PROS: Good build quality, colour design options, branding, overall aesthetics, 3 day lead time for CIEMs, Westone house sound signature for Westone fans.
CONS: Needs a tuning update to stay competitive against best of current competition, overly warm signature, bloom because of very full lower-midrange tuning, recessed upper-midrange, early treble roll-off, lacks air, not the best balance between frequency regions. Nitpicking – IMO, Avara’s default CIEM fit can use some tweaks with less fullness in concha and slightly longer nozzles for a deeper fit.
I would like to thank Avara Custom for sending me the AV3 to test and review. I am not affiliated with the company or any of its sellers and write this review with an unbiased opinion regardless of how the review turns out.
As an avid audiophile and being involved in the earphone retail industry for almost a decade as the founder of Jaben Indonesia, Alvon has been promoting and developing custom in-ear monitor market in Indonesia since 2011. His experience of having worked with multiple CIEM brands and retailing many major brands of headphones and earphones helped him understand what the Indonesian people wanted when it came to CIEMs and sound. He started Avara wanting to offer a good range of high quality IEMs/CIEMs at good affordable prices to musicians and audiophiles alike, making them easily accessible and affordable in Indonesia as well as the rest of the world.
- 3 balanced armatures with true crossover (single low, single mid & single high).
- Dual bore design.
- Cable – 3.5mm gold plated.
Even though these are the only specifications on the website, I can tell you that AV3 has low impedance and are very easy to drive from most devices.
Included in the box.
- AV3 CIEM
- 2-pin 3.5mm cable
- Carry case
- Cable clip
- Cleaning Brush
Avara offers multiple stock design options that you can select from for the face plate and shell as well as have them do custom artwork customisation that you have in mind, where sky is the limit. I chose to go with the galaxy colour design, with red and black as the basic colours and can say that it came out quite well as it looks very vibrant and classy under good lighting. But weirdly, the colours aren’t as consistent under different lighting, especially when you look at them under bright sunlight where the red turns pinkish red and parts of black look ink blue. Avara fills up their shells with resin completely and as a result the shells are heavier than shells from other CIEM manufacturers that don’t fill up their shell similarly. Avara also lacquer their shells thickly giving it a hard exterior finish. The 2-pin socket sits flush with the shell and isn’t recessed.
Cable – It’s a typical Plastics One cable which is disappointing considering the asking price since this price segment is quite competitive and other manufacturers like BGVP have been including very nice cables with their IEMs, even the ones that cost half the price. Nevertheless, I like the white Plastics One cable much better than the black one aesthetically. This one doesn’t look as cheap as the black one.
Fit and Comfort.
AV3’s CIEM’s fit is a bit different from other CIEMs I have. Avara bases its fit by making a full feeling shell that locks into the concha with shallow insertion depth rather than a shell with easier concha fit and deeper insertion fit that fills and locks into the ear canal that majority of the CIEM manufacturers like 64 Audio, JH Audio, Craft Ears, etc. like to do. As a result of AV3 CIEM being fuller feeling than other CIEM shells, sliding the AV3 shell into my concha is a bit tricky since the lower crus of anti helix part of my outer ear comes in the way of trying to slide the shell into the cymba conchae using the ‘counter-clockwise rotation and slide’ trick that most manufacturers recommend. For the AV3, I use a ‘sideways slide into cymba conchae’ trick to slide the shells in. It’s not as difficult as it may read but I want to emphasise on how the fit and sliding in of AV3 is different from what one may have previously experienced. Unlike some of my CIEMs that I stop feeling in my ear after a while, I’m always aware of AV3 in my ear because of how full the shell feels. AV3’s nozzle insertion depth is shallower than all the CIEMs I’ve had and it took me some time to adapt to it since I’m used to CIEM nozzles going much deeper. I personally prefer a medium to deep insertion fitting CIEM because that feels more comfortable, reassuringly locked in and snug to me. Nevertheless, AV3 isolates outside noise extremely well because of it being a full resin shell, a little too well if you ask me.
CIEM Build & Lead Time.
You can build the Universal/CIEM using Avara’s IEM Builder tool on their website (link). It has a lot of stock design options and you can even upload your custom artwork there. Most customisation options are chargeable but are very fairy priced.
Avara is unbelievably fast with their CIEMs. Avara use 3D scanning and printing with SLAprint technology for precise printing and finish. Their production lead time is generally 3 working days, starting the moment the ear moulds reach their lab in Surabaya but depending on work load, they can have a 3 working days production queue. So, even if they are swamped with orders, they can make your CIEM in less than a week. That is quite fast, efficient and great for people who want their CIEMs asap and cannot wait for the average 4 week lead times that bigger western brands have.
Summary – Alvon being a fan of Westone IEMs growing up based the AV3 on the Westone AM 30 Pro. I haven’t heard the AM 30 Pro myself but have heard several other Westones and can hear the Westone house sound influence in the AV3 too. AV3 has a very full bodied and an almost overly warm signature where the focus is majorly on the lower midrange fullness with extremely reserved treble tuning. It has more mid-bass punch than sub-bass rumble, much recessed upper-midrange compared to neutral and treble tuning that starts rolling off post 7-8kHz or so. I’m guessing Avara wanted to go for an inoffensive and safe sound signature but went a couple of steps too far because the AV3 isn’t tonally accurate, the lower-midrange fullness adds a bit too much bloom and it almost completely lacks upper-treble information. The complaints I have with the AV3 hold true for most Westones I’ve tried too. The thing is that the market of IEMs/CIEMs has grown exponentially since the era of Westone IEMs and the sub-$500 market is now extremely competitive with a lot of great options from brands like Moondrop, DUNU, BGVP, Tansio Mirai and Fearless. So, now brands don’t just need to innovate and introduce very well tuned competitive IEMs every now and then but also need to keep up with the standard of competition in the price segment too.
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – AV3 has more mid-bass punch than sub-bass. As a result, sub-bass rumble is audible but is reserved in feel. Mid-bass punch on the other hand is quite punchy in songs like Coldplay’s new track ‘Higher Power’, ‘Birds’ or Dual Lipa’s ‘Pretty Please’ but sadly isn’t as sharp, resolving or detailed as what I’ve come to expect out of this price segment with IEMs like Fearless S6Rui, Moondrop Blessing2 or even the BGVP DM7 and VG4 doing it much better.
Mids – AV3’s midrange is highly coloured and kinda inverted of what it is supposed to be since the lower mid range is much fuller than neutral and the upper mid range does not have the adequate pinna gain (forwardness) for natural tonality and timbre of instruments. This kind of tuning enables an overly full and intimate presentation. As a result, the instrument presentation isn’t as well defined which leads to blunting of instruments, taking them away from sounding punchy, lifelike or natural. Guitars and drums lack strong definition as they do not have the required crunch or attack.
Treble – AV3 has decent lower treble presence up till 7-8kHz but starts rolling off past that. It does not have much middle treble or upper treble presence, hence resulting in an extremely warm presentation and lacking the required openness and air to balance out the mid-bass and full lower-midrange tuning. It almost needs a high-shell of 12dBs or so from 7.5kHz onwards for the treble to balance out with the rest of the sound signature. Acoustic guitars in songs like John Mayer’s ‘Why Georgia’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘I’m a Mess’, have the body but not the bite, spank, string clarity or the top end sheen. Distortion guitar riffs too lack the dynamism and vocals don’t sound as natural, vibrant or lifelike as they should because of lack of required treble presence and air.
Soundstage – Even though the presentation is intimate feeling because of lower midrange fullness and a very warm signature, the soundstage width boundary is actually fairly wide, wider than average for the price range while the depth is on the average side.
Tansio Mirai TSMR-3 Pro – Tansio Mirai offers 3Pro as a universal as well as a CIEM. CIEM option is $60 extra, so that makes the total cost of 3Pro CIEM – $279. 3Pro has better extension at both ends and is much more balanced sounding of the two. 3Pro doesn’t have a lot of sub-bass rumble either but its mid-bass & sub- bass relationship is much better balanced. AV3 has more mid-bass in comparison. Even though 3Pro has a tiny bit of fullness in the 250-500Hz lower-midrange, it is better tuned and doesn’t have the bloom that AV3 does. AV3’s lower-midrange is much fuller than 3Pro. 3Pro has good amount of pinna gain in the upper-midrange, so instruments have good forward definition and much better tonality and timbre compared to AV3. 3Pro has better lower-treble balance and does start rolling off in the upper treble past 10kHz but AV3 rolls-off even quicker at around 7-8kHz and sounds much warmer in comparison as a result. 3Pro’s soundstage is much cleaner sounding and has better depth. 3Pro is also more resolving of the two.
BGVP VG4 – BGVP too offers VG4 as a CIEM for around $75 extra which makes total cost of VG4 CIEM anywhere from – $289 to $360 or so depending on customisations, currency exchange rate and where you buy it from. VG4 is a much better balanced and tonally accurate sounding IEM than AV3. VG4 has better extension at both ends, is more neutral and accurate with its bass presentation, has a more linear lower-midrange, better pinna gain and forward upper-midrange for strong instrument definition and natural tonality as well as more and better balanced lower treble presence. Even though VG4 can use a bit more presence in the upper treble air region, its treble character is much better balanced than AV3. AV3 is the more intimate sounding of the two whereas VG4 is much more open sounding as well as has a wider, deeper and cleaner soundstage. VG4 has better detail retrieval capabilities owing to better balance across the frequency range and better treble presence.
Moondrop Blessing2 – Blessing2 is a hybrid with 1DD+4BA and is tuned to Moondrop’s in-house VDSF target that takes inspiration from the Harman Target. As a result, Blessing2 is more tonally accurate of the two and presents the music more neutrally. Blessing2 has a DD handling bass duties and has a tiny bit more sub-bass rumble compared to AV3. AV3 has much more mid-bass than Blessing2 whereas Blessing2 presents mid-bass more neutrally. AV3 has an overly full lower-midrange whereas Blessing2 is very neutral and linear in the region. Blessing2 has good pinna gain and as a result has a nice forward upper-midrange presentation which presents the mix more neutrally and helps give instruments good definition, crunch and clarity. Blessing2 has a much better balanced treble presentation whereas AV3 is very reserved and starts rolling off past 7-8kHz. Blessing2 has better treble extension, upper-treble presentation and sounds airier. Blessing2 is more resolving and has better separation between instrument layers. Blessing2’s soundstage too is more open, wide and deep sounding.
Fearless S6Rui – Fearless offers S6Rui both as a universal as well as a CIEM. S6Rui has 6BAs compared to AV3’s 3BAs and is much closer to sounding tonally correct than AV3. S6Rui has more sub-bass rumble which can be heard and felt better than AV3. Both have similar mid-bass boost but S6Rui’s presentation is clearer and more precise. AV3 has much fuller lower midrange than S6Rui, where S6Rui even though being a bit V-shaped is a bit more accurate in its presentation. S6Rui has good upper-midrange pinna gain and sounds more tonally accurate. Even though S6Rui starts rolling off treble past 10kHz, it has more present and better balanced lower-treble. AV3 has a more full and intimate presentation. S6Rui has more depth and is a bit more open sounding of the two but its soundstage width is slightly lesser than AV3. S6Rui has better resolution, detail retrieval and imaging capabilities.
AV3’s build quality, colour design options, branding, choice of logo and overall aesthetics of their shells are all very nice plus they have a very short lead time of just 3 working days for their CIEMs, which is unheard of and especially very cool for the asking price of $340. But I think Avara really need to update AV3’s tuning if they want to be competitive in this segment and market. Westones and Westone house sound were alright more than a decade back but the current market has grown exponentially and has become extremely competitive with good brands coming out with new IEMs every 6 months, nailing great tuning/sound signatures for highly attractive prices, where brands like Moondrop are upping themselves and beating their own previous IEMs with new IEMs with equally good tuning, for an even better price. Also, I think if they tweak their CIEM fit slightly by going easier on the fullness of shells and make their nozzles slightly longer for a bit more insertion depth, it will help make their CIEMs slide in better, become even more comfortable, snug and almost disappear in the ear. I’m sure most performing musicians would appreciate a deeper fit too. All in all, people who still reminisce the Westone house sound and would love a quick and very well built CIEM for a very fair price, I recommend you to check out Avara’s AV3. But for people who like me like more balanced and open sounding signatures with good treble extension and natural tonality and timbre of instruments, I can’t really recommend the AV3 to you.
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – Hiby R6 2020 | iBasso DX160
- Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro 15″
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro
Reference Songs list.
- Foo Fighters – The Pretender, Best of you & Everlong
- Coldplay – Paradise, Up in flames & Everglow + Everyday Life Album
- Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings & Ellipsis albums
- Ed Sheeran – Thinking out loud, Bloodstream & Galway Girl
- Dave Matthews Band – Come Tomorrow album
- Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia album
- Chainsmokers – Somebody, Sickboy, This Feeling & Closer
- John Mayer – Slow dancing in a burning room, Stop this Train & Say
- Gavin James – Always & Hearts on fire
- Switchfoot – Meant to live & Dare you to move
- Porcupine Tree – Sound of Muzak, Blackest Eyes & .3
- Our Lady Peace – Do You Like It & Innocent
- Linkin Park – Papercut, Somewhere I belong & Talking to myself
- Maroon 5 – She will be loved, Payphone & Lost stars
- Lifehouse – All in all & Come back down
- Breaking Benjamin – Diary of Jane
- Karnivool – Simple boy & Goliath
- Dead Letter Circus – Real you
- I Am Giant – Purple heart, City limits & Transmission
- Muse – Panic station
- James Bay – Hold back the river