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Final Audio Design Piano Forte II

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Pros: Good bass performance (for an earbud).

Cons: Mediocre sound. Cheap build. Earbud comfort (read: ouch). Insane pricing.


​Intro


                              

 

     Before I begin, I would like to thank Yoko at Final Audio Design for providing the Piano Forte II sample for review. I would also like to clarify that I am neither an affiliate of Final Audio or any of its employees, nor am I being compensated in any way for writing this review (aside from the provided review sample). All images shown in the review are my own unless otherwise specified. All opinions expressed in the review are also my own unless otherwise specified. YMMV.

 

     This review is part two of a four-part review series; if you haven’t seen the last one, you might want to do that by clicking here. Anyways, now that the New Year proceedings seem to have died down a bit, let’s continue on with the reviewing! This week, we’re taking a look at another of the entry-level IEMs form Final Audio Design – except, well, this isn’t really an IEM. The FAD Piano Forte II is an earbud, as you can see from the image above. Oftentimes audiophiles tend to stay away from earbuds due to their inherent sound signature which is subpar compared to IEMs at the same price, but since the Piano Forte is here anyway, I might as well review it!

 

 


~~ Aesthetics ~~


Packaging, Accessories

     The Piano Forte II comes in a standard retail box clad in black and blue to match the actual earphones. An image of the Piano Forte is plastered on the front, while its description and specifications are written down on the back in multiple languages. Another longer description is written down on one side as well. That, coupled with the lack of accessories (aside from an instruction manual and a 12-month warranty card), makes the initial package look pretty underwhelming for what it is.

 

Design, Build, Microphonics

     Despite being an earbud, Final Audio Design was still able to get their design philosophy through to the Piano Forte II and gave them a very unique shape that will most definitely make them stand out against most other conventional earbuds. The blue and black colour scheme is definitely eye-catching, and to be honest, I actually like how they look.

 

     The housings, as directly stated on the packaging, are made of ABS plastic, which is a little bit of a low-ball choice of material considering what they already offered with the Heaven II, which happens to be only a little bit more expensive. But then again, ABS plastic is much easier to work with compared to other materials like stainless steel, which, considering the unique shape of the housing, can be perfectly justified. The cable is pretty good, and exhibits little microphonics. However, the overall build still is a little worrying. The Y-split is where I worry most about its long-term durability – in fact, it’s so small that I’m afraid I could accidentally break it with one strong yank.

 

 

 

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

     Earbuds often are notorious for providing little to no isolation, a loose fit, and generally bad comfort. Luckily for the Piano Forte II, it’s not entirely the case. These earbuds manage to stay put on my ears pretty well – much better than other earbuds I’ve tried, which always feel like they’re about to fall out. This, however, comes at the expense of comfort, which is definitely worse than those of other earbuds. The Piano Forte’s housings press pretty hard against whatever part of the ear they come in contact with, which basically translates to very noticeable discomfort when wearing these. However, I have not tried foam covers for these (as some reviews state they are much more comfortable with them), so I will have to make do with what I have right now. So far, not so good. Of course, we haven’t even gotten to the sound yet, so let’s get to it quickly.

                                                                                                                                                            

 


~~ Sound ~~


Specs

 

Headphone Type

Open-back earbud (straight down)

Driver Type

1x 15.5mm dynamic

Frequency Response

N/A

Max. Input Power

N/A

Sensitivity

108 dB

Impedance

16 Ω

Weight

13 g (without cable)

Cable

1.2m (4’) cable

Connector

3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated right-angle connector

Accessories

Instruction manual

Warranty Card (12 months)

 

 

Equipment, Burn-in

     The source equipment used in this review is my iPod Touch, an iPad 3, and my computer all running the Piano Forte II unamped. The amplifier used in the amp test is a Yamaha RX-V359 speaker receiver. The EQ software used in its respective test is EQu for the iPod and iPad and Electri-Q for the PC.

 

     I have burned-in the Piano Forte II for at least 50 hours prior to writing this review. So far, I haven’t detected any change in sound signature. As always, my list of test tracks can be seen here, although I will mention specific tracks in the review as examples to back up some of my points.

 

 

Sound Quality

     Being an earbud, I wasn’t expecting much before I put on the Piano Forte II. But when I did, I was pleasantly surprised. For an earbud, they have pretty good bass impact and extension – definitely better than most earbuds I’ve tried, but nowhere near properly-sealing IEMs, much less headphones. Sadly, my surprise ended there. Upon closer inspection, their bass is noticeably bloated and muddy, and isn’t very well-separated from the midrange, which, simply put, is decent at best. It’s very forward to the point where it almost sounds shouty, and it has a thickness to it which mixes with the bass to create a muddled mess. They also sound pretty veiled and hollow-sounding, which might be because, well, they’re earbuds. Their treble is noticeably laid-back and lacks a lot of extension, crispness, and detail. Despite a laid-back treble working well for the Heaven II, it doesn’t really do the same for the Piano Forte as its treble is even more laid-back than that of the Heaven.

 

     Its presentation, to be honest, is a little confusing. Being an earbud, the Piano Forte manages to have a nice, airy background to its sound. However, the actual instruments’ sound stage is pretty boxed-in and congested to an extent. Put that all together and you have a disproportional soundstage that lost its ultimate potential. Overall, it falls short in a lot of aspects, with many of its otherwise good qualities being too much or too little. But even so, they aren’t totally unlistenable by audiophile standards and sound pretty good for an earbud.

 

 

Gaming, Movies

     Despite my aversion to earbuds, for some reason I played more than I thought I would using these IEMs. Against other IEMs, these clearly fall short in terms of detail, accuracy, and whatnot, but they at least sound decently balanced, which makes them decent for gaming purposes. Their biggest caveat, however, lies in their comfort, which makes them unwearable for extended gaming sessions. All in all, it’s a decent earbud for gaming, but I would avoid using this as a primary unless you don’t have anything else to use.

 

     For movies I would say the same thing. The Piano Forte II doesn’t give you a very immersive, exciting, or lifelike movie experience. The sounds simply sit there, leaving the actual screen to tell you most of the tale. Of course, that doesn’t really matter much, but the sounds and the music are an integral part of a movie, and if it isn’t up-to-spec, it feels like a little bit of the movie gets taken out.

 

 

EQ, Amping

     The Piano Forte II isn’t very responsive to equalization, as trying to compensate for what it lacks gives no satisfying results. The only thing I can seem to EQ is the midrange, although messing around with that doesn’t make the sound any better than it already is. Amplification is a good choice if you really want to get the most out of the Piano Forte, as it seems to clean up the signature a good amount, to the point where I would listen to it more than I do. But then again, this is with a speaker receiver, so your results will vary if you use a proper headphone amp.

 

 

Value

     The Final Audio Design Piano Forte II (damn, that’s one long name) retails for $80 – an impressive price for a not-so-impressive earbud. The Piano Forte brings too little to the table for its price to make them worth it – a lack of accessories and mediocre sound, to name a couple. However, you can find them for cheaper (say, around $60) at some of FAD’s distributors like Jaben. But otherwise, I would suggest you look elsewhere if you’re really looking for an earbud.

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT: About the time of this writing (see Changelog for when this part was written), Yoko contacted me, telling me that I listed the prices for the FAD IEMs wrong. The actual price for the Piano Forte 2 is actually about $30, which makes them a much better value than what I’d initially assumed. However, my impression of them still stands; even at this lower price, they’re still pretty mediocre for what they offer (see comparison below).

 

 

Comparison

Versus Sennheiser MX 80 ($8)

     Yep, I’m comparing a super-cheap Sennheiser earbud to another earbud 10 times about 4 times its price. But to be really honest, I actually feel both have a pretty close matchup. Call me crazy, but this is exactly how I feel about them. The Piano Forte clearly wins in terms of bass punch and soundstage, but they fall behind in other areas. The MX 80 seems to have a clearer midrange, and a crisper and livelier treble. The differences aren’t huge, but they’re noticeable, and they are definitely game-changing, especially on the Sennheiser’s part.

 

     A more interesting matchup is in their build. From the housings to the cable to the Y-split, it’s clear that both earbuds’ builds are not too far off from each other, and it becomes really shocking once you factor in their prices. I expected a little bit extra from Final Audio in the sound of the Piano Forte, but the build is simply baffling.  

 


~~ Conclusion ~~


                    

 

     I really wanted to like the Piano Forte II, but sadly, I just couldn’t. First of all, well, they’re earbuds, and I already have a lot of IEMs that clearly outclass any earbud I’ve tried so far. Second, the Piano Forte brings too little to the table to make them worth their weight in gold. And finally, to know that you can get an earbud so similar to the Piano Forte at a fraction of the price – I don’t think I need to go any further than this. I can’t recommend the Piano Forte II at all.

 

 

Category

Score

Comment

Packaging, Accessories

5/10

Nice, simple packaging pretty much sums up the entire package – nice and simple. You don’t get any accessories in the package – not even foam pads like they do on those dollar store earbuds.

Design, Build, Microphonics

4.5/10

The Piano Forte II has a very unique look to them – a look that becomes irrelevant once they’re on your ears. The build, however, doesn’t – and its flimsy Y-split makes them a very fragile earbud.

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

4.5/10

I have always disliked earbuds for their poor fit, lack of isolation, and bad comfort. The Piano Forte II isn’t much different.

Microphone

N/A

 

Bass

6/10

Their bass performance is impressive for an earbud, but is muddy and messes up the midrange.

Midrange

6.5/10

The Piano Forte has a pretty forward midrange, and also happens to be very thick and warm. Worse yet, they are also noticeably veiled.

Treble

5/10

Its treble is laid-back, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but it lacks most in is extension and detail, which is a bad thing.

Presentation

5/10

The Piano Forte sounds pretty airy, but their potential is ruined by the congested mess that is the sound signature.

Gaming

6/10

They’re pretty decent for gaming, but they aren’t very good sports when you’re playing for any longer than 15 minutes.

Movies

5.5/10

Their mediocre sound gives you little incentive to use these over other earbuds, much less IEMs or headphones. Their long-term comfort takes away even more of that incentive.

EQ, Amping

7/10

The Piano Forte has a pretty stubborn sound signature that is difficult to tame without some more painstaking EQ work. Amplification, however, goes a big step further to improve their sound, though.

Value

6.5/10

Retailing at $30, it’s hard to recommend an earbud like this when you can have a similar package for a fraction of the price.

Total

5.6/10

The Piano Forte is an earbud with performance that rivals that of other earbuds less than half its price. That alone should be enough to tell you that they’re not worth recommending.

 

Shout-Outs, Gallery

     Again, I would like to sincerely thank Yoko at Final Audio Design for giving me the chance to write this review. As I haven’t reviewed earbuds before, this turned out to be a pretty educating experience, and it kinda goes to show that I still have a lot to learn. As always, you can find all of the pictures taken during this review here.

 

     Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is part two of a four-part review series, so I’m not done here just yet! Stay tuned for another Final Audio Design review which is probably just right around the corner! Once again, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!

 

 

Changelog

01/22/15: Changed scoring again after Yoko contacted me, saying that the prices I listed for the FAD earphones I reviewed are wrong. The actual price is about $30, which still is a bit overpriced for the Piano Forte II’s performance.

 

01/06/15: Changed scoring slightly.

Final Audio Design Piano Forte II
Description:

Final Audio Design Piano Forte II Final Audio Design Piano Forte II $69.00 Option one The Final Audio Design Piano Forte II series headphone was inspired by the horn speaker design of their superior stainless Opus Speaker Series. The Piano Forte II series performs to the same lofty performance standard and delivers terrific value for money. Differences in air pressure levels often introduce sound artifacts. FAD installed their propriety pressure ring in the front of the diaphragm to optimise the pressure occurring around the diaphragm. The result is lively yet silky smooth sound. The large diameter driver is made using a neodymium magnet amd at 15.5mm diameter is roughly three times the size of ordinary earphones. They use a unique vent opening to fit firmly in your ears without earpads, and also helps with soundstaging.

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