The Chord Company has finally brought their outstanding ARAY technology to the budget audiophile with the release of their new C-Line range. Our tests have proven that the C-Line RCA is easily worthy of its modest price tag, and its sonic performance comes highly recommended.
Final Audio Design, AKA. FAD., is a fine Japanese audio brand thats resonating ‘Music is Power’ ideal first came into consideration back in 1974. It was this during this year that the mind of the late Kanemori Takai mused upon the conceptualisation of how to accurately deliver the sensation and re-enactments of the performers within a playback setting. After 35 years of developing legendary playback design mediums, including Hi-Fi separates, turntables, cartridges, loudspeakers, and connection terminals, Takai partnered with Japanese connector and cable brand, ‘Molex’, in order to develop a range of speakers and headphones. Following a two-year design procedure, the Final Audio Design brand came into fruition led by their first high-end in-ear transducer designs, codenamed; Adagio II and III.
Final Audio Design have always firmly mounted themselves between the mid-high and high-end price range, and have always produced visually stunning pieces that encompass a double edged practical acoustic purpose. Now, going back to the ‘Music is Power’ ideal, many of Final Audio Design’s products have been specially made to best represent a genre specification in order to bring the very best out of the specific acoustical qualities and they are widely known to produce a design based on what it takes, and costs, to make with lesser focus on the end-user pricing. Because of this FAD’s pricing can seem volatile, yet in the same breath you can rest assured with the knowledge that what you will be receiving one of the finest examples of niche-genre audio engineering around… Just be sure in what you intend to purchase.
Unfortunately in June of 2014 the legendary Kanemori Takai suddenly passed away. Takai was widely considered as the driving force and soul behind the Final Audio Design brand, he was an iconic inventor and a monumental engineer, needless to say that he is sorely missed.
Unboxing, Features, Design, and Build Quality:
Presentation is everything with all Final Audio Design products, and the Heaven VI IEM’s are no different. Put it this way, they arrive in style with a gloss black faux snakeskin box brandished with the gold Final Audio Design logo on the front, and a very small specification run-down on the lower rear - this is prestige packaging like no other. Exclusively for the Heaven VI IEM’s the Final Audio Design team commissioned a silver plated spring-loaded classic square cigarette case from one of the finest case makers around. On the front the word ‘Final’ is punch pressed onto the centre and the quality is exceptional. Inside the Heaven VI’s come encased in foam and coiled, along with three pairs of dark brown soft-silicone tips. It is clear to me that this is not a transportable carry case, the form factor is a mere a presentation case to sit atop of a Hi-Fi plinth, or something of that positioning.
Inside the Final Audio Design Heaven VI package is fairly minimalist with just the IEMs and three well positioned sizes of brown medium-soft silicone ear tips (S, M, and L). The tips have a rounded dome appearance and, during use, seem to create an adequate seal, but there is nothing outstanding here. It would have been nice to see some double flange ear tips included within the package in order to cater for more consumers personal taste. It is understandable that at this price point it is likely for a consumer to purchase a preferred set of aftermarket ear tips, although considering the length of the bullet IEM design they somewhat hang out of the ear, and a double flange tip would help to remain stationary during mild exercise, ie. walking. It should be noted that there is a small mesh grille in order to prevent a build up of wax and debris forming on the internal balanced amateur construction that would otherwise have a detrimental impact on the sound quality, although no cleaning brush is supplied.
As recently mentioned, the Heaven VI IEMs have a thin bullet style design with a moderately long length (15mm c.) and, as a consequence, hang out of the ears. Thankfully the flat profile cable restraint at the driver housing is positioned at an angle in order to guide the cable down without touching the ears. In practice this helps avoid irritation of the ears and seems to reduce the likelihood of the IEMs being pulled out from the ears. In another area the entire shell, AKA. driver housing, appears to have been machined from a solid chrome copper alloy billet, at some extra cost, in order to reduce impurities in the material. Any weaknesses within the material could have a detrimental impact upon the desired sonic characteristics as Final Audio Design have employed their somewhat ‘grey area’ BAM (Balanced Air Movement) technology which relies upon the internal shell geometry and precisely placed reflex vent. With the Heaven VI’s the BAM vent is built into the silicone stem at the base of the bullet design and is almost impossible to see. Having mentioned all of the above, once crafted the exterior shell is polished to a flawless gold mirror finish and etched with the beautiful ‘Final’ calligraphic logo. Moving down to the cable, Final Audio Design have opted for a flat profile design in order to stop the cable from tangling easily. The cable is 1.2m in length and has a soft silicone finish in order to grip to clothes and the cable is terminated with a right angle 3.5mm gold plated cable which helps to remove stress upon your chosen DAP. Just past this is a simple, yet effective, cable restraint that seems well constructed enough to prevent fraying, although flat profile cables are more immune to this phenomenon than the barrel type. Sadly the core conductor, overall cable design, and shielding have not been specified so I am unable to comment on this construction.
Internally the FAD Heaven VI’s rely on a single custom balanced armature. Being part of a larger conglomerate has its advantages, especially when one connecting company manufacturers BA’s on a mass scale, and with this significant backing Final Audio Design are able to custom craft a balanced armature that is co-designed against the other housing design aspects instead of relying upon an OEM driver to ‘fit in the mix’. In fact this is what makes Final Audio Design so unique, and this is how Final Audio Design are able to use their Balanced Air Movement technique in paring with the balanced armature drivers to add a higher sense of depth that is otherwise difficult to achieve with commonly sterile balanced armature responses. Forgetting this for a second, these IEMs are rated at 16Ω and pair excellently with most portable systems, often without need for an external amplifier.
In order to process this review the following technology was used: Various lossless music, Sonic Studio Amarra, Channel D Pure Music, MacBook Air output, Computer Audio Design USB cable, Lynx Hilo D2A/A2D Converter System, ProTools 9, iPhone 5s, Sansa Clip+, and Chord Electronics Hugo. With the equipment listed it is important to note that the Final Audio Design Heaven VI’s have experienced a 50+ hour burn-in, and this was performed before being passed over to us. Comply tips were used with these IEMs as I found that they were able to mildly tame the ultra high frequency presence.
Noise Isolation and Microphonics:
Despite the Balanced Air Movement vent built right into the cable stem the Heaven VI’s have great external passive noise isolation. During use the Heaven VI’s retained a lively performance and more than adequately rejected environmental noise without any detrimental impact across the frequency spectrum. Likewise, the sound leakage into the external environment was good. At a moderate listening level the Heaven VI’s seemed to minimally disturb onlookers, however at elevated levels a minor sizzle could be detected. Still this was barely noticeable. In other areas the Heaven VI’s didn’t appear to catch the wind and, on top of this, a windy environment did not appear to enter into the mix or muddy the VI’s delicate bass frequencies.
With regards to microphonics, the cable wasn’t overly amazing at inhibiting a movement related bass rumble from entering into the driver housings, although it was still very acceptable and that the driver housings balanced well within the ears before being guided down to the cable body. From this information I can’t exactly say that the Heaven VI’s are perfect for energetic activities, but then again they were never designed for this environment. With this noted, when worn under clothes, the rubberised cable did help prevent microphonics from becoming anywhere near a serious issue when walking.
As with all Final Audio Design products, each have their own distinctive character, and the Heaven VI’s are no different in that they drastically favour Classical and Acoustic genres. I do have to say that when used for the consumption of Rock and Electronic music genres they lacked lustre and the ’N’ shaped frequency response didn’t overwhelm or compliment the instrumentation, unique mix techniques, or spatial surroundings. I do, however, have to say that as a single BA design they appear to sound very dynamic driver like, and the Heaven VI’s appear to lack most of that widely known ‘BA sterility’ in favour for an mostly warmish presence, and an inviting round tone. Funnily enough this leads me onto my next genre specific point because, despite what has just already been mentioned, the VI’s have a hard-limited air about them that is much more dynamically reduced than I would have expected with Rock and Electronic genres. In that area the presentation feels a disorganised and almost as if all the individual elements are a little too crammed in, however, as far as Classical and acoustic genre playback goes, this completely flips. Within this specific playback, the spatial dimensions appear to be much more expansive and full of life. Each instrument is very well balanced and can be defined against the X and Y axis to the point the natural reverb tails can be heard decaying in and amongst other instrumentation placements within the ‘artificial' environment. The slightly crushed dynamic range lends a hand to the micro nuances in order to help them step up in a way that is natural and deeply appreciated in and amongst complex instrumentation - it really makes the music come alive. In this area a sense of fullness and power comes to the fore because the mid-bass, all the way up to the trebles, is so beautiful, rich, and luscious, whereas the sub-bass appears to be awol and the high treble is thinner than average, although there is a peak at around 8kHz. The highly sculpted approach that Final Audio Design have crafted here is quite beautiful in the right context, but I do feel that, again, with the wrong genre the VI’s can grate and feel slightly sibilant. The 8kHz peak may be responsible for this in some way, although this allows certain instrumentation to cut across the mix and have a higher sense of air against the otherwise natural forward soundstage. For example, Hi-Hats cut across with their trademark sizzle instead of being recessed within the mix, and they generally feel more intimate, whilst other instruments are a touch reined in. I have found that this area needs to be presented in this way so that some detail can cut through the thick presentation of the frequencies below in order to bring some life into the general mix. Again vocals are exquisite and dreamily cut right though the mix without loosing any detail or central placement. Both male and female vocals are on par and are naturally transmitted. A well recorded vocal performance comes across with a beautiful liveliness and is full of emotion. In particular Damien Rice’s ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ was awe inspiring with breathy vocals being transmitted so perfectly that the artists performance felt so personal in the perfect measure. Clearly the VI’s are all about the mid-range!
As mentioned previously, the sub-bass appears to be slightly missing and this is actually a good thing. The Heaven VI’s have such a luscious low-midrange up to the high-midrange that any inflation below 200Hz would just muddy the mix and make things feel a bit too much. Still, for the majority, the bass is present and I have found it to be quite impactful. Within Classical genres the Heaven VI’s capture the crunch of the percussion well, and bass instruments are crisp whilst their woodwind counterparts maintain all integrity and complexity. On their own, or added into the mix, piano’s sound thick and engaging, velvety and soft - much like the vocals, which is absolutely breathtaking. Just be sure to use the Heaven VI’s with lossless files, they can be quite critical in this area.
I briefly touched upon the stereo environment before, but I do have to reiterate that this environment feels texturally rich whilst maintaining an honest spatial performance. No frequency boundaries appear thrown and nothing feels stuck to your head. Occasionally, when used in the wrong context, the depth can feel refined because of the slightly unnatural dynamic range, though all in all I do greatly appreciate the Heaven VI’s approach - they sound as close to perfect you can get in their price range for the right genre consumption. Strangely, at times, the FAD Heaven VI’s have made me able to feel the music and smell the Sopranos as if they are right in front of you because they have a great synergy across the entire frequency spectrum and, for Classical, the Heaven VI’s would be my go to IEMs.
The Final Audio Design Heaven VI’s are an incredible IEM in the right context. Best suiting Classical and Acoustic genres, the VI’s are able to present a beautifully lifelike setting that has the ability to pull the listener into the music. The build quality of the Heaven VI’s is, undeniably, excellent, and the package in general is real experience. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Final Audio Design Heaven VI IEM’s with a well deserved four star rating.