Sick of your regular in-earphones and want something higher quality? Australian earphone maker might even have something to tempt your ears, with a pair of in-ear monitors that deliver volume in droves.
A new model by Australian sound company Audiofly, the AF180 in-ear monitors are actually a pair of in-ear monitors with not just one driver, but four, with a crossover connection sending the audio signal to one of the four drivers.
Cables connect to the base of the AF180 IEMs by way of Soundpatch technology, meaning they can be detached at the earphone level, making for easy replacement that won’t affect the overall value or construction of the important part, the earphone itself.
This cable, however, supports a lightweight constructed with a braided and twisted build, connecting to a thicker cable reinforced with Cordura, a nylon cotton blend that gives strength to the rest of the cord. A small transparent cable tightener is also included on the cable, helping you to lessen the amount of cable is loose as you’re walking around.,
Several tips are included in the box for the Audiofly AF180s — more than normal — with three sizes of silicon tips, tri-flange silicon tips, and Comply foam tips, with small (S), medium (M), and large (L) sizes of each.
A 3.5mm to 6.25mm headset jack converter is also included, as is an aeroplane converter (twin jack), and a cleaning tool.
A carrying case is also included in the box.
Go to most electronic stores and you’ll find something we’ve secretly been hoping for for years: the death of the traditional earbud.
Once a staple in consumer audio electronics, the earbud — that is, a small speaker developed to sit outside the ear-canal and bombard the ear with sound — is going away, replaced by inexpensive versions of the canalphone, which many are now referring to as in-earphones.
These new earphones aren’t quite as high-end as their IEM cousins, taking some of that design and technology and throwing it into something small, fashionable, and not overly expensive, which the in-ear monitor generally can’t match on all of these fronts.
Where the IEM surpasses its in-earphone family member, however, is quality, and if you’ve already tried out the in-earphone but now want something stronger and better, it might be time to give the in-ear monitor a go.
There are quite a few of these out in the market, with established players such as Shure, Etymotic, and Ultimate Ears already taking up popular spaces in the IEM world, but now we’re seeing an Aussie brand provide an alternative, as Audiofly releases its AF180s to people everywhere.
For those who haven’t heard of the brand, it’s a brand hailing from Western Australia, launching in 2011 by musicians who wanted to make better quality earphones made for people who love music as much as the team did.
We checked out a pair of earphones last year from the brand and outside of a cable issue, you could hear the love affair for music in the design, which produced balanced sound across the board, and is still one of our favourite go-to pairs of earphones to date.
This year, though, the AF78s are old hat and yesterday’s news, as Audiofly moves beyond the one driver build of the AF78 and moves to incorporate four drivers in its AF180s, a pair of in-ear monitors for people who want amazeballs quality in a compact size.
As the AF180s aren’t your typical in-earphones but rather in-ear monitors, they tend to go in a specific way, that is the bottom of the earphone presses against the bottom of your ear opening, resting on the ridge above your fleshy lobe.
The actual tip for the earphone goes inside your canal, and thanks to the variety of tips on offer, there’s no shortage of ways to customise this level of comfort, but otherwise, the detachable cable winds up the inside of your ear and over to behind the ear, forcing the cable out the back.
Thanks to this one way of wearing the earphones, Audiofly’s AF180 are very comfortable, with the tips resting comfortably inside the canal and the rest of the earpiece sitting well in the fleshy extrusions from your head. They’re also pretty hard to notice, and won’t draw any attention to you, so if you’re not a fan of all the extra looks a pair of Beats delivers, these are a good choice.
Moving on from the look, there’s the sound, so let’s plug them in and see how well they go.
Seeing as musicians created the AF180, we figured we’d start with one of the more popular styles of music for musicians in this country, giving rock a good go, and beginning with Muse, The Rolling Stones, and Closure In Moscow.
Starting with heavier music, Muse’s “Supremacy” began life with the AF180 for us, with the pounding bass drum setting things off with a bang, and some very balanced lows and mids, until lead singer Matthew Bellamy’s highs creeped into the song, distinct over the rest of the track.
That’s a good place to start, and it continued in the Stones classic “Gimme Shelter” where there was obvious separation between the light percussion, the chorus behind everything, a light bass guitar, and the constant guitar work by Keith Richards at the front, with Jagger’s voice coming in at the top of the verse.
Australian rock also features on our headphone test, and Closure In Moscow’s “A Night at the Spleen” seems to be a good combination of instruments and engineering for a modern take on rock, letting us hear the vocals over the top of multiple layers of guitars, percussion, drums, and a base line.
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.