Can the Russians make a world-class headphone?

FA-011 LE

Headphones Review FA-011 Hi-Grade Monitoring

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

It seems like most of the world’s best headphones come from the US, Germany, and Japan, but after listening to the Fischer FA-011 I’m tempted to add Russia to the list. It’s hand-assembled there with a mix of Russian-and foreign-made parts. There’s a lot less plastic in the FA-011 than I usually see in affordably priced headphones like this one.

It’s a full-size, on-ear design, with a self-adjusting headband that ensures a super comfortable fit, the real beech wood ear cups look sharp, but the 40mm driver, and 160 Ohm impedance don’t hint at the greatness of the FA-011’s sound. The headband isn’t hinged, and the ear cups don’t fold flat, but the headphone comes with a sturdy, heavily padded carry case.

The coiled cable isn’t user-replaceable, and the headphone’s sensitivity is moderate, so even with myiPod Classic‘s volume turned up all the way the FA-011 didn’t get very loud. It was loud enough for me, but if you crave volume, you’ll need a separate headphone amp.

Bass, mids, and highs are smooth, distortion low, and the soundstage is wide open. Listening to Antonio Sanchez’ explosive drum solos on the “Birdman” soundtrack, the FA-011’s bass punch and low-end power blew me away. Dynamics were visceral, and the cymbal crashes’ sizzle were soft. I’m reviewing the latest version of the FA-011, older models had a much brighter sound than this sample.

My Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphone sounds brighter than the FA-011, so even ragged MP3s go down easy. When I stopped comparing and just listened for pleasure the sound wasn’t lacking in detail. One thing is certain: the M50x plays a lot louder at the same volume setting on my iPod, it’s a lot easier to drive than the FA-011.

My NAD Viso HP50 headphones also sounded more immediate, brighter, and played louder than the FA-011, but it sounded more open and spacious than the Viso HP50 and M50x.

Plugging the FA-011 into my Schiit Lyr 2 amplifier (review to come) tapped more of the headphone’s true potential. Dynamic oomph improved and bass definition firmed up, and overall clarity benefited from the change from portable to home amp.

So while I enjoyed the FA-011’s comfort, potent bass, and sweet, easygoing sound, I can’t recommend it to those who will use it with a phone and like high volume and crisp detail.

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