When I was in Hong Kong this year, I discovered a very interesting South Korean audio company named AZLA, and I took a pair of AZLA Horizons home with me. Since then, I’ve managed to infect Wing with my enthusiasm for this earphone. Now here at Minidisc we are proud to be the first to offer AZLA IEMs in Australia!
Every manufacturer has their secret sauce when it comes to IEM design, and for AZLA this is their Advanced Research Driver, which encloses a dynamic driver within a large magnet assembly rather than having the magnet sit behind the voice coil. This results in more controlled distribution of magnetic force, and as a result the AZLA IEMs have some of the best, most controlled sub-bass I have ever heard in an IEM. This is the closest to the bass of a full sized planar magnetic that I’ve heard in an earphone.
AZLA Horizon & AZLA-01R MKII
The AZLA range breaks down into two units: the single 8mm dynamic driver Horizon, and the AZLA-01R MKII flagship which has a hybrid 11mm dynamic driver coupled with a full range balanced armature. Both earphones come with AZLA’s proprietary SednaFit tips, which are like a stiffer version of Spinfits. I have to say that while these tips really open up the sound of the AZLAs, I’m in a goldilocks situation where the small tip is a little too small and the medium tip is a little too big, because the medium tip is larger than the average medium size. We have confirmed that a middle small/medium size is currently in production and we are looking to bring them into Australia as well.
For the my personal pair of Horizons, I use Final Audio E-type tips which are comfortable but reduce the treble a little. With the 01R MKII, I find I must use the Sedna tips because the earphone is quite large and only the longer Sedna tips keep the earphone body from rubbing against my inner-ear.
Both the Horizon and the 01R MKII come with detachable braided cables, though interestingly the Horizon uses an MMCX connection and the 01R uses a 2-pin connection. The stock Horizon cable is well constructed but I find it tangles easily, so I replaced it with a Fiio LC-4.4B 4.4mm balanced MMCX cable to go with my Sony ZX300. The Horizon is a little harder to drive than your average IEM, so this is a useful pairing with some added visual appeal.
In comparison the cable on the 01R MK II is a really nice silver-plated affair - it’s well built, light weight and doesn’t tangle easily. The 01R MKII also comes with a premium case made in collaboration with premium accessory manufacturer DIGNIS, which is a nice touch. Based on the Dignis ARCA case design, the internal dividers prevent the earpieces from scratching each other. This is a welcome improvement over the Horizon accessory package, which doesn’t come with any IEM pouch or case.
In terms of sound, I can summarize the difference between the Horizon and 01R MKII as follows: the Horizon is the warmer, more natural sounding IEM, and the 01R MKII is more exciting and V-shaped with bass and treble emphasis.
But let’s drill down, and start from the bottom up: the best aspect of both of these IEMs is their deeply controlled, deeply satisfying bass response. Both the Horizon and the 01R MKII have really impressive bass, with amazing control and slam that goes well into the sub-bass frequencies. At the same time, unlike a lot of other IEMs with stronger bass responses, the AZLA’s have very little mid-bass colouration. On the Horizon the sub-bass is balanced with the mid-bass, whereas with the 01R MK II’s 11mm driver I would say the sub-bass is even stronger than the mid-bass. This results in a truly stunning amount of clean, deep bass slam that still sounds natural and cohesive. If you like the bass of Audeze planars you will really like the sound of the AZLA IEMs. On the 01R MKII in particular the sub-bass makes electronic music just phenomenal, whereas the Horizon’s more even bass and mid-bass mix really sounds sweet with instruments like bass guitars.
In terms of mids and treble, the Horizon and the 01R MK II sound quite different. The Horizon has some shimmer at the top end, but parts of the upper vocal range are subdued, While this sounds smooth and natural, this means that vocals don’t tend to really stand out on the Horizon, and there isn’t a great deal of richness or density to voices. This is my single biggest criticism of the Horizon’s sound - it’s nice and natural sounding, but I could do with a little more energy.
With its extra balanced armature, the 01R MK II corrects this by adding that extra touch of upper mid texture and brightness. It’s not enough to make the 01R MK II harsh, and it really improves the sense of layering and separation on the AZLA flagship. My one issue with the 01R is that the treble has a slightly rough, brittle character to it, similar to the treble of Audio Technica’s ATH-LS200. It’s not harsh, but it doesn’t quite sound natural. It’s typical balanced armature shimmer, and I think something like the more expensive iBasso IT04 manages to deliver treble with a more natural timbre.
These are both great sounding earphones. The Horizon delivers a natural, cohesive sound that I think is a better argument for single dynamic driver designs than say, the Sennheiser IE80S. Meanwhile I think 01-R MKII delivers some of the most amazing bass in an earphone below $1000, while still maintaining detail and control. The AZLA-01R MKII might just dethrone my Sony XBA-Z5 for my favourite IEM for electronic music because of its tighter bass, which really is saying something.
We at Minidisc are really excited to work with AZLA to bring these to Australia, and after their success in Asia we think these deserve a bit more exposure in English speaking markets. Do yourself a favour and check them out.