While True Wireless Earphones are all the rage nowadays, the neckband headphone seems to be hanging in there. (no pun intended…well possibly…lol)
Ausounds’ $199 AU-Flex ANC Wireless Neckband Earphone gives this style the audiophile treatment with a rare Hybrid Planar Magnetic/Dynamic driver setup and LDAC Hi-Res wireless audio coding.
LDAC provides the highest data transmission rates over Bluetooth getting you the closest to lossless audio.
Of course, specs mean nothing without execution, and fortunately, in this case, they stick the landing with a sound that’s superb. The build quality is also excellent.
The only knock I have for the AU-Flex is the “ANC” part. Noise-canceling is a little weak, so if you are buying primarily for that purpose, that’s something to think about. It’s good enough to dull some low noise on a train ride but nothing more.
But if sound quality is what you’re after, good news. The listening experience alone is worth the price of admission to me. I can see audiophiles looking for a lightweight Bluetooth headphone to wear at work loving these.
Read on for my full impressions.
(Disclaimer: These earphones were sent to me free-of-charge in exchange for an honest review, and that is what follows.)
Build Quality And Features
Ausound’s AU-Flex ANC is another product I discovered at RMAF this year. I had a chance to try it out at the show, and right off the bat, the design impressed me.
Everything about the build quality manifests class. They use the right mix of aluminum, high-quality plastics, and rubber for the neckband section. These headphones wouldn’t look out of place around the neck of a suited-up wall street banker.
The neckband was loose-fitting and comfortable, something I was relieved about since my neck is so big. I wear a size 18 1/2 collar, so I’ve had issues with too tight bands in the past. I’ve had to return a couple of headphones because of this.
The band on the AU-Flex is so flexible that it actually may be too loose. The headphones slipped around on my neck from time to time, and I always had to adjust them. That said, I much rather them be too loose than too tight.
One good thing about all that flexibility is that you can bend the neckband in any direction without breaking it. The headphones, as a whole, seem quite durable.
The earpieces also have a good fit, with nozzles just deep enough to get a good seal and comfortable ear hooks to keep them in place. Magnets keep them in place and stop the music when you clasp them together around your neck. The music also restarts when you pull them apart. That’s a neat trick.
Specs on the AU-Flex are respectable. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 for extended battery life and range, an IPX5 waterproof rating for sweat-resistance, plus a stated battery life of 10 hours with ANC on or 22 with it turned off. You won’t get that from a pair of True Wireless Earphones.
Bluetooth connections were solid. I had no problems with dropouts at all.
Operation is pretty straightforward. There are three buttons on the inside of the neckband that control all functions. There’s a volume rocker, an ANC button to activate noise canceling, and a multifunction button for power, phone, or playback.
To pair the AU-Flex with a phone, you turn the headphones on and put the phone in Bluetooth pairing mode. Then you select the AU-Flex out of the pairing list, and you’re ready to go.
With my LG V40, since it has Android Pie, I was offered a choice between the “Most Stable”connection, or a connection with the “Best Sound Quality.” Of course, I selected “Best Sound Quality,” and I was immediately greeted with an on-screen confirmation that I was using the LDAC codec.
As I said earlier, LDAC is meant to provide Hi-Res audio quality transfers over Bluetooth. Some question the validity of Hi-Res Bluetooth in general, but there’s no disputing it gets you closest to a lossless audio transmission. That’s provided you use the highest LDAC transfer rate of 990kbps. This is also selectable in Android Pie.
Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t support LDAC, so the AAC codec will be the best you can get there. Funny enough, I didn’t see any mention of AAC anywhere in the specs, but that was the codec I got on my phone when I switched from the “Best Sound Quality” setting.
The ANC button cycles through three modes, ANC On, ANC Off, and “Monitor Mode.” The Monitor Mode activates the Ambient Sound Function, which reduces the level of Active Noise Cancelling and allows you to hear more of what’s going on around you.
The bad news is, I didn’t hear much difference between the “ANC off” and “ANC on” modes. The noise-canceling was very light, only cutting out the faintest environmental background noise. If you get a good seal with the ear tips, they provide a good amount of passive noise reduction, and the ANC adds slightly more.
Since there is a decent amount of passive noise canceling, the monitor mode did help to bring some outside noise back in. I can see it being helpful if you decide to take a walk around the block, and don’t want to seal yourself off from the outside world.
The good news is, when ANC is engaged, it doesn’t adversely affect sound quality. There’s no odd hissing or echoes, something I’ve heard in other active noise canceling schemes.
On another note, the AU-Flex is excellent with phone calls. I talked to a few people with them on, and there was no problem with volume or clarity on either side.
There is no option for a wired connection as you get with some competitors, so you can’t use them with an Airplane audio system.
In the box, along with the headphones, you get three pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L), a USB-C charging cable, a cloth bag to store them in, and a user guide.
Listening with the AU-Flex ANC
As I said in the intro, the AU-Flex’s sound is superb for a Bluetooth headphone. For my tests, I used them along with my LG V40 connected via Bluetooth. For the most part, I used the LDAC codec to get the best sound quality, but I did check out the AAC connection for the sake of comparison. Songs were 24-bit FLAC files stored on my phone.
I must say if you want to get the most out of these headphones, you need LDAC. I switched back and forth between AAC and LDAC on my phone d the latter had a lot more detail and depth, plus the bass was a lot more controlled.
AAC sounds good, but once you hear LDAC, you will feel like you’re missing something.
That out of the way, let me talk about my overall impressions.
First of all, I would describe the AU Flex Tonal Balance as weighty, with a slight emphasis on the low end. I love the smooth treble; it’s not too forward or grainy. The Planar Magnetic driver did a great job of reproducing top-end detail, especially transients.
The Planar driver also did an excellent job with the midrange. Vocals were really rich. The mids were also free of grain, sounding nice and velvety.
If I had a gripe with the sound, it would be with the bass. In this headphone, low notes are crossed over to a dynamic driver from the planar driver, and unfortunately, the integration of the two seemed to be a little off.
On bass-heavy songs, the bass seemed to float on top of the music instead of blending in as it should. Because of this, the bass seemed to muddy the midrange and get a little boomy in those instances.
However, in most cases, the dynamic driver filled in the bottom end nicely. When I listened to Jazzmeia Horn’s new album “Love & Liberation,” the double bass was reproduced with depth and articulation. You could hear exactly what the musician was doing.
The soundstage on these isn’t vast, but there is some extension out past your ears. On “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Dr. Lonnie Smith, there was good air between the instruments and excellent separation for a $200 wireless neckband headphone.
If you’re looking for a lightweight, in-ear, Bluetooth headphone with Audiophile-quality sound, then these are worth taking a look at. The Planar Magnetic driver puts their sound quality a step above other wireless headphones, especially at this price. The ANC is a nice extra, but don’t expect it to cut a whole lot of loud noise like some of the market leaders.
That said, the top ANC headphones probably don’t sound as good as these do. The audio is truly remarkable. Add in their excellent phone performance, solid build quality, and comfort, and you have a winner.
I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.