Custom Art FIBAE Massdrop Exclusive
Edit: The Custom Art Massdrop Exclusive did a limited run on Massdrop, and that run is complete. The Massdrop Exclusive is to be released on the Custom Art page as the FIBAE 6. It will be all of the same goodness that was the Massdrop Exclusive only the consumer will now have the ability to order it directly from Custom Art. The signature of the F6 checks so many of my boxes, it is really great to see the availability not limited to Massdrop only. Enjoy!
Custom Art FIBAE ME – Direct link to purchase
Custom Art – Custom Art Website
A Little Technical Stuff:
· 6 balanced-armature drivers: 2 super-low, 1 low, 1 mid-high, 2 super-high
· Efficiency: 113dB at 1kHz at 0.1V
· Impedance: 6.6 ohm at 1kHz (+/- 0.7 ohm 10Hz–20kHz)
· Frequency response: 10Hz–18,000Hz (+/- 20dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
· Acrylic body
Custom Art FIBAE Massdrop Exclusive
-MRSP: Universal/Custom fit USD 819.99
Piotr and the team at Custom Art have done it again, and this time it was in collaboration with Massdrop as a Massdrop Exclusive. This exclusive is the next iteration in the FIBAE line.
I have firsthand experience with a couple of previous FIBAE offerings, FIBAE 2 & FIBAE 3. It is entertaining to have been able to hear each in the line, each with their distinctive characteristics and personality if you will. The F2, with it’s fun, engaging musical signature and the F3 with its clarity and detail showcased. I love both and found myself using each depending on my mood du jour. I would vacillate between the two, and one day I would boldly declare “this one is my favorite” only to make the same declaration the next day about the other, I guess I am a fickle lover. It is a testament to how good they both sound and how they shine at their own respective game.
One day, on a whim I wrote a quick note to Piotr and said, “Sir, I would be in heaven with this FIBAE line if there was an IEM with the FIBAE clarity but with the addition of some serious bass.” At this point that was probably three Massdrop’s ago, so my quote may not have been exact, but Piotr’s response was “You just need to wait a little longer.” Low and behold, the news broke of the FIBAE ME. Throughout the review you will see me use ME when talking about the Massdrop Exclusive, it is not some egotistical, self-centered reference to me so let’s not confuse me with ME.
You can only purchase the ME through Massdrop, you won’t find these on the Custom Art website. You need to stay tuned to Massdrop to find out when the next drop will be.
I received the ME some time ago, and shall we say “life happens” so this review has been a long time coming. It does not take away from the fact that these are indeed my favorite signature compared to the two other FIBAE’s I have in my possession. F2= two drivers, F3= three drivers, and ME=six drivers, but of course it has to be named the Massdrop Exclusive since it is a collaboration; thus it is not coined the F6. It is not the number of drivers that make this my favorite, it is the sound signature that checks so many boxes for me. I apologize for keeping my reader’s waiting for this review as well as Piotr.
A Little Marketing Hype:
The CustomArt FIBAE is a high-end six-driver IEM with the world’s first Flat Impedance design (patent pending). The result of months of hard work and countless hours of testing, its frequency response is strictly based on that of its predecessor, the Ei.xx, with improvements to accommodate feedback from the Massdrop community. Each ear features two sub-low drivers, a single low driver, a proprietary mid-high driver, and two high-frequency drivers, which work together to deliver a fun, powerful sound. It’s thick bodied, and bass focused, with deep-reaching sub-lows, a balanced midrange, and smooth and detailed highs. The Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone (or FIBAE) technology helps provide a consistent sound signature independent of the connected source, and thanks to the more versatile tuning, this IEM is well suited for a wide variety of music genres. Each pair bears the CustomArt logo on the left piece and the Massdrop logo on the right. The logos can be removed at checkout if desired.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:
· Peli 1010 case
· Wax pick tool
· Drying pellet
· Manufacturer’s 1-year warranty card
· With custom IEMs only: 30-day free refit
· With universal IEMs only: 1 pair of dual-flange silicone tips and three pairs of single-flange silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
Unboxing and Accessories:
All Custom Art offerings include just the basics in their packaging and their accessories. I do love the fact that CA includes Pelican cases as they are just excellent for storage and protection. As you can see from the list of inclusions above, the focus is on putting the expense on the sound and not the frills.
I am not going to write just to hit a word count or to fill up space on a review. The unboxing and accessories are what they are. It is cool to have stickers, pins, wiping cloths, banners, etc… but none of that is necessary to enjoy the music from the IEM’s, so in my mind the focus should be about the music, and if it keeps the cost down, even a little, to me it is worthwhile trade-off. I will include a photo from the Massdrop site detailing the package.
Build Quality and Fit:
The F2 I tried was a universal fit and was one of Custom Art’s demo units. The design was so/so, in my opinion, and I wasn’t sure that the quality was on par with some of the other companies IEM’s I had tried. I later decided, the build quality was exceptional it was the color combo that didn’t agree with me, but then again that is subjective. My next foray into Custom Art was the F3, and all concerns about the quality of their craft quickly faded as my custom F3 was impeccable in style and build quality. Gorgeous.
When I knew I was interested in the ME, I contacted Piotr with a couple of design ideas and asked his opinion, after all, he is the expert. One idea was to represent my favorite NFL team, New Orleans Saints, or the avatar I was using at that time on one of my favorite sites, the crisscross Van Halen guitar design. Piotr kind of dismissed my ideas at that time and I never gave it another thought. Occasionally, I would reach out to Piotr, but he was incredibly busy from the success of the Massdrop and his response to me each time was he was going to do a unique design, but nothing more, but that he hadn’t worked on it yet. In my head I was thinking, please don’t let it be Rainbows and Unicorns or something to that effect. While that would be a unique design, it also would be a little too special for me. *wink*
One day, out of the blue, Piotr sent me a message and said my order was on the way. I inquired if he had taken any photos he could send me and he declined. Of course, this aroused my curiosity. I was already planning my response when asked if I liked my Rainbows and Unicorns design. My package arrived, and to my surprise and by Piotr’s admission, he and his design team had completed their most ambitious design yet, my New Orleans Saints design. The design is unique, and the build quality was what I had grown to expect after the F3. It is indeed a one of a kind, and I was delighted that Piotr and his team had spent the extra effort for this personalized design. He did an internet search and found photos of the Saints helmet and the rest is history. Fantastic and innovative. Thanks again!
The ME fit was perfect, and there was no need for a refit or any alteration. I can wear them without any discomfort for long listening sessions, and I obtain a custom seal.
They are 2-pin connector design, and I have dabbled with pairing aftermarket cables and found the connection to be stable and snug.
The review was written utilizing multiple sources, Opus #2, Essential phone, QP2R, iBasso DX120 and so on. I listened using the stock Plastics1 cable and its 3.5mm connection but quickly switched to various aftermarket cables as I have found all of the FIBAE models shine when paired with quality aftermarket cables. I don’t necessarily succumb to the hype regarding cables, that cost as much as the IEM’s themselves, but FIBAE was one of the few IEM’s that I do hear step up improvements in sound that make the upgrade worthy. I have limits I am willing to spend on cables and have found the $150 Effect Audio Ares II to be a fantastic pairing as well as the $300 8-wire Ares II. Both cables are well built, have good ergonomics and are relatively moderately priced.
The design I have is custom, so no eartips are needed. My sample music consisted of 320kb, FLAC as well as streaming Tidal Masters, Spotify, and Deezer.
Moving on to the sound section….
The ME is the type of sound signature that is confident in its sound. There is overall masculinity that is exuded in its delivery that showcases its meaty signature and organic tone. To my ears, it is undeniable this IEM is born of FIBAE DNA. To know what FIBAE DNA sounds like, you obviously would have to follow the FIBAE line. By providing flat impedance and phase through changing the Balanced Armature driver character from inductive to resistive CA has claimed to solve the dependence on the output impedance of sound source for correct earphone output. FIBAE delivers the same experience on most sources, but if you pair it with a TOTL DAP, you will be rewarded. There is warmth, more warmth than any of its predecessors, but the FIBAE clarity is still alive and kickin’. At the time of writing, I was experiencing audio bliss listening to Van Halen remastered Collection in all of its 24-bit, 192.0 kHz splendor. Van Halen is not a group that you generally marvel in their bass, it is more about Master Eddie and his guitar virtuosity. When employing the ME/VH duo, the bass emerges and creates it’s own space in which it performs. It is not an overly detailed bass, but its tonality is superb, just as is Eddie Van Halen’s guitar tone. Overall, the treble frequencies are smooth, with no rough edges while there is clarity in the upper midrange. The FIBAE 3 has more clarity and extension, but the ME does an excellent job considering the copious amounts of bass in its arsenal. I recommend that the listener eases themselves into their comfy listening chair and plans to settle in for the long haul and allow your brain to become engulfed in its tone and the ME experience. Vocals imbue a full, luxuriant tone. As you listen, you may be reminding yourself that you are listening to a BA driver and not a DD IEM.
The overall sound signature is one that is rich and sultry, full of energy and a perfect musicality that the listener can feel the emotion of the music as well as hear it. I was listening to Radiohead Creep, and it sounds so dynamic and organic with the ME. Nothing in the signature screams harsh, it is smooth and warm but never bloated. I find myself wandering off into dreamland when listening to the ME, but the bass will keep you awake. These are not a neutral, clinical or an analytical listen, undoubtedly the ME is characterized as warm and full.
ME’s presentation is solid, but I have heard presentations and stages in other TOTL IEM’s that immediately caught me as more coherent and holographic. The stage has the FIBAE DNA, and in that, it has sufficient width, but the sound is not the most holographic I have heard. The stage is well placed, but I prefer a touch more space between the instruments.
When listening to rock music, there is a grit associated with guitar chords and thump from the bass drums. The organic sound is perfect for the rock music genre. My 90’s Grunge collection is a perfect example of a style to enjoy with the ME. The detail of the Dita Dream or other high detail IEM’s is not present, but the ME is not about that. It is a rock music lover’s wet dream. The tone and musicality exude a certain sexiness during brief listens or during extended listening sessions. It is all about a smooth, warm vibe.
The ME has some super-rich BA bass. The sub bass is apparent, but the star of the of the show is the mid-bass. The sub bass is not the bone-rattling type, but it is undoubtedly ever present while listening, especially in heavy bass tracks. I have heard more detailed and layered bass, but throughout all of the bass frequencies, the ME holds it’s own, again the tone is terrific. The mid-bass is indeed, all of that and a bag of chips. The song Would, by Alice in Chains, is one I use to test the adequacy of bass, and the ME flew by the test and asked if that was all I had. It is very capable for a BA configuration.
I have grown accustomed to DD bass, and while this is not a DD, it does a decent job of emulating the texture of a DD. It lacks the punchiness or slam that comes with a DD, but that can be forgiven because the fluidity is so provocative.
It is evident that the Custom Art, Massdrop Exclusive was an extensive collaboration and a labor of love from the CA team. I was spending a little time enjoying the Black album by Metallica while writing and Enter Sandman kicked in with a severe head bobbing riff. The signature sucks me in as if I was front and center to the stage. I have quite a few DD hybrid IEM’s in my stable, but when I am in a rocking, head banging mood I reach for the ME.
The mids are a cornucopia of richness. The details do not force the listener to become so involved, in listening, that the goodness with which the ME excels, is overlooked. Male vocals are deep and full-bodied and female vocals take on a certain husky sexiness, which favors female vocalists such as Norah Jones. I found that the mids somewhat push the vocals to the front of the stage, it is not that they appear out of place or glaring but compared to other warm IEM’s that I own, the vocals are slightly forward, not an easy feat for a full sounding IEM.
The mids round out the harmonious signature with a timbre that sounds natural. I find myself not giving the mids their due, because the bass is so gloriously prevalent. However, when I listen to the synergy between the bass and mids, it is then I become enthralled in the totality of the music. What you can expect from the mids is a smooth, moderately detailed scale. It is in the mid frequencies that the ME’s addictive musicality is spawned. The mids do rock music some serious justice, whether it be classic rock or grunge, have fun let the crunch and grit of the guitars impress you.
If in fact the middle child is oft ignored, the treble of the ME is the middle child. I would not say the mids are a weak link, but I would illustrate the characterization as the treble being the middle child and the bass and mids are the dominant siblings. The siblings that never allow the treble to ride shotgun on the family car trips. The treble’s role is to create the air and extension and let the details of the music be heard. Acknowledging the role that the treble plays, I would say that the ME is more than confident and at home with it’s positioning in the family’s hierarchy.
Without shrillness or offensive edges, the lower treble range has enough of a bump to create adequate air, while the high treble frequencies add the extension. The treble does not offer the same level of extension as the F3, but enough to provide a twinkle on its spectral end. If the treble were more pronounced, it would possibly create an imbalance, distracting you from the overall smoothness of the ME.
The whole listening enjoyment comes after time spent with the ME. As is the case with warm or bassy monitors it can be a touch overwhelming upon initial listen. Another IEM that comes to mind is the Campfire Audio Atlas. At first, with the Atlas, it was necessary to climb over a wall of bass to get to the other ranges, but with time that impression quickly faded. You could make a similar argument about the ME, except it is not a wall of bass, it’ s the inclusionary warmth that you need to listen “through” and become accustomed to.
The experience is well-rounded but certainly south of neutral. The reward is musicality and tone that creates a listening experience that wraps you in a blanket of engulfing music.
The ME is easily driven with moderate volume. The sound signature is the type that you find yourself inching up the volume levels the more you listen, only because it has such musical qualities. All of my sources drove them perfectly fine from a power standpoint, the majority of my sources have a more neutral to slightly warmish profile.
The QP2R is my reference player and pairs incredibly well, as the tone matches well with the tone of the IEM. The end product is a rich, organic sound. The QP2R did not overemphasize the warmth of the IEM and provided an incredible synergy, with an excellent stage and enough air to assist the upper mids and treble to provide detail.
The iBasso DX120 utilizing the 2.5mm balanced output is a sublime pairing. A reasonably balanced, reasonably priced DAP that makes a beautiful pairing with the ME. The balanced output provides that extra oomph or power during the moments you want to inch the volume higher. The transients were complete, and nothing is lacking in the pairing that impedes the details. The DX120 has a black background and a dynamic sound. The DX120 delivers a coherent, defined stage and the balanced output appears to add a touch of air between notes.
The Essential phone with the dongle was able to drive the ME and provide the listener sufficient volume adequately.
The closest comparison I have is the Empire Ears Legend X. There is 3X the price difference between the ME and X. I have yet to write a formal review of the X, but I will share a couple of comments. The X is without a doubt the most technically proficient between the two IEM’s. The X is a hybrid, containing DD and BA drivers and the ME is strictly BA, so consider that. Honestly, the bass of the ME holds its own reasonably well compared to the DD bass of the X.
Overall the ME is a smoother listen. The X has a much better treble extension, and while neither IEM is offensive in it’s treble, the amount of sparkle in the Legend X allows the spectrum to extend further. In the mids, the X can reach into a song and extract more detail from the music. Both are very full in the mid-range but technically the X showcases more detail, and the ME smooths out the sound. I prefer DD bass, but the bass level and tone that Piotr and team can achieve with this BA offering is undoubtedly impressive. The X is more layered and has quicker transients while the ME is more warm, smooth and organic.
If you are one of those people that factor in cost when making a decision, the question begs is the X worth spending 3X the money, both are capable of being your daily driver.
You might want to own this IEM if:
+ You want a great bang for the buck, wallet-friendly TOTL performance
+ You prefer a smooth, full, rich sound signature
+ You prefer a sound that is musical in character and excels at long listening sessions
+ You are seeking a fantastic build quality and progressive design options
+ You sensitive to treble peaks and sibilance as this is super smooth
I have been honored to hear most of the FIBA line. The ME has been my favorite signature out of the FIBAE lineage. The FIBAE is not necessarily about “one-upping” one another, it is about offering multiple signatures and price points to the consumer. While the driver count has increased, each in the line has it’s technical merits in which it excels. It is as if, Piotr gradually pushes up the driver count, not out of necessity, but as if he is always experimenting to find more technicality and an array of signatures or styles, if you will, to suit every consumer’s tastes.
The bass is very good for a BA IEM and holds its own relatively well compared to some the DD configurations I own. Honestly, it is just excellent in general, not important if it’s a BA or DD it provides the smooth musicality that one craves when wanting to listen and enjoy their favorite music. The signature does an excellent job of portraying rock music and its gritty sound. I also enjoy EDM with the ME but do prefer the DD for that genre.
The build quality is first class, the design is super personalized, and I appreciate that Piotr did the research when I mentioned my favorite NFL team and worked his craft and designed this one of a kind IEM. The fit is flawless and without discomfort.
If I had one wish it would be for CA to consider including a higher quality stock cable instead of the Plastics1 cables, they are so meh. I understand that Piotr’s philosophy is to try to keep down the costs associated with the final product, but it is something he may want to consider in future releases.
The ME is only available through Massdrop, and only you can decide if that’s a good thing or bad. The ME is a TOTL competitor with a fair Massdrop price, it is actually priced for the masses. With all of the many options available today, in the IEM market, it would be a shame for this IEM not to receive the exposure it deserves.