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Venture Asura 2.0S Review – Clear Intention

Introduction –

Though undoubtedly a controversial sentiment, the earbud form factor has always been a kind of work-in-progress, as manufacturers struggle to balance a poor seal with adequate bass response and the physical dampening of foam covers with clarity and treble extension. It’s not a new market, but one that has been recently invigorated with huge customer interest and newcomers popping up at a lightning pace. Yet somehow, few are able to harness the strengths of the form factor whilst simultaneously balancing its complications.

If anyone were to nail the execution, my eyes would be on Venture Audio, masterminded by the aptly named Wild Lee. Renowned manufacturer of the Monk+ and Zen, Lee has been maximising the form factor on a consistent basis. And yet, Venture’s midrange model Asura doesn’t have nearly the acclaim of its more accessible and more premium brethren. As a result, Lee has updated this model to bring a more alluring sound at the same comfortable $78 USD asking price. With a new silver plated cable and the same updated internals of the regular 2.0 variant, let’s see whether the 2.0S can finally put the Asura on the map.

 

Disclaimer – 

I would like to thank Lee very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Asura 2.0S for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earbuds free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories – 

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The Asura 2.0S has a simple unboxing with a comprehensive accessory set. Inside the box, buyers will find a nice zippered hard case that is well sized and protective in addition to the earbuds themselves. Lee includes a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter with balanced models, enabling them to be used from unbalanced sources.

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In addition, the Asura comes with a fit kit with a variety of foam and silicone covers offering differing styles of fit and differing levels of seal. This includes 2 pairs of regular foam covers, 2 pairs of donut foams, 4 pairs of Monk+ style thin foams, 2 silicone rings and 4 silicone covers with Bose-style fins that lock into the ear. Through this, Lee ensures a stable and comfortable fit though to my ear, the earbuds sounded best with no covers at all.

 

Design –

Like the majority of earbuds, Venture assume the typical Sennheiser MX500 style shell that embodies simple yet effective. The Asura’s plastic construction doesn’t imbue it with the same premium quality as 1More’s sculpted aluminium designs, but tasteful smoked housings add some level of visual intrigue. The earbuds also have a satin texture that doesn’t get as oily as gloss or scuff like matte earbuds.

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Ergonomically, the Asura will feel immediately familiar to any earbud user. They don’t form much of a seal, if at all, simply resting loosely in the outer ear. As a result, they are very comfortable, almost disappearing in wear. They also don’t produce that sense of pressure than sealing in-ears tend to. This does come at the cost of isolation, which they lack almost entirely.

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Still, the earbud is undoubtedly, the perfect quiet environment listening device; comfortable for hours on end, slim enough for sleeping and non-sealing to enable the listener to remain aware of their surroundings. And, with a grand soundstage presentation, some would even go so far as to dub them the in-ear equivalent of open-back headphones.

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For those that do experience issues with fit stability, the included covers can do a lot to improve their stability though all affect the sound in some way or form. The MX500 shell is also slightly larger than the Yuin-style earbuds out there, but when in the outer ear, that size can work to their advantage, offering more purchase on the ear.

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Venture are proud of their acoustically transparent yet affordable cables and this extends to the new Asura 2.0S which features high-purity silver plated wire. Honestly, in use, the cable itself is subpar with a stiff, springy feel that makes it impossible to coil for storage. The cable’s incredibly tacky texture doesn’t help when competing against the supple braided units found on other similarly priced earbuds. That said, the cable is built well with excellent strain relief on the plug and a nice, low-profile y-split with chin slider, Lee also promises that the improved conductors offer improved bass depth and resolution.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

The Asura 2.0S carries a tone that lies on the brighter side of neutral with increasing emphasis approaching the higher-frequencies. That said, they are reasonably balanced overall with reserved bass retaining adequate quantity to produce a naturally voiced midrange and a treble response that isn’t overly forward. Mids also carry a brighter tone with heightened female vocal presence though male vocals don’t sound scooped or recessed. Their treble focus, especially middle treble, also grant the Asura 2.0S with impressive air. The Asura 2.0S will no doubt please fans of Grado/Alessandro headphones, they have a similar signature but differ due to form factor.

Of note, Lee designed the Asura 2.0 to be used without covers, which offers the most balanced, transparent sound. Of the included covers, the thin foams that debuted with the Monk+ offer the most agreeable experience for those looking for more warmth. However, as the Asura lacks the midrange presence and clarity of the Monk+, it does sound rather dark and warm when covered. Still, the thin foams are clearly more balanced than regular and donut foams.

 

Bass –

The Asura 2.0S has a very clean, tight bass response that values agility over impact. Being an earbud, especially one designed for use without covers, the Asura 2.0S has rather poor sub-bass extension with little audible beneath the mid-bass frequencies. As a result, meaningful rumble isn’t present and deep-bass assumes a thinner character that doesn’t carry much information. That said, the earbuds produce respectable mid-bass body with adequate punch and excellent transience delivering well-defined notes. Upper-bass is also quite neutral in emphasis, producing no spill or warming of the midrange. As a result, the majority of bass notes are just slightly thinner than neutral; snare drums are clean and uncoloured and bass is controlled but bass drums are lifeless and lacking impact.

Though bass details do occasionally become overshadowed by the Asura’s more present treble response, the earbud has some fullness to its low-end when called for and never comes across as muddy, sloppy or bloated even on poorly mastered albums. Bass control is excellent and the Asura’s quick decay produces a detailed image even if its extension isn’t adequate to portray especially realistic timbre and texture. Still, the Asura has very pleasing bass quality paired with serviceable bass quantity and extension. This is a clean, snappy and defined earbud with plenty of articulation at the cost of dynamics, best suiting genres such as metal and vocal over pop and hip-hop.

 

Mids –

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As a result of the Asura’s reserved low-end, the earbud’s entire midrange carries a thinner body with quite an ethereal tone. Despite this, the earbud doesn’t overemphasize vocals and has an incredibly tasteful brightness that avoids fatigue, stridence and the sense of over-forwardness usually associated with this style of tuning. I would consider mids to be the earbud’s forte both tonally and technically, and this is certainly quite a standout performer within the earbud form factor.

Lower mids are sensational for an earbud, most of which are overly warmed due to a reliance on foam covers for adequate bass response. The Asura is rather quite neutral and transparent with a slightly cool tone. Clarity is emphasised due to their lack of sub-bass which saps that organic fullness from male vocals and instruments such as piano and guitar, but enhances definition and delineation between layers.

Upper mids tell a similar story but sit slightly more forward in the mix. Female vocals are less coloured by the bass, or lack thereof, creating a more natural timbre while retaining the same sense of clarity and resolution. That said, though clear, the Asura doesn’t over-do clarity, lacking any raspiness, and these qualities combine to produce a revealing yet well-layered midrange presentation. The Asura 2.0S therefore impresses with excellent balance, resolution and separation between elements that craft a spacious but focussed stage.

 

Treble –

The Asura 2.0S delivers a detailed and crisp treble response with notable emphasis on middle treble. Lower treble is well integrated with the upper-midrange as far as earbuds go, delivering an especially detailed response that is more nuanced than competitors such as the 1More E1008, Cygnus and even the Rose Masya. That said, the Asura 2.0 is also brighter than all of these earbuds, which can cause some fatigue at louder volumes. This feeds into a middle-treble focus that aids air and shimmer but also over-shadows and colours some lower elements. As a result, treble sounds thin and a little tizzy, texturing is compromised and separation fails to match class leaders. Extension is also good but not outstanding like the dual driver Rose, with upper-treble notes sitting more in the background.

That said, treble quality still impresses, the aforementioned tone, especially with regards to lower treble, creates an uncommonly detailed presentation among earbuds. This is because foam covers, no matter the type, always suck out detail presence, even earphones with compensatory treble emphasis tend to sound over-dampened and dull higher up. The Asura is quite the opposite with slightly more aggression to these regions; cymbals and guitars are crisp and defined with pleasing attack, strings are forward if lacking some texture and high-hats, that many earbuds truncate entirely, are well-resolved if somewhat distant. The Asura 2.0S doesn’t fair so well against similarly priced in-ears due to the nature of its design, but among fair competition, this earbud is not only one of most revealing but also one of the most resolving.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Resolution –

The Asura 2.0S produces a large stage on account of its form factor and airy treble response that bests the darker, more sealing Shozy earbuds. That said, it still lacks the grand space of the Rose and 1More earbuds that offer superior end to end extension. Imaging is excellent with clear layers and accurate instrument placement on account of the Asura’s quick, resolving sound and mostly balanced. Separation is also excellent due to a thinner note body that emphasizes the space between elements though treble can overshadow the lower frequencies on certain tracks.

 

Driveability –

Despite the Asura 2.0S’ 150ohm impedance, it’s not overly difficult to achieve high listening volumes, even from a smartphone, due to a higher 110dB sensitivity. That said, driving the earbud to potential is another matter and the changes when amplified can be very noticeable. From my iPod Nano 7G, one of my least powerful sources, the Asura 2.0S sounded subjectively more balanced as it was immediately bassier. However, the earbud also sounded considerably looser and less defined, a clear sign it is being under-dampened. When introducing a portable amplifier such as the Fiio A5, the earbuds quickly tighten up and assume a more neutral, transparent sound. Due to their transparency, they do benefit greatly from a more musical source such the Chord Mojo and Shozy Alien+ over more neutral sources like the X7 II. With the Alien+, the Asura 2.0S achieves greater balance through increased bass and smoother treble without sacrificing resolution and control. They might be missing a little control from a smartphone but they will still offer plenty of volume and a pleasing tone. Therefore, an amplifier is recommended but even a budget amp such as the Fiio A3 will drive the Asura well.

 

Comparisons –

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VE Monk+ ($5): The Monk+ really is a miracle in terms of price/performance and the earbud that has introduced to many to the hobby and form factor. Unsurprisingly, the Asura 2.0S offers a very noticeable step up though due to large differences in tonality, the Asura is not always the most logical progression. This is because the Monk+ was designed to be used with the included thin foams where the Asura 2.0S was designed for use sans covers. As a result, the Monk+ is considerably more bass focussed and darker overall. Without covers, the Monk+ is actually more mid-forward than the Asura 2.0S and with greater clarity to compensate for the dampening effect of those covers while the Asura 2.0S sounds downright muddy when equipped. I will be comparing the Monk+ with thin foams to the uncovered Asura 2.0S.

The Asura represents a significant technical upgrade to the Monk+; it is immediately more neutral, balanced and resolving. Bass is less extended but tighter and quicker with far more definition. Mids are brighter but still closer to neutral with a lot more resolution and a more natural timbre. Treble is the biggest differentiator, the Asura 2.0S is more forward, but extends far better regardless of whether the Monk+ is equipped with foams or naked. The Asura 2.0S is also far more detailed with greater nuance and more defined layering. Through this, the Asura also provides a larger stage and both imaging and separation benefit from its more neutral, linear and nuanced sound. The bassier Monk+ will no doubt have its fans and the jump to the more neutral Asura can be jarring, but given some time to adjust, the Asura provides details the Monk+ is incapable of producing.

Shozy Cygnus ($90): The Cygnus employs smaller Yuin shells with a nice frosted texture. They have a spectacular cable that is ultra-supple and are designed for use with donut foams, offering a generally more practical experience than the VE earbud. The Cygnus is subjectively more balanced with a slightly L-shaped tone built atop enhanced mid-bass presence, a clear midrange and a smooth high-end with slight lower treble emphasis. The Cygnus has more bass quantity and considerably better extension and rumble while the Asura 2.0S is tighter with greater bass resolution and speed. The Cygnus has a warmer tone that extends into its lower midrange. It has a darker, more natural and laid-back midrange presentation than the Asura but clarity is almost comparable.

Still, the brighter, more neutral Asura 2.0 sounds appreciably more defined and more transparent if thin and a bit over-analytical by comparison. Highs are the Asura’s forte, the Cygnus has some nice crispness to its lower treble but rolls off fairly quickly with less air and resolving power up top. The Asura 2.0S is more detailed by a fair amount with considerably greater treble attack and extension. The airier Asura, therefore, crafts a more expansive, layered presentation overall, however, the Cygnus still suits certain genres such as Classical better due to its greater bass extension. Overall, the Cygnus is more musical, the Asura 2.0 is more resolving.

Rose Masya ($109): The Masya is one of the few earbuds with a unique shell design however it is also one of the most ergonomically unorthodox due to their huge dimensions. These are definitely not for smaller eared listeners though they are manageable once adjusted and they do boast a very nice removable cable. Sonically, the Masya is most comparable to the Asura 2.0S, its dual dynamic drivers producing a similarly clear, neutrally bodied sound as the Asura. That said, the Masya is more balanced, perhaps slightly U-shaped depending on the level of seal with a similar bass tone to the Asura but with more presence in the sub and deep-bass regions. As such, the Masya produces more rumble, slam and impact without warming of bloating their bass response, they are almost as defined as the Asura 2.0S but have even greater separation between notes. Mids are also quite similar, the Masya sounds very clear yet its greater low-end presence grants vocals with more natural body, sounding more realistic as a result.

The Asura is slightly more resolving, however, with more defined layers and background detail where the Masya is on the periphery of diffuse. This same impression extends to the high-frequencies, the Asura 2.0S is slightly brighter but also more linear due to its lack of covers. As a result, the Asura is a little more detailed within the lower-treble than the Masya and more coherent heading into middle and upper treble. On the flipside, the Masya is smoother but still immensely clear reciprocating with superior treble extension that produces one of the most enormous soundstages I’ve heard from an in-ear device. However, as aforementioned, the Masya can sound a little diffuse, with certain details being pushed too far into the background and I would argue that the Asura 2.0S finds a better balance between space and coherence. Overall, the Masya is just as resolving with a more visceral bass response on top though the Asura 2.0S is considerably more ergonomic and coherent.

Shozy BK ($160): The BK utilises the same shells as the Cygnus with a matte black paint job and 8–core cable. Overall, it’s a more ergonomic, manageable earbud to live with than the tacky cabled Asura 2.0S. The BK is also designed to be used with donut foams but it is remarkably resolving considering. Tonally, the BK is well-balanced, slightly dark and laid-back but more linear than the Cygnus. The Asura 2.0S is still the more neutral earbud but the BK returns with greater musicality and dynamics combined with considerably better extension. The Asura has more mid-bass definition but sounds rather lifeless compared to the Shozy that delivers notes with similar transience and superior texture on top. Mids are more revealing on the Asura 2.0S with greater clarity while the BK is more natural with more realistic timbre. The Asura 2.0S is noticeably brighter and more mid-forward than the BK, both are well-layered though the Asura retrieves more background details.

The Asura is also more detailed than the more laid-back BK but by a much smaller margin than the Cygnus. The BK extends well if not quite as well as the VE and has the air and nuance but is less forward in its delivery and vastly more musical. The BK doesn’t have a huge stage but has a dark background and a very clean delivery that the Asura doesn’t match. Both image well, the Asura is slightly more pinpoint perfect and separated. Depending on the type of sound users are acclimatized to, they could prefer either, but the BK is the more balanced and tonally pleasing earbud whose superior bass performance does a lot to redeem their lesser high-end resolution. Still, the Asura 2.0S remains a strong contender for lovers of a bright, revealing sound.

 

Verdict –

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The Asura 2.0S takes an interesting approach that nets some terrific strengths at the cost of some tonal weaknesses. It carries a rather unique signature combining excellent clarity with a relatively natural timbre and neutral tone. These qualities can be attributed to the earbud’s equally intriguing fit that discards all notions of seal in favour of crystal clarity and speed. Through this, the Asura 2.0S not only achieves almost IEM levels of nuance but also capitalises on the very open nature of earbuds, producing a wide stage with defined layers. Bass extension does suffer considerably, however, and this is most definitely not an earbud for those wanting a warm or bassy sound, though there are plenty of options offering that style of sound such as those from Shozy. Build quality also fails to impress, they are as generic as most earbuds with an especially difficult cable though again, fit will be familiar and comfortable for the vast majority as a result.

Verdict 7.5/10, There are other earbuds designed with the same style of fit and sound in mind, but the Asura 2.0S is one of the most refined and well-priced among them. They are generic and lacking some low-end solidity but their clear midrange and detailed high-end will cater perfectly towards lovers of a revealing, articulate and spacious sound with great pace.

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