Review of Final Audio Design’s Piano Forte IX

My review of the Final Audio Design Piano Forte IX (from here in referred to as the pf’s.)

My pf’s arrived last week from Musica Acoustics, My second set of Final Audio Design in ear headphones from Dimitri, the first set being the HeavenS.
Firstly I will give an introduction to the equipment I use including my other headphones to which the pf’s have been compared.

Source: iPod Classic stored with wav files. Cypherlabs Algorythm Solo DAC/Transport. Amp: Ray Samuels Audio SR71-B Fully balanced portable headphone amp.
Headphones used for comparison were, Audeze LCD2 with Toxic cables silver balanced cable. FAD heaven S, Etymotic ER4S and JVC Victor FX500.

The review.

I have been on a path over the past two years to find a full sized and resolving sound from a portable based system, My lifestyle requires that portability.

I love pretty much all genres of music but especially early music, Opera, American roots/Bluegrass as well as the usual pop and rock that an average 49 year old enjoys!

I have loved the sound of my LCD2’s through my current system and thought they were the best I was going to get from this system.. Until the pf’s arrived!

I had been following the FAD thread on headfi with great interest and had been loving the sound coming from my Heaven S’s but then began to read accounts of fellow members of whom I trust and their feelings on the pf’s, this piqued my interest to the point in making the purchase!

Now, I must say. These phones are not for everyone. If you like ‘in your face’ presentation of music, if you like bells and whistles or exaggerated treble or bass then these are not going to do you. Likewise if you need isolation from extraneous noise they won’t work for you as part of the design is to not seal one from the outside world.

If however you crave a natural effortless portrayal of your music, if emotion is all, likewise the ability to resolve subtle details deep in the mix then these might be just the ticket!

The Piano Forte IX

First comfort. Now, looking at these the last thing you would think is that they are comfortable, well you would be wrong. These are the most comfortable in ear headphones this user has ever worn, they just sit in the ear, the weight keeps them in but once in the weight disappears. There is non of the usual in ear claustrophobia with these earphones either. I can sit for hours with no discomfort at all. Be aware though, they may not fit everyones ears. I have average sized ears so I am lucky.

Now, on to the sound. I know a lot of folks have had a hard time describing the sound and I think that is down to the fact that they largely disappear like all good speakers do and just let you absorb the performance. I wrote on the forum that it is like going to a HiFi show and listening to all the high end uber gear that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shouts, ‘Hey, look at what I can do’ then you walk into the Kondo Audio Note room (what a surprise I use yet another truly great Japanese high end company) and at once you relax, you do not crane to hear the music, grasp a note, feel an emotion like in the other rooms for here you are taken to the music by the light touch of an Angels hand.

You start to feel emotions well up inside of you as the music begins to engage your sense, you feel overwhelmed in the way you would when the love of your life smiles at you. You hear each note, you feel the space between them, you are allowed to pause in the acoustic, feeling every nuance, texture and scale.

Before you know it you are at peace, you are in harmony with the artist playing through the system, absorbing their emotions as they play. You begin to hear things in familiar recordings you have never heard in other playback equipment and this adds to the musical experience. Well, that is exactly how it feels listening through the pf’s!

This is what they bring to your listening, this is what they do for the system you listen through. They feel mature, they do not need to impress with bells and whistles, but rather your attention is gained with the portrayal of the subtitles of the performance. The way brushes embrace drum skins, the breathiness of a flautist the waxy nature of bow against string. The subtle textures of vocals closely miked.

Then there is the acoustic of the venue. I have listened to Solti’s ring cycle more times than I care to mention but never have I heard the acoustic of the hall more than I have with these earphones, nor the texture and layers as the orchestra plays and builds the performance.

The pf’s have their shortcomings though. If you listen to hard rock or metal, highly compressed music or poorly produced and engineered then these would not suite you as they are a window on to the acoustic and recording and that sort of music and production really does not sit well with these.

That is not to say though that all they are good for are intimate simple performances as that is not the case, as can be seen with Wagner or led Zeppelin in which they are magnificent in the way they portray the complexities of the music with their innate way of showing detail but at the same time giving an overall picture of the performance.

So, it summary. These are beautifully made and thought out earphones, like all truly great designs they are not for everyone one but if what I have written strikes as true to how you enjoy music then these are truly worth exploring as they will take you into the performance and what the artist intended the listener to hear and feel like no other earphone or come to that headphone this listener has heard to date!

These are not cheap, but then greatness invariably comes at a cost. All I can tell you is that these earphones represent the best value of anything I have listened to up to now for one simple reason, their ability to engage me fully with the music and after all, that is what it is all about in the end!

Ian Dixon.

Purchasing details:

In North America and Europe these esoteric Japanese handcrafted earphones are only available directly from Japan. I recommend Musica Acoustics for making your purchase. An excellent company with an impeccable reputation and the most reasonable and competitive pricing..

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