Phonak Audéo PFE 232 review
At £400, Phonak’s PFE 232 earphones are some of the most expensive we’ve ever reviewed. Each earphone capsule has two balanced armature drivers to provide a detailed sound without any loss of bass or low mid-range. Balanced drivers have a moving armature which is perfectly centred in a magnetic field when there’s no current applied to it, but which twists one way or another in response to magnetic currents, vibrating the diaphragm it’s connected to. These tend to be smaller and require less power than standard dynamic drivers, which consist of a magnetic coil attached to the base of a diaphragm, but they tend not to have as wide a frequency range as well as less bass. The Audéo PFE 232s' twin drivers help to mitigate this.
The headphones' clarity and precision is amazing, although they’re a bit quiet compared to some rivals. We loved the natural, flat sound which brings out the true character of any music you listen to. You can tweak the audio characteristics using different colour-coded filters which you place between the drivers and the tips – we eventually settled happily with the grey filters, which provide slightly more treble emphasis than the bassier back and green options. They brought out the finest level of detail in high-quality recordings of instruments such as guitars and violins, although some listeners will prefer the other filters’ more emphatic bass. Whichever you go for, the sound is rich and detailed.
We compared the PFE 232 earphones to our reference Shure SE 535 earphones, which are similarly priced but have three rather than two drivers. The Phoanks don’t have the same precise and deliberate crispness of the Shure earphones, but we really appreciated their warmth and surprising sense of space. The Phonaks are, like the Shures, sound-isolating, thanks to Comply foam tips which block out external noise. They’re among the only earphones we’ve ever been able to sleep in comfortably, but we really wish their cables had the reassuring thickness and emergency release clips of the Shures.
In the real world, almost no one needs to spend this much money on a pair of earphones. However, if you’re a musician, a producer or the sort of person who devotes their life to appreciating the finest subtleties of your favourite music, and if you have the money to spend, the PFE 232 earphones are among the finest in-ear models you can buy. This earns them an Ultimate award, but it’s worth noting that most listeners will be happy with the £80 Phonak Audéo PFE 012 Perfect Bass earphones instead.