I was asked why I'm comparing two phones aimed at very different audiences. My reasoning is this...
The FI-BA-SS is not exactly an easily accessible phone. The layman's experience with them will, for the most part, be limited to flowery descriptions by owners, and comparisons to other high hanging fruit. I received the opportunity to audition it, and I decided to compare it to the more ubiquitous GR07, and earphone that many more people will have heard. I realize I may have come into this with sound signature preferences, etc. but I have written exactly what I heard. I hope you enjoy the read. Now,
A little background:
Both these iems need very little introduction. On one hand we have the well known GR07, and on the other we have the exotic FI-BA-SS that is shrouded in mystique - partly due to its price.
The FI-BA-SS gave me probably the biggest shock of my head-fi life. The low end was like nothing I've heard, or expected, from an armature based driver. I guess one could say it's not just an armature...it has balanced air movement technology. This is basically a vented BA that allows for the awesome bass response it has.
The GR07 MKII is the latest iteration of my all-time favorite iem. The sonic changes that were made include a better extended and more present treble, slightly more forward upper mids, an improved dynamic range, and a fair reduction of the sibilance issue that plagued its predecessor.
One of the major differences between these two iems is their sensitivity. You'll notice that the FI-BA-SS is easily one of the most sensitive iems on the planet, allowing it to show off subtle changes in a recording. The GR07 has a resistance of 50 ohms, making significantly harder to drive than the FI-BA-SS - it requires almost a 2 fold increase in power to get to similar volume levels as the FI-BA-SS.
For my sake, I'm going to refer to the FI-BA-SS as the 'SS' because typing out the full name is quite time consuming.
(I've posted the best quality links I could find under each song).
1) Bem, Bem, Maria - Gipsy Kings (FLAC). This song was chosen for the fact that it has a lot going on. From the Spanish guitar rhythms, to the drums, and to Nicolas Reyes' voice weaving in and out of it all, it remains a treat to listen to.
Right off the bat, I'm noticing a fair bit of extra midbass on the SS that is not present in the GR07. This directly affects the clarity of the vocals and guitar, and contributes to a slight veil on this particular song vs the GR07. Both do a great job on the sub-bass regions of the bass guitar. The vocals on the GR07 sound more more forward which, along with the better extended treble (allows for more shimmery cymbals), give me a more enjoyable experience.
Winner: GR07 MKII
2) I Gave You All - Mumford and Sons (FLAC). I'm drawn to this song simply because the sound of this band is like no other you'll hear on the radio today. Their combination of traditional folk rhythms with soulful lyrics is captivating.
Again, there's a considerable amount of extra mid-bass in the SS. However, instead of being totally detrimental, it lends some heft to the lead singer's vocals. Unfortunately the upper mids are forward to the extent that, when combined with the slight veil, cause what I can only describe as a radio-ish sound in the vocals. To my ears, separation in the mids and upper registers is done better on the GR07.
Winner: GR07 MKII
3) Apres Moi - Regina Spektor (320 kbps MP3). This is a song about the poor revolting against an oppressive upper class. What's really impressive is that the artiste seamlessly blends 3 languages into an coherent piece of audio art. This song is primarily piano and vocal driven.
Like I mentioned, the track is primarily vocal and piano driven, and the piano is the first thing to jump out at you. Both iems present the piano well, but the SS's rendering of the it has a way of drawing you in as if the two were old childhood friends. Here, the warmth and mids of the SS offer a more euphoric experience, rather than the comparatively cooler presentation of the GR07. It was a treat listening to this song on the SS.
Winner : FI-BA-SS
4) Helping Hand - Yo-Yo Ma, et al. (320 kbps MP3). This happens to be one of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite albums. It's a showcase of what happens when geniuses come together to make music. This is one of the most beautiful videos you'll ever see, and the best sounding 360p youtube video I've come across.
Going from the GR07 to the FI-BA-SS, Chris Thile's guitar isn't as clear/pronounced, and Stuart Duncan's mandolin loses definition. Yo-Yo Ma's cello loses a lot of 'sweetness' (when the instrument hits a note, and it just makes you close your eyes and soak it in), and Edgar Meyer's double bass doesn't sound nearly as bottomless as it did on the GR07. Overall, it's just a less pleasurable experience.
Winner: GR07 MKII
To avoid any possible fit issues on the SS, I've switched to the large triple flange tips from the Meelectronics M6 tip kit.
5) Limit to Your Love - James Blake (320 kbps MP3. The youtube video below is of noticeably poorer quality compared to the actual MP3).
This song is pretty much my benchmark for bass and separation of frequencies on an iem. The track has a VERY solid bassline that kicks in, and beats like hummingbird wings, then rumbles your socks off. This is all going on while cymbal and a snare drum are being struck. One of the things I look for is the slight echo of the rimshot while the bassline is being played. Also, the cymbals can't be affected at all.
Once again the SS is ever so slightly more convincing with the piano due to the additional warmth over the GR07. A few seconds later, and my jaw is again on the floor in disbelief that anything but a large dynamic driver is putting out this kind of bass. It punches like Mike Tyson, and yet it maneuvers like a typical armature, though it's not quite up there with the faster ones. Moving to the GR07, I hear less rumble in the mid-bass region, and more energy in the treble in the form of more pronounced cymbals. To me, the thinner notes on the GR07 make the bass seem slightly more controlled. I'm also hearing more vocal clarity. Some may find this hard to believe, but that's simply what I'm hearing. The rimshot echo is clearly distinguishable on both.
Winner = Tie. Both have trade offs. The SS has fuller mid-bass, but the cymbals sounded less enticing.
6) Don't Wake Me Up - Lianne La Havas (256 kpbs AAC)
Lianne is a fairly new artiste. She's a half-Greek, half- Jamaican, British national with one hell of a voice. Her entire album is a treat, and I had a hard time picking a track from it to evaluate. I settled on this one because of the opening sequence. She sings acapella and harmonizes with herself in three, sometimes 4, different octaves. I'm going to be looking for how well the voices are separated....and how well they're blended. What I mean is that I'd prefer is they're not hyper-separated.
Both phones are very detailed. I can easily pick out several things in the recording. The SS sounds considerably more 'raw' during the a capella part. When the instruments came in, I found the GR07 to be simply better at portraying the drums and guitars. I also found that he GR07's smoother response worked better for conveying the atmosphere of the song.
Winner = GR07
I caught a bit of flack for finding the GR07 better with the majority of songs. The other part of criticism came from FI-BA-SS owners who disagreed with the way I described the SS's sound. Remember, this is a comparison. Certain things may not show up, unless directly compared to another product. Like I said earlier, I've done my best to relay exactly what I heard.
Update: Night Crawler's Impressions
I've compressed NC's impressions to make this post shorter. You can find it in full here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/624560/mini-shootout-vsonic-gr07-mkii-vs-final-audio-design-fi-ba-ss/15#post_8665405
Edited by eke2k6 - 9/8/12 at 6:50pm