Engineering didn’t seem to stop the AF180 from performing well, with over-engineered pop, R&B, and hip-hop tracks — such as Sia’s “Chandelier,” Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” and Pharrell’s “Happy” — all heard with obvious separation and distinction between the elements of the songs.
The “less is more” approach to engineering appears to help in songs like “Happy,” with only a few elements for the AF180 to highlight, making it sound better, while Sia’s “Chandelier” did the opposite, still separate but beginning to blur the line as sounds began to mesh and gel together.
Already, though, we’re beginning to get the feeling that these were made for well engineered and recorded music, not just tracks that have been pushed to the edge, which suggests acoustic music will be heavily appreciated here.
With that in mind, we moved to jazz where the balance continued, with just enough bass at the bottom end in Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” and the Rudy Van Gelder edition of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train.” In both of these, the recreation was warm, evoking the feeling you get when listening to vinyl, with enough depth to lose yourself in, while all of the instruments remained detailed and balanced across the board.
Classical was much the same, with Nigel Kennedy’s “Gymnopedie” showing the difference between a violin taking the lead over a relatively quiet orchestra, and each bow sounding specific as he played Satie’s piece.
Likewise, the piano work of Freddy Kempf playing Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu” was balanced as his fingers danced over the keys, with relatively equal amounts of highs, mids, and lows, neither going over a limit and blowing our own ears out.
Overall, we’re very happy with what we’re listening to in these earphones, and the better quality the recording, the more the Audiofly AF180 in-ears shine.
Another point needs to be acknowledged, and it goes beyond that excellence in balance: volume.
This is a nod to volume in a good way, and to be frank, not just a good way but the best way possible, because there is just so much volume in these earphones.
We have never heard earphones with this much volume before, and we were able to keep the volume settings at under half of where it normally is on our phones and computers being used to test the headset out.
On Android and iOS, this meant a quarter of the volume on offer was more than comfortable for us, while Windows Phone had us set to a little under a third the volume settings, with 8/30 to 10/30 being the comfy levels for us.
That is a dramatic difference from the over-half setting that we need on every other earphone tested here, and really calls to attention the quality and volume on offer. Essentially, if you’ve destroyed your hearing and need a lot of room to move, these IEMs will offer it, while letting those of you more concerned with your hearing to reduce the amount of volume and save your hearing one day at a time.
But while the sound is excellent and the volume is so loud that it won’t collapse your ear drums out of stress, there are a few issues with the AF180, and like its AF78 cousin, they all have to do with the cable.
For starters, there’s no microphone equipped on the included cable. None. At all. You’d think in a time where almost everyone is listening to music through their mobile phone, this would just be an automatic inclusion, but apparently, that’s not the case for Audiofly, which makes this an optional extra, called the CT cable.
Thankfully, the cables detach at the earphone section, so you can easily replace this if you get it, but given the $550 price of the AF180s, we expect just a little more room to move here, at least so we don’t have to take out our phone every time we get a phone call.
The cable also feels flimsy, at least for the lengths that go to each ear. Oh sure, the plastic is braided and built as what Audiofly calls its “Audioflex SL” cable, which is a lightweight cable that can bend around the ears, which helps to make the fit of the AF180 IEMs even better, but half the time it just feels like one tug too hard and they’ll snap.
We’re sure there’s more resistance than that, but it doesn’t feel as strong as it could, especially not in comparison to the rest of the cable, which is protected with Cordura and feels much more resilient.
You also won’t find a tangle proof design with this cable, either, which we found getting the headphones out of our pocket. Thankfully, Audiofly includes a very large and snazzy earphone case, but because of its size, we found ourselves pushing the earphones into either our pocket or backpack zippered compartment, which leads to easy tangles.
There are some solutions to this, with flat cable often cited as one of the ways around this annoying problem while fabric coats suggested as another way. Interestingly, the Cordura coating seems to help for Audiofly, but the problematic tangles aren’t coming from the main cable, but rather those ultra-light braided cords going to the earphones.
Without a doubt, the Audiofly AF180 in-ear monitors are one of the best pairs of earphones we’ve heard, and we’re honestly sad to see them go.
Cord issues not withstanding, these are an excellent pair for anyone who really loves their sound, and they’re also showcasing Australian design and engineering to the world. Bonus!
The question of value is an interesting one, however, and one you’ll have to debate with the controller of your finances.
We had this debate with a member of our family recently, who suggested that a pair of Fostex over-ear headphones he owned produced a balanced sound for a lot less, retailing for $299, which is over $200 less than the AF180 IEMs.
There is a massive difference between these devices, though, and fashion is an obvious one, since you’d be ignored in public wearing the relatively inconspicuous Audiofly in-ear monitors compared to being referred to as a knob for taking studio headphones out on the street with the Fostex (and rightfully so).
Engineering is also another factor, and however balanced the Fostex cans are, the difference of one driver compared to four just doesn’t compute, nor does it let another headphone compete in the same way.
Ultimately, if you love quality sound, the $550 price tag doesn’t seem overly excessive, especially when you realise just how loud these in-ear monitors actually are, surpassing anything we’ve heard prior. Recommended.