Full Disclosure: The Avara AV1 is my first CIEM, so keep in mind that I don’t have much as far as having anything to compare it against.
I was in the market for an entry level CIEM for my birthday when I happened to stumble upon Avara Custom. They’re a relatively new IEM company based out of Indonesia. There was very little information about them, so I initially reached out here to see if anyone had experience with them, and /u/feischmaker gave me some really solid feedback, allowing me to open up a channel for discussion. They have 4 models, all listed by the number of BA drivers that they have- AV1, AV2, AV3, and the recently released AV4.
I opted for the AV1, based on the fact that it was modeled after the Shure SE215 as sound reference and I wanted something more on the neutral/reference side. Also, it was ~$120. I wanted to not break the bank of my first CIEMs, especially if I ended up not liking them (spoiler: they get me turgid). In our emails, Alvon mentioned that they use the same drivers as the Etymotic ER4XR series. Can’t be too wrong with either of those statements.
Customer Service: Honestly, working with Alvon, who I think is one of the owners (?) was amazing. Even beyond all of the good things I’ve heard about working with Piotr at Custom Art. He was completely transparent about everything, responded in reasonable time to any question or email, and he bent over backwards to accommodate anything I really could have asked for. It was probably some of the best customer service I’ve ever received. According to him, I was their first international customer, so that’s fun. The longest part of my wait was the ~2.5 weeks it took for USPS to deliver my impressions to Avara. The entire process, including that wait, took me about a month and a half, including the shipping, our initial Q&A sesh, and the actual ordering and making. That last part honestly probably only took 2 weeks total. The whole thing would have been a lot faster if I had ponied up a little more money to ship with a better service, as FedEx got my finished IEMs from Indonesia to my house in 3 days. That’s some black magic fuckery.
Price: I managed to catch them on “sale”, as they were running an introductory price for the IEMs still, so the base CIEM was ~$120 for the single driver AV1 (1.6m Indonesian Rupiah), which has now gone to ~$150 (2m IDR) and I can comfortably say that that’s still a deal. Beyond that, I customized it to have the amara wood face, as well as the mechanical watch faceplate design (which is additionally $75 / 1m IDR for the pair or 500k IDR per side). Alvon had mentioned that, since I was their first international customer, he wanted to waive the additional fee for a “premium” faceplate (~$45 / 600k IDR for both sides), which I assumed I could just pay the difference for the mechanical watch design, and he just waived it all together! On top of that, he told me in a later email, after I had received them and started listening, that he threw in an upgrade to the premium cable ($50) for free as well. Even including the cost of getting my impressions made ($50), plus shipping ($45), I was still clocking in well under my $250-$300 budget I had set just for the CIEMs themself!
Your mileage is going to vary a little on the price. I seriously got hooked the fuck up. But even at the “normal” prices, I still think that what you’re getting is a steal.
Construction: Besides giving me an amazing deal on my CIEMs, I’d also note the quality and process is awesome as well. The craftsmanship of the IEMs is super solid. There’s no rough patches, edges, or gaps between the faceplate and the shell, and aside from a few bubbles or some slight haze in each IEM, they look perfectly clear. Now, I mention the bubbles, which might sound weird, but that’s because the IEMs aren’t hollow, they’re filled with resin. This adds a little bit of weight to them, and the feel much more durable and less delicate because of that. They also 3D print their shells, which Alvon not only returned my ear impressions, but sent me the digital scans of my ear impressions as well, which will allow me to be prepared for going anywhere else if I need another pair of IEMs in the future. They fit well into my ears, forming a solid seal, and, after about 5 minutes, I generally forget that I’m wearing them. Super comfortable. They might not come with a Pelican case, but they come with an identification card with a serial number, the typical little wire hoop/brush combo and a protective shell case that’s on the softer side, like something you might buy for a bowl/pipe at a headshop.
Sound Test/second part follows.
Sound: Now, obviously, this is the important part. They feel good, the look good, but do they sound good?
In short: Are they worth it? Yes, absolutely, and especially for the price.
MSI GS70 Stealth Pro with Nahimic soundcard and a built-in ESS Sabre HiFi Audio DAC
Sound Test: Before I even get into the music testing, I did do the audiocheck headphone tests. Here are some abbreviated notes.
In frequency response, most anything below ~20/25 Hz is not audible for bass, but it runs up to 200 Hz easily. For the treble frequency response, I couldn’t hear anything treble-wise until about 19 kHz.
The Perceptual Sweep Spectral Flatness Test ran smoothly the whole way with no drops
In the Dynamic Range test, -66 dB was really the lowest I could accurately hear the voiceover, but it was still audible somewhere in the 70’s.
And so far as I can tell, from the Driver Matching test, the drivers themselves kept the sweep well centered.
Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over) by Radiohead
Trouble on My Mind (feat. Tyler, the Creator) by Pusha T
In This Place by Robin Trower
Day of the Baphomets by The Mars Volta
Lullaby of Birdland by Chris Connors
Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag by Soil and “PIMP” Sessions
Yellow Teeth by Protest the Hero
Dr. L’Ling by Minus the Bear
Red & Blue (Opening Theme) by Skotein
Trails by Mother Moses
I like to think I picked a pretty balanced list of songs to test out the IEMs with, especially since these are all songs that I know very well, if not by heart. All the songs were at least 320 mp3, if not FLAC.
1) Backdrifts: Jesus Christ. This is like some sort of binaural experience. Yorke’s vocals come through over top the synth and drum pads clearly. I can hear most of the layering of the song, but otherwise, there’s not much heavy bass to speak of, however this is the song. This was a test to see how well the IEMs could separate music, and for being single driver, I’m really surprised. This doesn’t get muddy or blended at all. The song is crystal clear and it feels like both sides connect right at my brainstem. This song is also trippy as balls.
2) Trouble on My Mind: I chose this song to test out the bass. A few other songs I had listened to had some lack of bass or, rather, the mids and highs perhaps overshadowed them. This song, however… It honestly cranks hard on the bass. Legitimately, it feels like there’s a little vibration, like I’m standing just close enough to a subwoofer. It might not be basshead level, but the AV1 actually pack solid bass for being a single driver. And no, this is not isolated. I also reconfirmed the bass with Childish Gambino’s Sweatpants. If you like hiphop and reference headphones, these aren’t a bad choice.
3) In This Place: Obviously, recording, mixing, and format are variables that affect sound. However, this track stands to test a little of the soundstage. It’s not quite as broad as a set of open headphones, but it’s broader than I expected. The warmth of the song also translates into the audio. Not quite vinyl level of warmth, but definitely there.
4) Day of the Baphomets: Another test for checking out complex songs, but also for higher register vocals and instruments. Cedric Bixler-Zavalas vocals and some of the synths (horns?) are bright, but not shrill. The guitar and the bass sit over the drums, but nothing feels out of place. For such a convoluted song, everything is in its right place.
5) Lullaby of Birdland – This is my go-to for testing out for female vocals. This song is always a weird one where the vocals are super crisp and clean but the instruments all have that “old”, slightly muted sound to them. Combining that with the slightly broad soundstage and it almost feels like a jazz nightclub. Regardless, Connor’s voice shines wonderfully and you can hear every croon and warble.
6) Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – As self-described “death jazz”, this is instrumental. The bass thumps, the piano accents the beats, and the brass runs. There are points that the horns almost get shrill, but that’s part of the song, honestly. It’s that similar improv-ish jazz feel that Coltraine even got a little grating with at time. Again, while the brass might be up in the forefront, none of the other instruments are completely overwhelmed or washed out.
7) Yellow Teeth – Rody Walker’s vocals do take the forefront on this track (I literally noticed a faint echo effect I had never heard before!), but even then, it’s hard to ignore the clarity of the drums. The cymbals and high hat are tight and have no distortion, the bass guitar forms a solid rhythm section, and both of the guitars are clearly intelligible from each other, even in harmony. This is a great audio representation of my favorite band.
8) Dr. L’Ling – Definitely another test for the sound stage. MTB songs are hard stereo 98% of the time. Jake Snyder’s vocals come through, but the sweeping guitar and keys are certainly the focus on this song and the AV1 pushes them well. Even despite them being on the front, there are other subtle keys that come underneath very lightly. This is a busier song, and in this instance, the soundstage is a little cluttered. Not that anything is muddy or blending together, but it’s busy. The IEMs are not as much at fault here as the actual song. I think a large part of that is that MTB songs really do benefit from open back headphones.
9) Red & Blue – This is from the Pokemon Reorchestrated album, being the first of two songs that are more acoustic oriented. The orchestra is vibrant. The horns are bright, but not sibilant, you can hear the snares and the timpani clearly, and I get chills when the choir comes in. The woodwinds are light and airy, and even the strings have a vibrancy to them. Orchestral music tends to not be as drivingly heavy on the bass end, which logically is where these IEMs do shine.
10) Trails – The second acoustic piece follows a similar vibe. The strumming on the guitar is crisp, the chords ring out, and both the male and females, especially during the harmonies, are enjoyable and have depth. Gorgeous.
Overall: I’m incredibly impressed with these. For a first entry into the IEM territory, on a single BA driver, from a relatively unknown newcomer to the game, and for well below $200, I’m actually blown away. While they aren’t super bass heavy, I knew that going in and that’s what I lean towards as a preference for headphones in general (Neutral/reference, mild bass, slightly warm – my normal listening is a Sennheiser HD600). But for the comfort, the quality of the build, and the quality of the sound, I couldn’t honestly be happier. For being the “weakest” bass in their series, I’m not left wanting terribly. It has a relatively broad soundstage, the highs and mids are crisp and clean, the bass can drive when necessary, and I haven’t heard any muddying or issues with only being a single bore/single driver set-up.
Combining that with the level of customer service I received every step of the way, I can sincerely say that I can maybe think of 3 other scenarios in my life, as a customer, that I’ve experienced anything near as pleasant or satisfying as this. It makes me wonder how much better the next steps up in their lineup could actually be, which I can only imagine is leaps and bounds. They also have, what I guess is, industry standard insurance on the CIEMS – 45 days for refitting if you aren’t 100% jazzed and a 1 year warranty if anything goes wrong (barring abuse or unreasonable damage). I was pleasantly surprised by that.
Negatives: Now, I will admit, not everything is rainbows and kittens. There are still some growing pains as anything with a young company. One of the bigger points is the website, which is getting better by the week. The interfacing isn’t the greatest, but it’s definitely very usable. The IEM builder is just okay. I mean, Custom Art has set the bar really high on that one, and Avara’s is essentially in beta at this point. It’s already actually better than when I was trying to design my CIEMs a little over a month ago.
Another drawback is, being a young company, they’re still trying to figure somethings out. This means that, aside from faceplates, the color choices are relatively limited – you can pick from clear, blue, or red for the shell colors. If I hadn’t gone with my design, I ideally wanted an opaque black, which Alvon has told me is in the works, as well as some Noble-esque glitter/swirl variants. It’s just they haven’t quite figure out how to get the technique down yet.
As I had mentioned earlier, they do fill their CIEMs with resin. This does mean that you will be effectively stuck with them and they’re not reshellable and won’t be sellable on a secondary market if you upgrade or try to sell them.
In the end, I would highly recommend Avara to anyone thinking about either entering into the CIEM realm. Is there room for improvement? Sure. But even in the two month period I have worked with them, I’ve seen them develop and grow at a ridiculous clip. I can’t say that they’ll be a power player, but I definitely think that Avara is quickly going to become a sleeper in the CIEM game, and soon.