Close up, with the angle just right and if you flex your imagination, Future Sonics’ Atrio M8 earphones look a little bit like a chocolate fountain. Perhaps that’s not exactly what they had in mind – the removable silicone plugs, of which three pairs are supplied together with alternative foam sleeves, are designed to make a good seal with your ear canals rather than form the ideal surface for melted chocolate to cascade over – but looked at in isolation the unusual shape doesn’t particularly resemble something you’d listen to music with.
A few weeks use (and a few weeks’ worth of congealed ear wax) would put pay to any culinary misconception, however, and cement the Atrio M8’s credentials as damned fine earphones. While in strict product line terms they fall at the “budget” end of the Future Sonics scale, when your standard earphones set are pro-audio friendly $600 with custom-moulded inserts “budget” comes in at a still impressive $199. For your money you get the company’s home-made mg5pro dynamic drivers, with a 20 to 20,000Hz frequency range and up to 26dB ambient noise rejection, all in a striking (or gaudy, depending on taste) cobalt-blue casing.
With bigger drivers than rival sets from Shure or Etymotic, the M8s certainly make a statement in your ears. The colour is one thing, and then the reinforced cables add inflexible length to them. Still, given this will protect the internal connections you can’t complain too much, and all is forgiven when you hit play.
If you’ve come from moderate aftermarket earphones from Sony or similar, the range and depth the Atrio manage will astound you. If you’re replacing the bundled pair that came with your mp3 player then it’s enough to make you weep. Velvet smooth bass is fudge-cake rich and the M8s have an honest, warm personality that’s miles away from the brittle, sometimes overly-bright performance that competitors insist comes hand in hand with authentic reproduction. Yes, you lose a little clarity at that top-end, but their ability to maintain distinct bass sounds despite low volume more than makes up for it.
A little experimentation is needed to achieve that ideal sound, with each of the earbuds offering slightly different fit and comfort levels. While they Atrio M8 lack the active noise-reduction increasingly on offer in aftermarket headphones (which uses internal microphones to actively cancel out surrounding noise) the potential for a close fit minimises that as an issue. If criticism is due, it’s that aforementioned styling and the included accessories, primarily the bulky and over-branded case. Perhaps Future Sonics should be looking at designer sunglasses cases for inspiration, as the supplied zip-up bag looks like something you’d pull cheap binoculars out of.
In the real world, however, neither packaging nor appearance matter when you’re wearing and experiencing the M8s. With sound quality good enough – and, similarly importantly, distinctive enough – to differentiate them from competitors, they’re maybe the best reason to encode your mp3s at a higher bit-rate. If you can afford them, you won’t be disappointed.