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LIFE Headphones Review

15

Brief: dual-BA sports/lifestyle earphone being launched via crowdfunding
MSRP: $309 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $250 at Lifeacoustics.com
Specs: Driver: dual BA | Imp: 36Ω | Sens: 119 dB | Freq: 20-15k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug; detachable with 2-pin connector
Nozzle Size: 4 mm | Preferred tips: Earsonics double-flanges; MEElec A151 single-flanges/Shure flex sleeves
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), cleaning tool, and zippered carrying case (note: the tips run a bit small – XS/S/M rather than S/M/L)
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The LIFE Headphones use a two-piece plastic shell reminiscent of those used by professional in-ear monitor manufacturers such as Westone and EarSonics. The unusual shape of the earpieces seems a little more fragile than those monitors, but the earphones do use detachable, user-replaceable cables (with conventional 2-pin connectors) and are said to be sweat-resistant. The cable is similar to what is normally found on custom monitors – twisted and lightweight, with a medium length of memory wire at the earpieces and a slim L-shaped plug
Isolation (4/5) – Good with the right tips; on par with other balanced armature in-ears
Microphonics (5/5) – As usual with this type of cable, microphonics are nonexistent
Comfort (4/5) – The shape of the monitors is very unusual but surprisingly comfortable. Because only the bottom half of the earpieces ends up in contact with the ear, they actually feel like a compact Shure or Westone model when worn. The extremely light weight of the plastic earpieces and cables, together with the moldable memory wire section on the cords, makes the fit extremely secure as well

Sound (9/10) – One of several new crowdfunding-backed earphones I’ve tried in the past year, the LIFE Headphones are dual-armature IEMs tuned for a balanced sound. LIFE actually has a fairly lengthy – though at times oversimplified – explanation of the earphones’ specs on the company website, a pretty unique piece of content that implies a commitment to audio performance.

The two-way, dual-BA setup of the LIFE Headphones provides a broad frequency response and has very high sensitivity. This means a very clean audio source should be used – any hiss or electrical noise present will be heard clearly in the earphones. Even my FIIO E07k DAC, which has a fairly low noise floor, produces a small amount of audible hiss with the LIFE.

The sound of the LIFE Headphones is fairly unique for a dual balanced armature earphone – it is mildly v-shaped, with good bass punch, slightly laid-back mids, and bright treble. In many ways the tuning reminds me of the pricier triple-driver Alclair Reference custom-fit monitors.

To get a better measure of the performance of the LIFE headphones, I compared them to three of the best-performing dual-BA earphones I’ve tried – the recently-discontinued TDK BA200 and VSonic VC1000 and the Japan-import Audio-Technica ATH-IM02.

In terms of bass the LIFE falls about mid-pack. There’s a bit more bass power compared to the TDK BA200, but a bit less impact, depth, and weight compared to the Audio-Technica ATH-IM02. For a balanced armature earphone this is actually a very good amount of punch, and the bass quality is excellent as well. Of course, the LIFE isn’t a good match for listeners who prefer enhanced bass (and are willing to give up some tightness to get it). To put this in perspective, compared to Philips’ dynamic-driver in-ear flagship, the Fidelio S2 – itself a fairly accurate-sounding in-ear with only slight bass boost – the LIFE Headphones provide significantly lower bass quantity and better bass control.

The midrange takes a step back in emphasis – it is not as upfront and balanced as with the BA200 or VC1000 and tends to be a little less revealing of fine detail as a result. The IM02 from Audio-Technica, on the other hand, has clarity and detail levels similar to the LIFE Headphones but tends to sound a little more full-bodied. Keep in mind that this is all in the context of these four being high-end BA montors – the dynamic-driver Philips Fidelio S2 doesn’t manage the detail or clarity of the LIFE Headphones.

The highs of the LIFE Headphones pick up a bit and sound fairly bright – more so than the BA200 and ATH-IM02 and nearly on-par with the more energetic VC1000. The brightness helps the LIFE Headphones sound clearer, but they are also less forgiving and more prone to sibilance than the BA200 and IM02. Just like the popular VSonic GR07 monitors, I wouldn’t recommend the LIFE for listeners who are sensitive to sibilance.

My favorite aspect of the LIFE Headphones besides the bass is the presentation. The earphone’s soundstage is well-rounded and spacious, especially considering the sound tuning. The LIFE Headphones sound more dynamic than the flatter VSonic VC1000 and have a more natural soundstage with better depth compared to the Fidelio S2.

Select Comparisons

HiFiMan RE-400 ($79)

The RE-400 is one of the best-performing audiophile earphones in its price range and is tuned for a different type of balanced sound than the LIFE Headphones – one with more focus on the midrange and smoother, more relaxed treble. The LIFE Headphones deliver more linear bass with better depth and slightly greater punch compared to the RE-400. They also have brighter treble, which results in greater overall clarity compared to the RE-400 but also makes the LIFE headphones more prone to harshness and sibilance. Lastly, the more mid-centric RE-400 also tends to be a little less dynamic and doesn’t have quite as wide and versatile a soundstage as the LIFE Headphones.

VSonic GR07 Classic ($99)

Yet another tried-and-true in-ear monitor benchmark popular in the audiophile community, the GR07 is also tuned for a near-neutral sound but has significantly lower sensitivity and a slightly different sound signature with a bit more bass and less treble. The GR07 sounds a bit more scooped-out in the midrange, which makes me prefer the overall bass-midrange balance of the LIFE even though I appreciate the bass impact of the GR07. The LIFE Headphones have a thinner note and brighter treble with a similar amount of sibilance to the GR07 but slightly more harshness. The presentation, on the other hand, is slightly lacking in depth with the VSonics and is more well-rounded and three-dimensional with the LIFE unit.

Aurisonics Rockets ($249)

Like the LIFE Headphones, the Rockets are a Kickstarter-backed earphone that also happens to be similar in price ($250) and its lifestyle-oriented marketing message, including sweat resistance. Its straight-barrel metal form factor and dynamic driver are very different from the LIFE unit, however, and its sound much more closely resembles that of the HiFiMan RE-400.

Compared to the LIFE Headphones, the Rockets have slightly greater bass quantity and depth while maintaining similar bass quantity/tightness. The midrange of the Rockets is more forward, while the treble is more laid-back. The Rockets are smoother and more forgiving of harshness and sibilance, but also sound a little dull in comparison to the LIFE at times. The LIFE, on the other hand, has bright and energetic treble. The Rockets are also much less sensitive than the LIFE Headphones and will take a lot more power to hit the same volume levels.

InEar StageDiver SD-2 ($449)

The StageDiver SD-2 is a dual-balanced armature earphone, like the LIFE Headphones, but is designed and tuned primarily for stage use. Its sound is warmer, with more midrange presence and extremely smooth treble. The LIFE headphones sound thinner and clearer, partly because of the brighter treble. The downside is that they are more sibilant compared to the rather forgiving SD-2. The presentation of the SD-2 is more forward and intimate thanks to the more prominent mids, while the LIFE Headphones have a more laid-back sound and wider soundstage.

Value (8/10) – The LIFE Headphones are a comfortable and balanced-sounding in-ear monitor that combines the usual perks of BA drivers – clarity, tight bass, good noise isolation, and high efficiency – with a feature set made for active use. The memory wire cables keep the earphones securely in place and detachable cables make up for the plastic housings, though care should still be taken not to exert too much pressure on the thin part of the housings when changing tips or detaching the cords. With the advertised sweat resistance, the LIFE Headphones may just be the most audiophile-friendly purpose-made workout buds on the market.

Pros: Surprisingly comfortable in the ear; no cable noise; excellent bass quality and soundstage presentation
Cons: Can be sibilant at times; housings should be handled with care


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

15 Comments

  1. Isaiah Mackler on

    Any plans to do a review of the ATH-IM02, LJOKERL? The 2X BA’s are dropping like flies. I can’t find a vsonic VC1000, BA200, R50, Brainwavz B2, DBA-MKii, etc. Is the IM02 a good alternative to some of those? Hows’ the sound isolation on it?

    Sorry for the detour! Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      I have an IM02 but haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. It is a good dual-BA IEM but significantly pricier in some markets compared to all the ones you listed. If you can get it under $200 I’d say it’s a great buy. It’s not quite as bright and clear as a good TWFK set (B2, R-50, DBA-02, VC1000) but it’s not far behind and gives a slightly more full-bodied sound. Isolation is similar to a Shure SE535 and other ergonomic-fit earphones.

      • Isaiah Mackler on

        Thanks for the response! I’m seeing it from authorized US Sellers for $170 so I may jump on it. There are so few reviews out there; I read one that hinted at it being slightly V-shaped. Would you agree? It’s not really a typical sound of dual-BA and doesn’t match up with the other reviews I’ve read.

        Do you know if TWFK is out of production? It seems like a lot of the iems utilizing it have disappeared from production.

        • ljokerl on

          Ah yes, we have good IM02 availability in the US. Someone else I recommended it to couldn’t find one below $350 in their country so I’m being more careful to qualify my recommendations with a price now.

          It’s not a typical dual BA sound in the sense that it doesn’t use a TWFK driver like a lot of the popular ones do, but it can hardly be called v-shaped. It’s pretty flat, just not as forward in the upper midrange as the others.

          That said, it always depends on what the point of reference is. If you’re using the somewhat mid-centric HIFiMan RE-400 as your baseline then yes, these will sound a little v-shaped. So will an Ultimate Ears 900 or even TDK BA200.

          And Knowles still makes TWFKs as far as I know – there’s even a new wave of TWFK-based earphones coming out now with the new q-JAYS, the Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkIII, and the 2nd-gen Rock-It Sounds R-50 (if that ever materializes). I wouldn’t expect any of these to be priced as low as the old Brainwavz B2 or VSonic VC1000, though.

      • Thom on

        I would love to jump into that discussion 🙂

        I have read a lot about the ue900 and the Audio-Technica ATH-IM2. Both seem to come close to what I am looking for: neutrality, not too bass headed, nice highs, details, details, details.
        Pricewise (after all the newer ue900s is on the market now) I could get either almost for the same price. What is your verdict on that? Thanks for your time

        • ljokerl on

          They are very much comparable, but if highs are a strong priority I’d probably pick the UE900. It has very extended treble while the IM02 is a touch laid-back at the top. It’s also quite a good deal if you’re getting it for <$300 and uses the much more common MMCX style cable connectors.

          • Thom on

            Thank you very much 🙂 Anything you would recommend in that price range you would be recommending even more? I know, a rather subjective question 🙂

            By the way, I have been following your site/ service a lot for a while. A) A great look revamp B) An amazing service and insights quality unmatched anywhere else .

            • ljokerl on

              Thanks, I appreciate that! Thanks for your readership!

              As for alternatives, nothing that’s currently manufactured would sway me. If I was able to find something like a VSonic VC1000 or TDK BA200 I’d be tempted to pick it over these but out of newer models I haven’t tried anything I’d rather use for under $300.

              • Thom on

                Thanks. The ue900 it shall be then. All the best and I really appreciate your help. Thom

  2. Pingback: LIFE Headphones Review | Audiophilepure

  3. getclikinagas on

    “brighter treble with a similar amount of sibilance to the GR07 but slightly more harshness”. That sounds like an audio no-no, doesn’t it?

    Regarding the sturdiness: Is it the design(shape) or the feel of the plastic that is the main cause for concern for you?

    On first look it seems like it is designed to securely fit the concha. But (“only the bottom half of the earpieces ends up in contact with the ear”) this doesn’t seem to be the case though. If the non-business end of the IEM were made of some flexible material, perhaps it could fit the cymba for a more secure fit.

    PS: The Rockets make a wild appearance! Definitely looking forward to that review. Sounds like it could be right up my alley. Eke is at peace with the IEM world since he acquired his pair. 😛

    • ljokerl on

      It has similar treble peaks to the GR07 but summarily more energy, which is okay. Doesn’t actually bother me any more than a GR07, and those are plenty popular.

      And it’s the shape that I question – it seems like an incorrect application of force on that “tail” could snap it off or just torque the housing halves apart. Not a problem for me since I’d never do that, but someone who is less careful with their gear could, by accident.

      I thought the same about the shape and in larger ears that may well be the case, but it doesn’t fit in my concha and probably won’t for many people. However, because of the lightweight it’s hardly a detriment – they end up sitting like a Westone and are very secure. A flexible tail would indeed be a smart addition. Something like this (https://nrml.com/), but universal-fit. But again, the fit is hardly problematic as is.

      Rockets coming soon to an InnerFidelity feed near you…

  4. Anthony Kimball on

    These are priced & look very similar to the Alclair Curve…are you familiar with them/any sonic similarities?

    • Cooper Buss on

      Anthony,

      Good call!

      The shape of our headphone is based on the same patent that the Curve uses. The similarities end there! Different drivers, different tuning, different features etc.

    • ljokerl on

      I can’t comment on this from experience since I’ve never tried the Alclair Curve but it seems like Alclair is taking the reference/pro monitor market for this while LIFE is doing the “consumer”/lifestyle version.

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