Details: the original ‘Perfect Fit Earphone’ from Swiss hearing aid manufacturer Phonak
MSRP: $179 (manufacturer’s page); $199 for 121/122 with mic & 1-button remote; $239 for 132 with mic & 3-button remote
Current Price: $179 from audeoworld.com for 111/112; $140 for 121/122; $165 for 132
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 5-17k Hz | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 3mm | Preferred tips: Jays silicone single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), Comply T130 foam tips, 8 filters (4 grey; 4 black), cleaning tool, silicone ear guides, and zippered carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – The plastic housings are extremely lightweight and the cabling is fairly thick and quite soft, with a strong tendency to resist tangling. The PFEs certainly don’t feel bulletproof but the newest revisions should survive daily use quite well
Isolation (3/5) – Isolation is quite tip-dependent and best with the included Comply T130s or similar foamies. With silicone tips isolation is average
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Quite low, partly because they must be worn over-the-ear
Comfort (5/5) – The part of the housings that fits inside the ear is small and the earphones are very light. As a result the PFEs can really disappear during everyday use. Bonus points for the included silicone cable guides. The only (rare) problem I had was that of losing seal under strenuous exercise with silicone tips
Sound (8.8/10) – Ultimately, the sound is really what makes or breaks an earphone. After my initial listening rounds with the PFE I settled on the grey filters and kept them in for the duration of the test. To my ears the grey filters provide more sparkle in the treble and a slightly smoother and thicker upper midrange. The black filters accentuate the bass but I found the (slight) hardware bass boost provided by my iBasso T4 to be a better solution. Tips matter as well – the included comply T130s will provide a more tactile bass presentation but also slightly veil the high end. The silicone tips have a more transparent sound but for some reason none of the stock tips fit me quite right. I did finally find a good fit with Jays silicone tips off of my J-Jays though.
The overall sound of the PFEs amazes with its smoothness and clarity. The bass is tight and accurate. The mids are somewhat liquid and very well-positioned in being neither forward nor recessed. The treble is similarly accurate and quite enjoyable. There is a small amount of unevenness at the high end, but this can be reduced a bit by using the black filters. I wasn’t bothered enough by it to give up the grey filters though. Overall the PFEs have a tonal balance on the cool side of the spectrum and very high resolving capability. Soundstaging is about average – wider than the Ety ER-4S and RE0 but not as expansive as the ATH-CK10 or RE252. Instrumental separation is excellent and positioning is quite good as well. They lack the famed Etymotic forwardness, which makes it a tiny bit harder to pick out details with the PFE but results in a less fatiguing sound.
Amping: The PFE is one the rare IEMs that do benefit from amping. Despite the relatively low rated impedance and high sensitivity, the PFE becomes truly effortless when fed enough power. My iBasso T4 was sufficiently powerful but the transparency of the D10 and mini3 gave a nicer sound. When properly amped the PFE maintains its incredible clarity and resolution and becomes very hard to beat in transient response and all-around speed. A positive side effect of their inefficiency is the ability of the PFE to suppress background hiss from impedance mismatches. At listening volume the PFE exhibited no notable hiss from any of my amps or sources except the Amp3, with which they were still far more tolerable than with most earphones.
Value (9/10) – Despite the crop of excellent mid-range earphones currently available to the average consumer, the year-old Phonak Audeo PFEs still amaze with their incredibly coherent presentation and musical sound signature. I can’t recommend them enough for acoustic tracks, but they work well with nearly all music styles. The possible combinations of tips and filters and the responsiveness of the armatures to equalization also make the PFEs very tunable. Die-hard bassheads may want to look elsewhere but the PFE should be shortlisted by anyone looking for balance and clarity without the need for monstrous isolation.
Pros: Comfortable, low microphonics, very balanced and musical presentation, great clarity and resolution
Cons: Reported build issues with original version, mediocre isolation