Review: Audiofly AF78

Audiofly is a cool new brand with a retro look. Its website is filled with pix of recent-vintage tattooed hipsters, but its IEMs have molded-plastic perf grilles reminiscent of the 1960s portable radios I grew up with. According to the website, Audiofly was started by people who are passionate about music (although perhaps not so passionate about finding something unique to say about themselves).

Even though the $209 AF78 is Audiofly’s top-of-the-line model, it’s the least-expensive IEM tested here. It comes with silicon ear tips in five sizes, giving you an outstanding chance of getting a great fit. It’s available with an inline mic/remote, but our version came without.

Our early production sample came with the same snap-fit pseudovelour case usually supplied with inexpensive IEMs; since then, the packaging has been revised and now includes a velour-lined storage tin. The website describes (but doesn’t show) a flat braided cable with Kevlar reinforced conductors and a Cordura nylon sheath, but our sample came with a non-flat cable. I don’t know if it has Kevlar inside, but it does have a woven sheath. Unfortunately, the handling noise for the cable is excessive — every time the cable scrapes and scrunches against something, you hear it in your ears.

After raging about how much she hated the AF78’s cable, Lauren calmed down and confided that otherwise, she really liked the AF78. “It’s got a nice balance,” she said. “The highs are just a little soft, and it doesn’t have the sharp attack of the other ones. Overall I like it a lot.” She also found the compact, lightweight design of the earpieces quite comfortable.

I had to agree with Lauren’s opinion. In fact, let me go one step further and say that the AF78 gives you much of the sound character of the AKG K3003 at about one-sixth the price. I was shocked to hear how much sense of ambience this IEM delivered. At 2:10 in Jeff Beck’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a guitar squeal dies out in a huge-sounding reverb tail. It’s a dramatic effect, and it sounded just as humongous and awesome through the AF78 as it did through the K3003. Same goes for the percussion on Holly Cole’s “Train Song.” I can’t say the AF78 offered every last bit of the K3003’s treble detail, but it came pretty darned close.

The bass had a full, grooving, somewhat loose sound, at least compared to the K3003’s tight, super-precise low end. Again, the hybrid concept worked: I got potent bass with delicate highs.

The midrange was pretty nice — clear and present, with a little bit of emphasis in the upper mids making voices sound just slightly edgy compared with the B&W C5. But smooth mids are hard to come by in an IEM at this price. Using the AF78 with my Motorola Droid Pro instead of my iPod touch tilted the balance toward the treble a bit, which made the midrange flaws more noticeable. That’s because the AF78’s impedance reacts with the high output impedance (75 ohms) of the Droid; the iPod’s 1-ohm output impedance caused no problems.

Measurements

The AF78’s frequency response shows a strong emphasis in the treble, with a pretty big peak between 6 and 8 kHz. The midrange peak at 2.78 kHz is a little higher than average, and the bass response is a little lower, suggesting many listeners will hear a somewhat treble-heavy balance. Increasing output impedance to 75 ohms to simulate the effect of using a low-quality source device reduces response above 60 Hz and below 1 kHz by -1 to -2 dB, and boosts response at most frequencies above 1 kHz by +1 to +3 dB.

Measured using medium-sized tips, isolation is so-so in the mids (about -14 dB at 1 kHz), but drops below -40 dB at higher frequencies. Distortion at 100 dBA is a little high, running 3 to 5% between 50 Hz and 1.5 kHz.

Impedance runs very low, from 4.5 ohms in the bass to 16.5 ohms in the upper treble. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 1-watt signal at the rated 16 ohms impedance is 106.5 dB; from 300 Hz to 6 kHz, it’s 108.2 dB.

Bottom Line

While we can’t forgive the AF78’s wretched, highly microphonic cable, we love everything else about it. The sound is excellent for ~$200, and the style and comfort are great, too. If you’re pining to peruse the hybrid sound, the AF78 is the place to start. Just don’t move around a lot.

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