Alright. We made it. Finally. You're dying to know how they sound, and let me tell you, the sound is to die for. But, before you run off to the ATM, let's talk about a few things. While the sound is most assuredly excellent, there will likely be some people that won't appreciate these for what they are in certain applications.
So what do these do well? These earphones are made for clear, accurate, natural reproduction of sound, and they do so very well. On the AF78 product page you'll find a series of quotes fading in and out on the side panel. One of them reads "I heard things in "Of Monsters" and "Men's Little Talks" that I had never noticed in the previous 36 listens" (Jack Cotter - Technology Tells), and is an excellent summation of what you might expect from these. The reproduction is so clear and so unbiased that they really are almost in-ear studio monitors. You'll notice a little more splash in the cymbals, a little more body in the bass line, and a little more snap in the snare, along with those subtle nuances of real instrument recording that can often enhance the feel of a song (think guitar pick noise during strums, varying palm muting intensity, skin sliding accross bongo drum heads, that little thump when a pianist releases the sustain pedal and then presses it again, etc). Yes, you'll have all sorts of fun going back through your old recordings and having a listen from your new AF78 point of view.
The frequency range is pretty close to what AudioFly specifies at 18-22kHz (in reality, it doesnt quite hold up under the low 20s, but it's there). The frequency response is pretty flat, so there's no bias toward the low end that's going to bring up the bass. The impressive range and flat nature of the response is owed to what makes this a truly high-end earphone, the dual drivers. They're voiced with little overlap, and the large driver meshes beautifully with the smaller high-frequency driver for a fantastic overall experience. They really respond well to tuning with an EQ, and making them sound how you want.
That brings up a good point...your old recordings! I use studio monitors as my everyday listening speakers, and as anyone with a nice set of monitors will tell you, clear and accurate reproduction is only as good as the source. Got a bunch of old MP3s encoded at 128kbps? How about Youtube videos? Streaming radio (assuming you don't pay extra for better quality)? You're gonna hear the badness (for lack or a more fitting word) of bad audio with the AF78s, just like you will with any high end speaker or monitor. This is the the first cautionary note I will make: Spending $200 on earphones does not garauntee you will always get $200 earbud sound, and in some cases, the sources that you may be used to might get a little worse. That's a point for the people that may not know what they're getting into, most certainly NOT a minus on the AF78 scorecard. The good folks at AudioFly probably assume that the people buying their top-of-the-line headphones have some nice source material to jam on, and most will.
Sound isolation with the AF78 is nothing short of amazing. Using the Comply foam tips, I noticed that with my phone set to 3/30 volume, I could not hear the sound any of the computer keyboards or other ambient chatter in my place of business. This is another factor that helps the AF78 come across so crisp and clear. The comply tips are similar to earplugs, and they isolate every bit as well.
Other things that might not sound good to you with these earphones? Heavily compressed, triple-tracked guitars with the 5150 gain maxed out and a couple extra Tube Screamer pedals dais- chained on the source input for good measure (read: modern metal). The frequency response of the AF78 is pretty darn flat, and because no particular frequency band seems heavily favored in their response curve, a big, mammoth signal is gonna cover up a whole lot of your listening profile. What does that mean? If you were at some type of garden party listening to the subtle intrcacies of the local flute quartet and then all of the sudden a train went by blowing its horn, are you still gonna hear the whimsical mouth-work of the first chair? Nope. Thats the second cationary note for these.
I tend to point anyone who is unsure about whether the AF78 is something they need back to something like the AF45, or possibly the AF56 (haven't heard the AF56 yet). Having recently reviewed the AF45 as well, I can tell you that they're an impressive headphone for the price.
Alright, we've covered the sound, now lets talk about the feel. Included with the AF78 are two "Comply" foam tips for the earphones. They remind me of a slightly more porous foam earplug material. They are very soft, and quite compliant. The instructions recommend that you gently roll them into a compressed plug before inserting them down into your ears. I tried this a few times and found that I actually ended up putting them in my ears too far, slightly blocking the sound port, and reducing the volume and depth of the sound. You may have better luck with this depending on the size of your ear canals, I suppose. Even without the recommended installation the Comply foam tips feel excellent, with absolutely no irritation or fatigue to speak of during several hours of testing. The AF78 also feel very stable and well supported in the ear, wich would suit runners well. The silicon tips felt pretty standard, so if you've used earbuds with silicon tips before (which you almost certainly have), you'll know what you're getting into.
The AF78 are for people who are serious about their earphones and their music, and for $200, I think those people will be very, very impressed. The sound reproduction and comfort of the AF78s are nothing short of astounding. You get the whole package here, the FIVE YEAR warranty (not to be understated), and the envy of your audiophile amigos. Ontop of it all, they have a very refined and unique apperance as well, and are sure to catch an eye or two. As I mentioned previously, there are two caveats to the AF78's tale of greatness. First, the sound is only as good as the source: These earphones reproduce sound very clearly, and very accurately. Bad sound sources (Youtube, streaming audio/radio, low quality encodings) will show you just how bad they really are if you're not careful, largely because the AF78s show you what things are supposed to sound like. The second cautionary note is that some types of recordings simply don't sound good when reproduced accurately. Heavily compressed, over-tracked instruments may become the elephant in the room if you happen to find yourself dredging through new-age metal albums, but that's going to depend heavily on the artist and their producer. Don't get me wrong though, these are not just for Audiophiles. The unbiased nature allows the use of the EQ to tune them to you liking, say if you're listening to pop music and want the bass profile to have more emphasis, no problem. These are truly remarkable earphones, and the $200 price tag is probably just low enough to swing some "would be" audio enthusiests over to the "dark side" for a listen. For those that may be curious about how their listening experience will be enhanced with a high-end earphone, these are probably a great place to start, as you'll get everything you need with a warranty to boot. Seriously, an excellent product.
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