Despite being founded in 2018, Aful is a new name on the crowded Chi-Fi crowd scene; at the time of this review’s publication, the brand’s lineup consists entirely of the newly released Performer 5. The Performer 5 is a 1DD/4BA hybrid that clocks in at $220. Budget hybrid IEMs are nothing new in 2022; however, there does seem to be some good thought, some intention behind the development of the Performer 5 that is reflected in its marketing material. Now, it’s a shame the same can’t be said for the naming of this brand…but casting aside that awful brand naming choice, how does the Performer 5 actually fare on the chopping block? Let’s take a closer listen.
Unit was provided for review by HiFiGo. It can be purchased here. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
What we like
- Reasonably balanced tonality and adequate technical performance
- Comfortable fit and non-microphonic cable
What we don’t like
- Some timbre oddities and harshness
- Sound could be more inspired
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX300 and my iPhone 13 Mini with lossless files. The stock silicone tips were used. The Performer 5 takes little power to drive, and I had no issue hitting my usual listening volume of ~70dB on either device. If you would like to learn more about my listening methodology, then I would encourage you to check out this page.
The Performer 5 has a fairly standard unboxing experience that includes the following accessories:
- Puck case
- 2-pin 0.78mm cable
- Silicone eartips s/m/l
The puck case is a generic, friction-fit case that’s been making rounds with a number of Chi-Fi brands (such as SeeAudio’s IEMs). It has light foam padding at both the top and bottom of the case. There are two notches where the two halves meet for quick separation of the halves. Overall, it’s not of the highest quality, but it’s perfectly adequate in my book.
The 3.5mm cable included with the Performer 5 is generally a quality one. The wires are extremely supple and pliable, which means that microphonics are a non-issue; this is definitely my type of cable from a usability standpoint. The cable’s connectors are flush and, like the other hardware used for the cable, constructed of aluminum.
Moving to the Performer 5 itself, it has a standard acrylic shell. It is a smaller IEM with ergonomic contours to its shell; this meant that I had no issue with fit or comfort. Of course, comfort is always subjective to the end user. The faceplate of the Performer 5 looks almost identical to the one used on the ThieAudio Monarch MKII - a “volcano-ish” aesthetic that meshes orange, red, silver, and gray. A small touch that I appreciate are the included silicone ear tips; they are color-coded blue for left, and red for right, accordingly.
The frequency response graph below was measured using a clone IEC-711 coupler. Generally, there is a resonance peak at ~8kHz (this isn’t the case here, as the Performer 5 has a true delta), but as such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. If you would like to compare the Performer 5 to other IEMs that I have measured, then please see this link here.
The Performer 5 is basically another rendition of the popular, neutral with sub-bass boost type of tuning that has taken over the market. As for whether it is a good rendition of this type of tuning, however, I think that is more debatable.
On first listen, I find the Performer 5’s bass response to be somewhat odd. And not necessarily in a good way: I could really mistake it for being closer to the better end of BA bass. Bass transients have a rounded edge to them, and they sound more “pillowy” than they do sharp or incisive. This isn’t outright bad - rather, I’d argue it’s more different than anything - but there’s a general sense of the Performer 5’s DD being pushed beyond its capabilities on quicker bass lines; they smear more than I’d expect. In tandem with the more plastic-y, smooth timbre, the Performer 5’s bass comes across about equally perplexing as it does unsatisfying.
The midrange of the Performer 5 is more straightforward at least. It generally sounds correct with a slight tilt towards warmth. This hint of warmth stems from a slight taper into the mid-bass regions and a slightly more reserved pinna compensation region. In essence, this is a midrange that most would not be offended by: it is neither particularly shouty nor recessed; it is simply balanced.
Like its bass response, the Performer 5’s treble is something of an enigma. Examination of its frequency response - specifically the 5kHz frequencies and upwards - suggests that the Performer 5 has a mostly “smooth” treble response. However, my subjective impressions are less positive. To me, the Performer 5’s treble is heavily lower-treble oriented; it is just too clacky, too sharp for me at times on certain instruments. I think this sentiment can be attributed to a subtle recession from 3.5-5kHz plus dampening at the usual ~8kHz resonance frequency. In tandem, these characteristics increase perception of the 5-6kHz region and lend to an oddly intense presentation.
In general, this is a good illustration of how small differences in frequency response can have a substantial impact. Take for example the 7th Acoustics Supernova which, on paper, has a fairly similar treble response to the Performer 5. In A/B comparison, however, the Supernova’s treble response sounds dramatically different - much “sweeter”, much more smooth - compared to the Performer 5’s.
Technicalities on the Performer 5 are a case of “good but not great”. On first listen, I placed it, blind, about what it retails for. I think the resolution of the Performer 5 would be enough to impress most listeners coming from ~$100 sets; at the same time, it would not be something that grabs my attention as someone who regularly daily drives much more expensive sets. Most of its sense of detail stems from the emphasis at 5kHz. Additionally, it has some roll-off past the ~12kHz frequencies which creates a sense of “grit”, or texture, to the way notes decay that some might associate with detail.
The imaging and sense of dynamic contrast of the Performer 5 are fairly average in my book; it has a more intimate presentation. Generally, it also has some timbre-related issues stemming from the lack of texture in the bass juxtaposed to the more textured midrange and to the borderline clacky lower-treble, but these are nitpicks that I could level at most budget hybrid IEMs.
The Bottom Line
Would I recommend the Aful Performer 5? I think I’d give it a cautious recommendation. I can’t say I like it very much in terms of my personal preferences: it’s hard to knock the feeling that it’s lacking both some inspiration and refinement. But from a more objective lens, there aren’t many good hybrids at $220, especially not with this type of more “balanced” tuning (the SeeAudio Yume Midnight comes to mind, but I hold both IEMs to be around the same level), so I suppose that the Performer 5 gets a pass for now.