What is your favourite feature of the earpiece? In my opinion, I like the design job – It is cooler than an Inuit’s underpants!
The bulky maroon/brown-and-black earpieces let you know immediately that the AF160 means business. Its easily detachable, black-and-gray braided cable descends from each earpiece, then joins into a single cord with a cloth casing. Semi-rigid wiring near the earpieces offers a moldable, extremely secure, over-the-ear fit. There’s no in-line remote control or microphone—your next clue that the AF160 is not for the casual listener.
Armed with a handsome brown leather hard case, the AF160 feels like a luxury item. It comes with six pairs of eartips: three of the standard silicone round variety, and three flange-shaped pairs. Also included: An earwax-cleaning tool, a 1/4-inch headphone jack adapter, and an airplane jack adapter. No one can accuse Audiofly of skimping on accessories or design details.
Calling the AF160 light on bass response would be doing the earphones a bit of a disservice. In an era of overly bass-boosted earphones and headphones that shift the balance way too far toward the lows, the AF160’s sound signature is a breath of fresh air. On tracks with tremendous low frequency content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the AF160 delivers the closest thing to a clinical, flat response sound I have heard in earphones in quite some time. However, at top (and unsafe) listening levels, it also distorts quite a bit on this track. That should never happen in this price range. At more moderate levels, the AF160 sounds defiantly light on low frequencies, with a focus on the high-mids and highs.
Audiofly AF160 inlineI was curious to see if the AF160 was capable of producing big bass sound when forced to, so I connected the earphones to my Marantz stereo receiver and pumped the bass level to maximum. Interestingly, at moderate-to-loud volumes, the AF160 suddenly delivered some beautifully rich, vibrant bass. It’s a bit odd that it needed the Marantz receiver’s bass levels to be maxed out in order to deliver any real semblance of low-end, but the point is that the AF160 is capable of bringing out the lows in a mix you if use an equalizer, either on your mobile device, or on your stereo at home. It just doesn’t do very much of this on its own.
Back to regular listening on my iPhone 5s, Bill Callahan’s “Drover” sounds crisp and beautiful on the AF160. Yes, it’s again light on the low frequencies, but its focus on the treble edge of his baritone vocals and the guitar strumming deliver this mix cleanly and powerfully. This approach can’t work too well for all genres, however.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild”, the kick drum loop gets a nice boost to its attack, so that the hits slice through the mix. It sounds sharp and clean, but the loop lacks much in the way of bass presence, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat have very little low frequency power. For electronic tracks like The Knife’s and modern pop and hip hop mixes like this one, the AF160’s approach to bass seems a bit too gentle and hands-off. These types of tracks can end up sounding weak.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” manage to sound a bit fuller than I would have guessed based on the sounds of the previous tracks. The higher register strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion take center stage here, with focused sound that is never too bright. The lower register strings, however, somehow seem to have a little extra life at times. It’s nothing like what some bass boost might bring out in them, but it is more presence than the sub-bass frequencies have on the aforementioned tracks. Basically, this is the epitome of a flat-response style sound signature—a sound that is less popular now than ever, as the ubiquity of mega-bass changes the balance of mixes, and perhaps even the way some engineers approach mixing.
If your budget is sky-high and you want an even more pro-level-style in-ear pair, the Shure SE846$999.00 at Amazon and Sennheiser IE 800$999.99 at Crutchfield both sound amazing. You can also find the clinical sound minus the AF160’s pricing in earphone pairs like the Etymotic ER-4PT$264.99 at Amazon, the go-to flat response in-ear pair for years now, and the Westone W10$199.99 at Amazon with its slightly more low-end-focused balance. I was turned off by the AF160’s distortion considering its price, but at normal levels it’s not an issue. I tend to like a bit more bass response than what the AF160 offers, so I’d probably augment the low-end a bit with a subtle EQ, Plenty of listeners who a flat, mids-and-highs-focused won’t be disappointed, though. From the secure fit to the classy design and accessories, the Audiofly AF160 is every bit a high-end, audiophile-grade earphone pair—if you can get past the distortion at top volumes.