FISCHER AUDIO FA-011
(EDIT- JUNE 15, 2011 - BE SURE TO LOOK AT THE END OF THE REVIEW FOR STUFF THAT MIGHT HELP YOU!!!!)
Fischer Audio is at it again! Before you discount these headphones as another Fischer Audio plot, please allow me to explain why you might absolutely love them. Be prepared…it’s a long review as I truly want to explain the sound on these as best as I can. Keep in mind that these are strictly my opinions and are based on many hours of listening. Always try to seek out the product yourself and try it before you buy it.
Housing: nautural wood
Frequency range: 18-22000 Hz
Sensitivity: 98 dB
Impedance: 160 Om
Input power: 0.4 W
Length of a cable: 2.5 M
Cable extension: 3.2 M
Box: carton box
Set: cable extension: 3.2 M
THE PACKAGING/BUILD QUALITY:
The headphones came packaged in the usual cardboard Fischer Audio box. Nothing fancy except for what is inside. Unlike other times, this time the box came nearly destroyed – as if a soccer team got hold of my package and decided to play a game with it. Thankfully, the headphones were ok. This is a testament as to how good the simple box is at protecting the headphones during shipment. I know this is not Fischer Audio’s fault but it is worth mentioning. The box was in such bad shape, I couldn’t even salvage it for storage.
The headphones are another matter all together. Visually, they are stunning to behold. The cups are beautiful and the overall design is very aesthetic and very pleasing. The wife acceptance factor on these is easily rated a 10 out of 10. My wife saw them and for the first time since I have known her, she actually mentioned how beautiful they were. If any audiophile gear can get that kind of praise from my wife…I know it’s a thing of beauty and the FA-011’s certainly are just that…a thing of beauty.
Moreover, the FA-011’s are extremely comfortable…up there with the Sony R-10 or Sony CD-3000 but lighter and comfier. I believe I can wear these for hours upon hours with no fatigue whatsoever. They don’t heat your ears up, probably due to the open design, and they don’t cause any pain on your head due to the super light and comfy headband. I can honestly say that the FA-011’s are the most comfortable headphones I have in my possession at the moment.
EQUIPMENT USED IN REVIEW:
For the equipment used, please see my profile. I used the FA-011 with everything I own and even some stuff I don't.
SOME NOTABLE MUSIC USED IN REVIEW:
“Graceland” by Paul Simon – NON-REMASTERED VERSION
“More Of Other Worlds, Other Sounds” by Esquivel
“Inception” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
“Discoveries” by Gustavo Dudamel
“Moanin’” Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (Analogue Productions SACD)
The sound quality straight out of the box is very good. As always, I decided to let these beauties burn in for at least 48 hours before I started my review. How much the sound changed I can’t really say as the initial listen was less than a minute long.
Now…I love the comfort…I love the looks but I am not truly in love with the sound. Why? Did Fischer Audio fail? NO! Were the headphones bad? NO…absolutely not! So why am I not in love with these beauties? Well…I love a neutral sound signature. That is what I look for in my gear. So let me point this out from the very beginning – THESE ARE NOT NEUTRAL SOUNDING!!! This just might be a godsend for many of you!
Is that bad? NO…. Do they sound bad? NO…absolutely not…
In some way, I feel Fischer Audio is responding carefully to the criticisms it has received from products like the FA-003 and the FA-004. If the FA-003/002W mated with the FA-004 and was raised by the Sony R-10, the result would be the FA-011. For the people who have complained that the FA-004 might be a bit too muddy, the FA-011 resolves that issue perfectly. For the people who feel the FA-003 has no bass impact, the FA-011 resolves that issue perfectly as well. The comfort level, as mentioned before, is up there with the R-10. In other words, the FA-011 sounds mostly like the FA-003 with the bottom end of the FA-004 but tighter and much more emphasized.
What does that mean? Well, for those of you who are familiar with the Senn HD-650 – take the sound of the HD-650 and remove the veil, remove the muddy bass and replace it with deep, tight bass and you have the FA-011. For those of you familiar with the FA-003 – take the sound of the FA-003 and add a subwoofer and a wee bit of high end and you have the FA-011. Grado fans, take your John Grado model of preference, refine every aspect of the sound, add supreme comfort and add more bass and you have the FA-011.
Despite the emphasized bass, the FA-011 does surprisingly well with most genres. It’s fantastic with rock, most classical pieces, most jazz, hip-hop/rap, electronic and vocals. The obvious characteristic that defines the FA-011 is the deep bass. However, the mids are typical Fischer Audio. Lush, life-like and vivid. Those of you who love the Fischer Audio house sound fear not for the critical mid range remains intact and beautiful as always. Also take note that the high end is tweaked a bit though. I found that the FA-011 sounded too bright at times with improperly mastered recordings and ever so slightly bright with well mastered ones. My guess is that the high end has been tweaked a slight bit to compensate for the huge amount of bass these things can put out.
Another promising feature of these headphones is the huge soundstage. I found that the soundstage is not 100% accurate but boy does it sound amazing. Imagine taking a 180 degree view of the soundstage and spacing it out proportionally to about to about 200-220 degrees. The FA-011 provides a huge soundstage that remains relatively accurate while providing good depth and even a sense of height. Binaural recordings truly shine with these headphones in a way they shine with few other headphones I have heard.
More Sound Specifics….
I found the FA-011 aptly suited for most classical music – especially well mastered and well recorded albums. I played “Danzón No. 2” as played by the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. This piece is very dynamic and it has some very light as well as some very heavy and dynamic parts. The opening theme is light and airy on the FA-011. At 1:14 the bass section comes in and the bottom end is clearly heard on the FA-011. I guess the best description I can find is that instead of being dead center, you have the entire orchestra dead center but the bass section is about 10 feet closer and to the right. For me, it’s not the most accurate presentation but the few people I played it for absolutely LOVED it. Orchestral pieces and chamber pieces were just as impressive. However, the homerun on these were pipe organ recordings. Playing some recordings by Virgil Fox were not just impressive - they were down right jaw dropping.
On the Inception soundtrack the notes were airy and the bass was DEEP. The low end on this soundtrack can really be appreciated with the FA-011’s. The drum hits on Mombasa were low and deep bringing along with them a sense of space and depth. Needless to say, it sounded very impressive. You haven't heard the low notes on this soundtrack until you hear them with the FA-011!!
The FA-011 is perfectly suited for this genre. Playing “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga was a true pleasure. For those seeking a hi-fi club sound, the FA-011 provides that in spades. Lady Gaga’s vocals just floated above the music as they should and the bass was thumping along making me bop my head while enjoying the song. Truly fun headphones for listening to this genre…be it Lady Gaga, Madonna or Michael Jackson.
Listening to Paul Simon's "Graceland" is just amazing on the FA-003/FA-002W. With the FA-011, you appreciate another dimension. I kept telling myself "I know this isn't accuarate...but man, does it sound good!". From track to track, it just sounded so good - especially the parts that have a prominent bass part or parts where there are drum hits.
Due to the amazing mid-range, the FA-011 does well in jazz as well. Playing “Moanin’” was a delight. The bass was very prominent (a good thing) on the SACD while listening with the FA-011. This is good in this case because the bass is a little weak on this particular mastering of the recording and the FA-011 displayed the great bass playing proudly. Very enjoyable.
On “More Of Other Worlds, Other Sounds” the huge dynamic swings were very impressive and the FA-011 handled every dynamic jump with ease. If you guys need a recording with great sound quality and awesome dynamics, get this recording by Esquivel. On the second track, "Chant To The Night" there is a nice dynamic intro followed by some nice mellow trumpet playing on the left, piano in the middle and the percussion section and chorus on the right. The trumpet sounded very accurate and airy. The piano remained lifelike and the drums on the left exhibited a nice bit of heft which goes missing on most headphones. The bass, while much more prominent than other headphones, didn't overpower anything and remained pleasant throughout.
I played “Hotel California” from the DCC release mastered by Steve Hoffman. As with the rest, it was very enjoyable. The bass was very prominent but didn’t overshadow any other instrument. A very pleasurable listen.
One word: WOW! I haven’t heard bass thumping like this since I had the HD-650’s! The vocals and rest of the instrumentation on various tracks came across very well but the bass was thumping along better and clearer than at most local clubs. If this is a genre you love, you need to experience your favorite songs with the FA-011!
While not a music genre, I thought I would mention the superb performance of the FA-011 while gaming. Explosions are intense, placement is accurate and the comfort level just makes this the ultimate gaming headphone. I played some Call of Duty for well over 2 hours and my ears didn’t get sweaty, my head wasn’t sore from the headband and the aural intensity of the experience just made it all that more fun! The FA-011, as is, is an awesome gaming headphone! If the FA-011 had an optional headset microphone attachment for voice, I would not hesitate to recommend it as the ultimate gaming headphone. It’s that good!! Fischer Audio…take note. ;-)
MORE NOTABLE NOTES….:
On most headphones my volume knob rarely goes past the 10 o’clock position. With some headphones, it can get to the 11 o’clock position. With the FA-011 the knob got to 4 o’clock!! The only other headphones to push the knob further were orthodynamic headphones.
Make no mistake, these babies require more power than your average headphone to drive them properly. The more juice you throw at them, the better the dynamics, impact and overall sound will be. If you are considering these for your next purchase and do not own a headphone amp, portable or home, you might want to consider ordering one to power these power hungry babies as listening to these without proper amplification should be a crime. They will still sound very nice but nowhere near the level of performance you will get with proper amplification.
Here is where the rubber meets the road…
The FA-011 is a great headphone but it’s a headphone I can see many having a love/hate relationship with – especially if it’s your only headphone. The bass emphasis and ever so slight treble emphasis are what will cause this. Whenever you emphasize a particular frequency range you also emphasize many problems inherent in those frequencies. Due to bad monitoring and bad mastering, many, many recordings have problems in the bass region and in the high treble region (~10,000 Hz +). If your recordings have these problems, they will be greatly emphasized with the FA-011. The slight bump in the highs will also emphasize any and all signs of hiss in a recording as hiss tends to reign supreme right around 10,000 Hz and when you have a hissy recording that will become even more prominent – it’s no fun. A perfect example is the RVG version of “Moanin’”. The hiss is very prominent and every trumpet blow produced a thump which made the RVG simply unbearable to listen to. The Hoffman/Gray SACD of the same title, in contrast, was sublime on the FA-011.
This isn’t to say it’s the fault of the FA-011 for placing a bump on certain frequency ranges – quite the opposite. If producers had access to monitors of this quality they might notice the glaring problems in the crap they are making. These problems are noticeable on the FA-003 and FA-002W but they are much more noticeable on the FA-011. This isn’t to put down the FA-011 but you should all be aware that if your music has any problems in the low end or high end, it will show up with a vengeance on the FA-011.
On the other hand, on great recordings or great remasters, the FA-011, like all Fischer Audio headphones I have heard, shine in their own special way. Listening to XRCD’s, Hoffman/Gray SACD’s, Steve Hoffman DCC remasters, MFSL’s, Chesky recordings, Audio Fidelity remasters and my binaural recordings was a true pleasure….like taking a well cooked steak and seasoning it with some flavor.
The rule to follow with the FA-011 is this: CRAP IN - MAJOR CRAP OUT...QUALITY IN - MAJOR QUALITY OUT.
I think the FA-011 might just be the sweet spot in the Fischer Audio line up. I say this because the same people who heard the FA-003, FA-002W and FA-004 absolutely loved the FA-011 but didn’t quite love the others for one reason or another. The FA-011 seems to be pleasing to a wide range of people in my brief experience with them. If you are like an engineering friend of mine, and are a stickler for natural sound and neutrality, then stay away from the FA-011 as your ultimate purchase. If you are like me and can enjoy different types of sound signatures for different genres, the FA-011 should be on your must buy list.
In all honesty, I think that if you have a pair of FA-011's and FA-003's, you will have a listening tool for anything and everything in your audio arsenal. It’s no secret that I love the FA-003 and a natural and neutral sound signature. That’s the only reason I don’t absolutely love the FA-011…but hey…that’s what the FA-003 is for!!!
So, to conclude a lengthy review, this is what I honestly opine about these headphones:
I remain in love and married to my FA-003 and FA-002W due to their neutral and natural sound signature. However, the FA-011 makes a very nice mistress. Beautiful looks, amazingly supreme comfort, fantastic soundstage and a great "fun" sound…I can honestly say that I like these very, very, very much…why…you could say that it’s almost like being in love!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR BASS HEADS, GAMERS, LATE NIGHT MOVIE FANS AND MUSIC FANS WHO ENJOY DEEP, TIGHT BASS, LIQUID MIDS AND AIRY HIGHS. A wonderful mistress to the FA-003 and/or FA-002W!!!
EDIT: PICTURES ADDED BELOW!
EDIT (06/15/2011): My thanks to Mark for providing me with the following links and information!
If you need replacement ear pads, you can get them cheaply here!
Edited by LFF - 6/15/11 at 2:00am