Final Audio Design Adagio III Review
Final Audio Design or FAD as I will refer to them from now on is a high-end audio company from Japan. They are known by me and many for having some of the most expensive earphones as well as a pair of single balanced armature IEMs for over a grand. For many years their cheapest IEM was around 200 pounds (not including the Piano Forte II which is an earbud but a lot cheaper). Well now with the launch of the Adagio line FAD have a more entry level line of earphones which intriguing enough in its self.
In the Adagio line there are three earphones, the II, the III and the V. So what I have got is in the middle of the line.
What is quite interesting about it is that it features BAM or balancing air movement, which is a sort of trademark thing of theirs that is not really known too much about. So these earphones are rather cheap (even more so for FAD) and feature all of the FAD trademarks.
However one big difference is the type of driver they use as the Adagio line uses dynamic and most of FADs earphones are balanced armature (BA) other than their Piano Forte (earbud) line.
So nonetheless it is an intriguing line and even more so for me as it will be my first experience with on of there earphones.
The set-up I have used is a bit different to normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier.
The ear tips I used which happened to be the comfiest I tried as well as the best sounding by far were a pair of ML Sony Hybrid tips that I use on my Sony MDR-EX1000s.
I think the design of these is pretty cool featuring both a red and a white earphone. This makes it so each earphone is easily distinguished to which one is the right (red) earpiece and which is the left (white). The cable is all low key and black. These are also vented on the back of the housings which I am going to hazard a guess is the BAM!
The build quality of these, especially the cable is something I would really expect from some cheapy pound store earphones not something from one of the most expensive and stylish IEM manufactures.
The jack of these is right angled and has a very small and low profile housing, which is not the best built but is quite nice nonetheless. It is terminated with a gold plated plug and the jack also has a flexible flat strain relief.
It then moves onto the cable, which is far from impressive from my respect. It is the two channel cables joined next to each other. No rubber around it or a braid to keep it together and I do see the two cables separating and getting in a right mess. At the least I would expect it to be protected like very other earphone I have ever reviewed has had (other than the braided cables). The two cables are also very thin and do not look strong at all.
The y-split is just a tiny bit of plastic with slight strain reliefs each end and simply separates the cable from the bottom so they are still the same thin weak cables up on top. The one positive is that these have a cable cinch.
The housings are a lot better built than the able. They have a slightly flexible (is silicone and while not solid not that flexible either) strain relief, which does the job. The housings are all plastic apart from a metal ring separating the front end from the back half. On the back of the IEMs there is a point and then a ring around that which has five vents with some covered with a filter of sorts. The front side after the metal ring is the smaller side and also is host to the nozzle. The nozzle is very short and also thick so is very solid and sturdy.
The build quality would not be that bad if for a slightly better cable, just anything but a cable that reminds me of what I have on some cheap £1 earbuds and the housings are actually nicely done.
This is not going to be a very long section. I was majorly disappointed with what was included. All you get is three pairs of single flange silicone tips. There was no case, which I was quite disappointed by after seeing some of the cases that come with the other FAD products such as the sleek mirror case that comes with the FAD Heaven IV.
Finding a fit that was comfortable enough was fairly standard and easy although finding a fit that actually made these sound alright took a while and the stock tips do not give a good understanding of how these sound from my findings. It was only when I started tip rolling and started using the Sony Hybrid tips that I realized the earphones potential.
The earphones are very light and therefore do not feel apply pressure on the ears and they therefore do not fatigue. They also have an insertion depth on the shallower side of things, which makes them not feel intrusive. The cable is worn cable down but does not touch or annoy any part of your ear or your face like some earphones have in the past.
These have a shallow insertion and are vented/ported, which basically equals subpar isolation and that, is what you get here. You can here a bit of what is going on around you. You can try and counter act it with some foam tips or triple flange but with the earphones it is something you have to deal with. I will point out it does still not make them unbearable when out with them.
Microphonics (Cable Noise)
When I described the build of the cables I was nothing but harsh but to give the cable their due they do some how do something very well. They have pretty much non-existent cable noise that bares no annoyance, which is slightly unheard from a IEM that is worn cable down and is easily as good in this department as IEMs worn over the ear.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so dint make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
Soundstage and instrument separation
Before you get so get so annoyed about the fact that they may have poor isolation down to the fact these are vented then just wait a second, as it is more than likely that it contributes to the vast airy soundstage of these. They are actually very wide, just lacking from the big boys of IEM soundstage (EX100, IE8 and ASG-1) but clearly better than average.
The speed of the earphones are nothing more than an average dynamic driver which is not slow but not fast like most BA earphones. However because of the airy nature of these earphones when there is a fairly slow passage of music the Adagios do a great job of keeping everything apart and with a great air to it as well. It does however get a bit overwhelmed when things really start to speed up but I do not really expect much more from a dynamic driver as they only earphone I have come across that is dynamic and really fast is the EX1000.
These earphones are undoubtedly bass focused (a lot more so with the stock tips) and to give them its due it is pretty darn good. It is true powerful dynamic bass in most of its properties. The mid-bass quantity is big and warm with a large body hit. What is nice about these is the speed in which they attack in as it delivers rather fast, quick blows. The bass is not the tightest and at times definitely feels boomy and a tad bloated.
Now the sub-bass region is awesomely done but is rather different to what I am used to and I think it is down to the magical BAM and the vents. Now when I was a kid (about 5 years ago) my parent got me an airzooka, Here is a link to one:
I have nothing to do with them and am not recommending a purchase or nothing. It basically launches air at you and you really feel it. Well when there is a real bassy song that what I feel like my head is getting pounded with. Not bass but air which is effective and different.
I would describe these earphones with a V shaped signature and the mids are not so recessed and they are clear and always heard but the bass and the treble is peaked over them.
They are fairly thick but also smooth and airy. The mids do not suffer any bleed from the bass but are fairly warm. The vocals in the low mid section are fairly dry sounding but when you get to the high mids the sound gets a lot thinner and also a tad shakey but the vocals and sound are a lot more revealing and rather bright.
The whole mids though just feel empty and they do lack energy slightly which makes them feel more laid back and recessed than they actually are. Amping them really does add to the fullness of them and makes them feel and sound a lot more whole and rounded which is nice. All my amps do this perfectly.
The treble is energetic with a big attack and a fair amount of sparkle. It is never sibilant which is nice but they do have a tendency to be quite sharp sounding and fairly harsh. The treble is not a great quality treble with a load of detail and is big in presence. I am appreciative of its presence as it stops the earphones sounding dark and gives them a V signature but I would like a better quality and tone to it as it can become a tad annoying and fatiguing with its sharpness. They also are a bit quick in terms of decay and they feel rushed. They could benefit from a bit of extra prolonging.
My first experience of FAD has been a mixed bag. Instantly disappointed by the packaging and lack of accessories and then to the poor cable build. It then started going up hill with them being fairly comfortable and having no microphonics. Then my first sonic impressions were rather bad and I was preparing myself for a negative review. I kept going listening more with the stock tips and giving them more burn in but I was still disappointed. It was not until I gave them a chance with the Sony Hybrids that I had a breakthrough and got to a good sound! So I will say if your going to get a pair which is not a bad idea at 80 pounds I will tell you to make sure that you get some Sony Hybrid tips with them so that you ooze all the performance out of them.
They have led me to wanting to try the FAD Heaven range big time!!!
Edited by Swimsonny - 6/23/12 at 4:25am