Phonak Audeo PFE 232
Phonak PFE 232 ($599)
Swiss hearing aid manufacturer, Phonak, entered the earphone game in 2008 with the single driver Perfect Fit Earphone (PFE). The PFE became a hit with the enthusiast crowd for its balanced and accurate sound as well as its lightweight, ergonomic form factor. The single balanced armature driver was well-tuned and the PFE remains competitive today. Phonak even raised the price in 2010 to slot in a cheaper, more consumer-friendly model, dubbed the "Perfect Bass." It comes as no surprise, then, that although Phonak's new PFE 232 model is a "mere" dual BA, it is aimed square at the top of the universal IEM market with an ambitious $599 price tag.
The original PFE was widely revered for its ergonomic over-the-ear form factor, and the desire to keep the flagship small and ear-friendly may have had something to do with Phonak selecting a dual-driver configuration for the 232. The design is reminiscent of the older Phonak models, with a small chamber and nozzle fitting inside the ear and a smooth "arm" containing the drivers extending upward to route the cables over the wearer's ears. Though the in-ear footprint of the 232 is a bit larger than that of the older PFE models, the earphones are still exceptionally lightweight and the fit is very secure with the included cable guides. Microphonics (cord contact noise) are non-existent in the cable--comparable to high-end Westone models and custom monitors. Isolation, on the other hand, is average for an in-ear in its class--even with the included Comply foamies, the PFE 232 doesn't isolate quite as well as an entry-level in-ear from Shure or Westone.
The PFE 232 is made of plastic, but the assembly and finish are well in line with the price tag. The cables are thinner than those found on the new Shure models, but still sturdy, flexible, and tangle-resistant. Best of all, the cords are detachable, utilizing proprietary connectors at each strain relief. Phonak included both an iPhone cable with an inline mic and 3-button remote and a standard stereo cable with the 232--a practice I sincerely hope to see other manufacturers adopt.
Speaking of accessories, the PFE 232 includes a slew of them--3 sets of single-flange silicone tips, 3 sets of Comply foamies, a cleaning tool, a zippered carrying case, and a pair of silicone over-the-ear cable guides. Plus, as with the original PFE, the 232 includes a set of tuning filters along with a tool to swap between them. The filters are identified by color and, in addition to protecting the earphone nozzles from earwax and debris, alter the acoustic impedance to affect the sound in different ways. The 232 includes 4 grey, 2 black, and 2 green filters. The green filters were first seen on the Phonak Perfect Bass while the grey and black ones are inherited from the original PFE. The filters are reusable and the included tool makes swapping them quick and simple. Replacement filters are available for purchase directly from Phonak. A discussion of the acoustic properties of the filters can be found on the next page.