Headphone Review: Phonak Audeo PFE 232

Phonak, the hearing aid company, has proven to be a large competitor in the IEM market when they released their Audeo PFE series headphones. However, their whole series was basically the same IEM with different filters and tips that would alter the sound to match certain genres. Phonak however, has recently released a new flagship model that not only offers mind-boggling audio quality, but holds one of the most hefty price tags that makes some entry level custom monitors look affordable. Using two drivers instead of one, Phonak comes out to really pull off not only jaw dropping audio quality, but keep a good design, build, and comfort while doing to create a large overall quality package.  Read on for the full review: 

Specifications

  • Driver: Dual Balanced Armatures
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 17 kHz
  • Sensitivity:
    • 109 dB/mW – Grey Filters
    • 107 dB/mW – Black Filters
    • 104 dB/mW – Green Filters
  • Impedance: 47 ohms

In the Box

  • Phonak Audeo PFE 232 IEMs
  • Carrying case
  • Cable with Apple remote and mic
  • Cable without remote and mic
  • Audio filters
    • 2 pairs grey
    • 1 pair black
    • 1 pair green
  • Audio filter changer
  • Ear tips
    • Silicone (S/M/L)
    • Comply Foam (S/M/L)
  • Silicone ear guides
  • Ear tip cleaning tool
When you spend this much for a pair of headphones, they come with every accessory under the sun.

Design

Phonak takes the basic shape of the old PFEs and adds a nice faceplate to them along with other aesthetical additions like the round grill on the IEMs. These small additions are a well welcomed change from the dryer, duller plastic; they really give the 232s some extra edge. The plastic faceplate has a beautiful matte bronze finish on them that keeps them from becoming too bright. The sharp edges on the faceplate will create the illusion of a metallic-type material creating a beautiful contrast between the light and dark. Like on the lower end models, the words Audio are written prominently on them in white.

The design of these IEMs are really unique in, not only their shape, but even the matte paint job used.

On the opposite side of the earpieces is a black, glossy plastic that the manufacture’s logo printed nicely on it. The actual shape of this may look awkward, but really isn’t. Being the same shape of the old PFEs here, this shape conforms to the curves of your ear to ensure great comfort.

Phonak does go out and about to create some really aesthetically pleasing IEMs for users to enjoy. Even with the soft, matte stylings, the design and contrast of the 232s as a whole is pleasing to the eye.

Design: ★★★★★

Audio

The PFE 232s feature some of the most versatile audio I’ve ever heard for two reasons: they can tackle just about any genre of music, and they have adjustable audio. The adjustable audio is the exact system found on their lower end models. By changing the audio filters, one can create three types of sound signatures, a mid-boosted balanced signature, a rocking v shaped signature that focuses on lows and highs, and a rumbling bass-heavy signature. These filters work not by increasing a certain frequency range, instead they decrease the mids, highs, or both to create a perceived increase in the lows or highs. So when I say the bass was increased, it actually means that the mids, highs, or both were decreased to create this sound.

Phonak uses audio filters to filter out the mids and highs to obtain different sound signatures.

Bass

Grey Filters

The bass in general has a really grand feeling to them. The lows extend well and deep with strong power and strength. However, this is used at a responsible level which is quite interesting. They can easily be more than sufficient for pop, rap and dub step when the extra pop and rumble are needed. In the rock and alternative genres, the bass texture and imaging is absolutely brilliant. The body on the bass is quite large, but never overpowering. Impact on these is nice and strong. Although it’s not entirely tight, it does give a little extra oomph to each boom and pow. With the grey filters, the bass will definitely be more than sufficient for any genre. However, for genres that can use some extra bass, the black or green filters may be a better option.

Bass: ★★★★★

Black Filters

The black filters allow the bass to dig deeper into the low end allowing even better imaging and texture while still retaining the great punch the grey filters gave. The increased overall bass punch and texture definitely helps in many genres. This increase in bass really still doesn’t over power, nor does it ever seem like too much. With bass, quality isn’t lost, and it just ends up being preference since quality is just about the same.

Bass: ★★★★★

Green Filters

The green filters take what is already increased by the black filters and create a larger body which not only creates a bigger presence; it actually allows lows to hit harder. However, this does have negative side effects as the body leaves a thick environment for the entire sound that can make it sound congested at times. In other words, it may be too much for some, but just right for others.

Bass: ★★★★½

Mids

Grey Filters

At first, the midrange sounded really boring due to its lack of energy. That did quickly change after the first day with the IEMs. Although they never reach the levels of my Etymotics, the midrange did gain plenty of energy while the vocals gaining that vocal dynamic that I want and crave. The details and separate really made me wow; there was just no way to describe how good they were. If I had one complaint about the midrange, it would be the clarity. The clarity wasn’t always there due to the ever-so-slightly-recessed mids. In some songs, I felt that some of the mids just weren’t there; this was rare occasion though. It’s not like there isn’t clarity, there is amazing clarity, it was just that some thicker songs were lacking in clarity. Timbre and the positioning of instruments become the strong suites on these IEMs really quickly.

Mids: ★★★★½

Black Filters

The black filters tone down the mids just a little bit to give a short bump to the bass and treble. However, this loss of mids is not enough to really affect the mid-range properties any. The detailing, energy, dynamics, timbre, even the imaging are all left intact. The clarity does drop a little, but not enough to really change the score any.

Mids: ★★★★½

Green Filters

The green filters recess the mids even more, and the thickness of the bass also plays roles into how the mids are shaped which determine the final sound of the mid-range. Like the black filters, the midrange with the green filters still retain many of the properties of the grey filters. The detailing, timbre, and imaging are the main ones that are left untouched. The energy and dynamics do die down into something that is smoother, but still enjoyable. The only complaint is that the you do lose some details with this filter, and clarity does go down a notch as well. Overall though, the mids are still respectable, especially for being a bass-heavy phone.

Mids: ★★★★

Highs

Grey Filters

The high end is truly something remarkable, similar to how the mids were done. The treble with the grey filters are lively, with more than an ample amount of ample. These walk the line of becoming sibilant and harsh, but never cross that line; in fact, they make other IEMs like the EtyKids I had before sound sibilant. The details and separation of the treble is just implausible as well allowing just about every clash to be heard, without smearing into the next one. Unlike the midrange, the clarity in the high end is like a bell; superb in its own way. These highs are probably one of the best, if not the best, I’ve ever heard.

Highs: ★★★★★

Black Filters

The black filters don’t really touch the highs that much actually. Depending on where you draw the line between mids and highs, one can easily say that there is no difference on the high end between the grey and black filters. The only small thing I noticed was that they were slightly tamer, less harsh and sibilant altogether. Otherwise, the high end is really similar to that of the grey filters.

Highs: ★★★★★

Green Filters

The treble with the green filters, like the mids, become much more relaxed for listeners who prefer the much warmer sound. What ends up happening here is that the treble sparkle is still there though. However, the actual liveliness of the highs is still lost like on the 022s. The detailing and clarity don’t lose a beat, despite the fact that the treble has lost a lot of quantity. One main complaint I had with the PFE 022s was that the treble presence wasn’t there, the 232s do somewhat fix that problem I had and the treble.

Highs: ★★★★½

Noise Isolation

The noise isolation on these is not the best, but they also are not the worst and are a step above the 022s. They may not isolate everything out, but they can definitely work wonders if you are in a crowded place and need to tune out the external world. Although they aren’t Etymotics, they do an ample amount of isolating for me to be able to suggest them for this reason on everyday commutes.

Microphonics

With the over-ear method of wearing these, the microphonics really just disappears. All that listeners are left with is the bone conduction you get with any other IEM. Normally, I’d shun a company for not including a clip with an IEM that needed it, but these don’t need a clip.

Audio quality on these, as you’d expect with any IEM at this price range, is absolutely astonishing. With the unique system that allows you to tune the sound to your preference, like the one found on the PFE 1xx series, these IEMs will fit any person. Even with only the grey filters on, I feel that these IEMs can play any genre you throw at them. That have that much versatility it’s unbelievable. Phonak did something special on these to make them compatible with all music, not just most.

Audio: ★★★★★*

Build

When someone drops 600 bones on anything, it doesn’t even have to be headphones, they expect good build quality out of it. If something breaks one week after you buy it, I don’t care how good it is, it really isn’t worth it. Thankfully, what the Audeo 232s offer is among the best I’ve seen in terms of build.

Now, any headphone that costs more than 50 dollars should come with at least a pouch, a case is always a plus. Fortunately, in the pile of accessories included with the IEMs, a case is in there. The case is more unique since it has 2 pouches instead of one; it also has a belt loop on it as well. The second pouch can easily be used to fit a smaller MP3 player. Additionally, the second pouch can also hold accessories like filters, tips, or even an extra cable.

The two-pouched case that is included with the 232s is large enough to carry headphones along with accessories.

Speaking of extra cables, the Phonaks do come equipped with detachable cables. Now, this is a huge plus since cable problems can easily cause a good pair of headphones to go to waste as it’s normally a cable connection that goes bad instead of the drivers themselves. With detachable cables, you can replace the cable when it goes bad, not the entire headphones.

Phonak designed the IEMs with a detachable cable that can help build quality a little bit.

The cables themselves are extremely resilient and can take a strong beating. The Kevlar enforced cables are thick, but also flexible as well. They really don’t tangle either, which is a huge plus. Overall, the cables are one of the best I’ve seen.

The housings on these, although plastic, are still strong nonetheless. The plastic has a good sturdy feeling to them that allows me to trust them from cracking and breaking. The housings are tough, and can take a bit of a beating and even resist some crushing. The paint is also lacquered on to protect the design of the headphones as well.

One small problem I had with the 022s was that the headphone jack was straight. Phonak seems to have fixed this problem by making the new jack a 90-degree, angled one. The headphone jack is composed of a tough plastic similar to the ones on the housings. The strain relief is decently sized and has some give to it; it is neither stiff, nor loose.


One welcomed tweak to the PFE series was the inclusion of a new angled headphone jack.

Phonak worked hard to ensure that the 232s would be a good investment through time by upping the game in terms of build. The detachable cables, strong plastics, and improve headphone jack all show this.

Build: ★★★★★

Comfort

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is a common phrase that is widely used, and Phonak took it to heart when they went about designing the 232s to be comfortable. Every curve on these IEMs are done intentionally. It isn’t just so they look cool, weird, or both; it serves a secondary purpose to fit to the curves found on a natural human ear. Quite frankly, these conform perfectly to my small ears. The tips fit perfectly and are comfortable. Whether you choose to go with the proprietary silicone tips or the Comply Foam tips, you really can’t go wrong. Phonak also adds in a pair of ear gliders just in case you aren’t one that can keep the cables looping around your ears. I for one didn’t have this problem, but the ear gliders are there if you need them. These headphones are the next best thing to taping pillows to your ears in terms of comfort.

Phonak includes both their silicone tips and Comply Foam tips in three sizes each; both types are extremely comfortable. In addition, ear gliders are also included as well.

Comfort: ★★★★★

Value

OK, so far, we’ve seen perfection in action. The design, audio, build, and comfort were all perfect, or extremely close to being perfect. Perfection isn’t cheap though. When purchasing the 232s from Phonak’s site, you’ll be offered 3 payment methods: $600 cash, an arm, or a leg. Now an arm or leg might be pretty expensive to pay for headphones, but I’d recommend getting rid of the leg; you’ll need that arm to put on the IEMs. Obviously that is a joke. Almost, the headphones do cost 600 dollars still; this does seem like a lot.

However, if you look at what you’re getting: an outstanding design, 100% versatile audio that can play any genre thrown at it, resilient build, and comfort beyond belief; these headphones are the complete package. It really depends on who is buying these. I can easily see any audio enthusiast dropping the 6 bills to get these. However, at the same time, I can easily see people not buying these because of the price. In my honest opinion as an audiophile, I do believe that these are well worth the price. That is if you have the 600 bucks to throw around.

These IEMs do come with two cables, one with a remote and mic, and one without. No longer does the company make you choose between the two, you get total freedom and choice since both are included. Honestly, the only reason not to get these is the price. If these drop 1 or 2 bills, they would definitely be completely worth it seeing that they would be in direct competition with other universal flagships.

The remote and mic can be useful for a smartphone user, but it’s exchangeable for the included remoteless cable.

Value: ★★★★

Final Thoughts

Perfection? Just about, but not 100% there yet. However, at 600 dollars, the PFE 232s are one of the best IEMs out there right now. Taunting two total drivers, they do what other companies require three or four to do. Although they aren’t cheap, the sound quality that comes out of them is superb, customizable, and universal; that is, it will play anything thrown at it and still push out the strengths of that genre.

I’d like to thank David for the product sample.

Overall Score

† All prices are in US currency.
This review was written by the iFans.com Review Team. Cumulative scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
This accessory, product, or app was received as a sample. Thanks David for the product sample.
*Based on highest overall audio score with the grey/black filters
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