At a glance, the Flares Pros are a single 5.5mm dynamic driver earphone. However, after a brief exchange with Davies, the visionary behind Flare Audio, it was evident that there is much more to these earphones than basic specification would suggest. Davies mentioned many technologies to me before I started my testing, but one thing that remained constant throughout was that the earphones should sound different than anything I’ve heard. And in listening, they do indeed sound pretty different, not bad and not necessarily good either, just different. And as with the original Flares, I suspect it will be a polarizing sound but underlying their eccentric tonality and tuning choices lies immense raw technical ability that everyone will be able to relish.
Sound may seem like a simple phenomenon but in reality, creating pristine audio is a challenging science. In that sense, I am always delighted to hear more about innovative designs and approaches to traditional technology and Flare exemplifies this premise with their newest in-ear design. Removing distractions between the driver and ear and balancing pressures between both sides of the driver both form the core of the Pro’s acoustic methodology and what the company says separates the Flares earphones from other designs. Even the ear tips were designed to have no protruding stem beyond the nozzle, reducing resonance and improving imaging performance. Furthermore, the driver lies perfectly centred within the housing with identically machined vents at the front and rear balanced air pressure to minimize transience. And behind the talk of proprietary technologies and marketing lies a very solid approach that is the foundation all quality audio products, similar in fact, to that taken by 64Audio with their TIA tubeless driver system though those earphones cost many times more.
Bluetooth module –
Flare claims that the Pro actually sounds superior over a wireless connection than when wired. Of course, in reality, that is not always the case since there is such a range of wired sources out there, but the wireless module included with the Pro’s does manage to best the majority of them. Flare’s wireless implementation is definitely one the best I’ve come across, the module has a two DACs to take advantage of their balanced output and a class A-B amplifier that is absolutely silent with no noise, hiss or distortion. I’m also assuming the module has a pretty decent output power too given that the Pros are quite difficult to drive when wired. All of this combines to create sound quality that rivals a good wired source and, with support for apt-x, they do so with minimal latency too (I tested the module on my BT4.0 laptop and apt-x enabled HTC 10 to confirm). For the average smartphone user, the module will undoubtedly sound superior with greater dynamics and refinement in addition to improved imaging performance, especially if the phone supports apt-x. And while there are some really exceptional smartphones including the iPhone, HTC 10 and LG’s newer flagships, those phones also fail to produce a notably superior sound to the Bluetooth module. That being said, not all sources are created equal and I did find the Pro’s to sound noticeably more balanced, transparent and separated when running from a quality dedicated source like the Fiio X7 and Chord Mojo. That being said, the earphones sounded more tonally pleasing from the module than either source, sounding fuller through their bass and mids and smoother through their treble, taking off that metallic tinge. I’m unsure whether this is due to an inbuilt DSP or perhaps a byproduct of their Bluetooth connection, but either way, the Pro’s did sound their best to my ear when paired with the included Bluetooth module even if separation and outright resolution failed to match the Mojo.
The Flares Pros are a notably difficult earphone to drive, requiring more volume than the vast majority of earphones I currently have on hand. This is perhaps intentional on Flares’ behalf, their lower sensitivity filters out the noise created by most Bluetooth implementations, but as a result, the Pro’s are a considerably power hungry earphone that definitely benefit from a dedicated amplifier. Even my HTC 10, one of the most powerful smartphones out there, struggled to extract the Pro’s full potential even if volume was sufficient. That being said, they are certainly no 320ohm VE Zen 2.0 and the integrated amplifier in my Oppo HA-2 delivered plenty of current and voltage to the Pro’s without requiring me to strap my A5 on top. In addition, the Pro’s don’t pick up hiss on anything and I’m typically quite sensitive to noise. Being a single dynamic earphone, they also aren’t too affected by higher output impedances and will still reach adequate volumes from portable sources so long as you’re not the type of listener that likes to max it out. As such, the Flare Pro’s trade source versatility for reduced source sensitivity.
A few impressions have labelled the Flares Pro as a tip sensitive earphone and seeing as Flares puts such great emphasis on the acoustic changes created by their included eartips, I thought it would be apt to try a few other.
Everyday Earfoams (Silicone): Despite their naming scheme, these tips are actually a soft silicone. They have an unconventional fit and seal but a solid one nonetheless. Pushing them into the ear creates a sensation of suction during which the earphones produce no sound though the pressure gradually fades leaving a strong seal and excellent acoustic properties. They have a u-shaped sound with the best end to end extension of all the tips I tried. They also offered the greatest resolution and imaging was spot on. Highs are very present but can sound metallic, thin and splashy.
Audiophile Earfoams (foam): Due to their shape, I did struggle to find a reliable fit with the included foam tips though when I did find a good seal, the sound they enabled was very pleasing. They were similarly technical to the silicone LENS tips but had a slightly smoother high-end than the silicones. While they are my ideal sound, the foams did not produce a reliable enough fit for me though ymmv.
Sony Hybrid: More conventional fit, retains great comfort and seal without that sense of suction. The earphones sound slightly more balanced with more forwards vocals, sub-bass extension is slightly reduced but still very impressive. The whole sound gains some body, mid-bass and male vocals, in particular, sound more natural at the cost of a little layering and resolution. Highs remain very detailed but sound smoother than the stock silicone tips. That being said, the earphones sound less concise with hazier imaging with the Sony’s. Some may prefer their more balanced, smoother sound even if quality fails to match the stock silicone tips.
Spinfit CP100: Perfect comfort, great fit and seal, but slightly less seal than the other tips for me. Strangely, the Spinfits provided a more similar sound to the stock silicone tips than the Sony Hybrids, mostly maintaining that same sense of exquisite resolution and layering. They were the brightest tips to my ear, slightly scooping lower mids and adding some upper midrange emphasis. Treble was still slightly more natural than the stock tips.
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