Now things get really interesting. Had the Phonaks launched eighteen months ago when they did in the States, I think they’d have been pretty much untouchable at this price point. However, the IEM market has now reached a point where aggressively priced dual armature models are hitting the streets for similar money. Jay’s Q-Jays can widely be found for around or under £100, while the Ultimate Ears 700s can be had for only £10 more than the PFE 112s.
Just to be clear, a dual armature IEM won’t necessarily beat a single armature IEM every time, but the Ultimate Ears 700s are a pretty tough earphone to beat at this price point. Having recently borrowed a pair, I can only agree with Hugo’s Recommended verdict. However, comparing the UEs directly with the Phonaks the outcome is less clear cut than you might imagine. Sure, the UEs have the edge when it comes to their gorgeous, crystalline top-end and their rich, friendly bass, but the PFE 112s win out in other areas. Listen to Eden from Talk Talk’s always stunning Spirit of Eden, and as the track ramps up, layering instrument on instrument on instrument, the Phonaks manage to maintain a clarity and separation that the UEs can’t quite match. Switch to something a bit more fun, in this case Royskopp’s Happy Up Here, and the Phonaks less up-front, smoother, more balanced presentation is actually a little easier on the ears.
I’ve spent hours over the last two days switching between the two IEMs and trying to work out which I prefer, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really just a case of character. In the same way that I find myself switching between Grado and Audio-Technica full-sized cans depending on what I’m listening to and what mood I’m in, I could see myself flip-flopping between the Phonaks and the UEs. Given that one is a slightly cheaper, single-armature IEM, that’s something for Phonak to be proud of.
However, in the real world most of us – me included – can only afford to make one choice. All I can say is that the UEs remain the top dog at this price point if you want optimum clarity at the top-end and a good, fun, bass-rich sound, and that, if they only had five minutes to try each pair, it’s the UEs that most listeners would walk away with. The Phonaks take longer to reveal their strengths, but they do have a really lovable, warm and balanced output that doesn’t allow any one frequency to dominate the sound. For me, that’s enough to earn an equal, and no less valid recommendation.
The Phonak PFE 112s offer good comfort and excellent sound quality for a single armature IEM. While the affordable dual-driver competition makes your buying decision very difficult, these little beauties should be near the top of any mid-range IEM shortlist.