytical yet still very realistic, though in a colder way. Treble is crisp and airy, with a more revealing definition. In some pair ups treble can get a big splashy, but it never crossed a harsh sibilance threshold, though there is some accentuation on “s”, especially in poorly recorded tracks. To my ears, treble sounded more natural in tracks with non-synthesized instruments, while a little exaggerated in some EDM tracks.
Soundstage is huge, holographic, nearly on 3D level across majority of DAP sources I tried. But even with being nearly holographic, it sounded realistic, not artificial, and with some tracks it even felt like I was listening to open back full-size headphones. Imaging has excellent placement of instruments and vocals with an accurate positioning of every element in 3D space which I found to be quite impressive.
Due to a nature of its tuning, A8k is not very forgiving, picks up every imperfection of poorly recorded tracks, without smoothing anything out. While listening to different music genres, I found A8k to pair up better with more natural instruments while synthesized instruments sounded a bit exaggerated in treble. That’s where a pair up with a neutral or a warmer source will be more beneficial.
This comparison was done using A8k with a stock 3.5mm cable, and N6ii (E01, Class AB) and LPGT sources, volume matched in every comparison.
A8k vs Hifiman RE2000 Gold – soundstage width is the first big difference you will notice comparing holographic expansion of A8k vs a narrower soundstage of RE2k. Both have the bass which goes deep, but the quantity is more elevated in RE2k while A8k relative to RE2k has a closer to neutral quantity. The speed of the bass is also very different, especially when you focus on mid-bass where A8k is fast, articulate, layered, while RE2k bass is slower, more analog, sounding like a dynamic driver. Mids is where I hear difference as well with A8k lower mids being more neutral and upper mids brighter, more layered, and less colored, while RE2k has a thicker fuller body mids that sound more organic and less revealing. Treble is very similar between these two, bright and crisp, and a little splashy.
A8k vs Sennheiser IE800S – very similar experience as in comparison to RE2k. A8k soundstage is noticeably wider and more holographic, while IE800S soundstage sounds narrower in comparison. Both have the bass which goes deep, but IE800S bass is thicker, slower, less articulate, and more laidback, while A8k bass is fast, layered, articulate, and has less impact. A8k lower mids are more neutral while IE800S lower mids are thicker, and overall IE800S mid are more colored, more organic, and not as layered, while A8k has a lot more revealing, more neutral, brighter mids. Treble is very similar, crisp and airy, though A8k treble sounds a little less splashy in comparison.
A8k vs Beyerdynamic Xelento – the holographic soundstage expansion of Xelento is closer to A8k, but I still hear Final to be just a little bit wider. Bass in both goes deep, but as expected Xelento bass is more elevated and also sounds slower in comparison to faster and more articulate A8k bass. Lower mids are a lot leaner in A8k while Xelento is thicker and with more body, and upper mids are also warmer and less analytical in Xelento in comparison to more revealing layered mids of A8k. A8k treble has more air and better extension while Xelento treble is smoother and more natural in comparison. Overall, Xelento sounds smoother while A8k is more micro-detailed. On a side note, it has been awhile since I used Xelento, and its very shallow insertion was a good reminder of why.
A8k vs oBravo ERIB-1C – again, soundstage difference is quite noticeable with A8k being wider and more holographic in comparison to ERIB soundstage being narrower. A8k bass is faster, going deeper, having more sub-bass rumble and more articulate mid-bass punch, while ERIB bass is slower and a lot more neutral, more anemic in comparison. Mids is where you can hear more difference as well. Both have neutral lower mids, but upper mids are more transparent, more layered, and more natural in A8k while ERIB mids/vocals have a little more coloring, slower, with fuller body and more laidback flow. Treble is very similar, being brighter in both, though ERIB sounds a little splashier in comparison.
A8k vs DUNU Luna – Personally, I don’t trust my ears doing comparison by memory, and also at CanJam NYC show I wasn’t able to do direct A/B comparison between these two IEMs. But based on my separate notes, they both impressed me with their speed (very fast transient response of note on/off) and a very low distortion at higher listening volume level. When it comes to soundstage, A8k has a more holographic expansion with a wider L/R spread. Luna had a very wide soundstage as well, but I recall it having more width then depth, creating a more oval-shaped staging. Also, relative to my separate notes, the tonality was different, with A8k being brighter and more transparent, while Luna being a little smoother and more natural, though both had retrieval of details on a similar micro-detailed level. If I get a chance to spend some time with Luna in a future, I will update this comparison with more details.