Phonak Audeo PFE 232 earphones
How much would you spend on earphones? Is your budget £20, £50 or £100? How about £400? Well, if you want these Audeo PFE 232 earphones we've got in our lug-holes right now, that's how much you you'd have to fork out. It might seem like a lot, but as you'll find out, there are a lot of reasons you should consider it.
From the packaging, you might be fooled in to thinking there is not much different about these headphones. They go in your ear, which is standard - earphones that go elsewhere have little or no effect, it seems - and they look like most other pairs of cans we've seen. So what's going on here to justify that asking price?
Clever, very clever
Well, for one thing, it seems that Phonak has thought of just about everything. With most headphones and earphones we've used it's entirely possible to spend £80 and have them break a few months later. Most smart companies offer some sort of lifetime warranty, but we're inclined to just move on when this happens.
Phonak has a different approach, because these headphones have a replaceable cable. It sounds like such a small thing, but given the only way most headphones fail is through a broken cable, it's just about the smartest idea we've ever seen applied to earphones. Of course, it's not unique, but it's quite rare.
In the box you get a second cable, but it doesn't have the iPod/iPhone inline remote and volume control. You might prefer this if you're an Android or Windows Phone user, or if you have an MP3 player that doesn't do a million and one other things. But if nothing else, it's a good backup if anything does go wrong with the other cable.
This isn't where the clever ends either. Because also supplied in the box are a set of passive filters. These are tiny - really, really tiny - little caps that fit into the very end of the headphones, just before the foam/rubber tips. These clever little things will alter, subtly, the sound you hear.
Quality is what counts
You want to know that your £400 is going to get you something to blow your mind. And these Audeo 232s really do offer that. In spades.
Headphones generally fall in to two categories. Those which sound good, but do so through altering the sound to give a little boost to bass. A lot of people favour bass-heavy response, so this is a good trick for headphones to pull as it implies quality - although, in fact, this isn't the case. The other aproach, is to give a flat sound, the recreates what was originally put down in the recording studio. The Audeo PFE232, happily, fall in to this camp.
This clarity gives you access to every facet of the track you're listening to. Sound is so clear that you'll notice things that you'd never hear on a set of speakers, or through inferior head- or earphones.
For example, we listened to Oaklahoma Town, by Josh Gabriel and Winter Kills and there is an incredible amount of extra information to take in. Even the crackling, at the end of the track, is more involving and clear than anything we've heard by speakers. It makes for a much less confused sound, and we were sold completely.
To assist with the skill of these earphones, we opted to use the foam tips. These aren't to everyone's taste. They are, however, exquisite at blocking external noise and keeping you and your music in a wonderful bubble. If you do hate them, then some more traditional rubber ends are provided too. These are a little easier to keep clean, and can be washed if they get any ear wax on them.
There's plenty of power here too. The isolation helps with that, but at 75 per cent of the iPod's maximum power we found more than ample, and there was still more than enough power at lower volumes as well.
EQ might be to your taste
The flatness and clarity of these earphones means that they do a minimal amount to change the overall sound you'll hear. The passive acoustic filters will change that, but if you stick with the ones that come fitted, you'll be getting a very clear and flat sound.
On our Nokia Lumia 800, which sounds great but has no EQ, these headphones were a delight. Giving a sound that, despite being flat, wasn't boring or lifeless. There was so much detail in this audio that we nearly jumped for joy.
Hooking it up to an iPod touch, with the EQ set to push a little more low end, they really came alive, delivering what, to us, was the perfect sound. A little enhanced bass, but while still maintaining a level of detail that most headphones would really struggle to provide.
We applaud this though, because it means that you, as a customer, will be able to get the sound that you want. The filters supplied offer another route, should you want to take it, and fitting the black set will give a boost to both the high and low ends.
The price hurts
We adore these earphones. With the right music player - one that you can tweak the EQ slightly - they produce an out of this world sound. They are so clear, undistorted and pleasant to listen to, once we had them in, we never wanted to take them back out again.
But, there's no doubt £400 is a lot of money. But then there's no doubt that these earphones are the best we've heard, and can compete in terms of clarity, with open backed over-ear headphones that cost twice as much. We've no doubt that your decision to buy will be a difficult one, even people with plenty of money might double-take at the price label.
If you do decide to take the plunge, you will be amazed by these earphones. Their comfort is second-to-none, and the flexibility and longevity offered by the replaceable parts really should mean that these earphones will last you for a very long time indeed.
There are cheaper Audeo headphones out there, so if £400 is just too much, consider a cheaper pair as you're unlikely to be disappointed.