Custom Art FIBAE 2
Custom Art’s FIBAE 2 has stood firm as my benchmark for sub-$1000 in-ear monitors. Despite having been usurped by Custom Art’s very own FIBAE Black, the dual-driver’s performance continues to impress relative to its peers. Unlike the Avalon’s brighter, leaner tilt, the FIBAE 2 possesses a warmer sound with full-bodied notes and softer transients. Quick comparisons will create the perception that it isn’t as clear or detailed as the Avalon. The latter’s crisp treble almost guarantees it so. But, the Custom Art monitor does jab back in several, more subtle aspects. The FIBAE 2 possesses greater depth and height, leaving the Avalon sounding a tad flatter by comparison. Its notes sound denser and more solid as well. So, instruments punch with an almost blunt force, while the Avalon’s transients are more glassy in nature.
Because of the upper-treble discrepancy, the Avalon’s main advantage lies in air. Every note is surrounded by pockets of space, freeing up headroom for micro-details to come through. Conversely, the FIBAE 2’s thick and dense delivery coheres instruments together to create a collective wall of sound. This is most evident in the lower-mids and mid-bass, where the FIBAE 2 generates more fun. As a result, it comes off as the more immersive, engaging and active piece. The Avalon surrounds you with sound, rather than immersing you in it. Its crisp, clear and airy sig is suited towards those who crave detail and bite to their snare drums, cymbal work and electric guitars. The FIBAE 2 is a warmer piece that’s duller in its articulation, but energetic nonetheless – ideal for rock or metal connoisseurs who prefer a smoother touch.
The Avalon and IE800S are aimed towards very similar target audiences. Both offer a fun, dynamic sound packed with energy, clarity and contrast. Expectedly then, the two share several striking similarities – the first of which lies in tonal balance. The IE800S’ big, boisterous bass and crisp, open treble meet in the middle to conceive a neutral tone. The Avalon was birthed from a similar foundation. But, a comparatively more reserved mid-bass and a sharper 10kHz peak tip it towards brighter territories. Because of this, the IE800S possesses the blacker, cleaner background. Like the FIBAE 2, its coherence also gifts it greater stage depth and a more evenly spherical image. The two in-ears sport very similar midranges – crisp, and neutral in both positioning and tone. So, the bass and treble largely decide its final structure.
Down low is where the two are most different. In terms of technical performance, the IE800S’s dynamic bass brings immense resolution, physicality and texture. Its thumps consistently sound genuine with a natural sense of decay. That longer decay also allows a longer look at the note, further bolstering resolution. And, it bridges the gap between the low-end and low-mids seamlessly too. As I mention in Bass, that bridge is what I felt the Avalon lacked. Although a quick bass does have its place, a a hair more decay would’ve made the low-end sound more life-like with little compromise. The IE800S also possesses greater quantity to more effectively counterbalance the top-end. Combined with the treble’s more compressed transients, the IE800S is the more agreeable in-ear to listen to. Conversely, the Avalon has more of a bite.
The Avalon makes a worthwhile addition to the sub-$1000 market. Although its sig isn’t one to turn heads, there’s much to praise in how well it executes many of its technical feats. Through clever tuning and proprietary tech, Nocturnal Audio have produced one of the most well-defined, nuanced and clear soundscapes in the entry-to-mid-tier space. Despite some compromises in naturalness and warmth, the Avalon maintains just enough vibrance to keep listeners coming back for more. Personally, I’d love to see them delve into thicker, more harmonic signatures and maintain a similar calibre of technical performance. More superficially, I’d love to see more effort put into packaging and branding. But again, this is a great release from a talented group of individuals, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.