Review: Final Audio A8000
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Review: Final in-ear monitors A8000
Almost perfect!

Final is a young company; its history in IEM and headphone design spans a little over ten years, however, the Company’s progress during this, rather short, period has been truly amazing. It is not an exaggeration to say that where others did steps ahead, Final did jumps.

This past November, I reviewed Final E2000C and E3000C, and I was quite impressed from the sound quality of both sets, given their humble price of $53.00 and $63.00, respectively. To this day, I cannot understand how Final succeeded to give listeners so much (musical) enjoyment for such little money.

In December, I had a chance to audition E4000 and E5000, and I have to admit that, although their MSRP is much higher, $149.00 and $279.00, respectively, their performance is raised to a substantially higher level, which again is very impressive.

Very recently, Final presented its new design, A8000, with an MSRP of $1999.00! Now, I am sure that what immediately crosses one’s mind is:
  • What Final changed from previous designs, and
  • what is this IEM’s performance,
to deserve paying $1999.00? Fast answers:
  • Final changed everything, and
  • the performance of A8000 blows up your mind.
If you find all this an exaggeration, please allow me to take things step by step and explain you what this IEM is all about.

A8000.jpg

Design of A8000

All IEM and headphone designers in their flagship models try to do one thing: To make you feel that you are in the concert hall with the orchestra in front of you. Now, this is easy to say, but damn hard to implement. First of all, let’s try to think what we perceive when we are in the concert hall. Even if we close our eyes, we can hear each instrument with extreme clarity, and at the same time we have a pretty good idea of where each instrument is situated. The analogue in photography is a photo where each object is sharp, and the photo has sufficient depth that allows you to recognize where each object is. A good term for this combination of extreme clarity and precise spatial impression in both sound and photography is transparency. Transparency fails to exist if the sound of an instrument appears to be unclear (like a blurred image), or you have a hard time to realize where an instrument lies (like a flat image); or of course if both things happen at the same time.

Another important factor in the design of an IEM is dynamic range, which is essentially the difference between the loudest and the quietest signal you can hear. Now, depending on the type of music you are listening to, there is an interplay between clarity, spaciousness and dynamic range. With classical and jazz music spatial impression and dynamic range are more important than clarity; with pop and rock music clarity is more important than spaciousness and dynamic range. So, all these factors, clarity and spaciousness, which together is what we call transparency, as well as dynamic range should be taken into account when designing a top class IEM.

What the engineers at Final wanted to do was to create an IEM capable of performing at its best with every type of music, i.e., a top class universal IEM. It was then not difficult to realize that if the new IEM failed to be characterized by top transparency and the right dynamic range, then it would be just another IEM that, although nice sounding, would sooner or later be forgotten. Now, it turned out that in order to solve the problem of transparency, they had to answer two questions:
  1. What is the right way to measure transparency, i.e., what are the factors to which one should pay particular attention while measuring transparency?
  2. How would one implement the findings of the previous question, i.e., what are the changes that should be made in an IEM for achieving top transparency?
It is well known that the engineers that design IEM, headphones and loudspeakers pay particular attention to two physical quantities: Frequency response and time response. The former measures by how much the sound pressure level (SPL) delivered by an IEM changes at different frequencies. The ideal is to have a “flat” frequency response curve, i.e., one with no picks whatsoever at any frequency (to give an example, a pick at a low frequency would result in a “booming bass”, and a pick at a high frequency would give a “harsh tremble”). Time response is measured through cumulative spectral decay (CSD), which shows how fast each frequency decays following an impulse. The ideal is that all frequencies decay instantaneously or almost instantaneously, as that way unwanted resonances are avoided. The two figures below represent a typical frequency response curve and the CSD curve of Final E3000.

Frequency response.jpg

CSD E3000.jpg

Final engineers realized that where they should, mostly, concentrate was the time response issue, and therefore they started studying CSD curves all over again. The theory says that if CSD is minimized, then more transparent sound would be achieved. Now, in doing that they discover something truly unexpected: Minimizing CSD resulted in a sound more transparent, but at the same time less natural than normal. And this was a real problem.

It was then clear to Final engineers that they had to find another method, which measured how much transparent and natural was a sound, and this led them to develop, in collaboration with a multi award-winning expert in spatial audio and music recording, the Perceptual Transparency Measurement (PTM). As there is a patent pending, Final did not provide much information about PTM, besides the mention that “the method involves conveying countless analysis and evaluation through mathematical calculation approaches” together with the figure given below. (Final promised that detailed information about PTM and the multi award-winning expert will be provided after this patent is awarded.)

PTM.jpg

The results of the PTM analysis were used by Final engineers in order to create from scratch an (entirely) new driver. First, they had to decide whether the driver would be dynamic or balanced armature (BA). For a few years now, BA drivers are “in fashion” and they are used by many IEM makers. However, a single BA driver cannot reproduce the low end in a natural way, at least not as naturally as a dynamic driver can, and a designer has to resort to various techniques in order to improve the driver’s low end performance. A few years ago, Final designed a flagship model with a single BA driver, the FI-BA-SS, which by means of the specially designed balancing air movement (BAM) mechanism produces bass tones in a natural way (see the comparison below between A8000 and FI-BA-SS). So, Final engineers decided that this time the (new) A8000 model would use a dynamic driver.

Based on the PTM analysis, the engineers chose pure Beryllium (not Beryllium coating) for the diaphragm of the driver. Beryllium is known to be very hard, its Young’s modulus of stiffness being 276 N/m2, and quite light, its density being 1.82 g/cm3. As a result, its speed of sound propagation, 12,900 m/s, is outstanding compared to both Aluminium and Magnesium and it is second only to that of diamond (the speed of sound propagation is calculated as the square root of stiffness over density). The stiffness of a diaphragm, even if this is as thin as possible in order to be light, ensures low distortion, i.e., it is not deformed throughout the whole frequency range, while its lightness reduces the effect of inertia and allows the diaphragm to change direction as fast as possible. So, pure Beryllium, due to its stiffness, lightness and particularly speed of sound properties, is the perfect material for a diaphragm. The only weakness of Beryllium is that it is very brittle, so for the diaphragm to have the perfect thickness, Beryllium had to be forged by a recent high-end yet extremely time-consuming process.

Beryllium driver.jpg

The next problem that Final engineers had to solve was the mounting of the new driver on the A8000 housing. This is usually done by elastic adhesive, which, unfortunately, works as a cushion, allowing the driver to vibrate, thus creating unwanted resonances that affect sound quality. The solution to that was a new technology called “Anti-Resonance Direct Mounting”: Ultra strong adhesive was applied to the side of the driver through a small gap. The tricky part? The size of the gap! If this was too small, then the adhesive could not be applied properly in order to form a perfect seal; and if it was too big, then the shear strength of the adhesive would become too weak to suppress the driver vibration. Therefore, the size of the gap had to be controlled with the utmost accuracy by a high precision CNC milling.

Now that a premium driver had been designed and the problem of mounting it on A8000’s housing had been successfully solved, Final engineers realized that in order to take full advantage of it, they had to carefully study the “topology” of the housing, as the latter plays a critical role in the final outcome. They finally came up with a design called “Tetra Chamber Construction”, which divides the A8000 housing in four separate chambers meticulously designed for optimal sound quality.

Tetra Chamber Construction.png


Tetra Chamber Construction_1.png

Chamber 1 is apparently crucial in the overall sound quality, as it is through this opening that the sound enters the listener’s ear drum. Many shapes had to be designed and several prototypes had to be actually made and tested, before the right shape was chosen. Chambers 2 and 3 contribute to the driver’s low frequencies, and thus they are quite important for a dynamic driver. Chamber 2 is built at the back of the driver to smooth the pressure and thus maintain a stable driver response. Chamber 3, on the other hand, is equipped with a vent which “communicates” information from the listener’s environment to the driver. Chamber 4 was used for the MMCX connector, and as the soldering point of MMCX was affecting sound quality, a separator between Chambers 3 and 4 was adopted, equipped with a tiny, carefully calculated, vent ensuring the coherency of the driver.

All the interior design of A8000 shows the meticulous care that was undertaken at every stage of development. The same was the case with the exterior design, which has taken into account the Tetra Chamber Construction shape, while following the elegant design for which Final IEM’s are known for. This was a rather difficult task and the final design, both successful and appealing, at least for my taste, was based on mere imagination rather than using a CAD design.

In the previous paragraphs, I tried to give a detailed description of the A8000 overall design in order to show to the reader the attention that Final engineers devoted to each and every step of the IEM’s creating process. Of course everything is judged by the final result, i.e., by the A8000’s sound signature, and it is this factor that determines whether all this designing effort was actually justified.

Sound quality

I would start by simply saying that there many things that A8000 does almost perfectly, and there is nothing that it does wrong, which that alone is a very big accomplishment.

To be more specific, the bass, mid and tremble are all in the right quantity, and they are almost in perfect balance. Nonetheless, the strong point of A8000, which makes it stand out among IEMs of the same price range, is that the whole of the audio spectrum, from deep lows to extreme highs, is delivered at a completely natural and effortless way. There is not even the slightest overlap between the various frequencies. The listener is under the impression that the bass, mid and tremble, initially, come separately, and then, by some magical power, they are all connected together and delivered in almost perfect balance, with no overlap whatsoever and without each one of the them loosing its own particular character. So much transparent is the sound of A8000.

Undoubtedly, transparency is the strong point of A8000. But this is not all; another impressive characteristic of it is its extended dynamic range. It is well known that different types of music require from an IEM to put forward different characteristics: In Classical and Jazz music, the spatial orientation of each instrument as well as the differences in dynamic range among the various instruments are more important than clarity, as this retains the balance of the orchestra; clarity, on the other hand, is critical in Pop and Rock music, for bringing all instruments and vocals to the front. Now, A8000’s transparency, which is translated to spatial impression and clarity, combined with its extended dynamic range make this exquisite IEM a top class performer for all kinds of music.

Furthermore, A8000 has a huge soundstage for an IEM set (earphones live in the limited space of the ear canal, while headphones can use all the space around the ear, thus, usually, the latter have a better soundstage than the former). Also, A8000 has a very nice holographic image, which, together with its soundstage, contributes to the IEM’s unique transparency.

If you read my A8000 description of the previous section, you might think that Final engineers went too far with the design of it; and of course you have every right to wonder whether you really need a special driver and a so scholastic design of the housing in order to have a sound signature that stands out. After having spent many hours with A8000 on many different types of music, I am absolutely convinced that one would not enjoy the exquisite performance of this marvellous IEM if A8000 had not been designed with meticulous care in every little detail.

Listening to “O Vazio” of Jim Brock & Doug Hawthorne, by the Jim Brock Ensemble, from the album Tropic Affair, RR-31, a really complex piece varying from “test” tones at various frequencies to some very powerful parts with a lot of alternations, I realized that never before I experienced such a thriving performance of this unusual piece. Even more important is that, although I thought I knew this piece well, I heard details which apparently I was missing before, with a timbre that was very realistic. Quite different is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dance #3” from Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, by Eiji Que / Minnesota Orchestra, RR-96 HDCD. On this very authoritative piece, A8000’s performance was transparent and precise, yet powerful and full bodied. In Diana Krall’s beautiful “Fly Me To The Moon”, from the album The Very Best of Diana Krall, Verve, I simply felt that I was in Diana Krall’s concert. And in “Sultans of Swing” from the Very Best of Dire Straits, Vertigo, it was like all the members of the group were playing in front of me with Mark Knopfler’s guitar standing out.

Now, I have to admit that the exquisite performance of A8000 has an implication, which is not always pleasant, certainly not to all: It is unforgiving. If you have a bad or mediocre recording, A8000 will show all the recording’s limitations and weaknesses; this was, for example, the case with “Sultans of Swing” above. Some people would say that this is a disadvantage, which I think is an unfair judgement. When someone spends $1999.00 for an IEM set, he expects that the set performs as close to perfect as possible, and A8000 does precisely that; so, if there is one to blame for the unpleasant state of things that must be the recording and/or the audio source and not the A8000.

Selected comparisons

Obviously, there are (very) few IEMs that can be compared to A8000.

I first chose Sennheiser IE 800, which is a top class IEM and it costs about half the price of A8000. Sennheiser, starting from scratch, spent several years to develop it, and IE 800 is an IEM which, like A8000, incorporates many innovations: It is equipped with a specially designed 7 mm driver that can go from really low to extremely high frequencies; it incorporates a damped two chamber absorber used to minimize unwanted resonances; and it has a ceramic housing whose rigidness improves sound. Now, although IE 800’s performance is exceptionally nice, it is by no means at the level of A8000. IE 800 has sufficient bass and it is overall very well balanced, but, if you put IE 800 side by side to A8000, somehow you feel that the IE 800 mids and highs are somewhat “veiled” by its lows. Obviously, this is due to the transparent and airy presentation of A8000, which is missing from the otherwise excellent performance of IE 800. Also, A8000 has clearly a better soundstage and image than that of IE 800. All in all, IE 800 is a great IEM performer among those in the top tier category, but A8000 just stands out in that group.

Then, I compared A8000 to Final FI-BA-SS. The later has a single balanced armature (BA) driver. BA drivers are known for producing sound that is detailed and analytical, but it is also lacking bass. To overcome this deficiency, Final engineers equipped FI-BA-SS with the “Balancing Air Movement” (BAM) mechanism, which is specially designed such that the air movement is optimized inside the IEM’s housing, thus allowing FI-BA-SS to enhance bass tones in a natural way. Does this happen in reality, i.e., is the BAM mechanism successful? First of all, FI-BA-SS is truly detailed and has a lot of finesse; it reminds me of the wonderful Ortofon e-Q8, which has a single magnetic pole BA driver with a silver coil, thus producing unrivalled high frequencies. On top of it, FI-BA-SS reproduces the low end in a way that might even impress you, until the moment you put it next to A8000. Then, you realize that nothing can beat the nature of things or Physics if you want to. The low end of FI-BA-SS seems a bit artificial compared to the natural and effortless low end of A8000. Also, A8000 has a better soundstage and image than that of FI-BA-SS. So, although FI-BA-SS might be, overall, one of the best IEMs with a BA driver, it cannot reach the level of performance of A8000.

Accessories and fit

The exterior box of A8000 is nicely minimal and inside it the user will find, besides the IEM:
  • 5 silicon type eartips (SS,S,M,L,LL), each having a soft part for a comfortable fit in the user’s ear drum and a more rigid and groovy part for the sound conduit. This combination ensures a high level of sound insulation, which I enjoyed the past three months that I am living with A8000.
  • A set of upgraded earhooks, which offer more comfort and have a locking mechanism, so one enjoys reduced microphonics from the A8000 cable without being afraid that he will loose the earhooks.
  • An MMCX assist in order to easily detach the MMCX connector from the A8000 housing.
  • Swappable dust filters for avoiding earwax deposition.
  • A hybrid case, made of CNC aluminum, with black anti-fingering finishing, and silicone, for storing A8000. Furthermore, the case has a separator inside for more secure storage.
A8000 case.jpg

A8000 is rather heavy, weighting 41gr, however, assuming that you found the right size of eartips (which is not difficult given that there are 5 different sizes provided), they do fit in your eardrum like a charm. In fact, during the three months that I am living with them, I was so overwhelmed by their sound that I never thought I had them on my ears.

Furthermore, Final eartips are very nicely designed, providing a high level of sound isolation, so ambient noise with A8000 was never a problem.

Special attention was given to the A8000’s MMCX connector, which was developed in house, and to the IEM’s cable, which is high purity OFC silver coated, thus improving the A8000’s soundstage. Final engineers collaborated with the well-renowned Junkosha corporation, and this resulted in using a cable usually employed in “Kei” supercomputer due to its fast signal transmission speed. Furthermore, the cable was protected by JUNFLON Fluoropolymer (PFA), which was also developed by Junkosha and it represents the ultimate in cable insulation.

OFC silver coated cable.jpg

Finally, I should point out that the housing is made of two pieces, the front and the rear, which are hold in place by a single screw with epoxy at its head. This has the advantage of an easy repair, if that need arises, for a lifetime enjoyment. However, the user must be warned that whatever attempt to remove the screws will break the epoxy, and this will void the warranty.

A8000 price

If you reached that far in my review, you might be tempted to try out A8000, but maybe one thing that holds you back is this IEM’s price. There is no doubt that $1999.00 is a lot of money, and I am not going to argue against that. However, think for a moment what you get for that premium price you pay:
  • An IEM that took 5 years of research and development to reach the market, and this shows what this IEM is all about.
  • A construction of absolutely top quality in and out. Rare and expensive materials were used (like the pure Beryllium driver) and extremely meticulous and costly construction processes were applied (like the “Tetra Chamber Construction” housing).
  • A sound signature you have to hear in order to believe, which makes this IEM to stand out among IEMs of the same price category.
  • A design that will last forever.
  • An IEM made in Japan. There is no doubt that A8000 would be cheaper if it was made in China, however, Final decided to make it in Japan in order to control every little manufacture detail. Furthermore, “Made in Japan” has always an added value.
Is all this enough to justify an MSRP of $1999.00? I think it is, but of course this is also a matter of a personal opinion. Some people might even go a step further and ask if A8000 is “value for money”. To me this is a nonsense question for an exquisite IEM such as A8000. You would never ask whether a Porsche Carrera is “value for money”, would you?

In conclusion

Final A8000 does pretty much everything almost perfect, while I cannot think of something that it does wrong, and that alone is a big accomplishment. The whole of the audio spectrum is reproduced with top clarity and depth in an extremely natural and effortless way; you feel that you hear lows, mids and highs in an absolutely perfect balance without loosing the slightest information whatsoever, this is how high is the transparency of A8000. On top of it, A8000’s speed is maximal, whenever needed; its dynamic range is extremely broad, which makes it a top class universal performer; its soundstage is huge and its holographic image beautiful. In the past, I have been impressed by certain IEM models, like the Sennheiser IE 800 or the Ortofon e-Q8, but I never felt so much excitement as with A8000. One has to strive extremely hard in order to find an IEM which, overall, performs better than A8000.

If you feel that you can spend $1999.00 on an IEM set, then go ahead and buy A8000 and give yourself the chance to enjoy pure audio pleasure. Life is short, and one should enjoy the most out of it. But even if you cannot afford A8000, you have to audition it; it might change your perspective of listening to music.

Is A8000 absolutely perfect? No, as there is no IEM that can be characterized as such, and there will never be one. However, the A8000 stands out among top class IEMs, and although it is not perfect, it is damn close to being one!

Specifications and price

Product code: FI-A8DSSD
Housing: Stainless steel
Driver: Dynamic driver (Truly pure Beryllium diaphragm)
Sensitivity: 102dB
Impedance: 16Ω
Connector: MMCX
Cable: OFC silver coated cable
Cord length: 1.2m
Weight: 41gr
Price: $1999.00

https://snext-final.com
 
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equalspeace

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Very concise and detailed review! Thanks!
 
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Wow! The effort you put into this review is mind blowing. I already liked Final Audio as a company, but I appreciate the company and the A8000 even more after learning what all went into the design of them. Well done, sir! These IEMs are truly amazing and worth the effort you put into this review. Bravo!
 
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Wow! The effort you put into this review is mind blowing. I already liked Final Audio as a company, but I appreciate the company and the A8000 even more after learning what all went into the design of them. Well done, sir! These IEMs are truly amazing and worth the effort you put into this review. Bravo!
Same here
 
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This is one of the best reviews I have read, the way you describe the different concepts like transparency, time domain, spacial information and dynamic are very clear and understandable. One question I do want to ask which is the slightly bright nature of the treble commented by a few, do you find it to be natural?
 
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Jalo

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I also have the FiBaSS and the A8000. I am burning in the Dunu Luna atm, when it is done, one thing I want to do is to compare transparency between all this iems and also the Erlkonig. The FiBaSS is indeed the first single BA iem that I find to be extremely transparent. Final did a great job.
 
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This is one of the best reviews I have read, the way you describe the different concepts like transparency, time domain, spacial information and dynamic are very clear and understandable. One question I do want to ask which is the slightly bright nature of the treble commented by a few, do you find it to be natural?
I don't hear any excess brightness or sibilance.
 
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The a8k has ruin the understanding of reality what what is possible with iems and headphone. These are the pinnacle of reality IMHO. I have over 200+ iems :,-)
 
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The a8k has ruin the understanding of reality what what is possible with iems and headphone. These are the pinnacle of reality IMHO. I have over 200+ iems :,-)
I have only 5 and I thought that was excessive already lol.

would really love to audition the a8k one day.. hopefully
 
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This is one of the best reviews I have read, the way you describe the different concepts like transparency, time domain, spacial information and dynamic are very clear and understandable. One question I do want to ask which is the slightly bright nature of the treble commented by a few, do you find it to be natural?
Wow! The effort you put into this review is mind blowing. I already liked Final Audio as a company, but I appreciate the company and the A8000 even more after learning what all went into the design of them. Well done, sir! These IEMs are truly amazing and worth the effort you put into this review. Bravo!
I also have the FiBaSS and the A8000. I am burning in the Dunu Luna atm, when it is done, one thing I want to do is to compare transparency between all this iems and also the Erlkonig. The FiBaSS is indeed the first single BA iem that I find to be extremely transparent. Final did a great job.
First of all, thank you very much to @notaris for this review. Indeed, I have to agree that he explained those concepts perfectly! Way better than Final ourselves. Thank you very much.

I have to say, @notaris has been communicating with us many times, to confirm every detail just for this single review. When someone asks us about scientific question looking for facts, (of course not all information is opened), we truly appreciate it because the person is looking at a product from the same perspective as us.

Doing a good earphone does not need magic, it only needs the passion and willingness to look into the problems and find out the solution scientifically. Of course there are yet a lot of things cannot be explained with science now, but solving problems with the science that has been discovered by human beings now, is what we think to be the right way to go. That is why Final brand concept is "the comprehensive pursuit of things that are fundamentally right".

Thank you again for his great work and also thanks to everyone who have spent your time reading his review.
 
Final Stay updated on Final at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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First of all, I would like to thank all of you for reading my review and for all your (very) positive comments, including those from Final Audio; this is the biggest reward for me.

I should say that, because of my profession (I teach Mathematics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, in Greece), the way I see my reviews is always from the scientific point of view: I try for them to be accurate, detailed and understandable; of course, one can never be sure that the information has been properly conveyed to people, until he has some feedback from them (the same goes when I teach in class or online now due to Covid-19).

Having said all this, let me say once more that what makes A8000 to stand out, among top class IEMs, is its very natural and effortless presentation. Top clarity combined with extreme depth, a very extended dynamic range, with amazing soundstage for an IEM and great holographic image. The result is a sound signature where everything is in (almost) perfect balance with not the slightest sharp edge in the whole of the audio spectrum; by the way, I did not hear any bright treble (neither any excessive bass or mid).

A8000 really redefines the way we listen to music.

Now, I am pretty sure that this became possible because Final started essentially from scratch on how to measure things, on how to design things, on how to make things and on how to test things. They used cleverly science to solve fundamental problems and then applied the solution in practice; the numbers are always useful, and this is where you have to start, but you should know how to read them and get the most out of them, and this is what Final did here.

It was very important that Final engineers paid attention to every little detail; each issue was studied thoroughly and taken into account, and this really made the difference.

The result is an IEM that will be remembered, one that it is hard to be surpassed, and certainly one that no one will pass by. More than well done!
 
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Final makes impeccably designed products. I own/have owned 10 different final headphones/earphones, and every one stood out to me in some way. I love the beautiful aesthetics, the level of detail in the build, the precise nature of how they are built ... I’m an unabashed fanboy, for sure!

As to why I didn’t keep all my final products, well, I have an 18 year old son who grew up in a home where quality music reproduction was a constant norm, and he is now a budding audiophile. Hence, he gets my final hand me downs, and he’s a fanboy as well! Like father like son.
 
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