Custom Art FIBAE Black (€450)
The FIBAE Black is slightly warmer and denser-sounding than the FIBAE 4. Its instruments are unified by a very light whiff of warmth, while the FIBAE 4’s are more separated, airy and tight. Though, in midrange projection and vibrance, they are very, very similar. What then makes the FIBAE 4 the more energetic of the two is its sparklier treble. Presence along 5kHz and 8kHz give the FIBAE 4 a brighter, crisper edge. But, in terms of overall quantity, the FIBAE 4’s top-end isn’t too much greater than the Black’s. So, they can both be considered equally linear and realistic, despite lightly differing tonal hues.
Technically, the Black puts up a great fight. Its stage is wonderfully stable, well-defined and expansive. When it comes to background blackness, the Black does win out a hair. However, the FIBAE 4 has the edge in resolution and tactility. When you listen to hi-hats and ride cymbals, although they may be heard on the Black’s just as much as they are on the FIBAE 4, the latter’s reproduction sounds more tactile and corporeal. The Black loses a tad of integrity further up the range to the FIBAE 4. This is also because of the FIBAE 4’s more recessed lower-mids, which gives its notes more definition, clarity and contrast. This is what allows instruments like those to jump out at the listener more effectively, and boost realism.
Custom Art FIBAE 2 (€475)
Compared to its sibling, the FIBAE 2 is a more upfront-sounding monitor with a greater midrange emphasis. Images are larger in size and richer in timbre, assuming a more wall-of-sound presentation. However, this intimacy also comes from a significantly smaller soundstage. The FIBAE 4 expands far further, especially in terms of width. It also achieves stronger stereo spread with a more convincing surround sound sensation. Tonally, the FIBAE 4 is the cleaner-sounding of the two with tighter, faster, crisper and airier notes. It wins out by a sizeable margin in terms of resolution and transparency too.
The FIBAE 2’s lows are richer, darker and fuller than the FIBAE 4’s more concentrated hits. Nevertheless, the latter wins out in physicality and slam because of its superior extension. Texture more easily comes through as well. The same goes for the top-end. The FIBAE 2’s comes across more blunted. Although its top-end extension is fine for a dual-driver IEM, it simply can’t compete with the FIBAE 4’s. This is shown in the latter’s far cleaner, stabler and more transparent stage. If I were being honest, the FIBAE 4 beats out its younger sibling in just about every technical regard by a clear margin. If you own the FIBAE 2 and you crave leaps in cleanliness, resolution and imaging precision, the FIBAE 4 is a very strong option.
Custom Art FIBAE 3 (€525)
The FIBAE 3 is a closer competitor to the FIBAE 4 both tonally and technically. In terms of sheer size, the two aren’t far off. However, the FIBAE 4 has the more proportional stage. Its expansion in terms of width and depth are near-equal, resulting in a near-perfectly spherical sound field. The FIBAE 3 is noticeably wider than it is deep, which results in lead instruments that are more upfront and panned instruments that sound further away. This gives the FIBAE 4 the more believable surround sound experience; immersive and realistic. The FIBAE 3 meanwhile comes across a touch more flat.
In the lows, the FIBAE 4 is a touch meatier and more impactful. The FIBAE 3 perhaps has a hair more sub-bass content, but it really is splitting hairs as far as bass quantity is concerned. What is clear though, is that the FIBAE 4 is the victor in terms of bass extension, as the lows there possess a more realistic sense of slam. The FIBAE 3 possesses a more vibrant upper-midrange that gives it a touch more musicality than the FIBAE 4, while the latter’s more laid-back approach gives instruments more depth and air. The low-treble is the clearest discrepancy between the two. The FIBAE 3’s strong 5kHz dip will sound diffuse without proper adaptation, while the FIBAE 4’s is more tactile, coherent and realistic-sounding.
The FIBAE 4 is Custom Art’s most impressive technical effort yet: Clean, vast and precise in imaging. At the same time, it’s Piotr’s most cleverly-tuned piece as well, getting away with more guiltless colourations than my hands can count. From a hefty yet airy bass, to a smooth, feathered yet crystal clear treble, the FIBAE 4 pulls off its many balancing acts with great finesse. Admittedly, its upper-mids were less successful; slightly unexciting dynamically. But, besides that – and with the tech and asking price in mind – this in-ear is quite difficult to fault. With the FIBAE 4, Piotr has given us his interpretation of a mainstream sound, and – in true, time-tested Custom Art fashion – it’s as clever, unique, balanced and refined as ever.