Custom Art FIBAE 2 (€475)
Despite similarly stellar performance in imaging and resolution, the FIBAE siblings produce two very different sonic palates. The FIBAE 2 carries a v-shaped response – emphasising mid-bass as well as the lower-treble – accompanied by a darker timbre and a contrast-y dynamic presentation. Its older brother, on the other hand, is more w-shaped, mating gorgeous transparency with pure engagement through boosts in the sub-bass, midrange and upper-treble. While the FIBAE 2 takes a more jab-y approach to transients – with more punch than sparkle – the FIBAE 3 is defined by its supreme air – letting notes float freely throughout the stage.
Contrasting the FIBAE 3’s more textured bass, the FIBAE 2 endows its low-end with great richness and sumptuous warmth. Notes spread farther with a more atmospheric sense of impact, while the FIBAE 3 chooses to prioritise clarity, layering and precision. Improved bidirectional extension gifts the FIBAE 3 superior technical performance. Though, surprisingly, the FIBAE 2 only just beats out its bigger brother in terms of quantity. The FIBAE 3 is – by no means – thin or feeble down low, even if its immense speed may somewhat suggest so. The FIBAE 2’s warmer and fatter response just sounds heavier in comparison; compromising on clarity and resolution in the process.
Sticking to theme, the FIBAE 2 has the weightier, richer and more harmonic midrange. Drawing warmth from the upper-bass and the lower-midrange, the IEM presents instruments with a softer touch, while the FIBAE 3 excels at micro-dynamic presentation; portraying micro-details as stars against a black, night sky. Because of the FIBAE 2’s relatively calmer upper-treble, vocals are also more concentrated and centre-focused, rather than open or airy. As a result, the FIBAE 3 has the more transparent presentation, but the FIBAE 2’s bodied notes pose great competition in resolution. Headroom benefits from the FIBAE 3’s midrange linearity, while the FIBAE 2 is equipped with the more natural tone.
Treble is where the two are least alike. The FIBAE 2 emphasises a lower-treble peak for articulation, sometimes introducing brittleness to poorer recordings. Here, the FIBAE 3 dips for smoothness, but – again – articulation may lack solidity as a result. The latter’s upper-treble lift causes an inherently brighter and more open timbre, while the FIBAE 2’s calmer top-end allows it to maintain both body and organicity. Superior extension solidifies the FIBAE 3’s stage – aiding its transparency – while the FIBAE 2 relishes in overtones to produce a bolder, more euphonic and cohesive soundscape. Both IEMs excel at spatial resolution, but the FIBAE 2 has superior central focus, while separation is the FIBAE 3’s forte.
Nocturnal Audio Avalon (S$629)
The Avalon is a three-driver CIEM from Singaporean manufacturer, Nocturnal Audio. Similarly targeting the mid-tier market with exceptional clarity, the Avalon and the FIBAE 3 tread different paths toward a common goal. The former focuses on contrast and articulation, producing dynamism and energy through lean, clean and crispy notes. Like the FIBAE 2, it adopts a v-shaped response to evoke explosiveness and immediacy, while the FIBAE 3 relies on sheer air to do the same. The latter is also the smoother IEM, while the Avalon is noticeably more aggressive up top and down low; the main contributor to its fun signature.
The Avalon’s bass response sits somewhere between the FIBAE 2’s and the FIBAE 3’s, deftly balancing voluminous, bodied impacts with precision in layering and clarity. There’s a nice mix of texture and wetness in the Avalon’s low-end, mostly due to its AEX technology – capable of exhibiting exceptional delineation between the bass and the lower-midrange. The FIBAE 3’s, by comparison, is less punchy, but it compensates with superior clarity, decay and definition. They share similarly neutral tones – though the Avalon is just slightly richer – but the Singaporean IEM wins out on organicity because of the FIBAE 3’s drier nature.
The midrange is where the two completely flip sides. The Avalon’s attenuated lower-midrange endows it with a heavily articulative vocal presentation. Instruments sound extremely crisp and crystalline, but they lack harmonic richness as a result. The Avalon’s upper bass does compensate for this to a degree, but it won’t be for those looking for a meatier midrange. The FIBAE 3 sports a better balance between the lower-and-upper midrange, balancing transient attack with exceptional smoothness and grace. Tone is still brighter here – due to the generous upper-treble lift – but the Avalon has the more fatiguing presentation due to its aggression; well-controlled, but aggressive nonetheless.
Again, the two diverge in the treble. A lower-treble peak further adds to the Avalon’s clarity, rounding out transients in an effort to boost note resolution. The FIBAE 3 does the complete opposite; introducing a lower-treble dip to ensure smoothness within its airy signature. As a result, transients within the FIBAE 3 feel more wispy. Both exhibit excellent separation, but they certainly differ in spatial presentation. The FIBAE 3 separates along the x-axis, while the Avalon is more depth-reliant. The Avalon showcases excellent extension as well – supporting its stable stage – but lacks the FIBAE 3’s upper-treble emphasis. This solidifies its neutral timbre, with the FIBAE 3 sounding brighter and airier in comparison.
The Custom Art FIBAE 3 is a paragon of clarity. Boasting brilliant end-to-end extension and marvellous transparency, Piotr and his team have once again proven their reign over the mid-tier market. While their previous efforts have all approached warmer ends of the spectrum, the FIBAE 3 is as much a welcome change as it is a substantial risk – attempting the balancing act between clarity, smoothness, engagement and ease. But, despite some compromises along the way, the FIBAE 3 successfully delivers one of the most promising, value-oriented reference IEMs the market has ever seen. Evoking speed, cleanliness and finesse at every turn – yet never forgetting how important fun is in an IEM’s sonic palate – it just goes to show how far Custom Art have come from their humbler beginnings. And now, with the FIBAE line batting a thousand, I cannot wait to see what else they have up their sleeves.