Custom Art - FIBAE Black


Review - Custom Art - FIBAE Black


 

Website - Custom Art






Specifications
  • Single proprietary Balanced Armature
  • Pressure Optimizing Design (P.O.D.)
  • Flat Impedance technology (FIBAE)
  • 108.5dB @1kHz @0.1V
  • 5.2 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.8 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
  • Low % THD
  • 10-16000 Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
  • 3D printed acrylic shell


Available in Custom or Universal fit.


Price: Starting from €450.
     


The FIBAE Black arrives in a very simple and plain black carton box with no info on the outside. Inside there is a Pelican 1010 Micro case where the earphones are securely stored, an extra small zipper case, a wax cleaning pick tool, drying pellet, and for the universal version, 4 sets of silicone tips, 3 single flanges and 1 double flange. The box is definitely nothing inspiring and you may find a more premium unboxing presentation on much affordable universal IEMs; still, it is just a box so nothing to care much about as long as package arrives safely to the customer. However, for a universal fit model, a wider and better array of ear tips could have been included, especially when the different tips can play a critical role not just in fit or comfort but mainly in giving the optimal sonic results.




Design

The shells on the universal Custom Art models are now 3D printed. They are made of acrylic material like the custom versions and previous universal fit which I have on the Fibae 3 since last year. Build quality is very good as what plastic materials go; the shells are thick and look solid enough. Also, despite the 3D printing the finish is very nice and smooth. These are on a higher level in terms of quality and finish over something like the Brainwavz 3D printed IEMs, which is logical considering the price difference.


The shape still resembles that of a custom IEM but compared to the previous Custom Art universal they have now a more standard fit as a universal. The universal Fibae 3 has a more custom-like rounded shape on the inner part that sit more ergonomically on the ear area, while the Black is flatter with wider nozzle base. The change of the nozzle is a noticeable improvement as it now holds better the different ear tips giving more flexibility when doing some essential tip rolling for best sound results.


As for the shell customization options, the Black IEM series, both universal and custom, are limited to a black color inner part so only the outer faceplate design is open to the customers' preference. Nevertheless, the all piano black theme looks very cool and there are nice faceplate options to choose from the Custom Art site or use a personal artwork. I only chose the artwork and let the color options to the company team to decide and should say they made a very nice design. It is hard to get in on a photo but on a close look you may see there is some depth within the artwork and color design.


Fit is very natural as for over-ear wearing style and with the nozzle length and right tips the Fibae Black provides a deep fit into the ear canal. Depending on the ear tips used the fit can be flush with a low profile around the ears. Comfort is excellent too and the seal is usually very good. However, getting the best tips is very important here, not only for best fit but more for optimal sound results. Personally, I had to discard the included ones and opted for wider dual flange silicone tips and also the Dunu/Sony tips (aka 'hybrids'); Spinfit work too if you can find the new shorter versions. Like with the Fibae 3, the isolation is also very good being a sealed shell and an ergonomic shape that fills a wide area of the outer ear.



The cable is a new one with silver-plated copper wire. It is a nice improvement over the previous cables used on Custom Art earphones that were the standard ones found on different CIEM manufactures with three twisted strands on the lower half and two on the right and left sides. Instead, the cable is made of two separated strands from the jack up to the 2-pin connectors, stick together on the lower half and then divided to each channel. On a closer look each strand holds two thin wires that are softly twisted and well covered by the outer cable sheath. The cable itself is more comfortable to use and holds very low noise. It is terminated in a standard 3.5mm stereo angled plug with a round y-split and similar round piece that acts as slider, and on the top, there is a fixed memory wire. For the universal fit it is only possible to choose a 2-pin connection (0.78mm), with or without remote, while the custom fit allows MMCX plugs. 2-pin is still the more recommended option for detachable cables as they prove to be more durable and reliable over the time.



Sound Quality

Main gears used:
Custom Art Fibae 3, iBasso IT04, FLC 8N, Dunu DK-3001, final E5000.
iBasso DX120, HiBy R6 Pro, Fiio M6, Lotoo Pico.

For the new model Custom Art opted for a single Balanced Armature, which can sound surprising with all the multi BA and hybrids IEMs that are so popular and get so much attention nowadays. However, multi drivers' sets are not always safe from having known issues on impedance, drivers' mismatch and coherence, crossover, etc. That's no to say that single drivers are a better option, especially when referring to a small single armature driver for a full range frequency response as there're limitations in extension and power.


Nonetheless, here with the Fibae Black, Custom Art really made an excellent work and the Black IEM not only holds the strengths of a single BA unit but is also capable to compete with multi drivers sets with a well extended and very full sound presentation. The sound is nothing to be called neutral, linear or reference tuned, and probably won't be referring to it as completely 'balanced'. Rather, it is colored with a bit midrange forward presentation which is very rich, smooth, engaging and very musical. As the name might suggest, the Black has a slightly dark and warm overall tonality with a full bass response, well weighted notes, laid-back highs and yet a still solid strong detail retrieval and accuracy typical of a good sounding armature driver.

The bass strikes with a strong impact and quite surprising for a single balanced armature. It is full bodied and well textured with a bit more emphasis on the mid and upper region but still capable of showing an impressive sub-bass reach. Quantity is definitely more than just 'north of neutral' though still won't deliver a true heavy-bass amount; it doesn't seem to be due the driver limitations but rather the own tuning of the IEM. In fact, the is plenty bass in quantity and power rivaling some good sounding hybrids and multi-BA sets, and just falls a tad short in pure sub-bass extension and sheer rumble. Quality is just as good, showing the usual capabilities of a balanced armature on speed, control, accuracy and detail. The Fibae Black is not aggressive but it is fast in attack with very natural decay. It is well balanced between sub and mid-bass response, well defined and very good in dynamics and layering.

The midrange is still the main focus on the Fibae Black. The bass transition to the lower mids is linear and smooth leaving a very clean response. The midrange balance is well done, though it usually goes a little bit more towards the lower mids (some tips may help to adjust this a bit, though). The mid-centered tuning holds a warm tonality with a fluid and very rich texture. It is sweet and articulated with a very strong sense of musicality that sounds so immersive. The separation is neat and instruments are presented with good weight and coherent positioning; the preference still goes to lower instruments that sound fuller as the upper ones are smoother and more laid-back in nature. The midrange is not to be called 'transparent' on the Black, though it does show a subtle technical transparency when paired with different sources. A warmer player will give a thicker lower midrange and even darker tonality overall to the point of sounding more off and veiled, but if paired with a brighter or detailed oriented source then the midrange gains a better balance with more engaging and energetic upper midrange. Vocals are particularly very nice on the Fibae Black, a bit more forward on the whole presentation leaving instruments on a half plane behind, very sweet and full bodied. They are very articulated, not too thick as to blur the sound but yes have a delicate and beautiful texture with nothing of sibilance to be found on them.

The treble is more laid-back and completely smooth with no peaks that could be noticed. The extension is still very decent without a serious early roll-off. While the tonality is a tad dark there is still good quality on the highs. The detail is present and not difficult to perceive, it is just not too forward to catch the listener's attention. If there is some energy then it is more present on the lower treble region, but overall sparkle is moderate in amount; guitars definitely have more bite and cymbals more crash and light than what the Fibae Black IEM can show. There is some air missing too, though doesn't sound particularly congested and it always remains inoffensive, relaxed and very forgiving.

Despite the mid-centered signature the presentation is larger than average and very coherent. While it tends to put vocals on the front stage it is not missing in stage dimensions. With a center image it is well rounded and also quite spacious. It doesn't have a too sharp right and left distance and won't sound too open and airy, but it shows good depth and very decent width. However, where the Black IEM truly stands is in resolution, and it is higher than the price would suggest, not just for a single BA, but simply as an in-ear monitor set. Cannot say it can rival top tier universal IEMs at $1K+ range, not because it couldn't but simply because I yet have to listen to some of those to give a fair comparison, but it the Fibae Black is quite remarkable. It surely sounds too good resembling more a large dynamic driver than just a small micro driver.


Comparisons:



A comparison versus another IEM from Custom Art like the Fibae 3 wouldn't make much sense, simply because they were both tuned completely different, but just should be mentioned as another offer from the company. The Fibae 3 which I had for around a year (and on the previous universal shell) carries a three BA drivers' configuration with a more treble and high detail oriented tuning. The Fibae 3 sound is more spacious, open and airier with impressive micro detail and high treble control. The bass is much lighter in body without the mass and impact the darker Black offers. Soundstage is wider on the Fibae 3 when paired with a higher player like the Hiby R6 Pro, while the Black hits with more depth and massive bass impact. The midrange detail goes for the Fibae 3 that sounds more effortless too, but in musical presentation the Black wins with a much fuller and sweeter texture, excelling in the vocals performance. They both still share some transparency when pairing with different sources, though the Black is more forgiving, while the Fibae 3 can be more picky, especially on the treble performance requiring a more resolving DAP to truly shine, like the iBasso DX120 or Hiby R6 Pro.




On the other hand, a more relevant comparison should be against the iBasso IT04. Yes, it is a single balanced armature versus a 4-driver hybrid IEM which contains a large 10mm dynamic graphene driver and 3 BA Knowles units, and even so the Fibae Black holds its ground pretty well and shines in certain areas over the IT04 (while the IT04 still has its own strengths).

Before the sound comparison, in terms of design both are made of plastic materials though seem to be of different type. Build quality appears to be close, although it's hard to comment on durability for the Fibae Black after roughly a month of use versus the IT04 which already has more than half a year of regular listening. On the shape of the shells they are much different for universal models; the IT04 with is large and very custom-like form factor, while the new Fibae shell has now a more universal fit. This is also reflected in fit and comfort as the IT04 can be a bit of a challenge for smaller ears to achieve the best fit and can still present some comfort issues after some use. The Fibae is not just more compact but also offers a more relaxed yet secure fit with a similar level of isolation.

Now, as for the sound, in pure quality both sets perform at a similar level for what could be called 'mid-tier' category. Bass is similar, both having a strong presence and powerful impact, great layering and dynamics. The IT04 with the graphene driver used for lows is more even between sub and mid-bass, while the Fibae gives a slight more emphasis in mid-bass kick. As could be expected for a balance armature, speed goes for the Fibae with faster attack and more precision, and while extension is surprisingly very close, the IT04 may handle a little more reach and bit more natural, slower decay (and mainly if used in balanced mode). Lower midrange is very similar both having a full and bit thick texture with some warm tonality, but they differ more in upper midrange where the Fibae remains very smooth and rich, and the iBasso is more neutral and brighter. Vocals are a sweeter and more forward on the Fibae and the IT04 has more balance and air with sharper instruments separation; more energy on upper instruments and more edgy female vocals, but also leaner next to the Fibae. Treble remains always smooth and rather linear on the Fibae Black, very inoffensive in next to the extra energy and crispiness the IT04 offers. While detail is more obvious due the more treble presence of the IT04, the more laid-back Black IEM is capable to show a same quality if not a bit more of detail. Extension is technically very similar, and regardless the IT04 having a dedicated BA unit (single or dual), the resolution is still higher on the Fibae with a more coherent centered image, even just from its standard 3.5mm cable over the 2.5mm balanced sound of the iBasso, and that says a lot.



Value

The Custom Art FIBAE Black turns out to be a very capable in-ear monitor. The new 3D printed shells are well built and prove to be very ergonomic, comfortable for long listening times and also well isolating for everyday use. If there is anything to point out on the design it would just be the limited customization to faceplates alone, and even that is being too picky only because it arrives from a custom-IEM company. You still get the all piano black shell which looks rather classy and beautiful artwork designs to choose. The ear tips selection is too minimal and the included ones may not bring the best sound out of the earphones, so be ready to get some extra.

In terms of sound it is quite impressive. The small single armature driver inside tuned with a slight mid-centered signature is also powerful, engaging and very musical, yet accurate, fast and precise. The final tuning may not appeal to everyone as it goes very smooth and forgiving; those looking for pure detail and more energy should consider the triple driver Fibae 3 as an option. However, the midrange is very sweet and immersive, and the resolution is really good for the price.

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