Audiofly AF140 MK 2 – The Sunburst Cherry Bomb

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Presentation

Audiofly’s AF140 MK2 delivers a marvellously clean, open and airy take on the basshead sound. In a sub-genre where the passing grade among consumers typically takes little more than as long as the bass is good, Audiofly have gone that extra mile to ensure the supporting cast gets equal respect as the star of the show. As such, the AF140 MK2 throws out heaps of midrange and treble clarity; each instrument precisely etched and encased within its own pocket of pristine air. Then, comes the IEM’s impressively wide and deep stereo spread. Instruments are nearly out-of-head with commendably well-defined spatial cues, a solidly black background, good holography and – again – that open sense of air. Positioning-wise, the AF140 MK2 cleverly places instruments on the outer reaches of its space, further enhancing this sense of immersion.

Despite the cleanliness and airiness described above, the overall tonality of the AF140 MK2 is still a thick, warm shade of neutral, courtesy of its elevated low-end. The mid-bass contributes a bold, smoky timbre, which gives instruments like the electric guitar a nice sense of weight, and tom-toms hugeness too; all very sweet- and natural-sounding. Again, however, this IEM is excellent at ensuring they maintain definition all the while. That combination of body and clarity is particularly superb at conveying the groove in live ensemble tracks, like Snarky Puppy’s What About Me; well-driven, full-sounding and punchy, yet airy too. Now, where this in-ear isn’t strongest is the inverse; simpler, one-or-two piece arrangements, where texture and focus are key. Again, its notes lie on the outer rim of the stage, so, with artists like Lucy Rose or Diana Krall, it may lack the intimacy needed to carry the genres. At the end of the day, it’ll come down to tuning choice and preference.

Bass

The top biller, the AF140 MK2’s lows really drive its signature forward. It’s guttural, chesty and positioned at the forefront of the stage. But, at the same time, Audiofly have shaped it to, again, ensure it doesn’t steal any of the spotlight from the rest of the ensemble. For a dynamic driver, it’s a quick-moving bass that doesn’t call attention to itself for too long. It hits fairly hard before retreating to the rest of the mix. But, it also lingers just enough to infuse a small whiff of warmth to the midrange. As we’ll explore below, the AF140 MK2’s mids are very light and fast. So, in lieu of the lower-mids, this low-end warmth is crucial in ensuring instruments don’t seem insubstantial or small, and guaranteeing them solid ground to lean on as well. This bass also droops nicely from the subs all the way to the lower-mids, so there isn’t this large gulf between the bottom and the midrange. Also, it ensures the IEM’s space remains airy and clean with gobs of headroom and space.

Now, where the bass is a tad lacking for me would be in its resolution. The AF140 MK2’s low-end hits with palpable force, but without a clear sound to it. Bass notes aren’t articulated as cleanly as some genres of music may require. Now, that is not necessarily an issue with kick drums or bass drops, for example, where the leading edge is what counts. As a rhythm instrument, this in-ear’s diaphragm is a potent tool. However, as soon as melody starts playing a bigger role – say, softer bass plucks, light tom work, etc. – the AF140 MK2 down low can come off lacking a bit of focus and clarity. But, this aside, Audiofly’s dynamic driver is a pretty admirable technical performer. It extends down low enough for palpable physicality, and the grit of the subs do come through on genres like pop or hip-hop; more than you’d think a $300-IEM to be capable of. So, hazy resolution aside, the AF140 MK2’s lows make a beefy engine for most genres of music with impact and drive.

Midrange

The AF140 MK2’s midrange comes off very vibrant, light and airy, because of an upward tilt towards the upper-midrange; around 3-4kHz. If you tend to like your instruments meatier, denser and more substantive, that may not be what the IEM is offering. But, if you prefer your horns a tad brassier, your lead guitars crunchier and your snare drums tight and clean, the AF140 MK2 will surely deliver. Instruments here are compact and precise with some of the gruffer, heavier overtones shelved back in favour of speed, openness and clarity. This trait is particularly ideal when you’re listening to an ensemble such as Snarky Puppy, and you want to hear everything that’s going on at once. Or, this is also ideal for relaxed, low-level listening, so acoustic guitars, female vocals or brush work will still sound punchy and bright even with the volume down.

Now, in creating that light, tight, breezy timbre, there are inherent compromises Audiofly have to take into account. First would be ensuring the upper-midrange tilt doesn’t cause too large of an imbalance against the low-mids. Thankfully, the AF140 MK2 solves this wonderfully. A sufficient rise from 1-2kHz lends the midrange a wetness and resonance that gives instruments tangibility in the image. Neither vocals nor other instruments come across plasticky or thin. They have a full-enough foundation beneath them to feel like solid objects within the soundscape. Now, the trade-offs Audiofly have not fully curtailed here are intimacy and texture. Instruments that are crisp and fast can seem fleeting at times. With ballads, like Jennifer Hudson’s And I Am Telling You, drama and emotion are what carry them through, and this monitor might just lack that required gusto. Otherwise, these are clean, balanced, sweetly-toned mids that’ll serve most music rather nicely.

Treble

Despite being billed as a basshead monitor (and one, it certainly is), I believe the AF140 MK2’s ace-in-the-hole truly lies on the other end of the spectrum: The treble. This monitor’s highs have been sculpted expertly; shaped for max articulation with no sibilance, brittleness or glare in sight. Transients have a light, tight and crisp texture to them, cutting through the warmth of the low-end with incredible ease. Audiofly have employed the use of a 5kHz peak here – also found on in-ears like the classic Lime Ears Aether – which gives hi-hats and cymbals what I’d call a harmless sizzle; crisp and clean, but not aggressive or metallic. The highs are then positioned in line with the mids for a smooth transition from one to the other.

Technically, these highs benefit the AF140 MK2’s spatial performance as well. Again, the in-ear showcases a great deal of air, openness and clarity in spite of its bass emphasis, and that’s largely because of top-end extension. It has just enough mileage past 10kHz to generate a black, stable background and stave off a large majority of the low-end’s warmth. Some of it still remains, naturally, but not nearly enough to suggest any sort of masking, congestion or veil. Speed is another of this treble’s strengths. Hi-hats, cymbals and snares strike with great snappiness, but without any hints of glare, hardness or brightness lingering about. Again, it simply is a tight, swift, correct-sounding high-end that completes the AF140 MK2’s body with the required amounts of crackle and air; no more, and – to those who won’t mind a less showy treble – no less.

Tip Pairing

COMPLY foam ear tips: Of the three, the COMPLY’s were my clear favourite in both comfort and sonic performance. In the ear, they felt extremely soft, and were almost custom-like in seal; providing the best isolation of them all. Sonically, these were what I used as my reference for those impressions above. So, I need not expand on how they shaped the monitors’ sound here. Aside from the inherent con in that COMPLY’s need replacing over time, these get my top recommendation.

Single-flange silicone ear tips: These ones, in terms of short-term comfort, compete well against the COMPLY’s to me. They still provide that vanishing feeling with the in-ears. In the long term is where they fall a hair short of the COMPLY’s. While still comfortable, they aren’t vanishingly so anymore. But, in exchange, these silicone ear tips are really low maintenance compared to foam; not needing regular replacements. So, it’ll come down to whether you prioritise comfort or longevity.

Sonically, switching from the COMPLY’s to these tips, you’ll get a slightly sharper lower-treble, as well as a tightened – but still impactful – bass. As a result, this in-ear’s L-shape is now more of a V. There’s a slightly more abrasive tizz to the highs too; its peak nudged from 5kHz to 6kHz. Though it’s still completely inoffensive, it does make the mid-to-treble transition less coherent (or linear) than it was with the COMPLY’s. So, these silicone tips get more bite out of the AF140 MK2, as well as a tighter bass. On the other hand, the foam tips lend the smoothest, most natural sig to me, but the warmest one too.

Triple-flange silicone ear tips: Of the three tip types that came with the AF140 MK2, these triple-flange ones were – frankly – my least favourite to wear and listen with. Obviously, they fit really deep. And, the pressure they built up inside my ear canal became uncomfortable within seconds of putting them in. They also isolated the least of the three, to my surprise.

Sonically, what these tips gave the AF140 MK2 was a much more forwardly, aggressive and in-your-face sound. I assume this has much to do with the deeper fit. The band feels two rows closer to you, and they sound like they’re playing much louder as well. While this certainly results in a more engaging, upbeat delivery, it has the technical misgiving of crowding the soundstage, so the in-ear’s stereo separation and width don’t feel as strong. But, of course, if you prefer energy over precision, then this could be a welcome change. The lower-treble peak at 6kHz is here as well, and it’s a bit brighter than it was on the single-flanges. So, aside from a bit of welcome forwardness and zing in the midrange, I don’t find the AF140 MK2 at its best with these. Unless you crave a very up-close sound, I’d recommend the foam or single-flange silicone tips.

General Recommendations

The AF140 MK2’s refined take on the basshead signature gives it an edge in versatility over other, similarly-tuned in-ears. It offers more than just a fun-sounding, thump-y bass, so below are what I’d consider to be its most stand-out attributes:

A bass-emphasised signature with outstanding cleanliness, resolution and air: What’s most impressive about the AF140 MK2 is the amount of air, openness and separation it’s able to achieve with its bass-focused signature. Genres like classical or jazz don’t suffer, and pop gets all the slam it needs. I’ve hardly heard anything like it, and it’s what makes the IEM for me.

Tight, neutrally-positioned, yet correct-sounding mids: Alongside this low-end, Audiofly have precisely positioned the AF140 MK2’s midrange in the mix as well; not saturated and suffocating, but not recessed or insubstantial either. Again, it’s not the most vibrant or strongly resolved midrange in the world, but it performs its role perfectly, and I think it’s a midrange that bassheads and non-bassheads alike will appreciate for its sweet, sweet tone, its snappiness and its openness as well.

Impeccably crisp and airy, yet refined and silky-smooth highs: To me, the AF140 MK2’s treble perfectly rides between quick, crisp cracks and light, feathery smoothness. Cymbals cut through the mix effortlessly, forming that smooth, refined and tonally-correct ‘s‘ sound at every turn. The same goes for snare drums that pop and crackle without being bright, and hi-hats that kick without sounding tick-y. If you’re a basshead who wants clarity and finesse, the AF140 MK2 is where it’s at.

As a bass-emphasised IEM, it’ll obviously not be for those who want a more reserved low-end. That is a given. But, there are other qualities to the AF140 MK2 not all bassheads may find appealing. This includes the two examples shown below:

A very full, fleshy or forward-sounding midrange: With the AF140 MK2, it’s clear that the midrange isn’t the star of the show, necessarily. While it’s perfectly executed for its intended sig, it most likely won’t pop enough to carry genres like opera or singer-songwriter; at least not as well as monitors that are more specialised for those types of music. So, if you often see yourself listening to genres such as these, the AF140 MK2 may not be the monitor for you from Audiofly’s product series.

A sharp, super-dynamic, v-shaped response: Basshead IEMs are typically accompanied by a super-sharp, super-sparkly top-end to contrast against the lows. While the AF140 MK2 certainly has cut and crackle in spades, its high-end isn’t elevated to the point of metallicity. It’s a more natural-sounding top-end with hints of warmth to it as well. So, if you’re a basshead whose priority list also includes a bright, buzz-y treble, the AF140 MK2 may not necessarily be the in-ear monitor for you.

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About Author

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

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