Phonak – one of the world’s leading hearing aid companies and manufacturer of our current editor’s choice in-ear phones, the Audéo PFE – invited me to participate in an earphone workshop in Zurich, the largest city of the country the Japanese Heidi, Girl of the Alps cartoon originates from.
Not sure what to expect but very excited about the opportunity I hopped on the plane. Arriving in Switzerland, I joined the very enthusiastic and motivated Audéo team for discussions and feedback on their current phones, different possible color variants of the housing, different acoustic filters, outlooks on possible upcoming models, and some general geeking out and brainstorming with this merry bunch of Eidgenossen.
Highlights of the day included listening to several prototype IEMs Samuel Harsch, the acoustics engineer responsible for the Audéo PFE’s sound signature, whipped up. I can’t tell you much about them in detail except that they all sounded mighty fine, and quite a bit different compared to the currently available model. One or two of these could very likely satisfy people that appreciate an equal-loudness contour applied to their music instead of a flat ‘studio monitor’ response. Since what I heard was definitely very refined I would say those prototypes are tuned for the connoisseur ‘bass aficionado’, not your lowly common ‘bass head’ – while still keeping the trademark sparkling Audéo treble and clarity intact. Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear what the final product will sound like.
I brought some of my personal stash of IEMs to the workshop for the people to listen to, and Samuel, a true engineer at heart, of course couldn’t resist analyzing and measuring them.
One eye-opening experience of the day was seeing on precise testing equipment how strongly silicon and foam tips can affect sound reproduction, especially in the upper treble regions. This – badly framed, sorry – screenshot shows a competitor’s IEM frequency response with its stock silicon tips and with the acoustically optimized PFE tips in comparison. The photo shows that the thoughtfully engineered PFE tips manage to get more than 2 kHz higher treble response from any phone, not just the ones they’re intended to be used with. It’s all about filters, resonance, and sound tubes for armature IEMs… fancy braided silver cables and similar voodoo won’t give you that improvement in sound quality.
Oh, another thing I learned: Swiss restaurants serve excellent coffee, just like in Italy – Austria and Germany, better take note.