Audiofly AF180 MK2 Review
I'm a bit of a sucker for trying new things whenever I get the chance. So, when I stumbled across a post in the StereoNET forums by Audiofly asking for reviewers, I jumped on the opportunity. I fired an email through and to my great pleasure, received a reply offering to send me the AF180 MK2 IEM. The headphones were sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion, and were returned to Audiofly once the review process was completed.
Audiofly is a Western Australia based designer of both consumer grade headphones and professional in ear monitors. The MK2 range of their professional series includes models featuring single dynamic drivers, hybrid dynamic/balanced armature setups, and multiple balanced armature IEM’s. Audiofly states that the range is designed with musicians and audio professionals in mind, but there's plenty here for any audiophile with an interest in neutral, reference sound as well.
And me? I’ve only recently fallen into IEM’s, but I have a penchant for researching and trying everything I can get my mitts on before I commit to something, and through that process have spent days in stores trying as many IEM’s as I could before settling on my preferred Campfire Andromedas. I’ve also owned IEM’s including the Final Audio E4000, Ultrasone iQ and iBasso IT-03. My preferences lean towards neutrality and detail in sound.
The AF180 MK2 that I am reviewing is one of the flagship models in their professional series. The AF180 MK2 features four balanced armature drivers, with two dedicated drivers for bass response, one for mid frequencies, and one for treble. An electronic crossover dishes out the relevant notes to the responsible drivers, with a physical frequency divider handling the acoustics as sound travels from the IEM. Frequency response is stated as 15Hz – 25kHz. Sensitivity is given as 104dB at 1kHz, with an impedance of 16ohms. If you read this review and like what I’ve described, a pair of the AF180 MK2 will cost you $649.99 AUD, and can be purchased directly from the website at audiofly.com or from retailers listed therein.
Unboxing the AF180 MK2, you’re greeted with the IEM shells themselves, connected to the included 1.2m long braided cable. The remaining accessories are encased in a very rugged, large plastic case with a brushed aluminium plate stating the model name and features. Inside the case are the included ear tips, which are various sizes of comply foams, triple flange silicon, and silicon bud tips. You also receive a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter, an airline adapter and a cleaning tool.
On unboxing the headphones, I was impressed by the presentation and inclusions given with the AF180 MK2. The included case is very pelican-like in its presentation and construction. It looks sturdy and well-constructed, and though it never was put through any rough-stuff I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t tolerate wear and tear without a hassle. The inside of the case is lined with a faux fur type material to provide some cushioning for everything stored inside.
My only gripe with the case would be the size, as it’s definitely too large to be placed in a pocket and carried that way. If you were using the AF180 MK2 as a portable IEM, you would either need an alternate case, or a bag or backpack to place the case in when not in use. The variety of included ear tips is definitely a positive, there’s something for everyone in between the foam Comply tips, the triple flange tips or basic silicon buds.
The included cable is a decent length at 1.2m, which feels long enough for day to day use without being unwieldy. The construction of the cable is braided Cordura, which feels very durable and does a very good job minimising any cable microphonics.
Comfort and Fit
I have to applaud Audiofly in regards to the construction and comfort of the AF180 MK2. They are by far the most comfortable IEM’s I have ever used or sampled, by a decent margin. It starts to become apparent after a few hours that the Audiofly IEM’s are geared towards professional musicians and designed for long term listening. I had absolutely zero fatigue due to the fit, with no hot points, no discomfort whatsoever. I could (and did) listen for hours on end with no comfort issues whatsoever. The slight tear drop shape sits very nicely in the ear, and the plastic construction means the IEM is very lightweight.
Ear tip wise, I used both the comply foams and triple flange tips with good seals on both. I found the triple flange tips to be slightly more comfortable, especially with a slightly shallow insertion. The deciding factor between the tips was not so much the comfort factor however, but more slight changes to the sound signature which I’ll cover later.
Onto the fun bit! I spent a decent amount of time listening to the AF180 MK2 in a variety of environments – at home, at work and out and about. The below impressions are using a Sony ZX-2 as a source, with a wide range of songs played through Tidal. I’ll include a list of some examples in notes at the end of this review. All listening impressions are from using the triple flange tips, except where mentioned.
Overall impressions are of a very neutral, balanced sound, with a very slight emphasis on some of the bass frequencies. This is definitely not a coloured IEM, leaning more towards a detail oriented, reference style tuning.
Bass response is what I would describe in my experience as very typical for multiple balanced armature IEMs. The bass sound is characterised by very snappy attack and decay, with an even-handed approach to delivering bass notes. The reach may not be as deep as IEM’s with dynamic driver set ups or dedicated dynamic drivers for bass notes, and there is a lack of sub-bass rumble and slam. The upside to this more restrained tuning is the bass does not bleed into the upper ranges at all, providing a very clear transition between bass, mid-bass and mids. The bass response for electronica and other genres with more artificial low bass notes can sound a bit on the thin side. While the bass is still there and can be heard, it does lack some of the physicality attached to those really deep, rumbling notes. I did find that using the comply foams increased the quantity of bass, but this was at the cost of some bleed into the higher frequencies. I felt this affected my enjoyment of the entirety of the sound, so stuck with the triple flange tips which provided a slightly clearer, more balanced sound.
The mid-range notes delivered by the AF180 MK2 were a real highlight for me when reviewing these IEM’s. It may sound odd, but this has little to do with the delivery of the mid frequencies themselves (which was perfectly adequate) but more so to the separation the AF180 MK2 provides between the bass, mids and treble. This allows for a high level of clarity in the mid ranges, which gives a clear stage for vocals and guitar to shine. I really enjoyed the AF180 MK2 with some more complex, busy passages of music because of this. I’m a huge fan of The Dillinger Escape plan, and some of their more chaotic arrangements shone while listening on the AF180 MK2.
You may be able to predict what I’ll write about the treble, given the pattern so far of a very even, clear response along the frequency ranges of the AF180 MK2. This pattern does continue; however, I would like to say the treble frequencies do sound ever so slightly recessed when compared to the mid and bass, providing a very non-fatiguing and sibilance free sound. The frequency response graph does show some slight peaks around 6kHz and 9kHz, but I never found these to be pronounced enough to overwhelm other frequencies in the mix. The treble response is adequate enough to provide detail while never sounding splashy or harsh.
Soundstage and Separation
Being an IEM designed for professional musicians and audio professionals, this is where I expected the AF180 MK2 to do a brilliant job, and I wasn’t disappointed. Instrument separation and imaging is fantastic, providing a great amount of detail and clarity. For listeners who like to dial in their attention on the particulars of music, they would be well served here. As mentioned above, I do enjoy some music that has quite a lot going on at times, and the AF180 MK2’s instrument separation was surprising in how well it kept up.
The soundstage I would describe as adequate, with an impressive level of width and height, slightly hamstrung by a lack of depth. The soundstage falls short of being holographic and doesn’t quite provide the feeling that sound is coming from outside the head, but allows enough staging to avoid any feeling of congestion in the mix. It’s by no means a negative aspect of the sound, it just falls short in comparison to the excellence of the instrument separation.
Finishing up, I came away very impressed with the AF180 MK2 after my time with it. Highlights were most definitely the neutral, clear tuning, and the instrument separation. While I wouldn’t call these the most exciting or musical IEM’s out there, they definitely hit their target when it comes to providing detail and clarity, representing music as close as possible to how the artist intended. If you’re the type of listener that likes to pay attention to the finer details when listening, you would be very well served here.
I also have to repeat just how comfortable the AF180 MK2 felt to me. The shape, weight and nozzle angle all felt absolutely spot on, to the point they just disappeared once inserted. For anyone who either spends a long time with IEM’s in, or struggles to find a comfortable shell shape, these would be at the top of the list for comfort.
To provide a bit of a reference, please find below a listing of some of the songs I listened to when evaluating the IEM’s, in no particular order:
John Murphy – In the House in a Heartbeat
Gojira – Flying Whales
TOOL – Invincible
Avicii – For a Better Day
Darkstar – Aidys Girl’s a Computer
Porter Robinson – Divinity
Dream Theater – At Wit’s End
The Cat Empire – Fishies
Lorn – Anvil
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Honeysuckle
SAFIA – External
Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
Glass Animals – Life Itself