Today we are going to be looking at the newest earphone from ADVANCED, the Model 3.
ADVANCED first appeared on the scene with the M4, a $39.99, crowdfunded, micro-driver earphone that delivers crystal clear sound, excellent build quality, and a whole lot of bang for the buck. It showed that this new startup knew what they were doing and could deliver a strong product in a competitive price range. Their next product was the 993 wireless speaker system. While I haven’t had the chance to hear them, their reception has been unanimously positive.
With their third new model, ADVANCED took aspects of both of their previous products and combined them to bring us one heck of an earphone; the Model 3. It features a low profile design similar to those from Shure and Westone, a 6mm driver akin to the M4, and comes with two removable MMCX cables. The first cable is a standard 3.5mm audio cable. The second cable is where the fun comes in; Bluetooth 4.1, aptX, AAC codec support for Apple products, and 5 hours of play time following 1.5 hours of charging. Just looking at the stats the Model 3 seems like an excellent value when you take into consideration it only costs 79.99 USD. How does it perform in the real world? Let’s find out.
I would like to thanks ADVANCED’s co-founder Peter for providing the Model 3 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review and all comments and views within are my honest opinions. They are not representative of ADVANCED or any other entity.
The Model 3 can be purchased here on their website; https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/all-collection/products/model-3
ADVANCED reached out to reviewers to note that the ADV silkscreen and L/R markings on the inside of the housing were found to wipe off easily. They have halted sales of the Model 3 and have already started remaking the shells of remaining batches. Shipments are expected to resume on October 14th.
To be honest, seeing an email about this defect came as a surprise. Not because it is a big problem, but precisely because it isn’t. I have numerous earphones that have been on sale for years with printed logos and L/R indicators that have worn off within the first week of use, and in some cases the first time I rubbed my finger against them pulling the product from my ear. Seeing ADVANCED take such an aggressive stand to address this, going so far as to halt sales for two weeks, says a lot to me about their values and integrity.
A Little About Me:
Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done.
The gear I use for testing is pretty basic composing of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Motorola Moto G (1st Gen), Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. An XDuoo X3 (shout out to my cousin and best man Rob!) was added to the crew and used for the majority of wired testing. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to signature preference, I’ve found myself dividing time equally between aggressively energetic products like the JVC HA-FXH30, and those that are smoother and more laid back like the Havi B3 Pro 1.
Enough preamble. Let us dive into the good stuff shall we?
Packaging and Accessories:
While the M4 was packaged nicely, it didn’t do much to really stand out. The Model 3 kicks things up a notch and gives you a notably more premium unboxing experience.
The outer sheath does a stellar job of outlining what you should expect to find inside. The front panel is adorned with a high quality, glossy image of the Model 3 dangling mid-air. Since these meet the necessary requirements, you will find Japan Audio Society’s (JAS) all-important ‘Hi-Res Audio’ logo proudly displayed in the bottom left hand corner. The left panel contains a more complete image of the Model 3 with the Bluetooth cable attached. The right panel contains the opening lines of ADVANCED’s story;
“It was for the love of music. It was the respect for all musicians of the past, present and future. It was for the struggling instrumental buried under the heavy bass line. It was for the audiophiles craving that crystal clear and mind-blowing detail.”
Normally I find statements like this nothing but marketing fluff, but based on my experiences with the M4 and Model 3, it is clear ADVANCED has taken this to heart and truly believes in their message.
The rear of the package overloads you with information; package contents with associated images, a blown up image of the Model 3 and the components that make it up, a description of what Hi-Res Audio certification means, vital stats, and a frequency chart. Despite there being a ton of information, it’s laid out smartly and is easy to follow, however the writing is very small. If your eye sight is in need of improvement, this could prove to be an issue.
Removing the outer sheath reveals a simple matte black box with nothing printed on it except ADVANCED’s new logo. Lifting the magnetically sealed flap from the right side and opening the box as you would a hardcover book, you are greeted by the Model 3 and the components of the Bluetooth cable pressed into a cleanly cut piece of dense foam. Below is ADVANCED’s new hard shell carrying case, also adorned with their logo. To the left printed on the inner sleeve you just folded back are the words ‘Break Free’. I’ll do just that, thank you very much.
Lifting out the carrying case you find all the accessories are contained within, those being the wired 3.5mm MMCX cable, three pairs of green foam tips and three pairs of black silicone tips all in s/m/l sizes, and a microUSB charging cable. Also included is a compact instruction leaflet, similar to that provided with the M4. It contains all the information needed to understand the Model 3 and what it is capable of.
All of the accessories are of high quality, with a possible exception being the 3.5mm audio cable. It has some great qualities such as a very compact and well-relieved 90 degree angled jack, a complete lack of memory, and minimal microphonics. At the same time it is quite thin and delicate. Coming from the M4 and the hefty guage selected for the Bluetooth cable, it’s pretty underwhelming. That said, this is still a minor concern given the Model 3 is intended to be used as a wireless earphone first, and a wired earphone second. As a backup cable, it works just fine. ADVANCED was also nice enough to ensure an inline mic was included, so you won’t have to give up call control if the batteries run out on the Bluetooth cable.
Overall the Model 3’s unboxing experience is outstanding. The materials look and feel like they belong on a more expensive product, the earphones are presented clearly and professionally, and it all feels very honest and open. The Model 3 isn’t presented to you with promises that it can’t deliver on.
Build, Design, and Comfort:
When it comes to products nearing 100 USD, mediocre build and material quality are far more difficult to forgive than at lower price tiers. The Model 3 finds itself in a good place, using quality materials throughout.
The housings are all plastic but are quite thick and confidence inspiring. Inside the housing is a diamond-like texture which gives the Model 3 a nice aesthetic. Given they use clear plastic, this design motif is very subtle until inspected up close. The v-shaped ridge protruding from the outer facing portion of the housing perfectly nestles the tip of your finger allowing for easy insertion into your ear. With other low profile earphones, such as the Brainwavz XF-200, QKZ W1 Pro, Rhapsodio Clipper, etc. I spend a lot of time fiddling around trying to find the perfect seal. The Model 3’s design and tip selection just works, and I’ve experienced no complications or hassles getting them to fit quickly and comfortably.
The only concern I have about the housings is the nozzle. They’re made of fairly thin plastic in the style of Shure’s SE215, and I worry that they might become brittle over time and snap off when changing tips. Time will tell if this is truly an area of concern, but it will be something to watch for.
The cables ADVANCED provided range from passable to great. Since I covered the quality of the 3.5mm cable in the previous section, we will look only at the Bluetooth one here. The Bluetooth cable is thick all the way through. The top portion is similar to the cables VSonic uses on the VSD3 and AN16, but is much heavier all while retaining excellent flexibility and low memory. It’s almost as beefy as the KZ ZN1’s cable, lovingly nicknamed the ‘Fire Hose’. There is also a built in ear guide that works exceptionally well at keeping the cable in place behind your ear. Normally I find these annoying and unnecessary, but it’s applied well on the Model 3. The lower portion of the cable is fabric covered. It retains the same heavy gauge as above, is tightly wound, and does not transmit much noise. I was pleased to see that it has not started to fray anywhere, something I’ve noticed happens pretty early on with most cloth cables.
The battery/electronics housing resides where you would normally find a standard y-split. It is slightly curved so it rests comfortably against your neck and is finished with a smooth, matte black coating. This portion splits into two pieces, the smaller of which houses the input for your microUSB cable. The two halves are held together via a reasonably powerful magnet. Where you would normally find a jack resides the mic and remote. The buttons are a shiny, piano black while the rest of the unit shares the same matte finish as the y-split. I wish the buttons depressed with a more tactile and noticeable click. They’re a little spongy as-is, especially the centre play/pause button.
The Model 3 is one of the most comfortable earphones of this type I’ve come across. The housings completely fill my outer ear, and nestle in very securely. No amount of wild head shaking can unseat them. I truly hope ADVANCED comes out with an exercise focused version of the Model 3 that is sweat resistant. The extremely stable fit means these would be stellar for some intense workouts. They should still be fine for exercising as-is, especially when using the included small bore silicone tips, but added moisture resistance would be welcome. For those that like to sleep with earphones in, I found the housing too thick to be comfortable. That said your mileage may vary here especially if they fit more flush with your head than they do with mine.
The Model 3 handles phone calls pretty well. The centre button on the remote does exactly what it should, that being answer and end calls. A neat little feature that I wasn’t expecting the first time I received a call was for it to read out the number. If only I bothered to memorize phone numbers nowadays…
Overall call quality was good though. My callers said I sounded fine without any intrusive background noise, it just sounded like I was in a confined space such as an elevator. I had no issues hearing those on the other end. Tapping on the cable produced a small bumping sounded on my callers end, but nothing too intrusive.
One aspect of wireless devices that drives me up the wall is the need to constantly recharge them or change batteries consistently. There is a reason why I went out of my way to find a wired XBox 360 controller and refuse to use a wireless mouse. Yeah, I’m a little old fashioned sometimes.
While the Model 3 doesn’t have the greatest battery life at around 5 hours, that number is competitive. It’s charge time is pretty quick at only 1.5 hours. I managed to run through the Model 3’s battery three times since they arrived (including the initial charge out of the box). ADVANCED’s claimed run and charge times seem to be spot on.
While I would like to see 6 to 7 hours of use before having to charge, the time the Model 3 runs has been good enough to get me through my day before the battery needs to be topped up.
A Bluetooth headset that fails to connect consistently and hold that connection can be pretty annoying. If the drops are spaced far enough apart or occur only for the first few minutes, that’s aggravating but livable. I tried three different phones with the Model 3; an HTC One M8, Motorola Moto G (1st Gen), and my trusty old Samsung Nexus S.
Pairing was easy, consisting of simply holding the centre button on the control module for a few seconds to turn the Bluetooth cable on, then a few more to start the pairing process. After starting the ‘search device’ process on my cell phone, all I had to do was select the Model 3 to connect. This process was entirely painless, except with my HTC One M8.
For whatever reason, over the last two weeks it has been running into some pretty serious Bluetooth issues. When the Model 3 connects properly, all is hunky dory. Luckily, this was an issue only present with the HTC and it did not affect the quality of sound. Motorola and Samsung’s phones worked as expected. The connection was stable on all three phones with only minor millisecond hiccups once or twice an hour. Range was also pretty good, allowing me to stroll around my apartment at will without any connection issues. Once once I left my apartment and took a walk down to my neighbors door did the connection start to break.
Minus the occasional, almost unnoticeable connection drops, the Model 3 performs very admirably.
Before the next section, let me preface my comments with the following. ADVANCED did not test this cable with competing products and cannot verify compatibility, nor do they necessarily recommend using it with anything but the Model 3. I tested this cable with three other earphones understanding that I was risking damage to the earphones and/or the Bluetooth cable. If you decide to try this cable with other products, YOU ARE DOING SO AT YOUR OWN RISK.
MMCX Bluetooth headphone cables seem to be gathering steam as of late and I totally get why. In theory you can take any audiophile grade MMCX compatible earphone and make it wireless. Admittedly, this is one of the reasons I was so interested in the Model 3 when I received a sneak peek a while back. For many of you reading this review, this cable might very well be the reason this earphone is on your radar. I had the opportunity to test it out with three different products; the Easy Earphones EE846 4-way hybrid, a DIY earphone using Shure’s SE215 housing and a 6mm driver, and the Rhapsodio Clipper.
I am pleased to confirm the cable worked fine with the Clipper and DIY. I didn’t experience any issues with either. Both the Clipper and DIY sounded slightly warmer and smoother than when run with a 3.5mm cable, but otherwise sounded just as good as I expected. To my pleasant surprise the Clipper retained it’s hilariously massive bass and could be driven to blisteringly uncomfortable volumes with ease.
The EE846 4-way hybrid on the other hand didn’t fare so well. While the dynamic driver did what it does without any interference, I noticed the balanced armature drivers struggling. They sounded very off, with noticeable popping and sound artifacts. I cut this listening session short for fear of damaging them. There have been no lasting negative effects from what I can tell.
So, there you go. My limited test with three different MMCX earphones had a 66.7% success rate. Do what you will with that information. Now, onto the most important part (finally!).
Tips: While I really like the quality of the included foam tips they suffer from a flaw that made them unusable; expanding too quickly. I don’t know how someone is expected to insert them when the moment you release your grip they’re already nearly fully expanded. You’ll have to look to another review for how the Model 3 sounds with them. Sorry ADVANCED. Apparently this has been looked into. Future releases will include tips that are less dense and should be more manageable. My comments on the included foam tips will be most relevant to early releases of the Model 3.
On the other hand, the included silicone tips are awesome and more than made up for the disappointing foam tips. The material is comfortable, sticky, and they seal amazingly well. I preferred to use the Model 3 with the standard mediums for 90% of my listening because they sounded great and isolated well. The remainder was done with the medium foam tips that came with the DIY SE215. These reduced bass and somehow made the treble even smoother. They would be my pick for exercising because they have a built in filter to keep out wax and water and isolated even better than the silicone tips.
Amping: I really didn’t find any benefit other than making the Model 3 reach louder volumes than I could ever want, something the HTC One M8 and XDuoo X3 could already do without breaking a sweat.
So far the Model 3 has failed to disappoint. How do they sound? Outstanding of course, and that comment applies regardless of whether you are using them wired or wireless.
The Model 3 takes a bit of a departure from the M4. If you were expecting a similar sound, wired use will be more up your alley. I found the M4 to edge towards a more more cold, analytic sound focusing primarily on treble and midrange with bass that rolled off before getting into the fun stuff, i.e. those thundering subbass regions. With dialed down bass that puts focus on their clear, detailed sound, the M4 does a good job of giving you that “Hi-Fi” sound on a budget. The Model 3 is just as technically impressive as the M4, if not more so, it just has more fun in the process. Since bass presentation is the biggest departure from ADVANCED’s previous earphone, let’s start there.
I was hoping the Model 3 would bring more low end to the party than the M4. Ho boy, do they ever deliver. While they don’t offer up silly levels of bass like the aforementioned Rhapsodio Clipper, the Model 3’s bass is undeniably boosted. That said, the balance is quite nice and works well with a wide variety of music, though it does occasionally come across a bit overwhelming on tracks that don’t need the low end. Despite being silky smooth, it can still give you lots of detail and texture if that’s what the song dictates. You’re not losing out on the finer nuances.
The Model 3’s driver is also pretty speedy, able to handle some quick transitions and complicated drum pieces with relative ease, not unexpected given they’re using a 6mm micro driver. Decay and timbre are also spot on, and to me better even JVC’s HA-FXT90 which are well-known for these qualities.
The Model 3 is a warm sounding earphone and I feel this does nothing but benefit the midrange, especially with female vocals, wind instruments, and pianos. They all sound so natural and infectious. Males vocals don’t fall far behind either. Give Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’ a go. My favorite Supertramp track ‘Rudy’ sounds so good through the Model 3 I spent nearly half an hour listening to the same ~7 minutes on repeat. In fact, this earphone breaths a lot of life back into many prog rock classics.
I’m somewhat picky about my treble in that I like like it tight and precise. The Model 3 achieves this while continuing the trend of being effortless and tranquil. It never comes across harsh, fatiguing, or sibilant, despite having pretty good extension. It also has a bit more body to it than many micro-drivers, yet it still manages to maintain a light and airy feel.
They even have a pretty good soundstage, though they excel most in depth over width and height. They’re one of the few earphones that make me take them out every once in a while thinking something is happening behind me, or I was being called upon by my wife when in actuality it’s just the song. It doesn’t happen as often as with earphones like the Havi B3 Pro 1, Accutone Taurus, or Dunu Titan 1, but this is a Bluetooth headphone. I was expecting something a little more confined. This larger than average soundstage also permits some good imaging and instrument placement giving you the impression that you’re getting up close and personal with the band.
Detail and clarity is also pretty darn good, improved upon when used with the 3.5mm cable. The Bluetooth cable softens the Model 3’s edges and boosts bass slightly. Running them wired, their sound falls more in line with the M4. Treble takes on a greater presence, they sound sharper and more precise, bass is reduced, and their overall presentation is a touch thinner. That said, they’re still unbelievably lush making the M4 sound somewhat grainy and unrefined when listening to the two back-to-back.
Overall the Model 3 surprised me with how good they sound. While they have a warm, bassy signature, I feel they play in the same league as Dunu’s Titan, JVC’s FXT90 and FXH30, Havi’s B3 Pro 1, and other like heavy-hitters. What impresses most is that they are intended to be used primarily as a Bluetooth earphones and the above comparisons are still apt.
I went into the Model 3 with what I felt were unrealistically high expectations. I wanted amazing build quality, sound that would compete with 100 USD earphones, and a flawless Bluetooth connection. For the most part, my lofty expectations were met.
I have reservations about the nozzle thickness, wish the wireless connection wouldn’t cut out for a brief and negligible millisecond every hour, and detest the included foam tips because they expand too quickly, but that’s about it. The secondary cable is just that meaning it’s easy to look past the thinness and potential fragility because it’s not meant to be used all the time.
If Apple’s past history is any indication the deletion of the 3.5mm jack from the iPhone 7 is likely to spread to competing products. ADVANCED is setting themselves up to take full advantage of this with the Model 3. The unboxing experience is great, the earphones themselves are attractive, they have some great features, quality accessories, are well built, and the sound quality is outstanding. Their pricing is aggressively low and they’re being released right before the holiday season kicks into full gear. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I think ADVANCED has a winner on their hands.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
BT – This Binary Universe
Gramatik – The Age of Reason
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That?
Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Skindred – Roots Rock Riot
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
The Crystal Method – Tweekend
Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Grand Funk Railroad – Inside Looking Out