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FAD Final Audio Designs FI-BA-SS Mini-review/initial impressions

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 

 RIMG0352.JPG Yesterday I wrote a (semi) detailed first day review after making this very impractical purchase...and somehow my post vaporized into thin air. So now I will try and rewrite with my added second day impressions :)

   About 2 years ago I stuck my feet into the premium IEM puddle by purchasing the SE530s. After years of making quick destruction of my headphones, I wanted to bite the bullet and get something that (I thought) would last a near-lifetime.

   Fast-forward to 1 1/2 years later and dissatisfaction with the Shures (cable failure that would eventually be fixed and a difficult fit for my small ears) And I found myself snooping on this forum looking for something new, partly as a bday gift to myself

    I made a quick and impulsive purchase of the Radius DDM about a month ago and have been loving them since. However, I have found them to be mediocre for my nearly 3-hour daily Tokyo commute. Despite their amazing SQ, I have found myself only able to be truly comfortable with the fit at home. So I was on the lookout for a compact, comfortable high-quality commuter IEM.

    After spending several hours over the course of two weekends at two different Yodobashi's in Tokyo trying most IEMs in existence I was close to buying the Ortofon EQ-7 when I decided to take a look at the intriguing IEMs made by Final Audio Designs.

   First of all, their HUGE copper, SS, and chromium models were visually appealing but way too bulky for what I was looking for. They also have a couple of much cheaper models that I found poor in both fit and sound. But then I stumbled across the newly released FI-BA-SS priced at an unhealthy 98,000yen (about $1070US). Although my budget was under $300 I was curious to give them a try. My first impression was positive but not overwhelming. They sounded maybe a bit better than the EQ-7 but their price was way too high to make me really consider them. But I also found them to be comfortable and very aesthetically appealing.

 

   Day 2 I was at Yodobashi in Akiba ready to make a purchase. The EQ-7s were nice but the fit was borderline (stuck out of my ears a bit) and the sound seemed perhaps too similar to my 530s to justify spending $300 on them.

   But then the FADs called to me again. I decided to give them another try and fell in love. In both their looks and SQ they radiated quality. So I took the plunge!

 

    On the train ride back home I eagerly dug into them and was initially a bit underwhelmed. On the 1 1/2 hour train ride I noticed some harshness on the highs I hadn't noticed before and it struck me that these things were pretty HEAVY. They did fit easily though.

    I went through an immediate period of buyers remorse where I wondered if I had just spent more than 5 times the amount of my DDMs for something that might nearly be inferior. Luckily after spending more time with them I can say that isn't the case!

 

   So on with the review!

 

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PACKAGING: 

    The FADs come in a simple but elegant black rectangular box. Inside the contents are quite skimpy. There is the earphones themselves, 3 sets of silicon tips, a large carrying case, warranty card and 1-page manual. The manual gives nothing except return information (in Japanese).

    The case is HUGE and fairly well-made. It has three pockets on the inside, large enough to hold the FADs as well as my Ipod Touch. A shiny FINAL AUDIO DESIGN plaque on the front is a nice touch as well. However I usually prefer to keep my touch in my pocket and have already been using a much more compact Philips case to hold my FADs.

    Overall the packaging gets the job done but is borderline pathetic for such an expensive product. My 530s trove of included accessories certainly put it to shame! The 1-year warranty isn't very impressive for such an expensive product either.

 

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BUILD QUALITY:

     Pretty much a home run here. I have read complaints of earlier FAD models with poor nylon cables and stress reliefs. Luckily the small, double-insulated cable seems well constructed and terminates in a reinforced L-plug. The one potential concern is the contact points of the cord to the earphones themselves. There doesn't seem to be significant stress relief and makes me hope they won't share the fate as my 530s with a severed connection.

     Also the cable is LONG at 1.4m. Great if you are tall but a bit of a pain if you aren't and like to keep your DAP in your shirt pocket like I do. At least they they can easily fit in that giant case!

     The earphones themselves are a solid, unassuming delight. They are VERY compact, not much bigger than the microscopic Q-Jays I have tried, and maybe on par with the ATH-CK10 in size. Their weight is significant at 20g each, and in my first day of wearing them 5-6 hours my ears felt pretty tired! I already feel that I am getting accustomed to them though.  The "Shaved" stainless steel casing is shiny but classy and restrained. Holding them in my hands they "clink" together like ball bearings with an amazing sturdiness. With the relative ugliness of some of the other IEMs I tried, the clean quality construction of the FADs means just holding them in my hand puts a smile on my face.

     Other minor, but classy touches I like are the laser-etched L/R markers on the underside of each nozzle, and the circular-drilled vents on the back of the earpieces.

    RIMG0346.JPG

FIT:

   After having struggles with my other two premium IEMs (and finding the most comfort with my sonically weak $30 Philips earphones) this was a make-or-break category for me. Initially one of my reasons for choosing the FADs were their quick and easy fit. They fit eagerly and snugly in my ears either straight down (preference) or over-the-ear. The included silicon tips are acceptable enough, but I am eager to experiment with some other types soon.

   With longer-term listening the considerable heft of the FADs does become a slight problem. Yesterday after removing them following several hours of listening my ears felt surprisingly sore! So far today they are feeling great so I hope it is just getting used to having these little silver bullets in my ears!

 

SOUND QUALITY:

   So, now for the really important part! For over $1000 can the SQ of these things possibly justify the price?

   Well...probably not! But to my very newbie listening abilities I can say that they sound amazing and have a very unique sound signature to my warmer and 3D Radius DDMs and Mid-forward 530s.

   The overall presentation seems amazingly balanced with the mids and well composed with the lows. The particularly strengths are the details and separation of instruments.  For example the echoes on The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" gave me goosebumps unlike anything else I've ever heard! There is a beautiful directness to the sound that makes my (amazing) DDMs sound oddly artificial in comparison. The Ortofon EQ-7s were the closest sounding IEM I could find to these, clean and forward, yet these are even better behaved. The small vents on the back, purportedly some mysterious "Air transference" technology, leak a little sound to the outside, and also seem to contribute to a HUGE Soundstage.

   As a lover of Hard Rock music, I will say the FADs seem to sound amazing on...anything else!!! If they have any initial weaknesses it seems to be a slight lack of bass and a bit of harshness on the highs. On acoustic, piano, anything a bit behaved they sound absolutely amazing and transparent. On more restrained Rock-fare like Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" they sound more like big cans than anything else I have ever heard! 

    With more burn-in I am hoping the highs will settle a bit but as they are pretty stunning as is and for me a more rewarding all-around experience than my DDMs (which they should be for more than 5x the price!)

    Finally I have also noticed their very direct presentation makes the quality of source material highly important. The FADs will not hide the warts in poorly-recorded material.

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OVERALL:

    The million-dollar question is this: Are the FADs worth their high price? And the obvious answer is: NO.

The build quality of these things is beautiful and the SQ is superior enough to the EQ-7s that I would say the FADs are a steal...if they were maybe half the price! But at over $1000 buying these earphones clearly has to be partly an emotional decision, and I think the intangibles of their all-around-class makes them worth it if you have a lot of money to burn. After some initial buyers remorse I am already settling into a deep-love with the FADs (at least if my gf doesn't kill me over buying them )

 

 

PROs:

   Excellent build quality.

   Well-balanced sound.

   Amazing separation and Soundstage.

   

CONs: 

    Lack of strain relief on earphone connection.

    Unexceptional bass and slightly harsh highs.

    Case is too big too fit in most pockets (but well made!)

 

 

I will try to keep things updated with my continuing impressions!

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Edited by takoyaki7 - 5/23/10 at 1:33am
post #2 of 74

Great review and be sure to tell us more after they burned in. So is it fair to say in terms of sound quality this is like a more refined version of the Ortofons with better treble extension, more bass and wider soundstage?


Edited by helljudgement - 5/23/10 at 2:49am
post #3 of 74

You must be really rich to afford this...とても裕福ね

post #4 of 74

nice impressions :) although it has one zero too many for me to even consider :P

 

On another note these phones esp the housing and where the strain relief is looks quite similar to the CK100.

post #5 of 74

Well they certainly sound like they're very good overall but the price is way too steep for me to be able to justify. Great review though. :)

post #6 of 74

Mr. Money, thanks for doing this review and taking the plunge!

post #7 of 74

Nice review friend, but wow at that price!! It might have been worth it to invest in the French SM3 that many seem to be raving about now and saved over half the price. But on the other hand, it's ultimately about if the device provides you the fun and enjoyment that you are seeking. And if you can afford them, why not? Happy listening!!

post #8 of 74

So do they provide those steel eartips that comes with the SS, copper and chromium dynamic IEMs? Also, can you please provide a bit more explanation on their sound signature? Takoyaki san, did you try out those SS/copper/chromium earphones? From your memory, how would those sound compared to this?


Edited by koonhua90 - 5/23/10 at 5:44pm
post #9 of 74

All I can say is thanks for doing this!!

post #10 of 74

 

You must be really brave and courageous man, 1000+ dollars for IEMs!!  what an investment. I am curious how many of this actually sell all throughout Japan.  Also, what is your problem with not being able to use DDMs while commuting? I commute as well and I have no complains. Perhaps, you mentioned your ears are small and you are experiencing discomfort with DDM as well as with e-Q7 due to that?

 

Anyhow, Nice review, hope you can enjoy your music even more now with the FAD!

post #11 of 74

Great review. I think I might give these a shot at the end of the summer when I save up some money.

post #12 of 74

Why not have customs made at that price? I'm not judging, but just curious buddy.

post #13 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericp10 View Post

Why not have customs made at that price? I'm not judging, but just curious buddy.


Was actually going to ask the same thing, if fit is the number #1 thing and you were willing to spend this much why not go the custom route and have the best possible fit? Plus you could get some customs for under the $1000 mark.

post #14 of 74

Wow! Great review! I hope more companies would implement the "air transference" technology in the future. Seems very interesting for a balanced armature. $1070?!?!

post #15 of 74

The challenge I have with such hardware is the drivers used simply are not that expensive, and there's only so much cost in the remainder of the materials as well.  Even for a very premium product with the best of the best BA driver made today and manufacturing practices that ensure a high level of quality, there's still only so much cost into the product.  The rest is overhead and profit for the company.  I wouldn't mind spending extra for the best hardware available, but I see a tremendous flaw in staying with a single BA design.  There really isn't one BA driver out there that covers the entire frequency spectrum really, really well.  It has time and time again required at least 2 drivers to cover the audible range well.  Even if the earphone is balanced well, there will always be some limitation on at least one of the two ends of the spectrum.  There are simply much cheaper options out there that cover the spectrum better.  It is unfortunate that you previously had the SE530 as an example though.  For 3 drivers, the SE530 doesn't show more range than most single BA earphones, just less distortion and a smoother response curve.  There are just a lot of dual and triple driver options available that do really well covering the spectrum and with a little EQing will get you whatever you want.

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