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AFUL Performer 5 IEM Review

Certainly Not Awfuld

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

The audio world is always evolving and it seems like every week there are multiple new releases people are excited about. As a result, the hype cycle tends to be pretty short. The AFUL Performer 5 is something special in that regard. It’s been one of the handful of IEMs that’s maintained its excitement over the multiple weeks, which makes it exciting to finally get to try them for ourselves.

The company, AFUL Acoustics, has talked up that this set has been in development for the last three years, which is almost unheard of in the ChiFi world. It comes with a specially designed 3D printed sound tubes and complex frequency division system that dynamically adjusts the sound of its three drivers to deliver a balanced, yet detailed sound. At $219.99, it doesn’t come cheap but purports to bring a lot to the table. In our opinion, this is a set that requires Dolby Atmos to be a great choice for gaming but earns its cost of entry with its well-rounded sound signature and fun listening experience. 

We would like to thank HiFiGo for providing the sample for this review. 

Specifications

  • Current Price: $219.99 (Amazon, HiFiGo
  • Key Features
    • Five-driver hybrid configuration.
    • 1 Powerful Dynamic Driver for lower-end.
    • Four High-Performance Customised Balanced Armature Drivers(2 for mids, 2 for highs).
    • EnvisionTEC High-Precision 3D Printed Acoustic Tube Structure.
    • High-Damping Air-Pressure Balance System.
    • RLC Network Frequency Division Correction Technology.
    • Ergonomic & Lightweight.
    • Unique designer face covers.
  • Impedance: 35Ω.
  • Sensitivity: [email protected]
  • Frequency Response Range: 5Hz-35kHz.
  • Passive Noise Reduction: 26dB.
  • Connectors: 2-pin 0.78mm.
  • Termination: 3.5mm
  • Package Weight: 0.5kg

AFUL Performer 5 - First Impressions and Key Features 

AFUL Acoustics was founded in 2018, but the Performer 5 is its first product. It has spent the last several years in research and development, securing patents for its upcoming line of IEMs, which aim to deliver superior sound quality at accessible price points. The name is… unfortunate, at least when understood by its closest English counterpart, but means “prosperity” in Chinese.

The Performer 5 is a good example of this design ethos. Retailing for $219.99, it doesn’t come cheap but brings a surprising amount to the table. Each earpiece uses a five-driver array consisting of one large dynamic driver for the lows and four balanced armatures split equally between the mids and the highs. These drivers are split using a complex frequency division system and sent through a custom sound tube structure to promote clarity, reduce phase distortion, and balance out each driver on an individual level rather than in groups like most IEMs. 

AFUL spends a good amount of time discussing its technology on its product page, and it’s easy to see why. The frequency division correction system is wholly unique to my knowledge. Being able to tune each individual driver means that AFUL is able to be much more precise with the frequency response of the IEMs, and make sure that the bass is powerful, mids are natural, and the highs are detailed yet smooth. 

The shells have gorgeous faceplates that are very similar to the Thieaudio Monarch Mk.II, and I absolutely adore their appearance. They’re bonded onto medical-grade resin ear pieces that are molded in UIEM (universal IEM) form and are designed to fit snugly in the ear (they do, quite). Inside those shells, the bass frequencies are sent through long tubes to ensure punchy response that doesn’t impede on the mids or highs. Bass and treble filters are also present  and are designed to smooth out those frequencies for easy, fatigue-free listening. 

AFUL has also implemented a unique 3D air pressure relief system that is internal to the earbud rather than a simple port on the side. This system is designed to increase comfort (pressure relief is a necessity with IEMs so they don’t sound muffled and underwater) without impacting bass performance.

The IEMs come with a great cable. The company doesn’t provide any details on it, but it’s thick and ropelike, yet soft enough to easily use and doesn’t tangle easily. It’s not modular, which is disappointing, but since these earphones are easy to drive, you won’t need the additional power of a balanced connection anyway. It uses a standard 2-pin connection, so is easily replaceable should it ever get damaged or you want to upgrade in the future.

Also included in the box is a metal travel case and a selection of six pairs of small, medium, and large tips. It's somewhat sparse given the cost of the earphones but gets the job done well. 

AFUL Performer 5 - Fit and Comfort

The AFUL Performer 5 is a comfortable set to wear. They’re medium in size and are very smooth, avoiding any points of irritation. I wish that AFUL had included a wider selection of tips, as what’s here was fine for me, but if you have especially small ears, could feel a bit too large. Using the stock tips (smalls), I found that they fit very well for multi-hour listening sessions. 

AFUL Performer 5 - Listening Impressions 

Image Credit: Gizaudio via Squig.Link

The AFUL Performer 5 isn’t a difficult IEM to drive, but did seem to benefit from having a bit more power at the source. In practice, as long as you’re not driving these on a very poor source, like an older smartphone or generic office PC, you will likely have enough power to use them well. I did most of my listening with a mix of the Fiio K7 desktop amp, my TempoTec Sonata HD, and my computer’s main audio output (it’s a gaming motherboard, so has more power output and a cleaner signal than most office PCs). 

In general, I would describe the Performer 5’s sound signature as U-shaped. There is definite warmth in the low end and some additional energy in the upper mids and highs. Mids take a step back. There's also a distinctive balanced armature tonality in the mids and highs. I actually quite like the bit of edge this gives these registers, but other people do not. If you don't know what I'm referencing here, chances are you will not mind, as this critique is usually one that is reserved for audiophiles as opposed to general listeners exploring for the best sound quality. The tuning is one I like, but would have enjoyed a bit more energy in the mids and soundstage to add to their technical performance. 

Bass: The Performer 5 reaches low and has good sub-bass rumble and texture. Sub-bass performance gives the low-end weight and physicality that is very nice. There’s lots of mid-bass present to, so things like bass guitars, kick drums, and explosions in games all come forward with body and presence. Texture and detail in the bass are also quite good, with lots of textural information that makes music and games sound more realistic and engaging. There are times when the sub-bass rumble applies a slight mask to the texture of bass notes, but I didn’t find it that distracting since the sub-bass applies its own lively effect.

Mids: The midrange on this set is nice but vocals are a bit recessed to my ear. I believe the transition from the bass to the mid-range and then the incline at 800Hz combines to make singers like Claudio Sanchez in Pearl of the Stars sound a bit further back. Instead, there’s an impression that guitars and strings are more forward. For gaming, I was still able to hear dialogue and team callouts perfectly fine, but this is a set than emphasizes environment more than dialogue and shout-outs — potentially a benefit when trying to suss out other player competitive shooters. 

Treble: The treble on this set is smooth — perhaps too smooth. They’re not at all fatiguing, but there isn’t a great amount of air or sparkle to be had in this range. I would have preferred a bit more to add some edge to things like breaking glass and to make the harmonics of stringed instruments sound just a touch more lively. I want to note, however, that this isn’t what I would call bad treble and it works with the warmer tone of the set overall. 

Technical Performance, Soundstage, and Imaging: Technical performance is good but not outstanding. The soundstage is only average, which impacts the amount of space between each layer. I didn’t have difficulty hearing each layer that makes up my favorite games and songs, but they don’t have as much breathing room as something like the Timeless AE. Detail retrieval is good, however, and the perceived clarity and positionality are too. 

Gaming: The AFUL Performer 5 will work for gaming but this isn’t their strong suit. The limited soundstage impedes their imaging in the 3D space somewhat. It’s not game-breaking, by any means, and I didn’t particularly feel disadvantaged in Battlefield 2042, but they left something to be desired in space and immersiveness. Definitely use Dolby Atmos with these. On the other hand, the smoothed treble tuning means that you can play with these for hours without experiencing any fatigue. 

Overall Impressions and Final Thoughts

The AFUL Performer 5 are very good earphones. At $219.99, I consider them a solid buy on multiple fronts. You’re getting a comfortable fit with a really interesting appearance. The overall tone of them is on the warmer side, but that also means that they work well across different genres and won’t wear out your ears early. They wouldn’t be the first set I would reach for to game with, but I have multiple times and they work fine. Just don’t expect the most spacious sound. 

On the whole, I really like them. Their U-shaped tuning is very enjoyable for metal, prog, and chillstep, and the fact that I can transition to games and have a cinematic, if less airy, experience is a good thing. They’re not the best in their class, but 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Articles may include affiliate links from which we may earn a small commission to help support the site. Authors do not earn affiliate revenue or commissions.           

7.5Good
Pros
  • Fun U-shaped tuning
  • Non-fatiguing
  • Feels well balanced with a slight darker tinge
  • Beautiful faceplates (ala Thieaudio Monarch Mk.2)
  • Good detail retrieval
Cons
  • Soundstage isn’t the widest
  • Accessories are rather light
  • Balanced armatures tend to stand out


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight