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.
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.
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.
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