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AudioFly AF78 - a new earphone king

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

What am I looking for?

Before I review the Audiofly 78 with microphone, I wanted to take 2 minutes and explain what I look for in headphones or earphones. 

When testing audio gear (particularly headphones and earphones), I am looking for flat frequency response. Flat doesn't mean boring but rather it means the headphones reproduce the soundtrack exactly as the producer intended it.

When travelling or working, I may have my headphones on hour hours and therefore I am looking for a sound profile that doesn't tire my ears and I look for products that are comfortable to wear. 

I believe that you get what you pay for and I am willing to pay for quality products so I also expect my gear to be durable,

I tend to use my audio gear in noisy environments (on city streets, in a crowded office, on planes, on trains, etc) therefore I prefer devices that offer passive noise isolation ( I find active noise cancellation products tiresome after an hour or two of use.

Finally I pay close attention to the price/value ratio of the products I buy and test. Like most of my readers, I am prepared to pay more for quality and performance but don't have an unlimited budget.

What is the Audiofly 78 with microphone?

I tested the Audiofly AF-33 headphones in June (link) and was disappointed with the product.  When I decided to test the higher end Audiofly Af-78 earphones, I was cautiously pessimistic but I was wrong... These are fantastic and keep reading to find out why.

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Fit, design and build

The kit comes comes with sizes of silicon eartips and 2 pairs of Comply Foam tips. Like every other in-ear earphone that I have tested over the last 5 years, it is critically important (for noise isolation and sound quality) to find the right sized tip. After testing the silicon tips (medium worked for me), I went back to the Comply Foam tips they provided. Almost every earphone that I own is equipped with these tips because they provide an excellent seal, great noise isolation and are comfortable enough to wear for hours. I love the fact that they included Comply Foam tips in the base kit (great decision).

You'll notice that each earpiece has a larger enclosure than most in this class and I was worried this would make the umcomfortable for extended wear but it didn't. The design of the earpice is well thought out and the weight is properly balanced on the base of the ear therefore there is no excessive  weight to carry.

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Audio fly describes the AF078's cable as:

"twisted core, Kevlar® reinforced conductors and a CORDURA™ fabric outer sheath for outstanding durability."

Marketing speak aside, the cable feels extremely durable (much better than the original cable provided with the UE Triple-Fi 10 or the Etymotic HF3). The cable feels solid, well built and is fairly tangle resistant. 

The design decisions do mean that you won't be able to wear the headphones "behind the ear style" but I don't wear my headphones like that anyway so this really doesn't impact me. 

There are 2 versions of this product:

  • without microphone & remove
  • with microphone & remote

I tested the later and call quality was excellent on both ends. I tested the call quality on a busy street, in the car while driving highway speed and in a quiet room. In all 3 cases the other party (to the call) didn't know I was using a headset and when asked said the quality of the call was excellent.

It's all about the sound

The headphones are rate for 18 Hz - 22 Khz which is a fantastic range. These specs should provide an incredibly wide soundstage and clear separation. Do the earphones deliver? In a word Yes.

Before testing the headphones, I ran them through 50 hours of burn-in as such

  • 10 hours of white noise
  • 10 hours of pink noise
  • 10 hours of brown noise
  • 10 hours of sweeping audio which pushes the drivers though different frequency responses (low medium and high)
  • 10 hours of various types of music

Once these were completed, I then performed a series of objective audio tests (most reviews just play music they like to evaluate headgear, I wanted something more).

Frequency Response tests

First I tested the bass extension using frequencies from 10 hz to 200 hz. This test is meant to confirm the low range frequency response of the headphones. The AF78 passed this test

Then I moved to the treble extension test which tests the high end frequencies from 22Khz to 8 Khz. Again the Af-78 performed very well and passed this test with flying colours.

Dynamic range of the AF-78

The purpose of this exercise is to compare how the earphone reproduces sound between the highest signal and the quietest. This is a great way to test the isolation capabilities of the headphone as you compare the loudest and quietest sounds together. 

In my tests (un the quiet room), I was able to hear 66 db below full scale which is an excellent result. This shows that the earphones isolation is great and will allow for the reproduction of delicately nuanced music.

This test was performed in a quiet room, on a busy city street and in the middle of a busy retail store full of shoppers. Performance was excellent in every one of the scenarios.  

Testing for internal build quality

I have a special soundtrack that plays sweeping bass frequencies (used at high volumes) and I am looking for rattling sounds, buzz or other audio artifacts which would indicate bad build quality. 

The Audiofly AF-78 passed this test with flying colours. No artifacts were introduced.

3D audio test

I have various high quality 3d (holographic) soundtracks which allow me to test how well the earphones reproduce 3D sound. 3D sound is a reproduction of hour the human ear works and reproduces sound where you can clearly make our the origin of the sound in a 360 degree soundstage (even estimating distance).

The Audiofly AF-78 passed this test with flying colours.

Wiring test

I have an spoken word audio track that has cleanly separated left and right channel audio (each clearly identified as left fed or right fed audio). This is a simple test to ensure the right channel is wired into the right earphone and that there is no crosstalk.

On to the music

The AF78 is a balanced and dynamic armature setup which means everything you listen to sounds spacious, clean and crisp. It reproduces sound with a nice balanced tone and has the ability to churn out clean, crisp bass when called for. 

I tested the Audiofly AF78 with many different styles of music and it performed properly for all types (which is what I was expecting with a properly balanced sound profile): rock, hip hop, R&B, jazz, metal, bluegrass, country, acoustic, opera and classical.

Comparing this to other earphones in its price range, it performed fantastically well. The only negative comparison I could make was with comparing the vocal quaity (opera) of this versus my Triple-fi 10 pro. The triple-fi seemed to offer better vocal output. Its important to remember that the triple-fi 10 is a considerably more expensive earphone and has "3 individual speakers and an integrated passive crossover circuit board directs low-end frequencies to a dedicated speaker for bass".

When listening to an orchestral recording, I could easily make out each instrument. Everything sounded natural as if I was listening to it live. It didn't feel like the music was being pushed through a small device but that it was surrounding me with well spaced airy reproduction. 

Quality of music

Most earphones I test are not this high quality so I don't notice a difference between an MP3 recording or a lossless format. The AF78 is different. Because of its great sound reproduction capabilities, I could hear the quality difference between lossless and lossy formats.

This means the earphones are truly well designed and high quality. It is also important for me to note that the quality of your recordings is important. If your entire collection is based on 96kbit/s MP3s then you won't be getting the best performance from these little earphones. 

If you use iTunes Match, even your crappy recordings will be made available in 256-Kbps AAC which will greatly increase audio quality.

Verdict

Audiofly has done something fantastic with these sub $200 headphones. The balanced armature and dynamic driver combination are not unique to Audiofly but still very rare. I enjoyed testing these earphones and highly recommend them. 

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