LAS VEGAS — Audiofly has been busy since we last visited the company at CES two years ago. This year, Audiofly is finally ready to ship its 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.
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.
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.
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.
LAS VEGAS, CES 2012 – Amazing to think Sony has never offered an armature-driven earphone before; now that they are, they’re diving in huge time with eleven models. Aussie new kid on the block Audiofly just have one in their new lineup, but it’s a doozy, and it sounded absolutely stunning; we fully expect these to be a huge hit.
Let’s get two big facts out the way right now: Yes, these Scosche IEM856m canalphones ($250) look a little like several of the canalphones in Monster’s lineup (eg. the Beats Tour), mostly because of the flat, ribbon-like cable; no, they’re not anything like any of the Monster earphones they somewhat resemble. In fact, one big detail makes them very different from almost any other IEM on the market.
Almost all mic-equipped canalphones that can be had for about $100 use moving-coil drivers to produce sound, as is the case with all the previous IEMs in this review series. But the Ultimate Ears 600vi ($120) are different — this set employs a single tiny armature in each ear. Armatures generally allow for a more neutral sound with better definition than their moving-coil brethren, and that’s exactly the case with the 600vi. In fact, this set uses pretty much the same excellent drivers as in the now-discontinued, $180 SuperFi 5vi we reviewed early last year.
And yes, apart from the V-Moda Vibrato, the 600vi is $20 more than the other earphones in this review series — but we think the extra Jackson is worth it.
Maybe you’re not going to buy a pair of earphones based on the way they look; maybe you’d rather spend your moolah on a pair that came with exquisite performance. What if you could have both? In spades? Here you go: With their deep, bone-tingling bass and blue-blood looks and manners, the Klipsch Image S4i earphones ($100) is the Prince…of Spades.
Let me begin this review by saying, while I’ve found some love for certain models, I don’t really care for most canalphones: They’re uncomfortable, and while I love the idea of plugging a foreign object into my ear and having that object deliver magical sounds just like an owl delivers a Howler, I usually wind up being disappointed with either the sound or the fit. So, with that in mind, it was time to try the Etymotic mc3 ($100).
This set, with a three-button remote on the cable and four sets of super-sealing, deep-seating eartips (two flanged, two foam), was now tasked with being tested by me. May the Force, that I’ll probably have to use to shove them into my ears, be with them.
I always feel like I should be wearing diamond-studded sunglasses, walking around in a silk bathrobe or drinking Cristal from actual Bohemian crystal whenever I sink a pair of V-Moda’s babies into my ears. This doesn’t have anything neccessarily to do with how they sound, but rather because V-Moda has a knack for creating earphones with exotic looks and a luxurious feel to them that also appeal to the other senses. And so it goes with the V-Moda Vibrato Remote earphones ($130).
So you’ve got your new iPhone 4S, and now you want to talk to Siri (and maybe friends) and enjoy some tuneage. Step one: Donate those pathetic white buds that came with your iPhone to your favorite charity, if they’ll take ’em. Step two: Get yourself a snazzy pair of microphone-equipped canalphones — earphones that fit snugly in your ear. Why? Because a good set of canalphones are the best accessory ever made for an iPhone; they’ll create a seal that will block out ambient noise while enhancing sound coming from the earphones, especially bass — which means better conversations with friends (or Siri), and better music.
Around $100 seems to be the point at which there’s a big jump in quality; also, most in that range are now equipped with inline volume controls (in addition to the play/pause and track-skip controls like the ones on Apple’s stock buds).
We’ve assembled an Apple Store’s worth of canalphones at that level, and we’ll be reviewing them over the next several days. Up first is Sennheiser’s MM 70 iP earphones ($100).
Boy, those blue-shirted Apple employees must be going nuts just trying to keep up with all the different in-ear headphones out there. Still, can’t hurt to have a few more at the party — especially if they’re from a manufactrer with a rep for awesome bang-for-buck.
The ATH-BT03 (pictured above) is going to grab all the attention. It’s an $80 wireless Bluetooth headset that does the whole phone and music thing and looks wicked small.
Audio Technica’s other anouncement yesterday, the less flashy ATH-CK400i (jeez, their marketers must have attended the same fun product-naming class the marketing peeps at Sony did) is simply an in-ear set with an inline controls and a mic — but it’s priced at a measly $60.
It’s nice to know that when I get caught in the rain with my headphones on, I don’t have to anxiously hide them if I’m wearing the Monster iSport Immersion In-Ear Headphones ($180). Did your kid spill his Kool-Aid on them? They’re machine washable!
The JayBird Freedom JF3 ($99) Bluetooth wireless headphones are a successful attempt to build upon a paramount technological concept: take something good and make it great — or in this case, take a good pair of IEM headphones and ditch the cord. It’s like a musical bris without the rabbi — or the baby.
Take a gander at the flock of reader comments under any canalphone review and one thing should become quickly apparent: canalphones are kinda flimsy.
The few chances we’ve been given to play with V-Moda’s creations have given us the solid impression that the company is paying much closer attention to the survivability of its canalphones; and that maybe they’re paying more attention to that factor than any other outfit. In fact, the three-button, microphone-equipped V-Moda Remix Remote ($80) seems like it should be the most bombproof canalphone in its range — and it hasn’t proved us wrong yet.
Before encountering Altec Lansing’s women-specific Bliss Platinum earphones ($70), I had never considered the idea that my ears might be too feminine and precious to handle having a larger earpiece forcibly shoved into their delicate canals. Now I know that, like many things, most earpieces are made for men and we poor, sweet ladies must go about life making do with too-big things. Altec Lansing hopes to solve that issue by giving ultra-precious lady ears a much-needed rest from all the bigness with the Bliss Platinum.
Earlier this year, Etymotic began a new program that allows purchasers of pretty much any of their products — earphones, Bluetooth headsets, whatever — to own custom-molded eartips for an extra $100. Etymotic offered to let me try a set of these custom eartips (full disclosure: on their tab) with the hf2s I tested, and off we went.
Maybe it’s my (only somewhat) jaded inner journalist, but bubbly marketing language almost never rouses me. So naturally, I dismissed the phrases “rediscover your music” and “stunning mobile music fidelity,” printed on the box of Etymotic’s microphone-equipped hf2 earphones, as standard advertising blather.
After a few hours of listening to music through the hf2s I went back and read the box again, this time with wider eyes — because damned if for once some outfit’s marketing department hadn’t made a claim that was actually spot-on accurate. In fact, the thought crossing my mind as I gleefully ripped through my music collection, trying to see how many tracks would give me goosebumps, was that maybe those marketing peeps had even been too subtle about the hf2’s performance — that maybe the box should have just been plastered in wild neon stickers bearing candid phrases like “THESE ARE *&@#$ AWESOME!!” (and that’s why I wouldn’t last long in marketing).