Fischer Audio unveiled its new triple balanced armature IEM recently and the press’s went wild. FA has been known to be a great value audiophile company for a long time now. So many wondered if the TBA-04 was the same. Their full size studio line came out to glowing reviews, so is this the same? Today, Panda Tech Review, gives you a look at the Fischer Audio TBA-04. Let’s see how it is.
Notice- This is a unit provided to me by Fischer Audio.
Build (Driver / Cable / Termination):
The build is a bit disappointing on the TBA-04. It’s entire body is plastic. Not extremely hard plastic like the kind that is hard to tell from metal, and that is very heavy. It’s the lightweight, shiny kind. This of course plays into the need for a lightweight unit as the way it fits into the ear. But it is still a bit unacceptable looking at it. There are many other products today that use just the suction force of the IEM to keep the unit in place that still have better quality driver build than this $300 unit. The plastic actually looks almost like modeling pieces stiched together. The nozzle itself is also plastic, and what seems to be proprietary from the looks of it due to how small it is compared to most nozzles. (I believe). The wire termination, and cable strain relief is also quite mediocre. It’s a twist type of cable that has good flexibility and apparent well made, but I highly question its long term life. The cable, although of good flexibility, and of solid wiring, isn’t braided exactly with sleeves and fancy material. It is also quite thin. The wire is not removable and uses extremely thin wire strain reliefs on it. The termination plug(3.5mm plug that inserts into your device) itself is also very simplistic, and minimal. Not too much fancy design. Small, short plastic is what describes the termination. Not too glorious, you may think considering all I have said. And you are right, but its not all like that. We need a bit of analyzation to see the good side.
So there’s the bad, what’s the good with the build? Everything is in fact well done on the build. This means that the letters, the colors, and design is all accurate, and high quality. The fit is ergonomic for most ears and plays into how and where the cable should exit the unit. It’s a very smooth and somewhat wrap around driver fit in that the driver isn’t extremely horizontally outsticking like say a TF10. The wire’s flexibility, design, and wire termination although minimal and questionable, works extremely well with the style of the TBA-04 which is small, somewhat artistic and great sounding. If you are wondering what this means, well imagine if the TBA04 had a very thick single nonbraided cable with a thick strain relief component. You probably are now thinking that it will probably be weird to with such a light and ergonomic driver, but with thick, full size class cabling. And that is exactly the type of analyzation that one may try to make as to why the build quality isn’t up to what they may feel about a $300 UIEM.
So there are the two sides. Panda Tech Review believes in presenting both sides of the arguments before offering its full opinion as a way to give its readers the full idea of what the unit is like.
Panda Tech Review’s opinion on the build of the unit is that while it is fitting for the unit, it is a bit lackluster for a unit of its cost and usable style(portable). Portable units need to have a decent amount of build quality, every day use durability, and the ability to possibly be sat on, have a backpack on top of it, etc. With my inspection of the TBA 04, and its build qualities, this is unfulfilled. Unless the plastic and wire and its entire system uses has some incredible build technology or has some inner ‘exoskeleton’ I didn’t know about. I do not believe the quality of materials, and its build is a good representation of a $300 unit.
(Don’t want to read and would rather ‘watch’ the entire review?)
Usability and Unit Fit:
The build largely plays a role into the unit fit. The arched, almost old style vacuum cleaner style of the TBA-04’s produces a cozy fit for most people. The wide assortement of tips onto its slightly more proprietary(believed) tips make it so that the tips fit on the nozzle quite well. Some IEM’s come with tips that don’t fit too well entirely. There are no included Comply’s, not that I think most Comply’s can fit on the very narrow and thin nozzle. I would love to have a foam mold tip, but the silicone that the unit already comes with is working extremely well. Driver suction doesn’t happen too often, and the fit is often good with me.
The thin cable, chin slider, and minimal plug termination all play a role in how well the TBA-04’s are on the go. The apparent durability(no sign of wear yet) as mentioned above is lacking, but this light construction does make the TBA’s extremely portable. You usually have a slight annoyance with the ‘thick’ IEM cables that have some weight. The TBA’s largely do not have this problem. The wire is like hair almost and is light to the point where some parts of the cable will actually keep it’s ‘bend’ naturally and won’t entirely fall down under the weight of gravity. The small plug also allows it to easily plug into many mobile devices. Especially mobile devices with bulky cases that have narrow 3.5mm insertion jacks.
Overall, the usability and fit capabilities of the TBA are very good. The light cable and how effortless it physically feels makes me want to use them a lot. Of course, this is offset by the durability and build.
The light cable, over ear fit, and neck slider with the double braided cables make it so that there is close to no microphonics with the TBA 04’s. Microphonics for those new here are the noise that cables make when you move around.
Isolation and Leak:
The good fit and balanced armature drivers make it so. The isolation is very good with the TBA’s if you have a good fit. Good to the point that for me and my fit, I had some problems with some friends when they couldn’t contact me from my doorway when I had the TBA’s in. The leak is a bit more problematic. I believe the plastic thin construction has something to do with it. In a somewhat quiet room. At medium to loud volumes. You can hear the high freq squeak of the TBA’s. This is of course only if the room is very quiet and if you are listening at medium to loud volumes.
Amp Requirement and Driveability:
The TBA-04 does not need an amp for drivability or compatibility problems for most devices. There is no extra noise or other noticeable problems of impedance misbalance when used with an iPhone. The iPhone’s power is also overly adequate for the TBA’s. The sound of the TBA04 with the iPhone 4S(arguably the best sounding iPhone direct headphone out) is also quite good by itself already. But of course, amp enthusiasts and users go right ahead.
The Fischer Audio TBA-04 UIEM was tested with the custom Project-H unit, FiiO X3, iPod 2G and iPhone 4S. There are a plethora of other amps it could have been tested with. But I felt it fitting and enough to just rely on the Project-H as that is my current baseline. And because this isn’t really an amp comparison review. Cirrus Logic Flagship DAC(CS4398) and Burr Brown high precision operation amplifiers(OPA 2134) were thus the main chips used in this review. The TBA’s were tested on pure settings with no EQ or any changes UNLESS noted in the review where I did apply some.
Sound Quality Section:
The highs are presented when they are needed. They aren’t extremely sharp nor are they rolled off too much. This is the quality that one would usually want in music enjoyment equipment. It’s the studio headphones that generally give you the slightly harsher highs as a way to ‘hear’ and correct the instrument. Thankfully, the TBA is not like this. This gives it the chance to produce a pleasureable listening experience. I found that that the highs were there when the song required a high note to be hit, but otherwise, everything ‘high’ was relied upon in the upper mid frequencies with the guitars. With songs that usually produce a good high frequency response, the TBA’s were a bit disappointing to me in that the highs weren’t as present as I remembered them to be with equipment like an LCD 3. However, looking deeper into it, one can also say that there is no shame in a headphone being slightly different. For, this is just a quality of many different headphones. Some wish to present the frequencies better, while others wish to dilute it down and have it be a back player. And the highs on the TBA are exactly that, they are the cherry on top of the ice cream or the kid with the cymbals or triangle in a band. They aren’t always overly present in the song with the TBA, but when its needed. The TBA’s present them beautifully and with great detail and clarity. The texture isn’t as full as I wish it to be. For those that wish to know a bit more about texture, it can be explained as presence, how well the high itself is presented. In the sense that is the high note just a high frequency sonic production without any actual ‘human’ presence in it that a computer can make(think radio noise). Or does it actually have presence and sound like something a human produced with its extremely slight fluctuations and degree of sound. The TBA’s accomplish the detail and clarity in the slight fluctuation of sound in that it definitely sounds like something that was ‘produced’ or made. Instead of a computer program with instructions to produce a signal at 11KHz+.
Mid instruments are probably one of my most favorite part of the TBA-04’s. The mid frequency range here is balanced quite well. It doesn’t have the upper mid spike that many IEM’s have. Many IEM’s use that spike to produce share cymbals and snares and to make instruments and vocals more exciting. This is often botched. The end result then is harsh and metallic presentation of instruments that hurt your ear after a period of time. If you have read any of my other reviews, you would note that I often talk of how I am sensitive to those upper mid spikes and harshness in general.
I can say now, that the TBA’s present instruments beautifully and naturally. Of course, a headphone doesn’t always need to present something naturally. Some present them in ways that appeal to people or as a way to mimic the natural sound differently. The TBA’s go for the slightly more uninteresting idea of what the mids should sound like as if you were listening to it in an auditorium. Where instrumental separation, clarity, and detail are key. This may not be as big of an attention getter as high raised snare hits are if the manufacturer was to give it a treble boost, but its much more enjoyable as an audiophile unit. Especially one in the price range that the TBA-04 sits at. The instruments are separated well from the vocals. They have their own space typically behind and to the left and right of the vocals. This increase in mid frequency based imaging is quite enjoyable for when you listen to live performances or opera’s.
The vocals of the TBA 04’s are a bit light, and lack the full presence that one would typically expect when you think of naturalism. The typical human voice is grittier, a bit deeper, and more full than what the TBA-04 gives. This more ‘light’ presentation of the vocals may go hand in hand with the TBA’s focus on instrumental quality in the mids. The full human vocal fidelity is not entirely captured by the TBA-04. Of course, I never expected it to, especially at only $300. This is something I would expect from the LCD-3(of which it does indeed delivers). The light, and energetic presentation of the vocals are already more than I can ask for. The clarity of the vocals are on quite a high level. They aren’t veiled and are forward and present. The detail however relates back to the lightness I described above, where the mid and lower vocal portions don’t have the full weight of what the human voice would sound like. The upper vocal representation and detail is quite amazing, but the mid and low vocal areas, do need a bit more help. I however have no qualms personally at the cost. It is just something noticed and noted in this review.
You probably could already tell, but don’t expect any boom boom from the TBA-04 even with it’s triple balanced armature design. The mid bass presence and ability is extremely good however. Let me explain more, the mid bass thump has quite the ability to produce a detailed and ‘loud’ but not too impactful mid bass driving force. This is only in songs that have sections where there is an extreme mid bass note in them. As I have tested with EQ settings of the bass. The TBA’s respond very well to a bass EQ. You can get these to be more universal with genres by applying roughly a +5(or more) bass EQ. Some IEM’s don’t respond to EQ well, but the TBA’s were able to handle bass EQ’s with little to no distortion. The bass thump was a bit more muddy with some reverb rumble. But for the most part, it reacts well. However, going back to a no EQ sound. The sub bass and mid bass offer little to no help for most songs. Even if it has the ability to. Rap, hip hop, pop for the most part all fall on its back and sound bad because of the lack of bass. It’s almost nauseating. The mid bass does have potential even without the EQ, but this is extremely rare and only happens on sections of a song that have extreme mid bass notes written in like I mentioned above. I would not buy this IEM if you are a bass fan.
This is actually one of the most important sections of the review. We can say all we want about individual frequency presentation, but that doesn’t matter too too much right? It’s the overall picture.
The overall sound signature of the TBA-04 is that its light sounding with a focus on the mids. The highs and lows are tucked away but presented when need to be. The signature is airy, and open(but not too big of a soundstage or overall imaging) with a clean/clear air to it.
The genres that perform best with the TBA 04(probably the most important part) are musicals, operas, classical music, some forms of classic rock, some forms of country. The more bass heavy or ‘thick’ genres do not work very well with the TBA’s. Even with something like an EQ.
Freq Range: 20 Hz to 19,000Hz
Impedance: 23 Ohms
Maximum power input: 60mW
Cable Length: 1.25m
Drivers: Triple Balanced Armature
Driver material: plastic
Build Quality: 6/10
Usability and Fit: 9/10
Isolation and Leak: 8.5/10 (some high freq leakage)
Sound Quality: 8.5/10