I’m sitting in bed today feeling decidedly lousy, but with the quandary of also having a pair of Audiofly’s new AF140 IEMs in my temporary possession for a review before I pass them on to another Head-Fi’er so I hope this mini-review can do justice to what I find to be a really enjoyable set of IEMs. Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that the brevity of my review or quantity / quality of photos reflects the quality or performance of the product in any way.
Before I get started, I’d like to thank the team at Audiofly and Billy from Noisy Motel for making this tour possible. I know that the AF140s have received some criticism so far which is always a risk during a tour, but I honestly believe that the criticism is misplaced and a result of personal tastes (which we are all completely entitled to) as opposed to a product design flaw. I believe the AF140s hits its brief as perfectly as the previously reviewed AF180s – it’s just that the brief in question isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. Read on to see if it might be for you…
The AF140s are one of the four new IEMs in Audiofly’s Performance Series. The series consists of the AF120, AF140, AF160 and AF180 ranging from entry-level to top-of-the-line. The AF140s are a hybrid offering with a single dynamic and pair of balanced armature drivers. At $349, they compete with other models like the Astrotec AX-60 and FIDUE A83 (both $399), but all three of these models offer a completely different presentation and that’s why I feel the AF140s deserve some consideration and praise – they aren’t a clone of anything else out there (except perhaps their bigger brother, the AF180).
If you want to know more about the specs for the AF140, please check out all the info here. Suffice to say, the specs are fairly standard for an IEM.
Design & Comfort
I won’t spend much time here because everything about the AF140s is like a scaled back AF180. The same great cable is used, but this time it’s hard-wired. A similar case is provided, but this time it’s a little smaller and made of canvas instead of leather. In both cases, you’re still getting great features and accessories, but at a level on par with the lower price-point which is completely fair.
The shells of the AF140s are the same brilliant looking and comfortable shape as the AF180s so you can wear these things forever with no problems. On top of that you get a nice range of tips and accessories to ensure you can find a comfortable fit. I’m using them with the excellent Westone Star silicone tips (not included with the AF140s), but that’s just because I had them handy when the 140s arrived.
There’s really not much more to say about the design and comfort of these. They look great, they are sturdy and comfortable and they come with all the accessories you’d expect so let’s get to the good stuff.
As I said earlier, the AF140s have taken a bit of a beating from some of my peers over on Head-Fi and I understand why – these aren’t going to be everyone’s auditory cup of tea, but if you’re like me, they could just be your cup of hot chocolate instead!
Because they use a dynamic bass driver the AF140s are able to offer plenty of bass with good depth, but they’re not bass monsters. The bass is full and a touch slow perhaps, but it’s enjoyable and well-tuned overall. I don’t feel like the bass bleeds into other frequencies, but it is a touch slower than other units like the aforementioned A83 or the more expensive (and BA driven) AF180.
Because of the slight roundness in the bass, the AF140 sounds full and smooth – a theme which continues throughout for better or worse – that part’s up to your tastes. Depth and impact are excellent and the AF140 never runs out of puff even on bass-heavy electronic tracks. It’s not agile like the A83, but it’s enjoyable in its own way and is coherent with the rest of the picture… which is about to get much more compelling.
I love it when a product has a “party trick” – that thing that it does better than any / many of its peers. For the AF140, the party trick is the mid-range presentation.
I haven’t enjoyed a mid-range this much since I first bought my SE535s all those years ago. In many ways, the AF140s are kind of like an SE535 with deeper bass, but I don’t have them 535s anymore so I don’t want to get too carried away with that comparison as I might be selling one or both IEMs short.
What I love about the mids from the AF140s is that they are so perfectly focused and accurate – I can’t help but get drawn into the music and notice each instrument, each vocal nuance, and each subtle texture in the instrumentation and mixing of the track. The AF140s are able to shine a very different light on my music collection than many (any?) of my other IEMs, including top-notch offerings like the UM Miracles and SE846 (yes, I keep saying that the review is coming soon and it is – they’re just tricky to fully appreciate as you’ll see in the future).
Instruments and vocals are rendered with complete precision by the AF140s. The sounds are eerily palpable within the soundstage regardless of whether they are placed front and centre or off to the side of the mix. Everything is just so well-defined and rendered in the mid-ranges.
The highs, much like the similar AF180, may be troublesome for some. For once with a hybrid this isn’t because of stinging shards of treble energy, but because the AF140 is very politely rolled-off up top. I literally can’t find a track that sounds sibilant on the AF140s which could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing – once again it all depends on how you look at it. I’m going to keep the treble summary very brief – it’s there, but it’s rolled-off relative to the other frequencies a little more so than with the AF180 I think. With that said, let’s flash back for a moment to the origins of the Audiofly brand… It’s an IEM company run by musicians. Now let’s think about how a musician would use an IEM like the AF140…
You’re a guitarist and you’re on stage with your band. You need to know what’s going on in the mix. You need to know how you sound; how your band mates sound. You need to know where the groove is headed. Do you know what you don’t need? Sibilance. You don’t need any excess treble information to get in the way of relaxing and sinking into the magical moments that come when a group of musicians hit their stride with one another.
So, my assumption when I listen to the AF140 is that this was designed as a stage monitor. If you’re an audiophile, this IEM is probably not for you – it is definitely not a mastering tool or analysis device. If you’re a music lover like me though, you probably value the musical experience above the technicalities of a track – you’re looking for the groove and the magic. To me that’s where the AF140s really shine. I just can’t help but enjoy the music washing over me when I relax into a good track with the AF140s. They don’t dissect poorly recorded tracks in my collection, they just wrap them gently in velvet and deliver them to me with a big smile and an extra dollop of cream.
Imaging & Staging
I still can’t quite work out how the AF140s throw the image that they do. Typically speaking, positional information comes from higher frequencies because lower frequencies are less directional. With rolled-off treble, the AF140s should produce a solid clump of congested sound somewhere between your ears, but they don’t. No, the AF140s create one of the most spacious stages I’ve ever heard from a smooth, relaxed earphone or headphone. The stage stretches comfortably from ear to ear and has excellent depth. Instruments are coherently placed and spaced throughout the entire space and every instrument has an incredible sense of space around it without ever sounding separate from the other instruments. I personally find the imaging and staging of the AF140s completely seductive and intoxicating. I will honestly miss these when I have to send them back simply because they are unique (in a good way).
It’s very easy in this hobby to get caught in the quest for every last bit of detail and neutrality at any cost, but having been down that road I’ve returned to a place over the last year or so of really emphasising the enjoyment of the music over anything else. My personal measure for a product is about one simple question – do I enjoy my music with it? With the AF140s my answer is a resounding yes each and every time I listen to them. Sure, there are technically better IEMs out there. There are IEMs with better bass and better treble. There are IEMs that are more neutral and less coloured, but for the price I don’t think I’ve heard an IEM that I just for enjoy moment that it’s in my ears. In fact, while the AF180 is clearly a superior product, I find the AF140 has a certain something that I almost prefer because it’s unique and fun.
Now my measure for a great product (for me) might be the simple question of enjoyment, but your needs and measures might be different so let’s be clear… If you like a bright signature or lots of detail, or if you need neutrality for mixing and mastering, there’s probably not a lot of point in auditioning these and you might find the FIDUE A83 a better option (or some of the countless other IEMs out there). However, if you’re a musician looking for a comfortable and sturdy IEM for stage use or a music lover who just wants to listen to tunes and smile then you absolutely should check these puppies out and revel in that mid-range glow – it’s something special!