Astrotec Vesna: A very affordable alternative
Good looking unit
A bit bright
Tough price point
Astrotec Vesna ($19.99): A very affordable alternative
Intro: I have been privy to several Astrotec models from IEM’s to TWS systems. All have had their benefits and I still think Astrotec flies under the radar for many enthusiasts. Their products are top notch and the sound fits many styles including my own. The Vsena came about after communication with Ms. Zhang from the marketing department at Astrotec. I graciously accepted her offer and it is implied that the unit is mine to keep but not sell forward (still uncool) unless asked back for. What follows is an honest interpretation of the Vesna and comparatives versus some in the same segment.
I thank Ms. Zhang and Astrotec for the faith in my abilities and the sample.
Driver: 6mm Dynamic Driver, LCP diaphragm
Input: 1 mW
Impedance: 30 OHM
Cable: High purity OFC Cable 1.2±0.3m
Max Input: 3mW
Sensitivity: 102dB/1mw (S.P.L at 1KHz)
Connector: 3.5mm stereo plug
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 22KHz
In The Box:
Vesna (non-detachable cable)
Pinch-closed heavy fabric case
3 sets on silicon tips.
Velcro cable tie
VE Bonus IE ($20)
Meze Classic 12 ($69.99)
VE BIE Pro ($69)
HiBy R3 Pro Sabre
iPhone 13 Pro Max w/ DDHiFi Lightning adapter (TC35C)
Roger Daltry/Wilco Johnson
For me, Astrotec has always been consciences about their packaging and the desire to keep it minimal while still pervading style and substance. A small square box contains all of the goodies, which has a white sleeve ordaining the outside. That white sleeve has all the information you need, including specs and a frequency graph on the back.
Taking the sleeve off, you are met with a soft foam cover holding the earbuds, with a slim cardboard sleeve on the bottom portion, which contains the extra tips and protective sleeve-case. That’s it and I’m OK with that, especially for the price.
Equipped with Japan 2nd Gen LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) Diaphragm, the 6mm dynamic driver is on the smaller side of life. Don’t let that diminutive size fool you, for the unit functions just fine. The overall character is somewhat complicated with all of the parts, but Astrotec has a long history of providing quality build, with thoughtful design and inside mechanics. This is no different. Simple and functional, the unit works.
LCP achieves a good balance between the two contradictory characteristics of high rigidity and high internal loss. It can effectively suppress the segmentation vibration, thereby reducing noise and accurately restoring the sound. In theory, less internal noise and vibration reduces vibrational distortional characteristics allowing the sound to permeate the air more cleanly, with less diffusional aspect. This allows for a cleaner, less vibrationally distorted sound, much like placing a pillow or extra soft padding in your old speakers would. Reduce the vibrational aspect, and the sound will not be interrupted as much. This is not uncommon, but still nice to see a company promoting this on their budget model.
The aluminum shell sound chamber, made from aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, purportedly accurately restores every note, as an elf whispering in your ear. Their words, but I get it. Aluminum has a high dampening characteristic to it, and thus vibrational losses are minimized, further enhancing the sound experience. Made of three pieces, including the nozzle, the build quality is good, and the pieces fit together well. The burnished aluminum color keeps fingerprints at bay while giving a subdued look to it. The Vesna comes with a permanently mounted cable of copper. The Vesna Pro uses MMCX connectors, so you can change cables if you wish. The tip is a bit harder to mount on the wider lipped nozzle, but I would rather that than the opposite.
The cable is thin and of copper variety, providing a small footprint to the small earbud as well. An aluminum Y-splitter has a plastic cinch above it, and below the cable is of 4-braid variety, but inside a shrink sleeve. The 3.5mm jack is small as well, but the stress relief inner protection is well cut, even if a bit short for me.
A pleasant package and build overall, and fit is top notch, even with only the medium included silicon tips. When music starts, isolation is very good, with little to no bleed into my listening cocoon. The VE Bonus IE may be a bit more robust in build, but the Vesna provides just about what you would expect for a $20 earbud. Satisfaction.
When one listens to a $20 earbud, one must usually temper their expectations to fit the price. Upon first plugging the Vesna in to check before my mandatory 100hr burn in process (don’t @me) I noted how it sounded pretty solid from the off. Solid but not overenthusiastic bass qualities highlighted a cleaner than ought to be low end. The 6mm dynamic driver was proving its worth already. On Tinsley Ellis’ No Stroll In The Park, there is a solid bass line laid down by the electric bass as well as bass drum. You could feel it and after burn in, that foundational aspect is solid. Not guttural or thumping, but present enough to earn your respect.
The vocals of this are good, but a little thin and “flat.” Paranthetical for it can be a misnomer if not taken as part of the whole. The vocals are still fitting within character and price, and yet again that 6mm dd does its fair share to promote an appealing sound. Timbre is good but not great, and I do think the slightly thin mids have something to do with this. Treble is promoted as strong and effervescent. Not spikey or harsh but there promoting where needed and as it should. Cymbal clashes and sounds fall off a bit due to the limitations of driver size, but not enough to be forgotten. Everything And Everyone comes on and I forget all of the above and raise the volume accordingly. A bit harder to drive than some I have had recently, the HiBy does well here, and my Shanling M6 Pro does a fantastic job.
This could be one of the most evenly presented earbuds I have listened to in a good while. Bass does not overwhelm the picture like some high-end IEM’s I have in-house right now (that is their character and I love them for that…) but comes across as strong and taut. Decay is quite fast as a result, and I think if that was delayed a bit, the Vesna could have something close to sumptuous bass qualities. Nonetheless, I like this treatment. Slight rumbles can be heard on some songs, but do not expect Legend X or Frontier Series quality here.
Vocals are clean if a bit thin as mentioned. Hence mids are clear and fairly crisp and clean but this would be an almost to me. I wish for a bit more richness here, but that could very well destroy the synergy of the overall signature. Nevertheless, I enjoy the vocals of Susan Tedeschi as much as Tinsley Ellis. Female vocals sound a bit thicker or meatier, but again for the price this is very good.
Turning the volume up does not turn the treble into a mess of spikey harshness. Not rolled off but tuned to not be an infiltration into your cranial matter either. Any more push up top and this could have become a jumbled, jangle screechy mess. Color me happy with the results so far.
Soundstage is of average quality with good placement across the three dimensions. This would be where a case of average is actually good, since this small of a driver is hard pressed to present a cavernous approach. As a result, layering & instrumentation is average as well, but again for the price good. I can discern instruments and where they lay, but on busier tracks it does become a bit of a bother. Again, to be expected.
The Vesna is what I would expect a quality offering at the $20 price point to sound like. And it does.
Astrotec Vesna ($19.99) vs VE Bonus IE ($20):
The VE Bonus IE was thrown in with the purchase of the more expensive BIE Pro, and I do not regret that inclusion by Wild Lee at all. Easier to drive, and with much more bass the Bonus Ie is not for the faint of heart. A favorite silicon tip can tame that exuberant bass a bit, but the point of it is to profit your ears with that quantity and quality. Much more V-shaped as a result, the Vesna bests the Bonus in the mids, with the vocal treatment falling slightly behind stage front in the VE product. Ellis’s guitar licks are very prominent and a bit pushy up top in the VE as well. But much like a quality basshead earbud, one does not purchase the Bonus IE for its lack of character. You purchase it for the bass. And in that the Vesna is no match.
The Bonus cable is of a spongy rubberized material, so microphonics are limited thankfully. To me you get what the oriented sound is for in the Bonus IE: bass first, and good clarity second. You live with that V-shape and you are happy. You live with the more evenly balanced vesna for more genre and are happy as well.
Astrotec Vesna ($19.99) vs Meze Classic 12 ($69.99):
The Mese is on loan from a fellow reviewer and it was a surprise inclusion in the package of others. I have the 11Neo (rather my son absconded with it…) and liked it very much. If looks were the sole criteria, these two would lead the earbud pack by a mile. The Vesna is quite a good looker, but the Meze is stunning. Soft pliable cable with gorgeous bronze coloring to the shell and hardware it is the best-looking earbud out there. But both here share one flaw: microphonics. The Meze has to me amongst the worst microphonics I have heard of late. Which is really a letdown as the sound is of gorgeous mid-centric quality. Quite forward here, the Classic 12 is not shy about vocals or guitar work. At the front could be defined by the Meze.
Here the Astrotec naturally falls behind for the Meze cost 3x as much and then some. Regardless, the Vesna presents a more even sound characteristic to it, which I tend to enjoy more. Where the Meze has better clarity and detail presentation, it is let down to me by being too detailed with those forward mids. This is a detail-oriented persons dream. It would be darn near perfect for orchestral or classical music. The Vesna is more even in presentation and thus better across genre.
Astrotec Vesna ($19.99) vs VE BIE Pro ($69):
Upon first listen to the BIE Pro, I was stunned. I still am. This is absolutely my favorite earbud at this price and possibly of all-time. The bass is a bit tamed from the Bonus IE, but the mids simply sing to me. With fervent treble note as well, this thing sings. I know your mileage will vary but for those who have not heard the BIE Pro, you owe it to yourself to try it. The cable above the Y-splitter is odd, what with its loosely wrapped copper, but it does keep microphonics down as well. Coming naturally with your choice of a balanced cable or single end you get to enjoy it as you see fit.
The BIE Pro also has better clarity of note to it as well. This is the one Meze should have been shooting for with the Classic 12 to me. And yes, I am biased towards it. The Vesna comes close with its even sound, but the VE product was born simply put to raise the roof. And to me it does.
I scribe this while listening to R.E.M’s seminal Man In The Moon, through the excellent Singxer SA-1. You might think why such a quality dac/amp with a $20 IEM? Well, because I can and the Vesna fits right into the flow with the gear and the song. It may cost a mere $20usd, but it does perform exceedingly well. So much so, that it can muscle right into the top at this price. Yes, the cable has microphonics, and stays a bit tangled. But the build of the Astrotec model fits their character across the board. I do appreciate when the “budget” models look as good or almost as good as the totl models. Don’t be fooled, though. This is not a flagship model nor was it meant to sound like their flagships. It sounds quite good for the price, even with the limitations of the dynamic driver size and diminutive size overall.
The Vesna sounds wonderfully musical, even if the mids can be a bit bright for my tastes. Solid foundational bass, and a pleasantness to the treble and signature overall make this an affordable bargain, and worth a listen.
I thank Astrotec and Ms. Zhang for the sample. It was my pleasure reviewing the Vesna.