Future Sonics Atrio earphones
Future Sonics, like its competitor Shure, is a company that is largely focused on creating products for musicians. Future Sonics' line of custom-molded in-ear monitors are well-respected and run $600 a pair. The M5 and M8 Atrio earphones (identical except for color) are consumer-friendly earphones that bring Future Sonics' proprietary driver technology down to an affordable level ($199). The end result is one of the most full-range earphones we've heard. When it comes to the low-volume reproduction of lower frequencies found in drums, bass, keyboards, and guitar, the Atrio earphones surpassed the sound quality found in more expensive earphones such as the Shure SE310 and SE420. However, discriminating audiophiles may be disappointed with the Atrio's less-detailed high end.
The Atrio series will not win any beauty pageants. Future Sonic's single-minded slogan, "Sound is everything," might work in the musician world, but everyday consumers need a product that looks as good as it sounds. Quite frankly, the Atrio headphones look like they came from the dollar store sale bin. The plastic housing looks cheap, shiny, and bulky -- nearly twice the size of Shure's SE310 and three times the size of Etymotic's ER6i. The bulkiness may be the result of the unique earphone driver that the Atrio uses, but the trade-off is a larger-than-average, gaudy design.
Clear cable-sheaths extend an inch down from the earphones, adding another design element that's more functional than pretty. These sheaths reinforce the critical connection between the earphones and the cable and also help to direct the cable around or away from the ears. Regardless, it looks odd, and really puts the Atrio earphones over-the-top as a product that may bring you unwanted attention. Putting aside the Atrio's lackluster sex appeal, the earphones fit well. You get four pairs of foam sleeves and three pairs of silicone flange-style sleeves in a range of sizes. The foam sleeves are porous, so expect to replace them when ear wax inevitably renders them nasty. The Atrio's cable is around four feet long, just about two inches shorter than the Shure SE310, but an ideal distance between your ears and an MP3 player in a pocket or handbag. The cable ends in a right-angled minijack plug.
If sound is truly all you care about, the Atrio earphones are one of the best deals in town. Low-frequency sounds were rich and astoundingly deep. The Atrio earphones were not as bright as the Shure SE series or Etymotic ER, but users who find some earphones to be a little too crisp on the high end might really enjoy the deeper, warmer sound of the Future Sonics Atrio series. Rock, electronic, and hip-hop music really resulted in a night-and-day difference with the Atrio's vastly deeper earphone driver. Jazz also stood up well, with the Atrio restoring the low, wooden thud character to upright bass and shaving some of the brittleness from horns. Classical and live recordings did feel muted and less open-sounding on the Atrio earphones when compared against the Shure SE310 and SE420.
Future Sonics' Atrio series of earphones have really set new expectations for us when we consider how low frequencies are represented in earphone performance. If they didn't look so tragically awful, I imagine companies like Shure and Ultimate Ears would be nervous.