In a nutshell, the A03 Ossicle sounds large, spacious, well-separated, and smooth. This description only scratches the surface, however.
Soundstage. When I first put the A03 on and assessed the sound, the first thought that went into my head was, “What universe have I stepped into?” The A03 possesses perhaps the largest, widest, and most separated-sounding soundstage of any universal in-ear that I’ve ever heard. It makes things just sound grand, and on certain recordings that I’d heard many times over — recordings I thought I knew inside and out — this pair of $149 earphones managed to present them in a completely novel, interesting manner! It might’ve been a combination of the natural low and high separation of the dual dynamic setup, coupled with some outer ear involvement, but certain tracks that I’d listened to hundreds of times before simply just came out differently! Wider! More separation! A better sense of instrumental onset! Even though it didn’t exactly match the sonic proficiency of the customs that I’d heard before, something about the way detail and separation was presented on the Ossicle instantly made me draw comparisons of it to custom IEMs. To be more exact, the detail I heard out of the A03 seemed to stem more from the space imparted by the soundstage that was separating the concentric shells of music away from my ears, more than the kind of speedy driver articulation and treble boost that dominated the presentation of other high quality universals. I spent that night slack-jawed for a good several hours before I finally came back down to Earth.
As I soon found out, as much as soundstage width and instrumental separation was the A03’s bread and butter, soundstage depth was perhaps its Achilles’ Heel. Test tracks like the virtual barbershop, or the Dolby Headphone Test are unconvincing. For the former, it feels as though the barber were trimming hair off a wall plastered to the back of my head. I didn’t feel much ‘curvature’, and things didn’t get much better with the Dolby Headphone Test, either. This alarming lack of depth in the soundstage was quite a letdown, especially after experiencing such a galactically grand width in soundstage. One of my good friends in audio put it best when she likened the Ossicle to watching a movie on a large, curved IMAX screen. The soundstage width and separation are absolutely larger than life, but everything is still on a wall in front of you. In the end, the A03’s presentation just isn’t all that realistic; it’s surrealistic.
Bass. The A03 is quite bassy in its frequency response, and can even be considered U-shaped, but it doesn’t actually feel that way because of the superior separation of bass and mid/high frequencies in the dual dynamic setup. Rarely does the bass feel overpowering, but when the power is cranked up and volume levels are high, the bass will feel grand and powerful enough for any closet basshead to bob their head with. As nice as it is, however, I would say that the bass is one of the A03’s two major sonic weak points, the first being soundstage depth. Why? Well, for starters, the A03 really does need more juice than the 32 ohms and 110 dB that RedGiant specifies. An iPod might be perfectly adequate for driving it to loud volumes, but control over that 14.3 mm woofer is lacking. At volumes under 50% on my iPod Touch, I find the bass of the A03 Ossicle to be uninspiring, even pathetic at times. It is only when I boost it to 60-67% that the driver begins to overcome its inertial mass and transform itself the celestial body that it is. Even then, however, the mediocre output characteristics of the iProduct line don’t do the A03 any favors with respect to the kind of body and texture the Ossicle is able to output with its bass driver. Thus, I find it ironic that the A03 is coupled with the Apple-compatible in-line microphone and volume control when it could’ve done away with it to allow the user to have a more secure, behind-the-neck cable fit. More importantly, is that the microphone and volume controls are useless when it is plugged into an amplifier — a near necessity if one is to experience the full capabilities of the A03 Ossicle. Then, there too are the technical limitations. With the A03 fully-amped, it does deliver top-quality bass performance, but driver speed isn’t amongst the best in the dynamic driver category. It is simply fast enough, but not exceedingly fast — slightly disappointing for a product designed for the space age. As a result, it does lose out in microdetails to earphones like the GR07 and EX1000. It does come amazingly close to this hallowed group of IEMs, however.
Midrange. As hinted beforehand, the A03 could be construed as having a slightly U-shaped sound, but applying a stereotyped impression of what an U-shaped frequency response does to the midrange would do the A03 a huge disfavor. No, it is not veiled. It is not lacking in detail. In fact, it ranks amongst the clearest of the earphones that I’ve heard with a similar frequency response. As powerful as the bass is, I often find myself ignoring that part of the spectrum and instead noticing the beautifully airy female vocals that the Ossicle seems to output. It’s warm and sweet, but retains brilliant clarity and delicacy that I simply can’t find in other U-shaped IEMs, except perhaps for the FX700. Most of all, it’s smooth and coherent — perhaps not exactly the most technically revealing of midranges, but as mentioned before, the sheer width of the soundstage and the celestial separation help cover for it. As a result, it’s quite forgiving to poorly recorded and mastered recordings, which is a nice quality to have when just listening to music for fun. I personally prefer my earphones to be brutally unforgiving (that is why I prefer IEMs like the DBA-02 and FI-BA-SS), but the A03 certainly helps out badly recorded music, especially modern-day recordings, in a very good way.
Treble. The highs of the A03 continue the pleasantness of the midrange. It is airy and sparkly, but isn’t aggressive in any way. Like the extremes of the bass response, treble extension is excellent. In fact, it’s just plain excellent! I really don’t have much to criticize. It’s quite smooth to about 9 kHz, where it does finally show just the tiniest bit of shakiness, but it really does shine as brightly as the bass in every technical category anyone can think of. In fact, most people I had audition the Ossicle commented about the beauty of the A03’s mids and highs, rather than about the bass power.
So, no. It doesn’t sound accurate at all. Everything on the A03 is somehow tuned to constantly be epic — sometimes to the detriment of sound. But what it is, is pure fun. I can almost guarantee that anyone who can get a good fit with this earphone will just have an awesome, toe-tapping, head-bobbing, star-trekking heck of a time with the A03 Ossicle.