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SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear Review

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear
Added September 2013

Details: dynamic-driver headset from Denmark-based manufacturer of gaming peripherals SteelSeries
MSRP: $49.99 (discontinued)
Original Price: $49.99 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 19Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug w/ mic & 1-button remote
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Klipsch oval gels, stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and zippered carrying pouch
Build Quality (3/5) – The metal-and-plastic housings of the Flux remind me of the HiSoundAudio Crystal in both size and shape. The strain reliefs are not flexible enough for my liking but the narrow, rubbery flat cable works rather well. It holds a single-button inline remote and microphone.
Isolation (4/5) – Good, thanks to slim form factor and well-sealing stock tips
Microphonics (3/5) – Bothersome when worn cable-down; good otherwise

Comfort (4.5/5) – The housings are compact and lightweight, providing an unobtrusive fit that is comfortable for extended listening. The stock tips are of very good quality. The earphones can be worn cable-up as well as cable-down, though the microphone position suffers with over-the-ear wear

Sound (8.2/10) – The first dynamic-driver earphone from SteelSeries, the Flux In-Ear uses 6mm transducers and delivers a lively, well-rounded sound that impressed me from the very first listen. The bass has excellent extension and delivers good punch with no bloat. I would put the overall bass quantity on-par with the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition – like the VSonics, the Flux offers more impact than strictly neutral earphones such as the HiFiMan RE-400 but retains better accuracy than properly bass-heavy sets. The bass is not enhanced enough for the Flux to sound bloated – in fact, it is only a touch more boomy compared to the pricier and more neutral-sounding RE-400 and VSonic GR07.

The midrange of the Flux is among clearest I’ve heard in the price range and maintains a neutral-to-warm tone. The mids are a little recessed compared to sets such as the RE-400 and Dunu’s Tai Chi model, as well as the pricier Flux In-Ear Pro. This is not to say the Flux sounds severely v-shaped – rather, it is balanced-sounding with just a bit of a bass enhancement and crisp, prominent treble. The top end is extended, has good energy, and sounds mostly smooth, with just a bit of grain compared to higher-end sets such as the Flux In-Ear Pro, UE 600, and HiFiMan RE-400. It’s not nearly as prone to sibilance as many of the popular VSonic models and makes sets that are more laid-back at the top, such as the Dunu Tai Chi, sound dull and smoothed-over in comparison.

The presentation of the Flux fits in with the overall signature, being neither as forward and mid-centric as that of the HiFiMan RE-400, not as wide and out-of-the-head as that of the VSonic GR07. The good top-to-bottom extension, bass control, and overall balance of the Flux all help make sure that no elements of the sound are lost, in keeping with SteelSeries earphones being marketed for gaming as well as music.

Select Comparisons

Sony MH1C ($38) 

Last year, Sony’s MH1C model took the audiophile scene by storm as one of the best bang-per-buck in-ears on the market, making it a great benchmark for the new SteelSeries earphones. The MH1C offers a little more bass impact and a warmer tone than the Flux at the expense of greater bass bloat. The Flux has tighter bass compared to the Sony, and less of it, but still maintains great extension and good impact. The Flux also has more treble presence whereas the MH1C is a little smoother up top and a touch more spacious. From a user-friendliness perspective, the appeal of the MH1C is limited slightly by the annoying j-cord setup and Sony Xperia remote whereas the Flux has a universal one-button remote and standard y-type cable.

HiSoundAudio Crystal ($99) 

The Crystal may be significantly more expensive than the Flux, but the two earphones have quite a lot in common. They are similar in size and shape, similar in fit, and, as it turns out, similar in audio quality as well. I’ve always considered the Crystal to be a very solid earphone – a more balanced but similarly well-isolating alternative to the popular Shure SE215. Happily, the Flux offers all that at a fraction of the price. Compared to the Crystal, it has a warmer tone and more bass presence. The midrange of the Flux is a little less prominent, making it sound a touch more v-shaped, and its treble – slightly smoother. The Crystal, on the hand, is brighter and boasts more prominent mids. It has a slight advantage in midrange clarity but also sounds more harsh and prone to exposing sibilance.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear Pro ($130) 

SteelSeries’ two in-ear monitors are both impressive performers but the sound quality difference between them isn’t as great as the price suggests. The armature-based Flux In-Ear Pro is flatter and more accurate, with more prominent mids, less bass, and smoother treble compared to the dynamic-driver Flux. It is also more sensitive, requiring less power to reach listening volumes.

The cheaper Flux model, on the other hand, boasts more bass and appears to have better bass depth. In terms of clarity the two are very close, with the more prominent treble of the Flux sometimes giving it an edge in vocal intelligibility. That same treble can sound a little grainy compared to the Flux In-Ear Pro but overall the two aren’t far apart. The soundstages of both earphones are similarly well-rounded but the Flux can be a little more dynamic at times.

THL Recommended Badge 2014Value (10/10) – The SteelSeries Flux In-Ear headset is one of the very best mid-range earphones I’ve heard to date, delivering fantastic sound quality per dollar with  punchy, extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity. SteelSeries’ freshman effort beats many higher-priced products from brands that have had years to refine their in-ear offerings, making its performance all the more impressive. The only shortcoming is the cable, which could use better strain relief and tends to be noisy when the earphones are worn cord-down, but it’s a small caveat on what is undoubtedly one of the best-performing earphones in its class.

Pros: Excellent sound quality; small & comfortable design
Cons: Cable is noisy when worn straight down

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ABOUT AUTHOR

ljokerl

ljokerl

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.

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79 Responses

  1. I still consider these one of the best options for a pretty balanced, mildly warm sound under $50. I don’t think there’s a direct upgrade in the same price range, but you can get an upgrade in a slightly different tuning. These days you can pick up a VSonic VSD3S for about $40, which will still have good bass punch but also give you a clearer, slightly more neutral, but also more energetic sound.

  2. Bought these because of your review about 5 months ago and still works like almost new. Im ready to buy new in-ear headphones. Any suggestions that are better than these for under $50?

  3. The $40 Phonak 022 deal I posted a few days back (https://theheadphonelist.com/easter-weekend-deal-alert-phonak-022-40-earphone-solutions-dunu-dn-1000-172-dunu-dn-2000-252-ctc-audio-uscanada/) is the closest in value and sound performance to these. The 022 is a little less bassy/more balanced, but the overall sound quality is excellent for this sort of price.

    Barring that, it depends on budget and how far you’re willing to move from the slightly warm sound of the Flux. You could go with a flatter and more balanced earphone, for instance the Astrotec AM90-MIC or Meelectronics A151P. Or, you can go with a bassier one like the Sony MH1C (beware the asymmetrical j-cord) or the Xiaomi Piston 2 (especially if you have an Android phone).

  4. Hey joker, thanks for your reviews! They’ve been essential for my audio purchases over the past year. I just ended up picking up the a pair of Steelseries Flux and I must say I love them so far. The build quality comments are a bit disheartening though.

    My question is, I use these at the office and during my commute. The inline mic/remote is absolutely essential. During the cold weather months, being able to place calls while walking to and from work without having to really do anything provides a lot of value to me. If these are truly being discontinued and mine break, what are you recommendations for IEMs with a mic/remote similar to these?

  5. Wouldn’t they be covered by warranty even at $15? Would be quite a deal to get the Flux Pro as a warranty replacement for a $15 Flux.

    It looks like SteelSeries may be discontinuing these, perhaps due to the build quality. A shame as the sound is still very competitive – just wish they updated the construction instead.

  6. Gotta add my thanks to ljokerl for the excellent work – it’s been immensely useful for the many of us who come in with relatively little knowledge about headphones.

    I picked these up during their holiday sale – can’t beat $15 bucks. I liked them very much – for an inexperienced ear like mine they were just about perfect. That said, I do have to echo what several other commenters have said – the build quality is just lacking.

    After maybe a month at most of moderate use – which, yes, did include not using a case and often stuffing them in a backpack pocket, but no MAJOR neglect – one of the housings basically split in half where the plastic meets the rubber. the plastic that is on the front half of each unit (monitor? still figuring out terminology) is very thin and cracks easily.

    I would have been pretty disappointed if I’d spent $50 on them, but the flash sale price I got them for took some of that sting out. If you baby them, they’ll be a great for you. Just beware of their durability.

  7. Yep, that’s correct. The Flux is more balanced than the DTX101ie, which is on the bass-heavy side and a little dark. The DTX71 was also more balanced than the DTX101 but still didn’t sound amazing – not the improvement you would expect from a more balanced tuning.

    At those prices I would go for the Flux if you’re after pure audio fidelity, but in keeping with some of the comments below I feel that the DTX71 would be more durable/well-made.

  8. Hi Joker, thanks for the fantastic reviews.

    How do these compare to the Beyer dtx 101ie across the sound spectrum. Are they very different from each other? From what i’m reading, the flux sound like they’ll be much brighter and less bassy.

    On ebay I can get the flux for 60AUD and the beyers are 100AUD…

    Thanks!

  9. An update. Steelseries RMA’d my Flux In-Ear (rather painlessly I might add, really responsive customer service). They sent me a pair of Flux In-Ear Pros in place of my damaged Flux In-Ear (non-Pros). I asked if it was a mistake but they said they may ship out something equivalent/better if the other item is not available (this was around the time they were having the $10 sale). Anyway, not a guarantee for others but I now have the Flux In-Ear Pro. I don’t have the testing credentials of ljokerl, but my experiences mirror his comparison of the two. I think I like the detail of balanced armature better (this is my first pair of BA IEMs). I don’t miss the minutely less bass over the dynamic driver Flux In-Ear and the Pros fit me better. I have small ears and the smaller nozzle puts significantly less pressure on my ear canals so I can listen much longer. Actually, I probably get deeper insertion as they are more difficult to extract so possibly not any less bass in my case (but no way to compare the two now). Quite pleasing to listen to for music, and perform well in my band setting as well.

  10. I have a pair that I use on the go because I don’t want to lose or damage my more expensive IEMs. They’ve been treated absolutely poorly (things put down on cable, dropped, got caught in clothing, etc.) and they’ve held up incredibly well.

    Other IEMs suffering this kind of (ab)use have had a tendency to fail me so either I’ve been incredibly lucky this time around or the build quality can’t be that bad.

  11. Another “me too” in the dead cable department 🙁

    I always wear over the ear, and insert/remove using the body. The experiment was great while it lasted. If the manufacture isn’t doing anything about this through warranty (need to look at my box) I guess I’ll either look into replacing/repairing the cable or saving up for the Sure SE215.

  12. Sigh… so many people have had problems with these. Mine are still okay after about 18 months. I have one pair that I use and another one that’s a backup.

    Maybe it’s time the build quality got taken down a notch and I replaced these in the Buyer’s Guide.

    I think the Havi B3 Pro 1 might replace them on the Buyer’s Guide… might be an option for you as well. I talked about its sound a little here: https://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-vsonic-vsd3s-ostry-kc06-havi-b3-pro/. While I personally like the VSD3S and Ostry KC06 better, the B3 is the best match for the Flux’s tonal character.

  13. Bought 3 pairs last month. The one I use at home is fine, the other two I used for commuting are both dead and I was very careful with them. The jack cable connection is one of the weakest I’ve seen on a pair of headphones. Not sure the build quality deserves 3.5 points.

    I really like how they sound though and the spare Panasonic RP-HJE 120 I am using for now although not bad just somehow do not sound right to me now . I definitely won’t be getting another pair of Flux so what would be the best replacement for them?

  14. Mine are still alright but I get the point. Appreciate the feedback. Will remove these from the buyer’s guide as soon as I can find a decent replacement.

  15. Well….built quality of the steelseries flux is bad.

    3 friends of mine bought the steelseries also…..but the cable broke after 3-5 weeks on all In-Ears.
    Mine broke after 2 months…..got it exchanged but it broke again after 5 weeks.

    Waste of money

  16. Thanks… Hm, yeah I have heard some not so good things about the durability of the Flux but if they sound even a little bit better and include a remote I might have to get them.

  17. For sound quality I prefer the Flux but they’re quite close. The Crystal is a little more rugged in construction, though, so if that’s the priority, go for the Crystal.

  18. Hey,

    Just a quick question I hope you can answer; if they were both $50 which would you recommend between these and the HiSoundAudio Crystal?

    Thanks

  19. That’s great to hear – thanks for relaying your experience! Your use is pretty unique as far as what these earphones were designed to do but in context I’d call that a definite success for the Flux. I’ve been thinking of putting together a guide to some decent budget (and otherwise) musicians’ monitors. I’ll consider including the Flux + TRRS headset adapter/splitter.

  20. For fit I found a good isolation with the smallest tips. I wear them over the ear and have them inserted into my ear canals. I can also wear them with the large buds but they just nest in my ears outside the canal and the bass is seriously lacking. I can see why some people criticize the bass of IEMs if unfamiliar with the proper insertion techniques (I only know from wearing earplugs).

    I’ve been using them for music listening for a few weeks. No complaints, neutral about sums it up. I don’t find the highs or lows too forward, or the mids lacking. They aren’t fatiguing, I don’t detect any distortion. Nor was I blown away by an aura, or the sense of a greater power. They just make music sound like music. Isolation is good. I can’t have a normal conversation with them on and music playing. I keep the music at the lowest volume level in my work setting and it’s fine (OK, I have to crank it up a couple notches for some songs).

    In a live music setting (my reason for getting these), I finally got my first chance to test these out with the full band this week. I used a TRRS to TRS (headphone)+TRS (mic) adapter so they would play nice with the regular studio equipment (some Mackie mixer headphone out). They performed perfectly for my use case. The fundamental notes on my bass came in loud and clear and I had no issues hearing myself in the mix. Even the open ‘E’ string was well defined (just a 4-banger, didn’t have a chance to try a drop D tuning), so they certainly have the capability to play low. Finger style, slapping, popping double-thumb – the notes from the bass always sounded natural. I found the isolation no worse than my ETY earplugs which allowed everything that was piped through the headphones to be kept to a reasonable SPL, while still hearing the drums at a reasonable level. Again, everything just felt neutral. The bass guitar wasn’t boomy or boxy. The guitar wasn’t shrill or shouty. The synth didn’t bloom or drill through your head. The vocals weren’t recessed. I would call it a success!

    ljokerl, thanks for sharing your experiences in testing headphones. Hopefully my feedback here will help some other hobbyist musician on a budget. I probably won’t get a chance to compare to the SE215 ever, let alone any of the more expensive multi-driver units, but for now, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

  21. With more forward mids as a requirement I’d go for the E30 between those two. It won’t be too bassy. You might also consider the VSonic VSD1S if it is available to you, or the slightly pricier Fidue A63, which has stronger mids: https://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/fidue-a63/ . If those aren’t available I still think the E30 is a very nice earphone for the money.

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