Pros: Nicely Balanced Sound, Mids, Soundstage, Looks Great!
Cons: Microphonic, Lack Of Cable Clip
Final Audio Design is a relatively new company to the IEM scene, with them releasing their first models in 2009. They are a Japanese company, with their roots extending back to 1974 where they first made high-end MC cartridges and booster transformers. The model that I will be reviewing today is their Heaven IV, which is the second cheapest model in their Heaven IEM series, the most basic one being the Heaven II.
FAD has always been a brand that has constantly caught my eye, but I have not had many experiences with them. I have auditioned their FI-BA-SS model several times and always been impressed in the way that it presents the midrange. I was hoping its lower end counterpart could also reproduce some of the magic that I heard with their flagship. The Heaven IV is priced at around $200, which puts it in a region of very sharp and stiff competition.
What intrigued me was the fact that all of Final’s models except for their new flagship the LAB 1 utilises a single balanced armature driver instead of multi BAs like many other companies. There seems to be a consensus that more drivers means better sound quality and this is what I have generally found to be true, but FAD is certainly the exception. Now let’s move on to see how the Heaven IV does against other competitors.
**Disclaimer** This was provided to be in return for an honest, unbiased review.
Unboxing & Accessories
The box is simple, but very nice. The outer sleeve has some information about the Heavens at the back, but unfortunately it is in Japanese so I can’t read it, but it mentions something about the BAM (Balanced Air Movement) technology that goes into their earphones. Upon opening the outer sleeve, you are greeted a solid black cardboard box with Final written over it. Inside there is a lot of padding to ensure that it won’t be damaged in shipping and there is the silver case that I’m sure you have all seen somewhere. Under that there is a manual and warranty card as well as some tips. Inside the case is the earphones, nicely shielded with foam on either side of the case.
I’m not sure if I got the Japanese version or whether that is just the version worldwide, but everything was written in Japanese. The case is excellent, somewhat ostentatious, but very nice nevertheless. It certainly does a very good job a protecting the IEMs, but I’m more concerned about scratching it lol. To open it you press a button on the side, which is quite nice for a change, you don’t see that very often. The foam inside is very protective but the case is a little bit on the bigger side. The tips are pretty standard, not a lot to choose from, but the ones that were already on the earphones fitted me very well. There is no cable clip unfortunately. Overall the accessories department is not filled with bells and whistles, but it has all the necessary ones.
Design, Cable & Isolation
The FAD Heaven IV is definitely one that catches the eye, from the case to the meticulous build of the earphones themselves. The housing is made out of metal, which probably affects the sound and has Final printed over it as well as L and R. It is very easy to tell the left from the right because of the cable entry placement. The plug is a gold plated right angle plug that is very small and should easily fit into any phone case that you might have. The strain reliefs are very good and effective, serving their purpose extremely well. Supposedly the BAM technology that goes into this is supposed to improve realism while reducing unwanted sibilance as well as create a live atmosphere.
The cable is something that I am not a fan of. On their website it says something about minimal cable noise, but I was very sceptical before I put these in my ears. Flat cable and minimal micrphonics are simply 2 things that do not go together in my experience. This case is no different. When worn down, the cable noise is very annoying and just like any other flat cable earphone. This is made worse by the fact that there is no cable clip. When worn over the ear though, most of the problems disappear and this is how I use them. There is a cable cinch. The cable itself is very flexible and one of the nicest I have used if not for the microphonics. Seems quite long as well, but the website says it is 1.2m so maybe it’s just me.
Well if you are expecting Etymotic isolation because of the barrel build of the Heaven IV, you may be a bit let down. The isolation is not bad by any means, but it just isn’t terrific. It is around average, a bit more than 3.5 perhaps on Joker’s scale. These do not reach Shure isolation yet, but is better than IEMs like the DN-2000. Overall it is pretty good and should serve you pretty well in day to day use as long as you don’t use them in very noisy areas.
This was a bit odd, I found them to not scale a lot, but I particularly liked them with my D-Zero MKII, even more so than my DX90. On a Sansa Clip+, they sounded a little bit on the warm side, which I didn’t really like. On my Xperia Z2, it is rather good and flat, maybe a little bit colder than with the flatter D-Zero. The DX90 was also very good, but I don’t think that the match was quite as good as the D-Zero, but it was close. Adding an amp to these will result in slightly better soundstage, imaging and detail. The difference is not night and day, I would not recommend you going out to buy another source just for the Heaven IV. My point is that they sound very good with average sources, which is a huge plus but if you want that little bit extra from them, then hook them up to a more upstream source.
Ultimately we only get something if it sounds good and does this? Well not to spoil anything major, but definitely, it sounds very good. Up to this point, I have a lot of mixed thoughts about the Heaven IV. It looks great, but the cable and lack of a cable clip is a bit of a downside. Can the Heaven make up for it? It is also my understanding that FAD uses their own drivers instead of getting them from the main companies like Knowles or Sonion, so this was going to be very interesting.
This was certainly the biggest surprise to me. I was expecting a somewhat small bass impact, but this certainly isn’t an anaemic bass BA IEM. Anything but that actually. The bass is on the heavier side of things, but not nearly heavy enough to be classified as a basshead IEM. The impact is solid and visceral, very tight and punchy. Speed is extremely good and there is no bass bleed into the midrange whatsoever. The sub-bass is good, perhaps very slightly rolled off, but that doesn’t bother me at all. For a single BA in this price range, the bass is very well textured and detailed. Actually, it is not only detailed for a single BA, but any IEM in this price range. The sub-bass has sufficient and controlled rumble to it and doesn’t muddy the bass. Coming from the SE846 as my daily IEM, the tone was actually very similar with the while filters. If anything the bass is slightly faster on the Heaven. Very impressive in this aspect and FAD goes to show that single BAs can have great bass extension and impact as well.
So now we get to the interesting part, the magical midrange that FAD lovers keep raving on about. Having heard the FI-BA-SS, I certainly understood what they were talking about, the mids on that were extremely realistic and had a very nice background which seemed completely blank. It was really like no other IEM that I have heard before. The Heaven IV, luckily is actually quite similar in the sense that it does what the previous flagship from FAD does, but obviously not as well. The mids can be described as slightly warm, but not veiled to my ears, which is not something a lot of IEMs pull off. I am fine with warm IEMs, but I hate veiled mids. A very dark background and realistic vocals are the highlights for me, everything sounds very unique, in a good way. Detail is good, not the best, but still sufficient. There is zero sibilance, which is great, maybe it is what the BAM technology is there for, not really sure, but the midrange sounds fantastic.
The treble is pulled back compared to the rest of the frequencies and is definitely not as prominent. This does not mean that it is rolled off, because it definitely isn’t, it is actually quite well extended. It is just a little bit warmer than what I would personally classify as neutral, but my perception of neutrality, especially with regards to treble may be different to yours. If you love the HE-500 or HD650/600, the odds are you will have no issues with the treble at all. Clarity is quite good and sounds very solid, but the treble is not the most detailed. Cymbals have a nice tone to them, but the tone is a little bit on the dull side, but it has enough sparkle to stop the treble from being classified as dark. The tone of the treble is a little like the RE-400s, but it is more detailed and has better clarity. The treble is well defined, but polite as the same time without being boring. For those that are a bit sensitive to treble, this is an excellent choice.
Soundstage & Imaging
Now it is time to see if Final Audio Design does indeed deliver on their BAM technology creating a realistic live atmosphere. Traditionally, I have been a little let down by BAs in terms of soundstage in general, they don’t seem to quite reach the standard of dynamic driver IEMs. The Heaven IV really did catch me off guard here. I’ll admit that I didn’t think much of the BAM technology at first, but the soundstage that this single BA IEM produces is awesome. The stage is wide and expansive, as well as being rather 3D. It reminds me of the Titan 1 that I just reviewed. Width is perhaps a bit better than the height, but depth is what surprised me the most, it is rather deep and it sounds more realistic than the DN-2000’s soundstage, which is a very big call for me to make.
The imaging was also very strong, it allowed more space between instruments which aided the imaging. It is not quite as pinpoint as the SE846, but that is to be expected given the huge price difference. It is very good and absolutely trumps the RE-400, and is in the league of the DN-2000, which is quite impressive. Overall, in the soundstage and imaging department you really cannot expect anything more from these $200 gems.
Separation, Detail & Clarity
I must admit, I really underestimated these simply because of the fact that they were a single BA IEM and the separation is actually very good for the price range. If I just listened to these without knowing the technical specifications of this, I would not have been able to come to the conclusion that these were a single BA IEM at all. The separation is almost as good as the triple hybrid DN-2000 and much better than the Brainwavz R3, a dual dynamic driver IEM. This goes to show once again, that more drivers does not necessarily mean that it sounds better.
The detail is one area that the Heaven IV does not really do that well in. When I EQed them I actually got a lot of detail out of these, but I lost that tone that I love the Heaven IV for. Because it is a slightly warm IEM, the detail is not great, not because the drivers are not capable of delivering the detail, but simply because sometimes the microdetails in the higher frequencies get overshadowed by the mids and bass. It’s not that the FAD isn’t detailed though, because it most definitely is, but it is just not the best in its price range.
Clarity is like the detail section as well. I had no problems with the organic and sweet tone of the Heaven IV, the clarity was fine, especially good with vocals, but I just didn’t feel like with instruments they has that edge that the best in the price range do. Those tend to have a colder and brighter tone though and do not sound as realistic and relaxing as the Heaven do. Unfortunately, in my experience, one can’t really have both.
So is the Heaven IV the most technically proficient IEM in the $200 price range? No, but for a long time, it is the only IEM I have been able to use for long periods of time and simply relax and enjoy to the music. It is incredibly realistic and the price is very reasonable. It may not be the most detailed or have the best clarity, but listening to it just puts a smile on my face. As a whole package, the FAD Heaven IV is one of the best around $200 and it sounds remarkable. It easily gains my recommendation.