There is a huge number of sub $20 earphones available to consumers right now and many of them come from Chinese manufacturers. Some brands have become iconic on Head-Fi, like KZ and Venture Electronics (VE are technically earbuds, I know) and there seems to be a never-ending supply of new ones popping up in the market. For some reason they all seem to think what people want is “powerful bass” or “heavy bass” and “fever bass!!”. For the most part, they deliver with earphones that have big, loose, floppy bass, washed out midrange and feeble treble. Every now and then something different comes along and that’s where the Seahf AWK-009 comes in. But does different mean better? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: This sample was sent to me for the purpose of an honest review. I am not affiliated with the company and all opinions and observations here are my own, based on my experience with the product. The AWK-009 can be purchased from Penon Audio for the price of $14.99.
Packaging and accessories
The AWK-009 comes in a slim, black rectangular box with a transparent window on the front through which you get a view of the earphones inside. On the left side are some safety instructions and over on the back are the specifications in several languages. Once opened you find the earphones seated in a foam insert along with some spare sets of silicon ear-tips.
At the bottom of the insert is space where the cable is wrapped up and a little bonus in the form of a shirt clip. It’s a simple yet effective package and falls in line with what you’d expect for something at this price. The earphone is available in two colours, namely black and red, with and without a microphone for a total of four variations. The version I’m reviewing is black without a mic.
Frequency response 20Hz-20kHz
Plug 3.5 mm gold-plated
Cable length 1.2 m
Build, comfort and isolation
These are a traditional barrel-shaped IEM but are a little smaller than average. The metal housings are black with a gold nozzle and a small gold highlight at the back. On the inner side of the housings are L or R denotations making it super easy to know which side is which. Excellent! On the outer side is some Seahf branding. The finish is very smooth and build quality looks really good.
Where the cable joins the housings is an excellent strain relief that should do a good job of protecting the internals in the event of a cable snag. The cable itself is actually really good. It’s supple, smooth and doesn’t have any kinks or bounciness. Thickness above the Y is sufficient and feels durable. The cable terminates in a 45° gold-plated plug which also has a very good strain relief.
Overall this cable is much better than most you’ll find on most ultra-cheap IEMs and the only better one I have come across is on the QKZ W1 Pro. Microphonics are considerable but are almost impossible to escape when dealing with housings this small and besides they can be greatly reduced by using the included shirt-clip.
Of course with something this small and type of shape, these are very comfortable. There are no sharp edges or ridges, everything is polished and smooth so these can be worn for long periods easily. Their light weight also means you’ll hardly notice they’re there most of the time.
In terms of noise isolation these are pretty good for something so small but of course, a great deal will depend on how good a seal you’re getting. As always finding the right tips is crucial for isolation and getting the best sound.
At 16 ohms it makes sense that these do not require amplification. They can be driven by pretty much anything but you might get the best results depending on which source you’re using. Due to their inherent brightness, a warmer source is my preference here.
Aggressive is how I would describe the sound of this earphone. On first listen it was quite a shock to be bombarded up and down the dynamic range by these little chainsaws. It’s almost like all frequencies are on steroids and competing with each other for your attention. They lean towards bright but that’s not saying they lack anywhere else – they just have loads of everything.
The bass can thump and it can rumble. With fast attack and decay, these have a punchy and well-controlled bass that does a good job of balancing out the brightness of the AWK-009 at least to a certain extent. Even on heavy bass driven tracks like “Mol” by Connect Ohm the upper frequencies still manage to stay out in front. This is a really nicely executed low end more refined than what I usually expect in earphones at this price point.
In the midrange, the Seahf surprises again being quite forward with good resolution and revealing a lot of detail. It’s a little on the thin or analytical side of things but vocals sound great and remain clearly distinct amidst the din. Female vocals don’t fare quite as well though because of the dryness in the higher ranges but overall it’s pretty impressive what the AWK-009 brings to the table.
The treble is where things start to go awry, unfortunately. HOT is how they come across on top. They’re not sibilant but the high notes are lanced into your ears with a vengeance. This aspect makes the 009 very genre or track dependent. Listening to Katatonia’s “The Racing Heart” is amazing….until you get to the chorus where the constant clashing of the cymbals lances into your ears with malicious intent. The snap of certain drum snares can also be a little unpleasant, hence why I think these are track dependent. I find them particularly good for ambient, folk and EDM music.
Soundstage is not spectacular, rather fairly intimate but the 360° positioning is accurate. In Solar Field’s “Random Friday” the swirling electronic noise at the beginning of the track can clearly be heard rotating all around you without any noticeable gaps or missing areas.
The Seahf has a tighter, punchier bass than the X5. Midrange is a bit warmer on the X5 and when A/B with the Seahf can sound a little muddy in comparison. Up top, the MEMT is a lot more forgiving making it a more laid-back and less fatiguing listen. There’s no clear winner when it comes to comfort, both being small and lightweight and the accessories are similar with each offering. Technically the Seahf comes out ahead but I think both are great value IEMs and good value for money.
KZ ED9 – brass filters ($11 USD)
The KZ has a very flat/neutral low end meaning significantly less bass (with brass filters) than the Seahf. The ED9 is well known for its natural sounding mids and this is an area where the Seahf also score high points. When it comes to the treble the KZ is much smoother and less strident than the Seahf. Both have great build quality though I find the Seahf to be easier and more comfortable to wear as they’re smaller and lighter.
Choosing between the two I’d say ED9 for mids and Seahf if you like more bass. Things get a lot more complicated if you include the ED9’s gold filters but it seems that the general consensus is most people prefer the brass and with the latter in place, their sound signature is a lot closer to the AWK-009.
The Seahf AWK-900 is a good little earphone for the price. With a little less emphasis on the lower treble, it could have been great (for me that is). It’s built really well, is very comfortable and a nice change from the more common V-shaped sound signatures that we’re used to in the budget segment. If you like a bright sound these are definitely worth checking out as they offer something unique and are technically very capable. It will be interesting to see which direction Seahf goes from this point.