I got many sound sigs but aggressive ain’t one!
Pros: Spacious and Airy Soundstage, Musical Signature, Forgiving, Highly Customizable Tuning.
Cons: No filter option to make the sound Aggressive, Build and Finish Could be Better.
After his successful review of IE80s, our guest writer Vishnu (Head-fi’s well known EagleWings) is back on Tw6 with another detailed review of FLC Technologies latest FLC 8N IEM, including a very comprehensive look at its Tuning System. Vishnu would like to thank FLC Technologies and MusicTeck for providing the FLC 8N IEM for the review.
Tuning Systems on IEMs have existed for many years (AKG K3003, RHA T20, Dunu IEMs, Sennheiser IE80, ES Velvet etc) and is implemented in many ways. But not a single IEM came even close to FLC 8S’ 36 possible tuning options when it was released in 2015. Although, I would argue that some of the combinations wouldn’t be practical or applicable for real time use, it takes a brilliant mind (Forrest Wei) to come up with such a sophisticated tuning system. But the tuning system was only part of the reason for 8S’ success. It was its inherent sound quality and performance that contributed to IEM’s success for the most part. And with the customizable tuning options on top of that, one were able to get close to their preferred signature. Leaving the sound aspect aside, there were a couple of quibbles about the FLC’s hardware. For some people, the shape did not provide a perfectly comfortable fit. And the cable was simply too finicky and microphonic.
After 3 years of working on a successor, FLC recently launched an update to the 8S called the FLC 8N. The 8N follows along the same concept of the 8S which is, 36 different tuning options achieved through mixing and matching 10 pairs of swappable filters on the body of the IEM. The external shape of the IEM has gone through a complete redesign and the cable seems to have gone through some changes too. While I won’t be able to comment on the nature of the changes and the differences between the 8N and the 8S, what I can do is, offer my objective + subjective view on the 8N and how it performs for a $360 IEM. Let’s find out.
Leaving the IEM+Cable aside, what you get in the box are the usual suspects; a case, cleaning tool, shirt clip and a few pairs of ear tips, plus the tuning system. The round metal case is hard and feels like it could even take a bullet and still survive. But for my personal use, this is a bit of a cumbersome case due to its weight. But I have seen some people on the forum preferring such cases. As for the ear tips, you get a total of 8 pairs. 4 pairs of white tips and 4 more pairs of black tips of sizes; XS, S, M and L.
As for items that make up the tuning system; you get a total of 10 pairs of filters. These filters are housed in a compact metal canister that looks like a lip-balm stick. You also get a small tweezer that helps to change the Ultra-Low-Frequency (ULF) filters and Low-Frequency (Filters). You also get a spare filter for each of the rubber ULF and LF filters, just in case you lose one of these (yes, you can easily lose the ULF and LF filters if you are not careful). A manual that gives you an index of the filters and other basic information about the IEM is also included.
Looks, Build, Comfort, Isolation and Cable.
I am not a fan of the electric-blue color of the IEM. I personally would have preferred a more neutral color like grey, black or silver. But the build feels sturdy and the finish seems decent. The finish may not be perfect like what you’d see on Sennheisers, but nothing to complain here. As the IEM is light, small in size and is contoured with smooth curves, it is super comfortable to wear. The isolation is not top notch, but when music is playing, it is pretty good. Just don’t expect custom IEM level of isolation.
The cable is again a dark blue color to accent the vivid blue shell of the IEM. It is a bit springy and feels a little plasticky. But other than that, from a functional perspective, it is a very good cable. Meaning, it doesn’t tangle that easily and is not microphonic (at least when worn over ear). So it does look like FLC has made some improvements. As to what kind of sockets the IEM uses, I was neither able to confirm nor deny as I thought it was best left untouched.
For sound impressions, I would like to begin with the default configuration, which is; Gunmetal + Grey + Gold (Med ULF + Med LF + Most MF & Med HF). In this configuration, the sound of the 8N is warm, balanced and smooth. This results in a relaxed and fatigue-free listening experience. The bass is slightly enhanced and has a gradual downward slope into the center mid-range. The result is a warm and well integrated bass into the mid-range that provides warmth and body without creating a veil. Sub-bass and mid-bass balance each other out well that, there is satisfactory level of impact, as well as warmth/body without one over powering the other. Also, as the 8N uses DD for the low-end, you get the nice natural decay.
Although, the Gold filter is the one that offers most MF, the mid-range is actually a touch relaxed. The mid-range is sufficiently bodied and is slightly warm in tone, as the upper-mids are slightly smoothed down. If you are someone who finds the 15dB rise in the 3kHz on headphones/IEMs a bit shouty or harsh, you will feel right at home on the 8N, because this bump is rather polite on the 8N. But it is sufficient in amplitude to provide overtone reach and solidity for the vocals, while keeping them rounded and smooth. But for these reasons, the transparency in the mid-range, although good enough, is not of high class. While I would say the mid-range is slightly laid-back their positioning is not backward. So they offer good presence, but just subtly polite without causing any aggressiveness.
The treble follows along the same line as the mid-range and stays smooth with a gentle peak in the lower treble, which is followed by a toned down upper treble. The lower treble makes it up by providing sufficient articulation to the notes and maintaining the balance in the signature. The downside of the upper treble being toned down is, the resolution is not very high and you won’t get the feeling of finesse you experience on high end IEMs. As the resolution and transparency are not of the highest order, this is not an IEM geared towards detail retrieval. But what you get in return is a smooth, laid-back sound that is very forgiving of poorly recorded material.
FLC claims that one of the areas of improvement on the 8N, over the 8s is the soundstage. Although I cannot comment on whether it is an improvement or not, all I can say is that the soundstage on the 8N is spectacular. It is not just very spacious, but also open and airy, almost approaching CA Andromeda level soundstage. This just might have dethroned the IE80 from the sub $400 category soundstage-king position. The stage has sufficient depth to an extent it doesn’t sound flat. With the help of the soundstage, the instrument separation is really excellent on the lateral plane, although layering may not be its forte. The whole presentation of the IEM just keeps you immersed in the music.