The Custom Art FIBAE Massdrop Exclusive is a true warmth monster. Those looking for a clarity-first, mad detail-retrieving IEM need not apply. This creature is for those who loved the U12, back before tia. It’s all about that rich, chocolaty smoothness, and musicality above all other considerations.
You will not find neutrality here. Yet in the excesses, a kind of naturalness does emerge. This is a thick, extremely full-bodied performer. However, while warmth dominates the signature, it is not devoid of air or articulation. There is a type of balance, but one which favors low-end virtues, giving them a position of prominence.
Treble is subdued and subservient to the other frequencies. However, there is good enough extension to imbue air and atmosphere throughout the stage. A lower treble peak brings out textures and micro dynamics, but make no mistake, this is a seriously smooth listen. Many audiophiles will decry the tuning as veiled or muffled or even muddy. And coming from brighter monitors, you could be forgiven for those impressions. Your brain may take a while to adjust to this darker signature.
Once you’ve had adequate time away from brighter gear, FIBAE ME reveals its highs to be delightfully clean, rich, and eloquent. They aren’t rolled off, but simply quieter than most equipment. This allows for extremely soothing, non-fatiguing sessions which can last hours upon hours. Music feels more whole and coherent when every detail isn’t jumping out at you, demanding your attention. ME is not for the critical dissection of tracks, but for unadulterated pleasure listening.
Lush and romantic qualities permeate the vocals, which have good size on the stage. Fullness and weight accompany unmistakable warmth, to produce a robust, forward profile. You will again need to be adjusted to the signature before you can appreciate just how articulate ME is. For it doesn’t boast its prowess like some IEMs, instead, aiming for a natural, harmonic rendition. You are not met with crisp, sharp edges. In fact, there appears to be a halo of overtones and warmth around every note. It’s the kind of thing you can really lose yourself in.
Electric guitars possess might and authority, while high hats have a softer, more distant feel. But those kick drums are no f**king joke. Instruments are so wonderfully bodied, having all the depth and organicity one could ever want, but lacking some of the bite of more detail-oriented earphones. Yes, you lose some of the stark clarity you may be accustomed to, while gaining a profound musicality which is simply awesome to behold. FIBAE ME is a Rocker’s best friend.
As I mentioned before, bass is all important for this IEM. Piotr toiled for ages to achieve the decay and naturalness of a Dynamic Driver, but with Balanced Armatures. His efforts bore fruit. These don’t sound like ordinary BAs. Are they every bit as visceral as a DD? No. But goddamn are they fun!
Sub-bass has significant presence, rumbling way down low where you can feel it more than hear it. Then a fat hump in the mid-to-upper bass delivers ME’s characteristic warmth. This creates a luscious bloom which absolutely colors the mids, in a way bass-enthusiasts will celebrate. It’s a gloriously old-school, analogue styling.
There is no great amount of texturing to this bass, but the tone is irresistible. It has such a rounded, wholesome sound. While it is not quite on the level of a DD, FIBAE’s attack is powerful. Instead of a ball peen hammer, it’s like a sock full of rocks. Perhaps not as scary on paper, but sweet Jesus will the reality make you question a few of your recent decisions.
Soundstage is about average for a TOTL in-ear. Maybe a bit wider and a bit taller. It has realistic dimensions, not feeling too stretched out on any axis. There’s more than enough stage to space out the performers in a natural fashion. ME’s ability to separate and layer elements is… okay. This is a casualty of the thick, warm voicing, unfortunately. You sacrifice a degree of cleanliness for raw musicality. Another thing you lose is vividness of resolution. FIBAE ME is not a blurry or ill-defined transducer, yet it will not make your jaw drop with otherworldly sharpness.
I wish I still had my U12 to make a comparison, as I think FIBAE ME shares tremendous similarity. Instead, the closest IEM I have is the Empire Ears Legend X. ($2,299, Review HERE)
These are not terribly disparate. Treble is the main difference, where it has more prominence with LX. There’s genuine sparkle, and a honeyed sweetness. ME has neither. Both are very smooth, but ME is smoother, and much warmer. LX’s highs have greater extension, bringing in extra light and air. ME sounds darker by a good degree.
Mids on LX are full and dense. Denser than ME, yet somehow, ME feels fuller. It’s weird, I know. Both are lush, but ME takes it quite a bit further. In contrast, LX is able to retrieve details and texture better. ME’s vocals are almost forward, whereas LX’s sit a step back on the stage.
You may expect bass to be vastly different, since one is BA-derived, and the other utilizes dual dynamic drivers, known as Weapon IX Woofers. In truth, they aren’t night and day. Yes, you do notice that physical slam right away, and an altogether more believable sub-bass. ME tries to make up for it with heightened mid-bass, which gives its lows a more rounded, warm tone. LX is quicker, more textured, and sexy. FIBAE ME is cozy and relaxed.
Soundstage is wider with LX, and deeper. FIBAE has perhaps a touch more height. Separation is cleaner with LX, and resolution sharper. Imaging is equal on both. While LX outperforms ME in most areas, it does so by a very small margin. And you ought to remember the MASSIVE price difference.
Final Audio Design E5000 ($279, Review HERE) is a low budget alternative to the FIBAE ME. Its tuning is super close to what Custom Art aimed for. The treble is fabulously smooth, laidback, and relaxed, much like ME. However, ME may be just a tad more recessed, since E5000 has extra air. Also, it wouldn’t surprise me if E5000’s highs extended further. Vocals are full-bodied and oh so lush on both IEMs. Very full, in fact. Yet ME is noticeably fuller, thanks to a big mid-bass hump. This creates a bloom all throughout the mids, which may not be to everyone’s liking. E5000 sounds cleaner, more reference, and less “fun”. Final Audio’s low-end is awesomely extended, possessing true rumble and that addictive DD impact. It’s also more balanced with the rest of the signature. ME is a bass-head for audiophiles, whereas E5000 is meant to be accurate, in the warmest, most natural way possible. The result is sublime. Soundstage is bigger on E5000, thanks to some special design work. But in most every other aspect, such as imaging, layering, separation and resolution, FIBAE ME is superior.