Seahf AWK-009: License to Thrill

Greetings,

Today we’re going to be checking out a little budget gem from Seahf, the AWK-009.

The AWK-009 falls into what has become a very competitive category, namely earphones under 20 USD. There are tons of shockingly good, inexpensive products out there and sorting the wheat from the chaff has become an exercise in tedium. However, every once in a while when the hype has died down, those earphones that have had a lasting affect on their owners rise to the top and become benchmarks for those to follow.

While I think the 009 is an excellent budget earphone and a no-brainer at the asking price, will it have enough staying power within the budget enthusiast community to become a top recommendation? Let’s find out.

20170518_111934_HDR

Disclaimer:

A big thanks to Penon Audio for sending over a copy of the AWK-009 for the purposes of this review. This unit was provided free of charge. All thoughts and opinions within this review are my own and do not represent Seahf, Penon Audio, or any other entity.

You can order the Seahf AWK-009 here at Penon Audio for 14.90 USD: http://penonaudio.com/Seahf-AWK-009-IEMs?search=awk

My Gear and I:

I’m a 30 year old professional working for what is currently the largest luxury hotel chain on the planet. I have a background in Psychology which probably explains my somewhat dry writing style. My entry into the world of portable audio was due primarily to a lack of space for a full-sized stereo system during my university years, and truly began with the venerable JVC HA-FXT90. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread, reviews from other established reviewers, and thus being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write about products for wonderful companies like RHA, Accutone, ADVANCED, NarMoo, Mixcder, Brainwavz, Meze and many more. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because this is my hobby and I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to a product that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done and payment enough.

Gear used for testing was a Shanling M1, HTC One M8, LG G5, Topping NX1 portable amplifier paired with an XDuoo X3 (Rockbox), and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Creative SoundBlaster Recon3D usb amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass, though lately I’ve been enjoying more mellow and relaxed products with a bass tilt. My favorite in-ears, the Echobox Finder X1[i] with grey filters installed and the Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced are good examples of my preferred signatures.

Packaging and Accessories:

Basic earphone, basic packaging, basic accessories pretty much sums up the AWK-009 here. The black cardboard box is delightfully simple and clean in it’s design. There is Seahf branding on the front and a large viewing window showing off the earpieces along with the included large and small eartips (medium pre-installed) placed within a foam insert. The rear contains the technical specifications in six languages.

Pulling out the foam insert via a ribbon reveals the cable neatly wrapped and secured with a twist tie. Attached is one extra accessory, a large cable clip. I was glad to see this included as the clear cable on the sample I was sent isn’t the most co-operative at times, but we’ll get to that later.

Overall the unboxing experience is perfectly serviceable. The packaging does what it needs to without any unnecessary frills; that being get the earphones to you safely. The included tips are a common inclusion with Chinese earphones and have proven themselves to be a durable, well-sealing option, just not suited to every product they’re included with. The omission of a basic carrying pouch is a small oversight I feel given they help protect your purchase.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

While it may sound gaudy or overly “bling-bling” on paper, the AWK-009’s matte red and washed-out gold color scheme looks reasonably mature, subtle, and attractive in person. I quite like it. I also enjoy the shape of the metal housings which aren’t breaking the mold by trying to do anything unusual. The basic barrel-shape Seahf chose may not be exciting, but it’s a proven design. The low weight and rounded edges means the AWK-009 seals well and is very comfortable, either cable up or down.

Speaking of the cable, the version of the 009 that I was sent came with a clear sheath. It’s sticky, bouncy, and retains memory of bends and kinks. These qualities make it difficult for cable up wear as it has a tendency to hop up and over your ear. Unfortunately, wearing the AWK-009 cable up is almost a necessity for dealing with the microphonics (cable clip to save the day!). This particular cable could certainly be improved upon. Thankfully the AWK-009 is available with a variety of cable options which seem better behaved according to @bloodypenguin.

These faults in the cable are mostly made up for with excellent strain relief at the compact, 90 degree angled 3.5mm jack and ear pieces. The y-split is extremely tiny and I really don’t see the need for relief there as a result. This cable feels exceptionally durable so while I don’t necessarily like it, it feels like it will last which is pretty high on my personal priority list.

The AWK-009 isolates reasonably well, better than expected given the port on the back. They do a good job of dulling the sound of my fingers pecking away at a keyboard in addition to outside noise like voices, cars rumbling by, birds, and other ambient sounds.

Overall I feel the AWK-009 is a well-built earphone using decent materials and good fit and finish, though this particular cable should be selected only if durability and looks are the most important qualities. Isolation is about average, maybe slightly above for a dynamic based earphone.

Sound:

Tips: While the stocks tips on the AWK-009 are fine, I preferred to use them with KZ’s “Starline” tips. The extra core length helped maintain a consistently good seal.

Amping: No need as the AWK-009 is very easy to drive. They did perform better at higher volumes though coming across a little flat, both literally and figuratively, at the low volumes I prefer to listen at.

Straight out of the box I was quite pleased with the sound coming from the AWK-009’s tiny housings. They were less warm and more detailed than I was anticipating with greater balance between the treble, mid-range, and bass. After well over 50 hours of play time, they’re still impressing and quite reminiscent of another budget champ from one of my favorite brands, but we’ll get to that in the comparison section later on.

The 009’s treble is sharp, crisp, and quite detailed. I find they run a little hot in the lower treble at times and can be a touch unforgiving on poor quality recordings, but this is not the norm. It’s also well controlled, as evident listening to the horrendous screeching on The Crystal Method’s ‘Grace (ft. LeAnn Rimes)’ which I find highlights treble flaws quite well.

The AWK-009’s mid-range is quite prominent and completely unaffected by mid-bass bleed. It’s somewhat dry presentation is better suited to male vocals, as female vocals lack a touch of warmth and intimacy. Texture and detail retrieval is outstanding for an earphone in this price range, shaming inexpensive options from glamour brands like Skullcandy and Marley.

The AWK-009 doesn’t disappoint in the low end either, though some extra reach into sub-bass regions would be welcome. The bass seems to fall off sharply at some point and as a result they lack that visceral feel you get from some other budget phones. This minor flaw is countered by good speed and realistic decay with again, lots of texture. Despite being the most downplayed aspect of their signature, it’s the most rewarding aspect of the AWK-009’s sound to my ears.

This earphone’s soundstage falls firmly into the realm of average. It gives you neither an ‘out of the head’ experience or ‘playing from behind my eyeballs’ sound. I get a slightly wider than ear-to-ear experience out of the them, slightly enhanced by the use of the KZ tips which move the drivers further from your ear canal. Within this soundstage your music moves with grace and precision; i.e. separation, layering, and imaging are quite fluid and more than acceptable for a sub 20 USD product.

Overall the AWK-009 is a pretty impressive sounding little budget earphone. They have a very lively and detailed signature with engaging technical qualities. I find them a little rough around the edges in the treble and mid-range, but silky smooth in the lower regions. They make for a well-rounded and very pleasant listen.

Select Comparisons:

KZ ED9 (10-20.00 USD):

the ED9 with brass (neutral) filters installed sounds exceptionally similar to the AWK-009, but slightly darker and flatter

– the ED9’s bio-cellulose drivers have a smoother, more refined presentation than the AWK-009

– with the Gold filters installed the ED9’s bass has more quantity and greater depth

– the ED9 has a slightly more forward and natural mid-range

– it also has a larger soundstage with similar imaging but improved layering and separation over the 009

– AWK-009 has a tighter treble presentation, avoiding the splashiness the ED9 suffers from that often ruins my enjoyment of them; the AWK-009 does not have an equivalent negative

Fiio F1 (14.99 USD):

– compared to the AWK-009 the F1 sounds quite veiled with limited energy and extension at either end

– despite this, the F1 does have a more natural sounding mid-range that I preferences

– Seahf’s bass on the AWK-009 is vastly superior I feel with better extension, significantly more texture, better speed, and most importantly, absent a notable mid-bass hump

– treble is night and day between the two, quite literally; F1 is dark, 009 is bright. I prefer the 009’s emphasized upper ranges, but feel those who are treble sensitive would be most happy with the F1

Xiaomi Mi In-Ear/Piston 3 (14.99 USD):

– the Piston 3 is warmer, smoother, and bassier than the 009, but doesn’t give up detail and clarity anywhere near to the extent of the F1

– the Piston’s more relaxed presentation means they give up some airiness in soundstage to the 009

– the 009’s bass is quicker, has more punch and better texture, but again feels like it’s giving up raw extension

– the Piston 3’s mid-range is one of my favorite aspects to it’s signature; while not as forward as on the 009 it lacks the roughness around the edges and is consistently smooth and pleasing

– I find the 009’s treble to be a touch more detailed than the Piston 3, emphasized by the extra prominence; Piston 3 is again smoother and more forgiving making them better suited to longer listening sessions

20170518_084732.jpg

Final Thoughts:

The AWK-009 is quite the little stunner. It’s sound quality impresses with a crisp, detailed presentation backed by good build quality with solid fit and finish, good ergonomics and comfort, and a pretty low price tag.

The choice of cable on the pair I was sent is a little flawed, but at least it doesn’t feel cheap and should be quite durable in the long run. It would also be nice to see Seahf include a basic carry bag should they opt to revisit the accessory package in the future.

Overall this is a great budget earphone and well worth consideration. Will it have some staying power within the budget enthusiast community? It ticks all the right boxes, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Plus, Master Chief is a fan. Do you need a better endorsement than that? Dude squishes aliens with his bare hands.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Penon Audio for the opportunity!

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Tracks:

Aesop Rock – Crows 1

Aesop Rock – Maintenance

BT – The Antikythera Mechanism

The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)

Daft Punk – Touch

Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)

Godsmack – Hollow

Godsmack – One Rainy Day

Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey

Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Jessie J – Bang Bang

Kiesza – Hideaway

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Pink Floyd – Money

Skindred – Death to all Spies

Supertramp – Rudy

The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On

Witcher 2 Official Soundtrack

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s