Phonak Audéo Perfect Fit Earphone and Perfect Bass Earphone

The rash of in-ear headphones over the past few years has produced an enormous amount of style over substance. All too often the bling on the outside is accompanied by horrifically bloated or screechy sound on the inside. Likewise, some makers are able to deliver great sound, but fall down in the looks and comfort department. Rare indeed is the in-ear headphone that is stylish, comfortable, and good sounding.

The Audéo PFE seems to have beaten the odds.

The Audéo Perfect Fit Earphone and Perfect Bass Earphone ($99-$179 MSRP)
When I first saw their swoopy modern good looks I was certainly skeptical; but when I found out these headphones were manufactured by long time Swiss hearing aid maker Phonak my skepticism turn into burning curiosity. Having had the pleasure of listening to Etymotic earphones, who also makes hearing aids, I had to believe the odds were good that the Perfect Fit Earphone might be a winner.

The Models
The Audéo PFE comes in a number of different configurations, but it's important to note that in all cases the actual driver and housing are identical. The Perfect Bass Earphone ($99) is available in white and black, and with or without headset microphone ($119); this model includes only the 3 sizes of silicon tip as accessories, and has one pair of green filters mounted in headphones. The Perfect Fit Earphone ($159) is available in white or black, and with or without mic ($179); this model includes as accessories: 3 sizes of silicon tip; one set of Comply foam tips; silicon cable guides for around the ear; extra filters (2 pr. black, one pr. gray); cleaning tool; and carry pouch.

The filters mentioned above prevent gook from getting into the drivers, but they also provide some changes to the equalization of the headphones. Gray filters are the most detailed; black filters roll off the upper mids and lower treble; green filters go a little farther than the black. The Perfect Fit models include gray and black filters, but no green; the Perfect Bass come with green only. All filters are available for separate purchase (4 pair, $14.95).

To reiterate: the earpieces in all models are identical (other than color), as long as they have the same filter in them, they will sound the same.

Styling, Function, and Ergonomics
The deceptively simple and elegant shape of these headphones is not only attractive and comfortable, but very functional. I was surprised at how easily these inserted, and how comfortable they were once in place. Once the tip is inserted into the ear canal, the "arms" of the earpiece swoop upward to allow the cable to go over the top of the ear from front to back.

An unusually nice included accessory is a pair of silicon cable guides that you can snap onto the cable in order to route it over your ears. I tried bare cables on one ear and the guide over the other, and found that it was indeed somewhat more comfortable with the guide than without. These guides are available for separate purchase on Audéo's website, and might be useful on other brands if you wear the cables over your ears. (Wires need to be fairly narrow diameter; 0.075" OD or less.)

The filter holder and filter changing tool is excellent. One end of the tool has screw that threads into the filter housing for removal, the other end "clicks" into the new filter for removal from the holder and insertion into the headphones. Changing filters is easily done without damaging the filter.

Build Quality
I would characterize the overall fit and finish of the product as good and commensurate with the price. The cable bits and strain reliefs look a tad cheap, but the earpieces are nicely done, including a soft integrated strain relief and non-slip textured surfaces where you push to insert the headphones.

The cable is relatively short at 3.6' and is terminated in a gold-plated 1/8" mini-plug. The housing on the plug is small enough to get through the protective cases on your portable gadgets. There is a keeper slider on the cable.

The assortment of ear tip sizes looks appropriate, and the inclusion of a foam Comply tip on the PFE is welcome.

Filter Equilization
The Audéo PFE comes with a gray filter installed. This is the brightest filter and the headphone sounds similar to an Etymotic ER4P with this filter installed. The black filter reduces the upper half of the mids and low treble, to deliver a warmer sound with some remaining treble so as not to sound murky. The green filter goes a little farther than the black. The biggest difference is between the gray and black filter.

What I found most humorous is the similarity of the information on both the Etymotic website regarding thier original ER4B model and the copy on Audéo's website regarding the gray filter:

From Etymotic:

    ER•4B earphones were originally designed to provide an eardrum-pressure frequency response closely mimicking that of the open ear in a diffuse sound field, making them ideal for any material that has not been equalized for loudspeaker playback, such as properly equalized binaural recordings. Many early listeners found the 4B earphones a bit bright, which led to the introduction of the ER•4S.

From Audéo:

    Internal studies at Phonak have shown that most people are not comfortable with a sound from an earphone that reproduces exactly the curve of a standard open ear. The curves of Audeo PFE are a compromise between a frequency response that includes the full open ear gain compensation as well as one that has bass and treble predominance. This compromise has been shown to produce greater satisfaction among test users, and therefore Audeo PFE offers two filter types to accommodate the widest range of user preference.

Pretty interesting that both these technically competent companies have struggled to balance objective measurements and subjective experiences. There's no doubt in my mind that more bass is needed than is technically correct to compensate for lack of bone conducted low frequency information when wearing in-ear headphones.

Etymotic solved the problem by producing three different versions of their product: the ER4B; ER4S; and ER4P. Audéo has solved the problem by using their gray, black, and green filters. (Sleek Audio also produces in-ear headphones with tunable filters.)

Isolation
The Audéo PFE tips do not go very deep into your ears and as a consequence these headphones do not isolate as well as some deep sealing IEMs. I would characterize them as about average isolation. If you need high isolation on a similar sounding in-ear headset, check out Etymotic's hf2, or hf3 for iPhone.

Let's talk about the sound quality, eh?

COMPANY INFO
Audeo World, USA
100 Westwood Place, Suite 300
Brentwood, TN 37027
(866) 900-7174
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
inarc's picture

"There's no doubt in my mind that more bass is needed than is technically correct to compensate for lack of bone conducted low frequency information when wearing in-ear headphones."

I personally suspect that this compensation generally (i.e., applies to all types of headphones) has to do with the lack of whole-body vibrations: http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/11/effect-of-whole-body-vibrations-on...

"As you can see, other than the slightly different response of the two different measurement systems, the two graphs correspond fairly well."

In fact, the unadjusted raw frequency responses of your measurements resemble Phonak's published ones very closely.

UtzY's picture

The complete earphone measurements will appear in the future at "Headphone Data Sheet Downloads"? :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yes, I'll post them there at the first of the month. There are links to the pdf in the article though --- first paragraph of measurements:

"I did run a full set of measurements for these headphones with each of the filters. Click to download the full measurement pdf for the gray, black, and green filters."

UtzY's picture

Lol, don't know how I have missed those links. Blinded by that graph below maybe. :)
Thanks!

ultrabike's picture

I own the Audeo PFE112 and felt that the audio was a little lacking in bass... and a bit fatiguing. I also own the Sansa Zip player and feel that I was able to tweak the eq settings to my linking. I decided to post my Rockbox settings for anyone that may find them useful (USING gray filters... the black filter tame the tremble and make the 300Hz response seem critically damped, but the 6kHz-15kHz frequencies spike a bit more than I would like):

Sound Settings:
---Bass: 0dB
---Tremble: 0dB
---Balance: 0%
---Channel Configuration: Stereo
---Stereo Width: 100 %
---Crossfeed:
------Crossfeed: Yes
------Direct Gain: -3.0dB
------Cross Gain: -8.0dB
------High-Frequency Attenuation: -15.0dB
------High-Frequency Cutoff: 500Hz
---Equalizer
------Enable EQ: Yes
------Graphical EQ: (leave this alone - defaults)
------Precut: 0.0dB
------Simple EQ Settings:
---------60Hz Band Gain: -3.5dB
---------200Hz Band Gain: -3.5dB
---------800Hz Band Gain: -8.0dB
---------4000Hz Band Gain: -8.0dB
---------12000Hz Band Gain: -11.5dB
---------(leave the rest of the settings alone - defaults)
---Dithering: No
---(leave the rest of the settings alone - defaults)

Need to keep equalization levels low to support crossfeed without clipping... Cheers :)

I usually set the volume at -24dB

sejarzo's picture

I've spent a few months evaluating my PFE112/black filters using Comply T-130 mediums, after having used T-100 mediums on Etymotic ER6i/ER4p and a variety of Klipsch earphones. The medium size always gave me a great initial seal that was easily maintained with those makers products. While the initial seal seemed to be sufficient with the PFE112/T-130 medium, the shallow insertion seemed to work against that--they seemed to loosen up quite a bit after 30 minutes or so, especially if I moved around much.

I decided to get some T-130's in the large size to see if they would fix that issue. Though my experience so far is limited, it's clear the initial seal is better than with the mediums, and after 40 minutes it seemed to be just as good as the initial seal.

I'm a long time fan of the HD600, it's my go-to headphone, and I felt that I needed a 4dB boost from 20-80 Hz rolling off to flat at 125 Hz to get a similar subjective bass balance from the PFE112/black combination when using the medium Comply tip. That seemed to be excessive with the large tip in place--running them flat now seems to be just fine, especially on well recorded classical material.

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