- Sweet treble
- Realistic upper mid-range
- Stylish looks
- Balanced cable supplied
- Limited choice of tips
- Disjointed, overblown bass
- Review Price: £499.00
- 3 balanced-armature drivers
- 3 ear-tip sizes
- 3.5mm cable and 2.5mm balanced cable
- Hard carry case
What are the Astell & Kern Michelle?
The Michelle are high-end earphones made for Astell & Kern by Jerry Harvey Audio in Florida. They’re three-driver in-ear monitors that come with a choice of standard 3.5mm cable or a 2.5mm balanced cable for plugging into the balanced outputs of certain Hi-Res Audio players – including A&K’s own models. They also boast seamless 3D-printed shells for each bud.
Why Michelle? They’re named after ‘My Michelle’ by Guns N’ Roses. No, seriously.
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Astell & Kern Michelle – Design and Features
The A&K Michelle are shiny little things. They have that organic curvature of all high-end in-ears, but those seamless shells and their high-gloss finish help them to stand out.
I love the look of these IEMs, with the Astell & Kern ‘A’ on the left bud and an art-deco angel on the right, both in metallic red buried beneath a smooth clear coating. They don’t quite have the high-end class of the Noble Audio range, but they’re streets ahead of the Sennheiser IE8 and most other rivals.
On each bud is a tiny two-pin socket – fairly standard these days, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find replacement cables or experiment with cable swapping. The part of the bud that protrudes into your ear canal has two audio ports, with one significantly larger than the other.
The A&K Michelle come with a cylindrical leatherette case but no soft carry pouch. There’s a choice of using either a cable with a traditional 3.5mm jack, or changing over to a balanced cable with a 2.5mm jack if you have a Hi-Res Audio player with a balanced output.
Sadly, the choice of ear tips is meagre. There are three sizes of silicone tip and that’s it. I’d hope for more at this price. Luckily, the middle size was just about right for me, but I can see some people struggling – and others might, for instance, prefer a foam tip.
Astell & Kern Michelle – Sound Quality
In the main, I listened to the Michelle connected to the A&K AK70 player, sometimes from its own 3.5mm or balanced outputs, but also hooked up to the Chord Mojo or Chord Hugo headphone amps.
With acoustic folk and classical piano, the sweet treble and realistic upper mid-range were a real treat, creating a wide, immersive soundstage. It made a good attempt to break out from the confines of my head, but never quite did. Similarly priced earphones from Noble Audio offer a little more spatiality.
Where things go awry is with the disjoint between the mid-range and bass. In fact, the bass in general just doesn’t have the control it should, and tends towards wobbly and overblown.
On Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop’s ‘Sailor to Siren’ from the beautiful ‘Love Letter to Fire’ album, the double bass on which the song should bounce along just swamps it, distracting from Beam’s main vocal.
A move to the balanced connection seemed to improve mid-range clarity a little, but didn’t have such a large effect on the sound as I heard when routing tunes through the Chord DAC/amps.
Should I buy the Astell & Kern Michelle?
There’s plenty to like about the A&K Michelle. They sound lovely with a lot of music, but not so great with other styles. That flabby, disconnected bass isn’t ideal for dance tracks or anything with a lot of weight behind it.
The entry-level Noble Audio Sage offers a more rounded sonic experience and comes supplied with a ton of ear tip options to get the best fit.
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A lovely treble and mid-range is let down a little by rather uncontrolled, disjointed bass.