I’m an audio engineer—have been for 30 years now—but unlike many fellow engineers, I have a tolerance for audiophiles and their gear. I’m not trying to cause trouble here, or engage a pointless debate; let’s just say that I believe there is some audiophile gear that can excel in our professional world.
I recently reviewed some post-modern earplugs from British manufacturer Flare that have continued to impress, so I brought an open mind when I learned of their Flares Pro earphones and saw their somewhat audiophile-centric marketing. But an enthusiastic assessment from Tony Visconti, as well as a number of forward-thinking features, got my attention.
The earphone body is made from titanium, with 5.5mm beryllium drivers. Flares Pro includes three sets of ear fittings (in three sizes each) spanning the durability-comfort-performance spectrum: everyday (silicone, hardest, most durable, least comfort), audiophile (soft rubber, softest, least durable, highest performance) and universal (water-based foam, good durability and performance, best fit).
The reinforced, oxygen-free, polyaramid cable is not only unusually strong, but it allows circular wrapping rather well. Each earphone’s short cable is terminated in a gold MMCX connector that can connect to two provided choices: either a connection block that’s attached to a long 3’ stereo cable (which is terminated with a 1/8” gold stereo mini-plug) or a small wireless Bluetooth receiver. This receiver has a rechargeable battery inside (chargeable with the supplied micro-USB connector/cable) and volume control only.
PAR Review Roundup: PreSonus Quantum, Roswell Delphos Mini K47, Flare Isolate, Waves Torque, BAE 500C, by Rob Tavaglione, Jan. 22, 2018
As a veteran of in-ear monitoring (both in studio and on stage), I know that the paramount factor is good fit, and I am a challenge in this way. My right ear is perfect, my left ear canal is a little smaller and at a greater angle. Hard Apple earbuds, heavy IEMs and lousy foam fittings do not work well for me. The Flares were a good fit, however, as their small size, light weight and tips allowed me the right angle and insertion for even stereo imaging and proper bass response. I chose the audiophile tips, naturally, but the other two types are good to have around and worthy additions to the kit. (All of my performance observations detailed here are based on the audiophile tips and their superior response.) The phones do get dislodged a little easier than I’d like and are not nearly as snug as custom molds for onstage use. Unfortunately, that sturdy cable is quite microphonic, and nearly any movement results in distracting thuds and thumps.
Crummy earbuds have all 5k these days, while mid-priced ones are all 200 Hz and expensive ones load you up on excessive 80 Hz (in very general terms), but these Flares had a different balance and abundance of bass. The bottom end was deep but not thuddy; there’s warmth in the low-mids (if perhaps slightly scooped out), with better-than-most bass note differentiation. The mids were a little sculpted, but not as deeply gouged out as many ear monitors are. The top was extended, mostly pleasant, maybe a little sharp at 10 kHz and revealed great detail.
I found the Flares to be useful as a second or third mix reference point, although they are not flat enough as a singular mixing solution. They did, however, offer a certain flexibility and relevance based on their Bluetooth feature. Sometimes we have two separate worlds of mix checking: our pro studio environment and the consumer world (our cars, home stereos and office desktops), with very little interplay between them. That’s where I found the Flares so useful—by bridging that gap. That is, I could listen to my mixes and other’s mixes I’m comparing/referencing to on my mobile devices (and computers) with Bluetooth or in my studio, all through different converters but with the same aural lens: the Flares. These earphones have proven themselves to be up to the task of accuracy in my pro world and the convenience/durability needs of my consumer world. Neither my Apple buds nor my pro IEMs have been able to cross over between worlds like that.
The Flares Pro kit (ear monitors, cabling, Bluetooth receiver, fittings, carrying case) sells direct for $464, placing them at a midpoint in the range of in-ear monitors/earphones. These may not be ideal for onstage use by performers, where custom molds, sweat-resistance, durability and high SPL are primary concerns (along with high prices). But these Pros are suitable as in-studio personal monitors for performers where comfort, ease of use and non-fatiguing response are paramount. These Pros would really excel as personal monitors for engineers, especially mix ones, where jumping between consumer and professional worlds with a certain degree of confidence is very useful. Sometimes audiophile needs do overlap pro needs, even if we tend to use very different language and perspective.
Flare Audio • www.flareaudio.com