With extensive experience gained from in-ear monitor (IEM) reshelling and servicing, NocturnaL Audio decided to step out of their comfort zone to take on a new challenge – building their very own IEM, the Avalon.
NocturnaL Audio was founded in Singapore. Initially, they were offering IEM reshelling services as well as manufacturing IEM cables. One of their main objectives is to provide affordable upgrade cables for audiophiles. Besides reasonable pricing, they offer numerous custom-made cables. You can always find a reliable upgrade cable no matter how rare your IEM is.
With strenuous research and advance improvement, NocturnaL Audio is dedicated to implementing the best technologies into each creation. This triple driver IEM, Avalon, is named after the Authurians’ fairy-tale island which is believed to be the place where King Arthur’s Excalibur sword was forged as well as his final resting place.
With more IEM manufacturers offering affordable choices, can NocturnaL Audio earn a winning spot in today’s war of IEMs with the launch of Avalon?
- »Deeply extended bass response
- »Rumbles in the sub-bass
- »Crushproof hard case included
- »Semi-custom shell aces the fitting and isolation
- »Customizable faceplate
- »Available in universal and custom fits
- »Average soundstage
- »Poor separation and detail presentation
- »Distortion in female vocals (especially in high pitch)
- »Congestion in complicated tracks
- »Lack of accessories
- »Sub-par stock cable
- »Unusual nozzle shape
This could be the simplest IEM unboxing process – there is no box at all.
All the efforts are put into designing, tuning, and crafting the IEM; NocturnaL Audio spent zero efforts in designing the box. The IEMs come in a crushproof carrying case that looks like the Pelican case, which a lot of audiophiles use to protect their precious gems.
Opening the case, Avalon is settled there with a 2-pin, four twisted wires, 3.5mm unbalanced terminated stock cable. Besides the stock cable, there are some other “standard” accessories that come with the case:
- Cleaning Cloth
- Cleaning Tool
- Velcro Cable Wrap
- Silicone Ear Tips (for universal IEMs)
- Driver: Triple Balanced Armature (BA) drivers
- Driver Configuration: 1 x Low, 1 x Low/Mid, 1 x High
- Crossover: 3-way with ÆX™
- Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
- Impedance: 12.5 ohms
AEX Tuning Technology
As mentioned in the introduction, NocturnaL Audio is dedicated to implementing the best technologies in each of their masterpieces. The Avalon’s sonic performance was designed with a combination of NocturnaL Audio’s electrical & acoustic crossover tuning technology named “AEX”.
The main objective of AEX is to generate quicker high-frequency transients with a deeper low-frequency response. Specially selected and designed solid capacitors work together to accomplish their mission.
Acoustic tuning is needed to fulfill AEX’s objective. The acoustic portion is tuned by redesigning the bass sound tube. A more accurate bass – faster in attacking and decaying – can be produced by this specially designed sound tube and, as a result, improves the overall fidelity.
The shell of the universal Avalon is made of acrylic and has a semi-custom shape. With long experience in IEM re-shelling, NocturnaL Audio has given Avalon its very own unique shape. This is one of the best designs I have experienced. It’s well-polished; I don’t find any roughness on it.
There is no standard faceplate because NocturnaL is offering “universal customization.” You have the freedom to customize the faceplate even when you are ordering a universal model. Besides customizing the faceplate, the connection type can be chosen, too, for an additional cost. The demo loaned to me comes with the standard flush 0.78mm 2-pin connector.
The nozzle is attached to the shell. The odd thing is that the nozzle is a relatively wide oval shape instead of the conventional round shape. This increases the difficulty in installing the ear tips. Users should choose ear tips with a wider bore when buying extras for their Avalon.
The cable included with the IEMs is a soft, 0.78mm, 2-pin, 3.5mm unbalanced, 4-core braided model. I don’t hear any serious microphonics when I’m using it on the go. However, the stock cable looks sub-par and I feel that this is a room of improvement for NocturnaL Audio to look into. It feels fragile with its thin wires, and the choice of Y-split and chin slider make the overall presentation appear cheap.
Fit and Isolation
Using the medium-sized semi-custom shell, the Avalon rests in my ears nicely. I really like the deep insertion of the Avalon. It gives me a feeling of wearing a custom IEM (CIEM). I don’t feel any fatigue after listening for long periods of time. This could be one of the most comfortable IEMs that I have in my entire collection. I believe most audiophiles won’t have a problem getting a good fit with the Avalon.
The isolation is amazing to the point where I’m able to use the Avalon on my noisy commute. It can block out most surrounding noises. This allows me to submerge myself into my music, taking me away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Pairing and Drivability
Rated at 12.5 ohms for impedance, the Avalon can be easily driven by smartphones or tablets. For this review, I paired the Avalon with the iBasso DX220 (and the Amp I MKII) which has been loaned to me from Zeppelin and Co. This powerful digital audio player (DAP) allow me to unlock the full potential of the Avalon.
The Avalon is empowered by three BA drivers – one for low, one for mid and low, and one for high. The overall sound signature for Avalon could be described as warm with mild emphasis on the lows. The presentation is buttery smooth – it won’t cause you fatigue. However, the resolution is slightly compromised. That’s the trade-off for smooth sounding IEMs.
Moving onto the soundstage – with a great performance from the AEX tuning implementation, it extends deep horizontally, but not wide enough. The overall soundstage is of average quality, extending more vertically than horizontally. This results in an oval-shaped headroom.
The detail separation is average. In some complicated pop tracks, I observed a few congestions. I have some difficulty in getting accurate details. This could be factored by the thick notes in the presentation. This could be one of the deal-breakers for Avalon.
Unlike conventional, pure BA driver powered IEMs, Avalon performs as well as a dynamic driver powered IEM in the lows. The lows of the Avalon extend deep; it has good sub-bass rumble. Thanks to AEX tuning, the Avalon maintains excellent control when moving to mid-bass from sub-bass.
The bass has some warmth and sounds full-bodied. Handled by two BA drivers, one solely for lows and one handling mids simultaneously, the bass performance of the Avalon definitely shines the brightest as compared to other frequency regions.
Another amazing factor – there is zero bleeding throughout the track.
Everything is well-controlled and precisely delivered. The sub-bass presence does not overshadow the vocals. Vocals are not pulled down by the powerful sub-bass. The layering had been done well.
The mid-bass is not as powerful as the sub-bass, but starts to decay appropriately when transitioning to the mids. It seems to recess, yet preserves the high quality.
The Avalon has clean and well-resolved mids. The lower-mids are slightly recessed due to the transition from a smoothly decaying mid-bass. Moving toward the higher-mids, it’s prominent and is positioned forward – taking charge of the stage.
However, moving to a more complicated track, the vocals are submerged in all the instruments, resulting in a muddy performance.
The female vocals are more prominent as compared to the male vocals.
However, I spotted some slight distortion on the high pitch. This makes me a little disappointed.
The highs have the same sound profile as the overall sound signature – smooth and relaxing. They extend well and sparkle; having an airy and spacious signature. However, they are shy compared to the lows and mids. This could be the reason why the resolution is compromised in terms of the overall sound signature.
When listening to Jazz, the drum cymbals are smooth. It’s not fatiguing and is gentle on the eardrums. The highs perform well when there are no other, more powerful notes from other frequency regions that come in to steal the spotlight. This could mean that the Avalon is a genre-specific IEM.
The Avalon retails for USD$509.99 for universal and USD$589.99 for custom shell. It can be ordered on NocturnaL Audio’s official website. Made-to-order custom Avalons will require an additional 6 weeks of preparation upon receiving your ear impression.
The NocturnaL Audio is an option for audiophiles who are looking for a customizable IEM, be it faceplate or shell, in the price range of USD$600. With their extensive experience in IEM re-shelling, I believe NocturnaL Audio has achieved its ability to build a physically attractive UIEM or CIEM to fit your ear comfortably.
However, it’s a fact that cannot be denied – there is still room for improvement sonically, especially in today’s era. Comparable models with a more affordable price tag are already available on the market.