Audiofly AF100 MK2 In-ear Monitors Review
Can this Australian-designed in-ear monitor please both the tough pro market, and the picky audiophile one? Matthew Jens decides…
AUD $129.99 RRP
I do love it when an audio product is disruptive to an already well-established market. The in-ear monitor world is a fussy one on both sides of the fence; on the one hand, the ever-discerning audiophile market tends to favour products that contain a dizzying array of technical features, and a balanced yet interesting sound. Then on the professional audio side, the market tends to support tried-and-trusted ‘road warrior’ designs from giants such as Sennheiser and Shure.
Audiofly – which describes itself as, “a fierce, rag-tag group of creative individuals” out of Perth – has banded together to create a range of in-ear products for both the fickle audiophile market and the stubborn professional stage monitoring market. No pressure, then.
Coming to market at an affordable $129.99, the AF100 MK2 in-ear monitor reviewed here is aimed squarely at the professional industry. It’s competitively priced in an attempt to cut the competition off at the knees, running hard up against the likes of Shure’s entry-level SE215 ($175) and Audio-technica’s ETH-E40 ($169). Of course, both of these are seriously high quality products, and considered industry standards by many. Despite this, unlike the Audiofly, neither of them were developed in our great land.
Serious professional-grade monitoring in-ears need to tick several boxes to be taken seriously. First, they must be fiercely robust, then they should come with the right kit bundled, and also have a sound signature that’s effective both on and off stage. The question is, has the Aussie contender got the chops to stand up to its German and Japanese rivals? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out…
Just like its hybrid driver sibling (the AF140 MK2), the AF100 MK2 features over-the-ear cable entry, a double-braided reinforced cable with thermoplastic polyurethane wrap, a hard carrying case and a seemingly bulletproof housing that’s more than ready for the rough world of touring and stage use. It has a teardrop-shaped transparent shell which matches neatly with the translucent sleeved non-removable cable poking out of the back. The nozzle is thin – similar to the Westone UM PRO series – and is compatible with Comply P series foam tips. The no-nonsense finish of the AF100 MK2 may seem slightly out of place in a domestic environment, but being completely transparent serves a purpose. On a stage, these blend in perfectly and are ready for battle – function over form.
Single full-range 9mm dynamic drivers are used. That means no crossovers or balanced armature trickery here, just a single, professionally-tuned acoustic dual-diaphragm dynamic micro driver which Audiofly claims is capable of delivering a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. This will satisfy pretty much every human user, although dogs and bats might find it a little bandwidth-limited.
The 1.2m cable is easily malleable and transmits very little microphonic noise into the driver enclosure, which is a really worthwhile attribute. Of course, this is particularly helpful when jumping around on stage or operating an audio console. The last thing you want to be worrying about at such times is introducing unwanted noise in your ear every time the cable brushes up against something. The cable also has a short memory, and is very difficult to bend out of shape permanently. When you twist it up in your hand and release it, it will always quickly fall back to its original form, which is particularly helpful when tossing them into a tool bag after a long gig.
This lightweight cable, combined with the small housings, mean that wearing these is a relaxed and comfortable experience, even for extended periods. This is also aided by the mountain of tips that are included, including Comply-style foam tips, triple-flange rubber tips, and several sizes of standard olive style tips.
The first thing that strikes any newcomer to this in-ear phone is just how warm and fulsome the sound signature is. There’s plenty of emphasised bass, which is generously and evenly spread across the entire low end of the spectrum.
Indeed, with my Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ – with both a standard USB-C to 3.5mm dongle, as well as a Chord Mojo portable DAC – I found the bottom end to be really powerful. I’m talking about slamming, thumping levels, which are rather reminiscent of the similarly priced Shure SE215. However, the Audiofly design puts out a slightly darker tone, and has a more natural-sounding low end. This is precisely the kind of bass you would expect from a single driver dynamic tuned for stage use.
“Why would you want a stage monitor to be bassy?”, you ask. Well, this kind of fulsome sound signature is what you need in this situation. In a loud environment, the low end is usually the first thing in the mix that becomes hardest to hear. Indeed, this bass phenomenon is why live sound engineers so widely use the Beyer-dynamic DT770. While purist audiophiles may scoff, its pronounced bottom end helps sound engineers mix lower frequencies even when things are getting noisy outside.
Despite having some deliciously generous low-end, the treble here is not to be understated. With a tamed upper midrange, vocals and string instruments are presented in a clean and accurate manner, without creating any sizzle or piercing highs. This cleanliness is carried through to the higher end of the spectrum, where the neutral and neat presentation takes precedent over a super-detailed high energy top end.
The sound signature is significantly impacted by the choice of tip used. The olive style tips create a somewhat balanced signature, while the Comply-style foam tips create extra pep in the low end and boost the isolation. For my preferences, the olive or triple flange tips were best, as they allowed the treble to flow through a little easier, and without restriction.
Dynamic range is another area that might become troublesome when on stage. Excessive dynamic contrasts mean that the quietest details get subsumed when listening in a busy environment. For home listening, this may not be ideal, but for a stage situation, it’s perfect. As such, the dynamic range on the AF100 MK2 feels deliberately restricted in this sense.
Yet for what this Audiofly design lacks in dynamic range, it makes up for in terms of spatiality and overall musicality. Those 9mm drivers seem to be full of character and soul, and apparently love having the volume turned up for some real toe-tapping moments. There are no odd ‘out of the head’ moments from this in-ear phone, yet spatial placement is very accurate there’s a nicely expansive feel. Even when panning channels left and right, I couldn’t detect any imbalances or crosstalk, and the 9mm drivers responded happily to my tweaking. This extends beyond fiddling with the channels; it responded happily to any equalisation tweaks that I threw towards it as well. Dialling in – or out – a little low end to taste was no issue.
A perfect song for testing out the capability of this product is sysma by Dusty Kid. As the track starts building its momentum, the heaving kicks of bass throw you back into your seat. Once the cymbals start creeping through the mix, a fine balance is struck between the grumbling low end and the subtle percussive elements. While this track can sound a bit boring and dry via more clinical, middle-of-the-road designs, I felt the AF100 MK2 to be transporting me to the head-nodding, fist-pumping dancefloor of the many outdoor summer techno events in Melbourne!
Another fine test of those 9mm drivers is Don’t Wait by Mohican Sun. This track introduces the harmony of having a strong, pronounced rolling bassline, with delicate elements of soft vocals and an epic overall presentation. The Audiofly’s single dynamic driver seemed to snuggle up warmly to the bassline, but also neatly recreated some of the more gentle piano and vocal elements underneath it. While there’s no escaping the tower of power that is the AF100 MK2 bottom end, the licks of haunting vocals remained untouched by what was surrounding it. Of course, this is a matter of taste – some may think this type of presentation is a little over the top for home listening – but for me personally it was perfect, and I suspect I am not alone in this view.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the juggernaut industry-standard for professional IEMs, you may have just ended your search. The Audiofly AF100 MK2 comes in cheaper than the alternatives, yet delivers a more natural sound signature that’s hard not to like. For this reason, this pair of home-grown in-ears might prove hard to live without, for many head-fi fans. Factor in its really robust design and sensible, pro audio-friendly features, and here’s a design that’s at home both on and off the stage.
For more information, visit Audiofly.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.