AF1120 MK2 Review – Composition, Coherence, Cleanliness
Perfect ergonomics with tiny, low-profile housings, Universal MMCX, Excellent balance, Outstanding midrange timbre and resolution
Smooth treble can lack detail presence, Modest end to end extension
The AF1120 rewards those valuing accuracy, balance and a natural tone with perfect ergonomics and a newly upgradeable cable on top
Forged in the passionate flames of local music lovers, Australian audio company Audiofly seeks to provide sounds that suit both professionals and enthusiasts at flexible price points. In accordance, their product line-up is split between convenient consumer models and high-end monitors only found in specialist stores. The AF1120 is their magnum opus monitor, featuring a whopping 6 balanced armature drivers per side coordinated via 3-way electronic + acoustic crossover with Butterworth filter that keep the sound as flat as possible. Fans of the site might have read my review of their 1st generation flagship that blew me away with its linear, almost perfectly balanced sound and superb ergonomics. However, there were caveats, most notably its thin, tangle-prone cable with keyed MMCX that prevented the use of third party replacements. Audiofly has since updated their entire line-up with new models and 2nd generation refreshes of their hit classics. The 2nd Generation AF1120 features the same gorgeous sound and design now with universal MMCX connectors. You can read more about the AF1120 MK2 and treat yourself to a set here.
I would like to thank Audio Fly very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the AF1120 MK2 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The new AF1120 has a beefed-up accessory set that showcases its professional application. From a pelican style hard-case with non-scratch velvet interior to the 1/4″ adapter and assortment of silicone, foam and tri-flange ear tips, the AF1120 includes anything an audiophile could want. The addition of genuine Comply foams that offer greater noise isolation is a great addition for frequent travellers too in addition to a gold-plated aeroplane adapter.
Similar to the 1st generation model, and the rest of Audiofly’s universal monitors on that note, the AF1120 MK2 has perfect ergonomics for my medium-sized ears. The housings are transparent acrylic, showcasing the technology inside, and they are exceptionally compact especially when considering the driver count. Furthermore, the housings are very slim, forming a low-profile fit that is flat enough to sleep on, and wind-noise is also mitigated as a result.
The housings are fully-sealed with thin, well-angled nozzles that contribute towards a deep fit and a strong seal, providing excellent passive noise isolation. The earphones fit T100 size tips and my preferred Westone Star tips provided excellent comfort alongside a desirable sound. With foams, noise isolation is further increased, silencing commute and suiting air travel, though I personally found them to attenuate the highs too much for my ears. The light, compact housings also stay put during active use and disappear in the ear, forming no hotspots extended listening sessions.
A hallmark feature of the MK2 is the new universal MMCX connectors. The stock cable is thin with a twisted braid above the y-split and Cordura fabric sheath below leading to a rubberized right angle plug. It’s smooth, sturdy and supple, however, the tight braid does result in slightly higher microphonic noise that is only somewhat mitigated by an over-ear fit. The pre-moulded ear guides are soft and comfortable, and the ability to swap in a 3rd party replacement cable is surely appealing; especially for those wanting to use Bluetooth cables or modules in addition to audiophiles looking to upgrade and professionals who may want to replace the cable more frequently due to wear and tear.
I visited the AF1120 a few years ago where it stunned me with its excellent balance and tone. Sonically, I have been informed that nothing has changed, and to me, that’s a positive as I didn’t see many issues with the original – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So, the same can be said here with the MK2, which offers great balance from bottom to top and trades the sparkle and range of most flagships for a presentation that is rather exceptionally clean and composed. There are notable bumps lying in the upper-midrange and middle-treble to redeem clarity and some headroom. However, this is counterbalanced by a smooth lower-treble and light mid to upper-bass warmth that results in a coherent and natural sound overall.
It’s clear upon comparison to other modern IEMs in this class that sub-bass extension is not a prime strength of the AF1120 MK2. Though it does possess some slam and rumble, sub-bass rolls of smoothly where others provide a bit more thump. This is redeemed by a punchy, lightly emphasized mid-bass that injects additional bass note body and size, resulting in a pleasantly full low-end presentation. Emphasis continues into the upper-bass which may spark more contention as this does make the AF1120 sound just a touch tubby. Nonetheless, it is not congested, bloated or overdone in any manifestation, this is a tastefully warm low-end with good depth and great coherence.
Part of the AF1120’s appeal surely stems from its bass qualities. Though contemporary offerings from Custom Art, to name an example, offer curated decay properties, the AF1120 employs old-fashioned carburettor tuning to achieve its presentation. It is clearly a quick, agile and BA-timbre low-end with surgical driver control on top, and these qualities ensure its warmth never becomes a deficit. Detail retrieval is excellent as a result, and there isn’t an iota of flab or bloom with surprisingly good separation on top. The AF1120 has excellent pace and definition, though not perfectly transparent, it has natural quantity and its organic tone is a pleasure to the ear.
Easily a prime strength of this earphone is its vocal presentation that is accurate, natural and resolving. As a result of bass emphasis, especially its upper-bass, the midrange is a touch full-bodied. In turn, a small dip in the lower-midrange can be observed followed by a gradual climb to a natural 3KHz emphasis. As a result, the AF1120 MK2 isn’t overly warm as the additional body derived from its low-end is effectively counterbalanced by its lifted clarity. The result is well-resolved midrange notes and vocals that lie in perfect balance with its bass. Though not perfectly linear, vocal timbre is excellent on the vast majority of tracks.
As there is some emphasis here, the earphones are a touch more track dependent than earphones with less bass warmth. However, Audiofly’s colourations are very well-measured and listeners are rewarded with a sound that retains impressive vocal clarity and extension while maintaining lush body and a slightly warm tone. Furthermore, as the lower-treble is smooth, sibilance is non-existent and the AF1120’s vocals are smooth yet without a hint of veil. What we observe here is a masterful balance between body, tone and clarity with strong technical qualities.
The AF1120’s high-end is quite a curiosity, with a sizeable dip in the lower-treble at 5KHz that takes some edge off percussion and strings, a rise to a small middle-treble peak and subsequent fall-off. As the 6KHz region is also a touch attenuated, the foreground of the earphone is smooth, flattering the midrange, but perhaps lacking some attack and aggression for some listeners and genres such as rock. Meanwhile, that small middle-treble bump adds a touch of clarity, so strings are still crisp and cymbal hits have ample attack with just slightly faster shimmer and decay. This contributes to a very clean foreground but can make high-hats sound slightly truncated. Notes also aren’t brittle or thin, a trait that lower-treble emphasized earphones can suffer from. Furthermore, as the emphasis is just above the lower-treble, the background remains dark, further contributing towards immaculate cleanliness.
This enables the listener to focus on foreground details despite their smoothness. Compared to the pricier EE Phantom that bears a similar treble presentation, the same micro-detail retrieval and resolving power in the upper registers cannot be observed. The earphones still possess solid headroom and extension though they do trade sparkle and some resolution for cleanliness. Still, they are resolving of fine details in the foreground and their background, though dark, does possess ample information to provide contrast and distinction between layers, providing the multi-faceted high-end IEM presentation that one would expect for the price.
It’s clear from analysis of its treble that the AF1120 prioritizes composition, coherence and cleanliness over extension and sparkle. The result is a more intimate soundstage with expansion just beyond the head in all axis. The stage is redeemed by its excellent positioning and imaging, a by-product of the earphone’s superb balance. Chiefly, the stage is well-rounded and vocals have a strong centre image while instruments are clearly located to the sides. Layers are defined on behalf of its darker background though there isn’t huge background/foreground distinction as vocals haven’t received notable push through the centre midrange. Meanwhile, that small middle-treble emphasis translates to crisp and sharp directional cues if not a sparkly and holographic presentation. The sound is well separated despite its warmth due to rapid decay and strong separation between the three core frequency bands. Details are easy to discern and the presentation impresses especially with its coherence, remaining well-resolved throughout.
With a low 11-ohm impedance and 109dB sensitivity, the AF1120 MK2 is very efficient and easily driven to high volumes from portable sources. With a higher driver count and sophisticated crossover, the AF1120 MK2 sounds most faithful through a low-impedance source. The 10-ohm Hiby R6, for instance, resulted in a markedly brighter and more aggressive sound. Its bass rolls off sooner and is more neutral, meanwhile, the midrange is brighter and more upper-midrange dominated. Highs are considerably more forward and aggressive. Those searching for a more typical BA sound heavier on details may want to experiment with impedance adapters while those wanting the most coherent sound will surely benefit from a low-impedance DAP or IEMatch.
Custom Art Fibae Black ($495): The Fibae Black pursues a similar tuning, however, with a smoother upper-midrange and without the middle-treble bump. The Black has a more sub-bass quantity and possesses slightly more extension than the AF1120, delivering slightly more rumble and slam. It has noticeably more mid-bass, producing a fuller, warmer low-end. This extends to the upper-bass so although bass is elevated, it doesn’t sound humped or especially off-timbre, and a sharper dip into the lower-midrange aids the retention of clean vocals. The AF1120 is cleaner yet and has faster decay. It is slightly more controlled where the Black has slower decay but also sounds more dynamic. Both are well-defined, the Black has a slightly smoother texture while the AF1120 is more separated and defined. The midrange presentation is intriguing on the Black, taking smoothness and cleanliness to new heights. With its full fundamental, modest centre midrange emphasis climbing to a 3K hump and subsequent drop off through the upper-midrange and lower-treble, it is dense, velvety and vocal forward, delivering ample clarity on top. As the lower-midrange is slightly recessed, the tone is only slightly warm and there isn’t a hint of raspiness, thinness or sibilance, vocals are defined and clear yet delightfully lush.
The AF1120 has a more transparent midrange, boasting a more progressive climb through the centre midrange and greater lower-midrange linearity. Its timbre is slightly more accurate and its upper-midrange extension is substantially better. As the Audiofly derives its smoothness and cleanliness from the treble instead, it sounds clearer and more open but also lacks the same sense of lushness and density, pursuing a more accurate timbre and tone. The Black actually has a bit more bite in the lower-treble with a small 6K peak that redeems crispness and detail presence. Meanwhile, the AF1120 has higher emphasis, its treble sounds a bit thinner but also clearer with substantially more air and headroom. The Black rolls off gradually through the middle-treble and it has little information in the highest-registers. What it achieves with just a single driver is extraordinary, yet with regards to top-end extension and headroom, the AF1120 handily outperforms it. This is reinforced by the presentation where the AF1120 is more spacious and separated, where the warmer, fuller and darker black is highly coherent and more organised but within a smaller space.
Oriveti OH500 ($499): The OH500 is a W-shaped IEM, clearly less linear than the AF1120 MK2 but also more engaging and with greater range. Its dynamic woofer permits immediately greater bass extension that is reinforced by modest emphasis that grants it greater fullness. The OH500 has a touch more mid-bass as well, but falls off significantly faster through the upper-bass, providing a cleaner bass tone. The Oriveti is without warmth where the AF1120 MK2 is slightly warmer despite not being as full. In terms of control, the Oriveti has longer decay, where the AF1120 is more defined and controlled. Into the midrange, the OH500 has a more clearly recessed lower-midrange and has a more aggressive centre-midrange emphasis that brings its vocals to the fore to match its bass. The AF1120 meanwhile, is more linear, sounding fuller and more natural but also with less clarity and vocal focus. The OH500’s vocal timbre isn’t as accurate, however, it does provide more immediacy and it has slightly better separation. The AF1120 can sound a bit congested by direct comparison. However, once acclimatized, it is the more accurate performer and more consistent in presentation between tracks on behalf of its greater linearity and more even bass/midrange transition.
Interestingly, both earphones employ similar upper-midrange emphasis to derive clarity followed by a drop in the lower-treble to retain smoothness and avoid over-articulation. They are also very similar troughs in terms of range and intensity and both earphones implement middle-treble bumps to redeem crispness, clarity and detail presence in addition to aiding headroom. The OH500 is the crisper earphone, it is more engaging with its W-shaped tuning. Meanwhile, the AF1120 is smoother and a bit darker, it sounds slightly more organised and composed where the OH500 is crisper but also thinner and slightly more brittle. The OH500 provides a little more sparkle and extension, however, both are well-resolving earphones with strong detail retrieval in the foreground and background. The OH500 has the larger soundstage as a result, both have very clean backgrounds, the AF1120 images better and is more coherent due to its tuning where the OH500 has better tri-frequency separation.
Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): Not the most fair comparison in terms of price, however, the Andro is undoubtedly a reference standard in the high-end IEM world. It too, is more W-shaped and engaging, however, it also commands convincing body and warmth, an appealing combo. The AF1120 is flatter, it is less dynamic but also more coherent and what is there is more focussed where the Andromeda has more scale and fine nuance to its sound. The Andro has superior sub-bass extension, it also has more sub-bass quantity delivering more solid slam and rumble. Its mid-bass is very similar, providing a slightly fuller, punchier low-end with more body overall. Both earphones have similar upper-bass tuning too, and both are lightly warm in their low-end presentations. The Andro has faster decay and greater control, however, as the AF1120 is a little cleaner, it delivers slightly more definition through the mid-bass. As the Andro extends further, it ends up sounding a more dynamic. Meanwhile, the AF1120 is smoother and less aggressive in its presentation while upholding almost as much detail retrieval. Through the midrange, the Andromeda sees and earlier centre midrange rise that brings its vocals to the fore, after which, it sustains emphasis until a modest lower-treble peak. The AF1120 rather builds gradually through the centre midrange to a more emphasized upper-midrange and significantly less emphasized lower-treble.
The result is a clearer but also slightly warmer vocal on the Andromeda in addition to greater vocal extension. Meanwhile, the AF1120’s vocals are more in line with its bass, the Andromeda pushing vocals slightly behind instruments. The AF1120 trades definition for greater note resolution, sounding a touch more coherent and filled-in compared to the Andromeda. Treble is sharper and clearer on the Andromeda, a by-product of its more present lower-treble and upper-treble. The Andro is crisper and more aggressively detailed, especially noticeable with its more concise percussion and bitier strings. Meanwhile, the AF1120 sounds considerably smoother and darker in this region. It lacks the sparkle, energy and headroom of the Andromeda, servicing the midrange with its smooth foreground treble tuning as opposed to focussing on the shine of its treble in isolation. The Andro is more detailed and has more background and micro-detail, it also extends further and has a larger stage. Meanwhile, the AF1120 has more coherent imaging and sounds cleaner which enables the listener to focus on smaller details more easily.
Audiofly’s design basks in the re-emergence of vinyl records, vintage speakers and appreciation of traditional acoustic design. Much like the original AF1120, the MK2 strike me as a well-balanced earphone, a sound perhaps from a bygone era, with superb tone and midrange timbre. Audiofly’s premium offering also now lies within a newer and more sophisticated market; and where other companies have implemented technological innovations to achieve great end to end extension and resolving power from small driver counts, the AF1120’s unaltered internals begin to show their age. Contrarily, its signature remains a highlight and a very natural tuning that modern earphones have, in trend, tended to steer away from. So though lacking sheer resolving power and headroom, the AF1120 rewards those valuing accuracy, balance and a natural tone with perfect ergonomics and a newly upgradeable cable on top. In so doing, it serves as a reminder that refined tuning is timeless in the face of innovation, though that statement does come with the biggest disclaimer yet.
The AF1120 MK2 can be purchased from Audiofly for $850 AUD. I am not affiliated with Audiofly and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
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