PROS: A very musical sound that is natural, clean and airy, immersive stage, great build quality, stock cable, Peli 1010 case.
CONS: Perhaps not for those prioritizing a technical and revealing signature, less customization options compared to other Custom Art models.
I would like to thank Piotr for providing me with the FIBAE Black in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
- Drivers: Single proprietary Balanced Armature
- Frequency response: 10Hz-16000Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
- Sensitivity: 108.5dB @1kHz @0.1V
- Impedance: 5.2 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.8 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
- Price: €450
A review of Custom Art IEMs… that is where it all started with my reviews and indeed Custom Art IEMs was where it all started for me as an audiophile, so this review feels a little special. I started out in this hobby with the Custom Art Ei.3. I bought those after much deliberation and quite a memorable demo session where I listened to a number of IEMs, but on the way home I could only think of the Ei.3. I simply could not get their sound out of my head. As “engaging” was one of the key criteria for making my decision, I did not waste time to get my impressions done and the order placed. I never regretted that decision and while my hobby spiralled a little bit out of control (*cough*), I still enjoy my Ei.3 tremendously. I think that says a lot about Custom Art’s products and that is why I respect them so much as a company. There is something eminently sensible about Custom Art. Not “beige suit and an office job”-sensible, mind, but whenever anyone asks me about where to look for their first (C)IEMs, I always advise them to go and look at Custom Art. In a hobby where prices at the top end are escalating quickly and it is easy to spend as much as you would on a bicycle… oh wait, sorry, that was my other hobby… as you would on a small car, Custom Art offers a much more sensible investment. Not flavor of the month, but excellent value IEMs that ooze musicality, outstanding customer service and an increasingly impressive repertoire of customization options that you can apply to both their custom and universal IEMs.
Sensible as they may be, the way I know Custom Art, they always seem to push hard for genuine innovation at that reasonable price point. With FIBAE Black they have come up with something quite special, a single Balanced Armature design that utilizes a Helmholtz resonator placed parallel to the spout of the driver. (For those interested, Piotr, the founder of Custom Art, has posted more details of the design on Head-fi.) The design produced significant improvements and caused quite a stir when Custom Art let a number of reviewers do a blind test to gauge their response, especially when the specs and price were revealed afterwards. Some reviewers estimated the price several times higher than it actually was. Well, I would not be much of a reviewer if that did not pique my interest and so I was very excited when I got the opportunity to try out the Black for myself.
The FIBAE Black arrived in a nondescript black box that looked a bit like it would contain a very small pair of shoes. Happily, that was not the case and instead the box contained a case and another case… That is a lot of cases. Silly word jokes aside, Custom Art deliver their IEMs in one of the best cases available, the Peli 1010, which I love using. I got one with my Ei.3 and use it extensively. It has always been my primary choice when traveling, as my AK70 (with leather case) fits snugly inside and there is still enough room for my Ei.3. Perfect for safe travels around the world! (At least for the gear.) So, I am very happy that Custom Art continues to supply these. The other case included is a smaller, softer case for storing the IEMs and putting it in a pocket. Very convenient, although I personally prefer to store my DAP together with my IEMs, but of course far more useful for people who use their IEMs with their phone. Further supplied are a warranty card with the manufacture date on it, a cleaning tool and one of those puck-shaped dehumidifiers. And because these are universal IEMs, a set of tips with three different sizes regular silicone tips and one set of double flange tips.
Of course, let’s not forget about the FIBAE Black themselves.
Build quality and fit.
The Black were developed with 3D printing technology in mind and the universal shells have an updated shape compared to the universal shells of the Ei.3 that I have. (In case you are wondering, I had my CIEMs reshelled to universal. Another quite unique service Custom Art provides.) It is a less curved shape with more flat surfaces, while the overall build quality feels much the same, which is very solid. I have always used my Ei.3 as my travel IEMs because I trust their build quality more than any of my other IEMs and the Black fall in the same category. Excellent build quality.
The updated shape is a really noticeable improvement for me. While my Ei.3 have been extremely comfortable, I have always found it tricky to get an ideal fit with them and I kept switching tips because of it. Some would be comfortable but not sound optimal, while others sounded optimal but were too uncomfortable for long listening sessions. With the Black I have had no such issues while using the supplied double flange tips, although I might well switch those over to regular tips at some point for the sake of convenience (more on the double flange tips later on).
The Black are also supplied with an updated cable. I can’t show you the previous stock cable that came with my Ei.3 because I ritually burned it and buried the ashes in an abandoned mine that is regularly checked by an exorcist. I hated it with a passion and when I saw the new cable chills went down my spine… Memory wire. Evil, evil memory wire. I could see it plotting to start chewing my ears as soon as I would start listening to the Black. Happily, despite the memory wire I have had few issues with it. Dare I say? I quite like the cable. It is a very supple cable based on Silver Plated Copper (SPC) wires and it is light, thin and thoroughly ergonomic. All right it still has memory wire, but at least I do not have to resort to pushing those straight up like antennas to avoid them touching my ears. I also love the simplistic plastic y-split and slider, they are just so light and utterly functional. Despite my addiction to expensive aftermarket cables, I grudgingly admit that the best y-splits and sliders I have used are either a heat shrink for the y-split and no slider or these two simple plastic discs. Okay, I feel dirty now admitting to all that and I need a shower.
I have tried a number of sources and find that the Black will sound great with pretty much any source, but they also scale quite nicely with a better source. From a phone, in my case the Sony XA2, I felt the Black were driven perfectly well. Moving onto an entry level DAP such as the Shanling M0 expands the stage slightly, improves the dynamics, gets a better bass response (tighter, more extended) and improved clarity. Similar improvements can be found again by moving up to the M0’s bigger brother the Shanling M2X. My AK70 (mkI) adds more of the same, but also provides a little smoother sound and transparency seems a bit better as well. My main DAP for reviewing these days is the Cowon Plenue 2 (mkI) and that feels like a step up again with a really holographic feeling stage, great depth and a dynamic feel to the Black. It is not a night and day difference because even with the XA2 the Black sound great, but it is noticeable enough that if you have a better source available, you might like to use that. For convenience sake, I expect most people will be perfectly happy with their phone.
As indicated my main reviewing DAP is the Plenue 2 and all impressions were made with it on high gain without any EQ.