Hey guys, long time reader, first time poster. I’ve been a bit of an amateur audiophile for a while now, but until today, I’ve stuck to armature-driven IEMs.
Here are some of the past headphones I’ve owned:
-Etymotic Research ER-6
Headphones I’ve listened to extensively:
-Etymotic Research ER-4s
My most recent pair of IEMs, my Klipsch X-5s, died suddenly while on the train. I had been experiencing various degrees of sound loss for some time now, but now the left side went completely dead (and the right side was /very/ tinny). I loved them while they lasted, but two years of college and earwax did them in.
However, this train was quite eventful to me: I was taking the Sapsan high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and I happened to sit next to a fellow audiophile. He was sporting a pair of FA-002Ws in the Old Wood, and graciously let me listen to them. I was pleasantly surprised, and decided to make an investment in a circumaural set.
So in this bizarre turn of events, I was introduced to a no-name brand (in the States, that is) that happens to be pushing a great product in Russia. I also was in Russia, in their headquarters city. As a matter of fact, I lived 15 minutes by foot to their offices they list on their Russian website.
Well, when in Rome – or in Petersburg – I decided to email them and ask if I could stop on buy and try out some cans. They graciously responded to me within 24 hours, and invited me to their offices to peruse the selection.
So, well, I did just that. As a non-native Russian speaker, it took me a while to figure out their directions, because it happened to be behind a back alley on an unmarked door. But I managed to guess the right place without too much embarrassment, and within 2 minutes, I was swarmed by a 3-4 people.
They soon showed me their lineup and treated me like royalty– and had me choose between a “new” version of the FA-002W (with a flatter piece of wood, not as rounded as you see in the photos) and the original. I ended up liking the original better – slightly more resonant in the lower end, but they both sounded great.
I then had my selection of wooden cups. I didn’t want the break the bank on a piece of wood, so I ended up taking the bright beech – the cheapest one. However, the mahogany and the old wood sounded absolutely phenomenal.
Several times, the staff offered me what the difference sounds like on the high edition – complete with a very nice amp (but I didn’t catch the make or model). I could tell the difference in sensitivity, but I wanted to use my cans with an iPod. Well, Valentin ended up giving me a pair of chips to install myself if I ever wanted to make the high-edition upgrade. He also gave me a pair of FA-788s “for the gym” – one of their consumer earbuds (which also sound nice for buds).
Needless to say, I was happy enough that I ended up purchasing my pair of FA-002Ws. They packed it there in their office and everything. Some of the best customer service I’ve ever had, and gave me a slight discount. I really do hope this company goes places, because they are very kind and accommodating.
I haven’t had a full 48 hours of burn-in time yet, so take these reviews with a grain of salt. I listen to a lot of soul, funk, and hip hop. However, I also listen to classical and jazz, so I gave these cans the full work out.
Here the song-by-song comparison- all tracks are in either MP3 or AAC 320kbps.
Goat Rodeo Sessions – Quarter Chicken Dark: You can really hear Edgar Meyer on his upright bass behind you - the squealing of the strings, the brusqueness of every bow stroke. I can hear Yo-Yo Ma tapping his foot to my front-left. Great staging and sibilance, it feels like I’m in the middle of these four virtuosic musicians. Fast response to some of the faster passages – these cans pass the instrumental strings test.
Radiohead – Life in a Glass House (Amnesiac): Powerful piano, vocals are utterly orgasmic. The wind instruments have an amazing amount of color and distinction. The instruments do not sound as separated as they do with the Etys, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Absolutely mind blowing trumpet and clarinet – the detail is astounding.
Killer Mike – That’s Life II (PL3DGE): clear vocals, the snares really pop out. I’m actually slightly disappointed by the bass – it wasn’t as booming as it was in my X5s. I guess bone conduction counts for a lot in the low frequencies.
De La Soul ft. Cee-Lo Green – Held Down: Oh is Cee-Lo’s voice so sweet and smooth with these cans. The bass performance was slightly better on this track, but it still left me wanting more. The organ track really pops, and combined with the great moan of Cee-Lo, I had to listen to this one over and over again.
The Roots - What You Want (ft. Jaguar Wright): This groovy track was popping. Again the bass was a little shallow, but it was tightly controlled. This track features a lot of countermelodies weaving between one another, and the cans really captured this clearly where most others get muddy. Almost an airy sound – quite remarkable.
Bloomfield, Kooper, and Stills – Stop (Super Session): This funky jamband groove is where these cans really shined. The guitar’s vibrato does not go unnoticed between changing notes. Al Kooper’s organ is really phenomenal. You can hear the Hammond B3 in it’s truest form. I had to go grab a beer so I could listen to this track again and again.
Tower of Power – What is Hip: Tower’s horn section really shines – the balance here is right on par with what I wanted. Not too bass-heavy, great horns that pop out at you, and silky smooth vocals.
In terms of sound characteristics (sans burn-in):
Warm and airy soundstage – not too constricted despite being closedbacks. Great detail and instrument differentiation.
Distortions from linear EQ: prominent mids and a screeching (but amazingly clear) high. Horns, reeds, and strings really shine. These pair of cans are amazing for any sort of instrumentals. Great vocals, too – just the right shade of smoothness without sacrificing detail. Slightly recessed bass and almost no sub-bass. I am actually slightly disappointed about this – I’ll update post burn-in. However, I’m used to IEMs with zero bass leakage, with really earth shattering bangs when the song calls for it. These aren’t earth shattering, but they are damn clear.
Verdict: great value – for ~200USD (when I bought in-office), you really can’t go wrong. This is been a great introduction to circumaurals, and these are my primary headphones now. The cans themselves are nothing to scoff at, and pop great sound – I’m still hoping that some bass shines through. If you’re not a basshead, you’ll love these. Great clarity and staging. They sound best with classical, rock, and funk. The instrumentals are absolutely phenomenal.
And, for what it’s worth, I can’t recommend the company enough. They are wonderfully nice and welcoming people, and will do just about anything to please a customer.
These took two months from order to arrival, so keep in mind the 2w make time and 2w shipping is very optimistic to say the least. Getting a moneybookers account is also a bit of a hassle.
Design,finish and comfort
The cups look pleasing, but the finish is dodgy (handmade and unique ). You can see the lettering for the logo is not complete (M missing). The white spots on the cups are dust (or small wood chips ) BUT, I wiped the hp before the pics were taken. This dust is what settled on the HP while the coating was drying. (not good). The headband plastic bits feel solid, but look/feel a bit strange/cheap (IMO) (bit like denon ah-d100x)
Comfort: no complaints about the earpads - they're flush and feel nice. I do find it annoying that you have to pull them off the plastic holder to swap between the velour and (p?)leather ones (they could include 2 extra plastic holders IMO). The headband is appalling. The side that rests on the top of your head is made of 2 rails and the padded bit. The rails are higher than the padded bit. After about 5 minutes you start to feel the hard plastic or metal rails digging into your skull. WT# were FA thinking there is anyone's guess. It gets worse: the cups are very heavy, the headphones probably have a mass of about 500g. Coupled with the great headband I get neck and head aches .
Isolation is ok. You can hear yourself type and traffic outside with no music, but it's fine once you have something playing at reasonable levels.
Out of the box and connected to the MD11's dark amp they sounded horrible (boomy bass, acid highs). After about 100h burn-in and wearing in the the pleather,pads they sound better. But the main sound sig will not change.
I still find these rather dark (mids) and u-shaped (bass and highs emphasized) and some will definitely prefer relatively more mids. IMO - Unless you have an amp with prominent mids you will find the mids are dipped. E.g. it's fairly clear on Yulong D100 (u-shaped FR), when I briefly connected them to it before packing the D100 up.
(I still think the velour pads sound strange/not good at all even after wearing those for about 3 nights).
That said, connected to an amp with bright mids they sound good. The bass is outstanding in both the depth and the amount. I've probably only heard something similar in LCD-2 connected to very expensive amps (002w isn't quite as deep, but still great). The highs are bright, and the mids still slightly recessed, but overall it's a lot better than when I initially got them. Still, the overall sound is not unpleasant for modern music, and ok for classical. (bright mids + FA-002w = neutral-ish in my book)
They're fairly difficult to drive from a portable player. My Cowon D2 is set to about 40-5 for modern music, and about 44-50 for classical.
Well, I don't think they're the best thing since sliced bread... The u-shaped sound sig, unless you match it with an amp with bright mids (and I doubt there are many good ones around), coupled with poor comfort and long order/delivery times are to say the least off-putting. Finally, $300 + shipping is not cheap.
PS. a side-note on bass - if you boost FA-002w's lower end by about 2db on 30hz, 1db 50hz, it goes even deeper than before. In comparison, FA-002w's bass is probably about 40-60hz deeper (and +8-10 db louder) than 48e and 20-30 than SR-507 (and 4-6db louder). It's interesting to see what's missing from DT48e and SR-507. Does it make a difference? Not so much for classical, but for metal, rock etc certainly =\ For classical for old recordings it's better to have brighter mids (to make out what's actually going on ). But for easy listening, probably would be nice to have the lower end too :\