Music, I did hear the FI-BA-SS.
Okay, I am going to post impressions while my thoughts are fresh. If my wording lacks nuance, please forgive me. As soon as I finish, I am off to spend more time listening at Jabens. Please also understand that my impressions were on one occassion and not at all final. If I insult any headphones that people love, no offence intended and indeed my opinions are subject to change. (I am cognisant in particular of Shane's revelations.)
Yesterday I got to Jaben and asked to hear the FI-BA-SS and the Heaven IV. Great guys incidentally; very helpful. First visual impressions: the SS is much smaller than I expected and the IV is much larger than I expected. I was quite surprised. I put on the SS and listened to St. James by Snakefarm which is a song that I use to test everything from bass response to soundstage to female vocals. It is exquisitely produced and hits all the right buttons. What I perceived was born out by all the songs that followed. The SS does a remarkable job with vocals, not just Anna Domino but also Peter Townsend on I am One from Quadrophenia, Eva Cassidy and pretty much all others. It is a special quality to this headphone. Unfortunately I was otherwise bored listening to the SS. It does everything well: good bass, decent soundstage width, surprising amounts of detail where you don't expect it, but it was just leaving me feeling fidgety and uninvolved. It could have been a mood thing. The SS was not drawing me in.
Then I switched the Heaven IV. It is a bit more dynamic but it does not have the same exquisite vocals, that being the SS' saving grace. Great value for $200+ dollars but it didn't offer me anything as an ES5 owner.
It was not shaping up to be a good headphone session. Maybe it was just the wrong day. I do have bad headphone days...
So I switched to the TG334. Okay, maybe the day was going to turn out alright after all. Now this is not the thread to wax eloquent on Fitear but I mention it because everything that I felt was missing from the SS was suddenly in the house and between my ears: nuance, layers, presence and most importantly: compulsion! I was compelled to listen, drawn in, involved, curious and thirsting for more. The transparency of the TG334 is breathtaking and almost impossible to believe in a universal isolating BA IEM. (I then did comparisons with certain Fitear universal demos which I will not discuss here. I am going back for more Fitear today.)
So my feeling from this short session is that, to my ears, the FI-BA-SS was hitting below its weight. A lot of money is being spent on that hand-milled casing. It does produce exquisite vocals. But otherwise I just don't think that it competes with the similarly-priced 334. In the future my views may change but, from yesterday's short session, that is where I am now.
So.. after more than an hour with various Fitears, I asked to hear the PF X, choosing the X-CC instead of the X-G. (Yes, the latter exists!) I thought that my day was getting interesting but I had no idea the turn that it was about to take. When I bought the PF IX, I was warned to suspend disbelief and prepare to be shocked. I braced myself, I cleared my mind and... I wasn't shocked, I just fell in love. I love the PF IX; let me declare this to the world. The unintended follow-on effect was that my defences were down for the PF X. I was prepared for it to have thicker mids, less bass, a bit hot from the resonance, overall much like the PF IX but more extreme. Oh yah? Bang! I took a hockey puck between the eyes. (Canadian here.)
The PF X is not at all like the PF IX. I put on St. James and there was not "less bass", there was "no bass". Well perhaps only a 70% reduction from the PF IX. The instrumentation was bizarre. Percussion faded in and out. It just plain did not work. But....oddly... I was inspired. I made my most creative decision of the day and put on Good Love is on the Way by John Mayer Trio. This is one of the most poorly produced live albums in my collection (which is strange since it is only a few years old). It has horrible bloated bass and everything is boomy and unclean. On the PF X it was very very interesting, completely wrong but a lot of fun. The bass faded into the background; Steve Jordan's drums tapped quite unrealistically up at the ceiling, with an occassional completely disjointed and barely audible cymbal crash way off to the left and right; John Mayer's vocals were this huge bubble above my head and his guitar wailed calmly behind and below it. I really liked it. And that is not the right music to listen to with the PF X.
I then decided to give the PF X a fair shake and switched to some acoustic guitar music. Pause for dramatic effect. it is unbelievable. This headphone renders acoustic guitar and piano in a manner that defies description. MuppetFace talked of 'thick as syrup'. I like that description. I will simply say Godhead. It transcends mere audio and enters divinity.
However this headphone is insane. I put on If I Had a Hammer by Peter, Paul and Mary. This is the sweetest, least offensive song ever written. This is kumbaya, music for zoos to nurse orphaned pandas to sleep, a song that even the cheapest earbud cannot ruin. It is actually quite fascinating on the PF IX because Paul's vocals are in the left ear, Peter's in the right and Mary's above the head. Paul usually fades into the harmony but on the PF IX his vocals are as clear and distinct as a bell wringing beside your ear. It sounds especially fabulous but this song always sounds fabulous. Rock me to sleep, sweet P,P&M.
If I Had a Hammer is unlistenable on the PF X. It screeches like a cheap 1960s transistor radio. As I see it, the resonance on the harmonies create some kind of wave interference. I now understand what shigzeo meant when he described the 1601SC as too hot. With the wrong music, the PF X can be a dentist drill to the brain. Terrible headphone, eh? Except that I then put on Keith Jarret's Koln Concert. The jaw just drops. On the sixth day God said screw the animals, I shall bring forth piano. This headphone is also the doorway to rapture.
So I quickly started to guess at what would and wouldn't work. Gentle Giant's Runaway from In A Glass House, one of the greatest complex compositions of Prog Rock: wrong, wrong, wrong. But switch to The River off the previous album Octopus (my avatar), a song with rich compelling mids: oh, that's very nice. Most fascinating was listening to Eva Cassidy. The PF X is not a great vocal headphone but if you stay away from harmonies, it's not bad at all. Eva's vocals, so exquisite on the FI-BA-SS, and rich on the TG334 have a paper flower like quality on the PF X, delicate and fragile as if a breeze might blow through them. But poor Eva, I don't think that she has ever before been upstaged by her acoustic guitar but on Time After Time with the PF X, that is exactly what happened. Her acoustic guitar grips the soul. It is a great listen.
I decided to push the envelope and put on Supper's Ready by Genesis. That's pretty wierd but it's also quite nice. 12-string guitars! (I never did get to Apocalypse in 9/8s though...) At this point I am thinking that I am liking the PF X too much. That's not a good thing because current cash flow puts it out of my reach. So I did the obvious thing to exit with my dignity and wallet in tact: I put on The Sloop John B by the Beachboys. I was confident that it would suck and it did not disappoint. Choose your metaphor: screechy 1960s Japanese transistor radio, dentist drill into the temples; if it involves pain, you probably are in the right zone. It was awful. I handed the PF X back to Jaben.
So I think that I figured the PF X out. It is a weird-ass stupid headphone. But it is an idiot savante, capable of ruining the simplest sweet song while elevating other music to Godhead. I don't doubt that there is alchemy in that chrome copper alloy, and probably some toad's wart in the witchcraft from whence it belched forth. MuppetFace, I agree with your many descriptions of the PF X (which I gratefully collected long ago with others in OneNote) but I diagree with one statement. You said (refering also to the PF X): "The Piano Forte IX is the more balanced of the two, so it's marginally more versatile." In my view, the PF IX is extremely more versatile. The PF IX is currently my favorite headphone, the one that I would take to a desert island if I could only have one (assuming that I could escape the sound of seagulls and waves). I could not choose the PF X for that role, not unless I was willing to throw away a huge part of my music collection.
I don't want to hear it again. As I see it, the PF X is to be explored slowly and with a mind of zen-like calm. There is so much to be experienced and she is not to be wasted on track skipping at Jaben. One thing that has resulted from yesterday's session is that I have gone from 'perhaps, maybe even likely' to buy the PF X to 'all-but-certain'. This belongs in my life at some point. I can wait.
Sorry for the stream of consciousness and the non-efforts at editing and correcting typos. Jaben awaits. I want to get this off my chest and out.