A Headphones Reviews Blog
Prior to the review, I would like to thank Tom and Sandra for the review sample.
Most of you already know who Phonak is, but if not, I’ll quote the company introduction from my Phonak Audéo PFE 132 review:
“Phonak is one of the world’s leading hearing aids manufacturers, founded in Switzeland more than 60 years ago, in 1947. Fast forward to 2008, Phonak has introduced the “Audéo” brand, their earphones brand. Audéo’s first product was the “Perfect Fit Earphones” (aka PFE). The product had got a lot of rave reviews, and now, almost 4 years later, the Audéo brand has established very well, they’re now a much known brand behalf of the audiophiles.”
Today, I’ll review Audéo’s newest product, the PFE 232, which also their flagship and the only product from their “Platinum” series. This time, instead of the single-balanced-armature drivers, which were used in all of their previous models, Phonak had chosen to design their new flagship around of dual-balanced-armature drivers. First photos of it were leaked already a year ago, but the actual release was delayed until November 2011. Obviously, everyone had wondered if the PFE 232s would be a good enough upgrade from Audéo’s wonderful lower IEM ranges (“Silver” & “Gold”). In this review, I’ll check if the PFE 232s had managed to realize the very high expectations from it.
Before we’ll start, here are the technical specifications for the Phonak Audéo PFE 232 IEMs:
Driver – Dual Balanced Armature
Frequency response – 5 Hz–17 kHz
Gray filter – 109 dB SPL/m W, 1 kHz
Black filter – 107 dB SPL/m W, 1 kHz
Green filter – 104 dB SPL/m W, 1 kHz
Nominal impedance – 47 Ohm
Weight – 16 g, 0.5oz
Packaging: The 232’s packaging is extremely similar to the previously reviewed PFE 132’s packaging. It is an average sized packaging, made of cardboard with a nice and elegant graphic design. In its front side there’s an image of the 232s, while in its sides and back there are some explanations and technical specifications. There’s also a magnetic door in the box’s front, which reveals the IEMs themselves when opened, through a circled transparent plastic window, placed on a golden surface. This kind of packaging, which is full of technical details and explanations, gives me the feeling of professionalism.
the included accessories
Accessories: When buying an IEM which costs around $600, I immediately expect them to be provided with any needed accessory. The PFE 232s definitely manage to realize my expectations from this category. There 6 pairs of tips included, 3 of them being Black colored Comply Foam Tips T-130s (Small/Medium/Large), which are custom made for Audéo’s line, while the remaining 3 pairs are the wonderful single-flanged silicone tips (Small/Medium/Large), which are included with every IEM from Audéo’s range. The same two pockets zippered case, which is included with the 132s, is included with the 232s too. I like this case very much, because it gives the user some better storage options and it’s a lot more functional than the regular round-shaped case. The only down-side it has is that it isn’t hard shelled, meaning that it probably won’t be able to tolerate much abusing at all. Audéo’s silicone ear-guides are included too, as an ear-tip cleaning tool. To get a better fit for as diverse as possible audience, Audéo had also included two pairs of user replaceable cables. One of them being the standard 3 buttons + microphone Apple specialized cable, while the other being an audio-only cable. Last but not least, a tiny box which stores three pairs of replaceable filters ( a pair of Green filters, a pair of Black filters and 2 pairs of Gray filters, one of them already being factory installed on the IEM itself) and a filter replacement too. The provided accessories are pretty similar to the ones included with the PFE 132s, though; there are some nice additions in the form of two more sizes of Comply tips, more filters, etc. The provided accessories are satisfying enough, and provide the user everything that he probably needs. The rating is 9/10.
the two storage pockets are very usable
elegant looking bronze colored face-plates
Building Quality & Design: Everything about the PFE 232s’ appearance is very elegant and classy. From the Bronze colored face-plate and the circle-shaped black-plastic grill in it, to the piano-black colored rare side, everything in it looks very scrupulous and punctilious. The building quality is top notch and meticulous, as the 232s’ appearance. The housings are fully built of plastic. I expect you to wonder why a $600 IEM uses a plastic build. Well, the answer is that first of all, Audéo had wanted to keep the low-weight of their previous IEMs (which was one of the reasons for their supreme comfort), and in order to achieve it, utilizing plastic housings was needed. Actually, I wouldn’t worry about the building quality and the durability of the plastic earpieces; they feel very strong, sturdy and well put together. Usually, removable cables are utilized in IEMs at this price range. At first, Phonak didn’t intend to use a removable cable system, but after hearing the voices of their future buyers, they had decided to use a removable cable. This is a huge plus for the building quality; usually, when an IEM gets broken, the defective part is probably the cable, as it is prone to lots of stress and to some abuse too. In the 232s’ case, if the cable is malfunctioning, you do not have to throw a $600 IEM to the garbage; you can easily buy a replacement cable for a pretty cheap price. Left and Right markings are printed on the rare side of the IEMs. The two package provided cables feel of very good quality. They have good strain reliefs, they’re Kevlar reinforced and they have an angled 3.5mm jack. They’re pretty much the same wires which are used with Audéo’s other IEMs, but in a detachable form instead. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the 232s’ building quality, and I feel that it is appropriate to the expectations from an IEM at the 232s’ price-range. The rating is 10/10.
the two included cables are of very high quality
Comfort & Fit: The PFE 232s are yet another product in Audéo’s “Perfect Fit Earphone” line. That means that my expectations from its comfort and fit were pretty high. I was wondering if Phonak had achieved to keep the great comfort and fit factor from their previous IEMs and utilize it in the 232s. The answer is yes. They did, and they even made it better, a thing which I didn’t believe was possible with an IEM, until I had inserted the PFE 232s into my ears. The 232s keep the same special shaped housings, which fit just perfectly into the ear’s structure. There was a slight problem with the previous PFEs; their angles were a bit sharp, a thing which might bother the user after some listening time. The 232s fix this problem, with rounded and smoothed edges and angles. They do also keep the low-weight that the previous models excelled in; the earpieces are almost weightless, and after a while in the ears, I can forget they’re there. There are two kinds of provided tips (Comply Foams and Single-Flanged silicone), both of them being extremely comfortable. The fit is pretty deep, though not as deep as an Etymotic or ACS fit. On both of the included cables there are chin-sliders, which can bring a securer fit, and I recommend using them. People who suffer from the cables falling from their ears can always use the included ear-guides, which are the best ear-guides that I had ever used. In conclusion, I feel that the 232s offers a fit and comfort which are better than even the comfort and fit which are offered by Audéo’s 0xx/01xx range. The rating is a 10/10.
Comply Tips (Left Side), Silicone Tips (Right Side).
Isolation & Microphonics: My biggest complain on the PFE 132s was the not-so-good isolation, and I was curious to check if Phonak had fixed this issue with the PFE 232s. Well it, the isolation was a bit improved from the 132s, though, not by far. Obviously, the Comply tips offer a better amount of isolation than from the silicone tips. Microphonics aren’t a problem in the 232’s case; first of all, the 232s are designed to be worn over the ear, which is a great way to reduce microphonics with any IEM. Second, the cable isn’t too microphonic either. Overall, the microphonics are very minor and negligible. The rating is 3.5/5 for the isolation and 4.8/5 for the microphonics, which makes a total of 8.3/10 for this whole category.
Sound Quality: The PFE 232s utilizes the same sound adjusting acoustic filters system which is used in all of Audéo’s IEMs. There are three types of acoustic filters (Green, Gray and Black), all of them being included with the 232s. The Green filter provides bass enhancement, providing the 232s a more bassy sound-signature , the Gray filter provides a boosted midrange, creating a balanced and flat sound-signature & the Black filter provides Treble and Bass enhancement, creating a V-shaped sound-signature. The exchangeable filters are a great idea, as almost every user can make these IEMs’ sound-signature to be his preferred one. I feel that the overall sound-signature of these IEMs is to be described natural, refined, clear, energetic and lively, though, there isn’t a definite sound-signature, and thus, I won’t describe it in this review. For your information, I’m stuck between the Gray and the Black filters, while the Green filters are close to the other two.
the acoustic filters box
The Bass: The best bass is provided in my opinion when using the Black filters. They provide the deepest and most impactful bass, which sounds absolutely amazing. The texture is great, though the Gray filters do a good job too. The punch is really good, as the body, which feels full enough, while not overpowering the other frequencies. The Green filters make the bass a bit too big and impactful, and it loses a bit of its accuracy either. Overall, the black filter is the winner of this section, though the gray filter is also pretty good too, and I feel that some of the users may prefer it for its bit more light bass. On the other hand, the green filters will most likely be the bassheads’ best choice, as they provide a grandiose bass body and they make the 232’s bass sound very impactful, adding some “fun” factor to its sound.
The Mids: The mids sound great with any of the filters, but the Green filters make them quite recessed. They’re very detailed, clean and clear, mostly when using the Gray filters, though, the other two aren’t too much behind. The 232s’ mids are very energetic and lively, making them not boring at all.
The Treble: The treble produced by the 232s is just amazing. It’s so lively and energetic, and very different from other IEMs that I had heard before in this aspect. The detailing is great, and the extension is impressive. The Gray and the Black filters perform similarly in this department, while the green filters provide a more laid-back and warm treble, with a bit less details and a smaller extension.
Sound-Stage: The 232s’ sound-stage is quite large, both in depth and width; Overall, excellent. The imaging is very good, as the instruments separation, both being quite impressive.
Filters Conclusion: In my opinion, the Gray Filter is the “audiophile filter”, because it retains many sound aspects that audiophiles seek to hear in their music listening experience. The black filters are what I would call the “Mainstream Filters”, as they’re in my opinion the most versatile filters, and they fit the mainstream sound better than the other two filters. On the other hand, the Green filters will be the best fit for bassheads, as they provide a great bass impact and a big, full and thick body, which bassheads will usually find very satisfying.
The final rating for the “Sound Quality” section will be 9/10 in ratio to the PFE 232s’ price at the time of the writing of this review. If not thinking about the money, I would’ve easily given it 10/10 in this department.
In Conclusion, The PFE 232s are definitely a top-tier IEM. First of all, it provides an amazing sound-quality and performance in every section of the sound; it is almost effortless and flawless. It’s without doubt the most versatile IEM that I had ever heard; no track sounded even a bit awkward with it, it fits every kind of music without even trying. The amazing comfort from the previous PFEs exists also within the 232s, being a little bit improved. The building quality is top notch, and the provided accessories are everything that you’ll need. On the other hand, the amount of isolation isn’t satisfying enough and the price (around $600) is a bit too high, though, there isn’t a prefect product. The PFE 232s are very close to being it. The final score is 9.5/10 in ratio to the 232s’ price.
Pros: Amazing sound performance, top notch building quality, removable cable system, acoustic filters, versatile sounding, good accessories, heaven like comfort and fit, two cables are included.
Cons: Enormous price, average isolation.
Where to buy? The Phonak Audéo PFE 232S cost $600 in the U.S and 500 Euro in the EU region. They can be purchased through Audéo’s website, or through a selection of authorized dealers, which a list of can be found at Audéo’s website.