We review a lot of personal audio equipment here at Gear Diary, and I’ve reviewed a number of different earphone packages over the years. The Audéo PFE from Phonak are a little different than many earphone products I’ve reviewed because they have the interesting distinction of being developed by Phonak, a company that specializes in making equipment for people who are hearing impared.
The claim is that the Audéo PFE provide wonderful clear sound and a “perfect fit”. Read on to see how they stood up to my expectations.
I used the Audéo PFE (with microphone) for a few weeks. As with earphones I’ve tested in the past, I used it with my laptop computer (a Macbook Pro), with a 5G iPod (video), and with an iPhone. I test using a variety of music types (from pop and metal, to classical, and in a variety of environments to get a sense of how well they perform under a variety of different circumstances, much as you would in your ordinary use.
The Audéo PFE package is similar to other units in this price range. It includes the earphone (with microphone), an assortment of silicone earphone tips, a set of foam tips, a set of filters (and a tool to change them), a pair of silicone ear guides (to allow for hanging the earphones over your ear for better fit), and a carrying case.
What I liked: In general I enjoyed the quality of the audio, especially when I used the earphones with my iPod and my iPhone. Oddly, though, when I used them with my laptop, the mid and upper ranges were a little more subdued than I would have liked, leading to sound that wasn’t quite as bright as I like, but, in all cases, the bass response was excellent (some of the best I’ve heard) and the audio isolation provided by the eartips, especially the foam set, was wonderful.
The wide assortment of eartips is always nice to see, and Phonak doesn’t disappoint, but I expect that of packages in this price range. Competitors like Shure also provide similar selections. I am a big fan of the foam tips that were provided as they provide better noise isolation than the silicone tips. The foam tips provided with these earphones provided excellent fit and isolation, but be careful as foam tips have more of a tendency to come off than silicone tips.
What needs improvement: I found, for my ears, the silicone ear guides to be less than satisfactory. They did not fit my ear shape very well and really couldn’t be adjusted enough to work for me. I’d like to have seen a few different shapes/sizes included. The earphones are still perfectly useable without the guides (most earphones don’t have guides), but it would have been nice to have guides I could have worked with. For me – definitely not a perfect fit.
The inline microphone on this version of the Audéo PFE, was a disappointment to me as well. While it would be OK for recording a quick note, the lack of audio feedback from the microphone was too disconcerting to allow me to comfortable hold a phone conversation while using the earphones. I was informed (by a company rep) that this lack was due to the nature of the way a cell phone works (a phenomenon called “sidetone” where not enough audio signal is returned to the user’s earpiece). That may be true, but when you are talking on the cell phone normally, you haven’t isolated your ears from hearing your own voice like you do when wearing earphones. So, for me, that explanation ends up being kind of a cop-out to avoid the somewhat more expensive engineering that providing feedback from the microphone would require. And, to be fair, though, I want to also point out that most of these types of devices suffer from this problem, but many, including Apple’s new in-canal earphone, also state clearly that they are not really suited for extensive use with the iPhone.
Lastly, when using these earphones, especially with my laptop, I kept wanting the cord to be a couple of feet longer than it was. I found myself often pushing the cord out of my way, beause it wasn’t long enough to tuck around the back of my laptop or even to run behind my head (rather than in front). Because I wasn’t really able to use the ear guides, the earphones were often getting “tugged out” of my ear when they got caught.
Overall: I’d still recommend the Audéo PFE, but I wouldn’t recommend the version with the inline microphone unless you will only require the inline microphone infrequently, or the lack of hearing your own voice doesn’t bother you. The overall audio quality is very good (but not extroardinary), and the bass response was excellent.
The challenge for Phonak here is that there are a number of very good competitors in this price range with similar sound quality. Potential purchasers will want to examine their options in this product category. That said, If some improvements were made in the handling of the microphone, then the inline microphone version of unit would stand above some of the others, but as it currently stands, the Audéo PFE are on par, but not above the competition.
The Audéo PFE earphones are available from Phonak for $139 (without the microphone) or $159 (with the microphone).