While I might have (reluctantly) admitted that the stock cable is really good, I did try out a few aftermarket cables to see what changes those might bring. Listening was done either through the 3.5mm Single Ended (SE) out or from the 2.5mm balanced (Bal) out.
– Effect Audio Ares II (SE)
This is always the first aftermarket cable I try because it is a very high-quality cable with great ergonomics without going too silly on the fancy metals.
Ares II makes the Black even smoother, reducing the speed and impact of the bass a little and some of the sparkle in the treble. It adds a hint of warmth to the sound that I feel does not benefit the clean and airy stage. My guess is that the pure copper Ares II lacks some of the characteristics of the SPC stock cable that benefit the Black.
– PlusSound Exo Silver+Gold (Bal)
Because it was not the first time that I replaced a stock SPC with Ares II and found it lacking, I turned to the cable that did work back then, the PlusSound Exo Silver+Gold.
The Exo makes the Black a little cleaner and more airy while maintaining the coherency of the Black with stock cable. (Some of that will come from the balanced connection.) The Black become a hint brighter in their overall tonality, but in a very pleasant way. The bass remains quick, agile and impactful, the treble remains smooth and inoffensive, while vocals are pushed a hint further back. One thing I noticed especially was that this pairing showed off how well the Black do reverb. Listening to some Hildegard of Bingen is a wonderful experience, as on top of the excellent vocals, the reverb of the church comes through exceptionally well. Bach’s Magnificat had the same thing and felt more liquid than with the stock cable, making it even more engaging to listen to. Switching back to the Stones I felt nothing was lost there either. A great pairing that I expected might become permanent until the Exo’s cousin came around.
– PlusSound X-Series GPC (SE)
Credit to the stock cable, but you have been beaten on all fronts. The PlusSound X-Series is the most ergonomic cable I have tried to date, and it has a wonderfully small y-split, a little heat-shrink as slider, it is light, incredibly supple and pairs really well with the Black.
This X-Series is the Gold Plated Copper and it turns up the engagement another notch. The bass gets a powerful boost to become more impactful without losing speed and the treble get a little bit of extra sparkle. The mids remain natural and clean and maintain the quite forward vocals. Most importantly, I feel that this pairing stays close to the stock cable in the way the overall sound feels to me. Transparency is improved a little and the reverb is once again revealed as excellent. What I noticed with this pairing especially is how the Black make some music sound more like a live performance, especially music like the Rolling Stones or Santana. The amount of raw power that the Black are capable of is also quite noticeable with this pairing. Device’s track Penance sounds absolutely amazing.
– Custom Art Ei.3
Although the Ei.3 have been discontinued, I still wanted to include a brief comparison here because I think it is a great way to illustrate how far Custom Art have come and how much of an improvement the Black are.
Using these two back-to-back immediately shows off the improvements in the shell design and I find the Black to have a much better fit for my ears.
In terms of sound I feel the two are related and although I have not seen Piotr mention it, I would not be surprised if the Black are in some way the spiritual successor of the Ei.3. Both offer an extremely musical and engaging signature with a quick and agile bass, natural mids and smooth treble. My Ei.3 have always been my preferred choice for listening while cooking, which is when I look for a sound that makes me want to dance. The Black have that same characteristic where I just forget about everything and get lost in the music while chopping away at the vegetables.
In nearly every other way the two are different in the sense that the Black feel like a much-matured version of the Ei.3. The Black have a warmer, thicker sound that feels much more natural. The Black have better extension at both ends, a much blacker background, higher resolution, improved transparency, a better dynamic range, and really, they sound to me like they are from a completely different price range, even though the difference is quite modest. Hearing these two back-to-back really drives home just how innovative Custom Art have been with the Black because it is a very significant improvement.
What can I say about the Custom Art FIBAE Black. These IEMs are impressive, very impressive for the price. Their laid-back character might not suit everyone, especially those people looking for a technical and detailed signature, but for those of us who prefer a natural and smooth, yet incredibly musical signature, the Black compete with the very best out there regardless of price. At their price point of €450 they offer outstanding value and will make for a great investment because I don’t think this sound will ever get boring.