Exploring the “sound story” of AXEL Audio ID
A quick journey to the About page of Axel Audio’s website tells you a little bit about their story, “A sound story,” to be more exact. They proudly claim that they “believe in the beauty of sound,” a noble mantra, if not an unnecessary one for a company whose only commodity is headphones. We were finally able to get our hands (and ears) on a pair of Axel Audio headphones.
Axel Audio is a relatively new competitor in the consumer landscape of affordable headphones. In the early to mid-months of 2016, their Kickstarter received a whopping $201,169. From there, deliveries of their products began in August of that year. Axel’s setup is very unique: their front page presents you with a pair of their on-ear headphones, the ID, with the phrase “design your sound.” Much of the company’s pull comes from their personal approach to headphones where everyone can get a pair customized to their own liking. Admittedly, their options are still limited. You can choose between ID (on-ear) and FX (over-ear) and you can choose the color of your headband, inserts, ear cups, and cable. However, the most important choice to be made is one’s “soundscape.”
In crafting your own set of headphones, Axel provides three choices for soundscapes: Core, which touts itself as balanced and with a “broad dynamic range”; Deep, which delivers a “hard-hitting sound,” essentially a bass-heavy driver; and Pure, supposedly a detailed soundscape, presumably to key in more on highs and mids. Further research showed that Axel had actually partnered with Spotify. Allegedly, a web app on their site is able to analyze your listening habits on Spotify (or last.fm) and tell you which soundscape is best suited for your needs. Unfortunately, the app never worked for me. I even left it on overnight by accident while writing this review and it still continued to load. Regardless, for our review, we were gifted a pair of the Axel ID in all-white with a Deep soundscape.
Upon first listen, I was very unimpressed. I plugged the ID into my iPhone and began listening to music on Spotify (without assistance from Axel’s web app, of course). In the first few seconds when songs were playing, the sound would be very low quality, then would suddenly pick up. This was discouraging but it seemed like my headphones were still functioning. Despite my initial irritation, I noticed that the ID was very comfortable. The ear cups boast a soft leatherette material, having a good amount of cushion but never squeezing the head of the listener. After wearing them for a few minutes, I decided to make a playlist of albums that could help test how I felt about the ID. Here are some of those albums:
- Culture, Migos
- Evil Empire, Rage Against the Machine
- Moving Pictures, Rush
- “Awaken, My Love!”, Childish Gambino
After having problems with my iPhone, I decided to continue listening on my 2016 MacBook Pro and my Acer Predator G3-710 desktop, which utilizes the Creative Sound Blaster Cinema 2 software. The first album I listened to was “Awaken, My Love!” and I was not particularly impressed. The opening track, “Me and Your Mama,” is filled with many layers of sounds and the ID found that range most of the time. However, despite advertisements touting the Deep soundscape as bass-heavy, it felt very weak compared to other headphones I have tried in this price range.
Further listening, most notably on the song “Redbone,” showed that the bass had kick but not as much reverberation as a basshead would prefer. The bright side is that bass and the highs that are present in “Redbone”—specifically in Donald Glover’s high-pitched vocals—were never harsh. However, even after just one walkthrough with the ID, I was begging for more.
After this, I moved onto Rush’s Moving Pictures album, just to test the highs and mids out more. Ironically, even though I was utilizing the Deep soundscape, the highs and mids of the music I listened to were the more punctual points of listening. Songs such as “Tom Sawyer” and “The Camera Eye” had the right amount of detail and balance between drums, bass, and Geddy Lee’s vocals while the intricate percussion on “YYZ” received a good showing. However, as has been stated, this was the Deep soundscape and I desperately wanted to test out its bass capabilities, especially as someone who enjoys music with echoing bass.
For final tests, I turned to Migos’ Culture and Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire. Still, I was disappointed to find the bass, not necessarily weak, but clearly not as strong as it should be. Songs such as “Bulls On Parade” and “Tire Me” had the bass as another layer on the song when in those specific songs, the bass is clearly the spearhead of the listening experience. Similarly, with Migos, I found songs such as “Call Casting” and “Deadz,” which contain many lows in addition to bass, underwhelming. “Slippery,” another song whose main focus is the off-step, hard-hitting bassline, gave the vocals and adlibbing of Quavo and Offset more clarity.
All in all, the ID is a decent first venture into the headphone industry. However, it is above all, underwhelming. The build quality on the parts of the headphone, which are so proud of their customizable tag, is cheap compared to other competitors outside of its ear pads (which are incorrectly referred to as ear cups). The wire is a typical rubber, not braided as heavy users of their technology would probably prefer. Of course, the most damning thing here is the Deep soundscape sorely lacking bass. To clarify, there is bass. However, for a pair of headphones that quite literally emphasizes “hard-hitting sound,” I was quite disappointed.
Axel Audio is an okay choice for those looking to spend less than $200 on headphones but there are better options for whatever needs a consumer has, whether it be comfort, range, bass, physical quality, et al.
Photo by Priscilla Mastrodomenico.