Phonak Audéo 012 (with Grey and Green Filters) Review
Phonak Audéo are a branch off of Phonak who are a company who distribute hearing aids and they have, as it seems, decided a take on earphones and have done so pretty well. Their first earphone was a couple of years back called the PFE (perfect fit earphone) but since then they have a more extensive range with the cheaper perfect bass model (012 and 022) and now a new flagship the 232!
To me the Phonak range always was intriguing. Although it took me an a good while to get my head round their product naming system which is incredibly ridiculous (there’s a 012, 022, 111, 112, 121, 122, 132 which all basically look the same) I decided that I would like to purchase a pair. So when the opportunity to get a pair of 012 (bottom model) with additional grey filters at a cheap price I did not pass it up! The way it seems to be with there line up, is that all the earphones are the same (all share the same balanced armature driver) but the filters that they include differ (filters change the sound) as well as does accessories and whether or not they feature a microphone and iPhone buttons. All quite simple in the end!
Using my home rig off iMac to Objective 2 amplifier with FLAC and Apple Lossless or my Cowon J3 with FLAC and some 320KBPS MP3.
Using the medium stock tips and the ear guides.
These are not shabby for there build quality but then again I have seen better! They are completely made of plastic that feels more stable in some paces than others.
The cable is terminated with a straight “I” jack which I am not a big fan of for issues that can occur with them because of their weakness. It gets better though as you move up into the cable it is really quite thick plastic (thicker by a bit than your average earphones) and this does not feel like any problems should occur with it. It then hits a small y-split that turns in to two much thinner cables (like what I usually expect with earphones) which still feel sturdy enough even with there thin body. They the go straight in to the housing of your earphone that is not like the normal strain relief so that should also not turn out to be problematic. I show preference to earphones with removable cable as it puts my mind at rest of something breaking but as non-removable cables go, this is pretty well built. The wires also have nice feel to them and feel slightly rougher than what your normally expect. It is also super soft and fairly flexible. They also seem to be pretty tangle resistant which is pretty handy and time saving.
The housings are just black plastic (colors do vary) which are very lightweight but they do get to thin bits at parts (were the wire enters) and this in your hands feels very fragile but that could also be because how feathery light they are. I don’t see myself encountering any problems with them but if you’re a more heavy/active user you might want to be more cautious.
The design is nice and looks very unique and also quite handily disappears into your ear when wearing them and don’t stick out and look daft like some other earphones I own, such as the Ultimate Ears Super Fi 3. You can also clearly see by looking at the housing that they have put some time in the design of it with getting them to fit ergonomically. The cable is also low profile with a tiny y-split that does not stand out. There is also a chin slider which to some people is very important, but not a big feature to me.
Now this is were the 012’s some serious points. Although I do enjoy getting an earphone with thousand's of accessories I’m not someone who finds it all necessary but there are some pieces that I expect any earphone at a price over £30 for an earphone to come with that these fail to include. In fact there is not anything that these include other than a 3 silicone tips one pair in sizes small, medium and large. They also come with the pre-installed green filters.
A bit more information on the acoustic filters, these dampen certain frequencies slightly bending the sound signatures so that you can get different sounds. This is a great idea and it works well as well. They are also ver cheap to buy, for example the filters you do not get with the 012! Only £10 for black and £10 for grey!
On the topic of the 3 pairs of silicone tips that come with them however they do seem to be really flexible and of good quality but this does not make up for the lack of any other accessories at all.
I do not expect 100 pairs of tips with every earphone purchase nor the airplane accessories but a case to carry them I think is essential as well as if it’s your first pair a cleaning tool!
I have already mentioned that you can see that these have an ergonomic design and the time they have clearly spent getting this right pays dividends here! I have not got a seal this quick with any other earphones in my life. It was literally a case of putting the cable over my ears push them in and then I instantly felt the suction and I was in! No messing around tugging your ears rotating the housing into your ear canal and any other time consuming stuff which is a breath of fresh air.
Once in, they turn non-existent as they are not on really small but extremely light which builds up to them vanishing from thin air in my ear and you could almost get caught believing your ears are playing music to themselves. You do have to remember they are perfect fit earphones. Another thing I also like is because they are small they do not take up your whole ear. When I use my Aurisonics ASG-1 because they are universal customs my whole ear is covered and this can build up to sweat but because these don’t cover a lot you do not suffer from the sweat problem.
The silicone tips are also really soft and flexible and I find them a lot more comfortable than my comply tips that I have.
I also have now got a few sets of the plastic cable guides that Phonak sell and these help you get a tighter more plush fit over the back of your ears and is also slightly more comfortable.
These are extremely comfortable and deserve top marks.
Isolation of course depends on what tip you use. The silicone tips that are provided are not the best and even though you can get a super seal they leak a bit of ambient noise in. Of course if that is a real big problem you can invest in some comply foam tips and these will help boost it a little bit. It is a not an issue that should stop you purchasing or really an issue at all. It’s just no more than average at isolating.
Microphonics (Cable Noise)
These are worn over the ears which in most case seems to pretty much remove any microphonics but for seem reason these seem still have a tad but not anything that should cause you any bother. Still a clear mile better than any other earphone that is worn straight down.
Soundstage and instrument separation
Starting with instrument separation, these separate instruments very well with what seems to be ease. It has been something that I have found with most balanced armature earphones that they manage to do very well is separate instruments. There is a airy feeling around each instrument so you can easily distinguish one from another and they are correctly apart. It is very clear but I still have to give the instrument separation title to Fischer Audio DBA-02 as although they are both very good at the presentation on the DBA-02 seems to be slightly better than these. These do however seem to comfortably out do any dynamic driver earphone in this section nicely.
The soundstage is average. It is quite airy and also fairly wide but lacks in height. It extends well around you and to the sides. Depth is ok and just average. The size as a whole is no more than say a town hall and it is on par with all the better balanced armature earphones that I have heard. In terms of soundstage however these can just not live up to those of dynamic drivers.
I might just point out that was all with the grey filters and the soundstage unfortunately shrinks with the green ones. There is also a lack in airiness between instruments and everything feels a bit more shoved together.
For this part of the review I will write in two colors that will signal the filters I am using. Green writing for green filters and grey for grey filters.
Being a balanced armature earphone as you can expect the mid-bass quantity wont be at anywhere near basshead levels but it feels jut right here and in line with the rest of the frequencies. Quantity wise it feels nowhere near tinny or empty which is something that I have heard with balanced armature drivers so I was relieved there. The quality is good and it extends well and also has a good speed to keep up with anything that I thrown at it. It stays were it is meant to be and there is no unwanted bleed into the mids. Its impact is very tight.
Now something I was not expecting was a lot of sub-bass if any at all but I was actually quite surprised to find I felt some. Now by no means a lot but enough so that you can feel that you can feel them low rumbles which is a lovely feeling! It was extremely noticeable on End of Show State College (Live) by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
The bass jumps into forward mode and stand ahead of the rest of the other frequencies boldly! The mid-bass quantity is definitely increased and these in my eyes can pass easily at basshead levels. This is insane for a balanced armature driver and also for the difference that the filter makes. With the quantity increase it still maintains almost all the positives of balanced armature bass. It is far from boomy and still has that detailed tight impact. The only thing it loses is a bit is the speed it deals with bass which is not near as good as other balanced armatures or with the grey filters and at times you can hear it fall behind a bit.
Sub-bass also benefits with an increase. It takes what I was already happy with and then just makes it better! They now have an ever-present deep extended rumble that is very welcome.
The mids are not laid back or forwarded and just sit nicely in the middle. They are liquid smooth and feel so right. There is a well-bodied full textured depth to them that most would not expect from a sing balanced armature driver. There is great detail and clarity that make the sound very clean. The vocals are smooth and nicely positioned in accordance to the instruments that feels very natural. The vocals do struggle with a bit of sibilance.
The mids have now seemingly been pushed back a fair bit and sit behind the bass. They are now more compressed and the texture feels different and slightly more muddy (still not near being muddy). They manage to retain the detail and smoothness and I also think that there is a decrease in sibilance. The vocals now feel in the wrong position because they are overpowered by the bass and to me just feel unnatural. It also has a warmer sense to it that contributes to the unnatural feel.
Sound balanced and okay in quantity. I like my treble with a sparkle that sits just under fatiguing and this does not seem to get nowhere near as close as I was hoping. It does seem to also lack in extension but there is still easily enough detail. It is very smooth and I think this is what prevents any extreme amount of sparkle but it still sound good.
Highs now feel recessed. Lack more sparkle and now have barely any to me (I am coming from DBA-02s) and lacks a bit more detail. Still feels very smooth and is far from being bad.
If you buy the 012s you will only get the green filters that are a dark sounding earphone with great detail. They are very cheap and if you don’t mind the lack of accessories I recommend buying them and even if you want a cleaner more dynamic sound you can pay the £10 to get a grey pack of filters which turn the earphones in to a smooth, natural and analytic signature. Both are very nice and will suit some better than others but too me the grey comes out top. There is also a black filter that apparently gives a more V shaped signature that you may also want to try. If you do not like the sound of the green filters you an always go for the 112 and 121 that also come with full accessory packs. Also they offer 3 button iPod controls for just a bit extra which to me is no big deal but it is a good offering.
I think to anyone wanting to try something new and already have enough tips and cases lying round to pick up the 012 plus a pack of grey filters and you will not be disappointed! I highly recommend them to anyone else as well as its more than likely with three different filters your going to love one signature that they can offer!
These have instantly gone to one of my favorite earphones and I think they will be getting a good amount of use!
Edited by Swimsonny - 4/28/12 at 5:29am