I’m going to say this right up front. I really like hybrid earphones. I like the warm bass that the dynamic speaker provides. I like the accuracy the armature speaker is able to replicate. And I like that when used together, these two different speaker technologies give the best of both worlds. It’s never a perfect match—hybrid speakers always seem to lean towards either a more dynamic or armature sound. But that doesn’t matter. Hybrids usually give more than either speaker type can individually and that’s where the fun is. Newcomer (to the U.S.) Audiofly is an Australian audio company with an impressive range of earphones for any price range—some hybrid, some not. I’m reviewing the AF78, their top consumer hybrid earphone (not counting their “pro” models).
Before we delve into the Audiofly AF78, let me explain the previous paragraph. Dynamic speakers look and act like traditional speakers, only on a tiny scale. Dynamic speakers usually—but not always—favor the deeper, more bassy sound that many younger people prefer. Armature speakers are based on hearing-aid technology and sound more accurate at the expense of a lower bottom end—again, not always. Because of their accuracy, armatures are the choice of most audiophiles.
The Audiofly AF78 hybrid earphone is attractive in a business-like way. They’re not pretty or flashy—a good thing. The plastic shell has an anodized metal outer rim with laser-cut vents allowing more speaker movement from the freer airflow. This also has the advantage of expanding the soundstage a bit. More soundstage helps speakers sound more in space than in your head. With the AF78s, this effect is not as dramatic as on a pair of open-backed headphones, but it is welcome. Construction feels solid and well-made.
The packaging is nice: it’s a cloth box wrapped in a plastic ouer cover that has more information than you could ever want printed all over it.
The shells have a rubberized cable strain relief that protects the wires from breaking where it meets the shell. The extended piece of hard rubber even has embossed right ear markings for anyone fumbling with them in the dark. The AF78s come with a very protective felt-lined tin with a tight snap-on lid. However, it could have been a bit larger. The earphones need to be tightly wound to fit properly.
The cables are not detachable—a trend that is becoming more prevalent. The cable is a woven cloth that is practically tangle-free, but it can develop a memory, so it left twisted, as when left in the tin, it can take a while to untwist. Microphonics (the sound heard when the cable is tapped or rubs against clothing) is noticeable. It doesn’t bother me, but it is distracting for some people.
Comfort is top-notch. What good are earphones if they cause pain? The AF78 can be used for hours with no fatigue—physically or sonically. The unusual, but universal shape fits snuggly in the ear helping it stay in place when moving about.
The AF78 comes with or without a mic/control button with a slight price increase for the mic version. My sample did not include that option. I don’t use them anyway, so it’s no big deal. The mic and controls work with both Apple iOS and Android devices. The miniplug is a straight design. I much prefer a 90° plug since it takes up less space and has little chance of being hit adding unneeded stress to the headphone port.
As I said earlier, the hybrid speaker approach is never a perfect marriage. That’s also true here. The AF78s will never be a basshead’s dream. The bass is more accurate than prominent. I much prefer this approach as it allows music to sound like it was meant to, without any artificial bass emphasis added. I accept that I am in the minority on this as most people choose bass over realism. The sound is what I would call flat with a slight leaning towards bass. The bass is not overdone at all and the treble accuracy of the armature provides a nice balance to the overall sound. This is an earphone made for all types of music. They’re just as comfortable with classic rock, jazz, classical or hip-hop, although fans of hip-hop may want more bass than the AF78 delivers.
Vocals are a treat with the AF78. “Got a Feelin'” is an undiscovered 60s gem by the Mamas and the Papas. Their voices are breathtaking and the AF78 brings out the individual characteristics as well as that “5th voice” one gets with perfect 4-part harmonizing. Michelle Phillip’s etherial vocals on “Dedicated to the One I Love” are delivered with excellent clarity. The extreme 60s stereo separation effects are distinct with no bleed between the speakers, which is exactly as intended.
Electric piano with percussion and saxaphone slowly fades in from dead silence on Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-heeled Boys”, which the AF78 picks up from the first ever-so-faint note. Lead singer Steve Winwood’s whiny vocals are matched to a growly sax. These differing frequencies are displayed distinctly, but is tandem which can be attributed to the armature speaker working with the dynamic speaker.
“Oceana” from Björk’s “Medulla” album features unworldly vocals with a choral backup that tracks up and down notes like a musical roller-coaster. It’s a song better suited for testing speakers than sitting and enjoying. Her style takes some getting used to. But the AF78 travels right along with the vocal peaks and valleys giving clarity and oomph to the song.
Audiofly may be new to the US market, but with products like the AF78, their name should become quickly recognizable to the earphone buying public. They are not cheap, but are priced well for a hybrid design made as sturdy as these.