AUDIOFLY AF180 PREMIUM IN-EAR MONITORS - AudioTechnology
When custom in-ears aren’t in your budget, try this Aussie-designed one-size-fits-all IEMS with all the balanced armature drivers you can handle.
Review: Preshan John
Custom-moulded IEMs are the bee’s knees, but let’s face it, forking out a couple of grand for a pair isn’t always feasible, what with the rest of the gear you have to have. Audiofly is a Perth-based IEM designer that specialises in the ‘one size fits all’ approach to musician-focused in-ear monitoring. We stuffed the premium AF180 IEMs into our ears; one model below the top of Audiofly’s range.
The AF180 is a pro-looking piece of kit. Its fabric-lined wallet is well-apppointed with a handy elastic mesh pocket, but I’m not certain the luxurious feel justifies the overly generous size. Along with the nine different ear tips, the case also contains an aeroplane adapter, 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter, and a cleaning tool.
The AF180 crams four balanced armature drivers into the tiny housing. Balanced armature drivers are more expensive than dynamic drivers — the price you pay for more responsive detail — but their weakness is lower output. On paper, multiplying the number of these little drivers promises solid bass response — provided you get a good seal. Audiofly claims a frequency response of 15Hz-25kHz, though there is less low end present than other top-shelf generic IEMs that have come through the office.
Listening to music on the AF180s is a detailed experience. The AF180 is like the IEM equivalent of a nice pair of reference open-back headphones. I love my AKG K702 headphones for their ability to display a dense mix in wide and precise stereo. The AF180 follows suit in an IEM kind of way. The soundstage is broad and enveloping — never congested or claustrophobic like budget IEMs can be — yet it’s not so clinical that it’s boring to listen to.
Treble frequencies have a zesty sparkle to them that’s never fatiguing. The extreme highs above 10kHz are very polite. Mids are slightly under-represented lending a mildly scooped character to the overall tone. While bass frequencies aren’t overt, there’s plenty of accuracy in low-end presentation. Big EDM bass drops extend into sub-marine depths with so much precision you could follow it with your finger.
Each earpiece can be detached from the cable with a little twist. The Audioflex SL twisted cable itself is a lengthy 1.8m; great for average listening, but a little long for performance considering the short distance from the back of your neck to an IEM receiver at your waist. Nevertheless, you’d have a hard time getting it in a hopeless tangle thanks to its hard-wearing Cordura fibre-reinforced design — especially beneficial when you’re on stage.
Spend time getting the right fit because it has a huge bearing on how much low end you hear. Nine ear tips are included with the AF180 — three floppy rubber ones, three ‘Christmas tree’ rubber jobbies, and three Comply foamies. Earplug material is another factor to consider; each does something slightly different to the lows and I found the squishy foam Comply tips provided the warmest response, possibly absorbing more high end in your ear canal. The cone-style tips feel light on in the lows, though they isolate very naturally. The standard rubber tips were a good in-between option. With three options in each material you’re bound to find a perfect match.
My only gripe is that the AF180’s ear loop, which hooks around the top of your ear, is a fixed piece of rubber. That means if the back of your ear is larger or smaller than the loop’s pre-formed curve, bad luck. This is the most unfortunate part of the AF 180’s ‘one size fits most’ design; memory wire would be a lot better, although most folks shouldn’t have trouble with it.
With a good fit and the right ear tips, the AF180s attenuate sound very well. Whatever you go with, don’t expect dead silence. The goal is to provide enough isolation that you don’t need the earphones pumping dangerous levels of SPL into your ears to overcome ambient sound. I gave a set to a drummer who said he found himself taking less level than usual thanks to its isolation.
$649 might look steep but it’s nothing on the asking price for a decent set of customs. If you’re in the limbo of wanting to level up the quality of your stage monitoring without a trip to the audiologist to get your moulds taken, the Audiofly AF180s will rival most other generic IEMs in this price bracket. Worth a serious look and listen.