I’m luckier than most because the (part-time) reviewing I do often exposes me to something new which I may not have been aware of. Such has been the case with the IEM I’m reviewing today. I received contact from Earl Chon of AME Custom Earphones in Korea asking if I’d like a listen to their Argent – a 6 driver Inner Ear Monitor featuring a combination of 4 BA drivers and 2 Electret (micro electrostatic) drivers. I’d heard about electrostatic drivers before, but never had the chance to try them, so this was to be an interesting encounter. Read on to see how I found the 6 driver Argent Hybrid IEM, and where they would rank amongst the IEMs I’ve tried.
ABOUT AME CUSTOM EARPHONES
Unfortunately, the information on AME is pretty sparse on the internet. Earl – this should be an opportunity to showcase a little about you! I’ll try to update this section later. What I did establish is that AME is located in Seoul South Korea and was originally started to give support to musicians for customer earphone builds. Their popularity grew, leading to the current two releases (Argent and Radioso), and looking to expand to a wider audience.
Here is a quote from their website, which really does give an insight into what drives the company:
“For everyone who loves musicians and music, I am introducing an indigenous custom earphone brand”
Well we definitely love music and musicians. AME Custom’s website is linked here.
The AME Argent that I’m reviewing today was provided to me as a review loaner. It will need to be returned, although I’m already thinking about how I can afford one of my own. Carry on with the review and you’ll see why! The retail price at time of review is ~ USD 1200.
If you haven’t read any of my reviews, I suggest starting here, as it will give you an insight into my known preferences and bias.
For the purposes of this review – I used the AME Argent straight from the headphone-out socket of many of my portables, but predominantly the X5iii, M9, M11, and R2R2000. I have also experimented with a variety of amplifiers including the FiiO Q1ii, E17K, Q5, xDuoo XP-2, and XRK NHB. IMO they do not benefit greatly from additional amplification, although with the warmer amps, the tonality changes have been interesting (YMMV and it may depend on your source). In the time I have spent with the Argent, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (break-in).
This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.
The AME Argent arrived in an unassuming 138 x 217 x 500mm box and lid. Inside was the Argent IEMs nestled in a foam insert, an aluminium alloy carry case and a box containing the tips and other accessories.
The full accessory package includes:
- 1 pair AME Argent Hybrid IEMs
- 1 x 2 pin stereo cable
- 1 x aluminium alloy 2-piece case (80mm diameter x 35mm height)
- 3 pairs of Spinfit silicone ear tips (1 x L/M/S)
- 3 pair of Comply foam tips T400 (M)
- 1 3.5mm to 6.3 mm adaptor
- A cleaning brush
- A leather cable tidy
- A card with serial number etc.
This is a good overall accessory package, and in-line with the overall asking price.
THE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
The graphs I use are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. Ken Ball (ALO/Campfire) graciously provided me with measurement data which I have used to recalibrate my Veritas so that it mimics an IEC 711 measurement standard (Ken uses two separate BK ear simulators, we measured the same set of IEMs, and I built my calibration curve from shared data). I do not claim that this data is 100% accurate, but it is very consistent, and is as close as I can get to the IEC 711 standard on my budget.
I do not claim that the measurements are in any way more accurate than anyone else’s, but they have been proven to be consistent and I think they should be enough to give a reasonable idea of response – especially if you’ve followed any of my other reviews. When measuring I usually always use crystal foam tips (medium bore opening) – and the reason I use them is for very consistent seal and placement depth in the coupler. I use the same amp (E11K) for all my measurements – and output is under 1 ohm. Measurements above 9-10kHz are generally problematic with any hobbyist set-up, and should be disregarded, but generally my measurements from 20Hz to 9-10kHz have proven to be relatively close to many of the measurements of the manufacturers who support me.
The graphs are provided merely as a point of discussion, and later in the review I’ve included comparisons to other IEMs for similar reference. Channel matching is extremely good over the entire frequency range.
The AME Argent has the type of shape you normally associate with higher end customs and is a peanut/jelly-bean shape design. It is designed to ergonomically fit snugly inside your outer ear cavity, securely held inside the Concha with the skinny end inside your Intertragical notch. Just like true customs, it has a small rise of resin at the rear of the IEM shell to comfortably accommodate placement over the Crux helix and sit intact on the Cymba.
The outer shell material is a highly transparent resin, and the clarity of the resin is amazing – amongst the best I have seen. It is literally like looking into a window (to view the IEM inner components). The outer face is a face-plate, and my pair is decorated with a polished Paua shell (abalone) design. On the right ear-piece is the word AME and on the left the model name Argent. One small note – and not the manufacturers fault. The outer face resin cover on the right side has chipped/lifted on my pair, and unfortunately taken some of the text away.
The internal face is very smooth, and not utilising a dynamic driver means no requirement for an external vent or port. The housing has an end to end length of 21mm, height of 16mm and depth of 14mm (excluding the nozzle). The nozzle is angled nicely forward and up and is 7mm in length. The nozzle diameter is 6mm, has a generous lip, and has 4 separate sound channels in the tube.
At the top rear of the Argent shell is an almost flush fitting standard 2 pin socket (protrudes by about 0.5mm). The 2 pin plugs are colour coded (blue or red) for right and left. The socket is very firm with the supplied cable and feels very sturdy. The Argent comes with a single ended cable. AME have used a high purity (6N OCC) silver plated copper wire encased in a very flexible transparent TPU sheath. From the 2 pin connectors to the Y-split is a single twisted pair on each side, and then from y-split to jack appears to be a twisted triple. The Argent cable has flexible formable ear-loops. I find these loops comfortable and work well. Both the Y-split and Jack are metal, and there is a cinch above the Y-split which works well for snugging the cable tight. The cable has extremely low microphonics – essentially non-existent when using the cinch.
Internally the AME Argent uses a hybrid 6 driver system, but not the conventional way we’d normally expect. There are dual low frequency Balanced Armature (BA) drivers for the bass and lower mids, single BA drivers for the mid-range, single BA drivers for the upper mids, and dual Electrostatic drivers for the high and super high frequencies. This is managed by a four-way cross over network. This is the first time I’ve heard an electrostatic tweeter in an IEM, and the results are stunning. Seemingly effortless detail and extension without any signs of abrasiveness or grain.
FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
Internal and external isolation is extremely good, as you’d expect for a non-ported IEM. It does ultimately depend on tip choice and seal. I would rate passive isolation as above average and usable on public transport. Although it does not completely block out aircraft drone, by the time you add music, you aren’t hearing cabin sounds.
Fit and comfort thoughts are very subjective and will vary from person to person. My experience has been one of complete satisfaction. The AME Argent has been designed for an ergonomic fit (much like a custom monitor). For me they are a perfect, sit flush with my outer ear, and basically disappear within a few seconds of wearing (I could forget they are in). I have slept with them intact, and woken hours later with them still there and no discomfort. The AME Argent is designed to only be used cable over ear.
The Argent has a good lip on the nozzle. I’ve tried Spiral Dots, Spin-fits, Ostry tuning tips and Sony Isolation tips – all fit easily and are secure. They are a relatively shallow fitting IEM, but the nozzles are long enough for most tips to seal effectively. Saying that, foam still gives me the best combination of seal and comfort, and my preference is for either Comply or stretched Shure tips.
Most of the testing at this point was done with my FiiO M11, no EQ, and Shure foam tips. I used the M11 simply because paired they gave me a very transparent window to the music with low impedance, and more than enough power.
For the record – on most tracks, the volume level on the M11 was around 40/120 on low gain (depending on the track) which was giving me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list https://www.head-fi.org/f/articles/brookos-test-tracks.17556/
While testing I constantly switched with my reference pair (Alclair Curve + E17K with +4 bass) to give me a good reference baseline. The additional bass is to bring the Curve closer to reference.
- Sub-bass – In balance with the other frequencies – perhaps slightly below reference. Extension is good and the sub-bass rumble is audible (Lorde’s “Royals) but sits more in the background. There is no bleed into other frequencies. The bass is typical of most BAs I’ve heard – quick with clean decay, and more speed than impact oriented.
- Mid-bass – slightly elevated compared to sub-bass and lower mids with light to medium impact. The bass timbre and definition are very clean. The bass is very consistent and for those looking for a balanced signature throughout the signature, the Argent delivers well. For those looking for more bass impact, they may find the Argent a little light.
- Lower mid-range – recessed compared to bass and upper mid-range. Both male and female vocal fundamentals are still very good. Male vocals may come across a little on the leaner side – but not much, and I’ve really enjoyed the likes of Pearl Jam and Joe Bonamassa. The slight recession also gives a wonderful sense of overall space and separation.
- Upper mid-range – There is a slow and shallow rise from the lower mid-range to a peak at 4-5 kHz, then a relatively extended progression to the lower treble. The transition from lower to upper-mids is cohesive, and there is enough presence to provide both detail and presence. There is some euphony with female vocals.
- Lower treble has extremely good extension. It is also quite linear with a small peak at 7 kHz, and a stronger peak at 9-10 kHz (is this the electrostatic driver stretching its legs?). This does provide a lot of air, but surprisingly no resulting brittleness or sharpness. And this is the stunning part that separates the Argent form anything else I’ve heard. The extension and range of the treble brings amazing detail and clarity – yet without the harshness or brittleness a BA would deliver with the same peaks.
- Upper treble extends quite well with some decent “air” but is difficult to capture properly on my measurement rig, and with my “aged” hearing I no longer notice much over 12 kHz anyway.
Overall this is a balanced monitor with a slight “U” shape which has more to do with the slight recession in mid-range (intended) than any obvious emphasis at either end of the spectrum.
Resolution / Detail / Clarity
- Clarity overall is (in a single word) amazing. The first time I heard the Argent I was gob smacked. And especially with jazz, or any rock with a lot of cymbals. It was like listening to my HD800S – every brush audible, but shimmering decay rather than etched. Listening to guitar (Nils Lofgren Live) had similar revelation – every movement on the fret board, intakes of air, rapped knuckles on the guitar …. perfect. And the beauty is that you get this sort of detail without the track sounding etched or overly coloured.
- Directional queues are brilliant – extremely clear and concise. Presentation of stage is just outside the periphery of my head space with binaural tracks, so averagely expansive for an IEM. Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra” is excellent for this and it was wonderful how immersive this simple binaural track could be.
- With the live recording of Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer”, the applause section is a good test for width and depth (the sound of the audience flowing around me).
- Width of stage is a little wider than overall depth, but still gives a good presentation and feel of sitting in the audience.
- “Let it Rain” (Amanda Marshall) gave a nice three-dimensional feel (the way the track is miked) with good guitar and vocal presence. There was sibilance with Amanda’s vocals – and it should be easily noticeable because it’s in the recording. But the nice thing about the Argent is that while the sibilance is there – it’s not over-emphasised or further enhanced.
- Speed of both sub and mid-bass.
- Reasonably expansive sense of stage
- Good for both female and male vocals.
- Nicely euphonic upper mid-range
- Extremely detailed and clear with no brittleness
- Quantity of the bass is on the light side, which may leave some wanting (I personally find it good as-is)
The Argent doesn’t need amplification for overall volume – and because its impedance is a relatively low 21 ohms, a source with an output impedance of around 0-2 ohms (to meet damping requirements) should make the best match.
With the M11 around 35-40/120 low gain volume covers my normal 65-75 dB listening level. With the X5iii this is similar (33-38/120) and the M9 rounds out the FiiOs with 38-43/120. So, the Argent are pretty easy to drive, and even the diminutive M6 has no problems driving them and sounding extremely good to boot. are generally at around 35-40/120 single ended.
Next up was amplification, which meant testing with the Q1ii, E17K, Q5, XP-2, and XRK NHB. In each case I noted a slightly different tonality but noticed no real differences in dynamics on any of the additionally amped sources. The XP-2 (via Bluetooth) and the XRX-NHB both added some extra warmth which was nice, but IMO the Argent can do perfectly well without additional amping. To add warmth or change tonality though – well I guess that depends on preference.
RESPONSE TO EQ?
Personally, I find the Argent pretty much spot on regarding signature balance. But I had noticed a couple of people talking about wanting a little more bass, so decided to test this. I used two methods – first my iPhone XR to E17K, and applying +4 bass via the inbuilt EQ. This immediately elevated the sub and mid-bass to an above average level, although it did introduce some real boom. The sound was really quite boomy, so I tried for a more clinical approach using the M11 and it’s built in EQ. This netted a cleaner overall bass response, and still elevated the thump and sub-bass rumble without compromising the rest of the signature. So, for anyone looking for additional bass over the default signature, and doesn’t mine EQing, the Argent can definitely deliver.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER IEMS
These comparisons were all done with the M11, (no EQ) – and volume matched using a calibrated SPL meter and fixed 1kHz test tone first. For this series of tests, I’ve tried to look at both value (comparison to higher value IEMs) and quality. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot in this price bracket – but comparisons to the HiFiMan RE2000, 64 Ears U10 and Dunu DK-4001 should be both current and relevant. For comparison with bang for buck IEMs, I’ve used the FiiO’s new FH7, Audiofly’s AF1120 mk2 and Fearless Audio’s S8 Freedom.
This is pretty subjective, but the graphs do show relativity against the other IEMs for reference.
AME Argent ($1200) vs HifiMan RE2000 Gold ($1500)
Build fit and comfort
The RE2000 is a single DD vs the AME Argent 6 driver hybrid. Both have an ergonomic shape, but the RE2000 has some hard edges, and I’ve always had comfort issues with it. Both are made of durable materials and have well-made replaceable cables – with the Argent cable being more pliable and less prone to tangling. In this comparison, Argent takes the points for cable, comfort, and ergonomics.
Sound & Value
Both have some similarity in their signatures, with both being a little V shaped (the RE2000 is more pronounced). Where they differ is in the bass and lower treble. The RE2000 has more pronounced bass with more natural texture (typical of a DD) whilst the Argent has more speed. In the treble, the Argent has more clarity and extension. They both have great overall balance but could be called a little on the coloured side. In terms of overall value, I’ve always considered the HifiMans a little over-priced, while with the Argent I can see more overall value. My pick – the Argent.
AME Argent ($1200) vs 64 Audio U10 ($1300)
Build, fit and comfort
The U10 is a 10 BA driver (per side) vs the Argent’s 6 driver hybrid. Both IEMs have ergonomic shells and are very comfortable for long term listening. Both also have replaceable 2 pin cables (the cable on the Argent is better quality and fits firmer). The body on the Argent feels better built and does fit me better.
Sound & Value
These are very different sounding IEMs. On the graph I could have matched the mid-range – which would have shown a lot more bass or matched the bass – which shows a lot less mid-range and treble. Both have very good balance, and the U10 has less colouration overall. BA Bass doesn’t tend to be as strong as dynamic driver, so the U10 doesn’t sound out of balance. My main issue with the U10 has always been that I felt they needed more treble extension (I often EQ them) – although I do admit that is preference. The U10 appears comparatively warm and a little bassy, whilst the Argent is cleaner, more detailed, and cooler overall. My personal preference here is for the Argent – but that is personal. Both IEMs value is (to me anyway) reasonable.
AME Argent ($1200) vs Dunu DK-4001 ($89)
Build fit and comfort
The DK-4001 is a 5-driver traditional hybrid vs the 6 driver BA/Electrostatic hybrid Argent. Both are extremely well made with ergonomic shells and replaceable cables. The DK4001 is a multi-jack modular cable which is extremely well designed, but I still prefer the overall ergonomics of the Argent cable. The Argent is a little more comfortable overall.
Sound & Value
These two are quite close in overall signature. Both are relatively flat in the bass (remembering the DUNU has a DD for bass response). Both have slightly coloured upper mid-ranges. Both are clean, clear and slightly on the cool side. Overall, I prefer the greater detail in the Argent, but both are extremely well tuned IEMs. The DK-4001 is considerably cheaper and has the modular cable – but I do believe the Argent’s higher price converts to value through the performance of the electrostatic tweeters.
AME Argent ($1200) vs FiiO FH7 ($450)
Build, fit and comfort
This pits another 5 driver DD/BA Hybrid vs the 6 driver Argent. Both IEMs have ergonomic shells and are very comfortable for long term listening. Both also have replaceable cables. Comfort and build quality here are shared.
Sound & Value
Again, there is some similarity with these two IEMs, but the differences shown in the frequency response don’t quite show the true story. The perceived bass of the FH7 DD is very similar to the Argent’s BA delivery. Mid-range is quite similar, but the main difference comes with the added detail and crispness from the Argent vs the slightly mellower FH7. Both are clean and clear though, and both well balanced. The FH7 has a better bang for buck appeal, but once you hear the Argent’s clarity and detail, it’s kind of hard to go back to a lot of other IEMs. FH7 on value. Argent on performance.
AME Argent ($1200) vs Audiofly AF1120 mk2 ($700)
Build, fit and comfort
The AF1120 mk2 is a 6 driver BA vs the 6 driver Argent hybrid. Both IEMs have extremely ergonomic shells and are superbly comfortable. Both also have replaceable cables, although the Argent’s is arguably better quality. Comfort and build quality once again here are shared.
Sound & Value
Again, similar overall tonality. The AF1120 has better end to end balance, and although the bass looks lighter, the balance with the rest of the signature doesn’t make it sound bass light at all. Everything in a signature is relative. Both have very quick transients and do detail well, although the Argent once again has that effortless detail and extension which is quite special. This is a tough one – and taking both value and overall sound quality into account, they are evenly matched. On SQ alone, the Argent would remain ahead – but at a price.
AME Argent ($1200) vs Fearless Audio S8 Freedom ($550)
Build, fit and comfort
This pits an 8 driver BA vs the 6 driver Argent hybrid. Both IEMs have ergonomic shells and are very comfortable for long term listening. Both also have replaceable cables. Comfort and build quality here are once again shared.
Sound & Value
This was quite a tough one. Both essentially sound similar, but because of the Argent’s comparatively higher upper mid-range and treble response and comparatively lower bass response, it sounds cleaner, leaner and clearer than the S8. The S8 has good balance and is on the warmer and smoother side of things. Both sound great. I’m a detail junkie, so for me the Argent wins (for my preferences) in a straight shoot out. Saying that, I also love the S8 and it represents really great value at this price point.
This is a hard one. The Argent is not a cheap IEM. But if you consider the overall package, and especially the effortless performance of the electrostatic drivers, then it becomes a question of where diminishing value sits. The main question I use to evaluate value is “would I buy them”, and knowing I have to return these eventually, I would say a definite yes. I’m already figuring what I’ll have to sell in order to get a pair. And that should speak volumes. To me – the perception of value is there. Are they great value (diamonds in the rough)? – probably not. Are they fair value? – to me yes, emphatically.
AME CUSTOM AUDIO ARGENT – SUMMARY
When you get to review an audio item over the $1000 mark, it’s easy to be wowed by the price tag and expectation. But there are times when the overall package really delivers, and this is one of those times. The Argent is a 6-driver hybrid – 4 BAs and 2 electrostatic tweeters. The tuning is superb, and what has blown me away from the first listen has been the detail and extension without the grain or harshness. They could be described as on the slightly lean or cool side – but it’s a signature I draw towards anyway, and a little EQ’s bass warmth can aid those who need it. If I had to liken the Argent to anything, it sounds like a slightly leaner (and less open) version of my HD800S. And that is high praise.
Add to that the quality cable and overall build, plus the comfort, and you have quite a package. For $1200 they are not cheap – but IMO they do represent value. I want a pair.
My sincere thanks to Earl and the team at AME for allowing me to review the Argent. I love them!