Fit Ear is a Japanese headphone manufacturer. They make pricey custom In Ear Monitors (IEM's, for short, a fancy word for earphone) for anyone who can afford to shell out nearly $2000USD for a pair. By custom, I don't mean you get to choose what colour they are, I mean the IEM will be custom molded to perfectly fit your inner ear. This has a few advantages with the two most prominent being comfort and acoustic isolation (or how well they block out external noise). Some people will also claim that the custom mold will improve sound quality by directly injecting the sound into your ear without any interference from tips and less interference with external noise masking details in certain frequencies, where isolation also aids in hearing protection.
Now custom IEM's are all good and fine but in order to get one you need to get impressions of your inner ear done by Fit Ear. This is a process where silicone goo is injected deep inside your ear all the way out to your pinna and solidifies, after which it is wiggled out and can thereafter be used to create a mold of your ear canal. Most audiologists are qualified to do this simple procedure however Fit Ear, being the perfectionists they are require that their customers must have their impressions done by Fit Ear at the Tokyo Fit Ear office headquarters, an establishment that moonlights as a dental surgery. That means if you want Fit Ear IEM's and don't live in Japan, you're shit out of luck. Or are you?
Enter the Fit Ear To Go! 334. It is a universal IEM adapted from the Fit Ear custom MH334, the MH standing for Mitsuharu Harada, the mastering engineer who tuned this model (fun fact, the Fit Ear MH334 costs 147,000 yen, equal to $1,639.95USD at the time of writing). Being universal in nature means that customers are not required to make a trip to the Tokyo Fit Ear office in order to purchase this IEM. Anyone worldwide can now purchase a pair online for the low price of $1,349USD plus shipping. Yep...
So what do you get for your money? Here's a list:
1 pair of Fit Ear TG!334's containing 4 balanced armature drivers (the things that make sound)
1 detachable cable
1 Pelican 1010 hard case
1 soft carrying pouch
1 cleaning brush
4 set of ear tips
12 month warranty
A pretty spartan list of accessories, if you consider the price involved.
So why do they cost so much?
Hand made construction of a solid acrylic unit, mainly. Each unit is formed by hand lacquering the drivers into place until the unit takes it's final shape. This differs from other IEM and custom IEM manufacturers who simply glue drivers inside a hollow shell that is prone to cracking, crushing, resonance and driver rattle. Your result is an IEM with solid build quality. Other things that may contribute to cost besides this lengthy labour process are the cost of parts (for example, use of expensive Oyaide 3.5mm TRS terminations – in other words the plug end of your headphones you stick into your iPod), profit, Mitsuharu Harada's royalties (purely my speculation), profit and the perceived value of their sound quality.
What do I mean by 'perceived value of their sound quality'?
In the silly world of audiophilia, a headphone is judged by how good it sounds to no ones surprise. The better a headphone sounds, the more demand for the headphone and thus, as market values state, the more demand you have, the more you can justify selling the product at a higher price. Take, for example, the Stax SR-009 Electrostatic headphones. They apparently sound really good. I've never heard them before but how do I know they sound good? Because they cost $5,250USD. In addition to costing around $5,250 they require a special electrostatic amplifier that can cost up to the same amount. $10,000 for a headphone system. And how do I know this sounds good? Because people buy them. They buy the shit out of them. They hear them once and sell all the rest of their collection to afford them (if they earn an average joe's wage). Their sound quality is perceived to be worth their high asking price.
Another good example of headphones being sold at market value are the Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones (I've heard these ones) and their LCD-3 planar magnetic big brother model. One important fact about these two headphones is that they look very similar. In fact, barring minor colour differences, they look identical. The LCD-2's sound great. They also cost $995USD. Now the LCD-3 sound pretty good too. They maybe sound 20% - 30% better than the LCD-2's, in this humble reviewers opinion. The LCD-3's cost $1,945USD. Why the doubling in price? Profit. Welcome to the reality of diminishing returns, where the higher priced a product is, the lower the performance return for your dollar (price/performance ratio). The fact is that people are willing to pay that much more for a slightly better sounding LCD-2. I speculate that Audeze could easily sell the LCD-2 for $500 and still make a respectable profit (my guess being they cost around $250 - $300 to manufacture). Considering their remarkably similar appearance, I would hazard a guess that the LCD-3 costs around the same to make and that the majority of the sound quality increase comes down to technological improvements, despite what the manufacturer wants you to think. It's their sound quality and the lack of lower priced, better sounding alternative that justifies their sale price.
So how do the TG!334's sound?
Can you elaborate on that?
Indeed. But first, I'd like explain how we all hear things differently.
Our ears hear by channelling sound waves (technically defined as an audible mechanical disturbance of air that oscillates in pressure) via our pinna (the visible outer part everyone thinks of when you say 'ear') into our ear canal where it hits our ear drums. The ear drum, being an air tight flap of skin, vibrates at the same frequency as the sound wave and transmits this vibration to the ossicles (the three smallest bones in the human body) which amplify the vibration to the cochlea. The cochlea (my favourite part) is a spiral shaped, fluid filled tube filled with little hairs that respond to the vibrations by firing electricity on the auditory nerve, which transmits information on the spatial-temporal nature of the vibrations to the brainstem which interprets the resulting firing of electricity as the sound we hear! Sound waves of a higher frequency get interpreted as being higher in pitch and sound waves of a lower frequency get interpreted as being lower in pitch.
(and who said our world isn't amazing?)
Now some may know that as we get older we become insensitive to higher frequencies. This is why high pitched ringtones exist that claim only teenagers are able to hear them. On the other hand, we also become more sensitive to lower frequencies as we age. Now you know why retirees complain so much about bassy house parties – the bass is much more prominent and thus distracting for them than it is for the youngsters partying amongst the music.
This interesting little tidbit means that older people are more likely to find treble heavy, bass light headphones as sounding balanced, and youngsters finding the opposite to be true. A humorous example of this is during the point-of-view scene in the movie Risky Business with Tom Cruise. Whilst his parents are away, Tom Cruises characters plays music and dances around in his underwear in the classic 80's scene. Afterwards his parents return and his father scolds him on changing his equaliser setting. Pay attention to the equaliser setting. Young Tom Cruise thinks a bassy equaliser setting sounds good, his older father thinks a bass light, treble focused sound signature sounds better. Your age very much influences your audiophile preference.
The fact is that everyone’s physiology is unique (barring identical twins) means that everyone will hear differently based on how their pinna reflects and channels sound waves or how wide or long their ear canal is or how much hearing damage has been sustained by the individual. My hearing will no doubt differ from yours. How much and to what degree, of course, is the million dollar question.
Next comes the art of sound reproduction. This is a field mainly based of electrical engineering with a dabble of acoustics and a splash of sound engineering. My equipment may produce different results from your equipment. If I change my amplifier to one with a different output impedance specification, the sound produced at the end of the line from the same headphones may be different than what it was before. If I use a different driver technology to reproduce sound, I will also get varied results. Planar magnetic drivers are talented at reproducing great bass, electrostatic drivers reproduce details with reported ease with their excellent attack and decay performance, each type of driver technology has it's unique set of abilities.
With this in mind, let me proceed.
So how do the Fit Ear TG!334's sound?
If I had to use one word, it would be 'uncompromising'. With other headphones I find that the biggest issue is finding a headphone that performs adequately without any flaws. Whether it be a deep notch on the upper midrange (like the cheap Monoprice 8320 IEM's), horribly distorted bass heavy sound signatures (like the infamous Dr Dre Beats) or an overly bright general presentation (like the Sennheiser HD800's), each headphone usually has it's strengths and weaknesses, depending on their technology, on how they were tuned, on their construction, damping, delivery mechanism (tips or pads). The TG!334's sound detailed yet inoffensive to me. They reproduce music transparently which is a rare strength in my experience. Some examples of transparent behaviour include the ability to produce solid, enveloping bass for a track that calls for it and the ability to produce soft, background ambient bass of a completely different nature and timbre for a track that was mastered that way. A transparent transducer will reproduce the signal as it receives it without colouring it with it's own flaws or idiosyncrasies. Every track will sound like completely like itself with TG!334's. You'll listen to the music and not the headphones.
One aspect of the TG!334's I admire is its ability to reproduce kick drum frequencies. The TG!334's utilise balanced armature drivers which are very small. Being small means that they are usually unable to mechanical disturb enough air to create sound waves of every frequency at a sufficient amplitude. To rectify this most balanced armature headphones must be sealed into the ear so that the effect of moving air can be maximised within the seal cavity. Lose the seal and you'll lose most of the bass. My previous pair of quad balanced armature IEM's were the Westone 4's, which I sold after a year of owning simply because they couldn't output enough bass (due to tuning, and not because they couldn't maintain a seal). For an older person, they may have sounded perfect but again age plays a factor and I am young enough to yearn for a little more bass to even things out. Now the Westone 4's sounded great in the treble and midrange. Bass sounded very detailed and I was impressed with their ability to reproduce the timbre of an acoustic bass string. But the quantity was insufficient. I'd boost all bass and lower mid range frequencies to the point of clipping and still be yearning for more bass. The TG!334 on the other hand reproduces all details and timbres of all frequencies in all the sufficient quantities that I require, thanks to their tuning. Boom, slam, wobble and bam, all present. And yet the TG!334's sound balanced and present the music how it's recorded. Kick drums sound visceral and palpable, piano timbres sound natural, guitars are detailed enough to guess the age and brand of the strings being used and vocals sound spookily realistic... as if I were vocalising those sounds in my head instead of my vocal chords.
The TG!334's also image very well for IEM's. IEM's are disadvantaged in the world of headphones because they bypass the pinna which reflects sound waves towards our ears in a certain way. We are all used to hearing sound with our pinna as part of the process. Taking it out of the process can have the effect of detracting from a natural or realistic sound stage with less precise points of spatial reference. Whilst the TG!334's would sound better as a full sized headphone, they are thankfully tuned well enough to still have very impressive imaging abilities.
So is it worth the price?
Objectively speaking, the Fit Ear TG!334 sounds very good. Whether or not it's worth the price depends on the consumer. Lets take a look at the rest of the package.
The build quality of the IEM's is great. The body is smooth with no sharp edges which is how it should be however it is also quite chunky in size. This is no problem for my ears but causes my girlfriends little ears to hate them. I'm sure the body size could be made more discreet so that's a downside.
The silicone tips included are disappointing. The smallest tip is the only one I use now. If I smile hard I lose a seal and thus the bass. If I use the medium tips I feel like I'm literally plugging up my ear canals. It reminds me a lot of anal training kits they stock at sex shops in the way that I feel they're stretching and training my ears to accept a bigger tip. Uncomfortable to say the least. The large tips I didn't bother with and the bi-flange tips... well, if the medium is a training kit, the bi-flange is like trying the real thing to these ears.
The connection of the cable to the body is firm and solid. The two prongs click in with a satisfying amount of confidence. It's a little detail that matters.
The cable itself however is a pain in the arse. The memory wire aspect directly next to the two pronged connector is fine, however the length of the whole cable is too microphonic and is too stiff for a product of this price (by microphonic, I mean I can hear every contact the cable makes with something – every tap, rub and bounce is transmitted to my ears through the solid acrylic headphone body and interferes with the music. It doesn't happen often, but it's annoying when it does). A product of this price range should include a transparent cable that has a consistency of thin rope that isn't microphonic. If price was not considered I would only be subtly iffed by the cable. Its a good enough cable that does what it's meant to. However the price demanded for these headphones means I'm going to criticise every flaw ferociously. It better be perfect at this price.
The Oyaide cable plug (remember, it's called a 3.5mm or 1/8” TRS termination) is solid. Oyaide is an expensive brand (I speculate it's because they're meant to be good) and the plug seems fine to me however I would prefer a 45 degree angle plug instead of the straight plug for better ergonomics whilst it's plugged into your audio player. I do have a little nitpick though. The barrel can be easily unscrewed from the tip. How do I know this? Due to the stiffness of the cable, it has a tendency to spiral around and out if it isn't straight. To fix this irksome issue I twist the plug while it's in my mp3 player around till the cable is straight to get rid of the spiralling. Most times I try this I just start to unscrew the barrel from the plug. How annoying. I wouldn't mind this aspect so much if the cable was more flexible. Or if the headphones didn't cost as much as a used car.
The hard Pelican 1010 case is awesome, in a word. It's simple but works. Its hard enough on the outside to protect it even in the case of being run over by a car, has plentiful rubber padding inside to absorb shock and keep the IEM's fastened in place and has a secure but easy to use clasp to keep the case closed. It also has a carabineer but I don't see any immediate use for it, unless I buy a bag with hoops inside it. I'm certainly not going to bounce $1.4 grand headphones around on my belt. It could come in handy if I had to travel and wanted to make sure the Fit Ear case didn't move from where I wanted it to be in my bag but I don't think that'll be a likely scenario.
What can I say about the soft carrying case? It's soft? You can close the opening by tightening the fastener? Nonetheless, it's handy for keeping the headphones in place inside the hard case, making sure they don't bounce around.
The cleaning tool I've never needed to use. I'm not an ear wax factory. I guess others could find it useful but it's not helping justify the price here.
That's it for accessories. Besides the hard case, it's pretty disappointing.
For a $1.4 grand product, the 12 month warranty is pathetic. Not worth mentioning to be honest. Sure, it's good to have in case your IEM's fuck up within the first 12 months but it's such a minimal amount for something in this price range. Completely laughable. In comparison, iBasso's DX100 (which is a Digital Audio Player) costs $829 and also comes with a 1 year warranty, but it also comes with 10 years of free labour! Yes, that's right. 10 years of free labour. That's more like it. Have you heard of KOSS? They make a few popular headphones. They all comes with a lifetime warranty. Yes, a lifetime warranty. Send your KOSS product in at any time and they'll send you a working product in return. This is a company that makes anything from earbuds starting at $4.99 to electrostatic full sized headphones costing $999. Life time warranty for all. 12 months is incredibly measly for such an expensive IEM.
So would you recommend them?
It depends on the person. Are you a millionare? Then I'd say go for it. Are you a hardcore audiophile who's tried them and find that they are to your taste? I'd say you could be satisfied with them, if you had the funds to upgrade the cable and tips for better comfort. To your average joe, I'd say you could find something that sounds nearly as good for much, much, much less. You might not get the same level of build or sound quality, but you could buy many many pairs instead. How important is build quality or sound quality for you? Is it worth $1.4 grand?
The Fit Ear TG!334's sound great. They do. But for me to fully recommend them at this current price Fit Ear would need to supply a better, more flexible, less microphonic cable (such as the SPC Sunrise cables supplied by BTG Audio – look how affordable they are! Especially in comparison with Fit Ear's expensive 'upgraded' 000 cable), supply a wider and more varied range of tips including foam tips and silicone covered foam tips and, most especially, provide a warranty befitting a product of this calibre.
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