Fabs-fabulous earphones® Review fabulous balance from Germany
Fabs-fabulous earphones®(Fabs) (462 € without taxes, 550 € with taxes ~ $646) mark my third custom with my first two, the Earsonics EM3 Pro and Ear Power EP-10 Plus both being stage monitors. The Fabs has a different purpose and sound as it is an audiophile custom, not a stage monitor with a 2 way, 2 BA design. Fabs is located in Germany, and Claus Zapletal is the creator of the Fabulous Earphones. More information about Claus and the Fabs-fabulous earphones (click on your language of choice on the left, then story for a nice read). Claus is very responsive and easy to work with and is bilingual in German/English. Send him an email if you have questions about the Fabs. I asked Claus how he arrived at the sound and his response was by listening to them and optimizing the sound. Click here to see my custom IEM review, information thread, and manufacturer list thread.
The Fabs uses an acrylic shell that is a half shell that does not fill up the Concha like most other customs. This makes the Fabs much easier to insert and remove, less obtrusive, and very comfortable. There are two drivers, a single BA mid/treble driver and a dual BA bass driver, each with its own bore. The Fabs are very light due to their small size.
Each bore has a replaceable wax filter that is easy to change by taking off the filter with your finger and replacing it with an included filter that is at the end of a insertion tool. The filters are very easy to change and 8 extra filters are included, which will allow for 2 changes of the filters. The filters are there to protect the internal sound filters. Once removed, the filters can be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide so they can be reused; Claus recommended an ultrasonic cleaner but I don't have access to one ;)
There are many cable options and I chose the black iPhone cable so it can be used as a headset as well. The cable sticks straight out and has a clear semi-soft tube for strain relief. The cable is firmly in place (and permanent), although I have not tugged too hard on it, I am sure it could withstand a good tug. The strain relief is designed well and flexible enough to not create a stress point even when worn with the cable over the ear, however the cable can be mounted above the targus for wearing the cable over-the-ear.
The cable options include:
- Black/white cable with a 90° plug
- Transparent cable with silver shielding and a straight plug
- Black/white cable with either Nokia or iPhone compatible remote/mic and straight plug
- Stranded silver cable - 40 strand silver wire, 238 € including VAT, 200 € without ($290 US) - No charge for mounting costs if you purchased a Fabs in 2011
You can also provide your own cable for use with the Fabs at no extra charge. It is 48 € to have Claus change your cable once your Fabs are already made.
There is an option for a stainless steel shell with a price premium of 900 € in addition to the original cost. Very expensive, very unbreakable, heavy, and cold when inserted, but very unique! I am amazed it is even possible! You can see it under the Variants link here (bottom left picture).
The cable strain relief seems fine, but my biggest complaint with the Fabs is the cable. It is a rubbery cable that comes in either black or white and is more reminiscent of a sub-$100 IEM, not a custom that is above $500. Not that it is really all that bad, but it doesn't compare with the Westone cable. Fabs does offer both Nokia and iPhone compatible mics with a remote button. I have the mic/remote for the iPhone (and Blackberry) which works well. When used for phone calls the people are clear and can hear me clearly.
I would rate cable microphonics about average and the upper part of the cable is much more microphonic than the lower portion. Normal activities such as sitting at a desk, walking around or other calm activities produce little to no microphonics, but running produces too much noise for me. Wearing the cable over the ear reduces the microphonics, but running still produces a little too much cable noise. When the cable is worn over the ear it isn't the most secure in that position due to the cable being springy.
Fabs-fabulous earphones®, soft carrying case, 8 replacement wax filters, cleaning cloth, instructions (currently only in German). Cleaning tool pictured is not included. Warranty is 1 year for manufacturer defects.
The Fabs have a different sound signature than my other customs and one universal, the SM3, as the sound is non-monitor like (well, the EP-10 Plus is kinda different also); the music is presented as if you are in the audience vs. in on stage. Balance is a great word to describe the Fabs from a frequency response perspective as well as the rest of the spectrum. When comparing the Fabs with the EM3 Pro, it seems like the EM3 Pro has little peaks and valleys in the frequency response, and instruments are located different distances from me with both. The Fabs are not overly warm, but not thin and can pack some deep bass punch. There is also balance between an analytical sound and smoothed out sound, with good detail and some analytical qualities, but also nice smoothness. No matter how offensive the original track is with sibilance, too much bass, or whatever, the Fabs present it without offending. While I won't say they are perfectly balanced, they do have an exceptional balance across the frequency spectrum and between an analytical and smooth sound.
The mids are very liquid and smooth yet portray exceptional tone and timbre along with nice laying and detail. There is a nice balance across the entire midrange, as across the entire spectrum. Both female and male vocals sound right on; A/Bing with my other customs (EM3 Pro and EP-10 Plus) brings a different tonality to the vocals. The Fabs have less lower mid presence and a little more upper mid presence, which sounds right on with both male and female vocals. The mids of the Fabs have all the detail of the EM3 Pro, but placement of instruments are somewhat different, with the Fabs presenting things more in a line while the EM3 Pro brings vocals to the forefront.
The treble is smooth and extended, but relaxed. The details are present, but not analytical, sharp, or in your face. The TF10, in comparison, has more in-your-face treble detail, but not more detail. Even with my most sibilant tracks the treble was not offensive. I would say the Fabs treble level is between the LCD-2 and Tesla T1; more than the EM3 Pro but less than the TF10. The treble seems to lack peaks and valleys in the frequency response.
The bass goes deep yet remains balanced with the rest of the spectrum. There were times I thought they were bass light, for example with some metal that really doesn't have much bass but other headphones/systems with enhanced bass can, well, enhance the little that is there! Other genres such as with rap & R&B have very detailed bass notes with very good reverb. If there is bass texturing in the track, the Fabs will present it, but not overly emphasize, so it may be easier to hear the texture/detail with other headphones due to an enhanced bass response. The bass was usable down to 20 Hz, but was slightly rolled off with a 20 Hz test tones. I was surprised at the deep bass the Fabs found in some songs that I didn't know was there, or just sounded different, especially in movie soundtracks. The EM3 Pro seems to roll-off sooner/more and the EP-10 Plus has a mid-bass hump that seems to reduce the overall impact of the lowest bass registers as, while they are there, they are combined with the mid-bass. In this regard, the Fabs were surprisingly good for a "flat" response!
To go along with the more laid back presentation of my other current IEMs, the soundstage is nice and wide, surpassing the EM3 Pro but not reaching the EP-10 Plus width (which is amazing). I have not heard a universal that comes close to the soundstage of the Fabs, and while the SM3 is very good in this regard (even with custom sleeves), it still isn't nearly as spacious. The space that is created has a very round 3D presentation with a great sense of space and realism that helps create a feeling of being there. I have had many "looking around" experiences where something in my music seemed like it was coming from elsewhere or another person nearby. Something similar to what I experience with the T1 and LCD-2. Over time, as I have heard larger and larger sound signatures, IEMs that used to do this for me don't, at least they don't nearly as much. The Fabs seem to be my new standard.
The tonality of the Fabs seems right on to me. Instruments sound real and have great pace, rhythm, texture, placement, and 3D size and shape. A/Bing these with my other customs has me appreciating what Claus has done!
Overall the Fabs are very pleasant, enjoyable, and sometimes very surprising with the wide and 3D space they portray. The more time I spend with the Fabs, the more I appreciate them. I have had many moments where I would just stop and focus on the beautiful music with a presentation similar to being in the audience vs. on stage with my other customs. I have to say I appreciate Claus's ear for sound tuning!
I tried the Fabs with my various sources including the Clip+, iPhone 3G, modded 5.5g iPod feeding my amps, the Arrow, Stepdance, and Pico Slim, and the HUD-MX1. Surprisingly, the iPhone was my favorite portable source as the Fabs were a fantastic match. Not that my other sources sound bad, but the amp-less iPhone sounded surprisingly good. The Fabs also sounded great from my HUD-MX1 headphone out. I didn't think the combo with the 601 via the HPO was as good as my modded iPod (with an amp) or iPhone, and there is an annoying noise with the 601 in quiet parts and when paused.
Of my amps, I preferred the Arrow by a small margin over the Stepdance, which I preferred over the Pico Slim. Not that any were bad, but the Arrow added a little extra warmth I liked and the Stepdance had a little more low end oomph vs. the Pico Slim. The Fabs are very easy to drive and the Clip+ did quite well also.
The Fabs are a custom, but not a full custom. While they isolate better than the EP-10 Plus custom, they do not isolate as well as a full custom, or even my SM3 with a triple flange tip. Their isolation in comparison with many universal IEMs is a little less. On a recent flight, I could hear the engine noise faintly and knew when the captain came on the intercom. According to Claus, the isolation is 20 dB at the lower frequencies and 25 dB at the higher frequencies.
The Fabs were enjoyable with every genre I threw at them, but really excelled with vocals, acoustic, classical, opera, classic rock, country, metal, and most pop, having very captivating qualities. I have to say, the Fabs and my Tesla T1 have been my most enjoyable experiences in the headphone world with classical music. Speed for metal isn't a problem, as the Fabs handled all the metal I threw at them with a good balance as I find a lot of metal to be somewhat mid-forward, and I dislike when that is paired with a mid-forward sound signature. Other genres such as electronic, R&B, rap, and more were still good and absolutely listenable. The wide soundstage made trance very enjoyable, but I have to admit I do like extra bass for those genres.
Do the Fabs Fabulous earphones really live up to the name? Almost in every way! From fit, comfort, ease of use, and sound they are fabulous. The half size custom is nice and oh so easy to insert and remove to go with the comfort. The sound has a fabulous balance across the frequency spectrum as well as between analytical and smoothed sound which gives a very enjoyable sound that I can listen to for hours on end. The soundstage is spacious in both width as well as 3D, enveloping you with music and far surpassing any universal I have heard, and approaches headphone size. The one thing holding me back from saying they are truly fabulous is the cable, which for the version I have is rubbery and not up to par with everything else. However, there are other cable options that can overcome this (and the new silver cable should be awesome). If I had a better cable on mine, the Fabs Fabulous Earphones will be 100% worthy of their name and highly recommended!
[Added 2/9/11] Extended Listening Addition:
After using the Fabs for an extended period of time, especially for long periods of time without switching back and forth, I have really come to appreciate the sound signature and to my ears accurate reproduction. I have been using them primarily with my modded iPod to the Arrow with the bass boost on, but recently decided I didn't need the bass boost on. The space they create makes me look around from time to time to see who is talking to me, but it is just my music. While I don't have a favorite as have historically liked to change headphones for new sound signatures, I am thinking the Fabs might be in my top 3 rotation. I grab for them more than anything else, at least now. Sure, I really like the larger space of the EP-10 Plus, but it doesn't do the mids and treble nearly as well as the Fabs. And I also like the EM3 Pro, and just received my replacement cable for that, the Whiplash TWag v2 OM cable (which is burning in), but the Fabs are more of a draw for me. I am actually thinking of sending the Fabs back to Claus so I can upgrade to the silver cable, as the worst thing about the Fabs is their cable IMO. Anyways, I highly recommend the Fabs to those that want a similar sound signature to the e-Q7 or W2 but want to take the next step in detail with a smooth, liquid presentation that is more spacious and lacks the grain of the others.
Edited by average_joe - 8/2/11 at 2:03pm