When I first tried Flare Audio's R2Pro back in 2015, I was blown away by the performance of these little buds. Sparkling sound, detailed and smooth throughout the bass, mids, and highs. Flare Audio caught my attention in a big way with their concern for detail, craftsmanship and top-shelf quality. The huge sound they delivered in such a small package was impressive, and for under a grand, they were one of the best that I've ever tested in this price range, becoming one of our top headphones of 2015. Fast forward to 2017, and this UK based company has dropped a new iteration of their buds which they call the Flares Pro [FP].
The FP steps up their bud game in some unique ways, from their innovative approach, to making them wireless, to the improved construction. Even the packaging is incredible, coming in a box that looks like the soundproofing inside a professional studio, with three stacked trays that neatly hold all the parts, tips, case, etc.
Personally, I believe packaging should be simple and environmentally friendly, but from a marketing perspective I get it, and they nailed it with the premium feel and presentation.
Tips, tips, and more tips. The first thing you notice is the abundance of tips that are coming along for the ride here implementing what Flares calls "acoustic lens technology." The tips are quite nice and allow you to dial in the buds to your comfort and sound specifications.
Note that the Acoustic Lens Technology works with Everyday Earfoams and Audiophile Foams, not the Universal Earfoams. This technology focuses sound right onto the eardrum for the most accurate delivery possible using the proprietary Earfoams. The Universal Earfoams, unfortunately, are a bit too bulky for this technology, so they don't work, but they are the most comfortable tips out of the three. I didn't hear a dramatic loss of quality, but this is personal preference.
Everday Earfoams - These are made from a more traditional silicon, and are best for those listeners that are continually using the headphones for travel, etc.
Audiophile Earfoams - These tips are going to deliver the best sound; the soft foam creates a reliable seal but does not impede on the Acoustic Lens Tech and lets the Flares shine at full brilliance.
Universal Earfoams - This is my tip of choice, it's got more padding and is just the most comfortable for me. The sound is still incredible and allows me to wear the buds for more extended periods of time.
Also included is a sturdy molded hard case to store your FPs, a wireless DAC module that you can snap them into when you want to ditch the wires and a charging cable to fire it up. Everything comfortably fits into the case for easy porting with a minimal footprint in your bag when you want to travel light.
How Do They Look?
The FPs look kind of traditional aside from the innovative wireless module system, which I'll touch on later. The buds themselves are a compact bullet-style similar to the R2s but with an upgraded exclusively titanium housing which enhances the acoustic quality and overall toughness.
The cables have a subtle striped pattern, one in black and one in white to differentiate L/R, which keeps it elegant and functional. The wired and wireless modules sport the Flare logo and have tough, and lightweight plastic housing that keeps them light and durable.
The buds themselves are machined beautifully and are just a little longer than a centimeter (sans tips), keeping them nice and small. A little flare logo sits atop the cylinder, keeping it minimal and tasteful.
How Do They Fit?
Due to the small size, the FP's are pretty easy to get in your ears and get configured quickly. It took me a while, but after a couple of test runs with different tips and sizes I settled on the Universal Earfoam tips which were the most comfortable for more extended wears and sealed up the best for me, but to each their own here.
The isolation is quite good and cuts down most ambient noise unless you are in a loud environment like a busy train station, etc. It's not complete silence like other more high end or custom earbuds, but for most listeners, it will be perfect. In regards to consumer headphones it's always nice to have some sound coming in, so you don't get mowed over by a bike, car, or high-speed pedestrian (NYC is especially sketchy. New Yorkers don't play).
Wired vs. Wireless / Build Quality
Flares Pro solves the problem of most wireless buds. They have built a modular system that lets you switch between wired/wireless with ease. So if you are making a long trip and run out of charge on the wireless module, you can just swap it out for the wired version. The sound quality between the wired and wireless is almost impossible to distinguish (for me at least) which is a massive plus for buds at this price point.
The one gripe that most people will probably have is with the cable; it's just kind of meh compared to the rest of the product quality. The cable is prone to tangles; it's thin and just feels chintzy. Not sure why they went this route, but overall it's a minor infraction in the big picture compared to the stunning audio quality and convenience.
The Bluetooth/wireless module is made of plastic which is a must to keep the weight down, and overall it feels quite sturdy. The module is equipped with a nice little clip that will attach to a shirt pocket with ease and is especially useful for workouts. The MMCX connectors are first rate and keep things nicely in place, so you never have to worry about wires slipping out of place.
Like most wireless headphones it's straightforward to pair it with your device and is controlled by a small button in the center (power, status, play/pause, etc.). The battery life is roughly around the Flare's claim of 12 hours and what's nice is that the module will shut down automatically if there is no music saving you battery life.
The range of the Bluetooth was also stable and allowed me to walk almost 20 feet away and down to another floor in my house, which is nice if you want to roam around a little bit, they are wireless after all.
Overall the build quality is fantastic, and a step up for the last model and the swappable module is a game changer.
How Do They Sound?
To start with the FP's require a little extra juice to drive them if you are going the wired route, so if you are using a standard mobile device like an iPhone, you might need a little more volume to get them to where you like them. If you are using something like an Astell & Kern HD Audio player (which is what I use) or something with a built-in amp, then you will not notice this much.
Since the wireless module has a built-in DAC, the team at Flare is claiming they sound better than when they are wired, which makes sense if you are using a device like an iPhone for wired playback, it just lacks the power to drive these buds. When I listened to FPs in wireless on an iPhone, they sounded fantastic, but I still think they sounded a little better wired on my Astell & Kern, which is a bit unfair as it's a superior HD audio device.
So without getting too nerdy, if you listen to these on your iPhone the wireless mode is going to sound a lot cleaner and brighter to you because of the extra juice the module has, and there is virtually none of that typical Bluetooth background noise or hiss.
The sound of the FPs is tuned a bit, so if you are looking for a flat earbud, these are not for you. Most people want a bit of color in their playback, and the FPs deliver big in that department. The bass is nice and warm, full enough to be present and enjoyable but not overpowering. The mids and highs are also quite satisfying and come sparkling through clear and clean, all perfectly balanced.
When listening to jazz and other live music, the details were remarkable giving you the sense you were in the room with them almost. The soundstage or feeling of space you have while listening is roomy enough, and allows you to hear the layers and positioning of the sounds quite well.
Should You Buy These?
If you are someone that listens to music regularly and are looking for a pair of headphones that will bring your music to life, the Flare Pros are a fantastic choice. They deliver excellent bass and are tuned perfectly with super clear mids and highs that will tickle your ears with joy and with some recordings bring you right into the performance. The soundstage is accurate and roomy, allowing your ears to unwind a bit but not as spacious as more higher end models. If you are someone that needs more of a flat sound, then I would avoid the FPs, the highs might bother you quite a bit.
The price is fair, but might scare off some potential buyers. For under $500 you won't find much better on the market, nor something with such a unique wired/wireless solution. If you are serious about your music and are always plugging in, then it's a worthwhile investment.
From Flares founder Below - Check out the Flare Audio Website for more info.
"Music is constantly evolving. For over 50 years, the way we record, store and access that music has changed as much as the artists and songs themselves. But today's approach to speaker technology is as old as Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World'.
"This is not the same. This is a new way of thinking, a way of thinking that is focused on delivering the purest sound with the smallest of interventions. In order to move forward we have gone back to the very beginning to understand how sound interacts on a molecular level. Welcome to FLARES®."
Davies Roberts, Flares inventor.