Janine Elliot reviewed the Flare Audio R2Pro and R2A earphones and thought very highly of them, saying that  « As a sound engineer and musician, and as a listener, it hit all the right boxes for me, whether at £200 or £400 » and awarding them 8.97/10 and 8.77 respectively. They were then sent to Linette Smith to see if they would be awarded the Hifi Pig Outstanding Product Award.

I recently reviewed the R1 headphones from Flare Audio, a British manufacturer rapidly gaining a reputation for providing professional loudspeaker arrays with no distortion using Space™ and Vortex™ technology, a company proudly labelling themselves as the ‘re inventors of the loudspeaker’. Music producers seem to like these headphones as much as their speakers. Flare’s ground-breaking work in professional audio has already been wowing some of the world’s most respected musicians and producers, including Jimmy Page recently who introduced the 40th anniversary playback of Led Zeppelin’s seminal album Physical Graffiti on the Olympic Studios Flare system, telling the audience that this would be the best that they, or he, had ever heard the album sound. You may remember that Flare’s first ever headphones, the R1, took me a bit of getting used to, but once my ears adjusted, allowed me to hear much more of the music and less of the hi-fi. A spiralling vortex system around both sides of the 40mm dynamic headphone drivers help to remove all Enclosed Residual Pressure interference (ERPI). Hence there was no distortion produced in the ‘boxes’ due to the fact that there was equal pressure both sides of the drivers, so frequencies didn’t interfere with others to create artefacts. I loved this idea, but for me the R1 needed more work to get to the next level. So, to be given their next ‘generation’ the R2, this time an inner-earphone, I was nervous as I opened up the box. To say afterwards that I am so amazed and excited at this product is an understatement. I don’t usually like inner earphones as they sound so unreal. So, rather than just giving it great marks and tell you what I listened to, I would like to let you know just why I feel it is so good.Flare Audio R2 - colours

The design is different to the R1, as it would be impossible to fit a vortex system either side of the driver in such a small space. So, in order that there is equal pressure both sides of the driver he has created a spring effect system at the front to match that caused naturally on the rear of the driver. In a normal earphone as the driver moves to create the sound, the vacuum in the rear tube can slow down the driver as the air inside it compresses. Davies Roberts, designer CEO, calls this asymmetry. You could have a hole to allow air to escape but that would change the sound. All headphones and loudspeakers produce asymmetry distortion unless you eradicate the difference in pressure between the front and the back sides of the driver. It is this that can create changes in the sound.titanium-R2-2

In normal headphones and earphones the changes in pressure make the sound feel unreal. Inner earphones are particularly unreal because the pressure is so big. Indeed some manufacturers design their earphones to give massive amounts of pressure in the deepest bass. While this can be quite exciting, it certainly isn’t reality of sound, and could also be dangerous for your ears. What made me so excited about these inner earphones was the fact that there is never any pressure in your ear, and the adjustments he had to make in order to balance the pressures did not slow down the speed of sound, nor affect the frequency curve. This earphone was flat from the deepest kettle drums to brightest crash cymbals. This was not like wearing inner-earphones, even with the Comply earphone tips that came with the unit. Davies recommends these minute earphones be placed deep inside the ear using Comply moulded inserts rather than rubber earpads. If they are placed in the outer part of the ear sound level is low as well as less bass response. I generally don’t get on with silicone earpads, but these earphones worked better with them, despite my continual attempts to try a variety of conventional pads. With conventional pads that don’t allow a tight fit, the top end was too bright. Being patient and squeezing the Comply pads and holding them in my ears for 20 seconds to form that ‘seal’ allowed me perfect sound and around 40dB noise insulation from everything outside, but without that feeling of being 100 feet underwater. Listening to Pink Floyd ‘The Endless River’ I felt closer to the musicians and could hear more detail from the guitars and Musique Concrete, that I really started to enjoy this album. This was unlike any other earphone. The sound was very ‘open’ and so I didn’t feel like I was held in a vice with the band or orchestra inside my head. Whilst it could never compete with headphones with big angled drivers, such as my Stax SR-407 or Audio Technica W1000, these earphones were the closest to reality that earphones could ever produce. And Davies has probably lost a lot of sleep trying to produce this product; not least because of the small size of the unit. Measuring a mere 14mm x 6mm this is an engineering marvel; include a proprietary 5mm driver which, in today’s world is very small. We are getting used to 8.5 and 10mm drivers in order to get great sound, or else multi-driver units which cost rather a lot more and don’t necessarily sound better. This driver was not chosen by accident, but rather because it matched closely with the size of our ear canal; simple physics shows that if you try to force something big through a smaller hole you end up with greater pressure. Keep them the same both sides then things are even. To redesign it with adjustments to balance the pressure took Davies considerable time and effort “It was one of my toughest challenges nailing this one” he told me. I can see why.

Davies believes all this pressure on the eardrum can cause damage. I have always wondered this, which is why I don’t like wearing earphones, and certainly never play them loud! “Ear drums are in basic description a pendulum that should be treated with care” Davies tells me, “the traditional approach ignores this with devices bashing the ear drum as hard as possible without any thought to the offset difference between waveform pressures”.titanium-R2-stalk

The R2 is a kickstarter project, available for a short time at ridiculously cheap prices, and in several guises. They all use the same driver, but come in aluminium (R2A), steel (R2S) or R2PRO solid titanium versions. All include micro 5mm neodymium driver and black anti-tangle cable, Comply™ professional grade memory foam tips. What is unique is the user-replaceable cable and driver assembly. If the cable breaks or you damage the driver, you can ‘rebuild’ the unit. The cheapest option is £79 at present (will be £175), the steel version £150 (will be £300), and the R2PRO, which I review here is £200 (will be £400). There are several other versions available in black and red, all shown on their kickstarter website. They also sent me the basic £79 offering in “black”, which I also listened to, though this review talks about the more expensive R2PRO. Davies suggests the different metals used in each variant affect the sound. Certainly pure Titanium, with its closely packed hexagonal structure mean the body is rigid and the sound certainly is very controlled. Bass is very good, indeed so controlled that it doesn’t “stick out” and sound flabby like many earphones tend to do. Certainly for me the R2PRO was quicker and better bass and treble control, but the R2A it was still exceptional and worthy of a top prize. All share the same neodymium driver and good looks. Listening to the deep bass in the opening of Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6 (Horestein LSO) I was sitting just in front of the orchestra, rather than on the second desk of the viola second section, like I usually am with earphones. Wagner’s ‘Flying Dutchman Overture’ (Hollander, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra 24bit/88.2kHz) was both forceful and at ease, showing no problems. The French horns were tight and musical. The 5mm driver had no problems with anything I threw at it. The only fault I found with these earphones was the lower than expected output, but all I needed to do was turn it up a notch, and it could muster all the milliwatts I notched up without any argument. ‘Come Away Death’ (Marianne Beate Kielland and Sergej Osaschuk 24bit/192kHz) had a full depth of pianoforte accompaniment to the voice, and the sound was the equivalent of any sized loudspeaker I have ever heard, or any grand piano for that matter. Listening to The David Rees-Williams Trio Classically Minded Minuet in G, the ride cymbals were tight and full bodied showing off the top frequencies, and bass guitar was similarly tight and all there. I am used to bass being ‘OTT’ on earphones, but through these cans it was there just as it should be, not dominating the sound nor too recessed. The R2’s don’t leave an aural footprint; the sound is flat and fun at the same time. To achieve the linear sound required months of work to make the pressure tweaks, measured in microns. The accuracy in sound allowed me to even hear some unusual noises from the drum brushes which I hadn’t heard on other headphones before, something I guess if the recording engineer had heard he would have got the drummer to change the sticks or moved the microphone further away. This was a professional ear-speaker, belying its petit and understated looks. There is no name-plate, nor indication of left or right; that is all done on the beautiful Y plate which divides the single cable into the left and right cabling going to your ears. Davies didn’t want the R2 to look cheap. Even the 3.5mm plug is a quality product. My review sample was pre-production and came in a handy posh white box, which is supplied with the R2A and R2S models. For the R2PRO you get a posh Flare Audio professional carry case.

Conclusion

I very rarely get excited about earphones, but these have become the exception. And, as a first attempt by a company, it makes it that much more exciting. I used it for all genres of music. In both the cheaper or more expensive versions the amount of detail in the sound produced plus the fact that there wasn’t the proverbial pressure point made me so very attracted to them. As a sound engineer and musician, and as a listener, it hit all the right boxes for me, whether at £200 or £400.

R2PRO
Sound Quality – 9.3/10
Value for Money – 8.7/10
Build Quality – 8.9/10 (Titanium)
Overall – 8.97/10

R2A
Sound Quality – 8.9/10
Value for Money – 8.8/10
Build Quality – 8.6/10 (Aluminium)
Overall – 8.77/10

Janine Elliot

Both of these headphones are now eligible for second review and possible Outstanding Product Award.

Janine Elliot reviewed the Flare Audio R2Pro and R2A earphones and thought very highly of them, saying that  « As a sound engineer and musician, and as a listener, it hit all the right boxes for me, whether at £200 or £400 » and awarding them 8.97/10 and 8.77 respectively. They were then sent to Linette Smith to see if they would be awarded the Hifi Pig Outstanding Product Award.

As this is the second review I won’t go into all the background of the development of these tiny IEMs as Janine has already told you all about them.  I have never been a fan of IEMs, finding them generally uncomfortable, and sometimes downright painful.  However, I recently reviewed a trio of high end IEMs and was especially happy with the Sennheiser IE-800s.  This had helped address my ‘in ear fear’ so I was happy to take the Flares on for their second review.

I did try on the Flare R1 headphones but never got over my feeling of discomfort whilst wearing them, so I was a little concerned what IEMs from the same company would be like.

Both pairs arrived in a little ‘jewellery box’ cube and, on opening the box, it was easy to see why Janine had got so excited about them.  They looked like earrings or cufflinks in the box without their ear tips on, beautiful and solid with the titanium (Pro) pair being a slightly darker shade of silver than the R2A.  They were very tricky to get out of the foam in the box (some kind of tab or ribbon to pull it out with would solve this) but once I did, I found a neat little drawstring bag for them, the ear tips and the cable all stored underneath.  They were so tiny and felt so light that my fears of ear discomfort vanished, especially when I found that the ear tips supplied were memory foam.  Popping them into my ears they felt very comfortable, really like having nothing your ears at all….indeed the only problem I had was working out left from right, which was just a bit hit and miss as I could find nothing to tell me which side was which.

I listened to a wide selection of tracks, swapping between the R2A and the R2Pro. Most tracks were Flac and played from my FiiO X5, here’s my thoughts on a few of them.  The first track I played was Todd Terry’s ‘Time to blackout’ from his ‘Resolutions’ album.  I do love a bit of jungle and this track is a classic, dark vocals, hefty sub bass and fast beats.  I replayed it a couple of times because it sounded strikingly different to how I had heard it before.  Please note that I say ‘different’ which is not necessarily ‘better’.  Everything seemed much more separate, sounds from the background were brought more to the fore and there was a stunning level of detail.  The problem for me was, rather than sounding like a complete track it sounded somehow dissected to my ears.  I found I was focusing more on little noises like background clicks, pops and bubbles than the music as a whole that I was analysing rather than listening for pleasure.

Overall I preferred the Pro Flares, there seemed to be more oomph to the bass, the R2A were a little on the light side for my ears and, the way that the music was presented, I felt that more bass was needed to make it sound more whole.  Someone who was looking for a more neutral and less bassy sound would, I imagine, prefer the R2A.

The Prodigy’s ‘Their Law’ singles collection gave both pairs a workout and confirmed my thoughts on the difference between the two models…I preferred the Pros but really did I prefer them over £200 as much?   I’m not sure.  Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ is a seriously 303 laden track and it did sound pretty incredible on both pairs, again more bass using the Pro.  I ran through a whole load of old skool dance classics….this being the kind of music that I listen to on my FiiO when I’m travelling, so I am really familiar with these tunes from an IEM perspective.  That’s when it really clicked for me, these IEMs are not really designed for the casual listener who wants to pop their IEMs in on the train and zone out from generally annoyances.  They are much more for music professionals to analyse tracks.  Generally you would look to a really analytical monitor speaker or professional headphone rather than an IEM for this but with these IEMs, why not?  They are really isolating with the comply tips and very small and portable, for a bedroom DJ or music producer these would be excellent paired with a laptop and a portable DAC/headphone amp.  I would be really interested to hear what our eldest son, a student and techno producer/DJ, thought of them.

A few niggles re the packaging and general finish.  Whilst the little ‘jewellery box’ cube that they come in is fine for the cheaper versions, I would like to see something a little more luxurious for the more expensive ones. (I am told the R2PRO come with a carrying case but I didn’t have one with the review pair).  Likewise it would be nice to have the tips in a choice of sizes.  Another thing that cheapened the offering was the cable, which seemed no different to what I’ve encountered on a £40  pair of IEMs, it tangled every time I put them down and I would much prefer either a flat rubberised or a braided cable at the price the Flares are selling for. I also could not find any indication of left and right on either pair, so I was obviously missing something or it just was not there.  Really though, any gripes about accessories and packaging do not actually make a difference to these IEMs.  People who buy them will be looking for an analytical, professional grade of IEMs, people who are sound engineers, musicians or producers and who want to get the most accurate playback of their music that they can.  While the level of detail is perhaps going to be too much for some people like me, for others it will be exactly the reason that they buy the Flares.

CONCLUSION 

These really are Marmite IEMs, you will either love them or hate them.  For me they are too analytical for me to actually enjoy the experience of listening to the music but I can appreciate that some people will absolutely love them for this.  The units themselves are beautifully made but lack of attention to detail with accessories and packaging lets them down, especially the more expensive model.

R2A Natural: £175

Sound: 7.5/10

Comfort: 9 /10

Fit and finish: 6 /10

Value: 6/10

Overall: 7.13/10

 

R2Pro: £400

Sound: 7.75 /10

Comfort: 9/10

Fit and finish: 6/10

Value: 5/10

Overall: 6.94/10

Linette Smith

Read more headphone reviews. 

You must be logged in to leave a reply.