Disclaimer: The R1 was sent to us for this review and it will have to be returned to Flare later. I asked Ricky to do it for us. It’s the same Ricky that did the Koss BT540i review. The review hasn’t been edited in any way. Ricky, take it away.
Flare Audio R1
Well, it’s time for another review. New tech, new implementation and a new sound. Flare Audio recently reached out to Headfonia asking if they would like to give their newest product, the Flare Audio R1 headphone, which is their first headphone by the way, a test run. It looked pretty and shiny so they of course agreed.
For those of you who don’t know of them, Flare Audio is a British based loudspeaker company whose main focus is on making loudspeakers that replicate everything as accurately as possible using the principle of waveform Integrity; the signal feeding into the loudspeaker is replicated precisely by the sound wave coming out of the loudspeaker.
The Build Quality And Accessories
The Flare Audio comes in an inconspicuous, almost Grado-esque packaging. No frills or sparkle. Just a plain white box identifying it as the Flare Audio Reference R1, in grey lettering with the country of origin below that. Opening the box, the headphones are presented on a bed of white foam, the only accessory being the small carrying pouch emblazoned with R1 on the front of it, a small pack of silica gel tucked neatly inside.
Flare Audio has done an admirable job on the build quality of their first headphone. The Reference R1 is solid. With beautifully machined, albeit a bit Spartan looking, titanium cup housings, metal gimbals and rod blocks, as well as a solid metal headband. Throwing this thing around (not recommended by the way) wouldn’t be a problem, in my opinion. It feels like it could handle the abuse in the same way a tank could handle a battlefield.
The cable is a bit odd. It doesn’t quite match the aesthetics of the rest of the R1 being a headphone of somewhat smaller size. Very robust, thick and long with a kind of DIY feel to it around the Y split with its massive use of shrink wrap. It is relatively long and stiff and just… well… odd. Similar in look to the old Dx000 cable in a way. It does feel very sturdy and doesn’t seem like it would need any replacing though, unless you listen at lower volumes where microphonics delivered up through the cable would bother you. It is terminated in a straight gold plated REAN 3.5mm headphone jack that, like the rest of the headphone, seems very solid. That being said, I would much prefer a right angle jack that would make for less stress on my laptop headphone port, but that is just my personal preference.
I am probably not the best reference for how comfortable a headphone is weight-wise since I am one of those people who can wear an LCD-XC for over 8 hours at a time with almost no neck strain at all, but I would say these are relatively lightweight at about 300 grams, give or take. For me, weight isn’t an issue affecting how comfortable these are (not). I actually find the R1 to be a very uncomfortable headphone after about 30 minutes of use. In spite of its small size, this headphone never really “disappears” on your head, due largely in part to the insane amount of clamping force that they provide. The clamp is also a part of the overall design though, providing you with a better seal. The drawback is your ears pressed directly against the driver. The sparsely padded headband using a thin line of slightly hard foam and the thinness of the ear cup padding do nothing to help with the feeling of uncomfortableness. I did speak with Flare Audio however, and while they don’t seem to have a solution for the foam, they have assured me that they will have much more comfortable, much more thick ear pads for those of us who want them. Whether they will be included or need to be bought separately (probably the latter) I am unsure of.
The First Fully Open Headphone
Before I get into the way it sounds, I’d like to touch a little bit on the driver implementation in the Reference R1. Flare Audio has done something a little unique as far as implementation of the driver. Claiming to be the first fully open headphone on the market, this is not in regards to the headphones ear cup housing having an open mesh grill like the usual headphones we think of when talking open backs, such as the Sennheiser HD650/600/800 or other models. They are referencing the driver inside. By porting the housing of the headphone around the outer edge on either side, Flare Audio was able to “pressure balance” the driver internally, effectively removing all standing waves in the sound, creating linear driver movement, which is crucial to achieving distortion free sound according to the Managing Director, Davies Roberts, over at Flare Audio. They do this by implementing their SpaceTM and VortexTM technology.
It continues on the next page, after the click!
I have had the Flare R1 the last weeks with me and mostly I am with you.
@building quality – this unit so massive! “build to last forever” – it is a real pleasure to feel the metal and the rock-solid building quality. I love that!
@comfort – first it does fit quite good for me, after some times (about 45 min or so) I have to take it off and go for a pause. On the other hand I am wearing glasses, which is a problem with most on/over-ears.
@sound – the first impression is “huch?”. As you already put down, it is flat, feels wrong in the mids and no dynamics in the bass. I did not get into the flow as you did. Although I may understand the intention of bringing up every detail (which I could already hear), there was no soundstage for me. My listening experience never came close to my Audeze LC-2 but maybe I am just the wrong person for the R1.
If they will come up with a successor I am more than seduced to give it a try. I love the style, the building quality and it is a pitty – and makes me really sad – that the sound won’t work for me and my listening habbits.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Thank you for the feedback Joe. When will you do another review for us? 🙂
Unfortunately there is no new stuff I may offer to write about. 🙂
Hi Joe, off topic, sort of. I am about to buy a Tera Player, but am not thrilled with smaller headphones like the Koss Pro that everyone swears by with the Tera. Are you using the Grados, or could you recommend both your favorite iem and favorite full sized cans? I would appreciate a direction to go in. Thanks
I did use the Koss Porta, but I really prefer the Grados paired with the Altmann. The downside: the Grado is not made for public listening with the open design.
At the moment I don’t use IEMs, so I can not say anything about them.
Full sized cans? Well, for the Audeze LCD-2 the Tera does not provide enough power, but if you look at the LCD-X review here on headphonia, you may find the Tera paired with them.
As I remember, Mike did a Tera review here, too. I can not citate the mentioned headphones there, but did you have a look at it?
Hope, this gives you some ideas,
Thank you Joe, the Grados will be perfect for me. I’m in China so disturbing the public is not a problem. 😉
@joegstettner:disqus I completely agree with you on the soundstage. It was detailed, but as far as width, I had originally written that it was meh (meh = nothing there/nothing special). I didn’t think that would be an adequate way of describing it though, so I quickly changed it to what you see there.
In regards to the comparison of the LCD line.. I was talking speaking to the fullness of sound that the R1 offers.. It had a very intimate and forward midrange to my ears.. Once you allowed yourself to look past that veiled sound anyways, which is pretty hard to do at all.. All I meant is that it has a full and weighted planar sound, but its definitely not ON PAR with the LCD-2 at all.
The feedback is much appreciated by the way!
Yeah, I really wanted to love the R1 as I do fall in love with the building quality – wish that Grado would come this way 🙂
The direction Flare is taking with the R1 is obvious: Details, details & details. For me it just does not feel right, but I can imagine there are people out there, who are keen on getting every smallest detail in listening. Or at least does need this for their work.
@Feedback and Flare Audio: The company does absolutely care about their customers and feedback. I had good conversations with them via mail and I tried to describe my experience as good as I can. Nothing to publish as a review, but maybe some serious inputs for the makers.
Can they just change the earpads (as you mentioned) and still maintain their signature sound? Sound always changes when the earpads change.
I dunno.. Haven’t asked them about the earpads at all, but I would assume the sound stays about the same since they seem adamant about keeping it the way it sounds. I would again assume that the only difference you would hear is a very slight increase in soundstage, due to the pads being thicker and placing your ears further from the driver.
Thanks. I find this headphone really intriguing, like the old heavy-metal Beyerdynamic they kept in service from WW2. Unfortunately the price is out of range, unless the sound were stellar. But, still thinking….
I want to ask a question and make a suggestion. First, please read this Stereophile review of the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 speaker from July 2011, where he makes some very interesting comments about this speaker that has no crossovers, and how after much listening he finally realized that the strange sound had a lot to do with the lack of distortions (esp. phase) that are caused by crossovers (which this speaker has none).
The question I have is, could the strange sound attributed to this headphone be related in some way to the observations in this Stereophile review, i.e. a somewhat ‘lifeless’ sound due to lack of phase shifts or errors? I read the Innerfidelity charts, esp. the Impulse Response chart (that had no impulse from what I see). If there’s no impulse spike does that mean there are no transients? Very odd…
I sent an email Thursday to the official people at Flare Audio, telling them I review headphones, asking a couple questions and offering my impressions, and finally asking where I can obtain a sample for review. So far no answer.
Sorry that you’ve had no reply – please email me on [email protected] and I’ll do my best to help you.
Thanks – reply sent.
I enjoyed the review very much and I like how you made even-tempered observations. I walk away feeling more like i want to see this headphone evolve and less like i just wasted 10 minutes of my life reading about another headphone i couldn’t afford. I found your observations very relatable, detailed and succinct. Thanks for taking the time to review-definetly a very interesting piece of hardware.
I got one from Flare Audio. The big impediment to getting on with this isn’t the detail or soundstage per se, it’s that the ordinary freq. response is so different from what you’re used to that you end up comparing apples and oranges. It is possible to compare apples to apples however, and just like adjusting the volume to be the same on two items you’re comparing, in this case it was necessary to adjust the freq. responses somewhat to eliminate the huge distraction factors that those differences create. Bottom line: once I adjusted that response (i.e. EQ), the soundstage was easily better than my Grado 325e, and comparable to the Beyer T90 – both of those open-back. What isn’t as easy to resolve are the transients etc. – whether the little micro-noises around transients with the conventional headphones represent better detail, or shouldn’t be there at all. But it’s probably somewhere in-between.
Finally, recalled your comment. I read you have posted a few posts on Whathifi forums and feeling mixed idea about R1 for monitor piano, band and vocal recording purposes. Is this the time to choose R1MK1 over MK2 if the difference wasn’t significant?
What your impression on the frequency response on 10-100Hz? I’m assumed it is lack of bass?
The thing is, the Flare Audio R1 was marketed with a very strong and confident statement, about the breakthrough technology that equalizes the pressures on the front and back of the drivers (this description is very approximate), to achieve a very pure and realistic sound. The engineer for that product has been the main (or only) person discussing this technology with the public (headphone users).
The objective fact as I see it is the headphone is extremely treble-shy, and the physical clamping force is so strong (for proper bass response) that nobody I know of could use it besides me. I have the R1 now, and I really wanted to pursue it as followup to my reviews, but all of my questions and requests for discussion were forwarded to the R1 engineer, and he was very clear in his replies — that the R1 is the ‘right’ sound, period. I think it’s the wrong sound, so we reached an impasse and discussion was ended.
I think the R1 has potential, but in my research on treble-shy headphones, what happened at a local Apple store told me that there’s a problem: I asked the Apple guy what happens when a customer says “this headphone (usually Beats) sounds dull”, and the Apple guy said he tells the customer to “turn up the volume”.
There are a few treble-shy headphones that I’ve equalized successfully without creating large peaks and recesses between frequencies, but I couldn’t do that with the R1. If I had a 30-band equalizer and a couple of months time to work it out, I could do a good job of it. The simple fact is, regardless of the hype about the breakthrough technology, you can assess the frequency response with any of several sweep-tone files that are available on the Internet.
I guess there are 2 types of companies, one is tuning according to raw specification and one is tuning to sound signature. In my email to Paul at Flare Audio, he have no problem wearing the newer R1MK1 for a long period and no strain to the ears. It’s a surprise being a treble-shy. It’s quite late in my timezone, now I have the idea how its could sound like.
My position relates to high fidelity as a standard. If the headphone sounds about the same playing acoustic music as what you hear live in-person, then it’s the right sound. If you’re strictly into EDM or other electronically-produced music, then that’s a different matter.
I’m more on acoustic piano and symphony but not the classical genres. As far as you’ve been in the industry, is there any headphones sound quite well for live recording and studio use? My challenge is on researching pianos.
In the review I did of the Beyer T1, posted on ComputerAudiophile, a user who has very accurate pitch said that the Beyer T1 couldn’t resolve the difference between a Bosendorfer and a Steinway – not that the T1 isn’t a high-resolution headphone, but the tonality is so skewed that these pianos didn’t sound natural. The Audeze LCD2 came close in having a smooth hi-fi signature, but didn’t have enough “aliveness” to be enjoyable. It could be that some of the LCD3 models may be better – don’t know for sure. The Final Audio Pandora VI was excellent, having only a minor treble coloration, but amazing detail. It’s also very heavy – need to keep one’s head very still. On the lower end of the price curve, the Focal Spirit Pro is very good, but it’s bulky and uncomfortable. Also in lower prices are the Shure SRH-940 and 1440, both a little bright, but excellent with a slight treble rolloff. The Sennheiser HD800 sounds very similar to the 2 Shures I mentioned as far as signature is concerned, but has the best resolution of upper harmonics of any headphone I’ve heard. It’s so good in fact, that its advantage over other premium headphones can be heard even on an iPod, if the music track volume is sufficient to hear those details.