Phonak Audéo PFE232 Review
I’ve had the PFE232 for at least a year now and I was planning on doing a review quite a long while ago, but things got in the way… Anyhow, I’ve decided that I should make one as the Audéo brand has literally erupted since the original PFE112 debuted. I’m not aware if the PFE232 has undergone any changes within a year as I bought my sometime last year. The first thing that comes to most Head-Fiers minds when they hear the name “PFE232” is, “oh, it’s that expensive IEM again”. I understand why people might think that, but that is all irrelevant in my views. Let’s get right at it, shall we?
INTRO/PRICE/VALUE: $599 USD. Yes, that is $600 USD. More than half a grand for a small piece of electro acoustics that fits almost perfectly inside your ears. I got mine when Audéo had the promotion where you got both the PFE232 and Perfect Bass 012 for $599 USD, but I didn’t want the 012 so I opted it out for $100. Nevertheless, the PFE232 is a very pricey IEM and it’s hard to think of it as excellent value. However, once you get past the sheer price of the thing, you’re in for a truly wonderful surprise. Best Universal IEM to date? A strong contender that’s for sure.
SOUND (The important bit): Mostly used on iPhone 4 and sometimes paired it with the Fiio E11. Often used with the Hifiman HM-602 as a powerful source. Also used with my Ultrabook + Calyx Coffee DAC. 320 MP3, FLAC, and ALAC used (all of Hifiman and Ultrabook uses FLAC and iPhone I converted to MP3 and ALAC). Most of my impressions are based on the results from both the Grey and Black filter mixed. Unless I direct a comment towards a specific filter, consider most of the comments to be a mix of the two.
Bass: BA that sounds like a Dynamic, and in some areas better. Maybe some CIEMs beat it, but for Universal IEMs, I’ve heard nothing as good. Extends tremendously low and has very good impact; almost effortless throughout the bass. Very well controlled and balances nicely with the Mids and Treble. The bass from the PFE232 almost sounds like it’s coming from a large Dynamic driver; that “full” feeling you get. You can actually “feel” the bass rather than “hearing” it with many BA IEMs. I found that the delivery is a little on the quick side, but with plenty of body and punch. Has plenty of quantity to please bass dependent genres like Dubstep (really enjoyable here), Electronic, Hip-Hop, and others. And it also has plenty of quality and control to please delicate genres like Classical, Jazz, and soft Pop. I found that only a few select IEMs and Headphones are capable of doing this. These are my to-go bassy IEMs and they sure do it properly. Amped or unamped, they will deliver, but with that said, the PFE232 really likes being amped and are a huge amount of fun if you really push that Bass Boost to the edge.
Mids: Lower Mids is mildly recessed causing Male vocals to be a tad less enjoyable than Female vocals and also people find that the bass bleeds into the lower mids, but I find it to be quite minimal. Almost entirely gone with the Grey Filters, but with the Black and Green Filters, you can spot it out if you concentrate. Mids in general are perceived as “recessed” with the PFE232, but from the way I see it, it’s a little neutral while the Bass and Treble is boosted. With that said, the magic really happens when you get closer to the Treble. Female Vocals are truly a joy to listen to on the PFE232. Oh so very crisp and has much energy to it causing it to sound mildly bright. This goes for both the Grey and Black, but it is only a bit more intensified with the Grey filters. Very clean sounding with a mild touch of warmth. Not the strongest segment of the PFE232, but still noticeably good. I find that using Black filters mildly brings the mids down to emphasize the bass and treble, but doesn’t take away the clarity and transparency it shows using the Grey filters. However, with some artists the upper-mids can sound a bit grainy.
Treble: Treble is smooth, hot, and has an exceptional amount of energy. I very much enjoy bright treble and to others, what I feel about the PFE232 might be completely different to others who don’t really like bright treble. The PFE232 has a wonderful sounding treble. I love how it has plenty of energy, but it doesn’t sound offensive. Sibilance can be an issue for some, but it isn’t enough to bother me. One thing I noticed with the PFE232 is that it plays everything (bass, mids and treble) very well and up to a high level, but it doesn’t really go beyond the limit. Exactly the same thing with the treble. It has plenty of “brightness” to really make guitars, cymbals, and synthesizers shine, but it doesn’t really cross over to the offensive side. A lot of things can sound bright and enjoyable, but only well tuned IEMs and Headphones can bring it back and stop it from going too far. Mild metallic ring to it, but it's not offensive at all.
Soundstage: Very good width and depth along with great separation. Sounds rather realistic, or in better terms believable. I would say on the 3D side of spacing, while many IEMs come close to this 3D feeling. Doesn’t have the crammed feeling you get with a few IEMs.
BUILD AND DESIGN: Very well built and after a year of owning it (I’m not too nice with my Portable gear), no problems to report. I actually like this design of removable cables over the Shure SE series and Westone 2-pins. It locks just as well as the Shure SE series cable and doesn’t feel delicate like the 2-pin designs. Cable is a little on the short side for my personal uses… I often find myself tugging at the cable because I’m used to my exceptionally longer DHC Symbiote SE cable and Etymotic ER-4S cable.
COMFORT: Hands down the most comfortable IEM ever. Seriously, I’ve tried many IEMs in my years of interest and nothing is as comfortable as the original PFEs and the PFE232. Doesn’t go deep enough to cause pain and discomfort, like Etymotic IEMs, and has very little weight. The earglide actually works well now (compared to the rubbish one they provided with the original PFE) and removes a lot of the already little weight inside of the ear. Add this up with a shell that rests comfortably flat in your ears and Comply foam tips; you won’t need to take a break with these.
CONCLUSION: You seriously need to try these out if you’re interested and worried about the price. I don’t agree with people when they say that these are overpriced because it simply isn’t. I see overpriced products as a product that fails to deliver the performance included with the price. The PFE232, in my views at least, deliver up to the price tag and beyond; a truly worldclass IEM. Take a look at the AKG K3003i and FitEar ToGo 334. They are at least double the price of the PFE232 and the PFE232 is still able to compete with them. That’s the beauty of the PFE232. It really pleases the ears and works exceptionally well in every condition. Even though I’m not a huge fan of iPod/iPhone controls/mic, I think it works very well. I often consider not using an amp because of this function entirely! Whether you’re planning on using it with your iPhone, Amp, or whatever, the PFE232 is built to impress and satisfy most users. Overall, the PFE232 is a very fun sounding IEM that doesn’t sacrifice detail and clarity. It has very enjoyable boosted bass and treble and it is a very versatile IEM. If you get the chance to audition one, don’t hesitate as the PFE232 will surely give your ears one hell of a ride. Ahh.. Friggen iTunes just decided to remove all my playlists while I was trying to copy some photos onto my PC for this review and decided to give me useless playlists like "Recently Added", and other non-sense that makes me furious... Not the happiest camper at the moment so please take the time to leave comments
Also, you may have noticed that I haven't included comparisons. If you're interested about the PFE232 vs a specific IEM, I'll try to answer to the best of my abilities.
Edited by planx - 12/31/12 at 3:55pm