Cons - Could use more accessories. Flat cable is prone to heavy cable noise. Sound is not for everyone.
Final Audio Design Heaven II – A Taste of Heaven
First of all, I would like to sincerely thank Yoko at Final Audio Design for sending me a review sample of the Heaven II for review. I would like to clarify that I am in no way affiliated with Final Audio Design or any of its staff, and that I am not being compensated or paid by writing this review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own unless otherwise specified, and all pictures taken are owned by me. YMMV.
Final Audio Design is a Japanese manufacturer known for their proprietary technologies created after many years of development into products that range from the beautiful (Heaven 2 to 6) to the outrageous (Piano Forte line, Heaven 7 and 8). I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to review the cheapest models of three of their IEM lines, starting with this one. The Heaven II is a single balanced armature (BA) IEM that is priced around $130$70. Now, how do they stand up against some of the IEMs that I deem the best in their price ranges?
Note: This review is just a copy of the main review/discussion thread, which you can view here.
~~ Aesthetics ~~
The packaging is what you would expect from a not-so-premium priced product, coming in a simple retail box with a wrap-around image on the front and a description and specifications on the back. Nothing too fancy here. Opening the box, you get the Heaven II, a plastic pouch with 5 extra sets of eartips (narrow bore and regular bore), an instruction manual, and a 12-month warranty card. Again, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, although some extra accessories (like a shirt clip) would’ve been appreciated.
Design, Build, Microphonics
Where the more expensive models of the Heaven line exude an air of elegance and poise, the Heaven II takes a step back with its simple stainless steel barrel housing and black accents (also available in blue). Despite having the exact same shape as its more expensive brothers, the Heaven II has a very conservative, almost minimalistic feel to its design, and I find that very appealing.
On top of that, the Heaven II also happens to be as solid as it is beautiful, with a very rigid housing, a solid Y-split and a small-yet-sturdy right-angle connector. They also exhibit no driver flex whatsoever, as do all balanced armature IEMs. As the Heaven II (and the rest of the line) use a flat cable, they are prone to rather heavy cable noise, which is why I contemplated the addition of a shirt clip to the included package. However, even without the shirt clip you can mend this issue by wearing the Heavens around-the-ear.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
The Heaven II’s slim, streamlined housing allows for a very easy fit, even with the included eartips. I could also wear them straight down and around-the-ear pretty easily and without problems. However, their housings do happen to be a little long and stick out of your ears rather weirdly, making it practically impossible to lie down on one side comfortably when they’re in your ears. And that’s kind of a shame, really, as the Heaven II is very comfortable, allowing me to wear them for extended periods of time without complaint.
Another addition to their growing list of positives is their isolation. These IEMs isolate better than any other IEM I’ve tried without tip rolling. Their fully-closed housings seem to play a part in this, as well as their very well-sealing eartips. When they’re in your ears and the music is off, they drown out pretty much everything down to a whisper except clacking sounds (like my keyboard) and human voices. But turn the music on, and you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to your music. At this point practically nothing comes between you and your music.
The source equipment being used in this review is my iPod Touch and PC, both running the Heaven II unamped through its headphone-out. The amplifier used in the amp test is a Yamaha RX-V359 speaker receiver, driving the Heaven II through its headphone-out. The EQ apps used in the test are Electri-Q through the PC (via Foobar2000) and EQu and the default system EQ on the iPod Touch. As always, test tracks are located here, but some songs will be mentioned throughout the review as an example of what types of songs I used as I describe the IEMs’ sound signature.
Prior to the review, I have burned in the Heaven IIs for at least 50 hours. Over that period of time, I noticed a slight increase in the bass quantity (although that could simply be my ears adjusting to the sound). Now, let’s not waste any time and get right down to the sound!
The FAD Heaven IIs have a mid-centric sound signature that, simply put, nails my favourite music right on the head. Ever since I received the IEMs for review, I used the Heavens first, and they’ve never left my ears since. Never in my audiophile journey have I had a smile from ear-to-ear plastered on my face since I auditioned the Bang & Olufsen H6 over a year prior.
The bass on the Heaven IIs are tight and quick on their feet. They have pretty good extension and power for a balanced-armature IEM, but their forte lies in their accuracy and speed. The bass manages to breeze through complex passages (Spag Heddy - Onvang) without even breaking a sweat, and exhibits no bass bleed that I could detect. It seems their only downside to this is the Heaven II, being a single BA, inherently lacks bass extension and power. Otherwise, better sub-bass extension and a little bit more kick would probably crown the Heaven II as the best IEM I’ve ever heard thus far.
The midrange is practically a taste of Heaven. Male vocals, female vocals, pianos, guitars – they all sound so natural and lifelike. Their neutral tone sounds really well with literally everything I put out through them, and manages to wring out tiny details in songs where all of my other IEMs in my collection simply can’t (Masashi Hamauzu – The Yaschas Massif). And even despite that, they’re still capable of sounding natural without sounding clinical in any way.
The treble is no slouch, either. It’s airy and extends well, but sounds more laid-back than the rest of the signature. Despite not having enough crispness to satisfy other listeners, its smoothness allows it to complement the detail of the Heaven II and helps to make the overall SQ more natural. Last but not least, we have the soundstage, which fits the sound signature like a glove. It has decent width and good air, and overall has an intimate presentation of vocals and instruments. Despite lacking spaciousness and air, it makes up for that with its excellent separation and imaging.
Overall, the Heaven II offers a very smooth and relaxing aural experience that brings a smile to my face every time I listen to it. Its forte lies in its amazing midrange clarity that brings out the best in instrumental and acoustic music. The Heaven IIs are not for those who like lots of bass or lively treble, as it offers neither of that. They are not a detail-whoring IEM that takes every little bit of detail in a song and hurls it straight at your face. They are, however, amazing if you’re looking for a non-fatiguing IEM that aims to let you relax and unwind.
As a gamer, I know how great sound can give you an edge in competitive gaming (mostly applies to FPS). If you’re not a competitive FPS gamer, this probably won’t apply to you. Otherwise, the Heaven II works very well in providing a clear, accurate sound without getting too clinical or lacking detail. I have no trouble pinpointing the source of enemy gunfire or footsteps, but again without going too far and still leaving a bit of that fun factor. Overall, it’s not bad for gaming – although if you really want to sharpen your gaming edge, a more detailed sound signature will be more up your alley.
For movies, however, I feel the Heaven II is an amazing performer in this regard. Their smooth, mid-centric sound makes for the perfect signature to fit an audiophile’s sonic tastes with pretty much any movie genre. One notable instance was when I watched the movie “5 Centimeters per Second” on Christmas Day. The vocals sounded so real, so lifelike – I was moved to tears. Really. Well, the movie itself had amazing voice acting, sure, but the Heaven IIs made me feel like I was there. It was one hell of an experience.
A little EQ goes a long way if you want a little more kick in the bass from the Heaven II. One thing of note is how they seem to respond better to graphic EQs like Viper4Windows more than parametric EQs like Electri-Q. It’s weird, but I found it interesting enough to note here. In my opinion, though, The Heaven IIs do sound pretty amazing on their own, so even without EQ, I’m pretty sure all you midrange lovers will be pretty satisfied at what they bring to the table.
If you want even more detail, you could go the amplification route, as I find the Heaven II’s overall clarity and resolution noticeably improves with the help of some extra power. But as the amp I used is a speaker receiver, that extra power is comes at the cost of convenience in my case. Also, your results may vary as not every amp sounds the same.
The FAD Heaven II retails at a cool $130 bucks, although you can find them for around $100 on Amazon or through some of their recognized distributors. For that price, their value is really in the ears of the beholder and whether or not you like their sound signature. To me, though, I absolutely love the Heaven II and actually had them on my shortlist when I was in the market for an IEM a few months ago. If you like a smooth, relaxing mid-centric signature on a budget, then the Heaven II will impress you and then some. Otherwise, you might want to look elsewhere if you want more bass or more detail.
ON SECOND THOUGHT: Around this time, Yoko contacted me after I'd posted all three of the FAD reviews, and corrected me on the pricing. The actual retail price of the Heaven II is about 8,210 yen, or just under $70, which really changed my overall impression of the Heaven II. Apparently it’s much, much cheaper than I had initially expected and, considering I am already blow away by its performance…wow. Just wow.
Versus Brainwavz R3 ($130)
The Brainwavz R3 is, out of all the IEMs in my collection, the only one with a sound quality that rivals that of the Heaven II. And, to be honest, both of them go toe-to-toe pretty closely with each other.
The main and most obvious advantage of the R3 is its bass. Being a dual dynamic IEM with one driver dedicated to the low-end, they pump deeper and more powerful bass than the Heaven, while still maintaining a similar sense of speed and accuracy. Their treble also happens to be crisper and more sparkle than the Heaven. As for the Heaven, to my ears, their midrange is unmatched to my ears with its great clarity, excellent separation, and overall realism.
In the end, though, the choice of which one is actually better will come down to the person who will answer it. The R3 has a rather distant-sounding midrange compared to the Heaven, but this comes as a side effect of its spacious, airy soundstage. Some might not like the laid-back treble of the Heaven II and would like more sparkle. Others prefer the other way. If I were to pick between either, though…
~~ Conclusion ~~
…I would probably crown the Final Audio Design Heaven II as the best sounding IEM I’ve heard so far. Its excellent midrange takes center stage in its laid-back, relaxing sound signature that complements it in every way. Its most defining quality is its ability to sound so lifelike and realistic – something I haven’t heard in most if not all of my other IEMs. And all of that is wrapped up in a very aesthetically pleasing package that’s easy on the eyes, ears, and the wallet.
The Heaven II’s packaging is pretty simple, but doesn’t have as much of a premium look as the actual IEMs. The selection of tips is pretty good and should allow a lot of ears to fit them, but I would’ve loved a shirt clip to combat the cable noise.
Design, Build, Microphonics
The sleek stainless steel housings evoke a conservative yet elegant look, and have a very solid build hiding under that simple exterior. The flat cable creates lots of cable noise, however.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
The slim housings ensure a very easy and secure fit with most ears, and offers some of the best isolation I’ve seen in an IEM so far.
The Heaven II’s low end is fast, punchy, and accurate. That accuracy comes at the cost of bass power and extension, but they manage to retain some of that kick which should be enough for most genres.
The midrange of the Heaven II is nothing short of amazing. It’s extremely clear and has excellent instrument separation. Vocals and instruments are portrayed in a very realistic, almost lifelike manner.
The treble is notably laid-back, but is in no way mellow or dark. It has a good amount of crispness and detail as well, and complements the midrange perfectly.
The sound signature of the Heaven II is presented in a very intimate manner, with decent width and separation to not sound congested or cramped. It sound very much like the singer is singing right in front of you.
The Heaven II’s detail and accuracy make them a great IEM for competitive gaming. However, their laid-back style holds them back from becoming a full-on gaming beast.
The intimate presentation really brings out the best of the midrange, providing very dynamic movie experience that fits practically any genre.
EQ will get you far in re-tuning the Heaven II to your liking, but I personally prefer not to. Some extra power can also affect the Heaven II’s sound signature, leaning over to a smoother or more detailed signature depending on which amp you use.
For $130 $70, the Heaven II is an extremely hard IEM to beat if you’re looking for this type of sound signature on a budget.
The Final Audio Design Heaven II is probably the best IEM I’ve ever heard so far, wrapped up in a package that’s as strong as it is beautiful.
First of all, a huge thank-you to Yoko at Final Audio Design for giving me the opportunity to write this review. I had a whole lot of fun writing this review and taking the pictures (although it really doesn’t capture its beauty unlike when you hold them in your hands). (Yes, I know, I suck at photography, but I’m doing my best to get better at it.) You can view the pictures here.
Of course, like I said at the start of this review, I’m not yet done with reviewing Final Audio Design, and will be releasing another review in within a week. Again, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading, and have a very happy New Year!
01/22/15: Changed the Value section after Yoko emailed me with corrections on the actual MSRP of all three FAD earphones that I’ve reviewed. The actual price is at $70, which now therefore makes the Heaven 2 an even better value than ever before (the scores have also been bumped up to reflect that). Thanks, Yoko!