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Mini Review - Final Audio's Piano Forte II

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 


As some of you may know, I was the lucky one chosen (Australia/NZ) in a giveaway for a pair if Final Audio's Piano Forte II ear-buds.  I'd like to thank Jaben Australia for the opportunity, and wish them well for their new venture Down Under.
Couple of things up first - I don't use buds generally - haven't since I got my first IEM's some years back.  Unfortunatley, I have nothing really to compare them with - and it wouldn't be fair to make a comparison with my SE425's - because they're in a vastly different category and price bracket.  So for this exercise, I borrowed my wife's Sony buds (they came bundled with her 2Gb MP3 player), and also the Apple buds that originally came with my Touch.  This would be an in teresting exercise - as I've never heard any of these buds before.  I personally prefer a balanced sound, with maybe a touch of warmth.
For my source - I'm using my trusty 32Gb iPod Touch G4 > LOD > Fiio E11.  All the source files are ALAC.
The Final Audio Piano Forte II
The box is a brown and black standard retail box - with a molded white plastic inner housing the buds.  The box is printed in Japanese and English.  The main blurb on the side of the box states:
"These earphones recreate the realistically dense sound quality of horn-type speakers.  A sense of open space previously difficult to achieve with earphones is produced here.  Listen to high-quality live sound.  With the unique aperture of the ear buds, favorable fitting has been achieved, and the need for ear pads has been eliminated.  Produces top quality sound suitable for professional musicians as well as those who truly enjoy listening to music.  Equipped with a large-bore 15.5mm diameter dynamic type driver unit"
OK - so these should be pretty good .....
The back of the retail box is printed solely in Japanese - as is the Users Manual inside the case.
Piano Forte II Specs
(from their website)
15.5 mm Dynamic Driver
SPL 108 dB
Impedance 16Ω
Cable Length 1.2m
Weight 13g
OK - On with the review.  I'll make this short and simple.  I'll be using the following tracks to test Highs / Mids / Lows:
Highs/Mids - Julia Fischer & The Russian Philhamonic (album Tchaikovsky's Violin concerto in D) - "Melodie"
Mids - Diana Krall (album 'The Girl In The Other Room') - "Love Me Like A Man"
Lows - Amy Winehouse (album 'Back To Black) - "You Know I'm No Good"
Balance/Overall - Florence & The Machine (album 'Lungs') - "Howl"
This will be desribing mainly what I hear - and which bud I'd prefer.
PFII - Looks and feels quite solid (plastic housing).  Good strain relief at the plug.    No real strain relief at housing - just an extended plastic cover down about 1 inch.
SONY - Again solid plastic housing.  Strain relief at plug end is quite short.  No real strain relief at housing - just an extended plastic cover down about 1 inch.
Apple - Looks solid, and I actually quite like the cord.  Strain relief at both ends is simple but flexible which is good.
For what they are, each is solidly built.  Probably the nod would go to the PFII.  The housing does feel quite durable.
PFII - Took a while to get a snug fit, and to be quite honest, I'm not sure if I got it right.  No matter how I tried to fit properly (with cables down) it ended up hurting the inside of my ears, and the mids sounded "hollow".  In the end I swapped ears, and wore them with the cable over the ear.  The sound immediately improved as did the comfort.  YMMV with the fit - personally I'd like to retry with some foam covers.  It might help with both the comfort and the seal.  For this trial I used no covers and in the wires down position - as this is the way it's supposed to be fitted.
SONY - Nicely rounded shape.  Easy to fit with wires down.  Relatively comfortable.  Not much more to be said.
Apple - Again, good shape and easy to fit wires down.  Again - relatively comfortable.
**Note - my big problem with the PFII may be because I don't usualy wear buds - but they were really uncomfortable.  YMMV.**
EDIT - After trialing all 3 buds for over 3 hours I can conclusively say that buds without some sort of comfort cover are not for me.  My ears HURT.
I use Jula Fischer's rendition of "Melodie" - because the violin is such a beautiful instrument for comparing highs - and because the bass is typically lacking, you can concentrate on highs and mids alone..
PFII - The highs sounded pretty good.  No sense of distortion - but just subdued.
SONY - Definitely more clarity - again no distortion, and to me better sound than the PFII (because the highs are more forward).
Apple - Like the Sony, these handle the highs well and are quite clear.
My preference : Sony > Apple > PFII
Diana Krall needs no introduction.  Most of her music is great to track mids with.
PFII - Krall's voice was definitely more involving than the Sony or Apple.  The piano sounded a little hollow/boomy which detracted.  Tonally - these just did not sound natural.
SONY - The clarity is good, and the mids are quite well balanced, but a little thin.  Definitely a leaner and brighter sound than the PFII
Apple - Again similar to the Sony - brighter and leaner, although a touch more body than the Sony.  Funily enough for this track, the Apple buds probably sound the most natural.
My preference : Apple > Sony > PFII
*Note* - none of these buds really captured the essence of Krall.  They were just a little lifeless and not as involving as either my SE425's or SRH840's.  I guess this is why Shure is famed for it's mids.
I use Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" because it has an excellent bass backbeat.
PFII - Wow - the bass is very present and extends quite low.
SONY - Sounds quite good - with the "thump" extending lower than the Apple buds.  Clarity over all is very good.  Nowhere near as much presence as the PFII.
Apple - Surprisingly good clean bass, but it doesn't extend very low, and therefore doesn't really have the punch the song really needs.
My preference : PFII > Sony > Apple
I'm using FATM's "Howl" - because it has a good bass line, great mids, and needs good balance overall to sound great (eg my SRH 840's make this track sing)
PFII - The bass is quite good (definitely the best of the three), but can sometimes overpower because of the recessed highs.  It is very definitely a dark sound.  It also sounds lightly hollow to me - not as natural as I'd prefer.
SONY - Really nicely balanced although just a little light on the bass.  Very clear though.  Perhaps a little too bright due to the lack of bass punch/extension.  Interestingly - at one stage i was adjusting them in my ears, and accidentally pressed them to my ears (creating a seal) - they sounded phenominal.  If they had the same set-up as IEM's they'd be very good.
Apple - The mids are great, they are very clear, but they don't have the bass that this song needs.  For me, a better sound overall than the PFII - but still one I would not be happy with.
My preference : Sony > Apple > PFII
Really hard one to pick.  I thought going into this that the PFII should blow both the Sony and the Apple out of the water.  It didn't.  What I would say is that the PFII is very dark.  The Sony is probably the most balanced, but is still quite bright.  The Apple has quite well balanced mids/highs but is very bass light.  For my preferences, if I had to choose one it would be the Sonys.  Thankfully I don't - none of them compare favourably with my SE425's or SRH840's.  Nor did I expect them to.  My personal preference so far seems to be for all around balance with a slight touch of warmth.  I'm not a V shaped fan.  I don't like anything overly bright, or overly dark.  The Sony's come closest to my individual preferences.
I would imagine for mainstream listeners, they would find the PFII more attractive - simply for the added bass.  For the casual listener, these may be ideal.
To Jaben - thanks again for the opportunity.  Sorry they weren't to my taste - but I called it the way I saw it.
To NZ headfiers (first) - if anyone wants the PFII's, I'm quite happy to post them to you (snail mail uninsured) - I'd like to make it as cheap as possible (obviously).  These will be wasted on you if you don't like a dark sound, and don't mind using buds.  I'd just like to see them go to a better (more appreciative) home than I can provide.  If no head-fi kiwis respond, I'll open it up to Australasia.  Just indicate interest below and I'll contact you by PM.  If the successful candidate ends up not liking them either - please don't try to sell them.  Put it up again for another head-fier (use this thread).  Lets get them to a good home.  I'm sure it's what Jaben would have wanted.
post #2 of 5
Thread Starter 

Bump - OK, will open it up to our Ozzie neighbours as well.


Let me know if interested - and I'll find out how much it is to post.

post #3 of 5

I wonder what the difference is between Piano Forte I and II.  I have a pair of the original models that I got for free with a headphone book.  I haven't listened to them much, but for freebies they seem pleasant enough.  I did put on a pair of silicone covers that I had, which help out with the comfort.  Listening to them now I do think that the vocals are remarkably clear and detailed, but everything around them seems a little off.  Overall they seem kind of unnatural.  One of these days I'll have to pull out some of my other earbuds and see how they compare.

post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 

Another update.


I grabbed a set of foam covers off an old pair of earphones that originally came with an HTC Snap Smartphone.  Put them on the PFII, and it immediately helped with both comfort and fit.  they still feel awkward, but they aren't as painful as they were.  Then using the Equalizer app with my Touch, I added a gradual rise from 1KHz through to about 2.5KHz (around 2dB), then a slightly sharper rise from there to the 10KHz mark (an additional 3dB).  It's not precise - and needs some serious tweaking to get it right - I just wanted to boost the treble.


It's turned these into a completely different beast.  Not quite as dark, and actually quite pleasant to listen to.  Tonally the piano is still not quite right in Krall's tracks - but it's better.


My earlier assertions are still valid.  They continue to be quite dark - but this can be tamed somewhat with EQ.


Anyway - not really for me.  Looking for a new owner - reminder these are FREE - still awaiting any indication of interest.

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Received PM, and the Piano Forte II's are on their way to their new owner.  Hope you enjoy them Wayne.

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