Reviews

Fender making sweet music with new earphones

The premium FXA9s are suitable for professional musicians who require their music to sound as accurate as possible, with no extra emphasis on the bass or treble. The $219 Fender CXA1 is a mass-market product for those looking for a pair of warm, soli
The $219 Fender CXA1 is a mass-market product for those looking for a pair of warm, solid earphones.PHOTO: FENDER
The premium FXA9s are suitable for professional musicians who require their music to sound as accurate as possible, with no extra emphasis on the bass or treble. The $219 Fender CXA1 is a mass-market product for those looking for a pair of warm, soli
The premium FXA9s are suitable for professional musicians who require their music to sound as accurate as possible, with no extra emphasis on the bass or treble. PHOTO: FENDER

Famous guitar brand makes such devices with studio-quality sounds

Audio

While Fender is known primarily for its famous electric guitars - used by the likes of rock greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck - the company has ventured into the earphone space since last year, focusing on studio-quality earphones.

The Fender CXA1 and FXA9 are the latest in-ear monitors (IEMs) from the company.

They are radically different from each other, though - the $219 CXA1 IEMs are a mass-market product for those looking for a pair of warm, solid earphones, with the $1,999 FXA9 for professional studio use or hardcore audiophiles with cash to spare.

These earphones are actually made to the standard of boutique audio manufacturer Aurisonics, which Fender bought over last year to produce its earphones under its brand.

Both IEMs present a detailed and neutral sound signature, with an affinity for heavier genres like classic rock or the blues: a throwback to Fender's heritage in music history, as guitars, drums and bass all come together harmoniously in the mix.

The more expensive FXA9s are light, comfortable and neutral-sounding, making them suitable for professional musicians who require their music to sound as accurate as possible, with no extra emphasis on the bass or treble.

Audiophiles who like a neutral, analytical sound signature - and who aren't put off by high prices - might also like the FXA9 as their go-to earphones, although there are plenty of other solid contenders in the earphone space at that price point, or even lower.

  • TECH SPECS:

    Fender CXA1

  • PRICE: $219

    DRIVER DIAMETER: 8.5mm

    FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 12Hz - 22kHz

    WEIGHT: (to be updated)

  • Fender FXA9

  • PRICE: $1,999

    DRIVERS: Six balanced armature drivers; one bass port

    FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 2Hz - 22kHz

    WEIGHT: (to be updated)

  • RATING:

    CXA1; FXA9

  • FEATURES: 4/5; 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5; 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5; 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5; 3/5

    OVERALL: 3/5; 4/5

I enjoyed kicking back to old-school tunes such as those of the likes of Rush, Genesis and The Eagles on them. Songs were clear and faithfully reproduced, with good detail and separation between vocals and instruments.

Contemporary musicians, such as Fever Ray and LCD Soundsystem, also sounded great, with a transparent signature and accurate soundstage that captures every note, beep and click.

To ensure as accurate a sound modelling as possible, the FXA9's shell is 3D-printed and designed to fit snugly into the ears.

Sound isolation is also top-notch once you've found the correct eartip size - four sizes are available with the earphones, from small to extra large. The eartips seal off most of the external noise, which is essential while gigging or during studio use.

One thing that bothered me was the plastic enclosure of the FXA9's shells. Users will want not only great sound quality from a pair of $2,000 earphones, but also solid build construction and a luxurious hand-feel. While the FXA9s feel robust enough, they don't look or feel like how they are priced.

The cheaper CXA1 IEMs are tailored for mass consumers looking for sound-isolating studio monitors without breaking the bank.

Unlike their more professional-oriented bigger brother, the CXA1s are designed with mobile use in mind, coming with an inline control with a microphone so you can take calls with it plugged into your smartphone.

They are comfortable and easy to put on, given their smaller size.

These work for most modern genres such as Top 40 charts and power pop, along with good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.

The CXA1 has a good mid-range tone for vocals, and plays very well in balancing heavier instruments, such as distorted guitars and heavy drums.

However, compared with the FXA9, the CXA1 sounded more muffled, boomier and not as detailed.

But that's to be expected, given the wide price gap and the difference in the equipment make-up, such as having a single dynamic driver versus the FXA9's six balanced armatures.

The CXA1 also sounds slightly veiled, making some songs sound lacking in texture. I would stay away from using the earphones for classical or jazz music, and stick to rock and pop with them.

At its price point, though, the CXA1 faces stiff competition from other IEMs such as industry stalwart Shure, which offers similar sound quality to the Fender's but at a lower price.

• Verdict: Fender's latest foray into the audio space comes in the form of two earphones which are a little overpriced. The premium FXA9 is suitable for listeners who demand analytical neutrality, while the cheaper CXA1 is for rock or pop fans on the go who may enjoy being seen with the Fender branding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Fender making sweet music with new earphones'. Print Edition | Subscribe