This UK Company has been working furiously around their Kickstarter program lately, aiming for the stars and attempting to shatter the conventional designs of headphones in general. Previously, they’d achieved a very Planar Magnetic type of sound signature in what I would consider a hybrid-dynamic driver design in their full size R1 model. Innovation is what these guys are all about and their new IEMs are no different.
I suspect Flare’s Kickstarter program may or may not have ended by the time you read this review, but they’ve offered their R2A at £79 for anyone interested while their Kickstarter is live. Those who have jumped on that deal are in for a real treat, probably the IEM deal of the year. At that price range, I’ve never come across anything that sounds even remotely that clean and spacious, so high five to anyone who was able to snag any of their IEMs at such a discount. Once their Kickstarter program ends, the prices will go up to what I consider uncomfortable levels on the Pro model.
R2PRO – Titanium, £200 at KS campaign price, £400 after
R2A – Aluminium, from £79 during KS campaign, £175 after campaign
R2S Stainless steel – £150 KS price, £300 after
Even at the normal MSRP of the R2A, the price to performance is still excellent. What Flare Audio has done here is attempt to create one of few IEMs that I’ve found to be hyper realistic in terms of a natural presentation shape, tone, impact and dynamics in this price tier. Almost no other IEM’s that I’ve ever heard, including my Jh16 that cost me $1100, were able to achieve this type of imaging. Both of these Flare IEMs have achieved a level of physical impact that I find to be extremely addictive as well. True, both IEM models are different so let’s jump right into build and materials first before detailing the sound qualities offered by these magnificent IEMs.
The Tech and Accessories
The most important factoid to note about these IEMs is that they are pressure balanced: an attempt to create as non-fatiguing of an experience as possible. I think they did very well with this jab at creating a natural appeal to the presentation, but there are certainly other normal dynamic IEMs out there that have also achieved a similar, effortless physicality, but not anything quite on this level that I am aware of. Both IEMs come with Comply memory foam tips, which allow for excellent fit and sealing properties. These do indeed offer a fair amount of noise isolation, but that is to be expected with a memory foam sealing tip from Comply. You are intended to gently squeeze these tips in attempt to flatten them out prior to insertion. After that, the foam will expand and seal the IEM into your ear canal. It is vital to know that proper seal is essential for these IEMs to really shine.
You’re going to have to squeeze those Comply tips a fair bit and burrow them in your inner ear canal, otherwise the seal will remain broken and lopsided. One side could sound nice and the other may not, this has happened to me often with these IEMs. Once a proper seal is achieved, the sound is magnificent. The experience is very comfortable due to the extremely small housing and light weight design. Also, these Comply tips simply vanish in your ear once a proper seal is achieved. Rummaging around downtown Cleveland with these in my ear equates to me feeling like I have a high tech implant in my ears that pipes music directly to my eardrums. All I can feel is the cable swaying on my neck and over my chest sometimes. I think most people will be rather shocked by just how small these IEMs really are: 12mm by 7mm. They are adorable to say the least, super cute and tiny. I’m not fond of larger IEM housings, so it is a refreshing experience to swap to these after using my custom monitors or some of the typical universals available. The R2Pro will come with a nice carrying case and 3 sets of Comply memory foam tips.
Build quality varies between the model you wish to use, in this case the R2A comes with an all-aluminum housing and the R2Pro is made of grade 5 Titanium. It feels very light but I am not exactly able to test durability with a crush test…also unwilling. But, I can say that the cut of metal feels rigid and solid enough. They remind me of the Fischer Audio Silver Bullets, so I can’t see the Pro version taking any serious damage while rolling around in your bag or pocket. Flare used a robotic lathe to craft each of their housings down to an accuracy of 10 microns. The strain relief is unneeded, as Flare’s CEO has told me.
“The sides of the cable entry in the body have 250 micron thin chambers that don’t damage the cable when pulled. This removes the need for a strain relief which we have extensively tested by repeated pulling and snagging (the cable itself breaks first nowhere near the R2 and usually at the point of being pulled very hard).” –Davies Roberts: Flare Audio’s CEO
I tend to agree for the most part, the R2A is plenty tough and doesn’t need the added bulk of an extra piece of material to bridge the end of the cable to the metal housing. If damage ever occurs to the cable, Flare allows you to remove the cable completely and replace it yourself for a fee of £35. The rear side of the housing unscrews and exposes the innards that may need replacement. My units were pre-production models, but once released officially the design and cable option selection will change. They will be offering a remote mic version and a braided version, over ear option for stage musicians and lastly both 45 and 90 degree cable adapters.
I think the Pro IEM desperately needs a fabric braided cable, something that screams higher quality than a typical rubber casing. I do feel the stock cable to be overly thin; I can’t help but to have day dreams about the cable snapping off or shredding somehow. I prefer a stronger exterior sleeve. I can’t really justify that on the cheaper R2A, but I would expect it to exist on the Pro version which will sell for just over £400. As those who know me and my reviews, £300 is the magic price tag value that I feel to warrant nicer, fabric cables.
At that price point, I want to see higher quality exterior sleeves that protect the cable more. Cable noise is also not an issue on either model, although this is only in regards to my experience with the stock rubber single strand cable. I can’t comment about the potential braided cable noise factor since I don’t have it to test. I also think the Pro version should come with a very nice 3.5mm adapter. Maybe they will offer a very high quality and durable adapter in the future, again I’ve not seen any of the adapter options first hand to judge just yet.