Astrotec Volans: Niche

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out a new single dynamic earphone from Astrotec, the Volans.

Rolling with the astronomy-based theme they’ve been using on-and-off for a while now (ex. Lyra and Delphinus5), Volans is a southern constellation representing a flying fish. Interesting to me is is that its composition includes two galaxies as well as two double stars, the latter of which are apparently visible with a fairly basic telescope.

The Volans earphone contains a single driver per side, in particular a new 10.5mm Tesla dynamic with brass driver unit and biological diaphragm. I’ve been using it for the better part of a month and have found its smooth, non-fatiguing tune to fill a niche that has been more-or-less completely ignored by other prominent hi-fi brands.

Let us take a closer look, shall we?

What I Hear The Volans is characterized by the tune that does nothing in the extreme. Sub-bass emphasis is downplayed, as is the entirety of the treble region, leaving the midrange the main focal point without going so far as to have me consider this a mid-focused earphone. Why is that? Well, while the lower bass takes a dive in emphasis, mid-bass retains a strong presence in the overall sound giving the Volans a warm, coloured presentation that really benefits the mids.

Tips: If you find the Volans too relaxed sounding with the included Sony Hybrids, you will be happy to know it is quite receptive to different tip designs. While I conducted my testing with the included tips, my preferred set was the wide bore, bi-flange Sennheiser style tip included with a number of earphones, most recently those from ADV. You can find them on AliExpress for a couple bucks if you snoop around. They helped bring up the treble presentation and lower midbass resulting in a more balanced sound overall.

Treble on the Volans is very much downplayed through the presence and brilliance regions letting other aspects of the tuning shine, namely the midrange. It all sounds very polite and about as inoffensive as it gets without shifting the tune into a dark and moody style of presentation. There is just enough energy left to keep the Volans from sounding boring as noticed on King Crimson’s live rendition of “Cat Food”. Unfortunately, this relaxed presentation does hinder overall detail levels leaving the Volans very smooth and almost entirely free of any grit. If you like iems for the purposes of deep track analysis, the Volans will be lacking the clarity and raw detail retrieval needed for that role. Note attack is fairly soft though not slow, with a similarly brisk but not rapid decay. Notes are well controlled and clean, but they’re quiet and as a result the upper ranges pretty much stay out of the way.

The midrange is more exciting and my favourite aspect of the Volans. Vocals are dense, warm, and forward and instruments are met with a heavy, natural timbre. Raw detail is again a bit of a low point of the presentation, but it fits in with the overall auditory aesthetic Astrotec was going for; smooth and relaxing. Even the most sibilant of vocals, like those on Aesop Rock’s “Blood Sandwich” sound positively relaxing and inoffensive. While detail levels are low, I never found the Volans lacking articulation. Lyrics come through clean and clear and individual notes do not blend together.

The Volans’ low end is clearly midbass biased with less emphasis than I personally prefer in subbass regions. As a result the presentation is lacking visceral feedback on the deepest of notes which fall off early. This is especially evident in the opening moments of Kavinsky’s “Solli” and throughout Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. The midbass region is full and rich giving the overall presentation a decent amount of warmth, though attack and decay qualities are on the soft side leaving the low end easy on the ears even on very bassy tracks. Again, this is right in line with the general presentation everywhere else. I’ve got to praise Astrotec for their consistency with the tune in this regard. Note texturing in general could be better but overall satisfactory for most tracks, keeping the low end from sounding one-note and flat. Not really a low end I’d choose an earphone for, but it does the job.

The Volans’ soundstage isn’t huge, yet it still manages to provide a good sense of space. Vocals are set just outside the inner ear by default which pulls the staging out a bit, allowing sounds and effects to pass in front and behind the vocalist, and soar off into the distance. Channel-to-channel imaging is clean and smooth with decent nuance, but hindered somewhat to the Volans’ smooth sound and reserved upper regions. Tossing some EQ in the mix and raising both presence and brilliance regions makes the imaging sharper and more precise. Track layering and instrument separation are both perfectly satisfactory for the price range and nothing to write home about. I had no issues with congestion or notes smearing into each other.

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

ADV GT3 Superbass, red “treble” filter (349.00 USD): Neither earphone offers much in the way of treble prominence and as a result presence drops off heavily once you pass through the upper mids leading to a muted level of sparkle and shimmer with moderate detail and clarity. It’s there, it’s just very much downplayed compared to the other frequencies. The GT3 seems a little quicker when it comes to attack and decay with a tighter upper range presentation overall. Either would be a good choice for treble sensitive listeners. The Volan’s midrange is more forward, less warm, and with a less dense, more natural feel to vocals and instruments. Detail out of either isn’t particularly spectacular with micro-details being glossed over, though there is definitely more information coming from the Volans. This presentation further plays into the non-fatiguing nature set by the treble regions. Bass is where the two go in completely different directions. The GT3’s Superbass tagline shows where it’s priorities lay. Bass presence is significantly greater out of the GT3, especially in subbass regions where the Volans rolls off heavily leaving the thumpy midbass region to carry the beat. Both are moderately well-textured and fast enough with the Volans showing off a hint more slam compared to the GT3’s consistent, sub-woofer like rumble that underlies mostly everything played through it. Soundstage goes to the GT3 Superbass which is surprisingly wide and deep. The Volans is much more in your face thanks to the forward midrange. It still does a good job of tossing effects off into the distance, it just doesn’t do it as well as the GT3 Superbass. While ADV’s single dynamic bass monster provides a cleaner imaging experience, Astrotec’s copper clad single dynamic is a little better at pulling apart tracks and keeping instruments well separated and layered.

These are two flavours of sound aimed at the same audience; treble sensitive listeners. If you prefer bass to be the main focus, the GT3 Superbass provide a much bolder, more visceral low end, and you can dial out the treble even more if you want utilizing the filter system. If you prefer the midrange to be the main focus, the Volans is deemed superior.

Fidue A85 Virgo (399.00 USD): While neither iem is a treble monster, the triple-driver hybrid Virgo is notably less reserved in the upper ranges when compared to the Volans, particularly in the brilliance region. Fidue’s choice of balanced armatures give their earphone’s presentation a more natural shimmer and sparkle to instruments and effects. Add to that the more rapid pace inherent to armatures and the Virgo’s treble presentation ends up sharper and more vibrant. It adds air and space to the sound that the Volans misses out on given just how relaxed its presentation can be. Through the mids the Virgo has more presence thanks to a rise between 1k and 3k. Unfortunately, boosting that area results in a less natural vocal presentation that verges on sounding hollow, with a timbre that sounds somewhat wooden next to the much more natural and realistic Volans. Qualms with tonality aside, the Virgo’s mids are quite a bit more detailed and it does a better job of articulating fine details that the Volans takes a more laid back approach at replicating. Heading into the lower registers, I have to say the Fidue came away impressing. While it too rolls off earlier than I’d like in sub-bass regions, the midbass presentation is better balanced letting what rumble there is stand out as much as possible. The lowered midbass hump also keeps the Virgo sounding cooler overall. In terms of texture the Virgo comes out a step ahead with it’s low end having more grit and variation to it, though neither is particularly rich in this regard. Both are also fairly soft when it comes to attack, and not particularly quick, though the Volans comes out ahead in these regards. Despite not being super quick, neither trips up on complicated, rapid basslines. Sound stage presentation on both is surprisingly different. The Virgo’s forward mids keep vocals close and intimate with effects and instruments cascading well off into the distance. The Volans’ vocals sit notably further from the inner ear, with instruments and effects moving in front and behind. The Volans’ soundscape presentation as a result feels somewhat more dynamic and varied, though less spacious. As a result I found it to image channel-to-channel more accurately, with the Virgo’s multiple drivers giving it an edge in instrument separation and layering.

While the Virgo is somewhat of a midrange specialist, the Volans’ superior timbre and tonality have me selecting it over the Virgo when I’m in the mood to listen to lyrics. The Virgos stronger performance in the lows and highs results in a product that is a little more versatile from genre to genre. They’re more complimentary than they are competition, yet despite the Virgo’s more impressive technical performance, I feel the Volans’ more natural sound will win it favour in the ears of listeners.

In The Ear The three piece shell used for the Volans utilizes a low profile, over-ear cable design similar in overall size and depth to the BQEYZ Spring II. The lightning blue colour tone and plenty of rounded, soft curves, lack of sharp edges, and a light wavelette design on the face plate properly reflect the fairly relaxed signature coming from the full copper, biological diaphragm equipped driver unit within. Note that the retail unit will have “Brass Driver” printed around the base of the nozzle, as shown in the image kindly provided by Astrotec. Fit and finish is quite good with tight, even seams, no blemishes, and laser printed lettering that won’t wear off over time. The MMCX ports re reinforced with plastic rings to prevent damage if dropped, and click together with a satisfying snick. The connection is tight enough to ensure the earpieces stay in place and do not swivel about annoyingly, though they are free to rotate.

The cable takes some queues from the one included with the Dephinus5 with a fairly loose braid and semi-stiff sheath. That said, this one is a definite upgrade thanks to its added flexibility. There is still some memory if bent sharply, but you can easily just bend it back without worry. The hardware used for this cable is a big plus in my opinion as well. The 90 degree angled jack is quite small with effective strain relief and a long extension to ensure DAP/phone case accommodation. The metal, Astrotec branded y-split does not have any strain relief and seems mostly in place just to hide the four strands splitting into two for each channel as they lead up to your ears. Resting above it is a clear plastic chin cinch which does a good job of tightening up slack. Further up the cable are flexible, comfortable preformed ear guides that lead into compact, metal MMCX plugs that are colour coded for each channel by small, painted bands wrapping around them; red for right, blue for left.

When it comes to comfort it is very hard to fault the Volans in any way. The smooth shells and rounded design sit naturally in the outer ear and do a great job of spreading weight evenly to keep the earphone stable even during heavy activity. While I personally prefer a shorter nozzle, I know I’m in the minority and feel many will appreciate the reasonable reach you get with the Volans. Isolation is pretty mediocre though. Sitting in my office with the window open I could clearly hear cars driving by the busy roadway four floors down. Tossing on the included foams tips helps things out somewhat, but these still wouldn’t be my choice for a noisy commute should those ever become commonplace again.

In The Box The Volans arrives in a large box with what looks to be an aerial view of a shoreline adorning the exterior sheath. Fitting, given the Volans constellation represents ‘flying fish’. On the front of the sheath is nothing more than Volans and Astrotec branding. The left side highlights the Volans’ two year warranty, while the back highlights a few features and a detailed specifications list. Unfortunately I noticed some spelling errors that I hope will be corrected by the time the Volans is released; “Product Festures” instead of Features, and “…Tesla magnetic cooper driver…” instead of copper. To any companies reading this, if you want someone to edit your packaging prior to release, I’ll help you out for a heck of a lot less than it would cost to hire an editor.

Sliding off the sheath reveals a black monolith of a box with Astrotec in silver foil written on the front, and a security seal down the side securing the magnetically sealed flap shut. Cutting the seal and flipping back the lid you find a slip of black cardboard with wearing instructions printed on the back. This is set over top a foam insert protecting a Pelican style carrying case within which are the Volans earpieces and Sony hybrid eartips. There is also a smaller cardboard insert hiding a few additional accessories. In all you get:

  • Volans earphones
  • MMCX high purity OFC cable
  • Pelican-style carrying case
  • Cleaning tool
  • Sony hybrid tips (s/m/l)
  • Foam tips (m)
  • Mesh ear piece bag
  • Velcro cable tie

Overall a pleasant but fairly straightforward unboxing. While the included accessories are of excellent quality, they’re fairly scant for a product at this price range. I would expect more variety in tip selection, such as some wide bore options, bi-flange, and foams in three different sizes vs. just the one. Still, the excellent case offers outstanding protection for the earphones and is roomy enough to carry along a media player or wireless adapter and some other extras. The inclusion of a mesh bag to protect the ear pieces is also a nice touch, and something I’m more used to seeing from higher end gear like that from Campfire Audio.

Final Thoughts While I definitely prefer a more lively and energetic sounding earphone, the Volans fills a niche that is almost completely absent of options. There are few earphones I’ve used that have as smooth and easy going sound as the Volans. While it does come at the expense of detail, something most products in this price range tend to prioritize and plenty of cheaper products do better, the loss of detail never felt like it was eating away at clarity or hindering the overall presentation significantly. I can see this being the perfect earphone for someone that is very treble sensitive, or simply wants a mid-range earphone that they can use for long periods without any risk of fatigue. On numerous occasions I forgot that I was supposed to be analyzing the Volans and taking down notes because I got lost in the music and whatever else I was doing at the time.

I really wish I had a set of these with me back in my university days because they also have the comfort levels needed to back up the fatigue-free sound that is necessary for marathon listening sessions. Build quality is also fantastic with well put together metal shells and a high quality cable, though the isolation they offer is quite poor.

Overall, I have quite enjoyed my time with the Volans. They have a very niche tune that won’t please everyone, but those specifically looking for this breed of completely innocuous sound will likely find themselves thrilled with what the Volans offers.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Astrotec for reaching out to see if I would be interested in covering the Volans, and for arranging a sample unit. The thoughts within this review are my subjective impressions and do not represent Astrotec or any other entity. At the time of writing the Volans was retailing for 329.00 USD; https://astrotecglobal.com/products/volans?fbclid=IwAR3iqRm9p2aG_ZXUgtBzOstmHeKQi_H7yU03zcqSigkCI1XL5bebHEHfSlE

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 8Hz – 40,000Hz
  • Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 110dB/mW @ 1KHz
  • Driver: 10.5mm Tesla dynamic driver with brass driver unit and biological diaphragm

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO M3 Pro, FiiO BTR3K, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

Tobacco – F****d Up Friends

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