2016 was, without doubt, a good year for the site and we reviewed countless awesome products. In all the excitement easily the biggest surprise and perhaps even my favourite headphone of the year was the successfully crowdfunded Diva and Diva Pro from Fiil. This is a company that are not only innovating the future of personal audio but doing so in a very polished manner. While they are very likely using Kickstarter and IndieGoGo simply as marketing, they were back at it with a campaign for their latest line up additions, a pair of very tech savvy wireless IEMs, the Carat and Carat Pro. Now they are currently in the void between being Kickstarted and available to the mass markets but the Pro version of the Carat I will be reviewing today is going to retail for $249 and should be hitting stockist in June.
The Carat Pro
It seems like Fiil is well and truly moving forward with their plans to completely dominate the commercial headphone space. I honestly see it happening if the public catches a whiff of what they are doing. It is so much more appealing than what the other “big” names such as Beats are doing. When you have such a broad set of uses for a product it actually makes it harder to find a place to start so let’s try and get our heads around this earphone with its plethora of features.
At the forefront, these earphones are advertised as a sports product. Most of their capabilities are geared for these being worn when in the gym or on a run. That is not to say these earphones can’t handle day to day tasks, quite the opposite, they are just capable of doing so much more. That being said you wouldn’t have a bad time getting these and enjoying them simply on your commute and don’t plan on exercising in the slightest. Pairing this wireless earphone along with the Fiil+ app is just as easy as with the Diva’s. When I say wireless they are the style where a cable connects between the two channels, lopping around the back of your head. It can be fastened with an included clip. I am yet to try a pair of fully wireless earphones but I feel like I’d be incredibly anxious about one falling out and getting lost. For sport, I think this style is certainly optimal. I welcome someone to prove that theory wrong in the future!
Now, this doesn’t just tout these for sport without anything relevant. These are fully geared out for you to get active while listening. It is equipped with Valencells PerformTek. This biometric sensor technology is also donned by other big brands such as Bose, Jabra and Sony in their sports earphones. Having this sensor embedded in the earphone and resting against the skin of your inner ear it has a strong blood flow to accurately analyse. Apparently, the inner ear is actually a better test point than the wrist making this likely more accurate than the latest craze of sports watches that can detect similar data. The statistics it can accurately track are heart rate, VO2 output, calories burned, cadence, steps taken, speed moving at and distance travelled. It doesn’t just spit the data out at random either. Using the Fiil+ app you start an activity by selecting one of its 5 (running, biking, walking, gym and yoga) options and then it continuously collects the data until you stop. At any point, you can press the right earpieces button for a real-time update on your vitals. As a swimmer, I am not really too keen on going out for a run but I do go to the gym regularly and have been using it in there. That being said it is vastly more impressive on a run as it displays your route, the speeds you hit at certain points and your heart rate as you went on. They even have their own EQ setting called “SDS” where it adjusts the sound based on your intensity, starting off tranquil and neutral and then blasting the bass once you get your heart pumping! I am also starting to see the appeal of jogging along with speed dependent sound, an upbeat playlist from Tidal and these earphones. On top of doing standard work outs, you can also perform some run of the mill tests, such as resting and maximum heart rate as well as fitness fatigue.
When using these along with their gym programme, when I prompted live feedback, it was very quiet versus my music and also oddly had them tell me to insert my earphones properly, even though I am 99% sure they were.
Moving away from the sports functionality these actually have more cool stuff. Perhaps your are concerned about Bluetooth sound limitations even with the AptX codec. Well, then these earphones actually have 4GB of memory built in, that can playback lossless music. Nothing fancy like DSD or hi res but that’s really not needed and you could only hold a couple of DSD albums in 4GB anyway! I think this does stay tied in with being ideal for sports, because it does mean you don’t have to lug your phone or DAP around with you. It also has a voice search setting for control but these still don’t work too well, I hope they will by launch. You can switch between local storage and Bluetooth mode via the button on your left ear. The left button also can switch around play modes.
Beyond that paired with the app, there are loads of small touches. From the instructions being simply laid out at all times, battery time made clear and having some small customisation options like what colour LED they display, these really are the full package. You even have an assistant to help you fit these correctly!
When looking at wireless earphones you have two parts of the body. You have the actual earphone part the holds the driver and then you have the normally bigger housing behind that which has the Bluetooth receiver and other electronics. So while with this using a Knowles balanced armature the actual earphone part of this is tiny (with a shell reminding me of T-Jays), the hexagons that hold all the important stuff are much bigger behind. While they are a cool green and tastefully done, I did feel a touch self-conscious in the gym with these as they look a tad outrageous in your ear. They aren’t much bigger than my Macaw T1000 but do make my Kygo E7/800 look petite. The same goes for them in comparison to the new Beats X, which chooses to hold the guts further back on the cable.
The entire earphone is made of plastic but doesn’t feel cheap or tacky in the slightest. I think plastic is needed for low weight when using these as intended but there is still no denying there are some classier built earphones at this price, significantly so. I am actually a fan of the cable, which is flatter in finish but just seems really well designed for the job. For protection, you get a soft but well-padded pouch. I should also mention they are IP65 resistant, so will withstand dust and can be hit by jets of water, ideal as you will likely be sweating in these.
Fortunately, the hexagon does give you something to hold on to while you rotate them into your ear and doesn’t actually make any contact. It is spaced correctly as well, not limiting the insertion depth like I found to be the case with the Macaws. The earphones actually have a patented RotateSecure technology which simply put is the little fins it has, much like most other wireless earphones feature. The idea, however, is that they rotate into your canal snugly like a custom IEM and then the little fin holds secures itself in your concha. Even with the additional weight of the hexagon, these are VERY sturdy in my ear and I will trust their words that these won’t be able to fall out. Both the tips and fins are made of a liquid silicone which does have a really nice feel to it, a little different to your usual tip. However, I did not seal well with any of the stubby and round tips and had to pursue a seal via some Trinity Kombi tips. While I ended up getting a good seal and they feel fine in my ear to start, I did find these to start to grate on my ears a bit during longer gym sessions. I do think isolation could be better as well.
Another cool but not completely unique feature is the necklace mode these have. When having a break or wanting to talk to someone you can hang these round your neck and clasp the two channels together via magnets they have on one side. As soon as they clank together they enter a hibernation mode which turns Bluetooth off and heavily reserves battery. Sadly, playback time on these isn’t as awesome as with the Divas. While in standby these will still last for ages, playing music you will be lucky to push 6 hours but you can boost that by using just the music stored inside them, then reaching up to 9!
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