Flare Audio R2A Sound Isolating In-Ear Aluminum Earphones with High Definition & Distortion Free Sound (Black)


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Purity of sound, size, bass texture and clarity, forward and engaging mids, huge soundstage, comfort, detail, smooth non fatiguing treble
Cons: Lack of accessories, flimsy cable and y-splitter, may lack treble for some
Flare R2A – initial impressions
I picked up the Flare R2A as part of their successful Kickstarter campaign last year, and they were my first “proper” audiophile headphone. They were my daily drivers until very recently (as of March 2016), but I only started writing reviews on gear recently so revisiting these now to add my impressions.
About me: newly minted audiophile, late 30s, long time music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converting my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it.
Tech specs (or lack of)
These IEMs were part of a Kickstarter campaign, and it is very difficult to find the actually numbers written down anywhere describing what the frequency range covered is, and other stats like that. One thing you can find quite easily is information about the underlying concept of these earphones: Waveform Integrity. The designer (Davies Roberts of Flare Audio) has stated that his intentions with this IEM were to reproduce music exactly as the artist recorded it, with the waveform reaching your eardrums being exactly the same as the waveform that was pushed into the studio microphones. This is achieved by balancing the pressure on the front and back “sides” of the 5mm dynamic micro-driver at the heart of the R2As, so that pressure doesn’t build up on one side of the driver and distort the music being produced. Much like the main spec sheet, exactly how this is done is not freely disclosed, but it is a very interesting concept, and does appear to have a direct effect on the presentation of these IEMS, which I will outline below. It also affect the pressure being built up in your inner ear, which Roberts claims will help reduce damage to the delicate structures of the ear over time (or something like that – I couldn’t quite hear him when I listened to the video interview…).
On first receiving the box, it does appear that all expense has been spared in the packaging of this piece of audio equipment. It arrives in an oversized Flare Audio cloth bag, containing a white box the size of a small wedding ring container, with a minimalist Flare logo embossed on the top in silver foil. Opening the box yields some foam with the tiny earbuds held securely in their own cutout sections, one pair of Comply Tx200 tips, and precisely nothing else. This is packaging for the minimalist’s minimalist – even shaking the bag and box like you are trying to learn the maracas doesn’t dislodge anything further, it really is that simple. Still, as has been remarked before, you don’t listen to a cardboard box.
Build quality and ergonomics
The R2As are precision machined from one solid piece of aerospace-grade aluminium, and give the impression of being high quality and built to last. The buds themselves are absolutely tiny, in keeping with the size of the driver – the only IEMs I have held that approach the minute size of the R2A are the Aurisonics Rockets. The back of the IEM housing can be unscrewed, and the entire driver and cabling setup is user-replaceable if needed (a good solution as the cables are non-removable in order for the pressure balancing design to work). In terms of ergonomics, the tiny size of the IEMs coupled with the use of the included Comply tips mean that these are possibly the most comfortable in-ear solution for listening to sound I have come across to date. The buds can be inserted deep into the ear canal without any discomfort, enabling their use in bed as they effectively disappear into your ear when fitted correctly.
They can be worn over-ear or down, but the attached metal-block covering the Y-Splitter (more minimalism at work, this time a minimalist version of the Berlin wall, adorned with a Flare logo in lieu of graffiti) means that over-ear use is far more comfortable, the metal breeze block acting as a weight to pull the otherwise thin, flyaway cables down behind your ears and reduce microphonics to a minimum. If worn straight down, the block has a tendency to pull the buds from your ears if moved excessively, and dangles around your throat like an audiophile medallion. Unlike the premium and durable feel of the shells, the cable feels quite low-end for an IEM in this price bracket, being a thin, rubbery and light single strand cable rather than the more fancy braided or coated affairs you tend to see on competing products, which detracts a little from the premium feel. Due to the pressure balancing design, there is also no visible strain relief where the cabling enters the shells, which doesn’t give the impression that these cables will last the test of time particularly well if these are your “out and about” listening choice.
Sound quality
Test gear:
LG G Flex 2 (with and without Brainwavz AP001 mini-amp)
Sansa Clip+ (Rockboxed, amped as above)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack)
Test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
Slash & Beth Hart – Mother Maria (vocal tone)
Richie Kotzen – Come On Free (bass tone)
Otis Redding – various
Elvis – various
Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
Foy Vance – various
Blues Traveler
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)
Sigma - various
Rudimental – various
Rodrigo y Gabriela – various
Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
General notes on the sound signature
The abiding impression the R2A leave with me every time I listen to them is not so much what they bring to the listening, but what they remove. Once properly settled deep in your ear canal, the IEM seems to melt away slowly, leaving the impression of the music pouring directly out of your head into the surrounding area. The feeling of being “part” of the music is effortless, and feels incredibly immersive. I have lost count of the amount of times I have slipped these in and then drifted oiff into some dream-like state while listening to some Otis or Alison Krauss. Davies Roberts has stated his intention for these IEMs to “get out of the way of the music”, and in that, he has definitely succeeded with these. There are IEMs and headphones out there that will bring more energy, or more beauty, or more clarity, or just more good old-fashioned oomph to a piece of music, but very few that will INVOLVE you so much in a piece without you even realising it.
The treble on the R2As is a very silky, fatigue free affair, with plenty of resolution and a beautiful pure tone. They are tuned to feel smooth rather than sharp or etched – this doesn’t mean that any detail is lacking, and if you listen for it then all the notes are present and correct, just not pushed forward by artificially emphasising certain elements to get that “crunch” or slam that can be so appealing to some. The benefit of the laid-back treble is that it is very easy on the ears, and there would be no problems wearing these for an entire day without any aural discomfort. I liken the treble presentation to a piece of comic-book artwork before it has been inked for final publication – lots of fine detail in different shades of grey pencil which can be picked out when you are looking, but without the thick black lines of ink laid over the top that naturally draw your attention to the main lines of the drawing. Using the enclosed Comply foam tips, there is no hint of sibilance, and the treble exhibits a very smooth and almost rolled off feel. For those that like a slightly sharper feel to the treble, these do respond very well to EQ in the higher registers – I did try that, but they fit so closely to my personal preference for smoothed off treble (in fact, they are mainly responsible for it) that I never resort to that any more and just enjoy the presentation “as is”.
The midrange of these IEMs is where the real beauty of the sonic presentation starts to shine through, with a lively and forward sound, and levels of “realism” that highlight exactly how much the other IEMs in my collection actually shape the sound I hear through them. Vocal intonation is a particular beauty through these earphones, with the vocal phrasing of certain singers wrapping itself around your ears like they were standing in the same room singing directly at you. There is also a solid “feel” to the mid-range sound, so notes ring pure and thick, without ever crowding the sound-field or feeling artificially pumped up. Allied to the massive soundstage offered by these IEMs, the overall effect is to fill your head with the sound, while keeping all the instruments separated, and without losing any detail in the process.
Two words can be used to sum up the bass on offer here: deep and clear. The bass is provided with a solidity to match the presentation of the mid-range, and rolls down deeper without distortion than anything I’ve heard outside of the Aurisonics ASG series. This solid, clear bass is presented without a hint of bleed into the middle or upper registers, so the clarity just reinforces the quality on display. There is a slight tilt towards warmness due to the quality of bass presented, but this never tilts the balance of the IEM overall or threatens to turn this into a “basshead” monitor. There is a notable absence of any bass bloat, with all notes reaching as deep as they need to, with a crisp definition and texture that really adds to the enjoyment. EDM like Daft Punk sounds absolutely mid-blowing through these, with the driving bassline of “Get Lucky” filling the aural horizon and bringing a damn big grin to my face every time I listen to it. In terms of “slam”, these aren’t the most emphasised IEMs out there, buit that is very much in keeping with the overall presentation – they play what is in the music, without any Chinese whispers on the way through to twist the sound between the recording and your ears.
If there is one thing these earphones shouldn’t excel at, given their physical size, it is soundstage. Unfortunately for the critics and fortunately for the general listening public, this is one area that Flare takes expectations and turns them into rubble. These things are huuuuge. Gigantic. Effortlessly vast. In fact, effortless is the best way to describe the general feeling of spaciousness given off by the R2A experience. Music spreads out from your head in 360 degrees, with all instruments occupying their own little slice of the audio landscape, and all easily distinguishable from each other, even in the most complex and convoluted passages of instrumental music. The high detail level offered by the enclosed micro-driver allows for excellent separation, with individual instruments registering in your ears as the strings are hit, leaving a final impression almost akin to an open-backed headphone in terms of the vastness and airiness of the music. These are truly special in this regard, and a magnificent achievement in this price bracket. One point to note – the overall presentation of the R2 series is heavily dependent on correct placement/fitment of the IEMs in your inner ear, and require a deep insertion to really extend the bass and open up the soundstage – fitting these shallow will  drastically reduce the bass on offer and also shorten up the soundstage, so Comply are definitely worth persevering with if you aren’t a fan, in order to get the maximum benefits on offer.
Despite its tiny size, the R2A does require a bit of juice to sound its best. Played out of my phone or DAP without any amping, the volume needs to pushed up almost to maximum to get a decent level, and the music can seem a little flat and lifeless. Adding a bit of extra power with a Fiio or Brainwavz mini amp or playing from a more powerful source, and the IEMs really start to sing, and bring out the full capability of the micro-driver.
Overall conclusion
The Flare R2A were conceived as a statement on how music should sound by their creator. In the main part, he has succeeded, producing an IEM with a wonderful clarity which sounds like the audio equivalent of a glass of ice cold water on a hot summers day, The bass and mid range bring some real beauty to most types of music, and the smooth treble lends itself to hours of listening. These may not be for those who prefer a warmer or more v-shaped sound, or for those fans of screaming treble, and the build quality of the cable may be a concern, but overall these are an amazing piece of engineering, with a sound that literally dwarfs the size of the casings and a purity that wouldn’t be out of place in a nunnery. Outstanding.
Never tried them with silicone - the Comply worked so well in terms of sound and comfort from the get-go I didn't feel the need to try anything else. I have seen other people comment on the peak when not using foams, which makes me wonder if they were tuned specifically for using Comply (or similar) tips?
i think yes they were tuned specifically for using foam tips with filter, i've tried to use foam tips without filter, and i could still find the peaks, but not as much as silicone. the problem is..... my ears somehow really prefer silicone tips in terms of comfort
The Flare silicones aren't very good imo. Try Sony hybrids and a teabag filter.


New Head-Fier
Pros: sound, bass, laidback signature, smooth yet clear mid
Cons: needs warm amp, sometimes upper mid sounds metallic, horrible peaks when using silicone tips
i bought this secondhand from a friend.. and because of the great reviews about them i decided to give it a try.. so here we go my review:
accesories and packaging :
very-very humble.. only the iem, books, and small pouch also a pair of comply foam tx200.. that's it... very humble... or maybe too humble.. even piston 2 does a better job giving 3 pair of tips and a hardcase. they looks very small... i could say that they are the most little iem i've ever seen... sometimes it looks like a little black bullet
ergonomics :
i think they are meant to be worn over ear because of the heavy y-splitter... it just keeps falling when i wear them straight down... 
when fitting them to my ears.. i need some seconds to make em sit in the right place thanks to the foam tips...even some of my friends really couldn't wear them because of the foam tips (i think majority of people are used to silicone tips rather than foam tips)
sound isolating : 
pretty average.. nothing special
sounds : 
first of all i need to say.. they're quite hard to drive.. so better use an amp.. a warm amp would be better, also it's the best if you use the foam tips.. because i've tried using silicone tips for them.. and it's a very very bad idea.... upper mid and treble peaks everywhere, thin mids... arrrghh bad idea.. foam tips change the sound drastically... no more peaks
i don't know how to describe the bass.. they're not really punchy but i can hear them digs deep with fast decay, the bass is quite addicting... love the bass... it also never bleeds into the mids... i still confuse by how could such a little dynamic driver could produce such bass. but in order to unleash the full potential of the bass i need an amp with bass boost
lush and warm, good vocal pronounciation, sometimes sounds forward and quite intimate (in a good way), a very good allrounder mid for my ears. the only downside is sometimes the upper mid could sounds a little metallic in some bad recording.
treble : 
laidback and non fatiguing treble, yes it is laidback and could be too laidback for some, but it still hold a sense of realism, a kind of treble that i'm searchin for
imaging and soundstage:
they sounds quite huge with a great 3d and depth presentation really impressive.. such a little housing and driver could sound like this, the imaging is also really good i could hear movie soundtracks and imagine the position of the instrumentals
don't judge the book by the cover... yeah these iem really proves that word
Pros: Natural presentation, coherent imaging, comfort, kickstarter price
Cons: Laidback treble, dull sound, soundstage size, (subjective) bass quantity
I woke up on a Saturday morning and checked my Head-Fi messages in bed. A fellow Head-Fi’er mentioned he just backed the Flare kickstarter project, and sent a link to the pledging site. In short, Flare basically developed new pressure balance technology that stabilizes pressure on both sides of the driver diaphragm, effectively preventing distortion of the waveform hitting the eardrum. He also passed on a link to the Headfonia review, which I’m guessing almost every backer read before pledging (at least the later backers). Now normally when someone will say a certain iem has the best soundstage or bass they ever heard I shrug it off – there’s no knowing what he’s comparing with unless it’s an acclaimed reviewer of course. But he compared it with iems I’m familiar with, which piqued my interest. An iem that made the $800 IE800 feel sorry, with better bass than the JH16fp (which we all know is no slouch). A lively and shockingly vivid midrange that made $700 over ear headphones sound like crap, and clarity in the midrange besting the UM Merlin and JH16fp – wow the compliments just kept on coming. Those are some great iems that this $120 one was pulverizing. Is there anything that this iem can’t do?? Well maybe the treble was a bit too relaxed, but this was explained as very non-fatuiging. At this point I was getting pretty excited. I do love me a good soundstage and a “new reference point for bass” is definitely a bonus. Even if its sound signature would be slightly disappointing, this pretty much couldn’t go wrong anymore. A kickstarter price of $120 for a $270 iem, which essentially sounds like a $500 iem at least!
I decided to back the project before I got out of bed. Later on after rereading the review a couple of times I got so excited with anticipation, I decided to get one for my girlfriend’s birthday, and ended up giving one to a friend as well. The hypetrain was going, and I was on board!
When I first heard the R2A, I was pretty underwhelmed. The midrange was decent, but the sound as whole came across a tad dull and muffled due to the attenuated, laid back treble. After giving it more time however, I started appreciating the very coherent presention and soundstaging: while the soundstage isn’t particularly wide, the instrument definition and separation was excellent, and the presentation of the single dynamic driver came across very natural and full of detail, reminiscent of other higher tier single dynamic drivers as the IE800 and Rhapsodio Rti1. Iems with multiple BA’s tend to push back or forward different frequencies, so even if the detail is there it’s often harder to notice. Coherent single dynamic drivers give the feeling of presenting tones or instruments ‘all at once’, making it easier to pick out the different aspects of a song.
With its spacious presentation and laidback treble nobody can argue that Flare developed a very non-fatuiging iem. But that’s my major problem with designing an iem to be non-fatuiging. It gives me the feeling that music is inherently annoying (by being so darn fatuiging!), and should therefore be properly harnessed. And that’s exactly how the R2A sounds to me. It’s an excellent quality for an iem - if you need to work or study, or read a book in a noisy background. But when I listen to music I want to be rocked by electric guitars or energized by exciting EDM melodies, moved by a crystal clear female or deep, warm male voice. For me, the R2A never succeeds in either of those. I’d listen to the R2A and think man, this listens pretty relaxed and natural; and then switch to a different iem to play a song I really felt like hearing.
A decent midrange, attenuated treble, that leaves the bass. I’ll admit the bass quality is very good. Texture and speed are spot on, allowing you to hear multiple basslines precisely. And of course this is very subjective, but I feel that overall quantity is lacking (admittedly, I’m a part-time basshead). Clearly a tradeoff has been made for quality over quantity. The R2A’s bass is also very variable – in some tracks it appears there is no bass at all, while in others it comes off relatively strong - similar to the Rooth LS-X5. But it doesn’t seem to depend on the type of music (even in bass-heavy genres where you’d expect bass, it varies greatly), or when the track ‘calls for it’, so it’s probably inherent to some property of the recording. It also distorts easily when trying different EQ settings on the Cowon P1. A quality over quantity style bass would have been fine; but after the description of a ‘new reference point’ in comparison to the JH16fp I was expecting more. The R2A probably has 3x less bass than my EarSonics Velvet or Heir 8.A, but even the $30 CX-300 produces a far bigger bang.
While my appreciation of the R2A gradually rised after the first few hours, it stagnated shortly after. There wasn’t any case where I’d choose to play the R2A over other iems for a specific song or album, rather than just for the sake of listening to the R2A. I spoke with a non-audiophile friend who I had recommended the R2A to, she too had pledged with her only previous experience being the CX-300. Initially she also wasn’t too impressed with the difference between the R2A and the CX-300, although I tried to explain that its technical capabilities (such as instrument definition and separation) were on a much higher level. She started appreciating the R2A more later on, although kept complaining about lack of bass since she listens to a lot of minimal techno. The same for my roommate, who I offered to sell the R2A to if he was interested. He wasn’t impressed enough with the overall signature to step up from his apple earbuds. And honestly I can’t blame him. Appreciating a good soundstage and bass quality develops with interest in iems (or Head Fi in other words), rather than music itself. I’ve listened to lower tier iems for 15 years without having the faintest idea that the concept of soundstage even existed. But even non-audiophiles can hear and appreciate good sound: strong lush mids, crisp highs or just simply a powerful bass.
Now let me state very clearly I don’t think the R2A is bad. Please note that this is not so much an objective report of its technical capabilities, just my very subjective opinion based on my preferences, current iems and most importantly expectations and I too am aware of that. For all the R2A owners out there enjoying them, I understand why and you have every right to do so. Again, it’s imaging is great and on par with top notch single dynamic drivers up to $1000 (except for the smaller soundstage). I’ll also add that the R2A, due to its miniscule size, is very comfortable to wear or sleep in.
My expectations were high, and the R2A did not fulfill them. I was expecting an iem that would despite its low price, earn some listening time among higher tier iems and that just isn’t the case. This is reflected in the 3,5 stars I’ve awarded them. If I had gotten these before my current iems they might have scored 4 stars. I don’t blame Flare, they’ve priced the R2A accordingly, and the kickstarter price was more than fair. And I guess I can’t blame the Headfonia reviewer, he just got a couple of free iems and I’d say he did a great job at returning the favor by encouraging a lot of people to pledge the kickstarter project. But I do blame him a little bit. Because reading back I find the review to be exaggerated, as well as the product description by Flare. The R2A didn’t fulfill my 2 main (minimum) expectations of great bass and a wide soundstage. I agree that the imaging is excellent, allowing for lots of detail with good instrument separation and definition. But the soundstage size itself is not, and is considerably smaller than other iems I’ve owned of late; if it was wider I would rate the R2A a 7,5 out of 10, instead of a 7. Overall I’d say it has the imaging of a $500 iem.. with the sound signature of a $50 one. I’m not saying this to hate on the R2A, but basing it on how other iems have impressed my non-audiophile friends while this one couldn’t. But average those together and you have a $275 iem which it is absolutely worth, but not more – for me.
iBasso DX90 - I agree with this review. I don't like hearphones because I'm quickly tired. But I needes some good IEM to travel. So I tried this one - because of a very good price on Amazon.fr.
It's very good for me: I can have it in my ears for hours without headache or be tiring. - so it's a good one to listen to music at work Very comfortable. But as said, it lacks something purely on music to be more interesting than my regular Hi-Fi system. Some music sounds great and some lacks punch.
Bass are very good - no problem with it.
It's my first expensive IEM so it's difficult for me to compare.
Very nice review. But I think we should add another con for this one. If you live in US and got the earphones from the Kickstarter campaign, it's gonna be a pain for you to send it back to UK for fixing if there is any problem with it. UPS charges me 100 for sending it to UK for fixing, it's the earphones' price on Amazon. Mine lost the left side after about 4 months of using it.
You said in your review that these are very comfortable, and is good to use when sleeping. While undoubtedly the most Comfortable IEM I have worn, either with comply's or the in-house Silicone tips, I advise anyone against using this when going to sleep. Cables are too fragile, and would break easily.
My opinion about this IEM is that, for the price paid of about $120, it is decent. Can't hold a candle to those Chi-Fi monsters that plagues the $100-$200 price range. They do one thing, and do it really well, SQ-wise, is only decent.
The thing I liked best is their customer support. My R2As are 1 year and 9 months old. I e-mailed Flare Audio about how my R2As are not working anymore, and they offered to send replacement driver assembly, free of charge. I was only asking for a location on where purchase a driver-cable assembly so that I could purchase them, but sent me a pair free of charge. They even added a pair of Silicone Tips, without me even asking them. Their Customer service is excellent.