First of all, I want to thank Joker for his patience answering my questions in the search of my next IEM. I was ready to buy just when I read his review for the Flux, and from his descriptions (in italics and gray) I'll start, because I lack an appropriate language or experience to describe IEMs and sound in general. Thanks Joker!
Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and zippered carrying pouch
At first I wished the accessories include comply tips or at least foamy tips, similar to the marshmallows, but the stock silicone tips are good, easy to use and provide great seal. I tried the marshmallow tips, they fit well but they come off, so I went back to the silicone and I think they are more versatile. I would like to try comply but not necessary yet.
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The metal-and-plastic housings of the Flux remind me of the HiSoundAudio Crystal in both size and shape. The strain reliefs are not flexible enough for my liking but the narrow, rubbery flat cable works rather well. It holds a single-button inline remote and microphone.
I agree the quality is great and extremely light. The flat cable is much stronger than other type of cables and all the terminations don't appear to be prone to be damage anytime soon. Nevertheless the cable is made of some type of non-sliding rubber, provoking horrible microphonics.
The mic button is very sturdy and works very smooth and consistent; doesn't feel cheap as others. It has all the Apple features: one click answers/hangs up/plays/pauses ; double-click next song ; triple click previous song ; hold and wait brings Siri and/or brings the music back again. It also works with the Mac computer for music or Skype, which I had to use with low volume for the level of isolation. It doesn't work with PC.
Isolation (4/5) – Good, thanks to slim form factor and well-sealing stock tips
The isolation is amazing. The first couple of hours gave me a headache, but after a few days I'm already used to it. Because of its long shape, they can go so deep that when you slowly take them out it feels like you are in the depth of a swimming pool, swim up the last few seconds until you're out of the water and the whole soundscape comes back. If you talk while you have it on, your voice will take over your brain like if you're using a megaphone!
Microphonics (3/5) – Bothersome when worn cable-down; good otherwise
Oh, boy… I believe Joker may have gave it a 3 because of an average between a 1.5 (worn down) and a 4.5 (over your years); the difference is HUGE. The rubber cable touches your clothes and it's like a boom box. I'm used to run towards the subways or buses and those quick runs feel like drums concert. So, it's not for running unless you tape it to your face. Wearing it over your ears is such a different story, I'd say almost no microphonics at all, you can barely hear any sound beyond the music.
The only problem with this is that because of its long shape and flat cable, unless you have big ears the cable comes out of your ears like a quarter of an inch, so after walking for a little while it may slowly begin to lose the position, but on the other side this doesn't happen too quick because the rubber material also stick against your ear and also avoids the falling.
The mic is at a shoulder/upper chest level if worn down and at a mouth level if worn up, but behind your ear. Still the mic quality is so good that the difference for the receiver hearing you is minimum. Take into consideration that you will have to control your music and phone from below your ear and not your chest.
Comfort (4.5/5) – The housings are compact and lightweight, providing an unobtrusive fit that is comfortable for extended listening. The stock tips are of very good quality. The earphones can be worn cable-up as well as cable-down, though the microphone position suffers with over-the-ear wear
It takes a few days, but they are really comfortable non-intrusive. They cable is long enough. I'm 5'10" and I have about 10" of extra cable from my pocket, which allows free movement, and probably about only 5" if worn up.
Sound (8.2/10) – The first dynamic-driver earphone from SteelSeries, the Flux In-Ear uses 6mm transducers and delivers a lively, well-rounded sound that impressed me from the very first listen. The bass has excellent extension and delivers good punch with no bloat. I would put the overall bass quantity on-par with the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition – like the VSonics, the Flux offers more impact than strictly neutral earphones such as the HiFiMan RE-400 but retains better accuracy than properly bass-heavy sets. The bass is not enhanced enough for the Flux to sound bloated – in fact, it is only a touch more boomy compared to the pricier and more neutral-sounding RE-400 and VSonic GR07.
The midrange of the Flux is among clearest I’ve heard in the price range and maintains a neutral-to-warm tone. The mids are a little recessed compared to sets such as the RE-400 and Dunu’s Tai Chi model, as well as the pricier Flux In-Ear Pro. This is not to say the Flux sounds severely v-shaped – rather, it is balanced-sounding with just a bit of a bass enhancement and crisp, prominent treble. The top end is extended, has good energy, and sounds mostly smooth, with just a bit of grain compared to higher-end sets such as the Flux In-Ear Pro, UE 600, and HiFiMan RE-400. It’s not nearly as prone to sibilance as many of the popular VSonic models and makes sets that are more laid-back at the top, such as the Dunu Tai Chi, sound dull and smoothed-over in comparison.
The presentation of the Flux fits in with the overall signature, being neither as forward and mid-centric as that of the HiFiMan RE-400, not as wide and out-of-the-head as that of the VSonic GR07. The good top-to-bottom extension, bass control, and overall balance of the Flux all help make sure that no elements of the sound are lost, in keeping with SteelSeries earphones being marketed for gaming as well as music.
What can I add to this level of description and expertise. I can only compare the Flux to my previous one: the JVC marshmallows (laughs). For the average listener the marshs are good enough and at great value for its price, but the Flux are another league, and I understand why Joker was so surprised coming this product from a gaming company.
I've listened to The Dear Hunter (a Bostonian band in the line of Mars Volta and Muse), Nina Simone, a very detailed Agnes Obel & bassy Frank Ocean's Orange album. Those are currently on my iPhone and they served the purpose of moving through a nice range of sounds. The bass is very present and strong, but still precise. Depending on how you insert them and what type of song, the combination of bass and isolation could be a little overwhelming, like if you were covering your ears. The level of detail and clarity is fantastic. My marshmallows sound louder and the voice more in the front; the Flux more balanced and the voice right in the middle, a little recessed. I could never agree more with Joker about his final thought:
"The good top-to-bottom extension, bass control, and overall balance of the Flux all help make sure that no elements of the sound are lost."
And I'll add that the soundstage is wide enough to enjoy it and appreciate every single detail. Wider than the average headphone, of course not the widest of all (what do you expect for $50?), but in my amateur words I can describe it like not out-of-your-head but definitely around-your-head.
Value (10/10) – The SteelSeries Flux In-Ear headset is one of the very best mid-range earphones I’ve heard to date, delivering fantastic sound quality per dollar with punchy, extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity. SteelSeries’ freshman effort beats many higher-priced products from brands that have had years to refine their in-ear offerings, making its performance all the more impressive. The only shortcoming is the cable, which could use better strain relief and tends to be noisy when the earphones are worn cord-down, but it’s a small caveat on what is undoubtedly one of the best-performing earphones in its class.
I've had the Marshmallows, Apple headphones, a few full-size Sony, none of them were incredible except the Etymotic ER-4P (top of the notch but couldn't resist the lack of bass), and these, in my overall experience, are the best. They have the right dose of sound/build/comfort quality and are affordable. I'd probably grade them with a 9 to 9.5 value. If the next version improves micro phonics and on top of that includes a 3-button mic for volume control (though a minimalistic approach avoids confusing the click undesirably hanging up a call)… well, they could be unbeatable. Very, very impressive.
Those who can coexist with the occasional microphonics issue will be happy and satisfied as I am right now. This is my fifth day. I'm still trying to find out if these stock tips are the best or not. The marshmallows get in and out more naturally and the Flux silicones feel more like about to get a surgery, not only for the material, but also because they create a seal right away. Is it better? I don't know...
More to come in a couple of weeks.