Review of the Phonak Audéo PFE 232 – The Best Universal Earphones I’ve Heard to Date

Pros: Highs, Mids, Bass response for BA drivers, comfort, build quality
Cons: Sibilance, price, isolation, needs to be driven

Packaging & Accessories: 9/10
Build Quality: 10/10
Design & Look: 10/10
Microphonics (higher ratings means lower cable noise): 10/10
Isolation: 8/10
Comfort: 10/10
Audio Quality: 10/10
Value: 7/10
My final Rating: 9.5/10

Purchase Date: April 2012
Purchase Price: £400

First and foremost, I would like to send out a huge thanks (and hug?) to David, over at Phonak Audéo in sending out the PFE232’s to me, for review!

I would also like to point something out about the PFE232’s in relation to the P-Series tips – this was made aware to me by Comply:
“This tip series has a threaded core. While this core is fairly flexible and may stretch to accommodate the sound port of the PFE232 – there is a significant risk that attaching or disengaging a P-Series tip would damage the sound port. I highly discourage any customer from using the P-Series tip with this earphone. Any time you force a tip that is too small onto a sound port, you risk stressing that sound port in such a manner that could cause damage. We have heard of, and have experienced, cracking or breaking of sound ports in these situations (not speaking of Audeo specifically, but of forcing or attempting by force to put a tip onto, or remove a tip from a device that is not compatible with the Comply™Foam tip used in the attempt.)”
(Thus, please do not use the P-Series tips with your PFE232’s)

The Phonak Audéo PFE 232, also known as the PFE232’s are one of the best earphones I have heard to date. These earphones define for me the best universal fit earphones I have ever heard. That said, these do have some slight flaws, such as their sibilance, their isolation and most of all their price tag.
Apart from those few things, the PFE232’s I find are a class-leading earphone, whilst maintaining only 2 Balance Armature (BA) drivers in each ear piece.
Without further ado let’s get on with this review!

Packaging, accessories, box content, overall first impressions (look wise)

For my initial impressions, and unboxing video – Click here

The packaging of the PFE232’s was nice, simple and elegant. It reminded me of the PFE112 package, however had an extra touch of class to them. It wasn’t anything that should really stick out as being amazing or outstanding packaging, unlike the Monster packaging which I find is still the industry leader in packaging (possibly over-the-top for some).

The accessories provided were almost like-for-like the PFE112’s, which I greatly liked.
The things included with the PFE232’s are the following:
-Carrying pouch
-Extra wire
-Cleaning tool
-S, M, L silicone tips
-S, M, L  – T-130 Comply Foam tips
-Box of filters (Grey, black, green)

What I found was really missing from a £400 earphone was really that extra touch of accessories.
For example:
-Having an extra box of filters, just in case your current filters get lost or damaged
-Having more silicone tips, and a greater variety, such as triple/bi-flange tips
-Including a shirt clip
-Including a hard and/or a smaller soft (leather) pouch

I wouldn’t be saying all the above, if it wasn’t a £400, flagship earphone. However here, it is – and thus I felt that the lack of them let down the PFE232’s a little down. To find included what we pretty much have in the PFE112’s which are pretty much 1/4 of the price, is a little disappointing to find that there isn’t much extra in the PFE232’s, the £400 set of earphones

Overall first impressions:
My overall first impressions were positive, but putting the price tag next to what I received might have raised a little eyebrow. That said, I was still happy, but would have preferred to see a little more included. Don’t get me wrong these still do get top marks for what they are offering, but if they went that little extra mile we would be seeing a straight 10/10 rating.


Build Quality

The build quality of the PFE232’s are top notch.
I find the cable is a tad better in my hands vs their younger siblings the PFE112’s that said the difference isn’t between the feel of the wire, but instead the fact that the cable is removable. I find this great as it helps prolonging the life of the PFE232’s. Although I doubt the cable itself will actually snap or be damaged in anyway, due to it’s sheer build quality, but the option to have a removable wire is great.

What’s even better about the removable wire is the fact that non-iPod users, such as myself, won’t have any problems (unlike the problems I had with the PFE122’s, the mic’ed version of the PFE112’s).

For the mic’ed wire, I found the controls quite nice and built well – just as the PFE132’s are built (mic wise), the mic-wire of the PFE232’s was identical.

Just a little extra note on the wire is that the cable management/splitter is built very well, and comes together with very little effort. the wire itself also hardly ever tangles, and gets un-tangled very easily.

The jack is terminated by a 3.5mm right angled gold plated jack, which has a nice glossy finish to it, along with a strain relief to prevent it from breaking.

The housing and earphone themselves feel very light, but also solid. I don’t feel very comfortable if they would drop that said, simply due to their very light weight housing and drivers, but that said, who would be dropping a £400 earphone?

So overall, the build quality is very good. I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the thought of the additional wire for non-iPod users.


Now the overall look, comfort and isolation

The look of these, almost like the PFE112’s is very classy and professional. the type of earphone that you see an executive director wearing at work *yes I’m wearing them at work too, but unfortunately I’m not the executive director!*

The isolation of the PFE232’s I felt was fine, although no where near perfect. I was expecting excellent isolation, but didn’t get it. That said a 8/10 rating is very good, and is well above average, but it isn’t perfect, especially not with the stock silicone tips.
However, with Comply Foam tips, I found the isolation improved and more so the comfort (more on that later), and thus I now use Comply tips with them at all times.
Overall, if you want a sound isolating earphone, this isn’t the “leading brand” but it certainly does a fabulous job.

Finally the comfort:
The comfort of these, are as comfortable as sleeping on a king size bed in The Ritz Hotel. In other words very comfortable. As mentioned earlier these earphones are very light, and because of this they are very comfortable.

To increase my comfort, I found the PFE232’s were greatly complemented by Comply Foam T-130 tips.

Please bear in mind what I said in the beginning, about the P-Series’ compatibility:
There was a little gem which I had to try however, and in fact worked pretty well for me, is the Comply P-Series long tips. Although the nozzle length of the PFE232’s isn’t long enough to accommodate the P-Series, it’s just long enough to make them stay on.
Ever since I had the P-Series Long on the Westone 2’s, I’ve always wanted to put them on every small bore sized earphones I have owned – such as the Future Sonic Atrio MG7’s.

For the best isolation, and comfort combined it came with the Comply tips.
That said with the silicone tips, the PFE232’s are also very comfortable, and still deserve top marks.

It also has to be noted that the PFE232’s are worn over-the-ear, which doesn’t bother me, as the wire is of a very nice, soft quality which means you barely feel them, again, in your ears. If there are also any problems with the cable being worn over-the-ear, the ear hooks/guides help you keeping the PFE232’s in place – which is useful for jogging for example!

Overall the comfort is very good, and it’s an earphone that I can wear for hours on end, whilst doing any activity, be it walking, running, playing football, or sitting at my desk.


Sound Quality

These are not one of the best, but the best sounding universal earphone I have ever heard. (got you guys worried there, didn’t I?) These handle anything and everything thrown at them. Absolutely everything that I have sounds amazing on them.

There are two things however, that I have to mention:
-These are a little sibilant. Not to the EX700 point where they are unbearable, but to the point that you realise that fine extension in the highs and that little harshness in the higher sections. I found that Comply tips tone the beasts that is the PFE232’s, a little down. With Comply Tips I found them perfectly normal, and very much enjoyable for long period of time with any type of music. It also has to be said that filters really affect the sibilance. With grey filters the sibilance is at its “worst“, but with green filters, the sibilance is greatly toned down. I personally use grey filters, with Comply Foam tips, and I have barely any problems whatsoever with sibilance.

-These like to be driven. I find that using an amp with these is almost needed to get their full life out of them. Obviously without an amp you won’t be missing much, but you will be having to crank up your source – more than I had to with the MG7’s and a lot more than I had to with the CKS77’s. So do bear that in mind when listening to these via your normal source, like the Samsung Galaxy S.

Before getting into the categories, I’m sure you guys will be aware of the filters, especially in my unboxing/impression video, of the effect filters do to the sound. In the below categories I will be using the grey filters as my reference. However, I will be cross-linking with the other filters, mainly the green ones, but will also now briefly mention what each filter sets do:
-Grey filters (mids): Increases the mids; makes the PFE232’s a little more sibilant; has the lowest bass impact out of the 3 filter colours
-Black filters (combo): Has the overall sounding combination of mids, highs and lows. Felt like the middle-man – I preferred however the grey’s or the green’s
-Green filters (bass): Lowers the mid clarity; reduces highs by a little margin – thus reducing sibilance; increases the bass response by a large amount

To me the explanation in the booklet was by far the best explanation for these. More so, it felt nice to read what I was hearing. the change in filters shouldn’t be underestimated – it is a audible difference.

Here the grey filters are at their weakest, however they still do pack a nice, controlled punch which makes them very much enjoyable to listen to for non-bassheads. On the other hand the green filters were terrific, and utterly shocked me – as I’ve never had high expectations of BA drivers providing a good solid punch to my ever slightly ageing head. With the green filters the bass extends low, thus having great sub-bass response, and also providing you with a lovely mid-bass punch. That said for me, with the grey filters, I tend to have the Comply Foam tips which bring out the bass already, and then have the ZO2 tweaked to my preference.

The mids and highs are simply outstanding. On all filters I found that the clarity of music was very, very good. however I did find with the green filters to have the mids and highs a little toned down. With the black and grey filters however I felt the mids and highs were clearer, and much more emphasised.
There hasn’t been a time that I felt the mids were drowned out, nor did I feel that the highs were rolled off in any aspect. With trance music especially, I felt the highs and mids, especially with grey filters just put me in a different “state of trance“.

The soundstage for me was also very good – It felt like there was good separation and a good sense of space within the earphones themselves. I felt that the little grill on the exterior facing side of the earphone had a little to do with the soundstage and quite possibly a little with the isolation of the earphones. With this black grill, I felt that when I put my finger over it, the soundstage wasn’t as open as it was without my finger over the grill. I don’t know if that was a placebo or not, but from my little testing that I did, I felt that it affected the sound a little bit.
Overall, the soundstage is very good, and just right for my liking.

Sound Quality Ratings
(3 different ratings will be provided, first being with grey, second with black, third with green filters)
Lows: 9 out of 10
Mids: 10 8 out of 10
Highs: 10 10 9  out of 10
Soundstage: 9.5/10 (I didn’t feel different filters applied any change)


Conclusions and final thoughts

Well how to end it? It’s actually harder than you think.
The Audéo PFE 232’s are a set of outstanding earphones, however it does have to be put into context of its price of £400 which is a very large sum of money for earphones, and it really depends if you are looking for that extra touch and finesse to your music.
I have to say, that I am forever screwed – after listening to the PFE232’s, there is only one way to go in the future – and that road is a very, very expensive and possibly custom route to beat these beauties, put it that way.
Overall, I have to admire the overall factors that make up this earphone. If it wasn’t for such a high price tag, I would have given it a 10/10 without any hesitations. Although I feel guilty giving it any less than a overall of 9.5/10. I feel that any lower is not doing the earphones any justice.
Long story short, if you are looking for possibly one of the best universal earphones in the market, and have around £400 to spare, the PFE 232’s are and should be on top of your list of earphones to hear.

Hope you enjoyed my review!

22 thoughts on “Review of the Phonak Audéo PFE 232 – The Best Universal Earphones I’ve Heard to Date

  1. GN-0015

    Another vote for these beasts. Now I’m really convinced that I should buy these phones, but it’s super expensive here (RM2200!) so I’m wondering if I should just get the 012 or 112 first, then start saving more and more before getting the 232 since I’m not all too pleased with my Atrio M5. I find the Atrios to be a bit too dark for me with just OK amount of soundstage and separation.

    And it’s bad that you’re banned from Head-fi. Hope they’ll lift the ban soon.

    1. TotallydubbedHD Post author

      Well it depends on your bass preference too – MG7’s are very good and wipe the floor of the PFE112’s bass quality and quantity wise – but when it comes to the mids, the PFE’s edge it out.
      In another class comes the PFE232’s.
      If I were you, I would save up for the real deal – the PFE232’s, and skip the PFE112’s

      1. GN-0015

        True, Atrios are the bass monsters. I bought them after some people said the new MG7 drivers made them more balanced and more like a pair of all-rounders . But I find them to be not enough and the soundstage and separation are just not enough for me considering the price. Guess I’ll just follow your advice and start saving excessively for the super expensive 232. Hope to get some funding from Fernando Torres 😀

        1. TotallydubbedHD Post author

          HAHA :D!
          Good luck on the bets :)!

          And well yeah the MG7’s are bass “monsters” but not really mid-bass orientated. I can tell you the overall basshead earphones are the TFTA 1XB and the CKS77’s.
          And yes the soundstage, instrument separation, and more so the mids, are sublime on the PFE232’s – I wonder how the Westone’s will fair vs the PFE232’s. I’ve heard even the W4’s don’t really put up a good contest – oh well I’ll never know!

          1. Jeremypsp

            Actually, the W4 does put up a very good contest against the PFE232. In terms of highs, both are as smooth. In terms of mids, I preferred the W4 due to the “awesome” Westone mids. And in terms of bass, well, the W4 is a little more muddy in that aspect. So I would say they are on par, or up to personal preference.

            P.S. Hi! Got banned on admin-fi again? The admins there are too strict, got to admit.

          2. TotallydubbedHD Post author

            Hey Jeremy! 🙂
            Well I’m unbanned now – doubt it will last long though haha!

            And thanks for chiming in – although I would love to try both.
            Might try to demo the Westone’s one day at HHA in the UK.

  2. Jeremypsp

    I see, that’s great! Though somehow the “banned” sign seems to be still there O_o. I saw Music_4321 the troll got banned not long ago as well. Seems like Admin-Fi is banning people for small problems.

    1. TotallydubbedHD Post author

      That guy had ought to be permanently banned….too much sarcasm in his replies, and utterly useless posts in relation tot he topic. A definition of a troll – his reply once got me banned too.

      1. Jeremypsp

        Yeah, I got to admit, he can’t avoid a post without being sarcastic. Even when people thanked him for his review, he said “Thanks to those who ‘enjoyed’ my previous post.” He just had to add the ‘ ‘. I also almost got banned because of him once as well. Anyway, I heard his selling his ES3x.

      1. Jeremypsp

        Wow, that sucks big time. Banning without reasoning is just plain wrong, they should at least explain why…

        Your other account “TotallyDubbedHD” seems to be unbanned, perhaps you’re going to use that?

          1. Jeremypsp

            I see, that’s rather sad, will miss ya!

            Well, I guess I will be visiting here more often 😉

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