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Custom Art FIBAE Black

  1. Zelda
    Custom Art - FIBAE Black
    Written by Zelda
    Published Apr 15, 2019
    Pros - Build quality
    Comfortable universal design
    Sound quality: Very nice midrange centered tuning, strong bass, smooth treble.
    Resolution, speed, accuracy.
    Beautiful artwork
    Cons - Customization is limited to only faceplates
    Ear tips selection (universal version)
    Smooth, forgiving treble may not suit to everyone
    Review - Custom Art - FIBAE Black

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    Website - Custom Art

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    The FIBAE Black page

    The Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone (FIBAE) technology

    • Single proprietary Balanced Armature
    • Pressure Optimizing Design (P.O.D.)
    • Flat Impedance technology (FIBAE)
    • 108.5dB @1kHz @0.1V
    • 5.2 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.8 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
    • Low % THD
    • 10-16000 Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
    • 3D printed acrylic shell

    Available in Custom or Universal fit.

    Price: Starting from €450.
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    The FIBAE Black arrives in a very simple and plain black carton box with no info on the outside. Inside there is a Pelican 1010 Micro case where the earphones are securely stored, an extra small zipper case, a wax cleaning pick tool, drying pellet, and for the universal version, 4 sets of silicone tips, 3 single flanges and 1 double flange. The box is definitely nothing inspiring and you may find a more premium unboxing presentation on much affordable universal IEMs; still, it is just a box so nothing to care much about as long as package arrives safely to the customer. However, for a universal fit model, a wider and better array of ear tips could have been included, especially when the different tips can play a critical role not just in fit or comfort but mainly in giving the optimal sonic results.

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    The shells on the universal Custom Art models are now 3D printed. They are made of acrylic material like the custom versions and previous universal fit which I have on the Fibae 3 since last year. Build quality is very good as what plastic materials go; the shells are thick and look solid enough. Also, despite the 3D printing the finish is very nice and smooth. These are on a higher level in terms of quality and finish over something like the Brainwavz 3D printed IEMs, which is logical considering the price difference.

    The shape still resembles that of a custom IEM but compared to the previous Custom Art universal they have now a more standard fit as a universal. The universal Fibae 3 has a more custom-like rounded shape on the inner part that sit more ergonomically on the ear area, while the Black is flatter with wider nozzle base. The change of the nozzle is a noticeable improvement as it now holds better the different ear tips giving more flexibility when doing some essential tip rolling for best sound results.

    As for the shell customization options, the Black IEM series, both universal and custom, are limited to a black color inner part so only the outer faceplate design is open to the customers' preference. Nevertheless, the all piano black theme looks very cool and there are nice faceplate options to choose from the Custom Art site or use a personal artwork. I only chose the artwork and let the color options to the company team to decide and should say they made a very nice design. It is hard to get in on a photo but on a close look you may see there is some depth within the artwork and color design.

    Fit is very natural as for over-ear wearing style and with the nozzle length and right tips the Fibae Black provides a deep fit into the ear canal. Depending on the ear tips used the fit can be flush with a low profile around the ears. Comfort is excellent too and the seal is usually very good. However, getting the best tips is very important here, not only for best fit but more for optimal sound results. Personally, I had to discard the included ones and opted for wider dual flange silicone tips and also the Dunu/Sony tips (aka 'hybrids'); Spinfit work too if you can find the new shorter versions. Like with the Fibae 3, the isolation is also very good being a sealed shell and an ergonomic shape that fills a wide area of the outer ear.

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    The cable is a new one with silver-plated copper wire. It is a nice improvement over the previous cables used on Custom Art earphones that were the standard ones found on different CIEM manufactures with three twisted strands on the lower half and two on the right and left sides. Instead, the cable is made of two separated strands from the jack up to the 2-pin connectors, stick together on the lower half and then divided to each channel. On a closer look each strand holds two thin wires that are softly twisted and well covered by the outer cable sheath. The cable itself is more comfortable to use and holds very low noise. It is terminated in a standard 3.5mm stereo angled plug with a round y-split and similar round piece that acts as slider, and on the top, there is a fixed memory wire. For the universal fit it is only possible to choose a 2-pin connection (0.78mm), with or without remote, while the custom fit allows MMCX plugs. 2-pin is still the more recommended option for detachable cables as they prove to be more durable and reliable over the time.

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    Sound Quality

    Main gears used:
    Custom Art Fibae 3, iBasso IT04, FLC 8N, Dunu DK-3001, final E5000.
    iBasso DX120, HiBy R6 Pro, Fiio M6, Lotoo Pico.

    For the new model Custom Art opted for a single Balanced Armature, which can sound surprising with all the multi BA and hybrids IEMs that are so popular and get so much attention nowadays. However, multi drivers' sets are not always safe from having known issues on impedance, drivers' mismatch and coherence, crossover, etc. That's no to say that single drivers are a better option, especially when referring to a small single armature driver for a full range frequency response as there're limitations in extension and power.

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    Nonetheless, here with the Fibae Black, Custom Art really made an excellent work and the Black IEM not only holds the strengths of a single BA unit but is also capable to compete with multi drivers sets with a well extended and very full sound presentation. The sound is nothing to be called neutral, linear or reference tuned, and probably won't be referring to it as completely 'balanced'. Rather, it is colored with a bit midrange forward presentation which is very rich, smooth, engaging and very musical. As the name might suggest, the Black has a slightly dark and warm overall tonality with a full bass response, well weighted notes, laid-back highs and yet a still solid strong detail retrieval and accuracy typical of a good sounding armature driver.

    The bass strikes with a strong impact and quite surprising for a single balanced armature. It is full bodied and well textured with a bit more emphasis on the mid and upper region but still capable of showing an impressive sub-bass reach. Quantity is definitely more than just 'north of neutral' though still won't deliver a true heavy-bass amount; it doesn't seem to be due the driver limitations but rather the own tuning of the IEM. In fact, the is plenty bass in quantity and power rivaling some good sounding hybrids and multi-BA sets, and just falls a tad short in pure sub-bass extension and sheer rumble. Quality is just as good, showing the usual capabilities of a balanced armature on speed, control, accuracy and detail. The Fibae Black is not aggressive but it is fast in attack with very natural decay. It is well balanced between sub and mid-bass response, well defined and very good in dynamics and layering.

    The midrange is still the main focus on the Fibae Black. The bass transition to the lower mids is linear and smooth leaving a very clean response. The midrange balance is well done, though it usually goes a little bit more towards the lower mids (some tips may help to adjust this a bit, though). The mid-centered tuning holds a warm tonality with a fluid and very rich texture. It is sweet and articulated with a very strong sense of musicality that sounds so immersive. The separation is neat and instruments are presented with good weight and coherent positioning; the preference still goes to lower instruments that sound fuller as the upper ones are smoother and more laid-back in nature. The midrange is not to be called 'transparent' on the Black, though it does show a subtle technical transparency when paired with different sources. A warmer player will give a thicker lower midrange and even darker tonality overall to the point of sounding more off and veiled, but if paired with a brighter or detailed oriented source then the midrange gains a better balance with more engaging and energetic upper midrange. Vocals are particularly very nice on the Fibae Black, a bit more forward on the whole presentation leaving instruments on a half plane behind, very sweet and full bodied. They are very articulated, not too thick as to blur the sound but yes have a delicate and beautiful texture with nothing of sibilance to be found on them.

    The treble is more laid-back and completely smooth with no peaks that could be noticed. The extension is still very decent without a serious early roll-off. While the tonality is a tad dark there is still good quality on the highs. The detail is present and not difficult to perceive, it is just not too forward to catch the listener's attention. If there is some energy then it is more present on the lower treble region, but overall sparkle is moderate in amount; guitars definitely have more bite and cymbals more crash and light than what the Fibae Black IEM can show. There is some air missing too, though doesn't sound particularly congested and it always remains inoffensive, relaxed and very forgiving.

    Despite the mid-centered signature the presentation is larger than average and very coherent. While it tends to put vocals on the front stage it is not missing in stage dimensions. With a center image it is well rounded and also quite spacious. It doesn't have a too sharp right and left distance and won't sound too open and airy, but it shows good depth and very decent width. However, where the Black IEM truly stands is in resolution, and it is higher than the price would suggest, not just for a single BA, but simply as an in-ear monitor set. Cannot say it can rival top tier universal IEMs at $1K+ range, not because it couldn't but simply because I yet have to listen to some of those to give a fair comparison, but it the Fibae Black is quite remarkable. It surely sounds too good resembling more a large dynamic driver than just a small micro driver.


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    Custom Art Fibae 3

    A comparison versus another IEM from Custom Art like the Fibae 3 wouldn't make much sense, simply because they were both tuned completely different, but just should be mentioned as another offer from the company. The Fibae 3 which I had for around a year (and on the previous universal shell) carries a three BA drivers' configuration with a more treble and high detail oriented tuning. The Fibae 3 sound is more spacious, open and airier with impressive micro detail and high treble control. The bass is much lighter in body without the mass and impact the darker Black offers. Soundstage is wider on the Fibae 3 when paired with a higher player like the Hiby R6 Pro, while the Black hits with more depth and massive bass impact. The midrange detail goes for the Fibae 3 that sounds more effortless too, but in musical presentation the Black wins with a much fuller and sweeter texture, excelling in the vocals performance. They both still share some transparency when pairing with different sources, though the Black is more forgiving, while the Fibae 3 can be more picky, especially on the treble performance requiring a more resolving DAP to truly shine, like the iBasso DX120 or Hiby R6 Pro.

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    iBasso IT04

    On the other hand, a more relevant comparison should be against the iBasso IT04. Yes, it is a single balanced armature versus a 4-driver hybrid IEM which contains a large 10mm dynamic graphene driver and 3 BA Knowles units, and even so the Fibae Black holds its ground pretty well and shines in certain areas over the IT04 (while the IT04 still has its own strengths).

    Before the sound comparison, in terms of design both are made of plastic materials though seem to be of different type. Build quality appears to be close, although it's hard to comment on durability for the Fibae Black after roughly a month of use versus the IT04 which already has more than half a year of regular listening. On the shape of the shells they are much different for universal models; the IT04 with is large and very custom-like form factor, while the new Fibae shell has now a more universal fit. This is also reflected in fit and comfort as the IT04 can be a bit of a challenge for smaller ears to achieve the best fit and can still present some comfort issues after some use. The Fibae is not just more compact but also offers a more relaxed yet secure fit with a similar level of isolation.

    Now, as for the sound, in pure quality both sets perform at a similar level for what could be called 'mid-tier' category. Bass is similar, both having a strong presence and powerful impact, great layering and dynamics. The IT04 with the graphene driver used for lows is more even between sub and mid-bass, while the Fibae gives a slight more emphasis in mid-bass kick. As could be expected for a balance armature, speed goes for the Fibae with faster attack and more precision, and while extension is surprisingly very close, the IT04 may handle a little more reach and bit more natural, slower decay (and mainly if used in balanced mode). Lower midrange is very similar both having a full and bit thick texture with some warm tonality, but they differ more in upper midrange where the Fibae remains very smooth and rich, and the iBasso is more neutral and brighter. Vocals are a sweeter and more forward on the Fibae and the IT04 has more balance and air with sharper instruments separation; more energy on upper instruments and more edgy female vocals, but also leaner next to the Fibae. Treble remains always smooth and rather linear on the Fibae Black, very inoffensive in next to the extra energy and crispiness the IT04 offers. While detail is more obvious due the more treble presence of the IT04, the more laid-back Black IEM is capable to show a same quality if not a bit more of detail. Extension is technically very similar, and regardless the IT04 having a dedicated BA unit (single or dual), the resolution is still higher on the Fibae with a more coherent centered image, even just from its standard 3.5mm cable over the 2.5mm balanced sound of the iBasso, and that says a lot.

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    The Custom Art FIBAE Black turns out to be a very capable in-ear monitor. The new 3D printed shells are well built and prove to be very ergonomic, comfortable for long listening times and also well isolating for everyday use. If there is anything to point out on the design it would just be the limited customization to faceplates alone, and even that is being too picky only because it arrives from a custom-IEM company. You still get the all piano black shell which looks rather classy and beautiful artwork designs to choose. The ear tips selection is too minimal and the included ones may not bring the best sound out of the earphones, so be ready to get some extra.

    In terms of sound it is quite impressive. The small single armature driver inside tuned with a slight mid-centered signature is also powerful, engaging and very musical, yet accurate, fast and precise. The final tuning may not appeal to everyone as it goes very smooth and forgiving; those looking for pure detail and more energy should consider the triple driver Fibae 3 as an option. However, the midrange is very sweet and immersive, and the resolution is really good for the price.

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      Dsnuts, piotrus-g and DannyBai like this.
  2. ustinj
    FIBAE Black: A Guilty Pleasure
    Written by ustinj
    Published Jan 30, 2019
    Pros - bass, excellent tonality & timbre, vocal texturing, solid layering, ability in complex passages, slightly narrow but consistent staging, fatigue-free listening, source independent signature
    Cons - treble extension, slightly narrow staging, resolution is average for price range
    The FIBAE Black is a single-balanced armature in-ear monitor from Custom Art, available in both custom and universal form factors and retailing for 450 EUR. In terms of customization, the shell is only available in black (as the name precedes), but the faceplates can be customized.

    I'd like to give big thanks Piotr and Kamil from Custom Art for sending out a sample of the FIBAE Black for me to test and review. I'll be attempting to cover the quality and sound of the FIBAE Black with as little bias as possible. Almost all of my listening is done through the Sony NW-ZX300a, playing FLAC, WAV, and 320kbps MP3. Occasionally, I have also tested the Black through the LG V20 and OnePlus 6T USB-C dongle streaming Spotify Premium.
    You can find more information, pricing, and details of the FIBAE Black at Custom Art's site, available through the following link:
    I've had these for a little bit under a week, but had to have already put something around 40 hours of listening on them. That's already saying a little something, isn't it?


    I'll try to keep this section concise. The Custom Art FIBAE Black comes in a plain black box, containing a small pocketable zip-case and a black Pelican 1010 with foam lid padding. In summation, you'll find:​
    • Pocket-sized zip case​
    • Black Pelican 1010​
    • FIBAE Black + cable​
    • Tips (S / M / L + M biflange)​
    • Desiccant​
    • Cleaning tool​
    • Warranty / info sheet​

    The FIBAE Black (universal) is tuned for the included stock tips. They are made of a slightly thinner material that gives easily, so using the right size is necessary. Using tips too large resulted in the tip 'folding' along itself and breaking the seal (whereas with other tips, a large tip will seal but have a shallow insertion depth). I was able to get a consistent fit with the small stock single-flange tips.​

    I've had some good experience using the FIBAE Black with other tips, such as Acoustune AET07s -- however, for the entirety of this review, I'll be covering the sound with the stock tips (S).

    I'm not sure the specifications of the stock cable, but in terms of ergonomics it does quite well. It's flexible and performs decently in microphonics, though there is a tad bit of springiness to it. It doesn't retain memory and the chin slider is very effective. It's a simple, good-looking cable that does gets job done!​

    In terms of fit and finish, Custom Art's shell work seems to be of very high quality. I have a set of FIBAE 3 on loan (thanks to Crinacle), and the shells here have no bubbles or imperfections. I assume the same follows for the FIBAE Black, though since it is opaque such things like that would not matter. The nozzle does have grooves for silicone/foam tips to latch on securely -- I did quite a bit of tip rolling with the Black, and it seems to be holding up quite well so far. Detachable 2-pin connectors sit flush with the IEM (so not recessed), which is supposedly better for longevity and durability purposes. The inner surface of the housing is imprinted with the serial number of the IEM, in the respective blue/red for the left/right monitors.

    I did not give any particular input on the faceplate design, but the result was described as "broken glass with a chameleon effect". Aptly named, as the glass flakes shift between emerald and sapphire hues depending on the angle at which light hits it. From some perspectives, there's no green at all and the result is blue / lilac!​

    Custom Art's universal shell fit is excellent. I was seriously happy with the way the FIBAE 3 fit, and am once again impressed with the Black. The two shells are similar, but it appears the Black is actually slightly larger. However, the FIBAE Black still remains on the smaller side of things. It lays completely secure and flush with my ears (with the right tips, of course), and doesn't protrude at all -- like a custom would. I also don't have any issues with discomfort over long periods of time.

    The FIBAE Black can be described as a warm neutral IEM with a slight tilt towards the lower frequencies. It has a smooth overtone with thick solid midrange notes, rolling off gently in the treble region. As a result, the FIBAE Black does not have the greatest sense of treble airiness or extension. However, there is not an out-of-place peak, valley, or any sign of incoherence in sight when it comes to the Black. It's a slightly coloured listening experience that envelops the listener in a natural warmth; the longer I listen the more I recgonize its tone, imaging, and layering as its strengths.

    Sound is described using the stock single-flange tips, with a slightly deeper insertion. I found out a bit later that tip rolling made moderately significant changes to the sound. A shallower fit (with the stock biflange) shifts the sound from low-end tilt to a more neutral, balanced sound.​

    Single-BA setups tend to leave one end or the other a bit neglected in terms of extension, whether it be in the low bass or higher treble regions. With the FIBAE Black, I can say that the low end is not lacking, especially with deep insertion. For a single balanced-armature, the Black delivers some commendable subbass and adequate impact to back it up. Subbass is a tad smooth in texture with a warm overtone, but Black still presents a surprisingly satisfying amount of rumble. Midbass is boosted in quantity but slightly blunted in attack, resulting in less aggressive bass hits with higher density. In terms of sheer amount, the Black is not shy when it comes to throwing down the bass -- it settles a bit above what I'd consider "good fun". Electronic tracks with a heavy focus on bass riffs and sequences like "Kotek & Littlemore - Surface" are very engaging and immersive through the Black -- something I am surprised to say considering the single-BA driver setup.

    I found bass rumble to be pretty intense with stock single flange, but actually more neutral with a stock biflange. Subbass has less authority with the latter, giving a quicker, more BA-typical presentation.​

    Black aims for a warmer, more natural rendering of midrange notes, while maintaining adequate forwardness. Lower midrange is full, carrying momentum from the upper bass frequencies without significant bass bleeding. This balance gives the midrange a warm and 'organic' tilt, working well in the spectrum of male vocals and heftier woodwind instruments. Upper midrange is lifted moderately around 2-3khz to balance vocal body at the forefront of its presentation, though not overly forced in the mix due to the less emphasized presence region. Texturing is pleasantly smooth and rich in the midrange, there's a distinct and unique sweetness to vocals through the Black.

    Preferably, I'd typically opt for a tad more 4-6khz presence, as currently it seems to be slightly blended over in this region -- female vocal presence and snare drums are just a tiny shade blunter in the mix, certain singers and electric guitars could use more 'bite' to give the Black a sharper, more perceivable resolution with increased clarity. This becomes less of an issue as listening volume increases. As an added bonus, when I do push the volume, that's when the Black's layering capabilities become more apparent. I'll cover more about this after treble. After some extended listening, I'd say that this section is borderline mood-based. There are some days where the upper midrange sounds exceptionally natural, there are some days where I'd like that extra 'bite'.

    As mentioned earlier, most single-BA setups I've tried have lacked extension in one way or another. Black has taken an alternative path to treble presentation -- while it's not lacking in extension, it's reduced in quantity as a tradeoff. Black's treble is gentle, smooth, and a fair amount below what I'd consider the typical "reference". It feels like it rolls off gently without sudden drop-off, but there's little air or sparkle -- it's just not adequate in quantity at higher frequencies for me to throw in these buzzwords. But don't take it out of context: the Black doesn't sound congested or closed-in (see Layering). Microdetail and texturing in the upper frequencies are there, not at the forefront of its signature. Typically when I consider rolled off treble, it disappears somewhere in the upper frequencies, but with the Black I feel that upper treble is there but just significantly softer in quantity. That being said, there are no out-of-place peaks, dips, or weird jagged edges that I can pinpoint. It's just a smooth, streamlined, and sloping treble response that doesn't really throw any red flags up other than those based on quantity preferences.

    I found using the stock biflange tips introduced a noticeably increased mid-treble quantity. I preferred the deep insertion of the small tips as it eliminated any potential peakiness, though also seemingly reduced the 'air'. Tradeoffs.​


    Layering / Staging
    After covering the overall sound signature, it's clear that the Black is a warmer IEM with softer treble presentation. It's not my typically preferred sound signature, and the Black's technical prowess isn't exactly turning heads -- so why does the Black still sound good?

    When I pay attention to Black's characteristics outside of basic tonality, it really feels like all the instruments and vocals are melted seamlessly together into a syrup of sound. Absolutely nothing feels lost (it's all layered together nicely), but not really found either (separation becomes fuzzy). Isolating individual instruments and vocals completely isn't as simple as with more clarity-focused earphones, it's almost as if all the layers are working together simultaneously, sharing mutual spatial bubbles with one another. It's just pleasantly textured and different from what is normally expected from audiophile IEMs. It's tricky to describe -- separation isn't the Black's forte, but trying to pinpoint certain layers instead gives you just the right amount of everything around it, without a sense of muddling / overcrowding.

    Though the Black doesn't have much air rendered with its intended treble presence, the Black doesn't feel closed in or congested. Soundstage width is consistently average if not slightly narrower, but the excellent layering means that instruments don't need to contest for stage real estate. In other words, the Black holds strong in tracks with complex passages -- in fact, it does very well.​

    Comparison to FIBAE 3
    The Black has a more hefty & weighted bass presentation than the FIBAE 3. Even with its single BA driver, Black extends deeper and has greater rumble in the subbass with more apparent texturing. Midbass also slams harder on the Black. Electronic music listeners and bass lovers would appreciate the Black's low-end over the FIBAE 3's leaner tuning, especially with deep-insert tips. Black has a more natural midrange timbre, where the FIBAE 3 is more nasal with an enhanced sense of sharpness. There seems to be a bit of unevenness in the upper midrange of the FIBAE 3, where the Black soars over it in coherency. Black's treble is clearly more subdued when compared to the FIBAE 3, the latter presenting a greater amount of treble sparkle and air. FIBAE 3 has more apparent resolution and improved microdynamics, while Black fares better in macrodynamics. Black is much smoother, and doesn't sound peaky in any way. Black has more intimate imaging but a similar soundstage expansion, giving a more textured and layered sound.

    In summation, the Black has a heavier focus on tonal accuracy, significantly more natural timbre, better dynamics, and more apparent layering; the FIBAE 3 leans towards minute detail retrieval, treble technicality / performance.​

    This is not your typical reference monitor. The FIBAE Black does something that is a bit difficult to put into words, stepping away from the usual audiophile sound and raising the question -- what makes "reference" actually "required"? When did "neutral" become "necessary"? There are IEMs that may match the Black in detail retrieval, resolution, or extension for slightly less than the Black's asking price, but on the other hand we happen to have an exceptionally non-fatiguing, natural, and coherent tuning with beautiful layering at higher volumes. Bass rumbles well with the quick decay of a balanced-armature for an unusual low-end combination, while higher frequencies remain super smooth for excellent long-term listening.

    As a single balanced-armature IEM retailing for 450 EUR, the Black plays at a bit of an awkward price point -- far above what one would consider entry level, and well below the common flagships. Whether or not the Black is worth it becomes a question of personal preference and expectation. I don't think the Black has flagship technical performance at its price range, but I also don't think that was the intention of Custom Art selecting a single-BA driver as its setup. It takes a step in a different direction, straying away from the classic "more detail" view on audiophilia and finding a different approach to refinement based on pleasing tone and musicality. The Black is not for the critical-listening detail-hound nor the infallible treblehead. It's a thick and moving, robust but not-at-all-slow sound that needs to be heard to be truly understood.​
    1. buonassi
      I just wanted to mention how well-written this was. It was very helpful in my decision to order the black. I think I understand what you're talking about with the layering, and how it slots into audiophilia despite lacking the typical technical characteristics. I'm hoping that because of the balanced tonality, resolution won't be a disappointment. It's amazing how much more you can hear when 'masking' is eliminated and you have a very quiet background.
      buonassi, Mar 17, 2019
      scottsays likes this.
    2. scottsays
      Excellent review----my custom Black was delivered today and I have been really enjoying them all afternoon. Agree with your assessment and would recommend the Black to anyone thinking about buying them.
      scottsays, Apr 8, 2019