Fostex is one of the largest makers of headphones on the planet and has reached the pinnacle spot in the industry. In 1973, from their humble origins in Japan as a spin off of Foster, they began making high-end speakers and components for the niche marketplace that Japan houses. These endeavors and later ones with multi-track and digital audio units proved hugely successful for the company. From the 2000s and onwards, Fostex became what it is today thanks to its innovative products, imaginative technologies, and core beliefs in how a company should operate.
We got our hands on Fostex’s new TE-05 and TE-07 IEMS priced at $149 and $249 respectively for United States buyers. These new entries to Fostex’s line include features such as a CIEM-like detachable cable, high-quality OFC cables, and machined aluminum housing. At Guru, we always look forward to seeing the products of company innovation, and detachable cables are a favorite amongst our staff. Including OFC cables standard with the package is also a huge plus in our eyes. Whether or not you buy cables for sonic purposes or utility, having a better quality cable for longevity and durability is always important.
Unboxing the units is pretty straightforward; it’s that famous Asian efficiency. We are met with a black and orange box that is both visually appealing and utilitarian for storage and retail purposes. It’s visually appealing and sports a good balance between words, color, contrast, and ‘blank’ space. Opening the boxes from the side, we get a flip cover before being met with a plastic viewing shield. It’s a nice touch that enables you to provide a viewing experience to the consumer and doubles down on using multiple layers for an information pamphlet; it’s an idea that more companies should take note of. Past the shield, we get to our actual units and a nice leather looking case. Inside the case houses the rest of the ear-tip selections. It’s a pretty standard assortment of tips that work for the unit. They are the typical driver shapes, so custom designed tips aren’t really necessary. Overall, as an engineer, I was extremely impressed with the unboxing experience. The case is separated into unique parts that each serves multiple functions for the consumer, manufacturing line, and retailer. It’s utility based with a dash of elegance to it.
The build quality of the Fostex TE IEMs is pretty standard with exception to the cable. The driver housing uses machined aluminum, which gives it a polished look while keeping it light and comfortable. I found that Fostex struck a great balance between the shape, weight, and design of the TE series. They barely have any weight in my ear and don’t touch the surrounding ear features for the most part.
Yet, it’s also unobtrusive and doesn’t stick out far which makes it quite easy to walk with and use. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the weight, and shape of the IEM can have huge ramifications in terms of seal for dynamic driver IEMs. Units that don’t seal well require constant reseating, toying, and movement of the driver housing to get it ‘just’ right before it loses it again. I’m grateful that Fostex got the small things right for their TE line; it really changes how a user experiences the units and what their lasting impressions of the brand and headphone are.
The cables of the TE-05 are quite impressive for its price point. It’s a petite glossy coated wire that is single stranded before branching into the double for the two drivers. All of its end terminations and mid-way splitter are minimal yet hold enough weight that it feels solid enough to be durable. The smaller straight 3.5mm termination jack allows it for use with smartphones easily and to have it bend at angles while it is in the pocket. The detachable cable mechanism works pretty much by just pulling to take it out and pushing to pop it in. It uses a system similar to how CIEMs do it although Fostex did forgo to have a secondary locking mechanism in place. This is fine as this unit is lightweight as opposed to the much heavier CIEMs. It’s a nice touch to how the daily operations of the unit go, but is generally unneeded at this price point in my ability. It’s too much of a hassle to separate the drivers from the cables to save on storage space, and they aren’t worth enough to warrant the extra effort and possibility of losing them to do it. Another thing is that the mechanism is slightly proprietary. Unless you have some extremely able DIY experience and hands nimble enough for a project this miniscule, prepare to buy from Fostex directly for their cables. Which kinda further reduces the need to ever disconnect the units. The silver lining is that it does make repairs cheap for if the cable were to ever break which is a nice plus.
The last, and most subtle addition to the TE-05’s cable would be that the glossy secondary covering on the cable allows for some seriously nice aesthetics. The coating is clear and is backed by a helix looking inner braid. In the daylight, the color of your clothing is passed onto this clear coating of the cable. When I was wearing a blue jacket, the cables would appear to have a sapphire tint to it in the light. This makes the 05’s a nifty addition to most outfits that you can choose for it as it attempts to take on the color of your clothing in the light. This was most likely not an obvious and deliberate attempt on Fostex’s part, but it’s a nice addition to have nonetheless.
The TE-07 uses a different cable than the 05. The 07’s choose for a more durable and rugged cable design than the former choice. The 3.5mm termination jack is prominently reinforced and now is in a L jack for use with higher grade DAPs and extraneous circumstances. The cable itself is double lined up until the mid-way splitter of which a single line emerges from the double going to each driver. The drive termination is still the same cable detach mechanism. I would have preferred that Fostex kept the 07’s cable color – a silver helix braid – for it just looked so much more ‘fancy’. Alas, in the world of durable materials, fashion isn’t always a priority.
My only nitpick about these units is that one area they decided to ‘lose some baggage’ in was with the chin slider and possible cable clip. While the units are light, long term walking or more active uses of the units create micro-phonics. This happens when the cable slaps into the chest. A chin slider or cable clip would have mostly rectified this but none are present on both units. You can certainly purchase a third party cable clip or obtain one from your older models, but the chin slider is something that can’t be easily added on. The issue is not that large however and is only a minor annoyance in an otherwise delightful package.
Overall, the build and design of the Fostex TE IEMs are beautifully done. Everything about it was intentional and near impeccable for consumer use. From the breezy driver housing to the swift detachable cable, Fostex has put a lot of attention into making the IEMs usable and it certainly shows.
The sound of the TE-05 is spacious, airy, balanced, and mid frequency based. I found that the sound signature was well concocted and had a fine harmony towards what it was trying to attain; this is something that is hard to come by. While listening to The Heist by Macklemore, the song “Neon Cathedral” stood out as a prime choice for exemplifying the 05. The sound of Macklemore’s voice as he sung had a very soft space around it, separating it from even the listener in the physical realm. It was so realistic that it made it hard to discern from reality at times. My own balance would get loose at times due to what my ears were hearing and what I was doing. The low bass beat in the background was incredibly marked by the TE-05. This isn’t a bassy IEM but having a high quality beat that doesn’t interfere with the vocals was an interesting experience at this price point. It was as if there was a true subwoofer somewhere in the room creating this low impact to me. It was incredulous, where the 05 had such a complimentary bass region for lighter songs that it makes it quite an experience.
The TE-05 is at home with vocals and instruments. It wouldn’t be a far cry to say that this is essentially the domain that it owns. Alan’s album Love Moonlight has some spectacular vocal pieces and background instruments. The 05 brought out the feeling that Alan had in the pieces by pushing her voice right at you while still maintaining space. The Chinese language is also pronounced quite clearly with the 05; you could really hear the tonality she was using. Whereas other units have darker signatures – say the TE-07 – that will cloud or mask the actual tone, the 05 shows off to the TE-07 by parading its ability around.
Gaming is a joy with the TE-05. The light footprint of the headphone goes very well with how the sound design of games goes. Video games typically put spatial elements around the main character and then focus on an assortment of musical mixes and vocal tracks. All of which, fit right into the domain of the TE-05. Yeah, the headphone may not have much oomph in the bass department, but it is certainly a treat to hear the game as it was intended. In the Witcher 3, the tale of Geralt of Rivia wouldn’t be complete if it wasn’t for how fanatical I became hunting down wraiths and beasts with my new found ability to hear them coming up behind me. There is credit to be given to the audio cues, but I’d like to claim that it was all me.
The failings of the TE-05 are inherently with its light nature. It doesn’t bring songs together for modern tracks. There is a reason audio engineers use condensers and that dynamic range is a thing. Letting it go wild isn’t always go for reproduction. The 05 has some issues with really putting all the bits of information in the same folder, it’s like a piece there and here laying about. For the classical, light rock, and opera music, this is fine. But when you get to some more complex pieces, it falls a bit.
Onto the TE-07 flagship IEMs from Fostex, I’d say that the sound is dark, with a more prominent bass and a more condensed sound stage for a more colored take on sound. The TE-07 can be said to be more refined where it has ‘all’ elements of sonic design by presenting a fuller sound. While the TE-05 was missing some of the final condensing ( you can’t let it run wild, some parts needed to be ‘kept’ together more), the 07 goes full ahead by providing the missing parts. Listening to Stromaes “Papaoutai” brought out what I wanted from the TE-07. The bass had its own room in the back to play again like with the 05, but it had more prominence and kept with the song better thanks to it. Thicker male voices like those of Stromae also require the 07’s qualities to be presented better. There’s just this undertone and girth to male voices that makes it hard for light and airy units to provide. The French also have a prominent nasal and vocular pronunciation that often comes from the diaphragm. The main repeated word of this song ‘Où t’es’ requires much use of the diaphragm to produce properly. The 07, with its darker signature and fuller mids breeze through it while the 05 leaves the pronunciation sounding a bit incomplete or unnatural.
The highlight of this unit is it’s revealing nature. It generally seems that darker units aren’t revealing but Fostex put us in for a switcheroo. With the TE-07, maybe of the background sound, noise, and distortion is heard so much more clearly than with the 05 or most headphones in my arsenal. On the same song and album of Stromaes, there is a slight shuffle of static at the very beginning. It’s very faint and usually can’t be heard at all, but the TE-07’s pretty much threw it in my face. It does this with a number of my other songs as well such as those from Asia that weren’t mastered on high quality instruments and thus feature bountiful noise. If you wanted a reason to upgrade your equipment, just give your stuff a quick listen on the TE-07. You’ll be buying upgrades and switching your music collection presses before the song is over.
The drawbacks of the 07 are that it maintains some levels of sibilance and on a level, some audio deficiency. Just like its revealing nature, it would occasionally have problems with pronouncing S’s and other like sounds. It doesn’t detract much but does create some moments that I would rather not have at this price point of $249. It’s largest problem in my opinion though is that while it is a more fuller and ‘refined’ unit than the TE-05, it lacks it in quality audio reproduction. It isn’t fully neutral as it advertises and really has a muddying effect with many tracks. Fostex did put all the parts and gizmos into the TE-07, but it’s like a mediocre do-it-all robot as opposed to the best robot that can only clean clothing.
I prefer the TE-05 much more to the TE-07. The 05 has the better looking and lighter cable which makes it easy for me to transport and use while walking my dog. On a personal note, I also prefer the sound of the TE-05 better. While it can’t play mainstream music and has a diligent preference for only classical, light, and clean tracks, the 05 handles them superbly. The 07’s are a do-it-all handyman but don’t do any of it above the median. At over $100 cheaper, the TE-05 also warrants applause and poses itself as the better choice for listeners. If you are looking for some bass, colored sound, and ability to handle mainstream pop music, then you should look at some other great choices out there. The TE-05 is the superior IEM in my opinion and is the apex of the TE IEM line from Fostex.
Overall, both the TE-05 and TE-07 have phenomenal workmanship in efficient design and material usage. Their builds fits the right ratio of weight to size and offers optimal consumer usage that is typically unseen. The TE-07 fits itself as an option for those that want a full sound from the Fostex IEM line but loses the crown to its younger brother. The Fostex TE-05 is the culmination of Fostex’s design with engineering teams together and it is phenomenal. It’s honestly the crest of the entire Fostex IEM line and is one of the best IEMs at the $150 price point.