LAS VEGAS — Audiofly has been busy since we last visited them at CES two years ago. This year they’re finally ready to ship their long-promised AF140, albeit with a radical redesign, and are introducing the quad-driver AF180. The Aussie crew also showed us the over-the-ear set of cans they’ve been working on.
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Audio-Technica has far, far too many models of in-ear earphones to count. I mean, literally — I tried counting them and gave up due to exhaustion and severe dehydration (I stopped at about 20, which makes me a wimp and means I should probably drink more water).
So why are they adding six more models (which the company is calling their “SonicFuel” series) to the mix? And why do they bear an uncanny resemblance to Monster’s iSport earphones, right down to the swiveling ports and massive flange? Whatever the answers to these questions might be, the new sets, at $50-$100, are in just about the right price-range for holiday gifts; and if the fit really is identical to what we experienced with the iSPorts, they’re probably really comfy.
There aren’t many in-ear monitors made of steel. Aluminum? Yes. Plastic? Wads. But steel-bodied IEMs — now that’s a rare find. There’s good reason for this: Though the material is solid, hard-wearing and, according to some, produces a cleaner sound, it’s heavy — which can make steel-housed IEMs often uncomfortable and annoyingly ill-fitting.
But forget all that. Scottish-based RHA have managed to make the stainless steel-bodied MA750i supremely comfortable and well-fitted, even under heavy action. In fact, RHA absolutely nailed it perfectly with these ‘phones in every single category that matters, with only two or three minor trade-offs.
The British Isles aren’t generally known for exporting headphones; mega boy bands and cycling superstars, yes, and perhaps Marmite. But headphones? All that’s changing though, with the impact RHA has made over the past year or so. The outfit has thus far produced a series of home run hits (or batted sixes, if you’re a cricket fan) with inexpensive headphones with sound way above their price.
If their past successes are anything to go by, these new ‘phones from RHA should sound amazing—because they’re the company’s most expensive yet.
It’s strange to think that, till now, as big a high-end audio player as Shure has had no answer to the extravagant, big-gun, flagship in-ear monitor models of its rivals — models like the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom, or the JH Audio JH16 Pro.
But now they do — big time. The new SE846 extends Shure’s highly regarded SE line well beyond the SE535, previously their top, most expensive IEM.
We bumped into neophyte Australian headphones-maker Audiofly in January, during a press-only event at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, and gave two models in the four-model lineup a whirl. Their mid-level AF45 set sounded great for $50; but the next one I tried — the top-of-the-line AF78 ($200) — left me slack-jawed with disbelief; its sound knocked my socks off, even amid the cacophony of noisy journalists.
What makes the AF78 unusual is its speaker arrangement.
Many mid-to-high-end canalphones are powered by tiny armature speakers, while moving coil drivers are found pretty much everywhere except the very high end. Armatures are generally better at producing clean highs and mids, but can lack deep bass; moving coils, on the other hand, are generally not as good at reproducing the clarity of an armature. But the AF78 is part of an elite group of models — like the Scosche IEM856m I reviewed last year — that employ both a moving coil speaker and a balanced armature in each ear, in an attempt to give the listener the best of both worlds. And it works spectacularly.
So far it’s been pretty consistent: Each time we review a set of Ultimate Ears ‘phones, the bar leaps up a few notches as our expectations regarding the outfit’s offerings rise. After reviewing the 350, 700, and especially the 600vi — which garnered a best-in-class verdict — we were expecting the TripleFi 10 ($400) to slay vampires and cure cancer.
Of Ultimate Ears’ more serious offerings — and by serious, I’m referring to UE’s armature-equipped models, which start at $100 — the TripleFi 10 is by far the most serious, with three drivers and a crossover in each ear, pro-level detachable leads, the thickest cable we’ve ever seen on an IEM, Comply foam tips (the best tips, period) and a sound signature that’ll have you madly running through your entire music catalog with a big, gleeful smile plastered all over your face.
What!? Neither Cult publication has ever reviewed Monster’s famed Turbine earphones, even though the IEMs have been hanging on Best Buy end caps for the last several years? Well, that’s an injustice we won’t let stand another day — after all, these are among the best recognized, and most iconic IEMs on the market.
The Turbine is the base model in Monster’s Turbine lineup; though with an MSRP of $180, “base model” seems like a relative term (the two higher models, the Pro Gold and the Pro Copper, are $300 and $400 respectively and are apparently better at reproducing a wider range than the plain-wrapper Turbines reviewed here).
There are those faithful who will never surrender their little white Apple earbuds. To them we say: Wear proudly. But for the rest, for those who don’t want to deal with sub-par sound, earbuds flopping around and having to hunt for foam covers, come with us — and we’ll show you a world of possibilities.
I distinctly recall a bit of maneuvering when Joe Daileda, head of sales and marketing at MEElectronics, contacted us about reviewing some of their earphones. Joe seemed particularly keen on getting a pair of their ceramic CC51Ps in our hands, but I wanted none of it — being the armature junkie I am, I was fixated on their armature-powered A151s ($75). Joe eventually ended up sending us three models (impressions of the unique, modular SP51 coming soon to a review near you).
Joe’s favoritism may have been entirely in my head — I get like that sometimes; but true enough, the CC51Ps turned out to be a stunning revelation. The A151s? Not so much.