BLON BL-A8 Review
Author: Paul Wasabii
The BLON BL-A8, formerly known as Prometheus, is the latest member of the BLON portfolio and the latest evolution of the BLON house sound signature. Where the BL-03 was a sub-bass focused and organic sounding star at its price point, the BL-A8 seeks to build on the success with a more refined, more detailed sound.
With a bump in retail price from BLON’s previous offerings, the BL-A8 does have much nicer packaging compared to the older BL-03 and newer slim packaging of the BL-Mini. Full color printing with a sharp blue accent running between the top and bottom.
As far as I am concerned, there is only one accessory, the new BLON silver plated copper cable. This is a huge step up in quality from the spindly BL-03 cable. Quality chrome hardware, soft feel, and a recessed 2pin connector round out the specs. There are two styles of BLON tips and the canvas pouch also included in the box.
Comfort, Fit, and Shell
As with the BL-Mini, the shell is a piece of art, but the fit is much better than it appears. The arc of BL-A8’s back plate and the tip of the shell hit my ear in the right place and it holds secure with that angled tip. The problem is that it fits my ear perfect but if your ears are a bit smaller, the tip is going to hit in a different spot. I had that experience with the BL-01, it did not sit in my ear securely but the BL-A8 does. I think it is a YMMV, but it works for me. The nozzle is also different from the BL-03, larger which is much easier to fit your favorite tips. As with the arc, the weight is also spot on thanks to the mostly empty shell. I would say these are easier to fit than the BL-03 and fit better than the BL-01. Rounding out the shell, the recessed 2pin connector keeps the sleek lines of the shell and easy to swap in your favorite 2pin cable, but not your old BL-03 cable which has partially covered pins and will not sit properly on the BL-A8.
Here is where the BL-A8 really took a departure from the legacy of the BL-03. Where the BL-03 is firmly grounded in the lower range, natural, but not the highest in resolution and speed, the BL-A8 seeks to shift the balance further up the range while adding some speed and detail. For those seeking more of the same upgrading from the BL-03 to the BL-A8, it is not quite that type of upgrade. I think the two major changes are apparent in the FR graph, the sub-bass rolls down from the BL-03, and the upper was raised a bit to give it more treble, more detail, more air perhaps. In any case, it sounds like a brighter V-shape as the bass level is still boosted, but the upper range now dominates. Not a complete opposite of the BL-03 but upper/lower balance is very different. When you find the right tips and source, the BL-A8 can engage and exude musicality without fatigue, but it is a bit of a chore to get there. The payoff is a sound closer to the BL-03 rather than an over boosted upper mid version of the BL-A8. Trust me, try lots of tips on the BL-A8.
Figure 1 BL-03 in Green, BL-A8 in Red
The BL-03 was a big sub-bass set and the BL-01 was an attempt to roll it back a little bit and increase the speed with a new driver. The BL-A8 is another step in that direction, the level dropped more than the BL-01 and it sounds tighter and faster. For those unhappy with the BL-03 bloated, slow-ish, thick sound, the BL-A8 is the change you were looking for in the next BLON. In isolation, the bass level is good and hits hard in the mid-bass like a BLON should, but this sounds far from the BL-03 bass and the bass that made the BL-03 legendary or infamous. For those looking to upgrade the BL-03 with more of the same, the BL-A8 is not it. The BL-A8 is a tighter, faster bass leaning towards quality over quantity. For those looking to address problems in the BL-03, the BL-A8 is the change you were looking for and will find the level results in minimal bleed and bloat. The cost is a bass presence that can get lost behind the upper mid-range.
The mids are also a shift from what was familiar in the BL-03. Where the BL-03 had thick, rich, and organic mids while not having the speed, resolution, and detail on the technical side. The BL-A8 is a step towards improving the technicals rather than simply cleaning up the mids which was closer to the BL-01. Starting with the minimal bleed from the bass which provides a clear foundation for the mids, the BL-A8 boosts the upper mid quite a bit to force even more detail and clarity. This small change results in that shift from a low range centric BL-03 sound to the BL-A8’s mid/upper-mid center of gravity. The lower mid enjoys that bump in clarity and detail but will sound a bit thin, not as deep, and not as organic in comparison to the BL-03. The upper mid/lower treble is boosted to provide a more prominent upper range, perhaps a bit too much in that it takes the female vocals and instruments too high, off a natural sound. While male and female vocals sound good, the female vocals and strings will rise along with the upper mid boost shifting the balance of tracks to this particular area. Again, another area where the BL-03 was unique, the tonality from perhaps too much bass through the mids to a slightly rolled off treble sounded as cohesive as IEMs in much higher price brackets. It changed minds in favor of single DDs over hybrids for that single reason. The BL-A8 lost that cohesive sound. The BL-A8’s slight reduction in bass level can quickly be overshadowed by the instruments in the upper mid. On one hand, there is a step in the right direction having cleaner more detailed mids, but perhaps it was a step too far. A warmer source and tips will help this balance.
At this point after explaining the mids a bit, it is a good time to think about tip selection. There are a couple issues to address depending on your preferences. Use a small-bore tip like the Final E to bring up the bass or add some control to the upper mid. Or accentuate the new detail in the mids with an open bore tip. The answer largely depends on your music selection as you may want more bass or more control to the upper mids without adding any more bass. I ended up with KZ starline tips which are my go-to tips for bringing up the bass and a slight taming of the treble. The wrong tips will add to the boosted upper mids and become harsh, shouty and fatiguing. There isn’t a perfect answer here, but it is very important to avoid emphasizing the wrong parts of the BL-A8 sound.
The treble picks up from what I said about the upper mid, quite boosted and a bit too much. In the FR graph, the 5-6K peak is going to hit some people as too much, a bit sharp, and fatiguing. At this point, there has been a departure from that softer, more natural BL-03 treble. Again, a bit of an over-correction by raising the level and extension to address complaints on the BL-03. It will certainly come across as more detailed, more air, sharper than the BL-03, but losing that natural timbre even if it wasn’t the most detailed or extended is going to be a change in the wrong direction for BL-03 fans.
Again, this was a part of the BL-03 experience that really made it a unique set in its price range. It was also a personal favorite so changing the stage slightly as has been done from the BL-01 to the BL-Mini and now to the BL-A8, is not my favorite change. It is not radically different, just not as wide as my BL-03 but does have some depth which prevents an overly compressed or crowded space. Where the BL-03 had the bass clouding the imaging, the BL-A8 cleans up the imaging in some cases, but still not as wide and localized as the BL-03. Perhaps part is the dominance of the upper range, for me it tends to sound more between the ears than the BL-03. The BL-03 had a knack for positioning instruments that again was beyond its price range. The BL-A8 isn’t far, just not the same. Again, this is comparing something different to one of my favorites so I am not going to be overly critical on the difference.
Compared to the BL-03
This is a personal preference issue. Either you love the BL-03 and its bassy, thick, natural mids or would prefer a cleaner, higher resolution, refined tuning of the BL-03. Each iteration of the BLON BL series has been an attempt to marry these two preferences. The BL-A8 is no different, but taking a bigger step than the previous BL-01. Less sub bass and raising the lower treble quite a bit certainly takes the signature in a more mature direction, but for fans of the original BL-03, it is a step too far. For those looking for the more refined BL-03, the BL-A8 certainly tries to deliver it, but again, adding detail at the expense of the BL-03’s natural or organic mids. Perhaps still not the perfect evolution of the legendary BL-03, but will be appreciated by those who were looking for a mature BLON in the lineup.