The Dawn in-ear monitor (IEM) from Fearless Audio is a collaboration effort between the Chinese audio company and famous IEM reviewer, Crinacle. Some may know Crinacle from his extensive measurement database that originally was started on head-fi.org and later became In-Ear Fidelity at http://www.crinacle.com. He has a large enthusiast following, and the measurement database is well-used and well-liked by the community, including myself.
A few months back, he was offered a chance to work on the tuning of a new IEM project with Fearless Audio, which use their own tuning system called Y2K. This system is explained in more detail on Crinacle’s blog post at https://crinacle.com/2020/03/23/behind-the-scenes-tuning-the-fearless-x-crinacle-dawn. The gist of it is that the tuner turns a set of dials on this system which changes cross-over positions of known driver setups. The final tuning configuration can then be used to create a customized in-ear monitor for that user. In this case, the personal tuning configuration that Crinacle chose is going to be produced and sold on Linsoul.com at $1399 USD starting now.
Disclaimer: This is a North American tour unit, which I was lucky enough to be the 1st on the tour. Thanks to Crinacle and Lillian of Linsoul for giving me the opportunity to be the first reviewer of this IEM.
Dawn comes in a black shell with gold flakes and a simple text logo, “Crinacle,” on one side. The design is flashy, yet elegant and stunning at the same time. The design fits my ears pretty well, with only minor discomfort after a long period of use. It’s not as comfortable as the qdc Anole VX, but comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time for most people, I’d imagine.
The shell uses recessed 2-pin connectors, which is common in-case you want to change out the cables. I mention this, because the cable is extremely heavy. It’s a great looking cable, however. The cable is made with an appealing gray-colored braided design, with beautiful connectors and splitter. The only bad part is that these connectors and the splitter are made of a chunk of metal, which weighs the cable down significantly, and that can cause some issues wearing it over a period of time. After a couple days of using the packaged cable, I opted to switch out to a different cable that was lighter-weight and also of the 4.4mm pentaconn balanced variety to use with my Sony Digital Audio Player.
Beneath the exterior of the shell are 6 balanced armature (BA) drivers and 2 electrostatic tweeter (EST) drivers. What is interesting about this driver selection is that this wasn’t the intended driver configuration when this project started with Fearless and Crinacle. The Y2K system was designed around an all-BA setup, and so this ended up becoming a slightly custom iteration of the original driver configuration.
So -- the question that’s been on a lot of people in the portable audio community’s minds. How does it sound?
Well for me, it sounds pretty good. Tonality-wise, it’s solid. Very solid. Crinacle fiddled some switches and came up with a sound signature that is similar to a treble-tamed Harman In-Ear Target curve, which gives this a very listenable and balanced presentation that should appeal to many people and will work across multiple genres of music.
The low-end has a boost that begins around 200Hz, although the mid-range is down-sloped until about 900Hz. Although this boost does bring up the measured frequency response up towards Sony IER-Z1R and 64 Audio U12t levels of bass gain, I don’t find it as impactful, sustained, or slammy (is that a word?) as the aforementioned IEMs. The Dawn has a quick and articulate bass response, more commonly found in balanced armature drivers (because that’s what it uses), and has less of a natural decay level than that of the other two. The U12t, for example, has more rumble and a deeper perceived sub-bass extension, despite also being a multi-BA setup.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the Dawn is bad though. I find that it still has good resolution in the bass region, and hits when needed. I think I came in expecting it to hit harder, like how the IER-Z1R was, but it doesn’t and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for my personal tastes.
My initial impressions of the lower mid-range mentioned that it was a little thin. I don’t know if I totally agree with those initial thoughts anymore, especially after changing the ear tips out to the Crinacle-recommended Azla Sedna tips, and in my case, the Sedna-Light tips. These do run slightly larger than expected, so you may want to consider getting them a half-size smaller than you normally would. I think the thick walls and stiffness play a role in how they fit and conform.
That aside, the lower-midrange seems to have been improved in terms of having a richer and warmer sound to it, which I didn’t feel before. Some of the complaints centered around male vocals, and maybe it was due to getting good seal or the wall thickness of the tips, but now I find that male vocals, particular some country-type songs I enjoy from say, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell or Orville Peck, have a bit more power behind them. The same can be said about the instrumentation that feels more engaging.
The upper-midrange does start to rise early and some may find it a little shouty. In my listening, I never found that to be a problem – I am also used to listening to IEMs that have similar early rises like the Anole VX, which begins even earlier, and other IEMs like the Viento, I recently reviewed, Etymotic, and even the aforementioned U12t. Female vocals are well-in-line with male vocals in terms of forwardness, though higher ranged voices may sound a bit more prominent due to the lower treble gain and extension.
Going back to the beginning again, I found the tonality of the Dawn to be nearly spot-on and should cast a wide net of users. I do think that some of the technical abilities of the set are lacking slightly compared to some other flagship-level IEMs – whether that be the lack of natural decay occasionally, or somewhat flatter dynamics. It’s not going to be widely noticeable if you are coming from lower-end gear, but when you go and compare these side-by-side with other IEMs, it does become a little more apparent.
Soundstage is wider than what I’d call intimate with just above average width, but not necessarily large depth. I found transient response to be fast and agile, which gives these a good amount of resolution and it’s comparable to many other others I’ve listened to before.
Tool – Fear Inoculum
The initial ringing in this sound has a lot of zing to it and can be a considered a little sharp, although exciting. The panning cello-like bass guitar produces a good amount of rumble and the slam of each kick drum has some weight to it. Imaging is laid across more up front than scattered within deep layers as I may hear on the Anole VX, but there is a good amount of resolution that comes across at the end of each panning motion – with the barely audible noises off the sides quickly entering the scene and leaving. Drums are hit with decent authority and sound crisp and fast. Maynard Keenan’s voice sounds accurate and smooth. The entire song sounds very well structured with this IEM, although lacking some layering and perhaps too aggressive sounding.
Civil Wars – Poison & Wine
This duet has a well-controlled bass line that doesn’t necessarily sustain as long I like, but it has a good amount of “feels” to it. The vocals of Joy Williams and John Paul White are both accurate and perhaps a tad shouty at times. The details in their voices are put together very well on this IEM with distinguishing sounds made apparent. My only critique of this song using this IEM is that there isn’t enough depth and everything is presented very forward.
Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm – 21:05
This live improv track between these two musical geniuses has a lot of background noise and clicks and clacks from being recorded in open-air live. These little details do come across well on the Dawn. The piano sounds natural, though perhaps a tad bright, and a little forward. I believe this is Nils Frahm’s specific portion of the song, sounding a bit more forward than what I’ve heard on other headphones and IEMs, but still sounds really good. Separation of all the various background sounds and the two pianos is not a problem either in this simpler piano duet.
Tegan & Sara – Boyfriend
This is one of the songs that has a lot of sibilant sounds in it and is also very compressed in sound. But I still like the band despite their bad recording techniques. Despite having a slightly elevated treble response, I don’t have any issues with listening to this song, as I did on the Hidition Viento-R Universal and the qdc Anole VX. The U12t handled this song the best of the 4, but it also sounds the most muted in terms of treble response. The Dawn doesn’t have any sibilance or any strange artifacts, and does handle the overall song well. It’s not a song that displays a lot of technical areas but is one that I use to check for how it handles modern pop songs.
64 Audio U12t
The U12t is an IEM that I feel this will be heavily compared to since they are both multi-BA IEMs, although the Dawn does have 2 EST drivers as well. They also share very similar shapes and sound signature. The U12t is $600 USD more than the Dawn however. Both come with a variety of accessories, however the U12t does come with modules that can affect tuning which is handy to change out sound flavors.
I found the U12t to have better presence and subbass impact and texturing with a more natural decay. Both have similar mid-range qualities, however the U12t comes across much smoother and perhaps darker compared to the Dawn in the treble region. I find that this makes the Dawn have a little more air and excitement to its sound. Resolution-wise, I think they are on-par with each other, as well as soundstage and what not. I think the U12t has a more overall laid-back soft tuning.
qdc Anole VX
The Anole VX is a 10-driver, all-BA IEM from qdc and comes with 3 switches to provide 8 tuning profiles in total. This gives the VX a lot of subtle flavor changes to choose from, however its most popular and my personal favorite tuning is the original default one, which is a U-shaped signature that doesn’t differ a lot from both the U12t and the Dawn. The Dawn has, in my mind, a better even and balanced tonality, with no major peaks or valleys and a generally smooth sound. The VX does have a bit of a dip in the lower treble, and then a rise between 7-9KHz that can be a bit harsh depending on the music you’re listening to and the volume you listen at. It can also cause a bit of an artificial sound that some may dislike. While the Dawn does not have these noticeable issues, I found it does lack some of the decay and layering and depth that the VX possesses more of. The qdc Anole VX is also one of the best fitting IEMs I’ve ever tried and one of the big reasons I really like it a lot.
The Hidition Viento and Dawn are a bit further apart in sound style. The Viento is more of a Diffuse Field tuning where the bass to mid-range is generally more flat and less weighted, with general note weight being much lighter than the Dawn. I find the Viento’s soundstage to sound grander and imaging and coherency a step above, though I find it above most IEMs I’ve tried. The Dawn will have a warmer and richer presentation with a boosted lower bass region, and more extended treble. Just like the U12t and VX, I find the Dawn a better suited IEM for rock, modern pop and electronic dance music, while the more acoustical-type music like classical, jazz and folk/country-type music will perform better on Viento, for my preferences.
I do want to reiterate, that I really enjoy the sound signature a lot. It’s well-balanced and I think many people will enjoy it. The Dawn comes in a beautiful package full of goodies, and a stunning design. The cable is a bit heavy and some may want to look at alternatives.
In terms of general sound, it is on par or maybe a small step down technically-savvy-wise as some IEMs above or at it’s price point, but it does provide above average qualities all-around and should be an easy one to pick up and enjoy. I do prefer the dynamics to be a bit better, and imaging to be it's biggest weaknesses.
Tuning is one of the most important parts of enjoying music, and the other stuff are important for those who really want to discern and critically listen to everything, and in practical listening, this IEM is going to get you most of the way there anyway.