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Phonak PFE

Phonak Audeo Perfect Bass 012 Review

Phonak PFE
Reviewed Dec 2011

Details: Audéo’s follow-up to the PFE model, promising a more consumer-friendly sound at a lower price point
MSRP: $119 (manufacturer’s page); $129 for 022 model with mic & 1-button remote
Current Price: $99 from for 012; $105 for 022 model
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 5-17k Hz | Cable: 3.8′ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 3mm | Preferred tips: Jays single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (4/5) – The plastic housings are just as lightweight as with the old model but the cable has reportedly been improved to prevent the cracking issues common in the first-gen PFE. The build is well thought-out and the cord is smooth and tangle-free
Isolation (3/5) – Isolation is a bit above average with the silicone tips
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Very low, partly because they must be worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4.5/5) – The housings are ergonomically-designed and light as a feather. Though neither foam tips nor cable guides are included with the PB, the earphones still simply disappear when worn. As with the old model, the design may prevent the single-flange tips from forming a deep enough seal for some users

Sound (8/10) – The only physical difference between the Perfect Bass and the older PFE model is in the nozzle-mounted acoustic filter – the 012 uses a new green-colored filter while the old PFE shipped with gray filters, which provided a more trebly sound, and black filters, which fleshed out the midrange a bit at the expense of some top-end sparkle and detail. The green filters offer a significantly different take on the Phonak sound signature – the bass, as promised, is markedly accentuated and the entire sound signature undergoes a subtle but noticeable shift. At the low end, the green filters offer sizeable impact – stereotypically light on rumble but well-extended and slightly soft of note for a single-BA setup. Out of the similarly-priced armature-based sets I’ve heard, only the Dunu Ares and Crius come to mind as bassier options.

The midrange is smooth and quite a bit warmer than that of the gray-filter PFEs. It tends to sound a bit veiled in comparison and the slight analytical edge that made the smoothness of the old PFEs so special is gone. Similarly, while the green-filtered Phonaks are still quite detailed, they are not at all aggressive in presenting the detail. The difference between them and the Etymotic HF5 is striking, with the Etys sounding much sharper, crisper, and more forward. The Phonaks, on the other hand, are very smooth and extremely non-fatiguing. Towards the top of the spectrum, the sparkle of the gray-filtered Phonaks is gone and so is some of the detail. The overall sound is a touch dark for me despite reasonably good treble extension. Similarly, while the new Phonaks are quite accurate, they just don’t sound lively or energetic enough on the whole.

The presentation afforded by the green filter is similarly refined but not particularly impressive. The soundstage size is average or maybe even a bit below average – the gray filters sound more spacious to me. Separation is still good and imaging is sufficient, suffering slightly from the poorer resolution of the green filters. The biggest issue, however, is the sensitivity of the earphones which appears to be even lower with the green filters than it is with the gray ones. It just doesn’t pick up detail as easily as some of the better earphones in the price range and isn’t well-suited for those who prefer low listening volumes. With proper amplification it sounds a bit quicker and cleaner but, seeing as it clearly was meant to be used without an amp, I still feel that the low sensitivity will be an issue for some.

Value (8/10) – Phonak’s first attempt at a sub-$100 earphone, the Perfect Bass, presents itself as a stripped-down, consumer-friendly version of the PFE at an attractive price point. The new green filters are surprisingly potent in changing the sound but much of the magic of the original PFEs is lost in the pursuit of bass and smoothness. With the improved cable, excellent long-term comfort, and low microphonics, the Perfect Bass is still worth the asking price but they don’t quite preserve enough of the armature resolution and clarity of the PFEs to pull clear of dynamic-driver competitors such as the Sunrise Xcape IE. That said, they are pretty much unbeatable value as far as tunable IEMs go when purchased together with a set of the gray filters from the old PFE.

Pros: Comfortable; low microphonics; 2-year warranty
Cons: No accessories; gives up much of the wow factor of the PFE; lacks sensitivity



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Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.


2 Responses

  1. These should work better than the R30. They really fall right between the R30 and SE215 in bass quantitu – less bass impact/power/depth than the Shures but more than the Rock-It unit. Clarity is slightly better than the R-30 (though still nowhere near on the level of the Etys your mention) and the highs are less rolled-off, which helps with detailing. Should be a good compromise if you don’t want to go more analytical or risk treble harshness.

  2. For a first time ba set for a beginner, how do these stand againsnt the rockit r 30’s. Lows, mids, highs, especially details. Coming from a shure se215 limited (would sacrifice bass for clarity) i do not want anything too analitical nor way to bright ety’s for example.

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