8.9
Our Score

This is my first time reviewing a Flare IEM, though for Mike he has already covered the R2A and R2 PRO a few years ago (2015) and gave it a huge 9.1.

Well, times have moved on and 2 years in the world of personal audio seems like 10 years now such as is the rapid change in technology, so much so I suspect what was great then is standard practice now in a lot of competing products.

I would hazard a guess that Flare thought the same way. Resting on one’s laurels is never a solid recipe for continued success and so it is with their new Flares Pro IEM which retails for £349 and boasting an entirely new design, new pitch, new sound and throwing in BT to boot for roughly the same price as the first gen Pro series.

There is a lot in this package for the money from tips to connectivity to technology.

Flare, however, are anxious to avoid pitching this as a successor to the older series, so this is an entirely new project and we will treat it as such. Note Mike’s opinions are in italic.

What Is The Pitch?

In summary, Flare Audio believe they have created an affordable IEM that recreates a very accurate and realistic experience of detailed sound through the elimination of traditional chamber resonance technology.

This is achieved through a combination of three different approaches that are unique and entirely different from current methodologies used in the manufacturing of IEM’s in today’s market.

Dual Jet

The first technology is called ‘Dual Jet’ technology. Dual Jet technology involves controlling driver movement using pressure control jets. The design is basically two opposing jets on the front/rear of FLARES PRO. These have specific jet sizes that balance sound energy over all frequencies similar to how jets in carburetors control fuel into an engine.

By precisely drilling these jets to within a tolerance of 10 microns Flare claim to have been able to achieve perfect pressure balancing over all frequencies. By doing this, painful symmetric distortions are removed which are one of the major issues in sound.

Acoustic Lens

The second is called ‘Acoustic Lens’. This technology controls sound energy entering the jets and then focuses the energy onto the ear drum. This technology is also extended through the use of specific ear tips called ‘Audiophile EARFOAMS’ and ‘Everyday EARFOAMS’ which also have a similar design to inhibit unwanted reflections.

Anti-Resonance

The final element is called ‘Anti-Resonance’ technology and is basically a combination of the first two with the additional factor of a specific titanium driver shell with an open back “bullet” design using a tiny internal space that is designed to ensure that all particle vibrations exit uniformly through the rear acoustic lens.

This reduces/eliminates the sound energy away from being reflected at the driver. Flare Audio claim that this results in all music exhibiting increased levels of detail and that music will sound live to the listener with no sound device reverbs or audible distortion.

Bluetooth

Flares Pro not only comes wired but it also comes Bluetooth apt-X 4.1 capable with a handy switching BT module that is built with balanced Class A/B outputs to the left and right channels of the Flare Pro IEMs via separate MMCX connectors. The output of Flares Pro Wireless DAC is balanced meaning that there is no shared common ground, this removes crosstalk interference improving the overall sound quality. This enables a wireless sound quality that Flare claim is superior to that of a traditional cable as there is no common ground.

Target Customer

Whilst not explicit I got a feeling there were two target customer profiles here. The first is the general consumer looking for a worthy upgrade and wireless convenience on the go as well as the traditional audiophile looking for an affordable upgrade.

The second group is the studio pro who wants a very reference and accurate sound for mixing purposes. I asked Flare also whom they felt would be the target market for the Flares Pro and they stated:

“Audiophiles and all consumers seeking sonic accuracy over distortion and increased levels of detail.”

Build

The Flares Pro is a 5.5mm single dynamic beryllium driver wrapped in an aerospace Grade 5 Titanium ‘bullet type” chassis with the Flare Logo professional etched into the side of each. The nozzle is pretty short and not quite as wide as the main driver body so quite a lot of the final length and fitting will be reflected in the supplied tip choice. At the base, there is an integrated rubber panel which acts a partial strain relief as well as a conduit for the cable to enter the housing.

There is a fairly wide single bore vent to the rear of the housing and if you stare down the nozzle you will see a similar type bore to the front also. There is no protective gauze on the nozzle either so I would take a moment of two after long sessions to make sure any dirt or wax is cleaned out to protect the Flares Pro and the tips.

This is a very light IEM and can’t be more than 15-20g max which is competitive for a metal alloy. Much of the size can be attributed to the size of the driver at 5.5mm. For instance, Campfire Audio use larger 8.5mm Beryllium drivers on their Vega and Lyra IEMs. I did ask Flare, why the smaller 5.5mm choice, they stated as follows:

The issue came that the driver would then be on the outside of the ear, away from the ear drum, too far and it destroys detail.

Thus the overall smaller footprint compared to say the bulkier injected metal injected molds of RHA is really for entire design to get as close as possible to prevent detail loss.

Whilst RHA’s design might be the more visually attractive and I have seen plenty of bullet designs before there is really nothing to complain about with the aesthetics of the Flares Pro design. Its solid, robust, light and finished to a high standard.

Comfort & Seal

Like many “bullet” designs the level of comfort and seal you get with the Flares Pro will ultimately depend on the tips you use and Flare has supplied a ton of interesting tips. Pitch-wise this is not simply a value add but also an integral part of the Acoustic Lens technology itself. Flare have supplied 3 different types of tips called the EARFOAMS range and each has a very specific use. Fitting wise they are equivalent to a T-200 Comply foam stem size.

Audiophile EARFOAMS

Fragile

These come in small, medium and large and are made of an incredibly soft memory foam material with a shortened inner silicone stem. When we first received the prototype a few months back I didn’t realize how soft they are and ended up ripping them in the process of getting them off so do be careful as they are very delicate. You will find fitting instructions though in the Flare manual and do not leave a gap at the base of the nozzle as this will lead to a little bit of leakage.

Form Factor

They are also quite wide and flat at the top so you do have to push them in a touch to get a good seal. Once you do they are very comfortable indeed and have none of that scratchy feeling you can sometimes get with cheaper foams.

Seal

Like most bullet designs you will be moving them around a little to get the most comfortable fit and they can be worn over the ear or straight down depending on your preference. Personally, I found the best isolation and seal was wearing them over the ear.

Mike’s Take

Mike also got the same impression and asked Flare why so delicate since, in the end, they do cost £19.99 for a 3 pack to replace.

I very much prefer the new tips that he has told me were designed, intentionally, to prevent as much distortion as possible. Flare has told me that they are fragile in that manner due to the precision molding processes to get the tapered down to less than 1mm to form the acoustic lens.  

You can remove them if you are immensely gentle and lucky, but these are almost disposable tips that you will eventually need to replace. The bottom ends will literally snap off if you try to remove the Audiophile tips without due care. Despite that, I certainly prefer the Audiophile versions for comfort. They seem to fit my ears exceptionally well.

Universal EARFOAMS

These are the silicone versions of the audiophile EARFOAMS with similar technology but a little tougher and less prone to potential damage when taking them on and off. They come in 3 sizes, small, medium and large and mirror the stem color coding of the audiophile EARFOAMS. They sit to the left of the audiophile versions in a small tray on the second tier of the retail box.

Surprisingly they fit really nicely for a silicone tip with competitive levels of seal and isolation and excellent levels of comfort. They will change the sound signature as do most silicone versus foam tip comparisons normally do but in terms of comfort and seal they are excellent.

Everyday EARFOAMs

For those who like foams (count me as one of them) and tip roll every day then Flare have included what they call ‘Everyday EARFOAMs’ in small, medium and large size.

They are not in the main tips tray but rather in a sealed bag inside the additional small zipper carry case. I suspect that is to emphasize that these are useful but not headline tips. These are tougher than the audiophile foams with a more traditional and water based memory foam material and are unlikely to tear when rolling.

They have a slightly longer stem than the other two and do not have the acoustic lens tech inside but they are a touch deeper and more suited to out and about use where a tight and secure fit are important. Again, they will change the sound a little from the silicone and audiophile versions and I tend to find them not quite as revealing but the comfort and seal are excellent.

Cable

The cable used is an OFC 1.2m cable and it comes in 3 parts; left and right MMCX terminated to the driver housing and a single ended 3.5mm gold plated jack on the single ended wired termination extending from the y-split cable. It is not detachable at the driver housing and can be worn straight down or over the ear.

This is quite a thin cable but with a Kevlar coating it feels pretty robust with decent length to the plastic y-split to prevent any discomfort when used with the BT module or in its wired format. It also has zero memory retention and despite its slight rubbery feel to it doesn’t have any “fly-away” properties so it does stay fairly well under control in everyday use. Microphonics are low but not non-existent when worn straight down but when worn over the ear you get a very quiet experience indeed.

It is also color coded with the left cable using a slightly darker pigment over the lighter right side so it is pretty easy to pick out which is left and which is right. Much preferable to tiny l/r labels you normally get at the base of the chassis stem on other IEMs.

Changing from the BT module to wired and back again is a simple case of detaching the MMCX connectors at the y-split and re-attaching on the left and right balanced outputs on the BT module.

Functionality

Wireless DAC

This is the value add and provides a very interesting option to the Flares Pro. The wireless protocol is a healthy Bluetooth aptX 4.1 capable of delivering up to 16BIT 48/96kHz with a rated 10 hours of playback time and 150 hours standby time. Charging time is 2 hours with a 15m unhindered range. Real world usage during our review period got 9 plus hours so it is pretty close to spec.

Sadly, aptX-HD was not possible at the time though, to be honest, there are not a huge amount of gear out there taking advantage of aptX-HD. Far more likely to find an aptX capable DAP such as the Cayin N3 or FiiO X7 which pairs very well indeed with the Flares Pro in BT mode.

Unusually for a BT module Flare Audio have created a balanced design rather than a standard single ended in-line module. The balanced design is terminated with individual left-right MMCX connectors at the top of the stiffened plastic module. The cable then extends from the MMCX connectors to the rubber joints just underneath the driving housing.

The concept behind the balanced design is to remove the shared common ground normally associated with 3.5mm single ended plugs and thereby reduce the potential for crosstalk in the signal and generally improving sound quality.

Outside of the audio quality, it will provide typical communication and playback functionality including play, pause, forward and previous select as well as voice control, receiving calls and volume adjustments.

Accessories & Packaging

The packaging is just superb and displays Flare Audio’s pro-audio heritage clearly. It is both visually appealing and also rather robust. The cube-like box is covered in acoustic paneling on all sides so you could have a kick-about with it and I dare say the box will pass with flying colors.

To open it you simply slide up the top half which reveals a tri-layered internal compartment design with various components of the Flares Pro in each layer. The top layer contains the Flares Pro IEMs and is centrally positioned between two contoured lines that represent a pair of ears.

The second layer contains the Audiophile and Universal EARFOAMs selection tray plus the BT module and the associated USB cable used to charge the BT module. The final layer contains the small zippered pill type carrying case, as well as the Everyday EARFOAMs in a plastic sealed bag inside the carry case. Aside from that, you get a little user manual explaining how to use the tips and the BT module and your warranty card.

Well, damn. That is the coolest IEM box I’ve ever seen. Davies has told me that he’d gone through painstaking procedures to get this box right. That hard work paid off, at least in my subjective opinion. I appreciate the hell out of the art involved and, hopefully, most of my subscribers will already know that about me.

The exterior of the box has a sound blocking type of material that you often see showcased in studio recording rooms or adorned on the wall of a rich persons listening room. The inside has some custom molding for the IEM and the tips included.

I am an Art buff and I get off on specific intent to create. When an artist has an idea and actually implements it into reality, I feel happy and have always struggled to highlight and showcase said artwork to the best of my literary ability. In the case of Davies’ new box, I am subjectively satisfied with the exterior design of this box and then some. Not much more needs to be said here, the box is lovely and a serious eye catcher when propped on a desk or at the forefront of an audio collection.

Page 2: Sound Impressions & Comparisons

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • Steve Jones

    Great review Marcus. You hit the nail on the head. I Love mine. Imaging, Clarity are as good as anything I have heard but they somehow sound more “Live” and have Astounding Bass! I agree with Mike on that. Why do you think they make older “average” recordings sound so good? I know they have been used to mix with in the studio, but I still don’t understand the why of what makes them so linear? And who did the photography? It is really good! I am a Canon guy and I know to get photos that quality of something that small with the lighting you used is hard?

    • 24bit

      Lack of a harsh impact and a gently reserved treble experience makes older recordings sound much more tolerable than usual. The headphone is very spacious for an IEM and also relatively non-fatiguing, so combining that with very good fidelity and quality forces older recordings to sound better overall than what we may be used to listening to. Typically, neutral headphones are not nearly as soft on the edges and nonfatiguing as this Pro is.

      All the dark background images are mine. Thanks!

    • headfonics

      Actually both of us use Sony cameras. Mine is an A7, I use with a short telephoto and continuous lighting (3 softbox on stilts) with a white base and then adjust levels and dust clean in PS. Its not a perfect process and some guys are much better at it than me but it gives me a sense of personal satisfaction. Mine are the white ones 🙂

      • Steve Jones

        Thanks, I wondered. A good friend of mine is a Working Professional and he recently changed everything from Canon to the Top Line Sony.

        • headfonics

          I am no where near a professional but I am OCD 🙂

        • 24bit

          My gear is modest, just a Sony A6000 and a Touit 50mm. I love my Touit 50mm!

  • Daniel Sancho

    Rich and detailed review. I like and appreciate the double voice opinion. Thanks.
    I have some questions for both of you, if you don’t bother to answer.

    As you suggest some analytical tendencies. Would you say they could be boring or lack a little bit of musicality in favor of precision? I’m afraid of them being too flat, less “emotional” with their linearity.

    How would you compare them with the Campfire Lyra and the Sennheiser IE 800? (invoking two dynamic drivers of reputation and now in a similar, slightly higher, price niche) Which one is your overall favorite? To orientate you about my tonality preferences (the relevant fact behind this question), i love my Sine (although i could add them a little bit more of viscerality on the bass), my hd650 and my Flare r2a as my three favorite headphones.

    oh, and lastly, will the bass be enough on the go in urban spaces?? Will it make me tap, groove or jump o

    Thanks in advance, you continue routing the way i spend my money, so receive all my hate and praise in similar quantities.

    • 24bit

      I would say they do sacrifice musicality for precision and, in turn, sound a bit dry up top. I wouldn’t worry about the midrange or the bottom end being boring, you can fix the linear feel easily with EQ and still retain excellent quality. Up top though, not so much.

      Have not heard the Lyra, but was a long time IE 800 owner and can safely say that nowhere does the IE800 compare. I enjoy the Flare Pro here subjectively much more. Despite my being a musicality buff and preferring that type of tonality overall, I am still able to enjoy the Pro, despite it housing the opposite style of tone that I favor most.

      On a Flat EQ, the Bass quantity is still more than acceptable. It is not at all lacking. With EQ, you can achieve entry level bass head quantity without losing out quality. I hit +7dB on my booster before I noticed anything wonky in the bass regions, that is exceptional response to EQ. Don’t worry about it if you use EQ. But if you don’t, you’ll not achieve anything but very smooth and linear feeling bass on a flat EQ setup.

      • Daniel Sancho

        wow, that was fast!!!

        Really helpful comments, thank you.

        I hope that with the bass boost of my headstage arrow 4 it could be enough. I live in the contradiction of being born a basshead with tendencies to the coloured sound that finally ends buying reference monitors (genelec, dynaudio…) for daily use and, excepting the hd650, not so fun headphones (i would say more in the linear side of the musical ones). Ie 800 has always been a temptation because of that musical excelence, but if the flares can offer some fullness and kick i’d prefer their design and extras… As i told the r2a were great fore me, so i can only expect something better… Or Is there any alternative in that shape of very small iems, that can be worn not only over the ear, with a tonality between the two mentioned here, that i’m not considering?

        Thank you again!!!

        • 24bit

          Depth and response trumps the R2Pro, which trumped the R2A, so you should not be let down by the capabilities of the low end in terms of quantity at all. I wasn’t, and I demand a lot of bass on my personal EQ sets. I can’t name anything with small housings like this that can compare.

          • Daniel Sancho

            Thank you very much, the decisions machine now is cooking because of you.

            Really helpful review and support on the comment section, all my respect and veneration.

          • headfonics

            I will add my 2 cents.

            IE800 – recessed mids, brittle top end, warm and elevated low end, huge soundstage.

            Lyra II – easy going, laid back, rich sound but doesn’t scale.

            I have both, I love them for what they do. The Flares Pro is quite different to both of them.

          • Daniel Sancho

            Thanks again. I imagine that if the tonality hasn’t changed too much (more perfected than changed) i will tend to the Flares, because i don’t trust in ie800’s isolation neither it’s comfort. I imagine it fuller and funnier and that tempts me against the possibility of some dryness on the flares, but your words invite me to soften that intuition considering your insistence in the smoothness of these iems (a really engaging virtue i loved on the r2a’s).

          • 24bit

            This new Flare Audio Pro IEM is more noticeably smoothed out feeling than the R2Pro, which was more smooth than the R2A.

            Dryness has a lot to do with the colorless and neutral appeal of the midrange and the reserved treble. This newer model is more like the R2Pro on Steroids than the R2A, which had a tonally different setup than the R2Pro. The R2A is still the snappiest on physical dynamic impact factor, the most engaging and the most forward in midrange vocal presentation.

          • Daniel Sancho

            Thank you again,

            I’m doing circles between the ie800 and the Flares and don’t find the way to solve it (there’s no place to try iems). I’m really afraid about the sennheiser isolation and comfort on the go, with so many people telling they constantly slip from the ear when walking because of their shallow fit. I find excellent the Flare comfort and very good the isolation also, a fact very important for me because of my tinnitus. But i’m afraid missing some richness and fullness on their sound that i imagine (that’s all i can do) i could find in the ie800…

            Please, help me with the decision! Lie to me! Whatever!

          • headfonics

            ok stop right there on tinnitus. This is where out of medical concern I would direct you away from both of those units and to 64 Audio’s APEX and Empire Ears ADEL line up as they have a specific technology in their custom units to prevent further ear damage and for tinnitus suffers by directing pneumatic pressure away from the ear drum. Costs vary depending on that you want from their lineup but I hear the u4 Special Edition from 64 Audio is a good neutral sweet spot.

          • Daniel Sancho

            It’s a difficult assumption. I try to use iems the least, in fact that’s the reason why i wanted to upgrade: to enjoy my more restricted sessions. I like a lot my R2a in quiet situations (working…) because of their effortless, natural flow of sound, but maybe i miss a little bit more of dynamics when i’m more upbeat for what i find a relaxed sound. I’ve been waiting for the new Flares some months and now reading that they tend more to their reference side, and having the possibility of the ie 800 for 300 €, the neurotic consumerist process began.

            Adel always looked to me too far, too high. The model you quoted isn’t a massdrop one?. Looks like a very, very good recommendation considering my preferences, budget and priorities, thanks. But it looks like i’ll have to wait for the next batch…

          • 24bit

            Why not an Audeze iSine20 or 10 instead, felt both to outperform the IE800.

          • Daniel Sancho

            That’s a surprising comparison, attending to your review i understood that was the Flares the one of the two that was more comparable with the iSine. (the bass, the smooth sound…). Was i wrong, the Audezes tonality is more tuned to the ie800’s?

            I actually have the on-ear Sine, which are my best sounding cans. The in-ears didn’t impress me so much considering their strange shape and their opened nature. Are they similar in tonality to on-ear Sines?

            And do they outperform the Flares if comparable?

          • 24bit

            Yea, that is what I was getting at. The Sines are both better than the IE800, at least in my opinion. I love my Sine20, I have less experience with the 10 version but owning the IE800 for so long I thought it was apparent the iSine was overall of a higher quality.

            The Flare Pro’s are still superior to the iSine 20 though, but that is in terms of quality. I subjectively enjoy the Sine20 more for numerous reasons. First being it is easier to max out in potential without amping, the Fit for me is much nicer and stable due to the earhook guides included in the Audeze box, the staging properties in a sense of width, height and airiness are a few steps better than the Flare Pro’s. But, the Flare’s are certainly cleaner sounding top to bottom.

            Sacrifices will be made no matter which route you take. Best advice I can give is make a checklist of your most important qualities you want or enjoy the most and see which of these matches the most check boxes for you. 🙂

  • Prach Watcharaphan

    Thanks for the great review!!

    I have some questions for both of you, if you would not mind to answer.
    I got mine a week ago. The cable is turning from clear to yellowing especially near the area which is contacted with my cheek. I use this earphone in office and studio. I am not sure what’s wrong.
    Do you have this issue?

    • 24bit

      Typically discoloration is a problem a ton of people go through with clear or white cables. It is from the cable oxidizing due to making contact so often with your skin, because of excessive UV light exposure and even accumulating some dust and not being cleaned.

      • Prach Watcharaphan

        Thanks @24bit for good information.
        Do you know how to clean the cable to protect discoloration?

        • 24bit

          Let me get back to you on this after asking the company for the proper way to take care of that material.

  • Krzysztof Nowaczyk

    Great review – after 3 weeks with them I completely agree with your sound impressions but your final score is a bit low given how well you’ve described the sound and comparisons you’ve made…
    One thing is missing though – I’m guessing you’ve got a lot of DAPs on your hands and not one was mention in matchability. It’s great that you’ve managed to recommend some amplifiers but I never actually get use to use one. Can you maybe add some good DAP pairings? But please – not from FiiO 😉 All their products including X7 & X5III sound too digital for me – in my opinion even Galaxy S8 has better head out than all their range.I regret selling QP1R because it seems like that would be great match.

    • headfonics

      To be honest it is more of a power equation than a tonal preference on DAP matching. I find the neutrality and transparency as such it works with most DAPs and it is basically the sound of the DAP amp you hear more than any obvious coloration in the Flares Pro. My personal favorites were the DX200 and Opus#3 but I just much preferred the portable amping pairings as it can suck up a lot of power and scale.

      The scoring is on song for me, if you look at our higher scores these are truly unique and world class one of a kind. The Flares Pro comes pretty close to that though.

    • 24bit

      I am a team Cowon man who is willing to sacrifice quality for customization. Cowon does EQ better than anyone and I’ve stuck with my Plenue M for a while because it offers a happy medium between quality and customization potential. The Plenue M + Pro combo on a Flat EQ is shoulder shrug worthy as a musicality lover, the downfall of the Plenue being that is lacks the musical tone I desire. Purists will love the combo, no doubt. With all the custom EQ options at your finger tips, it is hard to say it sounds anything but very good regardless of the Dap used.

      I also tested with the older Sony A17, via the Bluetooth output (aptx and standard), as well as the DAP’s normal 3.5mm out, which itself has solid EQ functions as well. The result is still good, although lacking oomp and solidity that is typical of underpowering a headphone. I am more than satisfied using the BT output of the A17 with the Pro. This Flare Audio W-DAC is really that nice. Nice enough to be used with a $7 AZIO BT dongle for your computer, or the older BT functions on some last generation portable music players.

      Yep, sounds great on my Samsung J7’s BT output as well. It passed all BT tests I performed, simply could not find a poor sounding BT combo with the W-DAC on the Pro. I gave up trying.

  • ductrung3993

    these vs JH13 FP please?

    • 24bit

      Have not heard the standard JH13, but was a long time owner of the JH16FP customs. I can safely say that the Flare iems noticeably superior to the JH16’s.

  • JY

    Do comply tips fit these?

  • ductrung3993

    What do you think these vs Fidue A91?

    • headfonics

      The a91 is almost $500 more expensive, I am not sure if many people will be sitting on those 2 deciding which to buy given the price disparity.

      • ductrung3993

        I’m one of the few, since used a91 can be found for $500

        • headfonics

          Oh ok well tonally the A91 is a bit smoother with a sub bass I really like, a bit more rumble there. It also has a bit more detail in the mids though the treble is not as forward. Staging both are excellent, edge to A91 and of course you have BT with the flares whereas you have balanced with A91.

  • Arthur Mac

    Can we compare this in ear with AKG K3003? I really like the sound that K3003 has but I do not like their out-dated design and pricing?

    • headfonics

      Unfortunately it has been a long time since I heard the K3003 and I only liked the reference filter but staging wise the K3003 from memory has a slight edge though sub-bass of the Flare Pro is good. I think the K3003 now is around the $600-700 marker.

  • Jonathan

    how do these stack up against Shure SE535 or W40?

    • headfonics

      Completely different – those two are good but don’t have the same staging ability and extension as the Flare Pros.

  • Danny King

    Hi! Great Review… How would you say this compares to the shure SE846 and the Ie800? Thanks