Wireless earbuds are a dime a dozen these days, so if you’re going to make one, it better stand out. And that’s precisely what a US-based, underdog brand called Ausounds caught our attention with. Its new AU-Flex Bluetooth earphones are packed with every technological advancement that we know of for this kind of device. LDAC HiFi codec – check, Active-Noise Cancellation – check, highly-resolving planar magnetic drivers – check. We’ll see if the user experience is just as impressive. This synopsis hits the key points one should know of the promising AU-Flex “wireless” in-ears.
The AU-Flex has a standard unboxing experience, with USB-C to USB-A charging cable, three sizes of silicone ear tips, and soft drawstring carrying pouch.
> Pulling the AU-Flex out of the box, we must say that the impression is fairly standard. If you’ve handled a neckband-style wireless earphone before, this is what’s to expect – i.e. a rubbery, flexible band with plastic boxes at the ends that house the electronics and charging port, of which capsule-shaped earpieces extend from via thin (non-retractable) wires.
> The only differentiator here and more “premium” attempt is that the earpiece exteriors are Aluminum shells. However, the chassis’ are so lightweight that we mistakened them for plastic (even feels a bit like plastic, save for the cold to the touch characteristic of metal). Ultimately, we’re saying that it ends up being of little consequence.
> We’re being scrutinous on build quality because the AU-Flex’s price isn’t as standard as its makeup is, at $199. A lot of time with electronics it is about the technology but we like to be surprised sometimes. That said, the AU-Flex is put together well from every corner. We just wish it felt more premium and/or had a standout design. But for an underdog brand putting a priority on technology, it’s understandable and acceptable.
> We’re admittedly not big fans of the neckband style of wireless earbud, in a world of completely wireless options. But using the AU-Flex, it’s not hard to recognize their place. Manufacturers are less limited with this design to pack in more technology and battery life. And you’re not sacrificing that much in terms of comfort. Speaking of which, comfort is actually a standout quality of the AU-Flex. It’s so lightweight that it really doesn’t feel like you’re wearing anything.
> Likewise, the earpiece fit is also effortless and without a bother. This is a over-the-ear wear. Most high-end wired earphones use this style because it’s more secure, comfortable, and reduces microphonics, and those benefits are here.
> The earpieces are chunky but lightweight. Still, if not done right, “chunky” can lead to problems with fit. Here is where we have some criticisms. Comfort was just fine for us but we could never achieve a confident seal (only good enough). That’s partly due to the shape (the chunkiness limits how deep you can push the nozzles in the ear canal) but also the ear tips, which we feel could use some refining. The tips are too soft, thin, and flimsy. So when donned they’re likely to bend rather than keep shape needed for the seal. It also makes for poor passive sound isolation.
> Control of the AU-Flex is as one would expect from such a headphone: a power button (doubles as play/pause), volume rocker (doubles as track switcher), and mode switcher. There’s the sought-out Active Noise-Cancellation feature baked in, and the mode switcher turns it on/off as well as can enable a “transparency mode” if you may want to hear the world around you. Pretty typical.
> As expected, the ANC potency isn’t going to break any records. It’s a nice to have that gives you a little extra in noise-blocking, which the AU-Flex could really use being that passive sound isolation is so poor with the included tips. This said, you’ll be blocking almost exclusively lower-to-mid frequencies. Because passive isolation is so poor, higher pitched sounds like with some peoples’ voices or clacking on a keyboard comes through without much resistance.
> The Bluetooth connection and range of the AU-Flex were solid in our testing. No dropout or instability complaints here. And endurance top-out is notable at around 22 hours of play (ANC off).
> Onto the sound, we were pleasantly surprised for the most part. Ausounds isn’t just making claims and not delivering in the end result, like with a lot of audio manufacturers. For instance, their claims of rich, deep bass and large soundstage are spot on. Though, we’ll say that soundstage is more large (especially for an in-ear headphone) than wide. It really makes a difference to the experience, especially in light of the “confined” and “in the head” characteristics of most earphones on the market.
> Bass is the most standout frequency. It’s pretty dang strong and has a large/surrounding impact. Thankfully in this case, that doesn’t mean it’s some bloated, overdone mess. It’s tamed to a point that minimizes bleeding to the lower mid-range. But there is some clarity that’s compromised there. The mid-bass can lean on boomy and make for a loose transition in the mids.
> There’s minimal difference in sound quality between ANC on or off. Bass is the noticeable difference, being slightly stronger with ANC enabled.
> To our ears, the earphones exhibit a slight V-shape to the frequency response (or can be called U-shape). So elements like vocals or guitar riffs aren’t as forward as they actually may be. That said, there’s plentiful air in the region that you may not care that much.
> The upper registers being driver by the planar driver section of AU-Flex, we had high expectations for detail and clarity. Unfortunately, this is the aspect we were left most disappointed. There’s notable extension and sparkle compared to other earphones, but digging into the details, we just don’t get great resolution that we’d expect from a planar. The treble detail is often smothered, not crisply articulated.
- Comfortable for activity and long use
- Healthy battery endurance at 22 hours
- ANC makes a noticeable improvement
- Rich bass and top-end extension
- Materials don’t feel special
- In-canal fit needs to be revisited
- Passive isolation is poor
- Treble resolution should be better for a planar
We applaud Ausounds’ ambition with the AU-Flex. As we said in the beginning, we’re not big fans of the neckband-style, but recognize there’s a market for it and can still appreciate it for what it is. This is a very comfortable offering and is put together well despite the uninspired materials/feel. And this design has allowed Ausounds to pack some banging tech that you rarely find offered together in one wireless earphone on the market. This isn’t a cheap pair but you can’t argue it’s not justified by the feature-set.
That said, we can’t say the AU-Flex knocked it out of the park. The ear tips and/or fit needs work and we had some significant tiggles with the sound quality. The planar magnetic quality shows in some ways but disappoints in others. The dynamic driver (low-end) could also use some tightening.