Fabs-fabulous earphones® Review fabulous balance from Germany
Fabs-fabulous earphones®(Fabs) (462 € without taxes, 550 € with taxes ~ $646) mark my third custom with my first two, the Earsonics EM3 Pro and Ear Power EP-10 Plus both being stage monitors. The Fabs has a different purpose and sound as it is an audiophile custom, not a stage monitor with a 2 way, 2 BA design. Fabs is located in Germany, and the responsive and easy to work with Claus Zapletal is the creator of the Fabulous Earphones. He is bilingual in German/English, although the site is in German only, but feel free to send him an email if you have questions about the Fabs. I asked Claus how he arrived at the sound and his response was by listening to them and optimizing the sound.
The Fabs uses an acrylic shell that is a half shell that does not fill up the Concha like most other customs. This makes the Fabs much easier to insert and remove, less obtrusive, and very comfortable. There are two drivers, a single BA mid/treble driver and a dual BA bass driver, each with its own bore. The Fabs are very light due to their small size.
Each bore has a replaceable wax filter that is easy to change by taking off the filter with your finger and replacing it with an included filter that is at the end of a insertion tool. The filters are very easy to change and 8 extra filters are included, which will allow for 2 changes of the filters. The filters are there to protect the internal sound filters. Once removed, the filters can be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide so they can be reused; Claus recommended an ultrasonic cleaner but I don’t have access to one 😉
There are many cable options and I chose the black iPhone cable so it can be used as a headset as well. The cable sticks straight out and has a clear semi-soft tube for strain relief. The cable is firmly in place (and permanent), although I have not tugged too hard on it, I am sure it could withstand a good tug. The strain relief is designed well and flexible enough to not create a stress point even when worn with the cable over the ear, however the cable can be mounted above the targus for wearing the cable over-the-ear.
The cable options include:
– Black/white cable with a 90° plug
– Transparent cable with silver shielding and a straight plug
– Black/white cable with either Nokia or iPhone compatible remote/mic and straight plug
– Stranded silver cable – 40 strand silver wire, 238 € including VAT, 200 € without ($290 US) – No charge for mounting costs if you purchased a Fabs in 2011
You can also provide your own cable for use with the Fabs at no extra charge. It is 48 € to have Claus change your cable once your Fabs are already made.
There is an option for a stainless steel shell with a price premium of 900 € in addition to the original cost. Very expensive, very unbreakable, heavy, and cold when inserted, but very unique! I am amazed it is even possible! You can see it under the Variants link here (bottom left picture).
The cable strain relief seems fine, but my biggest complaint with the Fabs is the cable. It is a rubbery cable that comes in either black or white and is more reminiscent of a sub-$100 IEM, not a custom that is above $500. Not that it is really all that bad, but it doesn’t compare with the Westone cable. Fabs does offer both Nokia and iPhone compatible mics with a remote button. I have the mic/remote for the iPhone (and Blackberry) which works well. When used for phone calls the people are clear and can hear me clearly.
I would rate cable microphonics about average and the upper part of the cable is much more microphonic than the lower portion. Normal activities such as sitting at a desk, walking around or other calm activities produce little to no microphonics, but running produces too much noise for me. Wearing the cable over the ear reduces the microphonics, but running still produces a little too much cable noise. When the cable is worn over the ear it isn’t the most secure in that position due to the cable being springy.
Fabs-fabulous earphones®, soft carrying case, 8 replacement wax filters, cleaning cloth, instructions (currently only in German). Cleaning tool pictured is not included. Warranty is 1 year for manufacturer defects.
The Fabs are a custom, but not a full custom. While they isolate better than the EP-10 Plus custom, they do not isolate as well as a full custom, or even my SM3 with a triple flange tip. Their isolation in comparison with many universal IEMs is a little less. On a recent flight, I could hear the engine noise faintly and knew when the captain came on the intercom. According to Claus, the isolation is 20 dB at the lower frequencies and 25 dB at the higher frequencies.
The Fabs have a different sound signature than my other customs and one universal, the SM3, as the sound is non-monitor like (well, the EP-10 Plus is kinda different also); the music is presented as if you are in the audience vs. in on stage. Balance is a great word to describe the Fabs from a frequency response perspective as well as the rest of the spectrum. When comparing the Fabs with the EM3 Pro, it seems like the EM3 Pro has little peaks and valleys in the frequency response, and instruments are located different distances from me with both. The Fabs are not overly warm, but not thin and can pack some deep bass punch. There is also balance between an analytical sound and smoothed out sound, with good detail and some analytical qualities, but also nice smoothness. No matter how offensive the original track is with sibilance, too much bass, or whatever, the Fabs present it without offending. While I won’t say they are perfectly balanced, they do have an exceptional balance across the frequency spectrum and between an analytical and smooth sound.
The mids are very liquid and smooth yet portray exceptional tone and timbre along with nice laying and detail. There is a nice balance across the entire midrange, as across the entire spectrum. Both female and male vocals sound right on; A/Bing with my other customs (EM3 Pro and EP-10 Plus) brings a different tonality to the vocals. The Fabs have less lower mid presence and a little more upper mid presence, which sounds right on with both male and female vocals. The mids of the Fabs have all the detail of the EM3 Pro, but placement of instruments are somewhat different, with the Fabs presenting things more in a line while the EM3 Pro brings vocals to the forefront.
The treble is smooth and extended, but relaxed. The details are present, but not analytical, sharp, or in your face. The TF10, in comparison, has more in-your-face treble detail, but not more detail. Even with my most sibilant tracks the treble was not offensive. I would say the Fabs treble level is between the LCD-2 and Tesla T1; more than the EM3 Pro but less than the TF10. The treble seems to lack peaks and valleys in the frequency response.
The bass goes deep yet remains balanced with the rest of the spectrum. There were times I thought they were bass light, for example with some metal that really doesn’t have much bass but other headphones/systems with enhanced bass can, well, enhance the little that is there! Other genres such as with rap & R&B have very detailed bass notes with very good reverb. If there is bass texturing in the track, the Fabs will present it, but not overly emphasize, so it may be easier to hear the texture/detail with other headphones due to an enhanced bass response. The bass was usable down to 20 Hz, but was slightly rolled off with a 20 Hz test tones. I was surprised at the deep bass the Fabs found in some songs that I didn’t know was there, or just sounded different, especially in movie soundtracks. The EM3 Pro seems to roll-off sooner/more and the EP-10 Plus has a mid-bass hump that seems to reduce the overall impact of the lowest bass registers as, while they are there, they are combined with the mid-bass. In this regard, the Fabs were surprisingly good for a “flat” response!
To go along with the more laid back presentation of my other current IEMs, the soundstage is nice and wide, surpassing the EM3 Pro but not reaching the EP-10 Plus width (which is amazing). I have not heard a universal that comes close to the soundstage of the Fabs, and while the SM3 is very good in this regard (even with custom sleeves), it still isn’t nearly as spacious. The space that is created has a very round 3D presentation with a great sense of space and realism that helps create a feeling of being there. I have had many “looking around” experiences where something in my music seemed like it was coming from elsewhere or another person nearby. Something similar to what I experience with the T1 and LCD-2. Over time, as I have heard larger and larger sound signatures, IEMs that used to do this for me don’t, at least they don’t nearly as much. The Fabs seem to be my new standard.
The tonality of the Fabs seems right on to me. Instruments sound real and have great pace, rhythm, texture, placement, and 3D size and shape. A/Bing these with my other customs has me appreciating what Claus has done!
Overall the Fabs are very pleasant, enjoyable, and sometimes very surprising with the wide and 3D space they portray. The more time I spend with the Fabs, the more I appreciate them. I have had many moments where I would just stop and focus on the beautiful music with a presentation similar to being in the audience vs. on stage with my other customs. I have to say I appreciate Claus’s ear for sound tuning!
M-Fidelity SA-12: The Fabs have the closest sound signature to the SA-12 and are about the same price. Also, they are smaller shells with permanent cables, so there are many similarities. The Fabs are easier to put in and especially take out but the SA-12 isolates quite a bit better. Both use ear wax filters at the tip of the sound tube, however the Starkey filters are better than the Fabs filters in use. I am able to clean the Starkey filters with a cleaning tool, as they are wider and deeper while I have trouble cleaning the Fabs filters, and they clog much easier/quicker.
Sonically, while similar there are differences. The bass of the SA-12 is warmer than that of the Fabs with more note sustainment and kick, although the Fabs accentuate the very deep bass more than the SA-12 and can output more deep bass qualtity. The midrange of both are forward, but the forward area is at a lower frequency with the Fabs than the SA-12. Treble of the Fabs is smoother than that of the SA-12 with less emphasis and a little less extension. The Fabs sound airier and dryer yet with more intimate vocals than the SA-12 which has a slightly narrower yet more 3D soundstage. Overall the SA-12 has a more coherent presentation with better blending between the frequency spectrum while the Fabs are more detailed and overall smoother yet drier.
Ambient Acoustics AM4 Pro: The Fabs share a mid-forward presentation with the AM4 pro, but the Fabs aren’t quite as forward nor do they have the same technical ability. Overall there are quite a few differences, with the AM4 pro providing a full range presentation from top to bottom while the Fabs is more of a mid-focused presentation that doesn’t convey the entire presentation. The Fabs soundstage isn’t as wide or deep, the detail levels are less, there are less dynamics, imaging isn’t as good, and the focus within the soundstage falls short of the AM4 pro. The Fabs competes quite well with select tracks, but with the majority of my tracks display a large discrepancy. But it is not all bad for the Fabs as the clarity levels are close to the AM4 pro and coherence and transparency is actually a bit better. The AM4 pro is more forgiving of poor tracks even though it is brighter.
There are huge differences in bass levels as the Fabs are not a full shell and don’t insert deeply into my ears. The AM4 pro is more capable and fuller in the bass region while the Fabs become thicker in the midrange. Midranges are similar, but the Fabs is more liquid in the midrange but with lower detail levels, which is good for some tracks in comparison but not for most. Vocals are have a nice quality to them with the Fabs while the AM4 pro sounds more realistic and detailed. The Fabs treble slowly rolls off at a slow rate while the AM4 pro treble is more extended, but the Fabs has a thicker, smoother treble note which prevents cymbals from really shimmying. This gives the AM4 pro an air feel in comparison.
The Fabs will appeal to some, in part for the inline mic/remote capability, in part because of the music they listen to, which would be classical and easy listening/vocal type music, and in part due to the half shells. Paired with an iPhone, the differences are smaller than a high end source, but the AM4 pro still wins technically. Unless you have specific needs mentioned above or are treble averse, the AM4 pro is the better choice.
Alclair Reference: The Reference offers a more spacious and laid back presentation compared with the mid-forward Fabs, which have a bit more air. Clarity levels are slightly better with the Fabs due to the up-front midrange as instrument detail levels are similar, but the soundstage space is better defined by the Fabs with more depth to the presentation, even though it is not as wide. While instrument detail is similar, the Reference presents slightly more spatial queues within the soundstage despite better instrument separation by the Fabs. Speed and transparency are about the same while the Reference has a slight lead in dynamics.
Both have a flat bass response but the Reference has a good deal more rumble and a more depth, which is likely due, at least in part, to the half shell of the Fabs not utilizing bone conduction. Other than the rumble, both are similar with excellent texturing and nice detail. Warmth is close, but the Reference does have a warmer tilt to the sound signature. The midrange presentation is fairly different, but the quality is very similar and both have their strengths, such as imaging with the Fabs or resolution with the Reference. In the treble region, the Fabs has a bit more forward treble presentation and have a more treble focus, and while both sound fairly natural, the Reference has a more natural decay in the treble region along with an overall better quality.
While these two have similar strengths and trade slight wins in many categories, the Reference overall is a little superior technically. The Fabs have a more forward and brighter performance as well as a half-shell design that is ultra convenient while the Reference offers better extension, more sub-bass, and higher quality treble. If you listen primarily to acoustic music, either is a good choice, however if you love to concentrate on vocals, the Fabs mid-focus and musical presentation give it the nod. Classical music is done quite well with the Fabs due to the soundstage presentation, however the Reference is more versatile in the genres it does well with.
DUNU DC4: With a more laid back, lighter sound, the half-shelled Fabs offer a different sound experience than the DC4, which is more powerful, up-close, and personal. Soundstage space is about the same size even though the DC4 is more mid-forward, while the DC4 has a bit better imaging and instrument separation. Resolution/detail, speed, dynamics, coherence, and transparency are all better with the DC4, although the clarity and natural tone of acoustic music sounds a bit more convincing with the Fabs. The DC4 has a smoother presentation, especially in the treble region.
Bass is very divergent as the DC4 is very capable while the Fabs lack reverb, in part due to the half shell configuration. Much more power is conveyed from the DC4 up through the mid-bass, giving the DC4 more warmth and a richer presentation. The mid-forward presentation of the DC4 is in contrast to the Fabs laid back midrange, and the treble of the Fabs starts to relax in comparison with the more forward and prominent treble of the Fabs.
The Fabs sound like they are made for classical music and laid back light acoustic music, where they shine while the mid-forward DC4 compresses those genres in comparison. However, for most other music, especially vocal music, the DC4 is more involving. Technically the DC4 outperforms the Fabs, but sound signature, music choice, and fit/function should be the main considerations if you are choosing between these two. Although the half-shell design of the Fabs is interesting.
Audio Earz AUD-5X by Dream Earz: Both have an open and spacious sound but the frequency spectrum and tone of both is different. The Fabs are more focused on the upper end while the 5X is, in comparison, more focused on the lower end offering more weight, punch, and power. Overall the 5X is more detailed than the Fabs and offers a clearer window into the music.
Bass, depending on the track and type, ranges from a little less with the Fabs to significantly less. The Fabs keeps up better with much electronic, but with real drums the Fabs falls a good deal behind as well as when there is a lot of sub-bass. Midrange presentation is similar but relative to the treble and bass the 5X has a better balance. I can hear more detail and ambiance with the 5X which is a bit more transparent. Treble of the 5X is smoother and offers a little more detail than the Fabs.
The 5X gives a more complete and balanced presentation than the Fabs, but the Fabs do have their appeal, especially to someone that doesn’t want too much bass. With some tracks the Fabs become very spacious, besting the 5X, however on average they fall a little short. Someone that wants a colder, lighter presentation and/or that listens to a lot of classical music the Fabs are a great choice, otherwise the 5X would be a good deal.
Wan Xuan i9pro: The Fabs are have a mid-forward presentation that allows the mids to remain in focus as the treble and bass are unassuming while the i9pro adds quite a bit of bass to the presentation in comparison. This presentation difference give the Fabs more apparent detail and better recreation of ambiance in the midrange area. The treble of the i9pro is more prominent with more details in cymbals and other upper midrange/treble region instruments. Bass is different in quantity but fairly close in quality, however due to the quantity in the i9pro the details are brought to the forefront. The i9pro has significantly more sub-bass rumble.
Both are similar in midrange dynamics however the i9pro is superior in bass dynamics and a little better in treble dynamics. Presentation size is similar but the Fabs sound more accurate in presentation of depth and height. The Fabs have better tonality through the midrange but the bass tonality of the i9pro sounds more accurate.
These are more a compliment to each other than a competitor as the Fabs would suit someone that has spacious vocal presentations while the i9pro does better across a wider range of genres. Bass power is definitely different as is treble presentation and the laid back feel of the i9pro is a contrast to the mid-forwardness.
I tried the Fabs with my various sources including the Clip+, iPhone 3G, modded 5.5g iPod feeding my amps, the Arrow, Stepdance, and Pico Slim, and the HUD-MX1. Surprisingly, the iPhone was my favorite portable source as the Fabs were a fantastic match. Not that my other sources sound bad, but the amp-less iPhone sounded surprisingly good. The Fabs also sounded great from my HUD-MX1 headphone out. I didn’t think the combo with the 601 via the HPO was as good as my modded iPod (with an amp) or iPhone, and there is an annoying noise with the 601 in quiet parts and when paused.
Of my amps, I preferred the Arrow by a small margin over the Stepdance, which I preferred over the Pico Slim. Not that any were bad, but the Arrow added a little extra warmth I liked and the Stepdance had a little more low end oomph vs. the Pico Slim. The Fabs are very easy to drive and the Clip+ did quite well also.
The Fabs were enjoyable with every genre I threw at them, but really excelled with vocals, acoustic, classical, opera, classic rock, country, metal, and most pop, having very captivating qualities. I have to say, the Fabs and my Tesla T1 have been my most enjoyable experiences in the headphone world with classical music. Speed for metal isn’t a problem, as the Fabs handled all the metal I threw at them with a good balance as I find a lot of metal to be somewhat mid-forward, and I dislike when that is paired with a mid-forward sound signature. Other genres such as electronic, R&B, rap, and more were still good and absolutely listenable. The wide soundstage made trance very enjoyable, but I have to admit I do like extra bass for those genres.
Do the Fabs Fabulous earphones really live up to the name? Almost in every way! From fit, comfort, ease of use, and sound they are fabulous. The half size custom is nice and oh so easy to insert and remove to go with the comfort. The sound has a fabulous balance across the frequency spectrum as well as between analytical and smoothed sound which gives a very enjoyable sound that I can listen to for hours on end. The soundstage is spacious in both width as well as 3D, enveloping you with music and far surpassing any universal I have heard, and approaches headphone size. The one thing holding me back from saying they are truly fabulous is the cable, which for the version I have is rubbery and not up to par with everything else. However, there are other cable options that can overcome this (and the new silver cable should be awesome). If I had a better cable on mine, the Fabs Fabulous Earphones will be 100% worthy of their name and highly recommended!
[Added 2/9/11] Extended Listening Addition:
After using the Fabs for an extended period of time, especially for long periods of time without switching back and forth, I have really come to appreciate the sound signature and to my ears accurate reproduction. I have been using them primarily with my modded iPod to the Arrow with the bass boost on, but recently decided I didn’t need the bass boost on. The space they create makes me look around from time to time to see who is talking to me, but it is just my music. While I don’t have a favorite as have historically liked to change headphones for new sound signatures, I am thinking the Fabs might be in my top 3 rotation. I grab for them more than anything else, at least now. Sure, I really like the larger space of the EP-10 Plus, but it doesn’t do the mids and treble nearly as well as the Fabs. And I also like the EM3 Pro, and just received my replacement cable for that, the Whiplash TWag v2 OM cable (which is burning in), but the Fabs are more of a draw for me. I am actually thinking of sending the Fabs back to Claus so I can upgrade to the silver cable, as the worst thing about the Fabs is their cable IMO. Anyways, I highly recommend the Fabs to those that want a similar sound signature to the e-Q7 or W2 but want to take the next step in detail with a smooth, liquid presentation that is more spacious and lacks the grain of the others.