AudioSense is a Chinese earphone manufacturer that was relatively unknown until they had a hit with their T800 model in 2019. Since then, they’ve become a popular name in enthusiast circles. In today’s review, I’m taking a look at the AudioSense AQ3 hybrid triple driver IEM. The AQ3 has 2 Knowles balanced armature drivers and one 10mm titanium diaphragm dynamic driver. Let’s see how it performs.
Disclaimer:This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
AudioSense AQ3 Review
Great build quality and comfort
Quality cable and storage case included
Smooth but still resolving
Sub-bass lacks weight and authority
Not the most dynamic or exciting sound
Package and Accessories
The AQ3 comes in a stylish, black sleeved box. On the outer sleeve is a diagram of the earphone showing the shape of the shell and its internal components. The box proper is plain black with a magnetic seal. When you open it you’re greeted with a large weather-sealed Pelican style case. This is a really sturdy, high-quality case that will protect your earphones in storage or on the move.
AudioSense AQ3 earphones
Detachable MMCX silver-plated copper cable
3 pairs of silicone eartips
3 pairs of foam eartips
Build Quality and Design
The 3D-printed shells of the AQ3 are made from a transparent and slightly cloudy acrylic. Inside you can clearly see the dynamic and balanced armature drivers plus the 3 sound tubes. A carbon fibre pattern adorns the faceplates along with some subtle text (AudioSense on the left earpiece and AQ3 on the right).
There is a small vent for the dynamic driver just in front of the MMCX connectors. The nozzle is aluminium and has a metal mesh cover to protect the interior from ear wax and debris. Overall, it’s a very nicely built IEM that feels lightweight but durable.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
I found the AQ3 to be a really comfortable earphone. The shells are very smooth with rounded edges all over. The shells are fairly wide but I can easily wear these IEMs for hours on end. Noise isolation is substantial and with the right tips the AQ3 blocks out a good deal of external noise.
The included cable is a white, tightly braided silver-plated copper with MMCX connectors. The connector housings are transparent with a colour-coded ring on the end, making it easy to identify the left and right sides. The cable is supple, has very little microphonics and handles nicely.
Plastic tubing is used for the pre-formed ear guides which are comfortable but curved quite aggressively. There’s an aluminium Y-split and a knurled aluminium cable cinch. The cable terminates with a right-angle transparent rubber 3.5mm plug.
AudioSense AQ3 has a fairly balanced sound signature that is slightly on the warm side of neutral. It has reasonably light bass, full-bodied midrange and a crispy but smooth treble. Clarity is good, as is the resolution and detail retrieval.
The bass is light in quantity but in certain cases, it does come out in earnest. Mid-bass tends to be fairly punchy, quite fast and is well-controlled. But often, lower bass notes get lost in the din. An example of this is the bass guitar in Katatonia’s “The Racing Heart”. It’s barely audible in parts of the song despite the kick drum having plenty of presence and impact.
Speed and decay are good and AQ3 has a very tidy bass that doesn’t sully the general sound. Sub-bass notes are quite thin and don’t offer much in the way of rumble. This is probably my major criticism of the AQ3. You’re probably looking at the graph above right now and thinking I’m mad but believe me: this sub-bass is very timid, much like what you get from a balanced armature driver.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, having a lighter bass allows for a cleaner and more forward midrange. That’s how it is with the AQ3 too. The mids and vocals take on a forward position in the mix. They’re good too: very good, in fact. Overall resolution and detail are excellent, something unexpected when the mids are so full-bodied and rich.
Vocals are distinct and clear with good density. They’re slightly romanticized but like the rest of AQ3’s midrange are textured and brimming with nuance. While listening to Gazpacho’s “Winter Is Never” the vocals lift up from the music and every element of the song inhabits its own space on the stage. This is made more impressive considering this is one of the songs where AQ3 flexes its bass muscles.
The treble is another area where the AudioSense AQ3 comes alive. Rich in detail, natural in timbre and buttery smooth, it’s crisp and has a lovely tone with a hint of warmth. It may not be the most exciting or energetic treble but it never causes fatigue or discomfort.
Although it’s not an intense type of treble, it is forward and sits in line with the midrange in terms of quantity. By doing this, it allows for excellent detail retrieval while maintaining a natural timbre and avoiding stridency.
The AQ3’s soundstage is average in size and fairly evenly spread in terms of width and depth. Imaging is quite good, helped largely by good instrument separation and the resolving nature of the AQ3’s midrange. It’s a very cohesive overall presentation that feels cosy and inviting yet never cluttered or confined.
Hifi Boy OS V3 ($159)
The OS V3 (review here) has the same driver configuration (1DD+2BA) and comes in a similar pseudo-custom type shell. It has a more V-shaped signature caused mainly by a significant 8kHz peak. Sub-bass extension is slightly better on the OS V3 and it has an increased physical rumble.
The Hifi Boy’s midrange has a little more body to it but it sits between a more boosted bass and treble compared to the AQ3. As a result, vocals are more recessed on the OS V3 but due to that lift in the treble, it is slightly more revealing when it comes to micro-details. That same 8kHz peak also makes the OS V3 overall tonality brighter and for some, it may cause some treble fatigue over time.
The OS V3 has a more dynamic and exciting presentation but it sounds somewhat raw compared with the AQ3’s smooth and balanced sound.
Thieaudio Legacy 3 ($119-179)
The Legacy 3 (review here) is another 1DD+2BA triple-driver hybrid earphone. It also has a kind of light bass but one that has more definition and leaner notes. In the midrange, the Legacy 3 is leaner again with less note density but a more spacious and open feeling.
Although Legacy 3’s treble is more laidback, the overall sound feels very airy and the stage is larger in dimensions than that of the AQ3. As a result of its more relaxed treble, the Legacy 3 has slightly less detail but is super easy on the ears which would make it suitable for treble-sensitive ears. The AQ3 sounds smoother and more refined but the Legacy 3 has a certain gritty quality that gives it a unique character.
The AudioSense AQ3 is a high-quality entry in its price range. Having said that, it is a very competitive segment so there are a lot of alternatives vying for your attention. What the AQ3 brings is a very smooth sound with a sublime, detailed midrange and a gorgeous treble tone. I would have liked a bit more meat in the bass but that’s just my personal preference. Nevertheless, the AQ3 is a very accomplished IEM that I’m sure people are going to love.
Driver Unit: Two Knowles Balanced Armature driver and one Dynamic driver