Advanced is a relatively new player in the headphone world. Based in New York, the company made its debut in late 2015 with a successful Kickstarter campaign for its wired IEM, the M4. Flash forward to 2017, and Advanced has a suite of unique-looking options available on their website. First up for the review are the M4 ($100) and Evo X ($130) Bluetooth IEMS. While we think these may be good budget options for some, we did not find them to be particularly revolutionary.
Before diving into this review, we should note that the M4 and Evo X are currently priced at $40 and $60 respectively on the Advanced website. Although both are advertised as deeply discounted by as much as 60%, the current prices have not changed since we first received our review samples. While we don’t normally like it when companies play these sorts of pricing games, in this case we felt it was appropriate to leave aside our usual approach of rating based on MSRP, and evaluated these headphones based on their ‘discounted’ prices; though we prefer not to focus too much on price, our review grade might be different if Advanced were to raise the prices for these headphones up to their ‘full’ price.
The M4 is Advanced’s wired IEM. At first glance, it’s got many of the features of a high-end IEM: braided cabling, a zippered carry case, an assortment of tip styles and shapes, and an inline microphone with a single control button.
Many users will appreciate the inclusion of Comply foam tips, which have become an industry standard for achieving a custom-like fit for universal IEMs. Its dynamic drivers are hidden inside extremely tiny metal housings, styled in classy silver with subtle chamfering.
All these features play to its benefit — we had no problem getting a comfortable and complete seal with the M4. It’s extremely light, well-built, and the braided cable does resist tangling as advertised. The M4 has a relatively low sensitivity rating for such a low-impedance headphone — we had to crank up the volume on our phones higher than expected to achieve normal listening levels. In practice, this means that in very noisy areas — places loud enough that even good isolation isn’t enough — you might not be able to drive the M4 loud enough straight out of an iPhone or Lightning Adapter.
To be blunt, we were not terribly impressed by the M4’s sound. There isn’t anything overtly wrong or fatiguing about the M4’s sound signature, but we found it to be dull or veiled compared to our reference headphones and IEMs in its price range. Treble lacked sparkle, and bass drums were reduced to “thups.” In fairness, the M4 is probably best compared to the Apple EarPods which, for most users, we think they’re most likely to serve as a direct replacement. Compared to Apple’s bundled earbuds, the M4 offers better isolation, better build quality and, although still less engaging, a similar level of sound quality.
Advanced claimed that the M4 was “designed for musicians – for real.” We’re not sure that they hit the mark – we think that musicians would prefer a headphone with a little more clarity and definition.
However, Advanced has succeeding in making a competent and affordable replacement for the headphones that came with your phone.
Up next is Advanced’s sport Bluetooth headphone, the Evo X. It’s got an attractive design, and feels sturdy and well-built. The Evo X’s individual buds are held on the ear by semi-rigid over-ear guides, and are connected by a thick translucent cable that can be cinched tight for an even more secure fit. Like the M4, it comes with a zippered carry case and plenty of ear tip choices (although the foam tips here are not Comply branded); a USB charging cable is included as well.
We had a tough time judging the sound of the Evo X because we could not get them to sit properly in our ears — the height and angle of the over-ear guides made it impossible for any of the tips to fit in our ears securely. The cause of this problem stems from the fact that the rigid parts of the ear guide extend up from the ear buds only about 20mm before making a sharp turn back downwards. This leaves only a small space for the ear to fit; if your ear doesn’t fit in this space, the tips simply won’t go far enough into your ears to seal. Of course, this could be a non-issue for those with differently shaped ears, but this problem could have been avoided simply by making the entirety of the over-ear guide flexible, instead of forcing a sharp angle just a short distance above the driver.
Fit issues aside, there are some aspects of the Evo X that we think make them a tough sell as sports headphones.