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Astrotec Volans Review – Force & Control

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.

Tonality –

The Volans has a warm, mellow and smooth sound, it isn’t overly forward in any particular region. The low-end is balanced overall but laid-back in the sub-bass shifting focus more to the mid-bass. In turn, it is moderately warm and pleasantly full without occupying too much stage presence. The midrange takes precedence instead with a gradual climb to 2.5kHz and 5.5kHz peaks with troughs between and after. I think the midrange timbre will polarise most in the Volan’s sound, as vocals occupy a laid-back position and sound perhaps over-smooth and a bit truncated. Though I measured a sizeable bump in the lower-treble, in listening, the Volans is fairly smooth and unassuming. Treble rolls off quickly after giving it a very clean and dark background. The Volans is a less conventional sounding earphone but it is coherent and excels with select genres such as jazz, R&B and easy listening while lacking some energy and attack for hip-hop, rock and acoustic.

Tip choice –

The Volans is moderately tip sensitive and does benefit greatly from some rolling. The JVC Spiral Dots were a good companion to my ears, opening up the midrange and top-end with their wide-bore design. They also provided a bit more sub-bass kick than the stock tips. The Final Audio E-tips provided the most coherent sound with a more ideal vocal positioning and timbre. The bass wasn’t as dynamic as the Spiral Dots but the top-end more focused. Sedna fits were a bit diffuse in the midrange and top-end so not the best choice to my ears. As the E-tips were the best choice for my preferences, I will be evaluating the Volans using these tips below.

Bass –

The Volans offers an unconventional but very technically impressive bass presentation. It boasts strong deep bass extension and bass quantity that feels well-balanced with the rest of the sound. Sub-bass is laid-back, especially relative to the mid-bass. In turn, don’t expect large slam or super hard-hitting impact. Still, there remains a satisfying solidity, fullness and pressure that you won’t get from a BA setup. This also grants a little more space and separation to the lightly emphasised mid-bass, creating a warm leaning and still relatively full bass note. The transition to the midrange is also pleasantly linear with only a touch of additional contrast to provide separation. As such, bass presentation is smooth and non-fatiguing. Note articulation is somewhat atypical, however, it is very well-damped likely due to the density of the surrounding acoustics.

In listening, notes come across as full-bodied but with a very quick albeit smoother attack due to the laid-back sub-bass. Decay is also lightning quick for a dynamic driver, perhaps overly so. In turn, you do miss just a bit of the texture provided by a good DD implementation but we are speaking heavily in subjectives here. Otherwise, bass demonstrates truly excellent control, being tight and very high-definition. Notes come across as somewhat rounded due to the quick decay and mid-bass focus. Yet ultimately, the Volans is a very technically strong performer with excellent pace, drive and organisation that easily exceeds its asking price. Just note that it is tuned in a manner that makes it slightly unconventional in note presentation.  

Midrange –

The midrange undoubtedly sounds best with a deep-fit that shifts the peaks slightly higher and brings the upper-midrange a touch forward. Without this, they can sound wonky so tip choice is imperative. With appropriately sized E-tips, I hear a smooth, dense and coherent presentation. I will also note that I am being extra critical here since the midrange is a focal point of the Volan’s sound. At face value, its tuning is defined by twin peaks at 2.5 and 5.5kHz with a sizeable dip between. This produces vocals of accurate size and body albeit with a laid-back stage position. This is since the centre-midrange bolstering misses the usual 3kHz region instrumental to pinna gain on the in-ear form factor and similarly the 4kHz range that aids clarity, openness and intimacy. Since the tuning is otherwise, quite linear, the timbre and voicing remains mostly natural and accurate. However articulation is noticeably very smooth due to the laid-back treble. In tandem with a slightly denser upper-midrange and the more laid-back positioning, vocals do sacrifice a fair amount of openness to the extent that they sound a little truncated and honky.

Still, the Volans excels with coherence and linearity until the upper-midrange which appears deliberately smooth and dense. As aforementioned, the bass/midrange transition is quite linear, just a touch reduced, so midrange note body is quite accurate but with an uptick of definition. The added definition aids vocal intelligibility and prevents veil rather than contributing to an especially revealing presentation. Due to their enhanced density and smoothness, vocals are nonetheless presented without a hint of rasp or thinness. And, as bass isn’t too forward there isn’t too much tonal colouration nor chestiness or veil; only a medium warmth that’s inviting and subjectively quite musical. Undoubtedly, the Volans is not a revealing earphone, and they do sacrifice a noticeable amount of openness and definition when compared to more accurately tuned in-ears. Nevertheless, they will appeal to lovers of a coherent and smooth sound, if skewing just a bit too far in that direction for my personal tastes.

Highs –

Though a sizeable 5.5kHz peak was measured, the Volans really does not come across as a remotely bright or treble forward monitor – perhaps reason being that they quickly fall-off into a sharp trough. The net result is crisp treble instruments albeit with a very smooth note attack. This saps fine detail retrieval, the gentle strumming in The Cranberries “Linger” being very laid-back, almost diminished, but also mitigates any sharpness or brightness. So in tune with the bass and midrange, the Volans appears to be tuned for easy listening and a mellower presentation overall. There remains ample detail presence if not the best retrieval in the foreground and zero fatigue, glare or stridence. Instruments are a touch thin in terms of body and are presented with a softer attack but convincing texture and decay regardless.

The transient response is also quite clean and this tuning permits strong separation when the track gets busy or loud such as during the chorus in Radiohead’s “Creep”. I neither measured nor heard much going on above, the Volans has a clean, black background but also absent sparkle and minimal air. There remains a decent amount of headroom and good contrast between background and foreground too if not too much focus in either. Micro-detail retrieval is low though there is good resolution of the details that are present with no veil or grain creeping into the presentation. Extension is below average around this price range and the smoother tuning means that their technical abilities are not immediately apparent. As such, the Volans is for the buyer wanting a particular kind of sound, that being smooth and non-fatiguing while remaining refined.

Soundstage –

The Volans expresses pleasing spaciousness on behalf of its especially strong ability to project depth. However, width is more intimate, reaching only to the periphery of the head. It sounds pleasantly multi-dimensional and layers are nicely-defined. Imaging is mediocre, vocals appear pushed slightly laterally with a slightly diffuse centre image relative to most in-ears. Directional cues aren’t especially sharp due to the treble tuning but localisation is accurate since the sound is quite balanced overall. Separation is strong, however, the presentation is very coherent but organised into defined layers with great separation throughout which aids detail retrieval on complex tracks.

Driveability –

The Volans has a typical 110dB sensitivity alongside a 32 ohm impedance. This makes a fairly efficient DD implementation but not too sensitive to source noise or output impedance, especially compared to multi-driver designs.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Being a single-DD earphone, the Volans isn’t too susceptible to wild signature changes with higher output impedance. Comparing the 10-ohm Hiby R6 to my 1-ohm THX 789 desktop setup revealed only a slightly crisper lower-treble that can be attributed to the Hiby’s own colouration. Besides this, no bass roll-off or other colouration was observed. As such, the Volans will provide a sound faithful to the manufacturer’s intentions from the majority of sources.

Driving Power

The Volans definitely does benefit slightly from higher output power though it is one of the more efficient DD earphones I’ve tested. Comparing the THX789 to my portable DAPs revealed a slightly more authoritarian sub-bass on the desktop AMP in addition to a more controlled and highly defined mid-bass. That said, the difference was not as large as on the less efficient Phoenix, being served well even by lower-end portable sources like the Shanling M0.

Suggested Pair Ups

Source pairings are not as important for the Volans given that it doesn’t scale too much in terms of resolution or soundstage width and isn’t overly affected by output impedance or noise either. Subjectively speaking, I did prefer cleaner and slightly more aggressive sources such as the iBasso DX200 that provided a more concise sound on the Volans. The bass also scales well with a bit of power though it isn’t to a large enough degree that an dedicated amp is necessitated, being served well even by the DD TC35B.

Comparisons –

oBravo Cupid (249 EUR): The Cupid offers a deeper extending bass with great sub-bass presence. It also has some mid-bass emphasis but is a bit cleaner and bolder than the Volans in terms of voicing. The Volans is slightly tighter and quicker, it has more definition but the Cupid is not too far behind and offers better dynamics and texture. The Volans definitely has a more linear midrange delivery despite not offering a perfect timbre. The Cupid is more revealing in the midrange but also a touch strained and inconsistent track to track due to its sculpted tuning. It is well-compensated considering but not the most natural performer here.

The Volans has a clear leg up on consistency and coherence. The Cupid has a much brighter top-end, the middle-treble especially. Its timbre isn’t as natural nor does it portray distance as accurately. The Cupid remains well-textured and is noticeably more detailed and extended, even delivering some sparkle. Of course, this is at the cost of it being brighter and sharper in its delivery. The Cupid crafts a larger soundstage but its imaging isn’t as accurate or stable, being floaty and holographic albeit not especially realistic.

Final E5000 ($279): TheE5000 pursues a similar style of sound to the Volans. It has a deeper extending bass and greater sub and mid-bass emphasis. However, it also has a woolier note presentation, being neither as defined nor as tight as the more balanced and agile Volans. The midrange is just as coherent on the E5000, similar in terms of warmth and density but with a more accurate articulation. The E5000 also offers a more accurate vocal size, it is more natural in its voicing but similarly laid-back due to its bigger bass.

The Volans offers a slightly more balanced presentation here and likely will appeal to a similar audience. The treble is more linear on the E5000, also slightly smoother but with more balanced presence than the Volans and a more accurate note attack. It has greater detail retrieval as well. The Volans offers a bit more extension and headroom, however, offering a more layered and separated sound. The E5000 has a larger soundstage and slightly sharper imaging but less separation due to its warmer, bigger bass.  

Periodic Be ($299) w/tape mod: The Be is more natural and linear but the cable is substantially worse, thin, rubbery and fixed so consider this before purchase. The Be has similar bass extension but a more linear presentation with just a hint of mid-bass bias with the mod. It is not quite as defined but offers more natural attack and decay. The Volans is still faster and tighter in the sub-bass especially but it doesn’t have the same timbre and texture. The Be has a more natural midrange, it isn’t quite as smooth or dense but more open and balanced. The Be also has a light warm tone and is highly coherent, to my ears, it offers a more natural timbre.

Its vocals have a better balance between size and position, there’s also more clarity and openness if just a hint of rasp that the Volans lacks entirely. The Be has a sharper lower-treble with similar 5K peak but less of a trough otherwise. As such, it has more accurate note attack being slightly more aggressive even. It is more detailed than the Volans and offers a darker background in exchange for slightly less extension and headroom. The Be offers a more rounded soundstage and sharper imaging on top.

Oriveti OH300 ($299): The OH300 offers a more W-shaped sound from its 3-driver hybrid configuration. Immediately it has more sub-bass emphasis and a slightly deeper extension with more pressure. The OH300 has a cleaner mid-bass by comparison, both are bold, but the Volans is a bit warmer and fuller with more mid-bass bias. The OH300 has better separation and more natural decay while the Volans is tighter, more agile and delivers higher definition. The OH300 has more forward vocals and they are more revealing.

There’s more clarity despite both having a smooth articulation. The Volans sounds more truncated but also a bit fuller and more coherent, the OH300 being a touch raspy and more neutral in body and tone. The OH300 has more treble presence, the Volans being much smoother. The OH300 is crisper with a cleaner transient response and more detail retrieval. The OH300 has higher resolution and a wider soundstage and sharper imaging but more intimate depth due to its more forward vocals.

Astrotec Phoenix ($799): The Phoenix is Astrotec’s flagship and a strong technical performer. Since the review I’ve found myself preferring its sound with a strip of alcohol swab on the nozzle that smooths off its treble and aids a more accurate vocal articulation. The Phoenix has a bigger, deeper bass with more sub-bass focus. It has a lot more upper-bass/lower-midrange recession in order to provide separation to the midrange. In turn, it is not too warm or dominating, but not as linear as the Volans. The Phoenix offers a slowly decaying low-end, with heaps of definition, texture and dynamics that the Volans cannot match. In return, the Volans is more agile and tighter in its sub-bass expression.

The Phoenix has a much more revealing midrange counterbalanced by increased warmth and body from its bigger bass. It sounds more engaging than the smoother and less open Volans. The Volans definitely sounds more coherent and more linear in general while the Phoenix offers a more forward vocal range with greater definition and clarity. The Phoenix offers a much more energetic treble too with a cleaner transient response and substantially more extension and resolution. It has a lot more detail presence and retrieval in both the foreground and background, also not too much sharpness with the mod albeit remaining quite thin in body. The Phoenix has a much larger soundstage in all axis and sharper imaging on top which is no surprise given the huge price jump.

Verdict –

The Volans is an impressive looking, feeling and fitting earphone which gives it a very strong first impression. Boot up the sound, however, and it does take a little adjustment. It is smooth, mellow and somewhat narrow, but with a cracking, high-definition bass that provides awesome drive to its sound. Indeed, the bass is highly satisfying, a little too rigid in its note portrayal even, but overall one of the most impressive DD’s I’ve come across recently from a definition and control standpoint. The midrange is smooth and dense which makes it sound a little off-timbre but still coherent and refined in its expression. The highs are not especially detailed nor extended so it won’t appeal to those that prefer an energetic and crisp sound. However, if you’re interested in a soothing sound for longer listening sessions, the Volans is a great example with a premium form factor and class-leading bass quality.

The Volans is available from Astrotec (International) for $329 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Astrotec and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

Track List –

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Blur – 13

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

Gorrilaz – Plastic Beach

John Legend – Once Again

MAMAMOO – reality in BLACK

Missy Higgins – The Sound of White

NIKI – NIKI Acoustic Sessions: Head in the Clouds II

Nirvana – Nevermind

Pixies – Doolittle

Social House – Haunt You

Stephen Speaks – Passenger Seat

suggi – cheer up!

The Cranberries – No Need To Argue

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