Build Quality & Design
Of course a reference product has to be perfectly built and so far I haven’t found any flaws in the FXA9. The inside construction shows perfect symmetry, the faceplate closing is perfect and even the engravings are precise and perfect. The only minor downside for me is the way the face plate is fixed to the unit. With CIEMs they’re glued but here Fender uses 2 rather impressive little screws that go all the way into the body of the unit, and because the FXA9 comes in a 3D-printed clear shell, that’s very visible. It’s just a detail though and it’s the exact same thing for the face plate where you see the screw heads. But there it’s doesn’t bother me at all.
The flush sitting MMCX connector is beautifully placed between the face plate and the body and the alignment is perfect. Another great thing is the 24K gold plated nozzle on top of the canal, it looks classy. The nozzle sits in the body very tight and the ridge is perfect to keep the silicone tips in place. The only downside here is that there’s no grill to protect any wax from going inside the canal.
Fender limits the daily production due to the complex assembly process, ensuring each monitor represents the pinnacle of their in-ear technology. Even the Fender “F” logo, normally reserved for their top-end products, is incised on each housing cover and then painted by hand.
Design-wise there’s isn’t much to say as no personalisation is possible. The FXA9 looks unique though. It looks a bit like a custom monitor and the hand painted F on the face plate looks really nice. I also like the little grill on the faceplate for the Fender Groove-tuned bass port.
Fit & Comfort
The Fender FXA9 has a CIEM look but the feeling of course isn’t the same. While the FXA9 does perfectly sit and fit in the ear without any inconvenience, you don’t get the same comfort a custom monitor offers you. The FXA9 also reduces ambient noise by up to 22dB, where custom go all the way up to 26dB. That means the FXA9 isolates very good and better than most universals, but it at the same time let’s in enough sound to be aware of your surroundings.
The FXA9 comes with Fender’s specific silicone tips. These have a lot of grip and they’re like made from an anti-slip material, something I haven’t experienced before with any other tip. That means they’ll stay in your ear at all times, keeping the seal in tact to produce the best possible sound quality. At the same time these unique silicone tips – at least in my case – are wax magnets, and after you’ve used them they won’t look very “clean”. So make sure you keep your ears wax free and clean the tips after each use. I myself use the Medium sized tips with the low profile. There’s another set of medium tip but they are larger and make the monitor stick out of my ears to much, and it reduces the comfort and sound quality.
The FXA9 is easy to put in your ear and they actually feel quite comfortable, even in the long run. OF course it isn’t like a CIEM but they perform quite well. Even after hours of non-stop use while working at my desk, they still feel comfortable and my ears don’t hurt one but from unwanted pressure. The FXA9 only weighs 6 gr a single unit without tip and cable, so it doesn’t have the tendency to fall out of year either, gravity has nothing on these, especially with those sticky tips.
Portable Player Matching
With a reference IEM in this +$1K price class, there’s a big chance the owners will use a reference DAP as well. Therefore I have selected the SP1000, the L6, WM1Z and SE100. This comparison was done with the stock cable in single ended mode.
The Astell&Kern SP1000 is a balanced, neutral and very precise player. It doesn’t add any warmth to the sound but at the same time it’s not cold sounding either. It’s very dynamic with great transparency and the FXA9 seems to appreciate that. I do have to say that bad quality files with this combo won’t be a pleasure to listen to. The FXA9 sounds spacious and open with excellent instrumental separation. You get a fast sounding Fender with a great stereo image and an excellent midrange. Guitars and vocals sound incredibly good in this setup.
From the A&Futura SE100, the FXA9 sounds smoother and clearly has a touch of warmth all over. Bass is a bit thicker but it’s also slower and less detailed/layered. The presentation of the mids is smoother and that actually goes for bass and treble as well. It’s an easy to listen to combo but you don’t get the sound stage, spaciousness and separation the SP1000 and FXA9 combo brings. It’s still a balanced FXA9 but it’s more relaxed and soft. I myself prefer the more energetic signature the FXA9 delivers from the SP1000.
Luxury & Precision’s L6 often gets described as the perfect mix of the SP1000’s precision and the WM1Z’s musicality. And with the FXA9 it again doesn’t let down, delivering a musical, rich, dynamic sound with lots of detail, excellent layering and a good soundstage. The presentation is airy yet at the same time it’s a bit smoother and warmer and that from bottom to top. The L6 & FXA9 combo at the same time is easy to like, musical and at a high technical level. I love the layering and dynamics in this combo and even though the pace might not be as good and the treble not as vivid as with the SP1000, it’s just so much more mesmerizing. Lovely vocals, superb guitars. Mids to die for. A great combo!
From what we hear the flagship WM1Z from Sony is about to be renewed and presented next month, but at the moment it’s till Sony’s flagship. The FXA9 picks up a little amount of hiss from the single ended output but it’s not audible when music is playing. You get a full bodied sound from the Sony (biggest up to now) with great detail and excellent layering. Separation and sound stage are great but you don’t get the spacious and more open sound from the SP1000. The thicker mids and more impactful bass will certainly please a big number of people. Of course it’s presented in a warmer kind of way. This also is a quality sound but for the FXA9 it to me anyway, is a bit much and I prefer the L6’s sound more as it takes best from both of the SP1000 and WM1Z.
Seeing the L6 is my favourite DAP with the FXA9, this is the one used to describe its “sound”. With the FXA9 it is crucial to have a good fit and seal because you will hardly have any bass presence without it. I stumbled upon a review of the FXA9 and it’s clear that he either had a bad fit or used a terrible source for the FXA9. The article doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as right from the start it’s clear he doesn’t like seeing IEMs in this price range and he obviously wants bass for his rap albums. That’s so not what this IEM is about. Do make sure you feed it good quality files though, the FXA9 doesn’t easily forgive.
The part on sound continues on Page Three, after THE CLICK