Today we’re reviewing the Custom Art FIBAE 2 custom in-ear monitor.
Around 260 kilometres from the Baltic Sea and nestled on the Vistula River sits Poland’s capital and largest city: Warsaw. It was here in 2012 that a former reviewer and enthusiast of portable audio gear Piotr Granicki founded Custom Art. Since then the company has seen remarkable success, placing themselves among the elite of Custom In-ear Monitor producers yet are still providing some of the best price vs performance custom IEMs out there.
In 2015 CA (Custom Art) delivered a new technology which they call FIBAE, which stands for Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone. If you’ve heard of this before then you’ll know what it does but for the people out there who don’t know, it basically means that earphones fitted with FIBAE will allow their owners to forgo the hassle of trying to find the right source to pair them with. You can read more details about FIBAE technology here: https://thecustomart.com/fibae/
The FIBAE 2 sports dual balanced armature drivers, one handling the lows and mids while the other one takes on treble duty. Early impressions from various sources have been positive and now they’re here at Prime Audio. So without further ado let’s take a look and a listen to the Custom Art FIBAE 2.
The FIBAE 2 starting price is 1900 PLN / 475 EUR and can be ordered directly from the Custom Art website: https://thecustomart.com/
“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” ARISTOTLE
This product was provided for the purpose of an honest review. I’m not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions here are my own.
- Matchability with different sources
- Rich and engaging sound
- Imaging, stereo separation
- More affordable than many other CIEMs
- Nothing noteworthy
- Single Low/Mid, Single proprietary High
- 113dB @1kHz @0.1V
- 7.1 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.5 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
- 10Hz-16500Hz (+-10dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)
- Silicone or Hollow Acrylic body
Package and accessories
The FIBAE 2 arrived in a black, cardboard box, inside which you’ll find a very nice PELI 1010 hard carry case, as well as a more portable clamshell, carry case. The good stuff is found in the hard case and includes the FIBAE 2 earphones, wax cleaning tool, drying pellet and a welcome brochure/warranty card that includes the CIEM manufacture date and serial number. There’s not a lot included but it’s really all you need although it would have been nice to see a cleaning cloth included.
The included 2-pin detachable cable seems to be the standard type that comes with many CIEMs. It’s a little thin above the Y-split but it’s very supple, lightweight and unobtrusive. It comes with a chin slider and terminates in an L-shaped plug. Strain reliefs are good from top to bottom.
Build, comfort and customization
On the website’s order page they have a great customizing application that lets you browse the various colours and styles available. You can personalize almost every part of the CIEM such as the faceplate, shell and canal colour and logo for each side.
There are a bunch of options available but just for kicks when asked which colours I wanted I told the guys to “have at it” and let them decide on the design. I think it was a good decision as the final product looks fantastic in my opinion.
What I ended up with is blue faceplates with a swirling, galaxy-like design, complete with cosmic dust and glittering stars, matching shells and the Custom Art logo in white. The faceplates join seamlessly with the shells and there are no visible flaws or bubbles in the acrylic. The end result comes together in a CIEM that looks and feels fantastic and feels premium and durable.
Fit and comfort are great.
I can wear these for hours without any hint of discomfort. The seal remains consistent when I’m talking or moving my jaw. The fit, of course, relies on sending the team at CA a good set of ear impressions to work with so if you’re planning on ordering something make sure you read through the impressions requirements on the website and let your audiologist know exactly what is required to get the best result.
The Custom Art FIBAE 2’s sound is much like it is described on the website: “bold, powerful, yet smooth”. It has a warmth that belies its cleanliness and clarity. Often when we think of a warm IEM we think of muted or veiled midrange but that isn’t the case here. There’s a rhythm and timing that makes the FIBAE 2 feel like it’s always ready to go at the starting gun but is never rushed or frantic, rather there’s sense of effortlessness and confidence in its presentation.
Despite the warm undertones, the tonal balance is such that no particular section feels exaggerated or subdued, it’s all on the table in an engaging but non-fatiguing manner. Music with the F2 is full bodied but still feels lithe and agile without any of the sluggish characteristics and colouring that often accompany such body in IEMs with a low driver count.
Bass has a wonderful definition and texture giving kick drums that initial impact and attack, paired with just the right amount of decay to give the low-end power while maintaining a conservative level that doesn’t intrude over the midrange or treble. They don’t have that fake sounding snap that some IEMs have but one that sounds more natural and intensely satisfying.
Often the more entry-level tiered products will try to wow you with a meaty bass, that makes you feel as if you’re getting smacked upside the head with a down-filled pillow but the FIBAE 2 delivers a more balanced, very controlled and defined one that is cohesive in the overall spectrum and elicits an emotional response.
Something that really enhances the immersion factor is the resonance in the shells from bass notes, even those that aren’t the highlight of a song but just an accompaniment. Even at tame levels, the bass produces a visceral and physical experience and all the while maintains its mature composure. A good example of this effect is “K.O.F” from iamthemorning’s Belighted album.
The bass has that powerful presence yet doesn’t in the least hinder or obscure the often timid sounding vocals of Marjana Semkina. Sub-bass is equally as impressive and just as mature as its mid-bass counterpart. It’s not going to rock your world with quantity but the quality of it is sure to leave a smile on your face.
The FIBAE 2’s midrange is intoxicating and engaging and seems to put emphasis on the middle region more so than the usual upper midrange boost that’s so popular and what I sometimes think of as “poor man’s detail”. Instead, the FIBAE 2 brings the forwardness down the range a little so deep male vocals sit back a little further than those of Loreena McKennitt.
Listening to “The Gates of Istanbul” from Loreena’s An Ancient Muse just about had me prostrating in front of these CIEMs in unadulterated worship in awe of her melodic crooning and the exotic mix of traditional Celtic string instruments. Again my will to remain dignified almost collapsed when I heard the guitars in “The Lonely Views of Ondors” from The Art of Navigating by the Stars.
Heck, for this section I almost feel as if I could write down all the superlatives I can think of and still get it right. Ludovico Einaudi’s “Indaco” sounds majestic and hypnotizing. Many an IEM has fallen prey to the heavy piano notes in this track but the FIBAE 2 makes me feel as though I’m listening to it live and the subtle and delicate segments sound every bit as impressive as the crescendos.
Treble is presented at a tasty level to complement and balance out the bass and midrange. The extension and timbre are excellent and it gives the FIBAE 2 energy and gusto but it remains smooth and non-fatiguing. However, if there is inherent sibilance in a recording you’ll still hear it, as I discovered with my usual test song for sizzle: Utada Hikaru’s “Traveling”. In a normal scenario though the treble is a true delight.
There’s a kind of raw effect to the treble (which in a way contradicts my earlier comment about it being smooth) that gives it an unfettered energy but one that is extremely well controlled without granularity. The FIBAE 2 has plenty of air up top and a dynamic openness that defies the warm undertones present throughout.
Soundstage and imaging are the icing on the cake with the FIBAE 2. Those properties mentioned about the treble really come into play here, as does the natural decay found across the board but where this CIEM really shines is in its stereo separation. In “The Last Dive of David Shaw” from Departure Songs by We Lost the Sea, the stereo separation and soundstage are astoundingly impressive.
Headroom is expansive, wide and deep, yet the positional cues are precise and easy to visualize. The FIBAE 2 can dissect music and hurtle separate elements at you from anywhere in the space with perfect timing and positioning. What might sound like a wall of sound on a lesser platform is apportioned and individual instruments are isolated and presented as if they’re partitioned and the effect is probably the best I’ve heard in a mid-tier product.
Sources and compatibility
So does the FIBAE technology work? Quite simply: yes it does. It does indeed. Across all the sources I tested with the frequency response remained consistent and the differences you’ll hear are the nuances and properties of the DAC driving things. So rather than trying to find synergy with a chain that has the best power or impedance output you can enjoy scaling of a different kind – the FIBAE 2 is a great tool for discerning the inherent nature of your various DACs. Just plug them into something and you’ll be rewarded.
The Fusion is inEarz’ newest six driver CIEM which is due for official release very soon. It’s perhaps not the fairest of comparisons considering the Fusion has three times the driver count and will likely cost significantly more but I can only use what I have on hand to compare with, which at this stage is very limited as far as CIEMs go.
The Fusion has a more weighted bass but it’s not quite as textured as the F2 and doesn’t have the same defined edge and transients. Despite having more quantity in the bass the Fusion smooths it over and doesn’t hit with the same aggressive rawness that makes the F2 so fun to listen to.
Midrange is more forward on the Fusion but again its transients are less defined and have a rounded edge which makes the presentation smoother and less gritty. Where the Fusion pulls ahead here though is its instrument separation and rendering of complex passages. It has a cleaner and more refined approach and superior resolution.
The Custom Art FIBAE 2 has a more energetic treble where the Fusion once again goes for a softer and less aggressive one, putting more emphasis instead on it’s upper midrange. This give the FIBAE 2 a slightly lighter and more airy high end. I’m not going to crown either IEM as a winner here because they’re both excellent in their own way. What I will say though is the FIBAE 2 gives an extremely strong performance against far more expensive and more technically complex alternatives.
Again not the ideal comparison, the SA-50 is M-Fidelity’s new flagship model with over double the driver count (5 per side) and roughly double the price. M-Fidelity describes it as A revelation in balance and details, space and dynamics.”
The SA-50 has all the bass impact of the FIBAE 2 but brings it with more clarity and refinement. In fact, clarity is a staple of the SA-50 and makes many other IEMs sound a bit veiled. It’s midrange too, has superior clarity and resolution. What the FIBAE 2 brings to the table is that raw excitement – like the shackles are off and it’s time to party. The SA-50 has a ludicrously crisp and clean treble that doesn’t excite the same way as the FIBAE 2 but will amaze you with its clarity and extension.
One area that FIBAE 2 dominates the SA-50 is in the amount of customization and colour options available and the online tool gives you a visual representation in real time to help you choose the perfect design. In contrast, the M-Fidelity customization options are quite limited but they sure deliver a fantastic sound.
Custom Art FIBAE 2 Conclusion
The Custom Art FIBAE 2 just knocks it out of the park and ticks all the boxes in the process. Every aspect is done right, from the customization options, build quality and price to the dynamic, energetic and ever so emotive musicality that it brings to the table. Let’s not forget also that you can plug it into pretty much anything and still get amazing results thanks to the FIBAE technology.
This should be a wake-up call for manufacturers and consumers alike who believe you need a huge driver count with a price to match in order to make an outstanding IEM. I can’t wait to see how the competition responds and what Custom Art can do next (spoiler: FIBAE 3 will be available soon).
If you’ve thought about going the CIEM route before then this has to be an ideal place to start. Even if you’ve got several CIEM’s already and have the itch for another this one deserves your consideration.
Maybe one day I’ll even learn how to pronounce the name!