- Review Price: £79.95
As we noted in our review of its PFE 112 earphones, Phonak isn’t exactly a household name in the UK, but it’s certainly making a name for itself. Having made an impression with the aforementioned PFE 112s, the company now has a revised model called the PFE 012s, offering not only a revised sound signature but, perhaps more importantly, a lower price.
In fact, the PFE 012 earphones aren’t just a bit cheaper that the PFE 112s, at a touch under £80 they’re a massive £40 cheaper. Taking the PFE 012s out of their packaging it takes more than a moment to notice where those savings have been made but PFE 112 owners might notice the accessory-filled zip-pouch which accompanied those earphones isn’t supplied with these. However, as nice as it is to have a carrying case, and as much as we like Comply’s foam tips, it’s hard to complain about their lack on inclusion considering the price difference between the PFE 012 and PFE 112 earphones.
The PFE 012s, like the PFE 112s, have an adjustable filter, letting you alter the sound signature of the earphones to your tastes. Unlike the PFE 112s, however, which came with a choice of black or grey filter, the PFE 012s come only with a green filter. This is the contributor to the PFE 012’s “Perfect Bass” slogan, as Phonak says this new filter is the bassiest the company has yet provided – although this enhanced bass shouldn’t come at the cost of other frequencies.
Other than this new filter, and the lack of an accessory set, the PFE 012s are identical to the PFE112s. That is, we hasten to add, a good thing, because the PFE112’s were constructed very nicely. We especially like the cabling of the PFE 012s, which is neither too thick nor too thin, and has a rubberised coating that gives it a quality feel.
We also like the over-the-ear design as it reduces cable noise. We do wish the PFE 012’s came with foam tips, however, as although the three choices of silicone tip supplied do make getting a comfortable, secure fit easy, they aren’t as pleasant to wear and don’t offer such good noise isolation. The earpieces themselves are also nicely designed, fitting snugly into the ear such that you can even lie on the side of your head without interfering with them.
Although they do give the PFE 012s a bassier output that the PFE112, the green filters definitely don’t negate any of the advantages of the more expensive model. The same great positioning is still on offer; the sense of space the PFE 012’s create is truly amazing for a set of IEMs. This works well with any music, but complex, especially orchestral, pieces really benefit with separate instruments much easier to pick out than with lesser earphones. However, despite this open soundstage, there’s no lack of cohesion to the PFE 012s’ output; think of it as a well-blended cocktail.
The PFE 012s’ clarity is unrivalled at this price point, too – not quite Etymotic levels of precision, but definitely within spitting distance. Phonak’s expertise in the hearing aid market no doubt helps here. We think that’s part of the reason the PFE 012s are quieter than other earphones at the same output volume, too, helping ensure you don’t damage your hearing, even Phonak is robbing itself of potential customers with that move. We hasten to add, though, that while they PFE 012s aren’t loud, they are loud enough – think audible not ear-splitting.
The PSE 012s may be bassy for a Phonak earphone, but the fuller bass is subtle rather than overpowering; you’ll hear kick drums drive through with a bit more force, brass instruments slightly greater presence and bass guitars’ twangs sear through a touch more. With the right music it works well. Hip hop fans, for example, will appreciate the extra kick given to basslines; we certainly preferred listening to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Eminem’s Recovery with the PFE 012s more-present low end.
The same difference (we hesitate to say improvement, it’s a matter of personal preference) can be heard with heavier music. Giving Biffy Clyro’s Puzzles and Brand New’s Daisy a play through, we rather liked how kick drums gained extra extra, well, kick, and bass lines reverberated more strongly.
All that said; although we found a lot to like with this bass-emphasis, and can see a lot of listeners favouring it, our preference is still for the flatter more balanced tone of the grey filters supplied with the PFE 112s. We’re no fools and we’re certain that the more visceral tone of the PFE 012s’ green filters will definitely have its fans, but for us it’s all about accuracy. But we’re not sure we’d pay £40 more for that, even given the extra accessories that come with the PFE 112s.
The price of the PFE 012 earphones is impressive to say the least. The loss of a few unnecessary (if nice to have) accessories versus the PFE 112 ‘phones is well worth the £40 saving. And while we prefer the more natural sound of the PFE 112’s filters, we can definitely understand the appeal of the extra bass offered by the PFE 012s; in fact, with the right music it’s an arguable improvement.
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