Pros – Scales well, Signature consistent with multiple sources,sound quality
Cons – No glaring cons
CUSTOM ART FIBAE 2
A Little Technical Stuff:
Single Low/Mid, Single proprietary High
113dB @1kHz @0.1V
7.1 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.5 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
10Hz-16500Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
Silicone or Hollow Acrylic body
Custom Art FIBAE 2
-MRSP: Custom fit $475 EUR /At the time of writing it equates to $560 dollars
I want to thank Piotr from Custom Art he provided me with a demo of the FIBAE 2 to review. Piotr answered all of my questions quickly and was very pleasant to communicate with. After reading comments from his longtime customers, it is clear that my opinion of Piotr and how he conducts business is as positive and aligns with the majorities sentiments. Thanks Piotr, Great Job!
My interest was piqued with Custom Art(CA) and I wanted to hear the Harmony 8.2 but I thought what the hell I will reach out to Piotr and ask him what product he developed that he was proud of but wasn’t receiving the attention it deserved. Fingers crossed and hoping for CA’s TOTL, the Harmony 8.2, his prompt reply was the FIBAE 2(F2). In that same breath he said I have demos of them readily available unlike the Harmony 8.2 demos, which would require a little wait on my part. I quickly replied with a hearty “Send them on man I will give them a shot”, and a deal was done. Being a dual BA driver, I was curious, yet skeptical (sorry for my doubt), about spending any real quality time with the F2 after all I am the upper middle-class of the audiophile world and accustomed to a gazillion drivers and half of a gazillion crossovers per monitor, the audio aristocracy (insert nose in the air meme). More drivers are better, right? It was only normal that my reviewer’s ego and fragile sensitivities would take a swift kick in the ever lovin’ family jewels, right? After all, I wasn’t offered his top dog, but again I asked him what he wanted me to give a listen too, and he was right on.
All joking aside, I truly appreciate the opportunity to review any quality products and there is some serious mojo in these IEM’s. So many times, the audiophile focus is on higher priced, higher driver count IEM’s and I guess I am not immune to that mindset as I was not expecting all of the goodness that I was about to hear from the F2. The sound is rich, full has some incredible stereo separation, with an impressive amount of sub bass but yet allows the details to shine through.
As you read the review remember that these are universal demo units and not CIEM’s. I know if you asked Piotr he would gladly sell you a universal pair of F2’s but my gut is that they pride themselves as a custom house, it is the “ART” part of their company name.
I unpackaged the FIBAE 2 and included in the demo package was a Pelican 1010 case, a black stock cable and the F2 and a few eartips. To me it is important to review with the stock cable because not all consumers believe in cable upgrades nor do they want to feel obligated to spend more money after they just made a large purchase in order to possibly receive marginal returns on their investment in sound quality. It is worth the mention that I am going to deviate slightly from my prescribed review format and talk about upgraded cables and the incredibly positive impact they have on this IEM, more about that later. To my ears, with the F2 the upgrade is not about marginal returns.
Curiosity had me looking for some reviews, or any press on the F2 for that matter and I found very little, one non-English review that I probably wouldn’t have found it if it wasn’t mentioned on a CA thread. During the writing of this review there has since been another F2 review written, I haven’t read it yet, but I will after I write mine. It is always fun to see how thoughts align. I am excited about the opportunity to write this review. I will say right now, spoiler alert, I love the signature of this IEM. I wholeheartedly agree with Piotr, these deserve attention. Not only do they deserve attention, they deserve praise, great job! They honestly haven’t left my ears, not only because I am writing this review and need to listen to the product but even in my leisure listening time because I enjoy the sound signature so much along with the quality I hear from any source I try. It will be a sad day when Piotr sends the return label for the F2.
Let’s delve into why I enjoy them and what can be expected when you purchase the F2. Tuned for enjoyment with an abundance of musicality thrown in and yet the F2 is fairly detailed, and can be enjoyed with any source.
A Little Marketing Hype:
FIBAE 2 is a dual-driver mid-level IEM utilizing the world’s first, patent pending, Flat Impedance design. Featuring single low-mid and single proprietary high frequency drivers for bold, powerful, yet smooth sound.
What is the FIBAE technology all about? Below is from the Custom Art website and will explain it better than I can.
Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone (FIBAE™) technology is world’s first, revolutionary, In-Ear Monitor design providing flat impedance and phase. By changing Balanced Armature driver character from inductive to resistive we solved one of the oldest problem in the industry – dependence on output impedance of sound source for correct earphone output. With FIBAE™ technology your earphones will always perform best from any DAP. Single and multi-driver configurations available.
FIBAE 2 comes as an evolution of Custom Art’s sound, merging energetic and full-bodied bass of Ei.3 with high resolution and detail retrieval of Music Two. As a result, you get an incredibly versatile monitor with big, immersive, yet open soundstage, powerful lows, smooth, thick, engaging mids and detailed top end that is never harsh. Tuned for enjoyment and fun without sacrificing details. A great choice for both audiophiles and stage-performing artists.
Let me touch on this a second. Many times, you read marketing hype from the manufacturer’s website and shrug it off as only hype. I tried three sources and the sound signature was consistent and unchanged with all of the sources. I did notice an upgrade to the quality of sound with different sources and different cables. The F2 scaled masterfully allowing for an expanded soundstage and improved separation and an exact imaging. I am trying to make a big distinction here between the sound signature and sound quality. Knowing the FIBAE technology was developed to maintain consistency with an array of sources I would say they succeeded in their goal, in a big way. It is the real deal!
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:
· Carton box
· Peli 1010 case
· Zipper case
· Wax pick tool
· Drying pellet
· Warranty card
The above items are what you would receive if you place an order from CA. As mentioned mine was a demo only so I don’t have a retail package to show you.
My review was written utilizing two sources, Opus #2 and LG G6 and Shanling M2s. Obviously, the demo F2 being a universal IEM I had to experiment with a variety of tips. Piotr recommended a dual flange eartip but those have never worked for me and I found the JVC Spiral Dot tips and their wide bore gave me the best seal and sound. I started listening using the stock cable for the review but found myself quickly spoiled by the quality achieved when cable rolling. I love the Ares II cable with the F2 and when I was pleasure listening it was my cable of choice, partly because of ergonomics. Opus#2 and the balanced 2.5mm Ares II was a match made in heaven and once I completed writing this review and my critical listening with the stock cable, I never returned to the stock cable.
Build and Quality:
The F2 demo was the acrylic variety. I looked closely at the F2 to see if I could spot any imperfections. I did not notice any glaring blemishes, no bubbles, no seams. The area where the faceplate attaches to the main shell was free of issues as they should be. I did not notice any problems with the connectors being raised on inadvertently recessed. I really like how the tubes seamlessly become part of the canal as you can see a defined outline around each tube. I need to say although there were not any real build issues I still felt that these were not built to the same level of quality as my Zeus or EarSonics EM10 for that matter. I wish I could better verbalize why I felt so, but it is what it is. My perception is my reality. For a universal demo I think the quality is fine and my perception should not be a deal breaker. Who knows, my perception may be based on the demo design, color etc… I want to say that the F2 has a real small footprint as they rest in your ear and I never had any comfort issues, the fact there only two drivers could contribute to the footprint but in a large part I feel it is due to design. I have fallen asleep with them in my ears and I didn’t wake up in pain. Very comfortable for me which of course is a major plus.
At the start of the review I provided links for you to design your IEM’s. With CA there are actually two options of shell material and thus two links above. One is the acrylic model, I am reviewing, and the other is a silicone model which I would love to try but did not have opportunity to do so. From comments I have read from people that own silicone shells, the pros of silicone are an incredible seal and comfort. The cons are maintenance and durability for the long haul. I cannot personally attest to either the pros or the cons. Within the design pages you can choose either shell option and then start to design your IEM. I played with the acrylic design section and found plenty of options for shell, face plates, canals and logos. Anyone should be able to personalize a design that they will be proud of.
Moving on to the sound section….
I touched on the FIBAE technology above so I don’t feel the need to revisit it. It is worthy to mention again that the F2 truly scale well to level of source that you use. If you upgrade your cables and use a quality source, such as the Opus #2 you will be rewarded with a truly wonderful sound quality. I don’t want you to think that you need something other than the stock cable but if you have another aftermarket cable or are on the fence about purchasing one, this would be the IEM in which you would reap the benefit of your upgrade purchase.
As I was joking earlier in the review about these being two drivers, I will say that it is simply amazing what companies such as CA are doing with less drivers. The Dita Dream being a single DD, the F2 with its two drivers and even the DUNU DK-3001 with its quad hybrid setup clearly show that a super quality signature can be achieved with less. I do own or have owned IEM’s with 10 – 14 drivers so when a two driver monitor sounds as good as the F2 it deserves kudos.
If you asked me about my initial impression and what immediately stands out, my answer would be easy. One of the first things I would mention would be the stereo separation. The level of stereo imaging you can expect from the F2 is really wide and distinct, the stereo image is that good. The second thing I would mention is its musicality and its level of dynamic energy. The F2 are simply a joy to listen to with all of your tunes, any genre.
This is a fun, musical yet detailed IEM. Custom Art has done a great job in presenting the consumer an IEM that if great to use with all genres of music. The bass has a nice sub presence and extends north throughout the bass regions with ease. There is never any harshness or any offending bite in the treble. The overall impression you are left with is a sound that is full in its body and rich to your ears. The level of detail is just right and it reveals itself with decent clarity. I never heard any graininess or veil in the mids but it lacks the absolute clarity of say, the Dita Dream, but then again the Dream excels at clarity.
I am hesitant to mention comparisons of IEM’s that cost at least four times what the F2 cost but as a reference point the F2 doesn’t reach the level of detail and resolution of the EE Zeus, but it does have a degree of openness and air that surpasses the EarSonics EM10. I only mention this as a reference point and not as much a comparison. To that point, I have just mentioned three TOTL IEM’s, with the least priced being the Dream at $1800, in a mid tier IEM review. Custom Art has their TOTL Harmony 8.2 but I am mentioning other manufacturers TOTL options as reference and I think that speaks highly as to the level of quality that the F2 produces. This is a difficult monitor to place in the hierarchy of IEM’s, it is obvious it is not CA’s TOTL and I don’t think it was developed to compete with TOTL offerings but it does so many things well.
The musical notes have a great decay and linger just as they should. The F2 are after all BA’s and while there are faster IEM’s and IEM’s with more snap when the drumstick strikes the skins the F2 hold their own.There is a spaciousness to the sound. The stereo imaging I have previously mentioned helps to create the width and spaciousness. It is not the type of stage that creates a holographic illusion but the type of stage that has width. For example, music such as The Beatles reveals so much activity to the far left and far right and the stereo imaging is so noticeable. The height and depth of the stage is only average. To summarize, the F2 are rich, energetic, moderately detailed and never congested.
I must touch on using an aftermarket cable. All of the positive attributes of the F2 I have mentioned are “clearly” accentuated with upgraded cables. I have used the Effect Audio Ares II, Dita Truth Copper and Whiplash SPC and the RSD Golden mk3, and all of the cables brought out the best of the FIBAE technology. My favorite pairing was the Truth Copper unfortunately the ergonomics of that cable in my opinion are best suited for stationary listening and not portable use such as exercise or walking the dog. I chose the Ares II for my portable listening and because I do not like to continually switch cables it was my go to. The clarity of the F2 was a touch better with both cables but all other aspects were noticeably enhanced, including the soundstage. If you don’t believe in cables bringing out the best in an IEM then that is your opinion and I respect that, but with the FIBAE 2 it is a clear sonic difference and we can just agree to disagree.
As I have briefly touched upon the bass has a nice sub depth when you have a great seal and the right tips, of course this would not be a worry with a proper custom fit. While there is a solid rumble it doesn’t compete with the rumble of a 64 Audio U12. The rumble in the F2 is there and is really just the right amount as to not leak into the other frequencies. The bass isn’t the DD type of bass that has a snap and depth of layers but it reaches low and creates a presence, it is a quality bass. I have heard more detail in bass notes with other IEM’s as well as better bass layering but overall it is a very enjoyable experience. The quantity of bass is what helps to provide the foot tapping musicality that engulfs you. After all, enjoyment is what this is all about. When hit with some power or volume you really can hear how well the bass is delivered to the listener and then you can truly feel the rumble. The mid bass is a bit difficult for me to distinguish from the lower mids, not really a criticism but the tone is so close. Plug in some early Police and listen to the bass it gives you goose bumps. Nuff said!
It really is a pleasure to hear these mids. The voices are placed between the middle and front of the stage and male and female vocals have a great tone alike. The warm, rich mids do not sound veiled but there is not so much detail that the listener ever feels fatigued, the clarity is a bit above average. The musicality doesn’t obviously stop with the bass as the mids carry on the signatures tradition. I feel that the tuning of these two drivers is just perfect. Warm, rich, musical and non-fatiguing. I really appreciate an IEM that delivers a sweet mid-range as it is so important to the overall experience.
The treble has a very smooth character. It doesn’t extend as well as some I have heard but it provides a tame energy. It may be a bit reserved for some that prefer a brighter signature. I am not one of those people I will take warm and smooth treble over anything even close to shrill. It holds its own place in the signature and doesn’t take the spotlight but rounds out the finishing touches. I tried some of my “harsh” tracks and it handled them respectfully and never gave me the biting on tin foil with dental fillings feeling when something is shrill. I don’t want to give any impression that the treble rolls off or is a weak link, on the contrary, it knows its place. Effortless, subtle and yet dynamic… When a track features cymbal crashes and high guitar notes it wakes up and delivers front and center.
This was a difficult review for me to write. It should have been easy, two drivers, no knobs or switches, no modules but I felt that the Custom Art FIBAE 2 performed so well for being only a two driver IEM. I enjoyed my time with the F2 so much. It delivers an outstanding performance on all fronts. I found myself wanting to draw comparisons to much higher priced IEM’s. This is one of those fine examples where less is more. It is so rich and full in its signature and the fact that the signature remained unchanged from source to source was quite impressive. The F2 also scaled up so nicely and the quality of the sound clearly improved with a quality source and the addition of upgraded cables. I can easily and safely recommend these if you are in the market for a warm, rich, never fatiguing IEM. This one doesn’t break the bank relative to so many higher driver configuration IEM’s. Value for the money is very difficult to discuss because of the subjectivity, but I found myself throughout the review making references to higher priced IEM’s. It is unfortunate that I don’t have any other mid-tier IEM’s in my stable to compare. I do feel the comparisons are a testament to the F2 and the quality of sound they deliver.
I see no reason the FIBAE 2 shouldn’t be on your short list to purchase or at least try to demo.