As I sit to write this review I have a confession to make. I had an assumption about these earphones before I received them and it made my initial impressions of them very confusing. You see, most hybrids on the market (IEMs using both dynamic drivers and balanced armatures) have lots of bass, sucked out mids and sharp, nasty treble. Many of them come close to the fun signatures that many of us are looking for, but none that I’ve heard in the crowded $200-$400 range are yet to achieve that signature without the curse of sizzling, snapping treble.
So when I heard about the upcoming A83 from FIDUE I got really excited. They have received excellent reviews for their A63, a mid-centric budget earphone, so I automatically thought that same warm, fun colouration would be added to the A83 along with the glorious bass of a well-tuned dynamic driver. When I eagerly unpacked the beautifully presented and engineered A83s I was in for a shock. “Where’s all the bass?” I thought, “And what’s with that treble!?” I was completely shocked and found it really hard to figure out what had gone wrong. Where was the fun, musical hybrid I was expecting? Was this another shouty hybrid, but this time without the bass chops?
I just made a really stupid assumption and I feel really silly now because I spent 3 weeks not appreciating the A83s for what they weren’t instead of realising what they are. Would you like to know what they actually are? Read on…
- Fidelity – Natural original voice of high fidelity
- Inspired – The resonance of soul
- Durable – Long-lived quality
- Unique – The unique design
- Enjoyable – Enjoy happily
As far as I can see they are achieving their brief with their products so far, as each is as good as it is unique. So, no, the A83 is not a souped-up A63 or A81 – it’s a product of its very own merits.
At $399 (AUD) the A83 is at the upper end of the mid-priced IEM range as there tends to be a leap up to the near-$1000 range once you crest the $500 mark. For this price I was expecting big things and I am convinced that they justify their price tag… Earlier though? Not so much – but that’s the power of false assumptions for you!
- Drivers: 1 x 10mm dynamic + 2 x balanced armatures (BAs)
- Frequency range: 9 – 31,000 Hz
- Impedance: 11 ohms
- Sensitivity: 104dB
- Cable: Detachable 1.3m cable with MMCX connectors (same connector as Shure, Audiofly and a few other manufacturers)
Design & Comfort
The A83s initially caught my attention for 2 reasons – the fact that they might have been the hybrid that finally got it right and their design. These are one of the most unique looking IEMs you can buy. They have transparent coloured inner shells in blue and red for left and right respectively. These inner shells are married to beautifully sculpted metal outer shells with a striking, finned design like nothing I’ve ever seen in an IEM. I’m not sure what metal they’ve used either because it’s a subtle gold colour, but it’s subtle, not that cheesy gold colour you sometimes see on products seeking the “bling” factor. No, to me these aren’t bling – these are classy, but striking.
Inside the retail packaging of the A83s you receive a nice set of tips, an airplane adapter (single 3.5mm to twin 3.5mm) and a 3.5 to 6.3mm adapter and a clear pelican case with a FIDUE label and a sneak peek to the goodies inside. I loved seeing the gold shell of the right earpiece peeking through at me when I first unpacked the box – it’s a nice touch and continues to bring a subtle pleasure each time I see that hint of gold through the clear case.
Sometimes I discuss cables, sometimes I don’t. This cable though… this cable has to be discussed because it’s perfect!
The cable is a greenish-grey fabric covered, silver-plated copper cable in a tight braid emerging from a beautiful custom, metal, slimline 3.5mm jack. There’s a nice, metal cuff at the split and the lengths from the cuff to the earpieces are twisted and wrapped in soft heatshrink to protect them and keep them in a tight twist I assume. Finally, the cable ends in MMCX connectors with a small locking tab to prevent them from spinning in the earpiece like the Shures do. I personally have no issues with the “Shure spin”, but others do so this will be welcome to some and has no drawbacks that I can see so it’s a good feature.
The cable is soft, just the right length (1.3m) and no more microphonic than any other IEM cable I’ve tried and far better than many. In other words, in my experience all IEMs produce some degree of microphonics if you try hard enough. The A83 cable is as good as it gets in my experience.
Fit & Comfort
The angle and position of the nozzle means that these sit out a little at the front, just above the ear lobe. It’s not uncomfortable in any way, but it’s not quite as streamlined as I expected when I first saw the A83s. The good news is that the back portion of the A83 is perfectly curved and nice and shallow so they do nestle in the hollow of your ear quite nicely and are comfortable for long sessions in that regard.
The other challenge I faced with the A83s is the angle of the nozzle. For many people the following points will be of no concern, but I have relatively small ear canals that bend quite sharply close to the opening. The A83s have a similar nozzle size to the RE-272s which I find extremely comfortable, but the nozzle is a tiny bit longer and angled slightly forward and up. This tiny change made getting the right fit extremely challenging for me at first. I tried lots and lots of different tips and even bought some Comply foam tips (which were a complete disaster when combined with the A83s’ design and my bendy ear canals). In the end, I have found a silicone tip (which may have been one of the FIDUE ones, I’m not sure) that provides a perfect seal and good comfort. Interestingly, once I got used to the slightly different, quite shallow insertion, I’ve found these to be a welcome change because the nozzle and tip seal quite close to the outside of the ear canal rather than forcing their way inside my head.
The moral of this story is that the A83s may not fit quite how you expect so please work with them and don’t expect them to necessarily be the same type of insertion as your other IEMs. They are not actually difficult to fit – just different. Once I found the right tip and angle of insertion I could get a good and comfortable seal quickly and easily every time.
You already know of my doomed first encounter with these. I was so disappointed with the lack of warmth I thought I was hearing. In fact I thought they were one of the most unbalanced earphones I’d heard lately. To my ears they were all treble, but I was wrong and here lies the second moral of the story: our brains get confused and uncomfortable if we expect one thing and hear another. This is a cautionary tale – beware of your expectations when you test any earphones or headphones.
You see, I expected warmth and bass and midrange. Because of that, my brain had turned down the sensitivity to bass and midrange (because I expected it by the truckload) and turned up the sensitivity to treble because I didn’t expect that much – good treble, but less than the other frequencies.
Instead of a bassy, hybrid warmth-monster, my ears were greeted by a beautifully balanced, neutral and detailed sound and my brain freaked out! What I thought I was hearing was all treble, but in truth the sound was more balanced than anything else. The FIDUE A83 is a beautiful example of natural, balanced, enjoyable sound. It’s not analytical and cold like some IEMs seeking detail at all costs. It’s also not bloomy and boomy like some IEMs seeking the “wow” factor of prodigious bass. No, the A83 delivers every frequency equally with just a slight treble tilt, but it’s slight. This isn’t another sizzling hybrid. This is a tamed, controlled hybrid delivering the detail and control of a full-BA setup and the bass warmth (not quantity) and control of a pure dynamic setup.
For most of us, the term hybrid means bass-oriented or V-shaped earphone. Certainly, the A83 shows all the capabilities you expect from the possession of a dynamic driver, but it does it with subtlety and control. The T-PEOS H-300 showed me what dynamic bass could be like when it wasn’t overdone, but was present, well controlled and beautifully detailed. The A83 shows very similar characteristics with slightly less bass prominence (from my memory of the H-300), but equal agility and detail from the bass registers.
The bass is present, firm and warm, but tight and controlled with absolutely no bloat or bleeding into the mids. There’s nice bass energy, but if you’re expecting an earphone like the other hybrids on the market you’re going to be disappointed – that’s not what the A83 is about.
I recently reviewed the Noble PR which is an analytical IEM designed for detail and clarity. My one issue with that earphone was its lack of bass which left larger instruments like cellos sounding a bit hollow and lifeless. I used a 2Cellos track to test that so I decided to do the same with the A83s. The results were much more satisfactory in terms of realism in the cellos. Plucking and strumming of the cello strings had body and warmth, but no bloom. The sound was tight and punchy, but full and realistic.
That’s not to say the A83 is an all-around better earphone than the Noble PR – they are quite different, but they share a sense of accuracy and neutrality so it was a parallel worth making and the A83 brings extra firepower with its dynamic driver and perfect bass tuning.
Unlike many of the A83’s competitors, vocals and midrange instruments are present and accounted for with the A83s. There’s a slight dryness to female vocals, but nothing that detracts from enjoyment – it’s just a character of the sound and possibly exposes some of the vocal textures that are sometimes smoothed over. Either way, it’s not good or bad – it just is.
To my ears, the A83 probably has a slight dip in the lower mids which create that slight dryness, but also keeps the sound clean and crisp. Male vocals have less sense of the dryness because they live a little lower in the frequency range. Other midrange instruments like guitars and horns receive a beautiful sense of agility and texture from the A83’s tuning. I wouldn’t say the sound is coloured, but that the A83s have a noticeable character similar to the subtle differences from one instrument to the next. The sound is still very, very accurate so don’t be worried that the A83s will mess with your enjoyment of your favourite music. Regardless of the genre I’ve tried, the A83s have stayed pure, realistic and accurate – just right.
While writing this review, I actually heard some distortion in the vocals of some tracks I know very well and thought were very well recorded. The distortion sounds like the recording levels were just a touch too hot during the peaks in the vocals and the result is subtle, but noticeable with the A83s. I have never heard the problem before though so this is a sign of how revealing and detailed the A83s can be. The reason I haven’t put this front and centre though is that the A83s don’t shove detail in your face – they aren’t detail-mongers, they’re just accurate and revealing IEMs which, to me, is far more fun and far less fatiguing.
OK, so you know I got it wrong at first with these and thought they were evil bringers-of-sibilance. They are far from that, but they do still have a slight treble bump relative to complete neutrality.
I really dislike hot, sibilant earphones, but as I approach the 90 minute mark of this review, having listened to the A83s throughout at normal listening levels (estimated at 75-80dB), I can honestly say that I haven’t once reached to turn down the music, switch tracks, or otherwise reacted to splashy, rowdy treble.
Yes, the A83 presents a tiny treble tilt, but like its control of bass, its control of treble is equally poised and graceful. This is one of the few IEMs I have tried where I find myself actively enjoying the treble and that puts the A83 in some good company with the Noble PR and Shure SE846 (review coming soon).
A fellow Head-Fi’er recently posted a frequency response chart of the A83s on the discussion thread which might explain the A83’s treble voodoo. According to that chart, the A83s have a small treble peak at around 2-3kHz (hence the enjoyably dry vocals and agile strings) before dropping away around 4kHz and then peaking again around 8kHz.
Our ears are most sensitive to the 4kHz frequency range because it’s where a lot of the detail in speech occurs in the form of consonants (t, s, p, th, f, etc.) There’s no need for this area to be boosted in audio gear and it often results in sibilance from vocals because all of those consonants suddenly get over-cooked. If indeed that chart is accurate then Mr Benny Tan, the mastermind behind the tuning of the A83s, is a genius because he’s simultaneously created beautifully detailed and slightly prominent treble while deftly side-stepping the common issues with this approach – namely sibilance. Perhaps Mr Tan and Dr Moulton (“The Wizard” behind the Noble PRs) have been comparing notes because they have both nailed the perfect treble presentation that’s a joy to listen to without becoming fatigued (in fact I just turned my music up a notch).
Imaging and Staging
The imaging and staging from the A83s isn’t something I’m drawn to rave about, but it’s very good and easily on par with anything else I’ve heard in the price range. There’s not a great deal of depth to the soundstage (forwards / backwards), but it extends really well from side-to-side to the point that some sounds seem to come from slightly beyond the extremities of the earphones themselves. What’s good about the staging is that it is coherent, accurate and realistic. There are no phantom sounds appearing outside the stage all by themselves and there are no glaring gaps or irregularities in the shape of the stage. Playing my favourite staging track (Dancing Flute & Drum) from the Chesky Sensational Binaural Album (not its full title) shows an accurate sense of space, but not a huge sense of space.
Imaging from the A83s is equally as competent, but also not mind-blowing. That said, there are very few truly mind-blowing IEMs out there when it comes to staging and imaging and the A83s sit very comfortably in the tier directly below the mind-blowing tier. To let you into my little rating scale of imaging, there’s:
So the A83s receive a score of “Nice!” There’s a good sense of each instrument’s position and enough space between them to be believable, but I didn’t find myself wanting to reach out and touch a vocalist or an instrument like I have on one or two very special occasions with IEMs. For the $399 price tag, the imaging is easily as good or better than you’d expect and you’d have to spend a significant amount more to achieve better performance in this area.
Recognise what the A83s are – a detailed, accurate, neutral IEM with a tiny treble boost and perhaps a slight touch of warmth in the bass, although that’s debatable given that our impressions of what is “natural” all vary. To me, the A83s are dead accurate with a touch of treble and I love that about them. To my ears the bass brings realism and life to the music without becoming a prominent feature. They have bass that can hit like a subwoofer when it’s in the track, but completely retreat when not required.
The A83s seem slightly eccentric to me. They sound different to their peers. They look like they should nestle completely into your ears, but actually stick out ever-so-slightly and don’t insert as deep as you might expect. They are vibrant and colourful on the inside, but subtle and classy on the outside. And they can slap you around with bass in one moment before dancing through delicate passages like a ballerina the next. They are warm in one moment and bright in the next, but they’re not confused – they just know what the music is saying.
Know going into any introduction to the A83s that they are eccentric, but revel in that eccentricity because they are like a wonderful eccentric friend who you might not “get” at first, but as time passes and you get to really know them you are treated to one surprise and delight after another. The A83s have certainly become a friend of mine who’ll be sticking around for a long time. I hope you’ll find the same experiences if these sound like a good fit for your tastes!