Meet AudioFly. This Australian company is not as well-known as perhaps they should be. They’ve been making fantastic audio products since 2011, geared towards both the audiophile and high-end listeners. Their AF140s, the subject in question, are technically professional in-ear monitors, designed for professional musicians.
Nuts to that. You need a pair. You really, really need a pair.
One thing before we start raving: we're going to refer to the AF140s as earbuds here. Yes, we know that pedantic people will tell us they are in-ear-monitors, but earbuds takes less time to type, and you know what we're talking about anyway.
So the sound. Jesus, it's good.
It’s not just that every element of the sound was perfectly proportioned, with warm mids, crisp highs and rounded, completely distortion-free bass. It’s that the soundstage was wonderfully open. Even the most expensive in-ear models sometimes suffer from a ‘boxed in’ quality, where no matter how good the sound is you are still aware of what they are. That just isn’t the case here. The AF140s offer sound that extends in all directions, putting you right in the middle of the action. The level of detail is just out of this world, and in order to find fault with this sound, you’d have to be extremely picky.
AudioFly pull this off thanks to a triple driver system, which is very unusual in a model this size. A passive crossover module splits the signal and routes it to the appropriate driver. There are two dynamic drivers and one balanced armature driver, meaning that the audio output is perfectly balanced at all times. It’s actually a little scary just how well this system works. We pushed it with all genres, at all volumes, and it barely broke a sweat.
We do have to admit that these earbuds probably wouldn’t survive a sustained assault in the inside of a gym bag. But then, at this price, you’ll probably not be throwing them around too much. If you’re looking for something with looks that are a touch sharper, then we recommend checking out the Westone UM Pro30’s. They don’t have quite the same audio panache as the AF140s, but they look very slick indeed, and have a much more rugged construction.
For a pair of monitors that sound so spectacular, they really don’t look like much. The housing itself is plastic, split into a two-tone grey and black configuration. The body itself is then connected to a rubber handle, designed to fit around the curve of the ear. These are interesting in that they have memory, so will largely retain whatever shape you put them into. That’s a very good thing - it makes what we have to say next a little less painful.
Unfortunately, inserting them is a giant pain in the backside.
They come with several different sizes and types of buds, but those themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is the design and shape of the housing. Getting it to slot into the ear and stay there takes far longer than you’d expect, and that’s before you get to grips with the rubber handle.
The handle is designed to curve around the top of the ear from the front of it. While this is certainly useful in keeping the earbud in place, it means that the cable hangs down the back of the ear, irritating the skin. We’ll go into the cable and a little more detail below: right now, what you need to know is that you should only insert these earbuds if you are prepared for a long, intense listening session. Inserting them can take up to fifteen seconds a bud (it once took us an entire minute to get a good fit) and you’re not going to want to do it twice.
There are two types of cables on offer here. The first is the so-called CT (Clear-Talk) cable, which offers an in-line microphone. Our test model did not include this option, so we’re unable to tell you much about its effectiveness. Instead, our model came with the SL cable, which is a non-detachable, is a U-type braided cord made of rubber with a sliding plastic bracket joining together.
The cable just doesn’t work. Thanks to the design of the rubber handle on the buds themselves, the twitchy cable hangs down behind the ear, refusing to stay in place. The only way to make it stay still is to slide the plastic bracket up until it’s right under your chin, which removes the slack in the cable. This, frankly, looks ridiculous.
Plus, the cable is simply too long. Some of its length inevitably ends up coiled in a pocket, and while it’s far from the longest cable we’ve tested, it definitely gets in the way.
Also, a word of caution. There does not appear to be an option to buy the AF140’s off Audiofly’s website with an in-line microphone cable. When you do buy these earbuds, make sure you know exactly what kind of cable you’re getting.
However, these earbuds get major brownie points with their other accessories. Outside of a selection of buds in different shapes and sizes, you get a truly fantastic, tough canvas carry case. This is an effective and stylish way to carry the earbuds around, and is a refreshing change from the boring faux-leather bag that is often a feature of headphones made by larger manufacturers. In addition, you get a cleaning tool, a quarter inch jack and an airline adapter. AudioFly may not have done a lot of work on their cable, but they make up for it with the added extras.
Their frustrating cable and tricky insertion method means that they are really only for those who demand excellent audio over long listening sessions, but really, these are among the best-sounding earbuds/in-ear monitors/whatevers we’ve ever tested. If sound is what you want, and all you care about, then you absolutely need these. They are magnificent.
Annoying to insert, horrendous cable.
Those who value sound quality over everything else.
While they don’t have nearly the same level of audio quality as the AF140’s, these slightly less expensive earbuds are still magnificent. They dispense with the rubber handle that fits over the year, adopting a more traditional earbud design. They have two drivers compared to the AF140’s three, and the cable has an in-line microphone attached as standard.
Getting a little long in the tooth now, but Shure still have some bite. The SE535-Vs are noise-canceling earbuds which, like the AF140, have triple drivers. The sound is predictably excellent, and you won't have the annoying cable issues you get with the AF140. It does, however, cost more.
Breaking Down The Specs: