This weekend we’re having an early look at a super interesting pair of custom in-ear monitors, the ‘Craft Four’ – a €550 four-BA driver device from Polish manufacturer Craft Ears.
Each Sunday we give Headfonia readers a sneak-peek at gear that we have in the review pipeline, along with some early thoughts and impressions. The Craft Ears team sent us the Craft Four free of charge in exchange for our honest impressions – as always, our thoughts and conclusions are our own.
Custom In-Ear Monitors or ‘CIEMs’ have always felt like the final frontier to me – a super-elaborate and difficult way to extract the ultimate fit, performance and customisation from a pair of tiny in-ear headphones. For the most part, I’m a full-size headphone kinda guy. Why? Well, mainly because IEMs have always felt a bit like a compromise to me. Sure, there’s the convenience factor, but if I’m going to bother listening to tunes on-the-go, I’m generally ‘ok’ lugging a set of over-ear cans and the associated amplification, cables and what-not that go with it around with me. I don’t want to skimp on sound.
But, I’m also mindful that a ton of Headfonia readers (as well as my fellow reviewers) are avid CIEM enthusiasts, and I’m also determined to be as ‘all-rounded’ a reviewer as possible for our readers. So when Jedrek Nowicki, professional drummer, composer, producer, and proprietor of polish Custom IEM brand Craft Ears got in touch with with the opportunity to review their new Craft Four CIEM, naturally I jumped at the chance. As well as being super-curious to understand what the CIEM development process is like from start-to-finish, I thought that the Craft Four’s sharp pricing makes them stand-out as a noticeable value proposition amidst a sea of hyper-expensive competitors. Could these be the perfect first (and maybe last?) CIEMs for someone looking to dabble in this field?
After sitting in my local Audiologists chair for less than 10 minutes to have a pair of moulds of my inner-ears made, I shipped them off to Jedrek and team along with a customisation request that I agonised over for a week or so while they were in transit from Sydney. Craft Ears provide customers with the ability to create bespoke shell and faceplate colours for the CIEMs, as you can even request your own logo in lieu of the Craft Ears maker’s mark.
Being somewhat of a nerd from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I asked the Craft Ears team to create a bit of a unique Star Wars theme for our Headfonia review unit, and they were only too happy to oblige. I was keen to have unique markings on the left and right shells to make it easier to pick them out in a hurry when putting them in. And naturally, they needed to have a space-themed swirly shell colour to go with the theme. And a couple of weeks later… voila! Check-out the ‘Galactic Empire’-themed left-hand shell, and the ‘Rebel Alliance’-themed right-hand shell. I think they look bloody awesome.
The Craft Four is a four BA design, featuring a dual (sub)woofer, single mid driver and single super-tweeter driver. It’s a three-nozzle design and is completely sealed – as a result, I was blown away with just how much they passively block outside noise. I guess I shouldn’t be *that* surprised (being my first CIEMs and all), but the pair I received provided such a glove-like fit that the sense of isolation they give is on-par with over-ear, active noise-cancelling headphones. It’s remarkable (although probably not that surprising for many of you).
I’ve been genuinely enjoying the coherent and ‘musical’ performance of the Craft Four thus far. Because Jedrek has a musical background, Craft Ear’s CIEMs have been made with musicians in mind – especially for on-stage performance. However, as a straight-up pleasure and critical listener, I’ve been impressed with both the technical performance and tuning of the Craft Four from an audiophile standpoint. Their timbre is rich, linear and super-pleasing. Being an all balanced-armature design, I was expecting to have some thinness in their timbre, but they have a satisfying heft and texture in their low-end that gives them a pleasing warmth, with a sense of realistic decay that genuinely sounds like there’s a dynamic driver tucked-away inside the Craft Four.
Mide-range instrumental and vocal playback has proven to be a delight thus far – the Craft Four is extremely linear and natural through the sections of music that require the most believability and textural information. It certainly isn’t flat or boring, however. What gives the Craft Four a real sense of ‘wow’ and flair is its noticeably diffuse staging – combined with its terrific seal, it provides a genuine ‘out of head’ experience that transports you away from whatever you’re doing. So far, it’s proven me dead-wrong about the limitations of IEMs.
To round-out my initial listening reports, I’ve been impressed by both the detail, and the restraint in the treble. I’m not a lover of dark tunings (for the most part), but I’ve found the level of shimmer and air in the Craft Four to be right in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone – there’s plenty of resolution and nuance from well-recorded music, but there’s no spoon-fed, hyper-detail that you might expect from a super-technical pair of IEMs.
The force is proving to be strong in the Craft Ears Craft CraftFour so far. I’m looking forward to sharing my full impressions and conclusions in the near future – stay tuned for more soon (and may the force be with you!).