Custom Art FIBAE 3 – Through the Looking Glass

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Presentation

The FIBAE 3 is an IEM purpose-built for transparency, clarity and air. All its elements come infused with a delicacy and an effortlessness that’s almost unsubstantial in nature. But, it’d be a mistake to call this IEM uninviting or hollow. Because of an exciting sub-bass and a forwardly-placed vocal range, the FIBAE 3 mates remarkable technical performance with a playful felicity; creating an engrossing and engaging soundscape that captivates with detail. Recordings come through with finesse to spare, crafting micro-detail after micro-detail with inspiring ease. Stage expansion and organisation benefit from the FIBAE 3’s immense speed, orchestrating an even-handed, well-separated and expertly-resolved array of instruments; minimally and modestly decayed, yet extravagantly open and abundantly spaced.

And, it does all this whilst remaining smooth as a baby’s bottom. Due to an excellently-controlled upper-treble lift, the FIBAE 3 maintains strict composure. Headroom is always plentiful, and sibilance of any kind is non-existent. The only compromise it makes to achieve its performance is tone, as the FIBAE 3 adopts a noticeably brighter timbre. While it’s neither tinny nor plasticky, a word of warning is warranted for those looking for more natural signatures. Warmth is not its forte, but its tone never strays too far from reality either. The FIBAE 3 – with both speed and space – composes an aural mirage where everything is heard and nothing is out of place; attaining crystalline transparency without losing its giddily sense of juvenility. And while its organicity leaves much to be desired, it is ultimately what it was designed to be: A masterclass in doing ultra-clarity right.

Bass

The FIBAE 3 comes equipped with a tasteful low-end bump  – favouring the sub-bass region in particular. Texture and physicality become second nature to this IEM, as bass notes come through with excellent grit and sufficient warmth. Although the FIBAE 3’s inherent tuning philosophy discourages wetness in its impact, rumble arrives in spades; complementing the IEM’s exceptionally clean stage with episodes of sonorous energy. Excellent bidirectional extension also benefits the bass’s technicalities. Separation, layering and clarity all impress; mating youthful exuberance with life-like definition. The FIBAE 3 segregates kick drums, bass guitars and baritone vocals with great precision, while excellent linearity through the mid-and-upper-bass allow for appropriate decays.

The FIBAE 3 exhibits excellent delineation from the bass, upwards – allowing both its low-end and midrange to shine on their own terms. However, fans of a more atmospheric response may find this undesirable. There’s a lack of interplay between the bass and the rest of the spectrum, which will detract listeners looking for a bit of groove. In return, though, the FIBAE 3 displays excellent stage cleanliness – further bolstering the air produced from its lifted upper-treble. Tone also remains consistent – i.e. erring on bright – but never leans anywhere close to brittle or artificial. The FIBAE 3’s bass is a game of compromise. Piotr has made the best out of the FIBAE 3’s more technical environment, but there’s only so much the man can do. In the end, the listener will have to decide whether bloom and warmth will be missed, if what you get is exceptional rumble, immediacy and control in return.

Midrange

As a reference signature would suggest, the FIBAE 3’s vocal range comes equipped with a brighter tone – imbued with gobs of air, energy and transparency. However, this brightness doesn’t stem from a subdued lower-midrange. In fact, the FIBAE 3 presents instruments with a palpable heft, deftly balancing physicality and buoyancy with male and female vocals alike. Singers occupy a vast and far-reaching expanse with neither bloat nor noise in sight. And yet, the FIBAE 3’s vocal presentation avoids the common trapping of an analytical signature: The upper-mid peak. Exceptional linearity throughout the entire midrange allows instruments to exist as a wholly complete structure – from the fundamental, all the way to the last overtone. Although articulation still takes top-billing, and resolution lacks a completely natural tone to be called top-class, the FIBAE 3 fares exceptionally well with a wide variety of genres, regardless.

And, much of this versatility comes from its surprising forwardness. Unlike most reference pieces, instruments and vocals take up a significant amount of the FIBAE 3’s stage. But, paired with the IEM’s stunningly black background and immensely open stage, this added presence injects the overall presentation with tons of musicality. Midrange notes certainly aren’t the largest – and they don’t cram the stage as much as they liberally occupy it – but it’s the spaces in-between that vastly improve the FIBAE 3’s dynamic energy. Voices pierce through the IEM’s black background, creating exciting contrasts throughout the stage. And, it does so with smoothness to spare. A richness licks every note, compensating for the brighter tone wherever it can. With all this in hand, the FIBAE 3 exudes confidence in its midrange – astounding in articulation, disciplined in decay and boundless in energy. Brightness be damned, this is a quality vocal presentation that showcases an inspiring balance between transparency and humanity; a truly remarkable feat.

Treble

The FIBAE 3’s top-end is absolutely its hallmark trait. A significant upper-treble lift fuels the IEM’s marvelous technical performance – infusing generous amounts of air, detail and transparency into its wide-open soundscape. Yet, smoothness is never lost in the process. A lower-treble dip prevents any amount of over-articulation, even if instruments – like hi-hats, hand claps, “T” sounds, and (sometimes) snare drums – lack solidity and togetherness as a result. It’s a compromise made for the greater good, but I can see why purists of rock music (for example) would dislike this particular trait. The treble is also where the FIBAE 3 draws its immense speed. Notes decay as fast as they form, imbuing its top-end with a graceful shimmer – a soft, silky fizz; rather than an artificially metallic tizz. But, sticking to theme, this benefits the FIBAE 3’s cleanliness – leaving little to no room for any sort of harmonic to exist beyond the fundamental.

And – just like with the FIBAE 2 – Piotr knocks it out of the park with the FIBAE 3’s stage organisation. Constructing an engaging soundscape within the confines of a reference signature is a true tightrope walk. An overtly upfront presentation risks aggression, while attempts at producing headroom may instead be perceived as recessed or uninviting. But – as a result of sheer treble extension – the FIBAE 3 is neither. Despite exceptional air, the FIBAE 3’s soundstage won’t be praised for its size. But, within its well-established parameters, it displays great focus, excellent imaging and admirable left-right separation. While top-end linearity isn’t one of its obvious strengths, mindful tuning has salvaged treble coherence – creating a presentation that’s neither too throaty, nor too hollow; simply open, well-defined and transparent. Again, the FIBAE 3’s treble is a brave gamble. Albeit compromises made in tone and lower-treble presence, the upper-treble rise is a smart move; vastly improving clarity without the harshness that usually comes with.

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About Author

Church boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel S Lesmana’s life revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing monitor feeds for 15-piece bands, engineering recording sessions in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, he’s most likely sitting in front of his laptop typing away about audio gear with fervor and glee. The Indonesia-native has made a name for himself in Singapore, where he’s known to most store employees as “the guy who tries everything, and buys nothing.” Now, with three years of experience under his belt, specializing in custom IEMs and full-sized headphones, he’s determined to try everything for the sake of his audience.

12 Comments

  1. Kal on

    I recently saw your write up on the EE phantom. How do you think the fibae 3 compares with the phantom? thanks

    • Deezel on

      Hi Kal,

      The Phantom and the FIBAE 3 are COMPLETELY different IEMs. The Phantom is a balanced piece with a slightly warm tone, but it has very little colour on its own. It’s overall presentation – from timbre, to texture, to staging, etc. – is determined by the pairing (whether it be the DAP, cable or track). But, it achieves this balance through an elevated mid-bass for warmth, counteracted by an extended treble for stage cleanliness. A neutral lower-midrange and a rise in the upper-midrange gives it presence, but the bass (again) prevents it from going too lean. The Phantom concludes its signature with a linear and relaxed upper treble, to maintain its organic tone and balance.

      The FIBAE 3 has a sub-bass bias, which makes its low-end more rumbly and visceral, but dry and tight in texture. The Phantom achieves similar physicality through sheer bass extension, though the FIBAE 3 is definitely growl-y-er here. The FIBAE 3 has a linear mid-bass which gives its low-end a brighter tone, a drier texture and its vocals leaner body. Balance between the lower-midrange and upper-midrange gives the FIBAE 3 an equally-present vocal range, but the Phantom’s notes are much denser and richer – because of mid-bass heft and the linear upper-treble.

      The FIBAE 3 dips in the lower-treble, which makes it more forgiving here than on the Phantom, but its articulation becomes more diffuse as I mentioned in the review. The Phantom is more tactful and rounded here, particularly with instruments like hi-hats. Finally, the FIBAE 3 implements a huge rise in the upper-treble for clarity, crispness and air, while the Phantom obviously goes the opposite direction. This makes the FIBAE 3 a lot brighter than the Phantom, and gives notes an airy edge. The Phantom – again – chooses to form more rounded and refined notes for a more natural presentation.

  2. Vel on

    Can u compare FIBAE 3 with the earsonics velvet if possible?

    • Deezel on

      Hi Vel,

      Unfortunately, I haven’t heard the Velvet yet, so I can’t comment. My apologies. 🙂

  3. Albert C on

    nice review!
    is it a giant killer? does it stack up against totl flagships I’m terms of micrpdetail? (I’m guessing not)

    • Deezel on

      Hi Albert,

      Well, that of course depends on what kind of giants you’re interested in killing. 😀 The FIBAE 3 is an impressive performer in extension, clarity and definition, but it has drawbacks of its own compared to the most well-renowned flagships on the scene. IEMs like the Zeus-XR or the A18 will best it in terms of note resolution, solidity, and – above all – soundstage expansion and headroom. But, what makes the FIBAE 3 impressive is those differences aren’t as large as the price gap suggests. If you’re shooting for TOTL quality, the FIBAE 3 might not necessarily do it for you. But, if you’re looking for some of the best technical performance the mid-tier has to offer, then the FIBAE 3 will absolutely shine.

  4. Peter V on

    I am curious how this compared so Custom Art’s previous Music Two IEM?

    • Deezel on

      Hi Peter,

      The Music Two is very similar to the FIBAE 2, except it’s significantly less bass-y. So, with that in mind, the comparison between the FIBAE 3 and the FIBAE 2 – for the most part – should apply.

      • Peter V on

        Thank you for your quick reply and disregard of my initial grammatical error 🙂

  5. Syracuse on

    That is some great value right there. Putting this on the short list for expansion.

  6. Syracuse on

    I had the 8.2 and while it is an excellent ciem the tonality and treble didn’t please me. This on the other hand looks like incredible value for money.

    • Deezel on

      Hi Syracuse,

      The FIBAE 3 is brighter, more open and more energetic than the H8.2, but it retains intimacy and engagement in the midrange. I think it’ll prove a mighty contender in the bang-for-the-buck space.

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