Note: I was just informed by HifiGO that a giveaway of the AFUL Performer 5 is now live on their Facebook page, through this link. Good luck everyone.
- Great tonal balance
- Price to performance
- No pressure build up
- Resolving power
- Intimate stage presentation
- BA timbre
Disclaimer: This unit was provided by HifiGO for free in exchange for a written review. No incentives of any kind were given and the review you are about to read are my own thoughts and opinions. Thanks once again to HifiGO for the opportunity and support.
Table of Contents
- Technical chops
- The verdict
Driver Setup: 1DD+4BA
Price: $219 (Black Friday release price)
Purchase link and info: HifiGO
Included in the box:
- Performer 5
- Standard 2pin cable with a 3.5mm termination
- 3 pairs of silicone tips in two color variants (6 pairs total)
- A puck style carrying pouch
Comfort, fit and isolation: Great in every aspect
Source used: Topping L70
Tips used: Final E
Measured volume level: 77db @ 440 hz
Test playlist with some of the songs used: Tidal
Out of all this year’s late releases, there’s only a handful stirring some waves. This one is no exception, given the context of today’s market.
First of all, we have the brand – AFUL. A new player in town, established four years ago and has spent the last two in full research and development, promising to shake the current market.
Second reason, and most important, falls into the product itself – the Performer 5 (P5). Before we dive into buzzwords, let’s take an objective look at the non-sound aspects.
Inside a relatively simple but well thought packaging you can find the following:
- Six pairs of generic narrow bore tips that come in three sizes and two color variants, so you can use red and blue tips to signal left and right monitors. Tips are very personal and for me they did not work the best, and I ended up tip rolling which I will comment in a moment, but as always, YMMV;
- A well built 2-pin cable, with a working chin slider and branded only on its termination. It’s light-weight and very user friendly, so there’s no need to change it other than for aesthetic purposes, in case you wish to. My only nitpick will go into its limitation to 3.5mm only, meaning that you can’t choose different terminations or a modular plug. Again, not important;
- A puck-style carrying case that is well built and very easy to open, displaying the brand’s name on top. Opposite to similar offered cases by other brands using this style, AFUL’s one is very light-weight due to the usage of hard plastic instead of metal. The interior has some sort of fluffy fabric to prevent your IEMs from scratching or breaking.
As for the monitors themselves, the build quality is pretty top notch. AFUL used some kind of special way to 3D print them, according to information provided. As far as I can’t tell, they don’t feel cheap in any way, at least compared to most stuff on the market nowadays.
The above is not the only “special technology” used in building the Performer 5. One of its main appeals consists of newly developed ways of building, and therefore tuning, the IEM itself. You can find all this information in the product page, but to briefly summarize it, there’s three key fundamentals technologies that I will paste here:
- EnvisionTEC High-Precision 3D Printed Acoustic Cavity Structure: Using high-quality 3D printing technology, AFUL Acoustics has designed a precise 3D printed acoustic tube structure for the Performer 5. They have named it EnvisionTEC acoustic tube structure. This features a 60mm ultra-long and ultra-thin bass tube with a 30mm mid-bass duct structure for a powerful, slamming bass response. It helps maintain a proper phase correction between different frequencies.
- RLC Network Frequency Division Correction Technology: In order to get the best out of the five-driver hybrid configuration, Performer 5 features in-house developed RLC Network Frequency Division Technology. It not only allows the different drivers to have accurate frequency division but also corrects their non-ideal frequency response for certain frequency bands presenting the listeners with a smooth frequency response without any peaks or irregularities.
- High-Damping Air-Pressure Balance System: AFUL Acoustics Performer 5 is designed with a high-damping air-pressure balance system. It releases the air pressure inside the ear canal when the pair is worn promising a comfortable listening experience. With this specially designed air-pressure balance system, the bass texture and slam of the Performer 5 are also improved.
Buzzwords aside, the first two will eventually come out on sound analysis, but the later will be touched on here, as it’s very important to a lot of people. There’s absolutely zero ear pressure with the Performer 5, which is a more usual than not problem with BA sets. And hell if it feels great. Combined with an extremely satisfying and easy fit, you can achieve great comfort and isolation, made to last on your ears for several long sessions.
Last word of this chapter will go into tip rolling. I’m not sure if this was caused by all the special tubing tech inside the shell, but I noticed a significant mid-bass drop while using wide-bore tips, to the point that I had some first impressions ready and I had to re-do them. I do recommend narrow-bore tips with the Performer 5 and they seem to help the bass the most, at least in my case, but as always, YMMV.
Now that I just wrote an essay without even touching the sound, I think it’s time for us to analyze the actual sound and check if the Performer 5 lives up to its name.
Depending on your definition of neutral, you could call this IEM a bass boosted neutral or U-shaped. As for me personally, it tends to fall more into the first, but with some weight added to its notes, due to the 300 hz self correction of the bass shelf.
After the sine sweep, I would say the area around 8k hz of my graph is slightly boosted by the coupler, but the extension is actually pretty accurate, starting to roll off at around 16k hz, and needing an amp volume rise past 18k to be heard.
But that only tells us so far, right?
The sub-bass replay at the 3:25m mark leaves me with no doubts that this DD is very capable and the tuning is well extended – in fact, the roll-off only starts at around 18hz, so there you go, measure freaks!
The sub-bass feels physically impactful during this replay, actually rumbling inside your ear, providing the expected claustrophobia effect, so it gets a giant pass.
As a double check, I also pulled out a masterpiece by James Black, Limit To Your Love, and the suspicions were thrown off, confirming what the first track also represented. Touché.
One strange nitpick I will have to disclose is that I would prefer for the Performer 5’s sub-bass to be slightly press prominent, which I will explain why in a second.
With a sub over mid-bass shelf, this is the area that usually suffers, so nothing better than the good old Magnetar to test it.
The tuning itself is pretty spot on, warm and thick, bringing the bass guitars and kick drums to the front, not to be mushed into the background melody. The kick-drums have a sense of impact that is commendable at this price range, especially since I’ve heard worse at higher steaks tables.
My only critique will go into the bass texture, as it gets somewhat masked or blurred on more busy tracks, especially by the sub-bass. This is unfortunately more common than not and not really a pick on Performer 5, but most iems with sub over mid-bass shelves.
Despite my nitpick, the mid-bass doesn’t suffer from an overly tightness a la Foster driver, having just enough bounce to it to make it fun during Haywyre – Permutate bass drops. This effect also means that the bass drops on hip-hop tracks like Backstreet Freestyle by Kendrick Lamar are well replayed by this set.
Mid-range and Vocals
The mid-range of the P5 is warm but still clear, but running far from the usual harmanesc thin notes, result obtained by the bass shelf as previously mentioned. Still, there’s a sense of separation between the bass and the shelf, avoiding some of the bleed into this area.
The tonal balance of this range is pretty spot up, especially in the upper regions, but lacks some sense of separation and layering (this effect will be explained further down below), which has me no choice but call it probably the weakest link of the frequency chart on the Performer 5.
Despite that, it still comes out as very detailed and you can clearly distinguish both hands keystrokes and hammers on Glass.
As for vocals… I have zero things to point out. Adele’s Oh My God shows no hints of shout and just a hint of prolonged “sssss” sounds that I can totally get by as the timbre accuracy for it it’s pretty spot on, with some correct bite to avoid any roundness.
The story repeats itself while enjoying the track In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company by The Dead South. Despite the bass shelf hinting their presence forward, the male vocals still have some sense of bite and absence of dullness, tilting just ever-so-slightly into huskyness.
Treble and Air
The treble region of the P5 is pretty commendable. Adapting a neutral style, it doesn’t show any signs of dips and peaks, being quite flat until its air regions. While it is not overly cooked, customers looking for dark sets might not appreciate this, while as for me, my hat is off.
The violins on this Mozart piece sound full and their harmonic decay is pretty much spot on for a BA driver, which is rare on a set, let alone for the price. Nothing stands out or fatigues me during my extensive take.
The cymbal strikes and electric guitar’s replay during Cosmic Sands by Cory Wong follows the same trait, as the violins, with only fast decay being my nitpick, causing the fabled BA timbre to show up, but without being overly plastic.
I’ll cut this short: impressive.
The technical capability of the AFUL Performer 5 is no slouch whatsoever, minus a caveat.
Actually, that caveat might be a deal-breaker for you, so I’ll quickly rip the band-aid off: the soundstage is very intimate, and below average in size. This is not an hyperbole whatsoever, so if you are a stage size freak, this won’t be for you.
Another small note I will also mention while we are at it is the hint of BA timbre displayed mainly in the treble region, especially with brass instruments, where the decay is on the shorter side, leaving some plasticity tint in the tongue. The reason I called it a small note is that it’s not that obvious as some past sets I’ve tried like the Blessings, VX or the Lokahi.
With that out of the way, there’s mostly only good things from now on. The detail retrieval, anchored by the Performer’s tuning is pretty good and above average.
The dynamics are not dull or giving a sense of compressness, and I will consider them way above average given the price range we are talking about.
The coherency of the sound is not great, but not terrible. You can find a speed difference between the dynamic driver and the balanced armateurs (more obvious in the treble area), but other than that, I would assume most people would not pick this up as obvious or even ignore it.
The last subjective topic I will touch is a sum of three parts, affected by an external one. I do believe the layering, separation and positional accuracy (imaging) are solid, but they all take a hit due to stage size. Nonetheless green card and enjoyable.
In this section, I will do brief comparisons vs other hybrids in the market around the $300 bracket. All comparisons were done using 4.4mm terminated cables connected to my Topping L70, at a measured volume of 77db @ 440 hz.
Tips used: DUNU S&S (Cylinders)
The legendary N3 comes out pumping a warmer replay, thanks to a more pronounced bass shelf and less energetic treble. The P5 has better overall tonal balance and will appeal to more people as a standard choice.
Sony N3’s bass is an acquired taste, so objectively I will have to attribute this region to the AFUL, especially in the impact meter. Given that shelf, the mid-range of the AFUL is cleaner and better tuned, where the treble region is a masterclass into N3’s side of the field.
The technical chops are curious between the two, they both suffer in their imaging chops, but the N3 still feels wider, despite also lacking depth. The AFUL is more resolving while the Sony displays much better timbre and coherency.
In sum, I do think both sets are more of side-grades between each other and excel at different things.
Xenns Mangird Tea2
Tips used: BVGP W01
Just as blunt as the graph, the tuning conclusion is pretty obvious: the Performer 5 a slightly V-shaped version of Tea2’s tuning, bringing less mids and vocals into your face in exchange for more bass and mid to upper-treble.
The bass dictates the warmer tonality of the Performer 5 which I will admit, I prefer on some tracks and Tea’s on others, as at the end of a day, it’s kind of a toss. Technically, the bass bass of the Tea2 has more clarity to it (less blurred) and it’s snappier, but it’s still a BA bass. The Performer 5 shows better texture on its mid-bass and more physicality on its sub-bass. Gesaffelstein – OPR is a toss, as the speed and clarity of the Tea2 really show off but the impact and texture of the Performer 5 also bring the replay alive.
As for the mid-range and vocals, Tea2 has the total advantage due to its tuning and subjective aspects like separation and layering. It is more transparent and has more correct note weight – neither too thin or too thick.
Treble is more correct on the Performer 5, due to less dips, avoiding some of the vocal timbre wonkiness that vocals on the Tea2 might have due to its lower treble dip. The latter comes out as more relaxed and way more fatigue free, especially on some genres like rock and hip-hop, or older records. The extension is better on AFUL’s set.
Technically speaking, it’s majorly a win for Tea2, especially on imaging chops and timbre, where the Performer just can’t catch up. Do keep in mind Tea2 hits my HRTF pretty well and gives an insane sense of holographic display. The resolving power is close between the two, with a slight advantage for the P5 giving its treble boost.
Tips used: Azla Crystal
Once I switched between them, two major differences arose: the bass texture and the imaging chops of the VULKAN are on another level, but the tuning of the P5 is much more palatable, turning into a completely different approach and experience.
Tonality wise, the Vulkan is way more relaxed, where the Performer uses a more U-shaped approach in comparison, which means that for some, the Performer will come out as more engaging, especially in the sub-bass region. The mid-range is cleaner on the VULKAN but AFUL has more forward vocals, both male and female.
The treble region is much more prominent on the Performer 5 and also better extended, with the VULKAN having better timbre (Max Richter – Winter 1) and less fatigue. Resolving wise, they are close but the P5 comes out as having more sharp transients.
Buzzwords and patents aside, AFUL’s team entered the building in absolute style, kicking down the front door. I’m finding myself hard pressed to find a more tonally balanced model than the Performer 5 at his price bracket or below (let’s ignore ER2XR due to fit, shall we?).
In sum, I think the price is pretty clever, positioning themselves far enough from the $300+ kingpins like the technically gifted Blessing 2 twins – which also have fundamental flaws of their own, – and being so competitive in price that everyone will want a bite of this pie. Hell, I’ll go further and say that minus the mid-range, I’d take the AFUL’s tuning over the Blessing 2 or Dusk, while the twins prey the Performer 5 open on imaging chops and better dynamics.
Despite any of the direct hybrid competitors, there was a void left between 200 and 300 dollars, where almost only Tanchjim Oxygen and some planar IEMs rested their heads, having now to face the orange powerhouse.
I really do think that if the stage wasn’t so intimate, it had a real shot of raising its asking price and still triumph. That’s the only aspect I will actually criticize on the Performer 5’s and this is the reason why I can’t consider it evaporates the competition or simply undercuts them.
As of now, I think it’s pretty obvious to assume that it is my pleasure to give my full recommendation to the Performer 5. My last word goes to AFUL, to whom my hats are off, proving that tuning is not a matter of price.
Thanks for reading!
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