Prisma Azul Review



Every once in a while someone in the community decides to take a crack of making their own product. There's been several in the headphones world that have really hit it with popularity like ZMF and Dan Clark Audio to name a few. Today, we'll take a look at an all-new and first product from Australia's Prisma Audio, founded by Josh Szabo.

Prisma's first product launch is a double-balanced armature in-ear monitor called Azul. The Azul retails for approximately $300 USD ($400 AUD), and was purchased directly from Prisma Audio, at full price. As another disclaimer, I do keep in regular contact with Josh via Discord, and have been acquainted with him for a couple years now, however, this review is as bias-free as possible.

One of the lofty and sporty goals that Prisma wanted to achieve with the Azul was to present an IEM that had good tuning, as well as a set of accessories that the user will want to actually use. In many cases, IEMs come with either a very small set of accessories and/or come with stuff you end up having to get alternative tips, cables, or cases for because the ones that come with the set aren't appealing for various reasons. So, the goal was to create an overall package that was also priced competitively with other products already out on the market, which is quite a sporty goal for a first-time start-up.

Unboxing


The following is an unboxing video created when the package first arrived:


Prisma did a wonderful job of curating the accessories for this package. Each accessory included has a purpose and are ones that I am sure most users will want to continue to use and not need to change out. The tips included are premium tips from Korean brand Azla, called Sednas. These tips have been one of my go-to sets for reviewing and using other IEMs and are very popular in the community for their durability, wide-bore and thick flanges, and their reproducibility of audio capability. 

The case is a brown leather zip-up rectangular box. It's very well designed, and has the Prisma logo embossed on the top lid surface. In addition to this nice case, Prisma includes a nylon shell pouch to store the metal shells in so they don't bump and scratch each other. This is basically the same pouch you can get from Campfire Audio products, except with the Prisma logo on the flap.


The included cable is a very nicely wound and braided white/silver colored cable that is very lightweight, attractive and does not tangle up or feel stiff in any sense. The cable terminates in a 3.5mm straight plug with metal housing, while the splitter is also a matching silver metal tube. The cable does not have a chin strap, and uses angled 2-pin connectors which are plastic housing. That's probably the only area of the cable I'd criticize on, mostly due to the plastic construction, and the fact that it isn't the most optimal flush design with the shell, however, it works well regardless.

Prisma went with a rounded triangular shaped metal faceplate that is anodized and coated with a blue finish. Machined into the faceplate is the Prisma logo on each side, and three mini-torx screw fasteners on each corner, reminiscent (but not the same) of a Campfire Audio design. The inner shell is a transparent resin with a medium length nozzle.

Overall, I like the size and fit of the Azul. I had no issues wearing these for hours at a time and they were comfortable from start to finish. They are small and lightweight, so I imagine they'll fit most people well. The included Azla tips work well for these as well and I didn't feel the urge to try any new tips with this set.



Sound Impressions

My impressions of the Azul is that it has a very neutral sound signature, that is just a touch warm, and has a very monitor-ish sound to it through and through. There's a slight brightness in the treble that one can possibly find fatiguing, though if you're familiar with an Etymotic-typical sound signature, this is not very far off. It's like the Azul takes the ER4XR as a baseline, and reduces the upper-midrange "shout" and extends the treble a little more, which are both positives in my book for the most part.



The majority of my listening time with Prisma Azul was via the Lotoo PAW 6000 DAP, and it was either played on its own portably, or connected to my PC as a DAC/Amp. In the PC configuration, I ran it through Roon with HQPlayer along with the Sinc-L filter. In addition, I also played music with the Azul through the Topping D30 Pro/A30 Pro stack, and the Shanling M3X DAP, and finally the Meizu USB-C Dongle partnered with the Samsung Galaxy S21 phone.

The low end of the Azul is pretty standard-fare neutral tuning, with a very much BA sound to it. It's fast and quick, but really does not have the powerful punch and lingering resonance of a dynamic woofer. The low end is more polite in its presentation, though is slightly elevated from what I'd consider dead neutral, so there is a little bit of low end body, and in return, doesn't sound dead.

The mid-range is the sweet spot of the Azul, much like Etymotic's line. Everything sounds in-line with each other and nothing really stands out. This is good in the sense that equal weighting is a priority and that helps with some clarity and making sure things are all presented. It does lack a soundstage depth and width however, which is a bit tricky with this type of tuning. Etymotic, for example, is pretty well known for its small cave-like soundstage, where its all presented within a tiny space.

One of the key things that the Azul does well is the upper mid-range. It's not overly boosted. There's a good balance of making it forward, but not shouty. It's a minor pet peeve of mine on many of the recent IEMs I've reviewed or listened to where this area between 1000 and 3000 Hz is boosted too high, or peaks out at 2000 Hz sharply, instead of smoothly going from 1000 Hz (or even 800Hz) to 3000 Hz). The Azul hits this really close to my target preferences, which results in a nicely tuned sound for both male and female vocals.

The Azul's other shining spot is its treble range. It actually outperforms the Etymotic lineup here with more even and extend treble range that'll really showcase the upper harmonics and instruments. There is perhaps a little too much energy at times, as I did find it occasionally sharp and fatiguing, especially in the highest octaves.

The general resolution is alright here. It actually is one of its strong points compared to other IEMs in this price point, but I do find it just slightly falls behind the ER3 and ER4 series from Etymotic. There's killer value in the ER-series, however Prisma provides the same type of tuning without the need to deeply insert it into your ears. That's a huge bonus for many users out there who find ERs uncomfortable or daunting.



Detailed Music Impressions

With Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", the Azul plays this song with a very clean and transparent presentation. Stevie Nick's lead vocals are quite front and center, while the rhythm section nearly on the same plane. The constant cymbal strikes on this track are a tad splashy and forward, and really show off the upper treble extension of this IEM, though some may find that a little fatiguing over time, especially on a song like this where drums are already forward on the mix.

With Bryan Adam's "Reckless" record, specifically "Heaven", I do find that the kick drums in the track are missing some of the oomph that is needed to really showcase them. There's a lack of power in the low end for this type of rock music, which isn't too surprising given the reference tuning. While it does lack a little bit of the low end "fun", it makes up for it with a very solid foundation of resolution and clarity. It could be considered perhaps a tad lean for this record, but I do appreciate the airy sound of the entire presentation, and that's despite its more forward instrument placement.

In the Electropop track, "Heaven/Hell" by Chvrches, the sub-bass capabilities of the Azul is more on display. The Azul does extend well into the lower frequencies and does a good job of displaying resolution down here. There's a slight amount of rumble and "feel" but it may not satisfy the typical sub-bass head, and it'll also lack some mid-bass punch and kick. Surprisingly though, this song sounds great with the Azul. There's just enough sub-bass body to go along with nice sounding vocals from Lauren Mayberry that isn't too harsh and is free of sibilance. 

Moving to the jazz-fused-hip hop track, "What They Do" from The Roots, the Azul really shows a lack of mid-bass punch. There's a tad too much energy in the cymbal hits from Questlove, but overall, the song sounds overall fine. It probably won't satisfy hip hop fans with the reduced bass levels, but the lyrics of Black Thought and Malik B (RIP) are clear and easy to decipher.

Listening to Esbjorn Svennson Trio's "Return of Mohammed", a swedish jazz trio track with a steady drum line, and coffee house sound of piano and bass guitar, this elegant and uplifting track sounds quite nice with the Azul. It's crisp, clear and has just a nice level of warmth to give some life to the contrabass, while the upper treble capabilities show-off the hi-hats and snares well, even if they're slightly distant in the background on this master. This type of music shows off the reference capabilities of the Azul.

More Comparisons with Etymotic

ER2XR

The ER2XR is quite a bit bassier than the Azul, and I would say a bit muddier as well. The upper mid-range of the ER2XR peaks higher, which was one of the things I did not like about it as I occasionally found the ER2XR to be a bit harsh and shouty. The Azul is airier and more treble heavy than the ER2XR, but can also be a bit more fatiguing in this region than the Etymotic. I think the Azul beats the ER2XR in resolution and imaging, but the ER2XR has a more natural sound.


ER3XR

My Etymotic weapon of choice currently is the ER3XR, and I like it because it has the same more laid-back upper mid-range section that the Azul showcases, especially when compared to the ER2 and ER4 variants. The ER3XR has a little bit more bass quantity and I think the resolution is improved, though it is also a little bit more closed-in and darker sounding than the brighter Azul. The ER3XR does sound a little less forward than the Azul and has a little bit better depth stage than it, while the Azul has more left to right width.


ER4XR

The flagship ER4XR has a very similar low end to the Azul, which is just slightly above neutral, and like the ER2XR, has a pretty large rise in the upper mid-range which I found a bit bothersome personally. The combination of the reduced bass and upper-mid rise, made the ER4XR sound a tad thin overall. That's not to say the Azul isn't thin sounding, as it can be, but the ER4XR sounds a bit more so. Like the ER3XR, I do think the ER4XR has the upper hand on resolution and imaging, but the Prisma Azul is not very far behind.

Wrap-Up

The Prisma Azul set out to be a nicely tuned monitor and I think it really does a great job here. The tuning is solid, taking the best parts of the Etymotic lineup and smashing them together, while adding a bit more treble to improve this area that can be a little lacking. It's a solid addition and one of the best double-BA IEMs I've heard.

The entire package is well-thought out, and I think this has a competitive capability within this $300 USD space, though it does have quite a bit of competition to deal with. I only highlighted the lower-costing Etymotic lineup as they are very similar in their sound, but Prisma will also have to fend off the more colored sounds of Moondrop, Thieaudio, and a slew of other chinese brands, as well as the Campfire stuff as well. (Just a note, this is much better than Campfire's IO, Orion, and Comet)

If you're looking for the Etymotic-type reference sound, but you're afraid of the deep insertion or find the comfort-level not to your liking, the Azul is definitely one to check out. It doesn't have a crazy insertion depth, and is one of the more comfortable IEMs I've ever tried, so this is an excellent replacement for them.


Comments

  1. I am very impressed with your post because this post is very beneficial for me and provide a new knowledge to me
    Graph Pad Prism Crack

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment