Ultra-Blue-Connectivity – Aiwa ARC-1 Bluetooth Headphones Review
Aiwa Arc-1 is one unique headphone, where the Bluetooth connection actually sounds better than wired, thanks to the heavy optimisations the guys from Aiwa did to them. ARC-1 is also priced quite pocket-friendly, at 180 USD, making them an interesting headphone to look at if you’re on a budget, and if you really hate cables, and want a wireless headphone experience.
Aiwa has been doing heavy efforts to provide a dynamic and helpful community interaction, and they launched ARC-1 as a beta program, requesting help from more experienced people, to refine their products, and to offer a better overall experience for their customers. I mention at the beginning of my review how trustable, and how quickly a company responds to mails, and I will keep doing this, since it helps you know whom you can purchase from, and also whom to expect a high-quality after sales and warranty service from. This being said, most companies I know are quite friendly and helpful, like iBasso, FiiO, Aiwa, Shanling, Meze, Campfire, Feliks, iFi, CleartTune CTM, Dita, Beyerdynamic, Opus and HIFIMAN. There are also outstanding shops out there, like Linsoul (also named DD-Shop), Xtenik, HIFI Expert, and Music Teck. AIWA are actually quite implied in helping their customers and improving their products, and I appreciate companies who take that extra step in providing excellent customer satisfaction.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with AIWA, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by AIWA or anyone else. I’d like to thank AIWA for providing the sample for this review. The sample was provided along with AIWA’s request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with AIWA Arc-1. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in AIWA Arc-1 find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
We can focus on what an interesting approach to package AIWA has taken. I asked them why they didn’t include a more graphic and satisfying package, and Aiwa told me kindly that it is the contents that matter, and that they found that offering a simpler cardboard package meant that they could invest more in the product itself, and ultimately offer a better overall experience, as well as a better price to their customers. I couldn’t agree more, and I think that their Arc-1 headphones come packaged quite nicely.
There isn’t much glamour with the package, and as you can see it is mostly cardboard, but the contents are quite golden and premium. Taking into account that we’re talking about a very affordable headphone, by most standards, Arc-1 comes with plenty, including a very solid and high-quality carrying solution, as well as extra USB and signal cables.
I would have liked to have seen extra pads, or more cable options, but really, for 170 USD, the guys at Aiwa have done a great job with offering enough with Arc-1 to make them worthy of their price tag.
What to look in when purchasing a pair of Midrange Headphones
Aiwa ARC-1 are quite well built, they seem to have a metallic skeleton, with leather or pleather earpads, and a leather or pleather cover on the headband. They have been worked with a good amount of attention to details, and they seem to be quite well made in general, with the metallic surface being quite nice to the touch.
Arc-1 isn’t quite that heavy, so you can wear them for many hours in a row, but the headband adjusting mechanism is a bit stiff. On one hand, this is quite excellent, as you won’t find them getting loose while you’re wearing them, but it may be a hassle to some.
The earpads are very comfortable and soft to the touch, making Arc-1 one of the more comfortable headphones I tested. They are a bit tight, with a good amount of clamping force, but this is an advantage since they are made to be portable, and since they rely on bluetooth for their main connection.
They have a bluetooth receiver inside, and a microphone, so you can also take calls while wearing them, if you have them connected to a smartphone. They also have a battery indicator, but that is a little userless, since it is on the cup and you need to take them off to figure how much battery they have. In general, a little software on your smartphone, to tell you how much battery they have, may be more useful. The AIWA braiding on the cup is quite lovely, and it actually makes me realise that the branding is spelt “aiwa” instead of “AIWA”
The USB connector is a microUSB connector, rather than a Type-C.
The cups are colored red on the inside, and while this won’t be visible while wearing them, it gives them a bit more style while being worn.
Arc-1 is also quoted to have a 20 Hours battery life, which is crazy good for a portable headphone, and I think is also fair if you’re giving them a more moderate usage, while 14-16 hours may be closer to reality if you’re using them at louder volumes, and a bit less if you’re using them with an APT-X connection.
The cups will work better for smaller ears, since the cups aren’t quite that large, so you should keep this in mind if you’re planning on getting them. The way they go around this, is by having soft and comfortable cups, but please take into account that the cups may get a touch warm or hot during summer, but then again, most headphones will.
There is one trick I really need to mention here, as well as in the Sound Quality area, that ARC-1 has a really specific Bluetooth, they offer a “24-Bit” DSP processing, and I have to agree with this, they have DSP, alright. They have a lot of DSP going on, and while some may prefer a more traditional approach to sound, when you make a Bluetooth headphone, you need to employ some kind of processing to bypass the intrinsic deficiencies of Bluetooth, which tends to cut on details for a lot of music, and which is regarded to sounding considerably worse compared to a wired connection. Arc-1 is one of those headphones that sounds better with Bluetooth than wired.
Given their low weight, good battery life, excellent build quality, and cool aesthetics, Arc-1 surely reaches a golden standard for build quality, aesthetics and comfort.
As I mentioned previously, Arc-1 sounds considerably better with Bluetooth than they do with a wired connection. This is actually quite interesting, because most of times, Bluetooth tends to sound considerably worse. Especially with metal and electronic music, where the music is quite compressed dynamically, and where there is a lot of action going on, Bluetooth compression algorithms, including APT-X, will cut down on background instruments.
With ARC-1, there is a lot of DSP going on, and they are clearly better optimized for a Bluetooth connection, as without it, they sound quite a bit odd, they need EQ, and they aren’t quite as detailed.
Given those things, I think it is best if I describe their sound in their intended usage scenario, which is Bluetooth. It is possible to get the same sonic performance wired, but they need a lot of EQ, with variable Q values, and I haven’t been able to get quite the same results with Hiby music, a more complex EQ app being necessary to get exactly the same results as AIWA managed to get with their 24 Bit DSP implementation.
Going forward, the sound quality, on Bluetooth, is quite amazing. They have a generally warm tuning or signature, with a smooth top end, a very natural midrange, a clear, dynamic and punchy sound, and even shockingly so, since they rely on their own inner battery to deliver it.
The bass is deep and full-sounding, lush, and it colors the midrange a tiny bit, resulting in a lush and thick-ish lower midrange as well. This works fairly well with male vocals, and deeper music. The bass impact is very good, and the extension is also quite impressive, especially for the price point. The bass is quick, being able to keep up with faster music, like metal or rock, but it is natural in speed at an overall level, meaning it is made to be paired with pop, jazz, and more natural paced music.
The midrange is natural, smooth, slightly recessed, especially compared to the bass, lush, thickish, clear and dynamic. Guitar riffs are presented with a good amount of juice, Arc-1 has a really good amount of detail, and the soundstage is large, but using them on Bluetooth still erases some of the detail that you’d normally have on the wired connection. This being said, in the wired connection, the midrange is considerably more detailed, but also more aggressive and forward. It looks like one of the big things that the DSP acts upon is the bass, which is pulled forward, and the midrange is made to be much more natural and smoother. I think that in this state, they are one of the most natural 170 USD headphones for their midrange. The smoothness also means that old and very old music will sound amazing with them, some 60’s and 70’s albums are just sweet to listen to with Arc-1, but so is more recent pop, like Maroon5, and Justin Timberlake. With metal, you’re best stopping at Metallica, as bands like Cannibal Corpse and Rings Of Saturn require a slightly more aggressive sound, rather than a smooth and natural one. The speed of the midrange is slow to natural with the Bluetooth connection, and I think that aiwa were incredibly smart for going for this tuning, it masks the Bluetooth deficiencies extremely well, and this, connected with their very enjoyable and fun tuning, results in a very good sound wireless.
The treble is on the smooth side, there is not much bite, but the extension is fairly good until 9-10kHz, after which it slowly rolls off and settles down. This works very well for smoother and more natural music, as well as for commercial music, but it doesn’t complement Metal or Death metal well, resulting in a natural overall tuning for the entire headphone. The treble detail is good, but it really isn’t the focus of Arc-1, especially with the smooth texture it features.
The soundstage of ARC-1 is really good with the wireless connection, and so are the dynamics, and overall punchiness of their sound, and I am both impressed and consider them easy to recommend at this price point, if you’re looking for a smooth, easy to listen to, clear, dynamic and warm / thick / lush and slightly bassy headphone.
With their price point, Bluetooth performance, and good build quality in mind, Arc-1 is clearly made to be portable.
They are good while portable, not just because they are a good bluetooth headphone, but because they are made to work well like this. They have a long battery life, they have a clear sound, a sound that is fairly enjoyable with commercial music, they isolate well from the outside noise, and they leak very little.
Furthermore, going wireless means that you’re not going to be bothered by the wires, so you will have the freedom to move, and the slightly tight fit of ARC-1 also means that they won’t fall off your ears while walking / running. You could even dance with ARC-1, but they aren’t quite as ready for that as Brainwavz HM100.
The battery life is quite excellent, and so is the overall build quality, they don’t get too hot during summer, not too cold during the winter, they have a good reliability for their connection, or at least good enough to walk and use them while doing normal activities.
Another thing that makes them portable and will come in really handy, is the fact that you can carry them easily with the included carrying case. They don’t fold in a much smaller shape, but this didn’t stop the guys from aiwa from designing a really nifty carrying solution, with rounded corners, easy to slide in and out of your backpack.
Overall ARC-1 is really portable, and an excellent headphone for portability and portable usage.
For aiwa ARC-1, I can’t do a proper pairing chapter, since they don’t require a very capable source, just a source capable of Bluetooth APT-X, or APT-X Low latency. On this note, this means that anything from a FiiO M7, all the way to a smartphone can act as a transport, this means that the DAC and AMP chip are inside the headphones. Since their sound is a bit odd in wired mode, if you don’t plan on using them wirelessly, you can consider other options for wired, but they also compete well with other wireless headphones. I have picked Meze 99 Classics with their Silver Cables, Brainwavz HM100 and HIFIMAN Sundara as the main enemies for ARC-1. It would have been complicated to find headphones below their price point where the comparison would be interesting, so I decided to go with more expensive options for comparing ARC-1 to.
Aiwa ARC-1 vs Brainwavz HM100 – I haven’t fully reviewed HM100 quite yet, but I posted a little Unboxing and First Impressions Video about them on my new Youtube Channel. To start with the price, HM100 is priced at 200 USD, is rather close to the price of ARC-1. The differences in packages are quite large, as HM100 comes with two cables, one short and portable, and one long and thick. HM100 also comes with an extra pair of pads, although they aren’t exactly replacement pads, but rather velour pads for a different sonic tuning and comfort. HM100’s package is larger, and considerably so, making them a tad less portable, compared to AIWA ARC-1. HM100 doesn’t have any Bluetooth built-in, but rather, they are a classic style headphone, that relies on a quality source to sound good. ARC-1 can sound good from the least interesting smartphone, as long as it has APT-X Bluetooth. HM100 feels more natural in its build, is larger, a tad heavier, and features actual wood in their cups, while ARC-1 feels a bit more better built, with a full metallic build. Both look amazing, and both are great for portability. If you check my video, HM100 works really well for headbanging, as well as moving around, while ARC-1 is probably best used just for walking and normal activities, and not fully recommended for headbanging. As far as the sound goes, they have similar levels of detail and clarity, but HM100 is a bit more boomy, has a less thick sound, and is more sparkly in the treble, which ultimately makes them more revealing and a touch more analytical, and has a more recessed midrange, which leads to a larger soundstage, and better instrument separation. ARC-1 holds its ground with good strength, featuring a more natural, more thick, more intimate sound, but with a more smooth midrange, more smooth treble, less treble sparkle, making it easier on the music, and easier to listen to if you like a lot of poorly recorded music, or if you want a smoother, thicker and warmer experience. Overall, if you want a bluetooth headphone, ARC-1 is clearly the choice, especially if you prefer a clear, thick, dynamic, warm, bassy, sound that is smooth and easy to listen to, while if you want a wired headphone, with a large soundstage, clear sound, deeper bass, and more impact, sparklier treble, with more detail in the treble, then HM100 makes the more compelling choice.
Aiwa ARC-1 vs HIFIMAN Sundara – HIFIMAN Sundara is quite a bit more expensive than ARC-1, being priced at 500 USD normally, and being on sale for 350 USD, but they still make an interesting comparison. Sundara is a very different headphone through and through, being open-back, Planar, and hard-to-drive, requiring a very capable source to squeeze the best sound out of them, and being much less portable than ARC-1. On the other hand, ARC-1 is a very portable headphone, with Bluetooth, being easy to drive, and being optimized for portability. The comfort is considerably better on Sundara, but this isn’t really unexpected, given their considerably larger size. ARC-1 comes with a carrying case, while Sundara does not. The hard-to-drive factor should really be taken into account because Sundara is really really hard-to-drive, something like xDuoo XD-10 Poke being really relevant to them, and being at least what I’d consider for them, while ARC-1 requires almost nothing, any source that can send APT-X signal. On the sonics, though, there is no question about which is the winner. Sundara costs more than double the price of ARC-1, and this is reflected in the sound, although, I should note that detail levels aren’t always everything, as ARC-1 is a really warm, smooth and bassy headphone, made to be enjoyable and easy to listen to, while Sundara is more open, more natural, has more detail, is more clear, and has a much more revealing sound, but has less bass quantity and less thickness to the overall sound, Sundara is more hard on a bad recording, and will appreciate a good recording more, Sundara will reveal far more sonic information than ARC-1 can, and Sundara doesn’t rely on a Bluetooth connection, which tends to cut down on background instruments. Overall, Sundara also feels more midrange forward, presenting voices more natural, and more forward than ARC-1, but at the end of the day, if you’re looking for an easy-to-listen-to headphone, that is warm, bassy, thick, smooth, and natural, simply fun and enjoyable, dynamic and portable, ARC-1 makes a statement on how good ultra-portable Wireless headphones have gotten, while if you’re looking for something more state-of-the-art, a planar headphone, that is open-back, made to be listened for detail, clarity and to be more natural, Sundara is clearly the better choice, but don’t forget to get a proper source for them, as they need one.
Aiwa ARC-1 vs Meze 99 Classics (Silver Cable) – It would be very complicated to not notice the price difference here, as 99 Classics are already 300 USD, and to also include the silver cable, you need to spend 200 USD more, increasing the total cost of the package to 500 USD. This means that it should be a really fun comparison between Meze 99 Classics and their silver cable, against the new Adam Audio Studio Pro SP-5, which I will be reviewing in the new future. Compared to ARC-1, the Meze is made of wood, where ARC-1 is made mostly of metal. There are other differences as well, in the fit, where Meze 99 Classics is looser on the head, while ARC-1 tends to be tighter. Meze 99 Classics feels a touch more premium to the touch, but for the bump in price, it is only natural they will. The cups are larger on 99C, and they should accommodate larger heads and larger ears more easily. Other things you should be taking into account, are that ARC-1 basically works well only with Bluetooth, while with 99C, you are getting excellent results with a wired connection, so you may also require a stronger source for 99C. On an overall level, 99C, with their silver cable, are more revealing, more clear, and more impactful / dynamic, but they also cost considerably more. They tend to present the music with similar thickness and depth, and if you don’t have the Silver cable, you can always EQ them to sound much better. On an overall level, ARC-1 feels like a very good budget option, feels like a really awesome headphone, if you plan on using them wireless, and ARC-1 feels like a good option for the price, while 99C feels like an interesting upgrade, if you like the wooden cups, if you like a thick sound, or if you plan on getting the upgraded cables, to make them more balanced, or if you plan on EQ’ing them to sound more balanced and more natural.
Value and Conclusion
Aiwa ARC-1 has been a really interesting headphone to look into, and a number of friends have told me that they bought AIWA’s EXOS-9 speaker, and they are quite satisfied with it, regarding it as being a good speaker, so I will consider looking into it as well in the near future.
Starting with the build quality, AIWA ARC-1 is built fairly well, it is a headphone with a lot of metal in their skeleton, and a good overall shape and design. They are made to be portable, so they aren’t too large nor too heavy, and they are a tad tight on the head, but this is also part of their intended design.
The cups are large enough for most small and medium-sized ears, but they are a touch small for large ears, although the pads being on the softer side, they can accommodate a larger number of users.
The sound works best through their Bluetooth Connection, and it is a smooth, warm, thick, natural, and easy kind of sound that you can enjoy for days without fatigue, and it is a sound that won’t make you want to switch to something else quickly, although, that awesome sound is there only with Bluetooth, since it relies heavily on the 24-bit DSP employed by AIWA.
Being priced at 170USD at this moment, AIWA ARC-1 feels like an awesome headphone to look into, especially if you want a smooth, classy, clear, fun, fatigue-free experience, if you like wireless, and especially if you’re looking for a forgiving sound that will let you enjoy older recordings. If you’re after a nice Bluetooth APT-X headphone, then you should totally check out AIWA ARC-1, especially with AIWA’s stellar support and warranty.
Playlist used for this review
While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.
Bats – Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy – Frances
Incubus – Summer Romance
Electric Six – Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult – High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir – Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin – I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch – The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom – Song Pong
Attack Attack – Kissed A Girl
Doctor P – Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone – Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie – Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate – Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD – Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp – Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy – Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne – I Don’t Wanna Stop
Crow’sclaw – Loudness War
Eminem – Rap God
Stromae – Humain À L’eau
Sonata Arctica – My Selene
Justin Timberlake – Sexy Back
Metallica – Fuel
Veil Of Maya – Unbreakable
Masa Works – Golden Japang
REOL – Luvoratorrrrry
Korn – Word Up!
Papa Roach – … To be Loved
Fever The Ghost – Source
Fall Out Boy – Immortals
Green Day – Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence – London Bridge
A static Lullaby – Toxic
Royal Republic – Addictive
Astronautalis – The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans – My Love
Skillet – What I Believe
Man With A Mission – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei – Mirror
Mojo Juju – Must Be Desire
Falling Up – Falling In Love
Manafest – Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela – Paris
Zomboy – Lights Out
Muse – Resistance
T.A.T.U & Rammstein – Mosaku
Grey Daze – Anything, Anything
Katy Perry – Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 – Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy – Killer Instinct
Pendulum – Propane Nightmares