Custom Art FIBAE 2 (€475)
Compared to the FIBAE 2, the AF140 MK2 will come off airier, more open and more laid-back. The former’s more forward mids, especially around 1-2kHz, lends instruments a denser, more robust, more in-your-face timbre. The advantage there is it better reveals an instrument’s texture; denser and more substantive. Conversely, the AF140 MK2’s forte is clarity and air. That comes from leaner low-mids, but it also comes from treble extension. It has greater presence past 10kHz, which gives its space cleanliness and crispness over the FIBAE 2. Lastly, higher-pitched instruments tend to sound more vibrant and expressive on the AF140 MK2, due to a more present upper-midrange. By comparison, the FIBAE 2 sounds like it has a 2-3kHz dip, which may make instruments like the piano, violin or cymbal seem a bit duller (dynamically) by comparison.
Spatially, however, is where these two most differ. The AF140 MK2’s space is, again, more open-sounding, airy and clean, while the FIBAE 2’s has a darker, more intimate feel to it. The FIBAE 2 also images in a flatter, more two-dimensional way. Its instruments are spread out horizontally, and its centre image – rather than a mono sound in the middle of the stage – seems more like a stereo sound with equal presence in both the left and right channels. The AF140 MK2, by comparison, has a cleaner centre image, as well as stronger diagonals, which results in more spherical, holographic imaging. In terms of resolution, again, the FIBAE 2 will be stronger at highlighting or focusing on solitary instruments, while the AF140 MK2 is better-suited to defining the room as a whole. And, finally, the FIBAE 2’s lower-treble peak can make certain recordings sound a hair brittle or hot, while the AF140 MK2 draws its crispness from the high-treble for a smoother, airier response.
LEAR LCM-Skyline (HK$1488)
LEAR’s LCM-Skyline, like the FIBAE 2, is smoother-sounding than the more open and airy AF140 MK2. Unlike this Audiofly earphone’s more band- or room-oriented approach, the Skyline places its emphasis on the lead vocal; intimate, silky and soothing in tone. It isn’t as emboldened, dense and in-your-face as the FIBAE 2, nor is it as aerified and crisp as the AF140 MK2. The Skyline simply has a wet, buttery, resonant quality to its midrange that may be a product of the dynamic driver; a bit slower-paced, less punchy and intimate all the while. Speaking of, down low, the Skyline has a bigger, fatter low-end than the AF140 MK2. Bass instruments sound thicker – fleshier – and they take up more space. Whereas, this AF140 MK2 more so highlights the grit and rumble of the sub-bass over the tonality (or sound) of its mid-bass for a cleaner, drier sig.
Technically, the AF140 MK2, again, has the more open, airy stage to my ears. Its treble extension really does wonders for defining space, and giving its soundscape openness to play with; to reverberate and breathe. By comparison, the Skyline feels more intimate and more tight-knit. It’s impressive in that it never feels crowded, compressed or claustrophobic, but instruments certainly mingle and mesh more than they do on the AF140 MK2. Audiofly also have an edge in depth, while width is a closer fight. Resolution-wise, it’s a bit of a toss-up depending on which frequency range you’re referring to. The Skyline’s bass texture and linearity wins it the lows, while the AF140 MK2’s extension give it the highs. The mids will really come down to preference. The LCM-Skyline will provide a more rounded, organic tonality with a thicker, heavier delivery, while this AF140 MK2 – although it has a sweet timbre as well – is more geared towards tightness, clarity and articulation.
The AF140 MK2 from Audiofly is as much tradition as it is innovation: Paying homage to a timeless sound, whilst elevating it to new technical heights within the price range. Its bass-emphasised signature is every bit as visceral, thump-y and fun as it should be, but along with that comes an incredible level of clarity, openness and air unlike anything I’ve heard in the genre. Instruments sound crisp and clean, each defined by their own pocket of the space. Yet, they’re all emboldened by the same engine, and that’s this AF140 MK2’s warm, rich, nicely-textured lows. Now, is this an in-ear for all? Certainly not. Apart from the given who don’t enjoy bass-heavy sounds to begin with, vocal lovers may also find the AF140 MK2 lacking resolve in the mids. Otherwise, however, if you’re a basshead who values both low-end presence and top-end air, I doubt you’ll find a better bang for your buck than the AF140 MK2: “Bassy” remade with clarity, coherency and definition to boot.
The AF140 MK2 is now available for purchase on Reverb.com. Click the following link to give it a look.