e-earphone Japan – Featuring Impressions from FitEar, FAudio, Rhapsodio and more!

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ACS Custom

Up next, we leave Asia for a little taste of the West. ACS Custom is an industry veteran from the United Kingdom, who’ve long specialised in silicone custom in-ear monitors. I listened to their flagship Emotion to stunning results. Take a look!

ACS Custom Emotion: The Emotion – next to FlipEars’ Axis – was the most surprising IEM I heard during my trip. The 5-driver flagship reminds me heavily of the Empire Ears Phantom throughout the upper-mids and treble. A 2-3kHz rise gives the Emotion intimate, rich and full-bodied vocals, while a 6kHz peak is responsible for articulation. Both imbue a roundedness and energy to the final timbre, which comes across immersive, natural and realistic – an organic standout.

Instruments are well-balanced and well-separated, whilst at the same time sporting realistic size. They fill pockets of the stage as resonant, bloomy notes, rather than compact packages of data as is usually the case with more hi-fi, detail-driven in-ears. However, the Emotion isn’t as shelved down past 8-10kHz as the Phantom is. There’s a healthy amount of air there, as well as crispness for hi-hats and snare drums. The Emotion comes across as the brighter – more neutral – of the two as a result, but the linearity of its treble preserves tonal realism, coherence and finesse without compromise.

Another contributor to this is a slightly calmer mid-bass. Kick drums for example are a touch clearer and skin-focused than warm or bloomy. But, the bass region as a whole has an immensely natural tone; soft on the ear and densified, yet authoritative, defined and well-layered all the same. This is an IEM that I can clearly see Phantom lovers absolutely adoring. Perhaps, even the Phantom’s detractors who ask for a touch more treble/less bass will find the Emotion as a viable alternative as well. As a smooth, engaging, natural monitor, I’ve hardly heard better throughout all of Japan.

Astell&Kern/JHAudio

JHAudio is a company that needs no introduction: Easily one of the largest in-ear brands the world has ever seen. In Japan, they premiered their latest universal collaboration with Astell&Kern: The Diana. Sporting a new sleek, metallic design – and a uniquely wholesome, rich signature – JHAudio and Astell&Kern’s latest is anything but standard fare.

Astell&Kern/JHAudio Diana: The Diana is a gorgeous vocal performer: Warm, enveloping and luscious, yet articulate as well. A healthy rise throughout the mid-bass and lower-midrange construct romantic, bloomy instruments that radiate warmth throughout the stage. However, the lower- and upper-treble combat it with sufficient articulation. There’s little effort made to clean the stage pristinely, but the treble brilliantly rides the line between crisply clear and tonally sound.

Cymbals and hi-hats cut through the mix with excellent sparkle – and a dip around 8kHz guarantees smoothness – but the star of the show is clearly those wholesome, gutsy lower-mids. Male vocals sound gorgeously rounded, and electric guitars sing with a belly full of fat, rich tones. It should be noted however, that female balladeers, violins, woodwinds and other higher-pitched instruments may come across sounding a touch too buttery, heavy or harmonic; chesty, perhaps.

Instruments are unapologetically large and intimate, but sufficient treble extension prevents them from ever congesting the stage. The image it posits is neither impressively wide nor deep, but there’s enough space between the listener and the performance to invoke a natural sense of headroom and air. The Diana is the epitome of romantic and lush done right. It’s thickly-coloured and knows it, but I can’t help but harken back to 70’s, tube-amp-driven guitars, rock vocals and undamped tom toms with JHAudio’s latest concoction: A luscious, bloomy and instantly engaging piece to look out for.

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About Author

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

14 Comments

  1. Hi Deezel,

    How did you came by the Flipears? I only know that they are Philippine made. Any more impressions on the Axis?

      • Hey Rhyan,

        I first stumbled upon them on Instagram, so when I saw their products at e-earphone, I instantly wanted to try them. I got a couple minutes on a couple of their other models, but I forgot which they were. They shared a common house sound with a crisp treble, an emphasis on detail and a neutral tone, which I honestly find a bit generic at this point – not bad per se, but it’s something I’ve already heard hundreds of times before. So, the AXIS was clearly the one that stood out and really stuck with me throughout my entire trip.

        Cheers,
        Daniel

  2. Hey deezel I wanted to know how the fitear togo 334 faced against the fitear est and fitear 2 which one is a better balanced out of the 3 but with still having a mid-centric signature

    • Hey Neil,

      All three are pretty well-balanced. The most mid-centric of the three is definitely the 334.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

  3. Hey Deezel. Thanks for your interesting article. I have a Fitear model bearing the number: 084537. It appears to be from the Universal Series. Can you tell me if this is the case and what current model if any it most resembles?

    • Hi Tim,

      Unfortunately, I can’t find out what model it is by serial number alone. If the model number isn’t printed on the bulbous concha area, the only other indicator would perhaps be colour, because FitEar usually colour-code their universals. But for the most accurate information, I’d recommend e-mailing FitEar directly and asking them for clarification.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

  4. Hey deezel I am really interested in the faudio major can you describe the signature more, what other iems does it compete against interms of the totl(fourte, legend x, solaris, u12t,trio) and would rnb, vocals, hippop and house work well with the iem, thanks, also what are your favourite top 3 iems regardless of price in universal

    • Hi Neil,

      Unfortunately, I only caught this comment after replying to yours on the CanJam SG 2018 article. I hope you won’t mind referring to the comments section of that article as an answer to your question. Again, I can’t really describe the Major any further than I already have given the brief time I had with it. Is there anything in particular signature-wise that you’d like to know?

      Cheers,
      Daniel

        • I’ll copy and paste it here:

          “Hey Neil,

          I talked about the Major quite a bit in my e-earphone article here: https://theheadphonelist.com/e-earphone-japan/4/. I’m afraid I can’t say much more without another audition, but I have talked to FAudio about a potential collaboration with the Major.

          I can’t really speak to the comparisons you’re asking for, because I haven’t listened to them side-by-side with the Major. I can say that the Major is a step above its single-DD’ed brethren like the Dita Dream or the Sennheiser IE800S, but I don’t know whether it’s on par with technical giants like the Fourté. In terms of staging for example, the Fourté definitely has a more transparent stage. But when you take into account how much the Fourté sacrifices tonally in the process, all of a sudden the Major sounds like the more enjoyable option. Really, it’s too complex of a comparison for me to speak blindly on without an A/B audition, so you’ll have to wait on that.

          To put it simply, I think the Major punches considerably above its price, but we have to be realistic too. ????

          Given the Major’s tonal balance, it would work really well with hip-hop and house music. When you start talking about R&B and vocals, it really depends on what kind of R&B you listen to and what you look for from vocals. If the kind of R&B you listen to is more dreamy and vibe-y ala Miguel, for example, I think the Major would work really well. If it’s more pop-oriented ala John Legend, then it depends on how you like your bass. I think the Major’s low-end is guttural, visceral and placed just right, but with those genres of tracks, it may outshine the vocals a bit – not in presence, but in engagement and musicality.

          If you want vocals to be the clear focus of the ensemble, the Major isn’t perhaps for you. But then again, none of the TOTLs you mentioned do that either, so I’m guessing that’s not what you’re fully looking for. In terms of vocal clarity, the Major performs really well. Its treble is a touch darker and smoother than the Fourté’s, so instruments aren’t as crisp as the ones on there. But as a result, the Major is more pleasing to listen to and less metallic-sounding. If you want more body and wetness with your vocals, the Major isn’t too much for that. The Major’s vocals are on the cleaner side, but again, they’re very refined-sounding, so they won’t come across lean at all.

          My top three universal IEMs (i.e. IEMs that aren’t available in custom form, so the Legend X and U12t aren’t included) at the moment would probably be the Major, Earsonics’ Grace and Jomo Audio’s Trinity Brass. I love the Major for the reasons I described on my e-earphone article. Earsonics’ Grace has a wonderfully elegant, refined, gorgeous signature that my colleague Nic so accurately described in his review: https://theheadphonelist.com/earsonics-grace/. And, the Trinity to me fuses technical performance and musicality in such a wonderful way. It’s a fun-sounding, coherent and engaging piece with an effortless and not-showy technical foundation underneath.”

          • Well thanks for the detail, I will give a quick run down of iems I used to have ie80, ie800 , sm64/earsonics velvet, oriolus mkii, phonak pfe 232 to then picking up the andromeda which was amazing but had a bad fit to finally using the fitear tg334 which had great vocals, I listen to a lot of rnb (miguel ofcourse), old school hippop, triphop and country so for me mids and treble are important as is bass, so now you know my history interms of iems, I guess I learn towards warmish clear dynamic sound as fitear tg334 has a very dynamic bass but is a bit bloated

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