disclaimer: Audiofly is an Australian company that is trying to expand its brand awareness globally. They recently began a review tour on head-fi to help accomplish that goal. The AF180 was provided by Audiofly as part of the review tour on Head-fi. I have received no compensation of any kind for this review and the unit was sent on to another reviewer at the end of my listening. I have no financial interests in Audiofly, For more information on the AF180 and other models they offer see their website.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The AF180 come in a lift-top box with a large picture of the earpiece on the front and the details on the rear. Lifting the cover reveals the earpieces with cable attached nestled in foam in the upper portion of the box (with the bulk of the cable hidden in a recess in the foam) and a pelican style hard case in the lower portion. All other goodies are hiding inside the case or under it. The instructions are under the case, while tips, an airline adapter, and a cleaning tool reside inside it. Provided tips include 3 sets of silicones, 2 sets of foam tips. The Case is well thought out as it has enough room for the earphones, cable, and a spare set of tips without feeling cramped or crowded. I usually add a small carabiner to attach the case to a backpack for air travel and the provided case mimics the Pelican as it provides multiple ways to attach it.
The earpieces are a 2 piece shell with the seam between inner and outer shell being easily visible due to color differences, but well mated and difficult to feel. Shape could be best defined as kidney bean with the nozzle coming off the center front of the shell and the mmcx connector the top rear. The Shell is solid black with a high gloss finish on the exterior shell and a matte finish on the interior. Size is moderate (same basic size as AF1120) and will be workable for most ears. For me, they took a bit of adjusting to get good seal with mid sized tips, but due to the longer than average nozzles, the larger tip I normally use was uncomfortable. Nozzles are smaller in diameter than standard and longer with almost no rake in any direction and are cast into the shell very similar to the Audiosense T180 in both size and shape. There is no lip for tip retention, but the shaft of the nozzle is long enough that surface area provides plenty of grip for tips and I found no tendency to slip once installed. Overall, I found the 180 comfortable for long listening sessions without any tendency toward physical fatigue.
The AF180 is an all balanced armature design using 4 per side with a 3-way electronic crossover and butterworth filter handling the break out to each. Audiofly lists drivers as a pair of bass, a single mid, and a single treble driver but does not disclose the model number or manufacturer of the drivers that I could find. In addition to the cross-over, Audiofly lists a physical design to enhance the sound further as the individual drivers do not use sound bores to the nozzle. Nominal impedance is listed as 16Ω with a sensitivity of 104 dB /mW at 1kHz. The numbers suggest the AF180 should be fairly easy to drive and I found it had adequate power when used in conjunction with phones, tablets, and low powered devices. It does scale some qualitatively with improvements in source, but doesn’t need the added power of many of those higher end options.
I have to say it right up front, I’m not a fan of this cable. It is tangle prone, and not of appropriate quality to match the 180. It starts well enough with a 90º 3.5mm jack but immediately goes to a cloth wrapped single cable that is reminiscent of the monoprice snails and goes up a splitter that is larger than necessary followed by two non-cloth coated twists with a large clear plastic chin slider that gives the cable an odd look due to the wires being widely separated by the splitter and then immediately pulled back together by the chin-slider. The north ends terminate with pre-formed earhooks and mmcx connectors. Housings could be better marked as any L/R indicator is difficult to find as well. The good thing about the Mk2 is the cable is now removable which gives the end user the opportunity to replace it and I think most will. The provided cable is simply not in congress with the quality of the rest of the offering.
The tuning of the AF180 is very different than the typical boosted sub-bass and upper-treble we see today. Gone are the artificial boosts of frequencies that aren’t commonly found in live performance with a focus instead on tonality and musicality in the ranges most common to ensemble performances. For some, this may be disappointing as the sub-bass won’t blow you out of your chair, nor will the top end extension wow you with sparkles. For many others, the AF1120 will reproduce the genres they listen to with stunning accuracy and tonality. Lets break out what to expect.
One might expect the bass to dominate the signature with dual drivers handling the lows and only single drivers handling the mids and highs but the bass is actually not elevated above the levels of the rest of the signature and blends well. Extension is only average with sub-bass being present, but rumble being somewhat limited and roll-off being present below the mid 50Hz range. Mid bass is solid with the characteristics one would normally expect from balanced armatures. It is fast, articulate, and clean, but lacks the slam of some other models. The mid bass does have a hint of warmth introduced by the tuning but no mid-bass bleed or obstruction of the lower mids. Those who like a detailed and well textured bass will appreciate the AF180 while those looking for lots of slam and rumble will be a bit disappointed by it.
As mentioned above the transition from bass to mids is very clean and no obstruction or thickening of the lower-mids is present. Mids are linear with the bass throughout the range with no major spikes or dips anywhere. There is a touch of warmth like contributed either by the cross-over tuning or filters as it is definitely not a typical BA characteristic. The hint of warmth makes the AF180 a bit less analytical but stops short of defining the signature. Mids, much like bass, is fast, clean, and well textured with a nice natural tonality. The big plus for me is the timbre of strings which the AF180 does very well. This is an uncommon trait at any price point, but especially so in sub-flagships. Here again, those looking for musicality will like the AF180, while those looking for an aggressive edge to the notes will find it slightly smoothed over.
Lower treble is the first place we see a departure from the linearity throughout the lower end of the signature. Lower treble is boosted giving vocals a bit of a push forward and giving them a touch more weight. Vocal texturing is above average but some hints of sibilance can sneak in at times. Overall the treble is tight and accurate with good detail before rolling off in the 13kHz range. Cymbals have a satisfying clang and snare rattle is well rendered if slightly smooth. Here again the attack is blunted just a touch in exchange for a bit more musicality.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Width is larger than depth of stage on the AF180, and height is substantial as well. Overall I would classify the stage as oval in shape with width about 1.5 times depth. Instrument separation is good as expected in an all BA affair. My normal exercise of trying to draw the orchestra seating chart in my head is fairly straight forward although a few instruments seem to be more side by side than front to back due to the stage dimensions. Movement around the stage is easily pinpointed in space and tracks well as sounds move. Layering is good as well and even as passages get busier, the 180 shows no tendency to thicken or get muddy.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
I had some idea what was coming with the AF180 having previously reviewed the 1120. In many ways, the 180 is the little brother of the 1120 as both share a lot of similarities. Both have a very natural tonality and tuning, both have similar shells and kits, and both trade a bit of extension and detail for smoothness and musicality. I’m not a big fan of the cable, but at least it is removable and easily replaced. With a price point being roughly $400 USD, this puts the AF180 Mk2 in direct competition with things like the Fidue A85, IBasso AM05, Toneking T88k, Fearless S6, and TFZ Series 7. None of these are poor iems, matter of fact, all are pretty dang good. So, is the AF180 competitive? Very much so. Is it a clear winner? No, I don’t think the AF180 is clearly the best of the bunch especially with so many different preferences among listeners. Those looking for something smooth, musical, and polite will really like the AF180 and for them it may be the clear winner among those listed. For those looking for a more aggressive presentation will likely find one of the other models more to their liking. The good thing about the AF180 is it provides a signature that is uncommon and an alternative to the more common options at this price point. For that, I applaud Audiofly and their line of Mk2 products.
- Bass - 6.5/106.5/10
- Mids - 7/107/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 7.5/107.5/10
Pros: good balance to signature, good detail and tonality, solid kit
Cons: cable, limited bass punch and depth, occasionally strident