The FA-011 LE Japan is a complete reinvention and limited run of one of Fischers classic favourites, the FA-011. Visually there is not a lot of difference, you have the same headband and while the cups are finished better and use a swankier wood, they remain the same shape. Then you see the price difference which is over double with the new model being around £250 and you start too think, I hope a lot more has changed. Fischer Audio is claiming this is indeed the case, thankfully. There is certainly more to what it seems with these, for example, the more aesthetically pleasing wood, Peruvian walnut, has better resonant properties, which alone can increase the sound quality. You then might have seen the new cable it uses, which is a heavily shielded copper cable from Germany’s Schulz Kabel. Then there is everything that is used in the driver sound correction process and I think Fischer Audio put this the nicest “In the design of the frequency correction filter the cheap filtering elements were replaced with spotless components produced by Nichicon (Japan), Panasonic (Japan) and Vishay (USA). The headphones are equipped with the most high-quality bipolar capacitor usually applied in special “audiophile” lines and thin-film low-noise resistors for flawless audio transmission”, so the extra money your paying certainly is going there and with Fischer Audio I have always respected what they give you for your money and I don’t think they are trying to get away from that here.
Now I also want too take some time to say that Fischer Audio have seemingly really pushed forward as a company as of late. Their line up is neat and organized, their website is detailed and in great English and it also has a linked store so you can easily find and purchase products straight up, something that has sometimes been a bit harder to do, I remember times when certain products were pretty much as rare as uranium. As you know I have covered a fair few products from Fischer Audio, I have great relationship with the company and have also loved what they offer at the lower price ranges, with loads of their earphone models featuring in my IEM buying guide. Even though some products are a bit higher end, for example like the FA-011 LE in hand now, I have always wondered what they could do if they really went for a true flagship product and I think that time has come with their new high end brand, Kennerton who at IFA have just announced products such as a planar, hopefully we will see that here soon!
Back too the headphone of focus now and I do have to say I have found a few holes that need picking at with the design. Aesthetically they are awesome, the wood is beautiful and well finished and compliments that semi-open grille that sits in the middle of the cups. No, that is certainly not a problem but I do feel in some areas the build quality is, with the headband being my biggest concern. The yokes are metal but everything up from that turns into a finicky plastic. The suspension system the headphone uses to adjust the headband as you put it on feels the weakest part of the headphone, like I could rip it with my hands weak and it just takes away a bit of the premium feel these headphones otherwise have. The other thing is the cable, its huge, I mean like moving onto speaker cable big. The quality of the cable itself is great, I have no qualms with that, what confuses me is why they have it connecting to only one cup, instead of separating the wires with a y-split so that the weight of the cable is distributed between the two cups, makes sense to me. The cable being removable would also be really cool at this price, just so if you anted you could say, put on a more portable cable but I will let them off for this as they have moved to mini xlr removable cables with their new Kennerton brand. Then on the other end of the cable has a 3.5mm jack, come on now, look at this headphone, it is pretty much open and the girth of the cable is preventing you running around with this in the gym plugged into your smartphone, they talk about it having a 2.5m cable for home use so give that cable a ¼ inch jack at the very least, and even the option for a 4 pin balanced cable.
They do of course throw in the necessary adapter and they also give you an awesome storage pouch, one that is a regular with Fischers Master Series products. It is an enormous padded chest that I feel safe storing headphones in and even use mine for other members of my collection.
Thankfully the headphones are very comfy because for home use, that has to a priority, I hardly ever use my HiFiMAN HE-500s any more because they are just so heavy, why put myself through the pain when I can listen to something much more easy on my ears and neck like Sennheiser HD800… Or these! The headband suspension system may be weak but it works darn well, it feels like you have nothing wrapped around your head, mmmm. The ear pads are a bit shallow but the velour is soft and I hope is getting even softer the more I wear them. The huge microphonic cable is heavy but does a good job at keeping out the way.
Something that is easily taken for granted with headphones designed to be used at home, is that they have a low enough sensitivity (in the case of planars) or a high enough impedance (in dynamic drivers like these) so that you can use the with high gain amps while still having an accurate volume control. These have 160 ohms impedance that is high enough to avoid any background noise with my powerful Questyle CMA800R as well as letting me accurately set the volume so I cant ask for much more. They still don’t have a stupid low sensitivity so you don’t need watts and watts to power these.
The sound is thick, organic and lush, not the most transparent or vivid of sounds, much more like a surreal dream, a great experience but just a little bit blurry. I say this because it is not quite as distinctive as something like the Sennheiser HD580 but that’s not to say it an inferior headphone, because as ever that is not the case. The FA-011 is about connecting you the music, the timbre is powerful and the sound is airy yet not fatiguing, a rare but very pleasant combination I must say. These are in truth quite a balanced headphone although if I was to be very thorough I would be tempted to say the mid-bass has a boost and then then the lower mids have a slight drop before regaining their presence. What that leaves is a very fun headphone.
The bass is not the fastest in the world but it is full and powerful and it gets from a to b with a drama and a thump. If bass leads the way in the track then these headphones make sure your getting the experience, it is a little bit wobbly in a hearty and present way and not in way that says it lacks control. Even though it is a tad loose it is still in no means ever out of control. The tone really does provide richness to the entire sound with these, because of the weight the timbre carries; it gives a real sense of euphoria and connection to the instruments.
Extension is deep and meaningful but the texture is spongier that one that is going to give you a rumble in the pit of your stomach, like just a handful of headphones can pull off. It connects very coherently with the mid-bass, offering a low frequency that really does take some beating.
The midrange is a bit temperamental, there are times when the vocals seem to be spot on and everything is fresh and forward and then others when things don’t seem quite coherent, a bit fuzzy and lacking confidence. I think this is why I feel there is a little drop out in the lower midrange, which can sometimes cause the not ideal sound in some male vocals, if they obviously fall in that precise region. This little niggle obviously causes a few other problems due to knock on, such as it not be the most transparent headphone and smoothing over problems in tracks, complete with a buttery and solid timbre.
Things do start to accelerate a bit into the treble, inevitably leading to a spike at 7.5khz, a spike unlike others, isn’t painful and only gives a crispness to the frequency region. Too keep it very well balanced it still stays pretty strident and although its not a dead straight line, I think these extend pretty neatly too 20khz to get a sense of airiness too the headphones. Although it is always a clearly audible treble, one that does have a bit of splash to it, it doesn’t ever come off as the most exciting or energetic, displaying copious amounts of control too keep itself tempered, smooth and easy on the ears.
Being pretty much open you come to expect that soundstage will be impressive and I have found that too be the case but not for having a straight out huge soundstage, instead for having very select and accurate imaging in a small but level, 3D space. Height, depth and width are not the biggest but they all compliment each other nicely and the obvious addition of height and especially depth still gives it that full feeling, even if it is nowhere near as big as a HD800 or even a HD580, although it is more pushing to what a HE-500 can offer. That being said it remains articulate and still gives that sense of personals pace all the instruments need.
It is other headphones that take a little bit away from this headphone because it’s a competitive price. Headphones from the likes of HiFiMAN have started to really drop in price meaning you can get for as cheap as these and the same goes for HD650 and HD700 from Sennheiser. Compared to the HiFiMAN this is certainly more heavy in the midbass and thicker in texture with a weightier, harder hinting tonal balance. It is certainly a lot more fun and better suited for pop music. Compared to the Sennys, it is a lot closer in signature but I still find the Fischer to be more fun, more pounding in the bass, the Fischer is a right party but it doesn’t quite have the level of refinement of the Sennheisers.
This headphone is a very pleasant experience, the bass is awesome and it doesn’t lose too much on the rest and you can’t beat the look of a wooden headphone either. I am impressed but with what they have managed but it is a serious market out there and you have to be sure you want a bassier and fun signature. For now this gives Fischer a foot in the door for the higher end market and with Kennerton round the corner, I have feeling they are gonna be hitting even harder real soon!