Custom Art FIBAE 5

Scuba Devils

Headphoneus Supremus
Best price-to-performance hybrid to have graced my ears in this hobby to date... period.
Pros: > Wonderfully balanced, non-offensive tuning with deep sub extension, smooth mids, and ample sparkle up top
> Superb comfort - small, light shells that allow for extended listening sessions
> Excellent all-rounder, but nor are they boring
> Soft and pliable stock cable with very low microphonics
Cons: These are nitpicks...

> Packaging and accessories could be improved on
> While the shells are small and comfortable, I feel the finish could be improved on (the custom do look more premium)
> They take time to settle, be that brain or driver burn-in... be patient
Custom Art 'Fibae 5' - $1,099

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Introduction & Caveats

As always, I like to note that I am not a professional reviewer - this is my hobby, and I enjoy trying out various sets and sharing my thoughts. I often get a discount in exchange, but this in no way influences the content of my review - I choose the sets I am keen to try, and this typically means I've done a fair bit of research before pulling the trigger, getting a good sense as to whether it will be a set I will likely enjoy - and for the most part, this has been the case... hence my positive ratings. Some last longer than others, there are only so many I can afford or have the time to hold on to, and part of the enjoyment for me is testing various sets and determining how they compare to my existing collection.

I would like to thank @MusicTeck as always for the opportunity and their industry-leading customer service - an absolute pleasure to deal with.

The Fibae 5 retails for $1,099 and is available from MusicTeck HERE

Custom Art as far as I understand started out as a DIY brand, and are based in Warsaw, Poland. I've heard great things about the Fibae 7 over the last year or so, and indeed fantastic praise lauded upon the subject of this review, the Fibae 5 (F5 for the rest of this review) when it hit the streets a few months ago.

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Specifications
  • Single 10mm Dynamic Driver Sub-Low, Dual BA Mid, Single Planar High, Single Planar Super High
  • Flat Impedance technology
  • Pressure Optimizing Design
  • 3D-printed waveguide
  • 109 dB @1kHz @0.1V
  • 10 Ohm @1kHz (+-2 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
  • 10Hz-21000Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
Unboxing & Accessories

I was a bit underwhelmed by the unboxing experience and accessories, but to be fair it is a nitpick as I noted in the 'cons' above. I still feel it's fair to call it out, just as I call it out as something to praise when applicable. DUNU are a brand that always spring to mind when I think of a premium and bar-raising unboxing experience, and I do love a good unboxing experience... even though it's quite fleeting, and ultimately what matters is the product - as such, I certainly wouldn't deduct even half a star here.

As always in Ireland, it started to rain as I commenced my outdoor photo shoot - see the first few drops below!

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Cable
I've read some reports of people receiving a 3.5mm cable, and indeed my understanding was to expect the same - however I was pleasantly surprised to find a 4.4mm termination when it arrived. The cable is nice and soft, pliable and with very little microphonics - it's one I can use with ease in any listening scenario, be that in bed or out walking.

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Case
The case is a bit too big and cumbersome for my liking - I much prefer something small and durable that I can pop in my backpack when going to the office etc. This is a tad too large for general portability in my opinion, but I guess that depends on the individual and their needs. On the flipside, the extra space does mean plenty of storage for tips or indeed an additional cable etc. Regardless of size preference, this is a nicely made case and will certainly offer protection for the contents.

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Tips
There are a selection of tips included, however I don't have them to hand to include photos of - plus I've not used them to comment, I always reach for 3rd party tips in my collection and rarely if ever use stock IEM tips.

Design & Fit

I think they look and feel a little less than the price point might suggest. However, the fact they are light and very small means fantastic comfort, and I will take that over style any day - I've been through too many sets that eventually hurt my ears, and absolutely not the case with F5 - up there with the best comfort I've had with any set. In addition, they feel durable and I'm never anxious about damaging them. I'm now using a much smaller case I had spare, and they fold up very nicely and I can even fit in my jacket or jeans pocket with ease. When in my ears, I can hardly feel them - so light, and so comfortable - absolutely top marks here.

I couldn't resist using a shell to sit the IEM 'shell' on top of for these shots, giving a bit of a sense as to the overall shape and design. Please forgive this absolutely cheesy play on shells :)

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The 2-pin cable terminates to a flush 2-pin receiver, I personally prefer recessed as they simply feel more secure. There is a vent located beside the 2-pin connectors, and I must note I've not experiened any dreaded pressure build with F5.

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Listening Impressions

I've been a bit of a burn-in sceptic - I find it hard to get my head around how such tiny components can change due to an electrical current running through them over a period of time, it just doesn't seem logical. However, nor do many things on this earth! So I've come to a place where I just keep an open mind and whether it's brain or driver(s) burning in, I certainly note significant differences at times with various sets, and possibly the most with F5 over the last few weeks since they first arrived - another reason why I like to wait a good month before attempting to write a review. I've clocked up many hours with F5 now, especially over the last two weeks as they were a set I took with me on a 1-week trip abroad, and I listened pretty much every day, along with for a couple of hours on the 10-hour flight over and back. I honestly thought they were reasonably good when they arrived, but I was a bit underwhelmed, especially given the high praise and somewhat sense of scarcity due to the demand. Roll on a couple of weeks, and my position changed significantly - to the point where (hype alert!!!) I stated in the Watercooler a couple of weeks ago that the F5 and Shanling M6U (the subject of my next review) could make for a highly formidable endgame combo... that's of course if we all had more discipline, and curiousity and temptation didn't lure us towards more new shiny toys. However, I do maintain a firm position that for around $2k, the Shanling M6U and F5 do indeed make for a potent combination before the slippery slope of diminishing returns - and I would absolutely choose them if I had to walk away from this hobby right now with the equivalent of a $2k budget (shock / horror, and it's not even a single DD!)... (end hype!)

The vast majority of my listening has been with the aformentioned Shanling M6U, and some time lately also with the Cayin N7.

This shot was taken earlier today, when the weather was quite nice!

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Bass

While these are no bass monsters, I think most other than absolute die-hard bass-heads should be absolutely satisfied with what's on offer here. There is a stronger emphasis on sub-bass than there is mid-bass, and that sub digs down to an excellent depth with incredibly satisfying rumble, extended decay, and visceral texture. Mid-bass has decent impact, but leans somewhat soft in that I wouldn't describe as having a powerful thud. Timbre is very good with a nice sense of realism from bass guitars for example, and the lowest registers on synths extend with a lovely spine-tingling sensation. There is no sense of bass bleed into the mids, the drivers are very well implemented with excellent separation yet still cohesive in overall delivery.

Mids

The mids are smooth, and soft - I would say they take a small step back in comparison to both bass and treble, but certainly not in a 'scooped' or heavily v-shaped manner. Vocals and instruments sitting in the midrange have a touch or warmth, but are also somewhat light in delivery - i.e. they are not hugely full-bodied or heavy, leaning more towards clarity. Timbre is very good, I've not been left wanting even with my more demanding genres such as modern classical, where I typically seek the most authenticity from say strings or piano: but let's not get carried away here either, I've heard 'better' for these genres, but at a significantly higher cost... F5 does incredibly well here in again what I would consider a challenging task. I've come to discover lately that upper-mids can be a problem for me at times - it's the most risky zone that can make or break an IEM for me, and something I just can't tolerate as a subjective 'flaw'. F5 thankfully does not fall into this trap, and I've had no glaring peaks eating into my brain. There is no issue with more complex tracks, F5 handles multiple instruments with ease.

Treble

While upper-mids can be an issue, I do like a good 'zing' or bite with decent extension up top - the sense of air, clarity, and support to the overall delivery of details with well implemented treble is key, and with F5 I'm certainly not short-changed here at all. I'll come to it in more detail with test tracks later on, but the upper registers sit on the fine line of a sweet spot before they might lean harsh - now bear in mind, this could in part be due to my own levels of treble tolerance, I'm on the wrong side of my 40's, and I assume at this point my hearing not likely what it once was, so worth taking into consideration for those of you with less decades on the clock, and possibly a lower treble tolerance. The planars have a lovely crisp, precise delivery with again that sense of realism which is delivered with excellent cohesion - it's interesting to note a planar for both lower and upper treble, and indeed the fact that the tuning process can be tweaked to a far greater degree than in my usual favourite tranducer, the single DD.

Technical

These are by no means a technical monster, I would say they are more a musical set that are simply easy to become totally engrossed in the music. That said, they are certainly capable when it comes to staging, layering, and imaging in a reasonably large stage - not groundbreaking, nor 3D as such but I can hear instruments spread with pretty good width, depth and height. Crucially, with three different types of drivers, they present with excellent cohesion. Tracks with numerous instruments are all easy to pinpoint, and all blend nicely - this is a reasonably resolving set, but again nothing groundbreaking and the emphasis I would say is the overall engagement factor, you won't be distracted looking to pinpoint specific elements of a track.

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Test Tracks

Elliot Smith - Pictures of Me (Male vocals, indie)


One of my favourite songs by Elliot Smith and very special memories of when I first started listening to the album 'Either/Or' about ten years ago when my kids were still quite young - I was driving one sunny summer evening to collect food along with daughter, and we both sang this at the top of our voices in the car! - anyone with young kids reading this, please introduce music to them as early as you can, they'll thank you for it later, plus it makes for many special moments together as a family.

Anyway, 'Pictures of Me' sounds wonderful on F5: it's very smooth, with a nice almost organic sense to it with an overall vibrancy of delivery - nothing harsh or out of place; guitars are quite central and a lovely 'strum' with a sense of the strings vibrating is apparent - Elliot's voice is again centre, and I would say in-line with instruments - if I were to nitpick, I might look for a bit more weight to his voice but only very slight. Percussion is handled with ease, but it must be noted that kick drums are a touch soft. This is an older FLAC recording which likely accounts for some of these nitpicks, and on the flipside, older recordings are often a challenge to even sound decent, let alone very good as is the case here.

Plant43 - Links Never Forged (Electro)


This track very much embodies the spirit of classic electro from the likes of Drexciya for those of you who appreciate the genre. Always a great test for sub-bass in particular, and the offbeat kick drums tend to dig very deep, and need a capable IEM to fully appreciate. The sub depth on F5 with this track is incredibly satisfying, with enormous depth following the initial centre focused impact. The flowing melodic synths swirl about the large stage giving a great sense of separation, both snare and hat hits have ample space and nothing harsh. This is a genre I enjoy a lot, and F5 will absolutely be an IEM I reach for when hitting these shelves of my library in future.

Kid Lib - Sound Move (D&B)


My usual crucial Drum & Bass test - quite often a make-or-break genre for an IEM on two key fronts: requires sub extension & can handle complexity. Top marks on both counts here, and as per above, I can see these being the set I will choose in future for this genre. Massive sub depth, and excellent detail and speed in handling the fast and complex percussion - and very importantly, never harsh in the upper registers where some IEMs fail. Layers are distinct, but as noted in the technical section, we get more of an overall presentation without trying to drag a microscope over anything.

Julia Jacklin - Don't Know How to Keep Loving You (Female Vocals, Indie)



I pretty much always test this album on IEMs to evaluate female vocals. Julia's voice is centred and in-line with instruments - it's a touch thin compared to how I would prefer to hear it - I would like a little bit more body. Guitars and percussion are rendered nicely, with a great sense of space on stage for all instruments, even during the busier chorus passages.

Ed Carlsen - Close (Modern Classical)



This is a beautiful piece from the album 'The Journey Tapes' which was released in 2018. I'm quite fussy about modern classical, and typically choose my beloved Turii Ti for the genre in general. I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised with F5's performance: piano and strings sound very lifelike, and hugely captivating in a large and airy presentation. Again, there is ample room and a great sense of layering and imaging for the various instruments, with again that focus on an overall engagement factor for simply enjoying music...

Idles - I'm Scum (Punk)



Another crucial IEM test - can F5 survive one of my most challenging tests?! Good news - yes, but only just. This track gets quite chaotic at times, fast percussion, screaming guitars and shouting vocals. I do find more IEMs fail with this track than succeed, so to even get a pass here is an accomplishment in itself. Those peak moments do get very close to being too much for me, and I would say an IEM with a little less energy up top is better suited.

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Conclusion

As an avid fan of single dynamic drivers, it's always a bit of a risk for me when I deviate from my preferred humble DDs - thankfully, the initial community praise (to include a period of a few weeks waiting) around this set drove my curiousity to a point where I just had to dive in, and I'm delighted I did - well balanced, and with enough colour to make them exciting when called for, or indeed smooth and refined - they are a bit of a chameleon in that regard, shifting to suit the music and with wonderful results. The light, comfortable and I like to think durable shells mean this is a set that can go anywhere with you without fear of damage. Whether you've a collection of premium sets and want something of a 'lower cost' that can be a daily driver, without too much compromise to sound, or indeed you are moving up the IEM ladder from various sub $1k sets and would like to conclude before hitting silly money, this is a wonderful addition to any music lovers collection. A huge hat tip to Custom Art for bringing to market what I personally consider the best price-to-performance IEM I've had the pleasure of trying so far on my journey, and while of course they aren't cheap, they do indeed demonstrate what is possible without spending several thousand, especially with more challenging economic times upon us. Tops marks, 5/5.

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Imusicman
Imusicman
Great review. The sound signature you describe definitely leans heavily towards my personal preference. The only slight ? for me would be your "A bit more body " comments on a couple of your test tracks that I am very familiar with. The Julia Jacklin track is one of my go to test tracks and can sounds absolutely divine with a full bodied IEM.

gLer

No DD, no DICE
The Fabulous FIBAE 5
Pros: Smooth, balanced, laid-back tonality ideal for almost any genre
Good technical performance at this price point
Excellent custom build quality - a work of art
Beautifully rendered midrange timbre
Cons: Needs extensive burn-in for planar drivers to settle
Some initial treble zing/sharpness
Cable and accessories could be better
Bass impact could be a bit tame for some
Introduction

Custom Art is the brainchild of Piotr Granicki, a hobbyist like so many of us that, in pursuit of his ideal sound, decided to make his own IEMs to get what he couldn’t find elsewhere. The result is a company now going 10-years strong, with an impressive and growing collection of IEMs that have found favour from as many performing artists as they have audiophile enthusiasts.

FIBAE 5 is the company’s first attempt at a tri-brid IEM, and in true Custom Art fashion, goes against the ‘norm’ with an unusual combination of dynamic driver bass, balanced armature midrange and planar treble. It also eschews the neutral reference-leaning sound of its higher-end IEMs, opting instead for a sound that’s fuller and warmer.

That said, FIBAE 5 is quite different from what I consider a ‘bass-first’ tuning, or even a V-shaped monitor (which it most certainly is not, to my ears). But before we get there, there’s plenty of other aspects of this fascinating IEM to consider, from the custom process and design, to the matter-of-fact accessories, and the relatively modest price.

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Packaging, presentation and accessories

For a company that leads with artistry, FIBAE 5 arrived in a rather non-artistic, utilitarian case inside a nondescript cardboard box, though to be fair, there’s no real need for anything else. If corners need to be cut to hit a price point, I’d rather it be packaging than sound quality.

But I digress, everything you need is in the case, and there’s even a convenient foam block cutout to keep the IEMs from bumping into each other or getting scratched by the cable. In fact, the case is large enough to hold other small accessories in the mesh lid pocket, like the Bluetooth necklace cable that Custom Art sent me to try out alongside the stock 4.4mm cable.

Speaking of cables, I was supplied with what looks like an 8-wire silver-plated copper cable with a gold-plated 4.4mm connector and Custom Art branding. It’s soft, supple, not too thick, with no microphonics, and the metal hardware looks good and feels robust. I tried switching it out with a few different cables, some significantly more expensive, but I keep coming back to the stock cable as the most comfortable with the best sonic balance to my ears.

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No doubt you can probably push performance higher with super fancy cables, but without getting too controversial, unless you’re buying a cable for better aesthetics or bling, I personally don’t see the sense in spending more than the value of the IEM on a cable when you can get equivalent performance for free with subtle EQ tweaks.

Custom Art also includes a small add-on tool in the box, designed to insert and remove a tiny filter that fits into the bass vent to drop the bass shelf by 3dB. I’m not sure why you’d want to neuter the bass, but I guess if your preference is for a more neutral, bright-leaning signature, the option is there.

Overall, this a very practical package of accessories, especially if you’re a touring artist who needs maximum protection for your gear and a bit of space to spare for select extras. And it’s not like you’re spending thousands of dollars for a fancy storage box that will likely get dumped in the cupboard anyway.

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Design and fit

Even though it’s not a balanced armature-only IEM, FIBAE 5 still features Custom Art’s Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone technology (it’s literally in the name). The company claims it to be “the world’s first revolutionary IEM design providing flat impedance and phase”, which practically means the sound won’t go haywire when switching between sources with different output impedance, as often happens during live performances, and more rarely at home.

I only really mention this here because it explains the genealogy of the name, since I’ve seen this type of tech before from the likes of 64 Audio and FiR and it’s not really new to me. What is new is the idea of using a combination of drivers that, on paper, you’d think would throw up all sort of coherence issues, but in practice, somehow don’t.

FIBAE 5 comprises three sets of drivers, five in total: a single 10mm dynamic driver for bass, dual balanced armatures for mids, a single planar for low-mid treble, and a single planar for ultra-highs. I assume it also features some sort of crossover, although I don’t have the details of its design or configuration, but I do know there’s a 3D printed waveguide somewhere in the mix, along with Pressure Optimizing Design (POD) that’s supposed to normalise the pressure in front of the dynamic driver for a smoother, wider soundfield.

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Sensitivity is a modest 109dB at 2KHz with 0.1V input, and with a nominal 10-ohm impedance (give or take 2 ohms with the flat impedance tech doing its thing), FIBAE 5 is fairly easy to drive off any source without exhibiting hissing or background noise of any sort.

Tech aside, let’s get to the best part of the experience: creating custom art. In my opinion, if you’re buying a Custom Art IEM, you should really, really get a custom art IEM. Yes, I know not everyone wants customs, and they’re nigh impossible to sell, and FIBAE 5 is indeed available as a universal option. But come on guys, why would you pass on the chance to create your own masterpiece from Custom Art, of all places?

The whole process of selecting a design was refreshingly new for me, and I must say quite intimidating at first. I chose Custom Art’s ‘famous’ nebula, which is not part of their standard price options and in fact needs to be hand-painted onto each IEM, so that no two nebula designs are ever the same.

To complicate matters, I asked for my nebula to feature red motifs for the right earpiece and blue for the left, and to wrap the nebula artwork around the faceplate so it creates a seamless transition with the main body before fading away gradually into all-black nozzles. Lastly, I didn’t want the Custom Art logo, cool as it is, to interfere with the design, so asked for it to be placed somewhere less conspicuous.

Not only was Piotr most accommodating of my many tweaks and requests (including the logo move), the end result, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is simply spectacular.

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The only (slight) disappointment was that the nebula appears quite dark and unassuming at first, and only really comes to life in direct light. But again, I digress. Fit-wise, FIBAE 5 is my first experience of a full-size custom IEM – my very first CIEM foray being Campfire Audio’s Supermoon in its shallower audiophile fit option, which I’ll incidentally be comparing to FIBAE 5 later in this review.

I must admit to being somewhat concerned about using a deep-fitting custom IEM, with my tendency to not really tolerate any foreign objects deep inside my ears for any length of time. But from first insert FIBAE 5 felt right at home in my ears. It was actually too much at home, and I found that the seal was not ideal, the sound lacking any meaningful bass impact without pressing the earpieces tighter to my ears.

Yet again Piotr has no issues with me returning the IEMs for a refit, and aside from the lengthy delays in getting them to and from Poland over the busy festive period, the fit and feel was appreciably better second time round.

I will say though, the fit isn’t anywhere near as tight as I expected it to be, and as such, while isolation is good, as is the seal, I get more isolation from universal IEMs with their silicone eartips (and noise canceling wireless IEMs, for that matter) than I do with the FIBAE 5 custom. Whether or not that’s how it’s supposed to be, I’m not sure, but if you expect total isolation (as in, not being able to hear any external sounds at all), you might be left wanting.

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Sound impressions

I’ve been listening to FIBAE 5 for the better part of two months, although some of that time was spent sending the IEMs back for adjusting the custom fit. My impressions today are quite different to my initial, out the box impressions, and I can only put that down to the combination of a better seal and driver burn-in. I’ll mention of the changes I’ve experienced in the notes below.

All testing was done across a number of different sources, including HiBy’s RS8 and iBasso’s DX300 MAX using my full set of test tracks and casual listening with newly released music.

Tonality

Custom Art describes FIBAE 5’s sound as “energetic, visceral and powerful” and “energetic, bold and engaging”. This was maybe the case out the box, when the bass was a touch loose and treble was, for want of a better word, wild, but over the past few weeks the sound signature has settled down into something much more sedate, laid back, balanced and refined.

Tonally I hear FIBAE 5 to have a U-shaped sound, bass and treble sitting ever so slightly ahead of the midrange, but never distractingly so. The solid sub-bass foundation and smooth midbass transition gives notes a hint of warmth, and neither encroach on the open, clean and controlled midrange. Treble was peaky to start with, the planar drivers occasionally jumping their lane, but all that’s changed now, and treble plays a supportive rather than leading role along with the bass.

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Bass is definitely more sub- than midbass focused. The sub-bass vibrations in Caroline Polachek’s Hey Big Eyes (1:13) give my skull a deep massage, the rumble sustained and well extended, with excellent control, clearly showing off FIBAE 5’s sub-bass emphasis. Feist’s Tout Doucement also exposes the deep, vibrant sub-bass notes from the upright bass that complement and contrast with the lighter parts of the arrangement, and never interfere with the vocal delivery, which is sweet and clear even when the bassline continues in the background.

Moving up the FR curve, it’s always good to round off a bass quality and quantity test with the kick drum, and they don’t come any more kicky than in the build-up to the Eagles live performance of Hotel California. What you want here is a deep thud that’s felt more than heard, and the punch of mid-bass notes lingering slightly to emphasise the kick sensation. FIBAE 5 captures the size of the drums with good texture and a decay that doesn’t rush or linger more than it should, and sounds very natural if not as bold and authoritative as I’ve heard it.

The same goes for electric bass drum intro in A Fine Frenzy’s Elements, which doesn’t quite hit as hard or deep as more bass-focused sets.

Overall, FIBAE 5’s bass response, while definitely muscular, is more honed than bulky. Bass plays a supportive role here, but unlike sets that use BA drivers as a bass foundation, the inclusion of a large dynamic driver gives the bass the realism, texture and timbre that, when called upon, will satisfy most bass lovers’ cravings. This is by no means a basshead tuning, however, so if you’re think FIBAE 5 can double as the bassy set in your collection, think again.

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Midrange being the ‘star of the show’ is a cliché, but in the case of FIBAE 5, it’s true. That said, I don’t think it quite fits the profile of a mid-centric set, because the bass and treble make themselves known more often than not. That’s why, to my ears, FIBAE 5 is a refreshingly balanced set, but definitely one of the more accomplished I’ve heard when it comes to midrange fidelity.

The first thing I listen for in the midrange is female vocal purity, and what better way to do that than with the opening 30-second instrument-free intro to Fran’s How Did We. Maria Jacobson must have one of the purest, most emotive vocal deliveries I’ve heard in a while, and it helps that the band’s latest album, Leaving, records it almost perfectly. If there’s any sibilance, grain or haze in an IEM’s delivery, you’ll hear it. FIBAE 5’s delivery is literally pitch-perfect.

If well-recorded vocals are too easy, take it up a notch and try out a potentially pitchy recording. For all of Ethel Cain’s brilliance on her first full-length LP, Preacher’s Daughter, the weakest part of the album is Ethel’s vocal recording, even on epic tracks like Thoroughfare.

With an IEM that has too much upper midrange or lower treble emphasis, or that shows a lack of quality in these FRs, or that doesn’t have the low-end to balance out Ethel’s warmer low notes with her higher pitched trailing edges, this track will be a real challenge.

Thankfully FIBAE 5 doesn’t flinch, with as smooth a vocal delivery as I’ve heard with this track. It doesn’t quite have the reach and heft in the bass delivery to make the drums (3:14) reveal the cathedral-like stage of the recording and which provides such an important contrast to the vocals, but conversely it presents a very balanced, nuanced performance you can just close your eyes and sink into.

Switching to raspy male baritones, Neil Diamond’s warm and emotive vocal delivery form The Jazz Singer’s Hello Again illustrates FIBAE 5’s ability as a vocal all-rounder. I’d like to say I’ve heard this track with more grit and gravitas, but here the delivery is every bit as emotive if a bit less upfront, more laid back than thickly laid. The bass notes play a supportive role, so you’ll hear more of Neil’s lower midrange emphasis than some of the bassy chestiness in the recording.

Moving away from vocals, FIBAE 5’s midrange strength lies in its accurate instrument timbre. Playing Daft Punk’s Within is a great way to quickly check for piano timbre, one of the hardest instruments for an IEM to accurately reproduce. I’m no timbre expert, mind you, but I know when a piano, guitar or drum sound ‘right’, and the way FIBAE 5 presents the ‘live’ instruments in this hybrid electronic track is right on point.

Allen Touissant’s The Bright Mississippi reaffirms my impression of FIBAE 5’s timbral strenghs. Not that I’m big on instrumental jazz, but this is another track I often turn to for checking instrument timbre, and also how well the different bass, midrange and treble notes play across a live performance. It’s also a great track to test for instrument separation and imaging, for the same reason, and FIBAE 5 scores high on both counts.

Overall, I find FIBAE 5’s midrange to be very lifelike, with smoothness and warmth overlaid on clarity and nuance. It’s not the most resolving midrange delivery I’ve heard, but I’m not missing any details either, and very often I find hyper-resolving sets don’t lend themselves to a relaxing listen. In that regard FIBAE 5 is more forgiving of poorer recordings than some, and to me that’s a strength that shouldn’t be underestimated.

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Treble is where opinions of the FIBAE 5 will probably be split, depending on how sensitive you are to treble vibrancy. Initially, I feared that the set would be hamstrung by the planar driver’s propensity for sharpness – out the box, some treble notes cut like a knife, and threw off the balance of the entire presentation.

I’m glad to say that, for me, this is no longer the case. Whether it’s the 100-plus hours of burn-in, or the slight adjustment to the fit of my customs, treble now mostly keeps to its lane, complementing and highlighting the details in tracks where necessary, but otherwise staying out the way.

Nils Lofgren’s Keith Don’t Go is a reference track if you want to find out how detailed, accurate, fast and clear an IEM’s treble delivery can be, or to test if you’re going to run into issues. It’ll also give you plenty of other information – male vocals, bass texture, resolution – but treble is what we’re here to hear.

When Nils plucks the high notes on his metal strings, they have every change of making you wince if not presented properly. Turn your attention to the sequence from 3:22 onward, and you should hear some extremely sharp and detailed high treble notes. There is a short sequence from 4:40 where FIBAE 5 comes really, really close to crossing the line, and teeters just over once or twice, so if there’s any weakness to its performance, this would be it.

This is an extreme example, but if your library comprises lots of steel guitars and high-pitched, bright arrangements, you might want to give the planar drivers at least 100 hours or more to settle like I did. Whether or not that will tame them enough for you, I can’t say.

Ilan Bluestone’s Will We Remain is another high-energy, treble-dominant track, but switches pace completely. FIBAE 5 is probably too laid back for this type of music, but it’s still a good way to test out the treble extremes, especially as it approaches the crescendo at the 3:15 mark. Treble is certainly lively here, but never crosses over to hot or harsh, and is nowhere near as sharp as Nils Lofgren’s guitar strings.

Orchestral strings are where you really want your treble timbre and detail to be on point, and FIBAE 5 absolutely gets it right with Max Richter’s Winter 1. There is just enough detail here to tell the difference between different string sections, and none ever come close to sounding strident. If anything, they’re quite mellow.

Overall, I’m very comfortable recommending FIBAE 5 for its treble performance, but caution that it did give me trouble in the past, and I’m not sure if what mitigated the issues on my set will happen with yours. I’m also about as far from a treblehead as you can get, and anything too bright or lively sends me reaching for different IEMs. FIBAE 5 is very well behaved in that regard, which is usually the best complement I can give this type of set.

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Technical performance

There’s no denying that the higher the price, the more you’d expect from an IEM’s technical performance. To that end, FIBAE 5 doesn’t disappoint, but will most likely disappoint those who favour technicalities over tone. That’s because you’re not going to get envelope-pushing performance here, although for the asking price (which is still a very significant amount of money, to be sure) you’re not going to get short-changed either.

Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra’s binaural recording of La Luna is a natural test for soundstage size, and reveals what I’ve been hearing consistently throughout my time with FIBAE 5. The stage is larger than average in terms of depth and height, but only moderately wide. It’s definitely not an intimate stage, and manages to spread out in all directions when the music, like this track, calls for it. But it’s not artificially expansive, and I probably wouldn’t call it holographic either. Sounds sit comfortably outside my head, but not so far away that they appear distant or diffused.

With its 50th anniversary coming up this week, Pink Floyd’s On The Run from Dark Side of the Moon is another great test for stage, but also resolution and imaging. It shows FIBAE 5 to be reasonably resolving, with imaging that won’t win any awards for pinpoint precision, but is more than acceptable at this price point.

Listen for the PA announcement that plays over the early part of this track. It fades quickly once the main effects start to play, so the IEMs aren’t squeezing the very last drops of information from what’s available in the file. Still, if you didn’t know what to listen for, you wouldn’t know anything was amiss either.

Pink Floyd’s Time follows on from On The Run, and reinforces what I picked up previously, in that resolution is very good but not outstanding, and imaging and separation are all at a very high standard too, but short of what you’d want for triple the price. For the record, this is another great treble and timbre test, and while some of the higher-pitched clock effects bordered on forward, none were so sharp that I needed to turn down the volume.

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I specifically wanted to use Armin Van Buuren’s Intense for this review to make the point that FIBAE 5 is anything but what the title suggests. This is not a highly dynamic, in-your-face delivery; I can close my eyes and relax to music like this, which is probably not what the artist intended.

On the flipside, FIBAE 5 lets you revel in the beautiful tone of Miri Ben Ari’s electric violin, and while I did find myself head bobbing to Armin’s beat, I was drawn more to the composition and layering of the various effects in the track. If you’re someone wanting big notes with power and groove at full speed, this is not the IEM for you. If you prefer to focus on the melody, however, even in faster tracks like this one, FIBAE 5 is more likely your speed, as it is mine.

Overall, I really like what Piotr has achieved with the technical tuning of this set. You’re definitely a level or two up from mainstream, sub-$1,000 sets with stage size, depth, layering and separation, and there’s no shortage of resolving power either. It might not be the fastest and most dynamic sound at this level, but it’s not flat and uninspired, if that’s what you’re thinking.

Perhaps the best way to make the point is to compare and contrast FIBAE 5 with two other IEMs in the same ballpark price-wise to get a sense of where it sits technically, so I’ll do that next.

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Select comparisons

HiBy Zeta
($1,299). HiBy’s 9-driver titanium body flagship is a relative newcomer to the IEM scene, with very little information actually out in the wild about it (shameless plug – THL review coming soon). The most obvious and immediate difference to FIBAE 5 is its warmer tonality; Zeta has a visceral, powerful midbass response that colours all the remaining frequencies with warmth, far more so than the more neutrally-tuned FIBAE 5 midbass.

It also has a relatively forward upper midrange that requires some EQ tuning, and treble that’s smooth but lively when it needs to be, compared to FIBAE 5 which is far more balanced in these areas. As such there’s more dynamism and contrast in Zeta’s sound, more realism and tonal accuracy in FIBAE’s.

Technically the two are very close. FIBAE’s stage is actually wider and deeper than Zeta’s, which is hampered by its added warmth. Resolution is on par, which is to say very good but not quite summit. Being a custom, FIBAE 5 obviously wins out in comfort, but Zeta is on the more comfortable size as far as universals go, especially with softer silicone tips. Its titanium shell is skin smooth, with no hard edges, and even though the metal earpieces are slightly heavier than FIBAE’s resin, they’re quite a bit smaller.

Overall, the two IEMs complement each other well, FIBAE being more balanced and accurate, Zeta warmer and more powerful. Zeta’s more elaborate packaging and higher quality accessories explains its larger pricetag, but both IEMs can be said to perform at a level that justifies their ticket price.

Campfire Audio Supermoon ($1,500). Planar IEM drivers are still new, and have some way to go before they can match their full-size counterparts. That said, Supermoon is the most complete example yet of a high-end planar driver in IEM form, showing off the good (and bad) of the driver’s characteristics.

Tonally, Supermoon is brighter and lighter than FIBAE, and lacks some of the iridescent warmth from the dynamic driver bass. This affects midrange and treble presentation too, both of which are on the thinner side compared to FIBAE’s fuller notes. Timbre accuracy is where FIBAE eclipses Supermoon, especially with vocals and live instruments.

Where Supermoon shines is its technical performance. It resolves as well as any IEM I’ve heard, regardless of price, and is faster with a better-defined stage than most summit-fi IEMs in my opinion. On the flipside, it lacks dynamic energy, and its tonal ‘flaws’ – especially a metallic sheen to some upper midrange/lower treble transients – takes some of the polish off its exemplary technicalities.

Overall, Supermoon offers a stark contrast to FIBAE 5’s lifelike, natural and balanced sound, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences and need for a variety of different-sounding IEMs in a ‘collection’.

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Closing thoughts

There’s something to be said for IEMs that represent more than just devices for music listening. Custom Art’s FIBAE 5 is the embodiment of this ideal, an IEM that, initially at least, is more about creation and craftsmanship than it is utility.

The care, dedication and skill that went into making my set of custom IEMs is an experience I’d wish on anyone. To my mind, it’s the main reason someone would seek out a Custom Art work of art. The only downside is the crazy variety of choices you’re faced with when deciding on the look of your personal set, something that admittedly gave this minimalist reviewer choice paralysis for a while.

When you start off on such a high note, everything that follows is sometimes a letdown. Thankfully, FIBAE 5 performs as well as it looks. While I had my teething issues with the sound, more specifically the planar treble liveliness, time and patience (and a quick visit back to Poland) ensured all was well once the treble settled.

Confoundingly though, I don’t hear FIBAE 5 as the energetic, dynamic IEM it’s ‘supposed’ to be, but rather a more relaxed, refined version of that ideal. It has the quintessential qualities of a dynamic driver bass foundation, and an expertly-tuned midrange that, I’m lead to believe, is Piotr Granicki’s trademark tuning. I can only assume the planar treble decision was an attempt at doing something oddly different with this IEM, to separate it from its siblings, perhaps?

Ultimately, it’s an experiment that seems to have worked in FIBAE 5’s favour, because the sum of this IEM is definitely greater than its parts. On the whole I hear no coherence issues, which speaks to the skill with which it’s been tuned. That said, it’s not the most technically-proficient performer I’ve heard, nor did I expect it to be, but at the same time, unless you’re willing to pay significantly more for a technical upgrade, it’s not going to let you down.

For me, FIBAE 5 is the consummate kilobuck all-rounder. I haven’t personally experienced a better all-round performer at this price. Considering the price includes your own set of personalised ear jewelry, I believe FIBAE 5 stands alone as the most enjoyable, comfortable, showoff-able and, importantly, affordable everyday listen I’ve come across in this hobby. Highly recommended.

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This review first appeared on The Headphone List.
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552609

1000+ Head-Fier
The ~$1K All-rounder
Pros: Good Bass
Good Mids
Good Highs
Good soundstage/Instrument Separation/Imaging
Price
Cons: Mediocre Accessories/packaging
Some Sharpness/Sibilance
Cable is a little microphonic/kinky
Fibae 5 Front.jpg



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Overview:

Up for review today is the Custom Art Fibae 5. I purchased these with a discount from Musicteck (shop.musicteck.com) in exchange for a review. The Fibae 5 (F5 from hereon because that’s annoying to type) is a tri-brid from Custom Art. It has 1x sub-low DD, 2x mid-flat BAs, and two planar magnetic high drivers. That’s a pretty cool setup – you get the excellence of a DD bass, with their unique take on BA mids and the excellence of planars up top, all in a compact and decently priced package. Noice. Most people even prefer the F5 over the F7, which costs a fair amount more but has completely different tech inside it. I’ll cut right to the chase if you don’t feel like reading the whole review – these are my favorite IEMs in the ~$1k price bracket though they do retail just over for $1,099 from Musicteck HERE.

Accessories/Earpads/Eartips (5/10):

This is not luxury packaging like you’ll find on the Ronin, or even the Multiverse Mentor – it’s also not luxury pricing. So yeah, you get a plain cardboard box with a sleeve and inside of that, there’s a neoprene case that’s perfectly functional. Personally, I don’t really need anything more than this, but that doesn’t make it an amazing presentation either. Inside the case are the IEMs inside some foam, a cable, around 4 ear tips - all the same style, and a filter tool. That’s it. So yeah, not a particularly good showing, but it does likely help keep the cost down on these budget-hi-fi IEMs. The packaging is fine, but I’ve seen more complete kits from TRUTHEAR in their $80 HEXA (and their $18 HOLA comes close). At this price, they could do better, at least with the ear tips. I’ll be using my Spinfit W1s as always because they fit basically everything and give me a good fit/seal. 5/10 points here – you can do better CA. As always, I'm using my Spinfit W1 tips since they're the best I've found (You can buy them here if you want a set: https://amzn.to/3WDrNIk.)

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Cable (8/10):

At least the cable is better than the packaging – they put more money into the cable, which is a good thing. It’s a decently high-quality silver-plated copper cable with 8 cores and 2-pin connectors on one end and a 4.4mm balanced connector on the other end (basically the bare minimum a cable should come with these days in this price range). The downsides to this cable are reasonably high microphonics for a rubber-coated cable, memory retention/kinks, and just an OK fit on the ears. Still, it’s a much better cable than a LOT of other IEMs I’ve reviewed have come with, including some much more expensive IEMs, so kudos for that. 8/10 points here because it’s still one of the nicer cables I’ve seen included with an IEM at any budget.

Build Quality/Comfort (10/10):

Now we’re starting to get into the good stuff. The build quality is excellent here and these feel like they could be thrown into a bag and they’d take a while to get scratched up. Please don’t do that, I’m a firm proponent of taking care of your IEMs, but you could if you didn’t feel like bringing the relatively large case with you. The foil under the acrylic is pretty cool, if a little warped looking, though I’m not a person who would normally choose a purple IEM (hoping they’ll release a different color at some point so I don’t feel like Grimace). Still, the overall feel of these is that they will last a long time.

Yes, these are only a 5-driver setup, so they shouldn’t be as massive as some of the IEMs like the Ronin and Mentor. And…they’re not. These are very comfortable, light, and have an excellent fit. They don’t feel like they’re constantly falling out like those bigger IEMs and you can move your head from side to side without the same feeling occurring. The nozzles are long enough you’ll get a good fit, and while they don’t sit inside my inner ear like the Final A5000, they sit in the outer part quite nicely without any fatigue. Take that Monarch Mk2.

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Sound:

The closest IEM I have to compare with the F5 right now is my VE Elysium and they’re really not all that similar. Also, the Elysium retails new for double what the F5 retails for. Anyway, you can tell that the F5 has quite a bit of sub and mid-bass, though it looks like the mids drop off a lot. That’s an illusion and if you add the Ronin onto the Squig.link, you’ll see that the F5 has mids very near the Ronin until around 700 Hz. At that point, the Ronin will peak just a bit more while the Elysium appears to drop off, which is also sort of an illusion in actual listening. Either way, the F5 is very steady throughout the mids. It’s also pretty consistent in the highs as well, though there are quite a few dips and peaks, hopefully, to counter sharpness and sibilance - we’ll see.

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I am powering the Elysium and F5 off of my HiBy RS8 on medium gain around 40/100 volume for the F5 and 50/100 for the Elysium. They both run at about the same power levels. I will be using Tidal Hi-Fi for each song with MQA enabled and both IEMs using the Spinfit W1 tips.

Lows (17/20):

I’m starting off with the Mid-bass/Sub-bass test I’m using David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue).” The mid-bass drums in the intro have a TON of impact and body to them - and a tad bit of unwanted reverb bloat. The sub-bass rumble has that breathtaking quality that I love to hear in an IEM but only get with some of the bassiest IEMs. Previously I had called the F5 the Diet-Coke of the Ronin, but that feels incorrect now just solely based upon how much more bass these have. It’s great for EDM, but I’m guessing it’ll cost it points later. 9/10 points for the small amount of extra reverb.

Up next is Demon Hunter’s “I Am A Stone,” which I use to test whether the bass is too strong and overwhelms the mids as that is just as important as how strong/good the bass is. The bass is obviously quite noticeable in this song, but thanks to the relatively pronounced mids of the F5, the bass never really overwhelms the mids completely. There are a couple of points where the bass can become a little too pronounced, but it just never cuts out the mids completely – very impressive for the price of these IEMs. 8/10 points!

Mids (16/20):

Weaving The Fate’s “The Fall” is my test song for clean/dirty guitars and vocals with background instruments to see how clearly the vocals can be heard. The intro guitars on this song are clean and crisp and the detail is good. The dirty guitars that follow sound very good with excellent detail and no muddiness. The downside is that you can’t really hear the cymbals very well until the distorted guitars finish. The drums aren’t all that clear either surprisingly – they’re there, but the guitar definitely drowns them out. The bass guitar can be clearly heard, which is not something every IEM can pull off on this song. The vocals have a broad range and sound excellent, though they can also take precedence over the rest of the instruments. The mids focus is very apparent on this song and it comes off quite nicely at the expense of the highs and some lows. Still, since this is a mids test song and I don’t want to double tap, it’s a 6/6 here.

Staind’s “Something to Remind You” has clean electric guitars and wonderful vocals – this song tests vocal quality and background noise. The lower registers of the vocals here hit a bit muddy, but only for a second. The middle to high vocals are excellent and the guitars sound fantastic – very clean and crisp with a massive presence and body. The bass guitar here can be clearly heard and doesn’t overwhelm the mids despite its forward presence. The vocals are definitely the most forward piece of this song and there is some detail missing on the guitars, mainly in the highs register (fingers moving across the string). So, if you hate that sound, these are the IEM for you! Again, for a mids test song, this is very good, but I’m taking off a point for the lower vocals muddiness 6/7.

To test classical instruments in the mids, I’m using The Piano Guys' “Code Name Vivaldi.” The intro bass sounds good, if a bit overwhelming to the rest of the instruments, especially the piano. The drums and violins can be clearly heard in the build-up phase where the piano takes more of a forward role. This song sounds good on the F5, but it’s nowhere near the best I’ve heard it. For some reason, it comes across as very 2D on a song that should envelop your entire head in multiple different instruments. The separation isn’t as good as I’d like it either. Some headphones can really make this song sound magical, for some reason the F5 is not one of those headphones. 4/7 here.

Highs (14/20):

To test sibilance on headphones I use Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes. There was definitely some sharpness and sibilance at the beginning of this song that made me cringe. It’s there, but only at certain spots on this song as opposed to throughout the entirety of the song. Not the best, but not the worst. 4/6 points.

Dream Theater’s “The Alien,” is the highs test song I use to see if the cymbals/high-hats/snare drum can be clearly heard and distinguished from the rest of the music (also good for instrument separation.) The cymbals here can be clearly heard on top of the other instruments. It has nothing on the FiR VxV or Multiverse Mentor, but it’s close to the Ronin in highs presence if not highs quality. You’re not going to hear each individual strike and a ton of highs detail here, but it’s far better than a lot of other IEMs or full-size headphones I’ve heard. 5/7 points.

Michelle McLaughlin’s “Across The Burren” is another of my favorite highs/sharpness test songs as it can easily sound painful on some headphones. There is only a touch of sharpness on this song, almost imperceptible and better than the Ronin did. The piano sounds really good, but there is a touch of unwanted reverb here and there depending on the note. 5/7 points here.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation/Imaging (7/10):

I use MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” to test soundstage, instrument separation, and imaging. In this price range, the F5 competes quite well in this category, but can’t compete with TOTL IEMs like the Ronin and Mentor. Still, the soundstage is quite expansive, but it leans almost entirely forward in its presentation – don’t expect to be enveloped in a Mentor-like 3D soundstage. Instrument separation and imaging are both good, but not TOTL. Overall, these earn 7/10 points, which is still quite good in this price range.

Comparisons:

The Elysium can’t compete with the F5 on bass, as the F5 has some really impactful and full-bodied bass. The Elysium doesn’t have the bloat the F5 can have though, and they have better detail retrieval. If you’re looking for bass, grab the EXT or F5 over the base Elysium. If you like bass but hate lots of it, the Elysium is a better option. I find that I like both for different reasons. I’d place the F5 equal to or just behind the Elysium with mids – they’re very close overall. The Elysiums have more emotion with classical than the F5s do, so if you’re a classical fan, grab a pair of Elysiums. The Elysiums have a bit better highs than the F5 with more detail and they’re pretty close to the Mentor in that category. They are also a bit more sibilant, so watch for that.

The Elysium comes with MUCH nicer packaging, though the 2.5mm cable is annoying because you’ll have to buy an adapter or a different cable to use it with most modern DAPs/AMPs. Still, the ear tips, case, box, etc. all go as a win to the Elysium without any difficulty. Comfort and fit easily go to the F5 though. Again, it’s hardly fair to be comparing an IEM that costs almost twice as much to the F5, but I have to say it’s amazing that the F5 is so close to one of my Top 5 IEMs and will likely come in right behind the Elysium in my ranking due to coming to close in the mids and highs while having much better bass. That’s impressive and deserves a round of applause for Custom Art.

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Conclusion:

The Custom Art Fibae 5 is legitimately good. It’s not as bassy as something from Fat Freq and doesn’t quite have the highs that the FiR VxV has, but it is easily the best all-rounder near $1k that I’ve ever heard. It has good bass, mids, and highs – even if it’s not the best in any one category, it’s very good in every category. I love the bass quality and quantity, the excellent and forwards mids, and the good if not mind-blowing highs. I can very easily recommend the Fibae 5, and to quote @Rockwell75 “the F5 is fire.”

Headphone Scoring (v3):
Accessories / Earpads / Eartips (10 pts):
5​
Cable (10 pts):
8​
Build Quality/ Design / Comfort (10 pts):
10​
Lows (20 pts):
17​
Mids (20 pts):
16​
Highs (20 pts):
14​
Soundstage / Instrument Separation / Imaging (10 pts):
7​
Total:
77​
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