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Astrotec S80 Review – Perfectly Generic

Pros – 

Well-controlled bass, Natural midrange, Comfortable and well-isolating, Both earpieces support mono mode

Cons – 

Abysmal call quality, Cheap build quality, Unreliable touch controls

Verdict – 

At a very conservative price, the S80 provides buyers with reliable connectivity and a natural if bass-focused sound that is clean and impressively controlled.


Introduction –

Astrotec is one of the oldest companies putting the HiFi in ChiFi. Their portfolio spans myriad offerings ranging from entry-level single dynamic earphones to a cutting edge electro-static flagship. Somewhere in between lies the S80, a TWS in-ear featuring a single Beryllium dynamic driver with ultra-thin diaphragm enabling a powerful yet controlled sound. It comes well-equipped from factory and offers the latest Bluetooth standard, all at just $70 USD. With specification parity with market leaders and a rich audiophile heritage, the S80 represents one of the cheapest enthusiast models on the market. You can read more about the S80 here and buy one for yourself here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Astrotec very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the S80 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories –

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The S80 is well packaged as with all Astrotec earphones and also very well equipped for a product of such conservative pricing. Inside the hard box, buyers will find the earphones and charging case alongside a zippered hard case to keep everything protected. In addition, the earphones include two sizes of elongated silicone ear tips not dissimilar to Westone star tips that provide a more reassuring fit. They also provided a slightly brighter sound to my ear as compared to the mushroom style tips included on most TWS earphones and Spinfit CP360’s, a good fit to the S80’s smoother sound. In addition, two sizes of more traditionally shaped silicone tips are provided in addition to a pair of memory foam tips that aid isolation. A USB-C charging cable completes a positive unboxing experience.

 

Design –

The S80 is a medium-sized and lightweight earphone with plastic housings. Though they don’t possess a premium aesthetic or feel like more expensive competitors, their non-frills design is very smooth in all aspects and achieves a solid fit and seal. Thoughtful additions such as a matte inner face that resist oils from the ear alongside a rubber ring that runs the perimeter provides tactility when removing the earphone from the case aids stability in the ear. Meanwhile, gloss faceplates conceal large capacitive touch control panels.

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They are uniquely shaped with oblong dimensions, however, tapered nozzles and unique elongated ear tips enable the majority of bulk to sit outside the ear, thereby avoiding hotspots. And during wear, the earphones have a medium depth fit and a strong seal that proved stable during runs and workouts. In addition, isolation is very good, on behalf of their ear-filling design and strong seal, easily adequate for public transport, especially with foam tips. Microphone holes are located on the outer faces but do not impede a respectable IPX5 water resistance rating.

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Contrarily, Astrotec’s included carrying case looks quite stunning with chrome lid and linen base. Four LED indicators shine through the fabric but are otherwise concealed for a clean aesthetic. A USB-C charging port is located on the right side of the case. Meanwhile, the hinge is stiff but serviceable with a subtle lockout at end range. The earphones are secured magnetically and charge via 2-pin terminals. The case is a little chunky but is compact in all dimensions and one of the more pocketable I’ve come across.

 

Usage –

Upon initial removal from the included case, the earphones instantly enter pairing mode with accompanying spoken audio cues that confirm pairing to the source and between each channel. By disabling BT on the paired source, the earphones will be available to pair to more. In addition, both earpieces can be independently paired by holding the touch control for 5s. They support BT5.0 but do not offer APT-X. Still, AAC is available for both Android and Apple sources. Furthermore, connection was rock solid in my testing with no cut-out between sides or from the source device in close proximity. This impression was reinforced in crowded areas such as Sydney CBD where, paired to my Pixel 4, the earphones didn’t stutter or cut-out.

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The S80 also provides very respectable battery life, rated at 5-6hrs with an additional 4 charges from the case totalling 25hrs of playback time. I was able to confidently meet 5hrs of playback time at medium/low volumes. Meanwhile, call quality through the integrated mics is disappointing with callers often reporting that I sounded distant and muffled, in noisy areas, my voice was rendered indiscernible. Astrotec has assured me that this will be an area of focus for their future models, however, those requiring an earphone to handle call and music duties may be disappointed with the S80 in this regard.

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To add fuel to the fire, the touch controls were highly unreliable for me. The single tap to play/pause gesture very rarely functioned while the double tap volume control managed a 30% success rate regardless of tap speed or location. That said, the song skip hold gesture was reliable which is arguably the most convenient. Still, as the earphones lack an aware mode, physical controls or more reliable single-taps would have mitigated much frustration. The earphones lack app integration, however, ultimately provide a simple and, with the exceptions of touch controls, reliable user experience.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

Though Berrylium drivers tend to provide a more aggressive sound, the S80 is warm and smooth. Its presentation is defined by its powerful bass that feeds into a warm midrange. However, unlike the majority of bass orientated TWS earphones, its high-end is smooth and refined. The result is a sound that can be listened to for extended periods of time or high volumes without fatigue, suitable for listening in noisy environments.

 

Bass –

Lows extend well and roll-off naturally at the very bottom, providing a more diffuse slam but enabling convincing rumble. Mid-bass holds the spotlight and bass notes are full and warm as a result. Some emphasis continues through the upper-bass reinforcing a warmer and smoother presentation. Control is quite good for this price category and surely represents the quicker decay properties and more textured presentation of Beryllium driver earphones. Mid-bass is slightly tubby though notes remain well-defined and, especially as sub-bass isn’t over present, bass isn’t muddy in the slightest. The S80’s low-end is nicely executed with moderate emphasis and warmth that will be sure to please many listeners so long as you aren’t expecting balance and absolute cleanliness.

 

Mids –

To counteract the warmth of their low-end, lower-mids receive are slightly recessed, thereby achieving a cleaner midrange tone. Besides this, the tuning here represents a very natural tonality that is only slightly mired by additional warmth from the bass and a very dark middle-treble. A small centre midrange bump brings vocals forward yet, by comparison to the low-end, vocals are still fairly recessed. The 4KHz region is also slightly recessed, providing a dense and smooth presentation. As mids are already on the warmer and fuller side, the S80 runs the risk of sounding a touch thick at times. Still, this tuning yields enjoyable vocal clarity and presence, vocals are well-distinguished from instruments and distinct layers are apparent. Vocals timbre is also respectable for the most part, and will appeal to those wanting an organic and rich presentation.

 

Highs –

The lower-treble has a well-executed bump centred around 6KHz that provides extra crispness and brings foreground treble details to the fore. The S80 isn’t aggressive, but treble instrumentation has pleasing energy and presence with just slightly enhanced percussion alongside natural shimmer and decay. Meanwhile, the middle-treble is significantly attenuated, providing a pitch-black background upon which foreground elements are easy to localise and differentiate. As such, the S80 comes across as a very clean and composed earphone without a hint of glare or brightness. And, despite its small bump in the lower-treble, the S80 comes across as smooth and very refined. As one would expect, treble extension is very mediocre with no micro-detail or sparkle and background information is just sufficient to remind you that it exists. Still, there is ample detail retrieval here to provide layers and dimension to its presentation.

 

Soundstage –

As upper-treble extension and background detail retrieval are minimal, the S80 has a fairly intimate soundstage contained mostly within the head. It does, however, provide a well-rounded presentation with good depth and vocal projection. Layers are also well-defined, attributed to a well-focused foreground that sits atop a black background. Instruments are pushed to the side while vocals are strongly centred. Directional cues are clear and the S80 achieves solid separation throughout on behalf of its well-controlled bass and a tuning that isn’t overly sculpted in any other regard.

 

Comparisons –

Lypertek TEVI ($89): Slightly pricier but a staple audiophile TWS earphone. The TEVI offers a significantly more balanced sound on behalf of its substantially less present bass. The TEVI has more of a sub-bass focus while its mid and upper-bass are neutral. It has a more controlled and defined low-end but the S80 is surprisingly detailed given its substantially greater emphasis. Through the midrange, both are quite similar though the TEVI has more vocal presence and also less bass, sounding cleaner, clearer and more balanced. It too has a 4KHz dip providing very clean, dense vocals similar to the S80, it also never sounds thin as a result of this tuning. The TEVI actually has a recessed lower-treble making it smoother within the foreground. Meanwhile, it has a more emphasized middle-treble giving a bit more headroom and clarity. The TEVI has a more open presentation and it is more separated while the S80 sounds darker, warmer and more layered.

M&D MW07 GO ($199): At almost 3x the price, this is hardly fair, however, seeing as both possess similar driver types, this comparison felt justified. Instantly, the MW07 is more W-shaped. It has better sub-bass extension and, though lows are just as present throughout, the MW07 is more controlled and detailed by a fair margin. It also has a fair less upper-bass so it sounds a little cleaner. The MW07 has a more recessed lower-midrange and a larger centre midrange bump, providing more vocal presence but also a less natural timbre. Meanwhile, the S80 is warmer, thicker and more recessed but also more natural and coherent. The MW07 has a more energetic high-end with a similarly emphasized lower-treble, sounding crisp but also has more headroom and extension. It has more detail retrieval, a larger soundstage and more separation. Meanwhile, the S80 sounds cleaner and more composed with more defined layers.

 

Verdict –

The advent of TWS was something I was very much excited for at the end of 2018 though a year later, we’re almost seeing saturation with an abundance of models from new and pre-established manufacturers. As such, it’s easy to lose orientation and settle for suboptimal performance. However, as I’ve experimented more with the segment, it seems clear that wireless is not the weakest link in the chain with new TWS earphones hardly resembling the muddy acoustics and generic designs of the first wave. The S80 is no such earphone.

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Though surely generic on the outside and with call capabilities that are little more than specifications on the box, the S80 rewards with a rich and natural sound that has surely received some thoughtful engineering. A solid fit and seal in addition to respectable battery life round off the experience. Of course, those averse to bass will want to pursue an option like the more balanced TEVI while those coming from high-end IEMs fearful of missing technical ability will want to spend more for options like the MW07 earphones. However, at a very conservative price, the S80 provides buyers with reliable connectivity and a natural if bass-focused sound that is clean and impressively controlled.

The S80 can be purchased from Aliexpress for $70 USD. I am not affiliated with Aliexpress or Astrotec and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

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