Audiofly AF140 In-ear Earphone Review

Time for a little Aussie grit?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

Highly Recommended
Audiofly AF140 In-ear Earphone Review
SRP: £250.00

What is the Audiofly AF140?

When we think of audio electronics, some countries spring to mind more readily than others. The ‘home team’ advantage of the UK means we readily associate the classic British brands- Naim, Linn, Meridian, Arcam, Bowers and Wilkins and the like with their respective positions in the market. Likewise, the sheer clout and ubiquity of the Japanese house brands means that we give them significant attention as well.

After that, things become a little more variable. In the UK at least, we tend to associate certain countries with certain products- or at least certain attributes. Therefore, America is the home of monster amps, Scandinavia gives us minimalist metalwork, more often than not with sublime build and design. France is home of the loudspeaker while anything from Italy will be sumptuous and frequently covered in wood and on occasions leather. What if I say ‘Australia’ though? While the Antipodes has given us some great music, it has been a little quieter in terms of electronics- mighty Continuum Caliburn turntable aside, there isn’t a huge amount out there.

The real world exception to this is Audiofly. Launched in 2011 and based on the outskirts of Perth, they have focused entirely on earphones- and chose a fairly sensible time to do so. They have managed to produce a range of models that all feel distinctively Australian in terms of their design and build and make use of some interesting configurations internally too. The AF140 is one of a quartet of models that are designed to offer a more monitor like performance and move the company into new price points. There’s no shortage of competition but can the AF140 put Australia on our mental global map?

The Design

Audiofly AF140
All Audiofly designs are in ear models and the AF140 is no exception. The basic design is one that I’ve seen in increasing numbers over the last year or so with a dome that sits in the ear canal and supports the bulk of the weight of the design but then also makes use of a looped cable section that routes the cable over the ear and adds a further piece of support to the design. This makes the Audiofly fairly suitable for exercise if that is your thing.

Internally the Audiofly also takes a design practice that has been seen before but takes it in a subtly different direction. Like a number of models at this price point, the Audiofly is a multiple driver design but less conventional is the number and type of drivers. For starters, there are three in each housing- a mere trifle compared to the ten in the Noble K10 but still relatively unusual in a £250 earphone. The next is the nature of this triumvirate. The AF140 uses a pair of balanced armatures for the upper registers and then partners them with a single dynamic driver to provide the bass. This is an exact combination that I haven’t tested before in any earphone and a mix of armature and dynamic hasn’t passed through AVForums since the Atomic Floyd SuperDarts over two years ago.
Audiofly AF140
In theory, the combination should be an obvious one. Extracting really convincing bass from armatures is far from impossible but it does generally increase the size and complexity of the design. A dynamic driver doesn’t have this issue and needs much less space to generate the same bass extension. The tricky bit is integrating these two very different drivers in such a way as to make for a seamless performance. Although they were a fun sounding pair of earphones, the SuperDarts often sounded like a 2.1 system for this reason. The Audiofly has the advantage of reducing the operating frequency of the dynamic driver by splitting the upper frequencies over two armatures instead of one but this is still a significant engineering challenge.

For something with three drivers contained in it, the AF140 has a commendably small form factor through. They are finished to a high overall standard and they are reasonably attractive. Of the four AF models that Audiofly produces though, the 140 is the slightly unlucky one. They are only available in a finish that Audiofly calls ‘Fader grey’ but might be more succinctly called dull. The cheaper 120 gets gloss black and the more expensive models burgundy and blue leaving the 140 looking like the plain Jane of the set.

Accessories

Here the news is pretty good. The AF140 is supplied with a huge variety of domes and tips to try and get one that suits you and these include a variety of comply type domes that generally offer the best hope of blocking out the rest of the world. Actually fitting and changing these various options is commendably simple too which means you might actually try them out rather than realising the ones that came fitted require a combination of brute force and watchmaker precision to remove and making do with them.

Also worth noting is the carrying case. This is of a type I haven’t seen before and is a canvas wallet that seals with an elasticated strip attached to the main body. This is a clever piece of design as it manages to hold the relatively large housing of the AF140 and the cable but still be slim enough to ft in a pocket without too much of an issue. It is pleasingly different to the normal leather and plastic efforts and while slightly hipsterish, it is a clever approach and a likeable one.
Audiofly AF140
The Audiofly also takes a design practice that has been seen before but takes it in a subtly different direction

Downsides?

For the most part, thanks to the wide variety of domes and fittings and the good build quality, the Audiofly is extremely easy to live with. My personal preferences are slightly less enthusiastic about the looped ear design that the ADF140 makes use of but I think this is down to my ears and other people have found them to be very comfortable. More of a general issue is that the hooked and twisted cable at the earphone end of the AF140 makes it extremely prone to tangling and a bit of a sod to untangle again. This is a shame because the lower section of the cable has a material jacket that makes it impressively tangle resistant. There is also no inline remote or mic making the Audiofly a less suitable choice for smartphone use but many competitors at the £250 point are similar in this regard.

How was the AF140 tested?

The Audiofly saw testing with the usual equipment of iPad3 and Lenovo T350 ThinkPad with and without Chord Hugo and Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS. For long and unimportant reasons, phone testing was done with a Sony Xperia SP rather than my Nexus 5 as my wife and I have swapped phones for a bit. Some additional testing was carried out with a Naim SuperNait 2 integrated amp and ND5XS network player. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC, streaming services including TIDAL, Spotify, Grooveshark as well as internet radio and general web work. Video was tested using iPlayer, 4OD, Sky Go and Netflix and the Audiofly has also been used to monitor my end of the AV Forums podcast.

How does the AF140 sound with music?

Audiofly AF140
The good news is that the AF140 is commendably sensitive for a hybrid earphone and even the relatively weak outputs of the Android phones has no difficulty extracting decent volume levels from them and everything else can make them go painfully loud. You shouldn’t need to do this though because the isolation that the AF140 has is sufficient that you won’t be competing with the outside world. This being said, I was slightly disappointed with the comply tips that Audiofly supplies though- the shape of them didn’t agree completely with my ear canal but the large rubber domes were excellent in this regard.

With the outside world at bay, the Audiofly has a number of characteristics that come to the fore, most of which are very positive. The first is that the integration between the three drivers is to all intents and purposes, completely seamless. There is no sense of any handover between armature and dynamic driver, let alone between the two armatures. After using the vastly more expensive Noble that could do the same trick with ten drivers, this is something I’m more blasé about than I should be but it means that the AF140 is competitive with any single driver model in terms of sounding like one driver instead of three.
Audiofly AF140
Of course the benefits of the three drivers are that the AF140 has a frequency response- particularly in terms of bass extension that few single driver designs or even multiple armature models can match. Listening to the latest release from real instrument dubstep septet, the Submotion Orchestra has the AF140 in its element. If you listen to large scale music- be it massed choirs or death metal, the Audiofly is able to convey the size and the impact with an effortlessness that is often lacking. Equally, when you ask them to play something small scale, they are completely happy to reign in the scale and impact and sound entirely believable.

Tonality is generally good too. The AF140 is slightly on the warm side of neutral and this translates into voices being full and rich and instruments generally having the weight and scale needed to sound right. The Audiofly is more about the whole presentation than tiny incidental details though. Compared to the Furutech ADL-EH008, the Audiofly never extracts the same minute details from the performance and compared to the still peerless Final Heaven IV, there isn’t quite the same excitement to the way that the AF140 plays something with a bit of bite and attack like Royksopp’s The Inevitable End. The counter to this is that the Audiofly is more comfortable than either of them and extremely easy to listen to for long periods of time.

Using the AF140 with external headphone amplifiers yields a few benefits but perhaps because they are relatively smooth and sensitive, they don’t radically change their behaviour even when the Chord Hugo is used. Perhaps the most useful benefit comes from the relatively sensibly priced Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS which reduces the noise floor over the standard laptop headphone output and manages to inject slightly more bite and attack to the performance. I’ve no idea if AudioFly considered this during the design of the funky canvas wallet but you can stow the XS in the elastic strap too.
Audiofly AF140
If you listen to large scale music- be it massed choirs or death metal, the Audiofly is able to convey the size and the impact with an effortlessness that is often lacking

How does the AF140 sound with film and TV?

As you might expect with an earphone that sounds big, refined and easy to listen to for long periods, the AF140 is an excellent partner for TV and film work. Catching up with the Hawaii 5-0 Halloween episode had the AF140 in their element, sounding big, assured and able to deliver gunfire and general action with impressive effortlessness. Their sensitivity and general refinement meant that subconsciously, even before the mighty Nobles returned to their handler, the Audiofly had become a default for use on catchup TV and the like. They are consistently excellent used in this manner and I think it stems to the same tendency to present the big picture than go long on fine detail which can be an issue for music but is far less of an issue with TV and film as you want a more cohesive whole to the performance.

Verdict

Pros

  • Impressively even handed and enjoyable sound
  • Solid build
  • Good accessories

Cons

  • Prone to tangling
  • Dull appearance
  • Some rivals are more superficially exciting

Audiofly AF140 In-ear Earphone Review

It is a more than reasonable argument that the market probably doesn’t need more choices of earphones at these relatively lofty price points than it already has. The established players in this sector have raised their game and I still don’t know how many people need earphones of this nature. Equally, when a company brings new ideas and concepts to the table and raises the standards you can expect at a given price point, we should salute that.

The Audiofly AF140 doesn’t deliver a knockout blow that places it head and shoulders above other earphones around and about this price point but it lands some heavy punches. This is a well built, and well specified earphone that trades a little immediacy and excitement for a presentation that is incredibly easy to listen to for long periods. I have been wearing the review pair for almost the entirely length of time I have been writing this review and my ears still feel perfectly happy and the presentation of Carbon Based Lifeform’s Hydroponic Garden is as enjoyable as the Death in Vegas I begin with many, many hours ago. If the Australian contribution to audio is a hardworking, ‘no worries’ approach to whatever you throw at them, we probably ought to encourage more products out of them because the AF140 is a seriously accomplished all-rounder.
Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Design

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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