Phonak are newcomers to the headphone world, with the Audeo PFE (Perfect Fit Earphones) 112 representing their first foray into a competitive market. The company has a background in hearing aids, so arguably has a great deal of experience with in-ear devices, but can they deliver on the music front too?
It's perhaps confusing to name these headphones as they are with the Audeo tag, as this is also given to a number of hearing aids, so there is some potential for confusion and perhaps an association that isn't going to propel these headphones into the consumer space, but that aside, what do you get in the box?
You are well catered for if you like choice. These headphones are designed to have the cable routed over the top of the ear - like other brands, notably Shure, do - and so you get two soft plastic ear supports which slip over the cable to provide additional support and reduce cable noise when walking or running around.
You also get a selection of three different sizes of silicone tip as well as "Comply" foam tips. These are pretty standard accessories at this price point, but the kit to change the audio filters inside the headphones is far from standard, more on that later. You also get a neat case that will carry both the headphones and all the extras.
The Phonak Audeo PFE have been designed to fit into your ear, the body of the headphones pointing up towards where the cable attaches and routes over your ear. As such, we found they fit well into the outer ear, so you don't have a mass of headphone hanging out of your ear like you do from some in-ear 'phones.
Phonak very much seem to be pushing the foam tips, saying that the Comply tips are better at filtering out ambient noise. It is nice to have the choice of tips, as silicone is uncomfortable for some people, and others (like this reviewer) isn't a fan of foam. We tried both the Comply and silicone tips and found the foam tips didn't make as good a seal as an alternative silicone set, but we are all different, so see what works for you.
Fitting can be a little fiddly with the ear support, the two different parts of the headphones trying to head off in different directions. Combining this with having to pinch the foam tips can add to the equation, but once in the ears, they felt secure enough. You can slide the cable slider up to cut down on any movement too.
Phonak suggested that the PFE are appropriate for sport with the silicone tips being easy to rinse and the cable covers providing plenty of support. This might work for some, however we found that to cut down on cable swing and bounce, we had to slide the cable slider all the way up, which was annoying against the neck whilst running.
Having achieved a great fit, we found the noise isolation was very good using the silicone tips. As with other in-ear headphones, if you find a perfect fit for you, then you'll really get the most out of your headphones. The downside is that cable noise is transferred into your ear canal, so when walking around you'll hear or feel that movement, even with the additional supports. It's something you get used to, but also something you'll need to consider when deciding whether in-ear or on-ear headphones are the best for you.
We mentioned earlier the kit to change audio filters within the headphones. This is a tiny set of filters offering two different audio characteristics. The grey filters, fitted by default, are aimed at the mid range, the black filters are designed to boost bass. Changing these filters requires the use of a little tool (supplied) that lets you extract one type and insert the others.
It sounds good, but it is perhaps unnecessarily fiddly, and we wonder whether it counts as a customisation bonus, or something of a distraction. Still, it is a quirk of PFE and one that does make a difference. Opt for the default grey filters and you'll find that you don't get the most rounded performance from your music, with bass definition lacking. The grey filters are well suited to voices, however, so if you just want to listen to audio books or radio plays, they may be the right choice for you.
However, we suspect that 95% of users will opt for the solid bass delivery of the black filters, and once in place, will probably never look back. Those black filters with the tips that give you a perfect fit combine to give you a set of headphones that perform admirably.
Plenty of definition to your music with impressive bass delivery, the range of the Phonak Audeo PFE is impressive. We threw a number of bass heavy tracks at them and found they performed with definition and detail. This solid performance was repeated across all the tracks we threw at them. What is most astonishing, perhaps, is the difference that the filters make. They entirely change the characteristics of the headphones, but as we said, once the black filters were in place, we didn't want to change them back.
These aren't the loudest headphones out there which perhaps reflects the company's background. We found them to be loud enough, but almost always in the top 20% of the volume range from our test MP3 player. However, we didn't detect distortion at higher volumes, which can affect some headphones that let you turn the music up too high.
The construction of the headphones seems solid, although the point that the cable splits and the 3.5mm plug surround are plastic, where a number of rivals at this price point are metal. It’s a detail that doesn't affect the performance, but does detract from the looks overall.
Phonak's first foray into the world of MP3 headphones is certainly a success. The changing filters is a little quirky and will probably be overlooked by some. We'd have been happy to take the bassy delivery of the black filters, but you can't knock being given the choice, even if the process is a little fiddly.
Good audio performance is what really stands out though and there are enough accessories in the box to give you the choice to get a good fit. Some might not like the over-the-ear method of fitting and the price of £120 does put them a touch above some very competitive rivals, but they are not over-priced. For £10 more, however, you can get a set with an Apple in-line remote, which sounds more like a tempting offer for iPhone users.
If you are in the market for new headphones, the Phonak Audeo PFE 112 are definitely worthy of consideration.