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Meze Audio ADVAR Review – Flow Formed

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 which I found to be the case here. 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. I gave the Advar 100hrs burn-in to ensure maximum performance prior to subjective breakdown.

Tonality –

Coming from the Rai Penta and given what I’d seen on the Solo, I really didn’t know what to expect from the Advar. Meze claims a similar style of colouration as seen on their over-ear headphones and I would posit that the Advar is of similar character at a glance. However, there are differences, chiefly a slightly more evident u-shaped character with a more evident bass boost and a crisper treble. This gives the Advar a relatively high-energy and engaging sound profile that only resembles the company’s headphones in the form of a laid-back midrange, warm-leaning tonality and superb sense of spaciousness. It remains a coherent and naturally voiced model with tasteful emphases and a surprisingly strong technical performance from a single DD of unspecified composition. Though not intended as a replacement, this surely represents much of the IEM many wished for when the Rai Penta was first released. In addition, lovers of CFA’s high-end single-DD designs now have a similarly compact and comfortable competitor with less overt bass bias and a more even midrange tuning. Altogether, this gives the Advar a good standing in the current single-DD market. It must be noted that the treble does stand out on my measurements above and, indeed, it is prominent in listening. However, I didn’t find it intrusive as the graphs may suggest. In addition, the 6-8kHz region is very easy to attenuate via the use of filters and I will discuss these ideas in greater depth below.

Filter Mod

This is a cheap, reversible mod that I have detailed in numerous reviews. Simply grab an alcohol swab and wait for the solution to evaporate, cut a piece roughly 5mm x 5mm and place it over the nozzle. Then, secure the fabric with the ear tip, ensuring it is still covering the sound output. By adding acoustic impedance, high frequencies will be attenuated quite selectively. Here, we can observe this is to good effect with a dew dB of attenuation in the treble region. Surprisingly, this also brings with it a slight attenuation of the upper mids and a few dB of bass enhancement. This serves to provide an altogether, smoother and fuller sound. For the sake of review, I listened without this mod. However, if you are concerned about the treble, consider that you can use this simple mod and also layer multiple swabs for increased effect. This can be safely used on any IEM as well.

Bass –

Though clearly a bass emphasised sound, lows hardly dominate or pound the skull to fatigue. There’s a good amount of bass boost that said, mostly contained within the deep bass with just a slight sub-bass roll-off. I find this gives notes a bold and thick over full and rounded feel and bass is defined, in turn, by its power and texture over huge pressurisation and dynamics. In so doing, it manages to sound large without becoming overbearing or ill-defined. Sub-bass extension is excellent regardless, though as aforementioned, isn’t as pressurised as you’d see on CFA’s model to name an example. That means you get a little less thump on especially bassy tracks despite the sizable mid-bass wallop. And, with emphasis continuing into the mid-bass, the tone is warm, and notes are quite voluminous. However, they are never plump or bloated due to a progressive slope through the mid and upper bass that greatly helps to clean up the image.

I will elucidate that this isn’t the most speed-focused low-end and buyers shouldn’t expect the most separated or hyper-defined bass, even amongst its high-end DD-based peers. That said, the note presentation isn’t sloppy in the slightest, with impressive control perhaps attributable to the dense low-resonance housings and smart tuning on Meze’s behalf. Notes impress with their well-restrained attack and natural if not speedy decay. This provides a rich, organic yet natural character that is very appealing. So, while this is a fairly typical bassy DD tuning, the IEM excels most with its strong balance between punch and slam. The Advar is dynamic but never to the detriment of nuance which is a refreshing change from many high-end monitors that take the sub-bass a bit too far for my personal tastes. This opens room for a delightfully well-textured mid-bass and a nicely separated sound despite the increase in note size and thickness. The Advar is one of the more articulate high-end DD’s I’ve heard combined with a fun, tasteful bass-boosted tuning.

Mids –

Such an appealing character continues through the midrange which benefits from a natural, progressive, albeit slightly laid-back tuning. The lower midrange isn’t excessively recessed but some attenuation is present to avoid excessive warmth and the introduction of veil. Above is a progressive build-up to a 3kHz hump before a small 4k dip for coherence and density. Combined with a medium warmth imbued by the bass, the midrange comes across as naturally voiced, slightly laid-back and richly hued. Clarity is upheld with appropriate pinna gain in tandem with an articulate treble response that gives vocals and mouth sounds a more defined edge. This isn’t always my favourite style of tuning, but here, serves as a pleasant and euphonic blend of qualities due to the counterbalancing force of the low-end’s warmth and body. In turn, vocals are a touch glossy and over-articulated but never metallic or strident. Thinness also isn’t an issue as you’d expect given the low-end tuning and 4k dip.

Indeed, this is a coloured sound on the warm side, however, it is well-compensated and tastefully adjusted to provide a consistently natural voicing across a variety of mastering styles and genres. Clarity is ample but not a standout and the same can be said for separation. Those wanting the most transparent tone and intimate vocals will still likely be disappointed as a result. However, if you are averse to intensity around the upper-midrange and enjoy a sound with a little more gusto than most without the usually associated fuzz and bloom, the Advar does an admirable job. Resolving power operates at a good level but falls short of true TOTL DD IEMs like the A8000 and BA-based reference monitors around this price. Still, a respectable performance combined with the articulate tuning that helps to highlight fine details results in a presentation that will impress lovers of a richer tuning. You can tell Meze has experience with this style of colouration and that shows in the refinement of the end product.

Highs –

This was a difficult section to break down as my listening experience didn’t coincide with my measurements. In listening, I was only able to perceive the 6kHz peak with the 8kHz region sounding quite tame. This is a good thing as having brightness in both regions often leads to fatigue. Furthermore, I do find that treble peaks on dynamic driver earphones aren’t nearly as piercing as their BA counterparts. Notes just have a little more smoothness to them that helps treble to blend in nicely with the rest of the sound. This was my experience here as, despite treble being about as forward as the bass, it never had a piercing or sharp quality. That is not to say that treble is ill-defined, quite the opposite. Notes are crisp, slightly thin in body, but not quite as much as you’d expect given the frequency response. I found the Advar to provide a very well-defined leading edge without too much over-sharpening present.

Notes decay quickly giving the earphone just a hint of splashiness but retaining a good amount of texture and fine detail despite not being entirely accurate in terms of timbre. Once again, this is a coloured sound, one designed for engagement over purity. The Advar differs most from the company’s headphones here due to its relative brightness. The background, however, remains dark and clean giving the foregrounds heaps of focus and pop. While micro details aren’t abundant, they are nicely present alongside a decent sparkle. Treble extension isn’t this earphone’s best strength but it also isn’t priced in the same range as single-DD earphones that are able to provide a performance that rivals contendors of other driver types. I will say that this is clearly not a cheap design when it comes to resolving power, especially in the foreground. The darker background appears to be an intentional tuning decision, relinquishing a little fine detail in favour of superior listenability. Being able to capture heaps of foreground detail and present it in such an inviting yet non-fatiguing manner is quite a feat.

Soundstage –

I adore the soundstage performance of the Advar, this is a true top tier performer regardless of asking price. Not only is the stage wide beyond the head but it has a very rewarding sense of depth and projection too. In addition, the imaging performance heightens immersion when combined with the spacious dimensions. Layering has its ups and downs. While the background/foreground have excellent contrast, individual layers aren’t as delineated as one some competitors – think vocal harmonizations. Placement is a little floaty to a similar degree as the Elite, being more diffuse but to the benefit of space and holography. While it isn’t quite sparkly enough at the very top to achieve a true holographic soundstage, it is very stable and organised. Separation is a good performer, aided by the size of the stage and generally well-defined note structure. The bass and midrange aren’t smeared or veiled but, due to the warm and full presentation, aren’t especially well-separated either. There’s just a hint of ether surrounding elements which helps to provide a spacious, creamy smooth and coherent stage, just delightful.

Driveability –

With a relatively high 31 Ohm impedance and a 111 dB sensitivity, the Advar is efficient enough to run from a low powered source but does benefit from a dedicated source/amplification of some kind. It doesn’t require too much volume, however, smartphone and laptop integrated solutions aren’t ideal.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Given the single-dynamic driver design, one would expect a mostly flat impedance curve and this is indeed the case here. The Advar showed no deviation from a 20-ohm source and, therefore, is highly likely to uphold a similar character from almost any source so long as it has a linear output. 

Driving Power

Switching from a midrange portable source like the Shanling M2X to my desktop stack revealed a noticeable difference in dynamics and overall focus. The Advar sounded more dynamic, more controlled with greater sub-bass power on the desktop amp. Treble was also slightly more defined with a more textured character. The Advar still sounds balanced and spacious from portable sources but is done justice by a larger, more powerful source.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Advar has a flat impedance curve and good efficiency that make it easy to drive on paper. It isn’t too hiss sensitive and achieves a balanced sound from essentially any source. However, it does scale nicely with more driving power, not to the extent that this is necessary, but I would want to invest in a more powerful player/dongle for portable use like the Hidizs S9 Pro. In terms of colouration, I would avoid warmer sources personally as I already find the tuning to be on the warm, full side. Neutral sources are a fine pairing and you also shouldn’t be overly concerned about over-sharpening in the treble. Some may even prefer leaner sources that can help to balance out the bass a touch.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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