Phonak's newest in-ear offering in the Audéo line of products is the PFE232. These in-ears feature a dual driver setup and a lot of customization options. Phonak continues using their unique filter system that allows you to control the frequency response of the in-ears easily and with surprising precision. The PFE232s is a true two way design with two drivers per earpiece hooked up to a two way cross-over.
In a world filled with three and four way universal in-ears it seems slightly odd to find a set of über high-end in-ears with just two drivers, however, there are quite a few advantages to this more minimalistic approach.
For one it is easier to phase align two drivers, and the complexity of the cross-over is also reduced significantly, both of these things theoretically help the sound quality. A side effect of this simpler approach is that the earphones' internals take up much less space; this allows the earphone's shell size to be very small. The Phonak Audéo PFE232s are approximately half the volume of its similarly priced competitor the recently reviewed Westone 4Rs
- Driver: Dual balanced armature
- Frequency response: 5 Hz–17 kHz
- Sensitivity: Gray filter 109 dBSPL/mW, Black filter 107 dBSPL/mW, Green filter 104 dBSPL/mW @ 1k Hz
- Nominal impedance: 47 ohm
- Weight: 16 g, 0.5oz
- Plug: 3.5 mm 4 pole jack
- Cable length: 120 cm, 3.9 ft
Phonak ships the Audéo PFE232s in a cardboard box packed with all kinds of stuff.
The bundle for the PFE232s+mic is incredibly nice. You get the following: three sets of silicone and foam tips, three sets of acoustic filters and installation, ear hangers, cable with microphone and one without!
The tips that Phonak are using are very well made and seem a bit thicker in the sound tube portion than the generic tips out there. The Comply foam tips supplied with the earphones are very good, but not quite as good as the Shure Olive foam tips.
Phonak's design is pretty anonymous, both when it comes to color choice and shape. The fact that these in-ears are among the smallest on the market makes them quite hard to spot once inserted. The feel of the earpieces is incredible, even though they are lighter and smaller than your usual high-end in-ears these feel very sturdy and very well put together.
Compared to the Westone 4R in-ears the Phonak's are definitely more elegantly designed. All of the details are more refined. Size wise the Phonak Audéo PFE232s are roughly half the volume of the Westone 4Rs, even though the Westone 4Rs are quite compact for a set of quad-driver in-ears.
Great engineering from top to bottom is probably the best way to describe the Phonak Audéo PFE232s. The filter installation and removal procedure is a straight forward process and Phonak include all the tools needed for the job. The blue removal/installation tool functions great. In order to remove a set of filters all you do is screw in the threaded section and pull gently and the filter pops right out of the in-ears. The filter can then be unscrewed with your fingers and placed on the other end which features a clip mechanism that releases the filters once it is hooked onto the tabs in the filter case or in-ears.
Phonak manages to make every little thing feel delicate and well made. The cable, remote, and plug assembly feels very durable and works good on the go. The cable handles microphonics very well, and is almost on pair with the Epic cable on Westone in-ears. Due to the fact that it is not braided, the cable does not make any unwanted noises when run over collars and other clothing items.
The PFE232's sound tube angle allows for a good fit even for people with small ears.
The shape of the PFE232s is quite hard to describe. It is very organic and does a good job at keeping out of the way of the ear. The PFE232s are so small and shaped in a way that they do not rub against the insides of one's ears.
The performance of the Phonak Audéo PFE232s was tested on a few different rigs to see how they perform under different conditions. The test setups were as follows: iPhone 4 - Headphone out, iPhone 4 - Digital out - Fostex HP-P1, iPhone - Digital out - Fostex HP-P1 - RSA "The Protector" (In-ear amplifier). A brief test on the HiFiMAN HM-801 with GAME-module installed was also conducted. The difference in sound was mostly due to changes in source, the amplification needs of the Phonak Audéo PFE232s are easy to meet, despite their somewhat lower sensitivity and higher impedance than other high-end in-ears.
One of the major benefits of the Audéo PFE232s is that you can swap out the acoustic filter that sits at the end of the sound tube. Phonak supplies three different filters that change the flavor of the sound. The grey filters are regarded as neutral in the sense that they do not dampen the high-end much. The black filters give a more smooth sound because they reduce the treble energy and dampen the upper midrange to some extent. The green filters change the in-ears to a set of very soft sounding bass heavy in-ears.
The interesting thing about the filter implementation on the Audéo in-ears is that they change the frequency response noticeably without impeding sound stage performance or the perceived speed of the presentation. The in-ears never sound muffled or congested even with the green filters installed. This is quite a feat, and the fact that the filters are easy to swap makes it easy to find your preferred sound signature. The filter system works way better than what we saw on the now older Sleek-Audio SA6s, not only mechanically but also in the sense that the in-ears do not change character completely based on what filter is installed.
With the grey filters installed the PFE232s sound energetic and balanced. The treble has sufficient energy to engage you, and the upper midrange is without any nasty bumps which makes them sibilance free on well mastered recordings. The sound of the PFE232s can best be described as balanced with slight emphasis on the bass and treble. The Westone 4s have a bit more forward midrange, and dominant bass. Midrange wise the PFE232s with the grey filters remind me of the Ultimate Ears In-ear Reference Monitors (IERM) with just a tad more warmth. The detail level is up there with the Westone 4s and it is pretty close to what the IERMs can produce.
The black filters give the PFE232s a slightly smoother sound that is very pleasant to listen to. The bass is given a nudge and takes a little more focus than with the grey filters, although nothing dramatic. The green filter gives the PFE232s a mellow type of sound without it becoming too dark. All of the filters add their own touch to the PFE232s sound, but they never ruin anything.
Sound stage wise is where the PFE232s are lacking compared to the rival products. The Westone 4s and 4Rs manage to produce a more coherent sound stage that is slightly bigger and more three dimensional. The PFE232s just cannot deliver the same sense of space as both the Westone and the IERMs, no matter what filter and tip combination we tried.
The microphone and remote system on the PFE232s seems to work fine. As the rest of the product it is very well constructed and feels like it can take daily abuse without falling apart.
Value and Conclusion
- The Phonak Audéo PFE232+mic sells for $599 online.
- Excellent sound quality
- Well implemented user replaceable cable
- Two cables included (one with microphone, one without)
- Incredible build quality
- Good bundle
- Customizable sound signature
- Superb fit, also in small ears
- Very small compared to other high-end offerings
- Features one of the best cable constructions ever
- Price! ($599!)
- No hard carrying case included in the bundle
- Sound stage not on par with other similar priced offerings
||Phonak covers all the basics and then some with the Audéo PFE232s. Phonak's implementation of customizable sound signatures is perfect. The filters can be swapped easily and they provide an audible change to the sound signature, without ruining the core qualities. The force of the PFE232s is that they have a delicate balanced sound signature without noticeable flaws.|
They are lacking somewhat in the sound stage department compared to the Westone 4Rs, but the difference is small. One difference that is important is the fact that these in-ears are much smaller than even normal single balanced armature in-ears. The size and shape of these in-ears allows you to get a level of wearing comfort almost on par with that of more expensive custom in-ears.
The Audéo PFE232s are awfully hard not to like, the sound quality is pleasing and the signature can be tailored to your liking. There is one major flaw and that is the price. Compared to the Westone 4Rs which we recently tested, these are quite a bit more expensive and since they fall behind them one some key performance aspects they are not quite as brilliant value, however, for people with small ears these are definitely the best offering out there.