Android Central Verdict
The Performer 8 combine a gorgeous design with a comfortable fit, and you get innovative 3D-printed acoustic sound tubes that make a difference. But what you're paying for is the sound, and the Performer 8 deliver on that front — these may just be one of the best-sounding IEMs under $500.
Neutral soundstage with great dynamics
Comfortable to wear
Bass isn't overly energetic
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There are a lot of Chinese brands in the enthusiast audio scene, and AFUL Audio always stands out in my head because of its name. Anyway, the brand uses a lot of custom tech in its earbuds, and the Performer 8 are just its second IEM, following on the heels of the Performer 5 that launched last year.
The Performer 8 are a hybrid IEM that uses an 8mm dynamic driver combined with seven BA drivers, and it has a striking design. But what makes these IEMs stand out is a unique acoustic tube system that uses three tubes to channel sound, and this makes a big difference to the balance. The Performer 8 debuted for $369, but they're now available for $329 on HiFiGo.
I want to start with the packaging, because AFUL put a lot of thought into the accessories. You get a total of six pairs of silicon ear tips bundled with the IEMs, a good monocrystalline copper cable with 98 strands, and a decent carrying case. The IEMs connect using the standard 2-pin connector, and you can get the Performer 8 with a single-ended 3.5mm or balanced 4.4mm, and there's a bundle that includes both.
Coming to the IEMs, the Performer 8 have an interesting design on the faceplate that reminds me of Thieaudio's Monarch MKII. Like the Monarch, the design doesn't extend to the entire ear shell — you just get a glossy black shell — but that's okay. The design is just as bold and attention-grabbing, and the overall design of the shell is on par with other products in this segment. Sure, it isn't made out of titanium like the LETSHUOER Cadenza 12, but then again, it costs a sixth as much.
The only quibble I have on the design front is the branding. You get the AFUL branding on the faceplate, and that looks good — the gold accent contrasts well with the design. But you also get Performer 8 scribbled on the side of the shell, and that looks a little tacky — AFUL could have used a better font, or moved the name to another location.
Minor annoyances aside, the Performer 8 get a lot right; they have a comfortable fit, don't jut out too much from the ear canal, and the design of the shell means they don't exert much pressure on the ear. This makes the Performer 8 highly comfortable during extended listening sessions, and I didn't see any fatigue whatsoever. Also, the sound nozzle is on the smaller side, so there are absolutely no issues with the fit; AFUL did all the right things in this area.
The goal with using so many balanced armature drivers is to tailor individual frequencies to a greater extent, thereby leading to a better overall sound signature. In the case of the Performer 8, two BA drivers are assigned to the bass, two to the mid-range, and three to the treble frequencies.
AFUL is known for its neutral presentation, and that's the case with the Performer 8 as well. The bass is focused on the sub-bass region, where you get a lot of rumble and vibrancy. You get a mid-bass with a lot of detail, and while at no point does it get overbearing — these aren't aimed at bassheads — you get a dynamic sound with plenty of presence.
The mids are clean and have a lot of clarity, and vocals come through with a lot of energy. Instruments are detailed as well, and you get excellent resolution across the frequency range, and that makes a difference if you like listening to classical music. In a similar vein, the treble is executed flawlessly, and you get airiness and depth that you just don't find in most other products in this segment. What's particularly great is that the treble is detailed and clean without being sibilant, and that makes these IEMs shine.
Driving these is easy enough; the sensitivity is low, so you can just connect the IEMs to a phone, but a better bet would be to get a DAC. I used it with the Fiio BTR7 and the M15S player, and it did a brilliant job with both sources.
Ultimately, the Performer 8 are awfully good (I just had to). They combine an attractive design with custom tuning and innovative sound tubes that make a genuine difference, and they're comfortable to wear throughout the day. But what makes them truly stand out is the tonality; the neutral sound along with the dynamism make these IEMs a great overall choice.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.