- 3.50 star(s)
Pleasant sound sig with decent detail retrieval.
Cons: Bass & Treble are competent.
This price point may be too competitive for it.
Cable is very average.
Thinner sound overall. Audiofly AF-180 mk2 ($499):
AF180 website: https://audiofly.com/shop/af180-mk2/
Over the years, we have had the pleasure to try and audition some quite fine IEM’s, at various price points. Some that came in at $50, which were quite astounding (for that price). Some at the $120 level, which fit the same mold. A benefit from this is that as the sound quality of those went north with the price (as in an increasing price…), the norms and expectations have moved with them. It became an expectation that an IEM of choice at $200 sounded like a million dollars. And many worked (or were close so that the listener was quite happy). Along with that came the expectation that not only should we assume more for our hard-earned dollars, but that the sound would exponentially move towards a higher bracket as well. Sometimes this worked, such as many Fearless or Oriolus models. Some didn’t in my humble opinion, such as the move upscale by HiFiMan in the RE series (sorry, but I’m just not a fan and think they are overpriced). At a certain price, there is the expectation that not only will the critter sound good but look and fit good as well. This is where some fell by the wayside. They might have sounded good, but the fit-n-finish was well below the standards set by other companies.
The problem with this approach (not to us of course, but the manufacturers) is that when a newcomer, or relative newcomer enters the market the expectation is that they follow suit and it immediately must not only sound like the others in order to fit, but must be worthy of more than the price; as in “punches above its weight.” This to me is a lose/lose situation for both the consumer and the manufacturer. Our expectations are often not met, and we bash the product on forums, which does no good. Sometimes, the item in hand should just sound good in isolation, away from others to be successful, without the harm of having to “meet the expectation” that the others have. One would certainly not judge a Mustang GT against a Ferrari 488 Pista only on performance, because it actually may be closer than you think. The person who purchases a Mustang GT much of the time does not aspire for the Ferrari, or is able to afford it; thus, the true beauty of the Mustang GT. The Ferrari owner cares not either way.
Here is where a company such as Audiofly comes in. They have multiple models at different price points (just like Ford), and often those models are looked at singularly. Some do certainly decide between a Camaro and a Mustang, but that modus operandi is usually set in stone: it is one or the other, not both in consideration. And here, I feel that Audiofly has succeeded. At least in getting this humble reviewer to think of the AF180 mk2 singularly. At least for much of this review.
My initial listen provides me with a sound, which is both enticing and perplexing. With good detail at both ends, succinct enough to discern the finer points of treble and bass; the mids hold a different beast all together. Like looking through a snow globe, which has a flawless winter scene, with complete holography; you are held entranced. You want to look through the globe to see what lies beyond but cannot for the swirling effect of that holography holds you. Entrances you like the first time you watched the Claymation version of Rudolph. You wonder at the animals and movement and the time it took to film such a wonderful Christmas movie (it is March but go with me on this…). While maybe not the clearest look at the holographic middle section of sound, there is enough clarity (as others have stated) to keep your interest. Almost like that holography holds the separates of bass and treble together. For you see without that, to me, the trio would be disjointed. And that would be bad. But thankfully this initial listen makes me liken the AF180’s to the Oriolus Finschi for its wonderful sound characteristics, mixed with the Noble Savant II. All three are different, but share that uniqueness, which binds them together. Wonderful sound wrought from three different signatures.
- Driver type: Four balanced armature drivers with 3-way crossover
- Driver arrangement: Dual bass, single mid, single high
- Frequency range: 15Hz-25kHz
- Crossover: Passive 3-way electronic crossover with Butterworth filter
- Acoustic tuning: Physical 3-way frequency divider
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Sensitivity: 104dB at 1kHz
- Cable length: 1.2m / 47”
- Plug type: 3.5mm gold plated, right-angle format
MBP/iFi Pro iDSD
Fearless Audio S6Rui ($429)
Oriolus Finschi ($169)
Noble Savant II ($499)
Hidyzs MS-4 ($269)
From the outset, it was obvious that someone else had the unit before me. They had treated it well, and I still received a good unboxing experience. A square matte black box arrived, replete with shiny pictures all over, but not as shiny as some. Tasteful and informative. The back shows an exploded view of the construction process as well as a graph. Also, a “what’s in the box,” plays homage to @ExpatinJapan for his chicanery. With Comply tips included and a Cordura cable, the box came well-appointed with goodies.
Pulling the top off of the box, you are met with the IEM in a QUAD-layered (yes 4!) hard foam insert on top. Arranged like two half hearts, I do believe Audiofly missed an opp for creating a “heart” at the top. A Pelican-like case takes care of the bottom 5/8ths. Inside you will find the tips, airplane adapter, 6.35mm adapter, and cleaning brush; laid in sheepskin-like carpet. Mimicking what Campfire Audio does with their cases, the fuzzy carpet is appreciated. Sturdy as well, it is “water resistant.” An instruction manual lies under, rounding out the accoutrements.
Others have stated that this is one of the smallest IEM’s they have tried and as such fits exceptionally well. I would agree mostly. The right tip of course “seals the deal,” and with that the fit and seal are excellent. Bend from the plastic ear-guide is good and hinders my glasses little. Fit is thus quite good. Of note, this has the smallest diameter nozzle of any unit I have tried. So, if you tip roll be aware that the nozzle is really, REALLY narrow. Long but narrow.
Finish is good too, as one would hope. Shells fit together properly, with a fairly even coating of paint. The inside is a matte black, while the outer is glossy black. And interesting twist. The nozzle also has a “cut” area on the end, so the lip is not even. An interesting look and I will admit I am not sure why it is there. Much has been made about the thinness of the cable. I will admit it does not bother me, and microphonics from the part above the y-splitter are not nearly as annoying as some. Quietly decent. An MMCX connector rounds out the package as well as a right-angle jack. I also cannot get past the look of the cable, likening it to my mother’s old iron, which has a woven cloth cord over the plastic-coated wires. It is a bit thin, but to me so what.
The package does exude quality, if not totl quality what with the finish and cable. Completely adequate and better than others at this price.
As spoken above, when taken in isolation, the AF180 mk2 is good. Emitting a pleasantly near-neutral sound, as witnessed by the graph, which is dead flat to 1000hz. Taken as a whole picture, the sound is not quite petite, but thorough. The top and bottom end seem to come along for the ride, with the mids stealing the limelight. Vocals sit lower in the center than I am used to, but aid in that humbleness, which pervades the overall. Nothing really stands out, except maybe that holographic mid of which I mentioned earlier. An interesting twist, but definitely the central focus. Bass is neither too much nor too little. The same with the treble. There is a bit of sparkle, and some enunciated “S’s,” which can come across as sibilant; but it is not. To me the S-sounds are just enunciation. No more.
Bass through the dual-BA’s is good, but not of the thumping deep reaching variety. Call it adequate and having the ability to represent the sound well. With fast decay, it can keep up well on those faster paced songs as well. I would have appreciated more bass reach to help tie down the lower end, but do not feel the lack thereof hinders the overall character of the 180. Just me being selfish. I would add that by staying behind the scene a bit, the bass does not get in the way of the listening pleasure, only makes you wish for more when the song calls for it.
The mids are definitely the highlight of the af180. Coherent, present, and central; the mids enjoy the limelight as can be expected with this set up. By that I mean, once you have heard the 180, you realize that the sound was built around the mids. Some of the better vocal treatment of late is the result. Lyle Lovett’s M-O-N-E-Y shows forth the best of this. His voice can be piercing on some IEM of late. Not here. There is the enunciation as noted, but as part of the fit of sound signature. It plays well with this jazzy-live tune. I found myself turning the volume up with the AF more than others of late as a result. Clear, and crisp would be good definers as well. Not like my CTM Da Vinci X mind you, but for this price a good fit.
Already mentioned a good bit, the treble follows the bass behind the mids. But with a bit of sparkle to keep things more even. Not sibilant, but succinct in the S-sound, the 180 comes across as competent, without artificiality to aid in presentation. Another (much less expensive) in house right now has a definite artificiality to it with regard to cymbal clashes and treble. Very off-putting to me; there is none of that here. Enjoyable without the bite, which can hinder my personal listening experience. I would not call it a bit of roll off, as I am not the one best to judge that, but the 180 is certainly not piercing or overly proud of that top end. Again, a humble nature comes across. Almost polite, but with enough veracity to show its note. A well laid treble, which supports the overall well.
Because of those mids, the sound stage may seem artificially wide, but not audaciously wide. While it is good, it does not present itself as insanely different than the character of the IEM. Some shout a certain part of their signature forward to showcase that sound. Here, humility seems the case, and the sound stage adds to that by being wide, tall and deep; but not ostentatiously. A pleasant experience. As a result, layering is good but not great. Presence is felt with each instrument as well as placement; but it is more in character with an “over there” as opposed to a precision arrow-point of placement. Again, nothing wrong with that adding to the character. The more I listen, the more I appreciate the route taken by Audiofly, likening it to Dita and the Dream. Until I heard the 64Audio duo, which followed on tour, the Dream was quite wonderful; and still is. Same here. Good of its own merit. No more, no less.
Audiofly AF180 mk2 ($499) v Fearless Audio S6Rui ($429):
One of the first iterations from Fearless, I quite liked the S6Rui. Providing a W-shape (to me), the bass quantity is more than the 180, but not of any better quality. There seems to be that hint of bass, which only shows sometimes when you really crave more. Not bad mind you, it just fell a bit short to me. When talking about the mids, there is no comparison to me. The 180 is of such good quality that the S6 seems to shout at you. Placed much further forward and a bit higher, it definitely steals the show. To the detriment of the overall sound. It provides very good layering and decent detail, but at the expense of being pushed too far forward. Easier to drive, I had to turn the volume down more than the MS4 listed below. Add in that the upper end seemed biting, and it makes for a much more specific sound taste. Good for commuting due to the isolation and upper push, the S6 is not quite as neutral and I think that is what downgrades it overall. The S6 cannot seem to decide whether it wants to be a quality bass-presenting signature, forward-pushing mid monster or one of adequate treble push and wide of stage. This is what keeps it from becoming truly good in my opinion. It cannot decide which way the signature wants to go. The AF180? It definitely knows.
Audiofly AF180 mk2 ($499) v Oriolus Finschi ($169):
After I reviewed the Finschi, I will openly admit that it became my all-time favorite pretty much under $500. Now this is just one reviewer’s opinion, but the signature fit me so well, that were I only allotted three IEM’s (it’s my call go with it) at various prices, the Finschi would be one of those three. One of the others lies right below this, and the third the Legend X. Were I shipwrecked with unlimited power for DAP’s only, those three would occupy my coveted trio. No others give me as much satisfaction as them. Period. So…how does one judge it against a newer product, since I already have that bias? Pretty easily actually. The bass is of more quantity, but again not as fast in decay, or of good quality. I do not care, but if one does, the 180 while having less, is much better in control.
Mids are reigned in as well. Wherewith the 180, the mids are the star, the bass is on the Finschi to me. Vocals are placed higher in the signature, which can hinder cohesiveness a bit. The treble can be a bit biting when using silicons, hence I use only Comply’s. Even then, the treble can become a bit tiresome and volume lowers. The AF180 has better control up top, even if it takes the backseat to the mids. If you want a steal (to me), like excellent bass quantity without the overwhelmingness like the MS4 below, then definitely look at the Finschi. If you want a better-balanced sound, even with the bass and treble tying the ends together like containing a hot air balloon, which is taking off, then the 180 is a good listen.
Audiofly AF180 mk2 ($499) v Noble Savant II ($499):
One of the other two desert island keepers is the newest to me. The Savant ii. In looking for something in this price range, I wanted good bass, excellent detail retrieval, and a sound signature on the warm side of life. Just like the Finschi, only better. And after consulting another Headfier, he steered me towards this versus the Sage. And I do not regret it one bit. Excellent bass quality and quantity, combined with mids, which are wonderful in clarity make for a stunning (to me) package. With very good reach of treble up top, without being peaky, spikey or piercing; the Savant ii defines my sound character. Although I do wish it had a bit more bass (like the Finschi), I find it eminently listenable for long sessions and reach for it often.
Compared to the 180, the Savant has a much fuller sound signature, blossoming into life while providing a fluid response to the music. The 180’s mids represent themselves well, and a bit humbler in nature. Not as forward as the Savant, I appreciate their presentation. Due to the forward nature of the Savant mids, I do find that I have to turn the volume down more often. Again, if you want an overall excellent warmer sound signature, the Savant is worth a look. If you prefer more neutral, with wonderful mids, the 180 might get the nod.
Audiofly AF180 mk2 ($499) v Hidyzs MS-4 ($269):
Added after talking to @Wiljen, he suggested I compare the two as he would as well when I send the AF on to him. For once, I was ahead of the game with this one. I appreciated its honest presentation, without too many highlights. It performs well and I still like the sound of it. Easier to drive than the 180, it has a brighter sound, with deeper reach of bass as well. In fact, you could call the bass of the MS4 a hammer. It thumps well into your head, almost overwhelming the signature. I like bass, but this bleeds into the mids. There is also a touch of artificiality of those mids. Not quite as coherent as the 180, the MS4 is of a shoutier sort, with higher treble reach as well, and those mids are pushed forward as well. I have to turn the volume down as a result. It still sounds quite good and has one of the more fun signatures I have heard, but it is not as refined as the 180.
The fit and finish are better as well. The all-metal design makes for a polished look. Refined. I’m not really fond of the cable above the y-splitter though. Something, which can be easily changed. Fit versus the 180 is worse as well. Trying for that custom look, the protrusions are in the wrong spot for me. Not bad mind you, just not as effortless as the 180.
This seems to be coming into play more often lately, or maybe I am simply getting better (doubt it…). That said, the 180 does play better with certain DAP’s. Of the ones listed above, I found the DTR1 to suit the 180 the best. About as neutral, as neutral gets, the pair worked in concert together, giving each the benefit of their best. It really was an excellent pairing, and the majority of my time was spent with the Dethonray. Clarity for days, the pair worked across genre to allow the music to show their goods and bads. A positive in my book.
Another fine pairing was the Cayin N6ii. I have found very few, which do not pair well with the N6, and this makes me happy. Combined with the 180 though, I found the Cayin trying to instill its sound signature across the 180. And it just didn’t work as well as the Dethonray. It was still good but trying to warm a signature as neutral as the 180 was not in eithers best interest.
Fitting well in between (maybe call it just right?…) was the Shanling M2x. Since the M5s has left my stable (I do miss it…sigh), the M2x is my go-to Shanling unit. Portable with WiFi for Tidal, it just works. As such it paired well with the 180, adding the right amount of warmth, instead of forcing upon the 180 like the Cayin. Not as vibrant as the DTR1, nonetheless, the Shanling embodied a warm touch across the 180’s bow, giving it that warmth, which benefitted both. This was a pairing of which I could listen for a good long time. And it would be very pleasant.
The AF180 mk2 shares some characteristics with fairly common Chinese brands. This most likely is not by happenstance. That is not a slam on Audiofly either. It means that Audiofly is aiming for a winning line. A winning proposition. And with the AF180 mk2, they mainly do hit the mark. This is quite a neutral IEM, and one which those who favor neutrality will savor the sound. Not too much bass, good treble with a bit of sparkle, and really good mids highlight a fine overall package. The vocal sound, which emanates from the 180’s is enough to potentially draw customers in. With really good detail of those vocals, and that semi-holographic nature, not unlike having a built-in balanced cable make for a package, which will win many over. Especially those who do like having their sound come out pure, without a push from any end. And in that regard, the 180 would be a fine IEM at which to look.
I thank Audiofly for the loan of the AF180 mk2. It has been an enjoyable time together, with much to like; especially the pairing with the DTR1. The two seemed destined to fit together, and for that I enjoyed the time. Cheers.