The Flare Audio Flares PRO 2HD is a rhodium-plated brass version of the original Flares PRO 2 universal monitor. It is priced at £399.00.
Disclaimer: The Flare Audio Flares PRO 2HD sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank Flare Audio for this opportunity.
To read more on previous Flare Audio reviews on Headfonics you can click here.
I’ve been doing – and loving doing – Flare Audio reviews for a few years now. By now I’m a fan. So, should I be reviewing the Pro 2HD? Or should someone else? I mean, it’s obvious from my previous work that the Pro 2HD had Nathan will love you written all over it.
And so it has. The original Flares Pro I loved, though its crunchy highs took some time to get used to. Gold rectified much of that, and Pro 2 struck a good balance. The Pro 2HD, whose insides (apparently much like Gold’s), sounds markedly different from each.
Each iteration of Flares Pro iterates on a complete concept. In that way, it is like the indelible Porsche 911, changing almost imperceptibly year to year, but when viewed at the forest rather than the tree level, the changes are big and logical. Obviously Flares Pro has iterated at a faster rate than the 911, but the concept behind and between each iteration and indeed the whole series, is, in other terms, about as unified.
Flares Pro 2HD hasn’t a lot of strikes against it, so let’s get the biggest off our chest now. The original Flares Pro dealt death to the market around it by packing in an interesting detachable cable system whose real coup was a quality balanced wireless DAC.
But that was 2017. The same DAC and Bluetooth module has been passed from generation to generation of Flares with nary an update. Any wireless signal that got me more than ten meters from its source blew me away just a few short years ago. Today, if a wireless signal doesn’t cleanly carry out to 40 meters, I cringe.
And the Pro 2HD doesn’t get 40 meters. In fact, its DAC is stuck on Bluetooth 4,1, which, at least on the receiving end, can get signals out past 40 meters (as seen in this video), but in the Pro 2HD’s case, only reliably gets the Pro 2HD about 17 meters from a source (Flare Audio cite 15 meters).
Despite minor changes, Flares Pro are all for one, one for all. Each comes in the same dark box carpeted by a sound-absorbing sponge. In it are the same accessories, which include some of the most comfortable earpieces ever made. If you want to read a lot more about them, hit up my Flare Pro 2 review, here at Headfonics.
When the Flares Pro came out, its accessory box was brand new, totally eye-catching, and unique. Today it isn’t unique, but that’s not because it has been endlessly copied, or because it started a trend. Indeed, it is an expensive, well-organized, up-market box with a thoughtful gaggle of accessories. In some ways, it opens like a Leica M box but is even more assiduously branded.
Flare Audio are known for their earphones, but more than that, for earplugs and audio protection. Wearing sound-dampening material like a life jacket, the Pro 2HD’s modus operandi translates the brand’s organizational and aspirational structure as well as anything I’ve seen.
And it has made it from Flares Pro to Flares Gold to 2 to 2HD. I hope it will go forward.
There are a few changes I would like to see: the cables are tough, and a bit too grippy, and energetic. Sure, they reject touch noise well, but not perfectly. I’d love for Flare to discover the wonderful cables Audio Technica used to use in their CK10 and ES10 headphones. That cable is totally noise-inert, strong, and remains supple even ten years later. I own both originals and their cable behave and look exactly as they did when I picked them up.
The straight device-side plug is also too narrow and lacks ample support, and connected to the earphones, it is about 10-15 cm too long. I’d love for it to bend into an L-shape.
But the thing that really needs an upgrade is the Bluetooth DAC. It is serviceable today, but not great. Three years ago it was insanely good- one of a kind, really. But it is stuck on Bluetooth 4 and gets no more than 17 meters from a source when it should get over 40. That also means that closer ranges aren’t as robust against interference.
Bluetooth 5 is absolutely necessary. Another thing: it hisses. Flares Pro and Gold reject that hiss like a duck’s back reflects water, but Pro 2HD is more sensitive. Because of this, the Pro 2HD makes audible a low-level background hiss when using the Bluetooth DAC. As the two are bundled together (and ostensibly made for one another), this shouldn’t happen.
If Flare fixes the noise issue and changes the DAC to Bluetooth 5, they will have made another coup. If they don’t, they will fall behind and fast. As Bluetooth wireless is the most exciting headphone niche we’ve seen in a long time, and one that Flare basically owned in terms of technology and application, falling behind is not an option.
Comfort & Isolation
Similarly, if you have worn one Flares, you have worn them all. The earpieces are the same. The bodies are very similar. Some are fatter, some are longer, some are heavier, but they fit the same, and isolate about as well as one another.
This is another example of good, long-term iterative branding. If you know Flares Pro of any stripe, you know the Flares Pro of yesterday and tomorrow. Because they are thicker at the bum, later Flares are a bit easier to remove and stick into the ear, especially for thick fingered folk.
Each goes in like a Frankenstein bolt to the ear. They go in fast, and they stick in solidly. You cannot sleep on your side with them in, but they isolate well enough to not bleed sound all over your bedroom.
Finally, it really would be nice to get a more standard color coding for the left and right channels. Since gen 1, the white and grey barber pole cables have done a trick, and it’s been fine. But Pro 2HD is larger than normal, so the barely raised nib on the right channel can no longer be felt by any sized fingers.
The neck cinch is still one of the best in the business, stying perfectly secure.
The first Flares Pro was neutral-ish as V signatures go, with strong, throbbing bass, and really crisp highs. Highs had a tendency to peak a bit. They weren’t, however, sibilant. While they could bloom a bit up high, they never flared up with too much heat.
If you didn’t like highs then, Flares Pro would have been a hard buy. If like me, you were a treble head, you found an indelible fun-sounding favorite. All things considered, there is little to fault in the original. Gold tamed the highs a bit and brought a more mellowed out presentation all together. Flares Pro 2 took tamed the original but kept the sparkle and widened up the midrange.
Flares Pro 2HD is back to Gold signature, but with an even more obvious low pass filter, and even warmer mids, making it the first real Flares to be ready for a larger swathe of non-treble heads. Rich, warm, with a decent bite in the highs, and a strong low end, this one, folks, this one is the best so far, and, I think, by quite a margin.
The cumulative effect is a softening of live music, a warming of well-recorded studio music, and moodier basslines.
No Flares has ever competed with the widest sounding earphones out there, but always fronted a big, wall of sound that ran far to the left and right. The original, whose crunchy highs contrasted with a large low end, impressed with contrast-based stereo width.
Flares Pro 2HD does somewhat the opposite thing. Its warmer signature, and lower contrast between highs and lows, allows the midrange to really breathe. In fact, I’d say that the Flares Pro 2HD will attract the mid-heads. Mids really open up, in a warm, rich way, with good if not super deep Z-axis detail and excellent vignettes to the side. In that regard, they are much more like a good, well-damped circumaural closed headphone.
Naturally, the bass is larger than life, but it isn’t quite at bass monster levels. It almost yawns out the opening seconds of Marcus Schulz’s Mainstage, making it stand just inside the foyer to the bass-head mansion.
Bass is also warm, round-edged and shows good to great stereo separation. For earphones with this much bass pressure, the nuanced stereo signal that the Pro 2HD kicks out is pretty phenomenal. Whilst separating pretty well from channel to channel, bass makes a large, gelled figure eight that rises as far up as the cheekbones and settles just above the collar bone.
That area is padded with thick, dark, rich bass whose beautiful stereo image brings out the texture that I didn’t think possible from such small drivers. Not, it doesn’t bring forth wood-dome level of bass texture, but its moody, and wide-set stereo tones really, really, bring forth atmosphere that most basshead earphones can’t.
Neither attacking nor fading bass edges are perfectly zippy. Minorly blurred edges fade into the larger body of a low-voiced instrument and then fade away again in the same manner. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it sure sounds good. Like really good. The mood it extracts from ballads and live music, is coherent and relatable, especially for those that love small venues and ensembles.
Several previous Flares bass presentations could, at times, be a bit too strident. Flares Pro 2HD’s diffuses its pressure over a larger stereo area. This also cuts down on jarring pressure. It’s a great bass that rises several decibels above perfect at-the-ear neutrality, and one whose pressure affectionately strong-arms the fades between bass and mids.
Usually, I prefer smoother fades between bands, but in this case, the transition zone is just a big bass that has its way with lower mids. And you know what? It just works out. It is lovely. The rich, wide, and moody midrange just works in conjunction whilst taking a bit of a beating in the low end by such powerful bass.
Mids & Highs
As a treble head, I’m drawn to sparkly highs. Pro 2HD’s highs are sparkly, but not peaky. I am confident, therefore, that it will attract a lot more people to it than previous iterations. And gosh do mids and highs meld well.
The spot between the high mids and low mids is swimmingly wide and runs smoothly to the low pass filter. It is warm, rich, and, while they don’t jump out like rabbits from the tableau, vocals are pushed through with a good, focusing pressure. Rich and warm as the Pro 2HD’s mids are, vocals edge are smoother than they are edgy. Neither female nor male vocals are as high pressure or crisp as they are in some other earphones, but the balance between them and the highs and low mids is excellent.
Vocals melt into the highs, and strings vibrate richly, with amazing near-field reverb. It’s an audiophile presentation through and through, and one that I think that finally bests Flares Gold. I’m not sure what Flare Audio think of that. I love Gold. But I prefer Pro 2HD all around.
While not peaky, the sparkly bits the Pro 2HD renders sometimes jar, just not often. They aren’t too sparkly, but the way they jump suddenly out (usually in attacking edges of electric guitar), can startle.
Considering that the Flares Pro Bluetooth DAC/amp hisses quite a bit, and the Pro 2HD only reveals a little of it, it is safe to say that, unperturbed, you can plug Pro 2HD into a variety of wired sources that hiss more than usual.
Indeed, with the right impedance adapter, I can even plug the Pro 2HD into an Aiwa AF-F65, and not be bothered by the hiss. This level of hiss rejection is right on. Why anyone would make a more sensitive earphone in a day when high-end players still hiss, wracks my noodle. Right on, Flare.
Every modern source gets loud enough driving the Flares Pro 2HD. And few will have any problem driving it for frequency stability. Even my older Sharp MD players are able to keep a good frequency response into the Flares Pro whilst driving bass-heavy music. Again, right on.
That is to say that the Flares Pro 2HD can reliably be matched to any decent source and will sound good. Subjectively, Pro 2HD’s warmth may help fix the issues of really treble-spicy or crunchy sources, but as you know, most decent sources don’t sound that different.
Tin HiFi T4
I know the price difference between the two is intense, but the T4 is doing much of what the Pro 2HD is, just with a different end goal. The T4 is more neutral, and not nearly as rich in the midrange. It is by far the best T series earphone I’ve heard, but the Pro 2HD’s rich warmth and surprising extension in the highs is maybe the best version of this type of signature I’ve heard.
Fearless S6 Rui
Why compare a full armature earphone to a fully dynamic one? Well, because I can. The S6 Rui has about as planar a sound as I’ve heard from a balanced armature earphone, and Pro 2HD, while not nearly as neutral, is rich in the beautiful pathos you often get from good planar mids.
I don’t know which I prefer in general if I had to choose all music. But when it comes to my favorites: Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, New Order, and even certain trance, my gosh, it is Pro 2HD all the way.
The Pro 2HD is the best Flares Pro to date. That makes it a great earphone, even way above the price. I wish it were a bit less sensitive to the hiss in the included DAC. It is just as comfortable and easy to use as earlier models, and the branding for Flares is basically gold.
The only problem – and this is now a big one – is that the included Bluetooth DAC/amp is no longer a huge selling point. It needs less noise in the output circuit, but more than that needs better Bluetooth.
Used wired, the Pro 2HD is beautiful, and it easily competes in the mids and for general signature with some of the best earphones out there. Its figure-eight infinity bass, which rises just to the level of basshead, but simultaneously nails good reverb and texture, is addictive. The mids follow suit. The weakest band is the highs, and even they are beautiful.
Pro 2HD SPecifications
- HD Anti-Resonance technology
- HD Dual Jet technology
- Made from rhodium coated brass
- HD Acoustic Lens technology
- 5.5mm beryllium drivers
- Balanced connectivity
- Gold plated MMCX professional connectors
- Molded TPE terminals
- Reinforced cable stress points
- Gold plated 3.5mm jack connector
- Reinforced and stress-tested polyaramid cable
- Oxygen-free copper cable
- Bluetooth 4,1® wireless technology. (Range: 15 meters)