Hi, my name is Stefan du Randt – recording and mixing engineer and producer at Studios
301 – Australia’s oldest, largest and most illustrious studio complex (can you tell I’m proud
to work there?). I’ve worked with everyone from great local bands like Polish Club and
BoomChild to international artists like Elton John and Mac Miller.
I’ve been looking for great in-ears for at least 10 years to help with everything from
pre-production to mixing and checking masters before they go to distribution. I’ve used the
Shure 425’s for about 5 years and before that I used the Etymotic Research ER4’s. The
Shure’s are quite bright and I found them pretty fatiguing to listen to. They did work well for
checking mixes for clicks and other artefacts and had good isolation but I never really
enjoyed their sound for actually listening to music.
I’ve been wanting to try the 64 Audio A18t 18 driver earphones but at $4600 (!!!) they were
more than a little over my budget! I know mixing engineers like Michael Brauer use them to
listen to music and check mixes.
So I was happy when I got a request to try the Australian brand Audiofly’s flagship AF1120
MK2 in-ears for a while. At $849 they’re actually something I could afford and with 6
drivers a definite upgrade from my Shures (albeit at almost 3 times the price).
I’ve had a very generous 2 months to work with and listen to them (Thanks Michelle!) and
have to say I’m extremely impressed by them especially at the price (for comparison the 6
driver model from 64 Audio is $1800!).
I used them with my Iphone X with no DAC and with my FiiO HiRes Bluetooth DAC, the
Universal Audio Arrow and Antelope Audio Pure 2 Mastering Grade converter. The
experience of listening to them was quite different through each of those and I definitely
recommend using them with a proper DAC/Amp (I would say that about any
Headphones/In-ears). My other monitoring systems (as points of reference) are Amphion
One15’s (I’ve also used the Two18’s) and ProAc Studio 100’s with a Passlabs Amp, good
old NS10’s and a mono Auratone and Top End Soffit mounted PMC MB3 XBD-A full range
mains in a room that’s as close to acoustically perfect as I’ve heard (Studio 2 at 301 where
I usually mix). I also own a pair of Audeze LCDX headphones and love them to bits – best
sounding headphones I’ve ever heard and great for mixing.
My 1st impression when using them with my Arrow to do preliminary mixing and editing
work while my assistant/production partner was mixing down a string section was that they
actually had great bass (my experience with in-ears compared to my LCDX’s was that
they’re normally very lacking in that department) – but it wasn’t overblown and “woofy”- if
you’ve ever listened to Bose headphones you’ll know what I mean – and everything was
very clear and had it’s place in the stereo and frequency spectrum, dynamically they are
also very exciting to listen to and that preliminary static balance I did translated well to the
speakers and I didn’t have to do any corrective balancing to keep mixing on the PMC’s –
this is a massive time saver and means you can do critical work on airplanes etc. where
open backed headphones like the LCDX’s just don’t work. On the Arrow they did sound like
they lacked a bit of sound stage and I would say a little cold sounding as well and overall
pretty neutral sound – which is a good thing when mixing because you’re not listening to a
hyped version of the mix.
That night when I went home and listened to my Reference playlist on my FiiO DAC
comparing them to my LCDX’s, they had a noticeably bigger sound stage and sounded a
lot warmer and pleasant to listen to (remember also these are finished productions I was
listening to vs premixes at the studio).
Over the next two months working with them, I really enjoyed the fact that I could do critical
listening, editing and mixing with them at work (with the bonus of not needing a studio) and
then listen at home (without bothering my partner like I do with open backed LCDX’s) with
them sounding amazingly full and really not feeling like I was compromising by not
listening on the way more expensive Audeze’s. The only way I can describe this is like
having a very clinical, clear, tight and bright speaker like the Amphion to work with and
then checking at home on a “nice” sounding pair of speakers like the ProAcs. The other
plus is that because they’re so well isolated I can listen at a lower volume with the same
effect as the LCD’s, wide open sound stage and feeling like you can touch and feel all the
different parts of the frequency spectrum, and they sound amazingly full and warm while
having all the clarity to hear the most amazing details (things like reverb tails and snare
bottom mics and the air in vocals). I don’t really know what else to say except that I
genuinely enjoy listening to them and now have to buy a pair because I can’t live without
them (Thanks a LOT Audiofly! 🙂 )
Listening at home with FiiO to my Reference playlist. I thought I’d just jot down a few
thoughts, feelings and comparisons while listening to a few tracks on my Reference
playlist (which I’ve listened to extensively on all the aforementioned systems):
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams (2004 Remaster)
In the intro the mix is a little right heavy and this is well represented, hihat in right very
clear and precise and you can hear the high end extension is great. The grunt of the bass
is awesome and you can’t help but nod your head to the groove and you can hear the
tubeyness (that’s definitely not a word) and the “front” of the bass; kick and snare is very
dynamic and feels like you’re listening to speakers in a room (something I love about
Audeze’s as well) when Stevie’s vocals come in the reverb tails are very apparent (these
things sometimes get lost on inferior monitoring). When the chorus kicks in, the sound
stage is revealed and you can hear all the elements very clearly – the buzziness of the
acoustic panned hard left and the attack of the percussion. Just amazing.
Like I said before, super precise and clear but with all the warmth and “vibe” a great mix
like this has. This mix can sometimes sound a little bright but not on the Audiofly’s – the
warmth of the low mid range just great. The kick and snare also has a lot more attack than
a lot of more modern mixes that are limited very loudly (compromising the dynamics of a
track) and allows you to really judge the dynamic performance.
Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
Front of distorted piano in right with delay/verb for stereo clear – can hear the distortion
characteristics very well. When the drums come in, can hear the tubeyness and low mid
attack of toms and snare “crack” all very apparent. The overall warmth and vibeyness of
the track not compromised in the slightest. Again the reverb on the vocal – can hear the
predelay and decay very precisely. Can still pick out all the elements in the end climax
while the soundstage just sounds beautiful and immersive.
I normally use this track to check the low mid dynamic performance of systems and if it still
sounds clear even though this track is more of a warm track.
Sasha Sloan – Older
Best track to listen to how a very exposed vocal sounds – breaths and every little detail is
revealed amazingly on these. Sounds like she’s whispering in your ear. When the bass
comes in you can hear it goes down all the way but again not with that overblown quality
that distorting speakers have at high volume.
Grizzly Bear – Wasted Acres
Michael Brauer mix – you can actually see how he mixed this in a mix with the masters
tutorial. When listening to this on my Audeze’s I feel like there’s no medium between me
and the music – totally immersive soundstage. These in-ears have a similar quality but not
as open as super expensive Open back headphones – they’re very close and I would say
their 1khz – 5khz performance trumps the LCD’s.
Adele – Rolling in the deep
Tom Elmhirst mix. Listen for the talking/count in/click at 0:04. Also starts with one reverb
on vocal and ends up with a lot more – this song is great for listening to the arc of a song
and the production is just insane. Again the level of detail and precision of placement in
the stereo spectrum and weight of bass/piano and how well you can hear the roomy
characteristics of the kick and claps/snare. Knowing what Tom uses to mix I can hear all of
the characteristics that I know so well from using the same tools like Neve 88R console
and Manley Vari Mu on the mixbus.
David Bowie – Lazarus
Another Tom Elmhirst mix. Tony Visconti production. Listen to the snare bottom and level
of detail on the snare bottom – when David’s vocals come in, you can hear every little detail
(ends of words, breaths and Space Echo slap behind). Can hear exactly how kick, bass
and snare sit together. Listen to the delay automation from around 3:00 on the vocal – hear
every little detail – again with no compromise in all the wonderful fullness in the low mids
and the snare attack. This song/mix and production is all just so emotional, immersive and
high quality and listening on these I can hear and enjoy all that to the fullest extent.
The World – Roygbiv
Like listening to this for the attack on the upright bass and again the buzz of the snare
bottom and you can hear the click track from the headphone bleed before the band kicks
in. Amazingly on these I can even hear it later in the track – the detail and isolation is
unparalleled. Listen for the breath by the bass player just after 1:00.
That’s probably enough of that. You get the idea. If anybody is interested in what other
songs are in my ref playlist, here’s a link:
I listened to all of those songs and almost everything I was looking for in an in-ear and way
more was presented and represented with these. Well done Audiofly! Now, where do I find
$850 in my budget to buy these? It’s almost Christmas so maybe that’ll be my Christmas
present to myself.