Chances are you’ve never heard of ACS. That’s because the firm is best known for its custom in-ear monitors, which it has been producing for on-stage and in-studio use for around 20 years.
They’re the sort of earphones the pros use when they’re strutting their stuff live on stage, so they can hear the music over the din of the crowd and protect their hearing from the pounding levels of volume live venues kick out.
The company does occasionally branch out into the highly competitive world of consumer audio from time to time, though, and its latest product is the ACS Evoke. In fact, the Evoke existed once before and is now discontinued. Its biggest flaw was cable noise, a problem the 2017 model aims to fix with a new cable. It also brings with it a new housing shell and "IRIS" technology aimed at filling out the sound.
ACS Evoke review
The ACS Evoke is aimed at those who want to experience a similar sound to on-stage professionals. Such in-ear monitors typically have a flat frequency response and lack the bass boost that’s applied in so many consumer products. That’s definitely the case here, and as a result they’re not the earphones for you if you’re into your hip hop or dubstep.
However, its treble is too sibilant, and its bass response is poor. This results in an earphone that is uncomfortable to listen to for long sessions.
ACS Evoke review: Price and competition
The 2017 ACS Evoke can be found for £200, a hefty price tag for single Balanced Armature (BA) driver earphones.
ACS Evoke review: Accessories and build quality
The included accessories are disappointing, to say the least. In the box, you’ll find six pairs of foam tips and a hard carrying case to accompany the earphones. There are no silicone tips, no shirt clip, no soft carrying pouch and no cleaning tool.
This is a problem because the supplied foam tips are terrible. I don’t often complain about ear tips but ACS has to go back to the drawing board here. The problem is that they lack any memory and expand milliseconds after you roll them, resulting in an ordeal each time you want to use them. This isn’t a problem I’ve ever faced before – typically foam tips stay rolled for a few seconds so you can insert them into your ear canal without resistance.
I was also disappointed not to have found a memory cable to hook around my ears, so if you are looking to take them on a run you’ll find the cable pop out of position regularly.
On the plus side, the build quality of these earphones is impressive. They are terminated by a gold-plated, right-angled 3.5mm jack, and the 1.1m double-braided cable is nothing short of amazing. There are no microphonics (cable noise) at all and if you stick them in your pocket loose they come out, miraculously, tangle-free. Better still, the cable is removable and replaceable, which, given that the cable is the most common point of failure for earphones, is a major plus point.
ACS Evoke review: Sound quality
The ACS Evoke have a single Balanced Armature (BA) driver and use the company’s own IRIS (Intelligent Resonance In Silicon) technology. This allows a greater amount of air movement in the earphones’ housing with the aim to mimic the "warm, lush and open sound that valve amplifiers provide".
Coming from a professional environment, a musician would expect a forward sound, with an emphasis in the mids. This is exactly where the Evoke’s shine. Listening to soft vocal songs, such as Boa Sorte by Vanessa da Mata, I found the song blissfully and accurately reproduced.
With songs of this nature the Evoke delivers an enjoyable listening experience; the soundstage is particularly impressive with a good level of layering, width and depth to the sound. Imaging is accurate, and tonality is exactly what you’d expect from an earphone that has been reverse engineered from a pro-level product.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the Evoke’s upper treble frequencies, which are sibilant and ear-piercingly annoying. I found myself turning down the volume on certain songs, such as Nate Dogg - Good Life. Despite good extension in the highs the sibilance lets the earphone down and ruins the listening experience.
Its bass response is also off the mark. It lacks both sub-bass rumble and any kind of mid-bass slam. Both frequencies are under-emphasised and I even found the mid-bass to lack control and tightness, something I’d normally expect to hear in an earphone of this type. Songs like Trey Songz - About You and Jeremih - Impatient sound lifeless as a result.
ACS Evoke review: Verdict
The earphones have a lot of competition at this price and unfortunately, there’s no reason why you’d buy the ACS Evoke over the Westone W20, Shure SE425 or DUNU DN-2000J, all of which provide a better personal listening experience.
Granted the mid-range is exquisite, but with its lack of bass, sibilant highs and £149 price tag, it’s hard to see how the 2017 Evoke offer anything compelling or exciting over rival products.