IRIS Flow Headphones Review


The Iris Headphones come with clever sound processing that adds new layers of complexity to music, with positive effects for all but the ultra-purists. But the core sound isn’t perfect, and many will want active noise cancellation when spending this amount of money.







Pros


Long battery life Iris Flow has a real effect on sound complexity




Cons


Separation could be better So-so mid texture and tonality at the price No active noise cancellation









Key Features









Innovation IRIS Flow sound remapping


Battery life 37 hours of stamina





Introduction



These Iris Flow Headphones are one of the more interesting pairs I’ve reviewed over the past couple of years.



They’re wireless headphones that remap the sound field of music in order to make it more engaging and three-dimensional. And unlike almost every other attempt at this sort of thing I’ve heard, the Iris Headphones audio doesn’t sound obviously tampered with or processed.



It’s quite an achievement, and unless you’re an absolute purist who thinks what the producer laid down needs to be adhered to at every turn, Iris’ processing can be a a real benefit for music.



They’re expensive, lack active noise cancellation , and don’t appear as attractive in person as a pair of Bowers & Wilkins PX , for example. As such, there are several reasons not to buy the Iris Headphones – but they’re a pretty good argument for why sometimes what sounds good is more important than what the producer intended.




Availability

UK RRP: £379
USA RRP: $
Europe RRP: €
Canada RRP: CA$
Australia RRP: AU$









These Iris Headphones initially launched as a crowd-funded project. Back in 2020, early adopters could get hold of a the first pairs for £269.



Now in full production, they ship in batches. You can check when the next sets will be available on the Iris website.



Current pricing is £379, which is more expensive than most of Trusted Reviews ’ top-rated headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 .



Features – Flow remasters you music



Iris Flow alters how the soundstage is arranged No noise cancellation aptX-HD support



Let’s start with the part that makes these Iris Headphones special: Iris Flow.



This is a kind of signal processing that adds new phase information to the original signal. Iris says it’s “designed to restore the qualities that make live performances so engaging”.



That wording is important. Iris doesn’t restore anything in the actual original music, but it attempts to add something back in that you might hear if you’d heard the same track in a different setting.



You can switch the Iris Headphones’ Iris Flow feature on and off by pressing a button on one of the cups, allowing for easy comparison.







Switching it on is a bit like opening up a pop-up book. You hear the same sound elements, but their spatial presentation is quite different.



Typically, more of the mix is shifted towards the centre. But the sound seems to have significantly greater depth. Central-channel vocals usually sit ‘closer’ to you, making the sound field appear to start inside your head rather than in front of it.



Other elements seem to sit further away than they usually would, creating a much more layered central channel that invites closer listening because the arrangement isn’t laid out in front of you like a segmented supermarket salad bar.



Iris Flow’s real success is that this manipulation of the soundstage doesn’t sound synthetic, or clearly the result of overt processing. Most of the sound expanding modes I’ve heard over the past couple of decades use fake sounding synthetic surround sound or, at the worst, reverb.







There’s none of that here, which is the reason Iris Flow can appear quite subtle on first listen – although it seems significantly more effective than when I first heard a pre-production version of these headphones in 2020.



Hard-panned instruments won’t seem to live where you remembered in the Iris Headphones. Nothing will sit exactly where it did before. But aside from the very occasional hard-panned element seeming to move around the mix a little more that it should, music doesn’t sound wrong through these headphones, just different. It’s a bit like on-the-fly spatial remastering.







Battery life is the one other notable feature of the Iris Headphones, aside from Iris Flow. Iris says they’ll play music for up to 37 hours from a single charge.



They last ages, even if you – like me – end up perpetually leaving them switched on with the LED lights silently glowing away. In spite of those lights, the Iris Headphones seem to use very little power when they’re not streaming music.



You can use a cable instead of Bluetooth if you like, but they do support aptX HD , aptX low latency and, of course, AAC for iPhone users.



Active noise cancellation is the notable missing feature. These headphones have above-average passive isolation, but active noise cancellation remains a major benefit for use on public transport, or when walking around a city. You can’t beat ANC for removing the low-frequency sound of engines.



Design – LED light beacons



Not the most premium of looks Well-made Design isn’t collapsible



The only sign the Iris Headphones aren’t your average pair is the set of LEDs that glows behind each cup. Thankfully, these aren’t as bright as they appear in most of the photos you see here, but will be noticeable in darker spaces.



They tell you when Iris Flow is switched on, which is pretty useless given you can’t see the LEDs when wearing the headphones. It does act as a reminder you’ve left them powered on, though.



I don’t think the Iris look like particularly expensive headphones. If you told me they cost £150 or less rather than £400, I’d believe you. And the hard ridges of the aluminium cut-out parts of the cups aren’t in line with the current trend for simple cup designs.







However, the Iris Headphones are at least fairly well made. All the parts that look like metal are metal, the cup plastic has a pleasant soft-touch finish, and both the headband and pads have thick, soft padding.



Not every part of the design works well, though. The Iris Headphones use a three-button array on the right cup for control, side-stepping the potential issues of touch gestures. These buttons aren’t separated or contoured enough for easy ‘blind’ control, however. You have to feel around for the ridges on the central play/pause button. It isn’t intuitive.



The Iris Headphones cups don’t fold inwards, either. They use a nifty magnetic mechanism to keep the cup pads attached, which should make replacing them in future easy. But will Iris spares be available in, say, three years? Who knows.







Sound quality – Fun, but high-end enough?



Not quite at level expected given the price Much more engaging with the Iris Flow on



These Iris Headphones use 40mm beryllium drivers. This tells us Iris hasn’t just designed a cheap pair of headphones and used its software alone to sell them.



Beryllium drivers are typically very expensive; beryllium is both light and very rigid, which makes it a great material for reducing distortion.



Of course, this doesn’t mean these drivers are on-par with those of, say, the beryllium Focal Utopia. Master & Dynamic’s MW50+ have ‘beryllium’ drivers, and are available at the time of writing on Amazon for under £200.







My takeaway from the Iris Headphones is that while they sound perfectly good, you end up paying a hefty premium for software that can’t improve the audio to bring it to the level I’d hope for at almost £400.



It’s mostly about the mids, which I find only become more important the more money you spend. You can have taut, deep bass and ultra-detailed treble – but without coherent, well-textured mids, vocals are never going to sound all that lifelike.



The Iris Headphones’ mid response isn’t linear. There’s a bunch of extra mid-bass, placing padding around vocals. Mid-range texture and tone is good, but not excellent. Plus, separation isn’t quite at the level expected at almost £400 from an audio-first headphone.



And while the Iris Flow processing remoulds sound, pulling it in new directions to expand it and add complexity to the imaging, it doesn’t alter plenty of the fundamentals.



I find the audio much more engaging with Iris Flow turned on than switched off. But, ultimately, I still find some headphones with a conventional ‘soundstage’ but better separation and mid-range detail more engaging for close listening.



You should take all these criticisms in the context of the question “should you pay £400 for these headphones?” They don’t perform poorly in any respect, but I’m not sure the base audio is quite good enough to warrant the cash, even if it isn’t miles off.







Conclusion



The Iris Headphones are one of the more interesting pairs on sale right now. They use clever phase-based processing that, in effect, redraws how songs are arranged, layering sound in fresh ways and pulling it in directions you don’t hear in conventional headphones. However, their separation, mid-range fidelity and texture could be better, and many who might buy these headphones will miss active noise cancellation.







You might like…







Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Kob Monney
5 months ago








Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best ANC headphones of 2020

Kob Monney
9 months ago
















Should you buy it?





You want to try out the Iris Flow Portable audio is a fairly crowded area of tech, after all. Iris Flow is a form of processing that adds lots of phase information. It’s a complicated concept, but the effect is that the spatial make-up of songs is redesigned, creating new layers to the sound rather than letting different parts of an arrangement sit somewhere between “left” and “right”.





You’re after active noise cancellation The lack of ANC is probably sensible given the amount of work companies such as Sony and Bose have put into getting their ANC to its current level. Passive isolation is above average, but it isn’t the same as having a passive-active combo.















Verdict



The Iris Headphones come with clever sound processing that adds new layers of complexity to music, with positive effects for all but the ultra-purists. But the core sound isn’t perfect, and many will want active noise cancellation when spending this amount of money.



Trusted Score











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FAQs



What is IRIS Flow? IRIS Flow is a built-in algorithm that aims to enhance the listening experience by mimicking exactly what would be happening in the brain when listening to sound live. Essentially, it remaps music to sound as if you were actually there during the live performance.






Specifications



Bluetooth codec AAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL Connectivity Bluetooth 5.1 Drivers 40mm beryllium drivers Battery life 37 hours Carry case Yes Adapters (s) USB-C to USB-A / 3.5mm to 6.3mm
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