Well, it hasn't taken long and I have already gone off the deep end! Very, very, far!
A couple of years ago I picked up some SE530s which were supposed to be my be-all-end-all after years of constantly replacing cheap headphones. And they were...until they broke (under warranty) and I started to snoop around in the intervening period.
First I recently picked up the Radius DDM which is an absolute killer value (in terms of SQ). But they are only mediocre for commuting so I mostly leave them at home. My 530s have been solid as commuters but I have never quite gotten used to their size, and wearing my earphones straight down instead of over-the-ear.
Well anyways as my birthday was coming up, I decided to treat myself to a present - another set of earphones! My priority was comfort and something that would stand out from the Radius and the 530s, at a reasonable price.
I had noticed the FAD line and was very curious about them, particularly with how little info there was on the internet or head-fi. Particularly this new model, the FI-BA-SS. I stumbled upon them recently at the Shibuya Yodobashi in the midst of a marathon of testing. My immediate impression stacked up against many others (including the FX 700s, Roland IE5, and IE3, and Ortofon EQ7) was that the FADs were comfortable, small, and clean sounding, though not necessarily worth almost $1100! In fact I quite liked the EQ7 but I found the fit to be too awkward. I loved the FX700s as well but the poor isolation would make them almost useless for my LONG daily commute. I found both Roland's to have poor fits and the IE5 (more than $300US) sounded flat without amping.
So after some thinking I took another go at the Akiba Yodobashi shop and after another session I fell in love with the FADs even more. So, for better or worse I decided to throw caution to the wind and take the plunge.
The FADs come in a simple but classy cardboard box. Inside the accessories are pretty limited. 3 sets of silicon tips, a carrying case, warranty card and 1-page manual(Skimpy!)
The case is interesting. It is HUGE with 3 pouches on the inside for holding tips, accessories, and your MP3 player. My Ipod touch can fit snugly inside the case which is nice if I want to keep everything together.
However, I usually keep my Ipod in my shirt/jacket pocket so I most likely will use the case only for long trips.
The FADs are made of "Shaved" stainless steel, which sounds nice although I am not precisely sure what that means. They look and feel great though, classy, simple, a bit shiny but not too "bling." They don't look nearly as expensive as they are, but they look and feel durable and solid. They are heavy too! (20g for EACH earphone). They didn't feel heavy initially but after doing comparison with my DDM and 530s I can definitely tell the difference.
The cable is an improvement on other FAD models I have seen. It is long (1.4m) and double insulated with a light and fairly tangle free rubber texture. There is an L-plug on the end with good strain relief as well. My one concern is the connection point of the cable and earphones. There doesn't seem to be any special strain relief, and after my 530s wiring break at this point I do worry a little about this aspect of the FADs.
Overall the build quality is competent and the look and feel is elegant and classy without being blingy.
This was a major factor in choosing these earphones, and I am already wondering if I made a slight mistake.
In the shop, I found the fit to be immediately comfortable and isolating, which were my major concerns. My monster-sized 530s always rest uneasily in my ear and the DDMs also feel unsteady in my ears, but the extremely compact FADs fit in quite easily.
I have also tried the tiny Q-Jays and the FADs really aren't that much bigger.
The issue then...the weight. After wearing these guys about for about 3 hours I could feel some strain on my ears. I hope it is something I will get used to because otherwise they are giving me exactly what I was missing from my other premium IEMs, an easy and secure fit.
Thanks to the pathetic documentation (no pictures) I have no idea how they are intended to be worn. I have found the FADs to fit snugly worn straight down. I also tried wearing them over-the-ear I was also able to wear them securely.
Okay, now the most important part. As still a newbie in audophilia I will do my best here with my limited experience.
My time with the FADs has encompassed about 3-hours out and about in Tokyo and an hour or so of direct comparison at home.
My immediate impressions is that the FADs are extremely detailed and controlled. On another thread I noticed a comparison with the EQ-7 which I think I can agree with.
The strength of the FADs (so far) seems to be excellent mids and a huge soundstage. The separation of instruments is PHENOMENAL. The snapping of fingers on Michael Jackson's "Rock the Night" gave me goosebumps in a way I had never noticed before. The echoing on The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" gave me a similar feeling I hadn't noticed on my other IEMS.
The lows are solid although the bass is a bit lacking (in comparison to the DDM, on par or perhaps a bit superior to the 530s).
If I have noticed anything negative it might be a slight harshness in the highs. I am hoping with more burn-in they settle a bit more.
And as for amping I also noticed that the FADs seemed to get a more noticable boost from my E5 than the 530s or DDM. Of course I may also be a bit too obsessed with bass! :)
Finally the FADs do have small vents on the back that DO leak a little sound. I believe in actuality it is some sort of advertised "air-displacement" that has benefits that I have not been able to discern.
The FAD FA-BA-SS are fine earphones. Are they worth $1100? In a word...NO. These are without a doubt partly an emotional and aesthetic investment. But in just a few hours they have already brought a couple of smiles to my face, which is more than I can say than my (great) DDMs and (good) 530s. I will be interested how much better they may sound after more burn-in!
Excellent fit and finish.
Slightly harsh highs.