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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 )
Excellent build quality.
Amazing separation and Soundstage.
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!
Edited by takoyaki7 - 5/23/10 at 1:33am