Building a system claimed to be, “the best sound you’ll ever hear”, is certainly one way to attract attention. That’s what British audio manufacturer Flare Audio did with its Zero hi-fi, a “price on application” system that came with a whole host of hyperbole.
But while it piqued our interest, we prefer to focus on more real world products, so instead turned our attention to the more affordable R2 headphones.
These began life, as many products do these days, on Kickstarter, where a crowd-funding campaign raised more than £177,000 (well over the company’s £100k goal) thanks in part to the company’s pro audio background, and also praise for Flare Audio products from the likes of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
The Kickstarter spawned the R1 over-ear headphones (£750) and three R2 in-ear models: the entry-level R2A (£175), the R2S (£300) and the R2 Pro (£400). All the earphones use the same components but for a different metal enclosure, with each promising to deliver a different sound (and a slightly different look).
The R2A uses aluminium, and comes in a choice of black, orange or natural aluminium finishes, the R2S is stainless steel, and has a duller look, and the R2 Pro is shiny titanium.
The S and the Pro models claim to be more rigid – seven and 12 times, respectively – than the entry-level models. We’re looking at the middle-of-the-range R2S in-ears here.
Alongside the stainless steel design, the R2S earphones sport a 5mm neodymium driver.
Interestingly, the driver assembly and the cable – which Flare Audio claims is ‘anti-tangle’, though we’re not sure they’re particularly noteworthy in this respect – can be detached and replaced by the user (£50 for the kit); useful if they break or if you want to tinker and make your own ‘upgrades’.
The enclosure is thin with a smart, minimal design – not that you’ll see much of it poking beyond your ear. One thing you will notice is the silver rectangular block on the cable.
Complete with ‘Flare’ branding, it’s not a mic or remote, rather just a relatively heavy block where the cables join.
This will bump against your body as you walk which, while far from unheard of, is never ideal; you will hear it bumping around, and it also makes them more susceptible to being caught on your clothes or bag.
Inside the small box you’ll find three different sizes of Comply foam tips. It’s a personal thing, naturally, but we tend to find these tips are good for comfort and fit, and you’ll get decent noise-isolation into the bargain.
The Flare Audio R2S headphones are easy to get along with; we find it hard to believe anyone would dislike how they sound. But will you love them? We’re not sure.
Get the fit right and they sound balanced and inoffensive. Treble notes are crisp and clear, while bass notes are reasonably articulate. There’s no edginess to vocals, no over-bearing bass – nothing is ostensibly wrong when listening in isolation. But we’re also far from blown away as we give them an extended listen. Something’s missing, especially for this sort of money.
Jamie XX’s Girl plods along in a lazy haze at the best of times, but it’s borderline catatonic through the R2S earphones. Dynamically they’re a little safe, not stretching to the outer reaches of either end of the sonic spectrum. The so-so timing doesn’t help when it comes to keeping our attention.
Switch to the Shure SE425 in-ears and the bass goes deeper, helping to deliver a punchier sound, while the top-end opens up to reveal more detail. Making for an altogether more engaging listen.
Back with the Flare Audios and Kendrick Lamar’s The Blacker The Berry is, again, delivered in a perfectly acceptable fashion; but we want more. If you want to hear the aggression in the delivery, which you do, you need detail. And it’s lacking. Leaving a sound that lacks a little substance.
Atlas by Real Estate, an airy, acoustic workout, passes by pleasantly enough, but skipping back and forth to comparative rivals, we’re convinced they just need to do a bit more all round when it comes to the necessary building blocks for good quality sound – not least if you’re in the market to spend anywhere near £300.
While these Flare Audio headphones are on the expensive side (though you can find them on sale for quite a bit less), it’s not really the price that’s the issue. We simply want them to sound better.
Dynamics, detail and timing are crucial to how a speaker sounds – for headphones are simply small speakers – and the three don’t come together well enough here to earn our recommendation.
Inoffensive maybe but when it comes to sonic ability, they lack, well, a little flair.
See all our in-earphone reviews