On a snowy morning day, the air was frigid from the tundra underneath. The cold permeated every soul it happened upon like a dragon searching for prey. The thick mist covered the land so none could even dare to look upwards towards the sun. But alas, the sun was rising and a great expedition was about to start. This journey however,was like none other. This was to be a quest like no other. It was time for the Russian bear to break out from hibernation and take back its place amongst the stars. An epic pilgrimage is starting from St. Petersburg and it is making its way west.
As everyone knows, the mighty Soviet Union manufactured some of the world’s finest tube amplifiers and Russia continues to do so even today. Their mass-production prowess added with stringent QA testing led to the creation of fearsome analog-based machines. But then of course, a cold tundra fell over the nation for a few decades. Well today, Fischer Audio is here representing our brothers from Eastern Europe and they’ve got quite the contender. Today, we are met with one of Fischer Audio’s most prestigious headphones, it’s the FA-011 Limited Edition unit. These are masterfully handcrafted from luxurious wood and fitted with a fine-tuned set of drivers. All of this, for just $160 with the regular edition and $220 with the limited edition sets. It’s a great price range to play in and we are excited to see what Russia has given us this time.
Fischer Audio was created in 2006 by a group with a dream. They were engineers, developers, designers, and well-rounded professionals. They had a simple dream; it was to build advanced headphones with innovative measures while still being cost effective. Since their founding, they’ve become a house-brand around Head-Fi with their dealings with companies like Brainwavz and the products they’ve produced. Nowadays, Fischer Audio has been pushing their products under their own brand and this is an exciting change to see. It allows us to witness what they can really bring to the table and how much vigor they are backing the brand with.
The FA-011 came in a protective case with retail wrap around it. There isn’t an outer box that encapsulates the case, it’s all self-contained which is neat. It isn’t a hard case in the sense of it being solid but it does offer worthy protection thanks to the internal packaging; the headphone is smothered in foam protectors. I would say that this is a decent idea to utilize as hard cases have their own problems. One of them being where dropping hard cases does produce hazardous vibrations to the internal products whereas a softer case with extreme foam will not. The downside of this idea is that it’s very fragile to crushing from all sides. You win some you lose some, but this is the route that Fischer went with. I would have personally liked an outer retail case as that may make it look more presentable.
The headphone is a work of art. In a way, it exemplifies past standards of crafting and the appreciation of the field. On the other hand, it may be seen to modern corporations as a waste of effort and lower profit margins. It’s nice seeing companies’ produce units that you know weren’t put together by a machine. A few places we see this in the FA-011 are in the cable and driver housing. The cable is thick enough for studio usage and terminating to one of the thickest jack connectors I have ever seen. You get an eye for what was put together manually once you’ve seen it long enough, and I can assure you this was not spit out by a machine. The driver housings are hand-crafted according to the advertising on the retail packaging and you can see it. It’s the slight imperfection and wood burned etchings that get me drooling . Someone cared for this unit while building it. It’s intrinsic values like these that we hold which make us human.
The cable of the FA-011 is the result of what the consumer demanded . Some people requested thicker and sturdier cables and Fischer delivered. The cable is over a quarter inch thick and sports an outer wrap to alleviate stress from tugging. While this may be helpful and look better from a technical perspective, I honestly can’t see it. I do know that an alternate earlier model came with a thinner cable and I personally would have preferred that. This studio cable equipped model they sent me doesn’t jive with how I listen to music and work. I prefer cables that have flexibility and are about 1.2m long and thinner. I don’t run a studio so there is more a matter of personal preference. I’m not the target market for this specific model. For those of you that love the thick cables and need them to withstand chairs rolling over them and mistreatment then these are your puppies.
Architecture and design people, look no further. I’ve had some friends of mine from interior design and architecture stop and gaze at these when I was using them. The hand-crafted and mixed-style look to them really appeals to people that are into design. If the Sennheiser Momentum or LSTN Troubadour’s don’t make you jelly, then these surely will. The suspension headband works better than most in that it offers more back force earlier on. Other brands like to allow lesser pressure so it allows the headband to almost reach the maximum length of the suspension overpass before stopping. The FA-011 has more tension in it and so it doesn’t stop as close to the end as say some other cables do in their design.
The build of the headphone itself is well above average for the price point. It has a lot of real wood in the design. The luxurious finish uses minimal plastic to help alleviate the costs. Many of the parts you may believe to be metal on the headphone itself are in fact not. This was a sad discovery but the headphone would have been very heavy without this sacrifice. I am honestly fine with the sacrifices they made to keep the headphone within affordable price range because it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the unit.
The FA-011 is a bit more difficult to drive so I would recommend a desktop amplifier and external DAC to get the best results. Despite its low cost, this headphone works wonders with the better amplifiers out there and will scale upward in sound quality using good amplification. You cannot use this with a traditional smartphone or consumer portable audio player. It won’t get loud enough and will truthfully sound below average. For portable situations, I prefer the FA-011 with a FiiO X5 Second Generation DAP.
The sound signature of the FA-011 is dark with a warm and tonally balanced timbre. The three frequency ranges blend in together quite well with a well pronounced midrange and succulent low-end. You can find it similar in sound to the TH900 or even a HE560 in general sound signature alone. The dark background can be stylized and heard by its slightly veiled enclosure behind the midrange. The music doesn’t escape into multiple directions and it will generally have a more tonally deeper timbre in the mid to low frequencies to create a dark background. The FA-011 feature this as one of its key signature elements and I found it to be done well. This deeper timbre and closer sound that creates this effect will generally allow for better support of multiple genres. There was rarely a musical type that wouldn’t play well on this headphone. Rap, jazz, classical, rock, opera, pop all did quite well with the FA-011. I attribute this to the deeper timbre which allows offensive elements in music to be forgivable in the perfomance of the mighty Fischer.
The mid and vocal range of the FA-011 are detailed and a little soft in presentation. They present part of recording missing when heard with lower-grade headphones. The changes are mainly spearheaded by the inclusion of micro-detail elements such as string movement, background noise and distortion, as well as vocal inaccuracies. I don’t listen to my live version of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin often . I don’t typically do active listening auditions of that song but when I heard it with the FA-011 it blew my mind to how much noise and distortion there was in the recording . The slight static in the background as the artists moved around and the noise that appeared and disappeared as the recording apparatus started and stopped sounded atrocious. As much as I like to dispel the idea that audiophiles use products like the FA-011 to hear the exactly what on the recording has some truth in it. I love the music, don’t get me wrong, but hearing a poor recording let me know that there are so many technical flaws in the process and mastering of this recording.
The soft vocals are shown were not realistic. Missing also was the snap and shimmer live snare and cymbals usually produce.I auditioned “Lil Durk’s” newest album “Remember My Name” recently and listened to the song of the same name and was blown away by it. When listening to my IEMs, the Dunu DN-19 were very sharp in the fast rap attacks, snares and cymbal pops in the background ,the FA-011 made it easier to listen to and presented better detail . I was blown away, not in an awe or disappointment but surprised at some of the musical sound .Overall, the lower-end of mid-section provides key micro details but did so with dull presentation, . It’s a nice sound for most music but for people seeking sharp focus and imaging the FA-011 should be carefully auditioned.
The bass on the FA-011 while not exceptional is still fairly capable and satisfying . They don’t produce the most impact or presence but what deeper bass there is is presented with finesse and style . You get just as much out most songs need without getting bloat or boomy bass the exce. It’s this nice hum and bump you get in the background while listening that keeps the song alive. It co-operated with the song and kept it from being too top heavy or sloppy. It worked well with genres such as rock, jazz, classical and light pop whereas heavier pop and rap styles would have been nice to have a little deeper bass extension.
Conclusion and Critiques:
A slight complaint of mine would be that the deeper timbre at times ,could become overwhelming, but rarely in this price range will you hear a headphone as well tuned and sound as nice as the FA-011. As much as I like the dark sound it creates a veil in the midrange which is noticeable, Voices, while being fairly accurate, have too much warmth with the balance shifted more towards the low-end of the vocal range giving it a curtailed splash to the human vocal range. This veil throws off the balance of the micro-details and takes away from the dream-space immersion you get when listening to your favorite albums. Outside of these minor nitpicking moments what they do right they set a new standard at this price point. Priced below $200 for the standard sets makes these one of the best sub $300 headphones on the market for reference . I prefer these over the Q701, HD650 and Beyerdynamic DT880. A
Headphones priced in the sub $300 price range need to incorporate a few key things. They must work well with a variety of musical genres, be comfortable, have durability to last, and not be offensive in sound production. The rationale for this is that the mass majority of headphones on the audiophile market already cater to specific musical types people want. There is no shortage of offerings. The sub $300 price range reaches more users that will not want to drop $5,0on a STAX or similar systems. These casual consumers represent a large part of the market as we can see in Head-Fi and other various audio forums . The FA-011 performs well enough for me to consider it as one of my top sub $300 available. . It receives fierce competition from another favorite of mine, the HE-400S $299 planar magnetic. This headphone from Eastern Europe is in the same league with the the AKG flagship Q/K701, and the Sennheiser 600/650 duo, and the new Hifiman. It earns a top spot as a personal favorite of mine in my stable.
The Russian Federation has produced quite a powerful addition to the headphone audio world. It’s meeting head-to-head against its longtime rivals in Germany (Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic) and its pushing through ferociously. Fishcer Audio may not have the international renown as the German heavy-weights but I believe that if they keep on this path they can create a much larger name for themselves quickly . The Russian bear is arriving from St. Petersburg with some sweet FA-011 headphones on its head and I want whatever other goodies it’s carrying.
Bowei Zhao is an aspiring audio Guru who spends his time studying Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, fighting wraiths on his PC in the deepest dungeons, and finding out what the newest tech products are on the landscape so he can get his hands on them.