Some brands specialise in high end gear, others in low end. And some aim for the middle. It’s not uncommon for a brand to do middle and high, or low and middle. Final Audio goes, price-wise, all the way from low end to high end. You can purchase Final Audio earphones priced at $49.95 (the Final Audio E1000 in-ears), or go well up into the thousands for the Final Audio A8000 Flagship In-Ear Monitors, the subject of this review.
- In-ear monitors
- Single dynamic driver with truly pure beryllium diaphragm
- Stainless steel housing with four internal chambers
- 2 metre silver-coated Oxygen Free Copper cable with gold-plated connectors: MMCX at monitor end and 3.5mm TRS at other end
- Rated impedance: 16 ohms
- Rated sensitivity: 102dB
- Frequency response: not stated
- Total weight including silicone tips and cable: 41.2 grams
- Weight of each earpiece (including silicone tip): 11.7 grams
- Accessories: Aluminium and silicone hybrid carry case, MMCX disconnection tool, five sizes of silicone ear tips, two removable ear hoods, one replacement dust filter
- Listening summary: extraordinary detail and spaciousness. Leans quite bright in tonal balance.
- Price: $3,199
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here.
More on the Final Audio A8000 Flagship In-Ear Monitors
The summary above doesn’t convey certain things about the Final Audio A8000 Flagship IEMs. They are called “Flagship” for a reason. First, these are weighty, solid and beautifully built. That’s real stainless steel, with a lovely, shiny finish. The housing on the plugs at both ends of the cable also seem to be made of, or at least sheathed with, shiny stainless steel. The insulation around the silver-coated OFC conductors in the cable is transparent, allowing that silver to shine on through.
There are five sizes of silicone tips provided. All are black, but the internal section of each, the part that holds onto the earphone stalk, is colour coded. As is a small band on each of the MMCX connectors. That makes it easy to determine left and right at a glance, rather than having to peer at the small, etched “L” or “R”.
At 11.7 grams, the earpieces are heavier than your typical IEMs or other earphones. Not surprising, given their construction. They are designed to be worn with the cables wrapped over the top of your ears, helping support the weight. Attachable ear hooks are provided to assist if you need them.
Listening to music with the Final Audio A8000 IEMs
I did most of my listening using an Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 digital audio player – I used both the ESS and AKM unbalanced outputs – as well as an iFi ZEN CAN headphone amplifier, driven by the Topping E30 DAC which was decoding music from my computer. I also checked them out briefly with analogue dongles for both an iPhone and an Android phone. Both were quite able to provide sufficient levels to drive these earphones satisfactorily.
As I was writing this review to this point, I of course had my ears plugged with the A8000 IEMs, music playing. The music was a massive collection of sample tracks from the US audiophile label Blue Coast Records, all acoustic performances captured with no processing to Direct Stream Digital. And once stuff is in DSD format, despite my technical reservations about the format, which I will relate here one day, for all practical purposes associated with the resolution of human hearing, your earphones are directly connected to the live mixing panel. The music is from a wide array of artists and tends towards roots, semi-classical guitar, semi-country, almost jazz and occasionally strays into the avant garde. (I like how at the end of an avant garde piece, the audience applause is initially tentative, because they aren’t quite certain that it’s over.)
And throughout all this stuff, the Final Audio A8000 IEMs were astonishing in all kinds of ways. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much detail, or so much of a sense of presence in the delivery of a musical performance as I did when listening with these IEMs. There was an almost ridiculous sense of space around all the instruments and a deep, deep ability to capture everything captured by the microphones. Jayne Selkye’s song “Muriel”, for example, is her singing and playing guitar, accompanied by someone on a double bass. The bass is being played with sensitivity and restraint, yet the subtle reverberations throughout the room are faithfully conveyed by the A8000s. And the direct impact of the bass itself was as though it were being delivered by large-diaphragm over-ear, open-backed headphones.
Indeed, the spaciousness of the sound kind of defied my thinking on how headphones and earphones work. You aren’t supposed to experience this kind of spaciousness from things that are plugging your ears and thoroughly – very thoroughly! – isolating your ears from the outside world, but there it was.
Now, before I get into some more commonly available music, I must note that all this comes at a cost. That cost is that the Final Audio A8000 IEMs are very bright. Very. That helps reveal detail – including the breathing of several of those Blue Coast artists – but it also detracts in some ways. For example, Selkye’s voice on “Muriel” ripped out some pretty decent sibilance, which was boosted by these IEMs. The frequency balance on female vocals in particular were tilted towards an emphasis on the harmonics in their voices.
Note, this is all frequency balance stuff. It is emphasising some frequencies in the original audio over some others, not adding new harmonics. That’s important for any number of reasons. For one thing, if you’re using a source with good DSP-based EQ you can retune that to your preference. For another, if you listen to something for a while, the sound-processing circuits in your brain start to rebalance the tone of the sound for you.
For example, I’m now up to the song “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You”, performed by Jenna Mammina and Matt Rollings. I assume it’s Rollings playing piano to accompany Mammina. The piano is a hard thing to deliver when it’s played with gusto and recorded without dynamic compression. As it is in this track. I’ve advanced the volume somewhat since the start, and as Rollings pounds out some of those chords this piano sounds right. They punch. They hit those instantaneous dynamic peaks that are often ten or more decibels above the subjective level. Mammina’s voice is still a little bright, but now pleasingly bright rather than piercingly bright.
Now for some more regular music. Billie Eilish’s album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? opens with a brief vocal interchange between her and her brother. Their voices were as though they were in the room with me. Then the track “bad guy” starts. The bass was powerful, deep and extended. And Billie’s voice was piercing, as were the percussive elements which resided in the higher frequencies.
And so it went for the rest of the album. Modern album production is not kind to the type of sound produced by the Final Audio A8000 IEMs.
The opening piano on Bridge Over Troubled Water, streamed from TIDAL (not the two versions of the album I have on vinyl), sounded glorious. And the recording technology of 9 November 1969 is ruthlessly exposed, with what sounds a lot like a low level of vinyl noise – I’d put it at around -60dB – and little scratchy bits underlaying the opening. I’m assuming that the TIDAL version wasn’t taken from an LP. Surely not!
Garfunkel’s voice leans a little bright, but I think it actually sounds better this way (at least until the sibilance kicks in with “sail on silver girl”). And yet, and yet … as a fifteen-year-old, laying on the loungeroom floor with the speakers of the National Panasonic three-in-one to either side of my head, trying to extract an even higher level of euphoria from this track, I don’t think I could have imagined hearing so much in this music.
The debut, self-titled Black Sabbath album opens with a storm, but I don’t think you’re supposed to hear what sounds like rain during the opening of the fourth track, “N.I.B.”. Tape noise I’m guessing. Ozzie’s voice is tending towards piercing, but the rhythm section is powerful, thrusting and deep.
I must, briefly, return to the bass. I also have the Final Audio B3 earphones (my review here). These are growing on me more and more over time. But they use a pair of balanced armature drivers in each ear rather than the beryllium dynamic driver. They tend to sound more balanced overall, but when it comes to bass, powerful and extended, they’re nothing against the A8000 IEMs. These earphones consistently produced deep extended bass. Clean bass.
A smooth, smooth impedance
Look at this graph:
That shows the variation of the incoming signal to these earphones when it’s run through a 466-ohm impedance. (Why that? Because many devices put a similar impedance on their headphone outputs.)
It’s not uncommon for that graph to vary over a range of a dozen decibels. Plenty of dynamic headphones show quite wild swings, although usually with a tendency towards a peak in the bass in the 40 to 100 hertz region. But the Final Audio AS8000 IEMs? They’re almost entirely dead flat across the full audible frequency spectrum. I doubt anyone would hear that 0.4dB bump at 5kHz. And that’s the worst-case. With a Yamaha home theatre receiver the bump would likely be less than 0.1dB.
Not that anyone would be using such a high-end product with a mere home theatre receiver. But it’s good to know that these earphones are almost entirely immune from the ill-effects of poor headphone output design.