FitEar To Go! 334 earphone in Review – nonpareil
Zip, ziiiip, wiiiiii, a mosquito. Chuka chuka chuka katakatatata, the Tsukuba Express plowing back to Akihabara. Click click click, my evil shoe-wearing neighbours on the eighth floor dancing up a spell. Summer’s heat amplifies each sound. So does after-work debauchery. So does Arcade Fire. And Markus Schulz’ Progression, Vibrasphere’s Lungs of Life, etc. and so on. Especially at the wee hours of 0:00 to 5:00. I get on fine after that. There goes my sleep. And whereas sometimes, screwing earphones into my ears helps me zone out and catch some zzz’s, screwing in the fabulous, new FitEar To Go! 334 zones me in, like never before. Hello Music!
It’s nice to meet you, I’m shigzeo, zombie.
Quadruple (4) balanced armature drivers
3 way / 3 unit / 4 driver (334)
Low 1 / Mid 1 Low 2 / High 1
Two prong detachable cable
Pelican 1010 hard case
Soft carrying pouch
4 sets of ear tips
12 month limited guarantee
Several weeks ago I spent the better part of an hour at the Ginza FitEar office soaking up as much technical info as my feeble brain could imbibe. Ginza is a nice place to stroll after work, but honestly, its ramen sucks. It’s a godsend that around the corner you can get your teeth drilled and your ear holes plugged by the world’s most classy earphone maker, FitEar.
Mr. Suyama came out of the lift wearing his patent smile and a blue collared shirt. Around his neck was a 5000¥ cable snapped into his own custom earphones. I didn’t see what sort of machine was driving them. I bet it was an iPhone. I will also be willing to wager that he was listening to Karizma’s Cuba or Barry Manillow’s Copacabana.
I follow FitEar on twitter.
Upstairs is a drum set, several comfy chairs situated in front of a wonderful collection of HiFi equipment, headphones, speakers, and of course, music. It’s spinning on CD’s, vinyl, and ticking away inside computer hard disks. I didn’t ask how much music he’s got, but I’ll make another bet: if anyone’s music collection tops mine, it’s Mr. Suyama’s.
But we didn’t go upstairs this time. I was on a tight schedule. (My wife was waiting at Denny’s, and their kimchi is awful – I had to rescue her.) Mr. Suyama sat down, brought out my To Go! 334, smiled, and answered every question I asked, and most of the ones I didn’t.
He did this on small sheets of paper, carefully mapping out the 334’s driver array, explaining why titanium was chosen for the treble tube, waxing in gory detail how each driver is basically hand painted into the housing. This ensures that the earphone body is as slim as possible, and eliminates driver rattle.
You’ll be forgiven if you think the To Go! 334 (here on dubbed the TG334) is just a custom-cum universal earphone bent primarily, on maximum profits and distribution area. The j-Phonics was inspiring, but we are talking about two completely different levels of workmanship here. It’s true that the TG334 utilises the same innards as the fabulous MH334, FitEar’s first custom earphone to be tweaked by master engineer, Mitsuharu Harada. And what a feat it is. Its speakers are precisely machined and fitted into their housing with 100% repeatable results despite the entire assembly being done by hand. It suffers no concessions against the custom earphone that precedes it. That is, unless you really wanted to squeeze goo into your ears holes.
Regarding profits and distribution, you’d partially be correct. Custom earphones are buggers to work overseas from a central plant, especially if your outfit is moonlighting as a dental laboratory. The TG334’s universal package allows the FitEar lab to assemble and ship more units than its custom sibling. Distributors are springing up around the globe, and music lovers are discovering the sound of what once was the most hidden treasure in the vast sea of custom earphones. But since the TG334 is essentially an MH334, you’d also be incorrect in assuming it’s all about numbers. The difference in end user cost is substantial.
Had I been Mr. Suyama, I’d have smirked down at the skinny, semi-balding lout sitting before me. Mr. Suyama waived such nonsense. He is nice. I’m not. You sort of have to be nice to be a dentist in this modern world of lawsuits and litigation. And that is the fulcrum of this essay – sleepless nights aside, that is.
Accessories and Package
FitEar are ever pragmatic. What comes with your TG334 is an indestructible Pelican 1010 hard carrying case, a soft toss-pouch, four pair of silicon ear pieces, a shirt clip, and a cable. For the buying price, it’s an ascetic package, to be sure, but then again, who can argue with discipline?
Well, I suppose that for 1400$, you might be forgiven for expecting a life-size poster of Mr. Suyama, a set of false teeth, and a bowl of bad ramen to boot. The TG334’s price is well hung. It nuzzles its tusks in your common sense every time John Denver bleats on about West Virginia.
But, if you are reading this review, you probably don’t care too much about that. And again, you’d be forgiven.
Fit and Isolation
Bigger than the price difference between the MH334 and the TG334 is the difference in fit between the two. The stark truth is that the TG334’s fit won’t be for everyone. Case in point one: my wife. She is blessed with wide ear holes, but her concha is tiny. She was very kind to pose for this review’s fit photos, and probably deserves an expensive ice cream. (Note: photos to appear this evening, Japan time.)
Because the TG334 houses four full-size drivers, and makes room for three bandwidth-optimised sound bores, it is large. And heavy. It is solid acrylic. TG should stand for ‘The Gargantuan’. I’ll admit, however, that ‘To Go!’ sounds more appealing. By the way, so is the TG334’s sound.
Generally, female ears are smaller than male ears. I’ve been told that mine are wasted on me. I should be a boxer. I don’t get it. I suppose that means they are small. But – and my wife can confirm this – I’m male. With the bad: shaving, strange growths of hair, snoring, a tendency sweat, a growing forehead, and a predilection for bathroom humour, comes the good: enough room even in those small ears for the TG334. Barely.
For me, the TG334 rubs cartilage on every side. I have to tilt it slightly forward for complete comfort. Fortunately, there are no sharp edges anywhere to grind against ears. Me and the TG get alone fine.
People with enough ear real estate will be able to tip the earphone back and forth with nary a wince. In fact, men: I reckon almost every one of our kind will be able to take the entire 334 in. God bless us.
The TG334 doesn’t lie completely flat in the ear. Remember, it isn’t a custom earphone. There will be gaps. To a degree, that will affect isolation. I say to a degree, because the TG334 has the uncanny ability to cancel the outside. It is also quite sensitive. The combination means that you can keep the volume on your source low.
For instance, modern albums such as Marcus Schulz’ Progression will be perfectly comfortable at a setting of 150 on an iBasso DX100, or -42 dB on a rockboxed Sansa Clip, or about three clicks from the bottom on an iPhone 4s. That is at a loud cafe. In an airplane, I might bump those settings up one or two notches. Maybe.
Suffice it to say that the TG334’s sensitivity and isolation tag team noise into the ropes.
Contrary to the Private series, the TG utilises a twisted cable sheathed in low friction heat shrink. It is terminated by a slim Oyaide 3,5mm stereo jack and sports pragmatic stress reliefs. One, a clear bit of flexible plastic, is at the jack. The other, sprouting memory wire, is at the earphone.
I wear glasses and am not a big fan of memory wire, but FitEar’s choice works much better than the stiff stuff that much of the competition uses. There are only minor scuffles behind my ears, ending usually, with my glasses getting the upper hand. Thank god. I suspect that Mr. Suyama had everything to say about that. He also wears glasses.
The TG series cable makes much less noise and tangles less than the Private series cable does. Corollary: I find no need at all for the shirt clip, though I’m sure someone will be glad of it.
The Oyaide end complements the same wonderful clip and pin set that is used by the Japanese police force at the opposite end. The pins are polarised: no way to accidentally plug them in the wrong way. Both sides wear coloured dots that line up with the earphone body. The right is black, the left is red. And in case you are colour blind, or habitually unplug your earphones in the dark, there is a raised bump on the right side to guide you.
FitEar have done all the hard work. It’s your blessed duty to enjoy.
I could write exceptional and be done with it, but I’m not that clever. So here goes:
Remember back when Japanese camera companies competed against the world? They made blocks of metal and glass that exceeded the rigid build quality of their German counterparts, and beat them for price. They were hand built of the finest materials. I have several, the oldest of which, a Canon P, was born almost sixty years ago and is mated to several lenses from the same period. It shames the modern scraps of composite, alloy, and silicon to no end. My Nikon D200, a camera more than fifty years younger, at least still takes product photos. Barely. I predict its demise next year.
While the TG334 signals FitEar’s entry into larger production, FitEar don’t Toyotafy their products by copying and cheapifying. FitEar define quality build in the custom-cum universal earphone world.
Case in point: the sound bores. Unlike UE, Westone, and even Sensaphonics Japan, FitEar’s universal maximises discreet channels for each frequency. Bass and mids spit from their own niches and circle the central treble tube. They are carved into wide half-donut bores of acrylic, not soft plastic. The effect is precise timbre in every frequency. There is no equal.
Fully metal earphones such as Final Audio’s high end Piano Forte line certainly crams in more metal than the TG. But when overall sound quality metrics are gauged, it falls flat in comparison.
The TG334 is made for performance. Absolute performance. Hence the full size drivers. Hence the acrylic donut bores. Hence the treble tube made of titanium. Titanium? you ask? So did I.
As FitEar is jointed to Mr. Suyama’s dental laboratory, titanium isn’t hard to come by. At first, it didn’t strike Mr. Suyama to use it, though. Being a perfectionist can work both for and against you, a fact Mr. Suyama is well acquainted with. Sometimes you just don’t see the obvious when it’s in front of you as you are too focused on completion. FitEar went through many designs. They went through the do-it-Private like phase where each frequency channel would be forced through a slim circular tube. They went through the UE phase that combined one or more channel frequencies into a single tube. They went through many other phases.
But something was off.
Eventually, Mr. Suyama’s father suggested titanium. FitEar technicians were intimately familiar with working the metal, and had the tools necessary. What followed is the current design. It’s no conceit. Employing titanium in the centre channel allows sound tube walls to be thinner than they would have been in acrylic.
Titanium also proved to have less affect on high frequencies, allowing the most natural acoustic reproduction of music possible. Again, I’d have been smirking through the entire meeting.
Acrylic isn’t to be tossed aside, though.
Wall to wall acrylic
Earsonics employ a similar tactic to FitEar, though go about it differently. FitEar lacquer each driver into place until the housing moulds into its final shape. It isn’t printed around a hollow cavity, nor filled with gel. The rigidity of wall to wall acrylic ensures the drivers stay put. Let’s face it, with multiple drivers and complex crossover boards, it becomes necessary to take strict methods in the construction of an earphone of this level to ensure low distortion.
There are several side effects to this. The first is that the TG334 is many times heavier than the competition’s universal earphones are. Its weight even rivals or surpasses most if not all custom earphones. The second side effect is corollary to the time and expertise necessary in creating such an earphone. The effect is cost.
I’m here to tell you it is worth it.
By and large, the TG334 disappears more than any earphone I’ve heard. There is so little accent in any frequency that I feel justified in stating the trite. Here goes: I’m hearing my music again, for the first time.
Hence the sleepless nights. Hence the zombie behind this iPad, typing, typing away.
3D / instrument separation
Let’s start with this old audiophile trope. Really, this word gets passed around so much, I swear we music lovers are all gamers, topographic mappers, or architects. I promise you, too few of us capable of the last two.
But, I’ll throw this word around anyway. 3D presentation, or the spatial positioning of instruments within the sound field, is the TG334’s most triumphant forte.
I think you, too, will agree. Speaking of the devil, let’s look at U2’s Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of for a moment. It’s a simple song, but one with very distinct layers that I haven’t really paid attention to before, precisely, because I didn’t have the TG334. While my writing isn’t good enough to describe the positioning of each, your imaginations may be. Picture Bono’s whiny vocals, Mullen’s percussion, and The Edge’s melody as three ribbons. Via the TG334, each is distinct, practically carved into the song. There is no mistaking anything. Indeed, individual instruments are so precisely placed that at first, I experienced some sensory overload.
This sense of 3D could be said to be more vertical than it is horizontal, expanding upward, and out. Each frequency doggedly, ferociously guards its own channel.
Overall emphasis in this array favours mid frequencies where instrument layers are most distinct. Bono and the edge win out here, but only in the location of central pressure. There is absolutely no bleed between frequency channels, no obvious preference or emphasis for any one. Forget orgasmic, via the TG334, music is mesmeric. There are so many layers spit from Mr. Suyama’s latest multi-armature earphone, so much depth, that one gets lost, completely and utterly.
I tend to listen to music as I work. You’re probably thinking I don’t get much done. I do, but with music blasting in my boxer’s ears, I reckon I get less done than most. Whatever. You’re free not to follow my example. I find that grating and boomy earphones don’t allow me to concentrate, so I tend to listen to relatively flat earphones – all rounders you could say. By and large, the 334 is flat (we’ll get there later), and should be great for semi-concentrated listening. It can be, but it isn’t immediately good.
At first, its damned 3D placement is too captivating. Waiting a few weeks, as I have, should do ya. Yes, you can get to it. Also, keeping the volume rather low will help. Emphasis on low and high frequencies, as well as apparent detail retrieval go up with higher volume levels. If it’s work time, keep the volume low. That, my friends will solve some of the TG334’s incredible sound.
I have a feeling this may be a somewhat controversial section. With such well delineated instruments, shouldn’t the TG334 have the widest of soundstages? I’d think so. But, to my mesmerised ears, it doesn’t. Its sound stage is incredibly detailed, well placed, but more intimate than some earphones. Indeed, it sounds perfectly like a custom earphone.
If the musical stage thrown by TG334 was spherical, it would be a slightly large basketball. High frequencies tend to bounce around above the ear, mids, especially vocals, bob up and down between your ears, and at times hop up to your frontal lobe. Bass hits often at the back of the head or neck. Percussion pops out from behind the jaw to wrap around the ears.
That is, until you pull the earphones out just enough to maintain a seal. Suddenly, you are playing with a larger ball. This is the case with every earphone. TheTG334, however, is especially prone to change with fit. Push it in too far, and you have thick, almost congested sound.
Here’s why. As the earphone is pressed far into the ear, the silicon flange smothers the large sound tube. Some of the mesmeric instrument separation is lost. Sound stage is compressed. When loosely situated in the ear, bass and lower mids lose some volume impact. Suddenly, there is a small abundance of treble. Psychoacoustic effect? Wide soundstage.
Still, no matter how it is situated, the TG334 won’t cast the shadow of an open dynamic earphone. It will cast simply the most perfectly situated musical stage you’ve ever heard. And that, my friends is something that it does with particular, enviable talent.
I would encourage the brave among you to check out as many well-recorded binaural recordings as you can. Just make sure you are sitting on a stable, safe object.
So, what about the bass?
I agree with bassheads: if you were to carve it from the gestalt of a musical composition, there isn’t a more important frequency. You’ve got that PRAT, that hole-filling oomph, that vital throb. Bass is the heart of music. But, there is no all-important frequency to the TG334. Bass is ultra detailed, extremely well-controlled, severalised. Decay is fast, but not not dry, nor boring. There is a loving hanging-on for the briefest of moments at the back end of a low note. You could call it emotion. But that may be going too far. Remember, the TG334 has almost no accent.
In many ways, it reminds me of the bass produced by ortofon’s excellent e-Q5, only more distinct. It has slightly more edge than the JH13-Pro, and perhaps a smidgen less overall quantity.
Clean, driving, somewhat edgy, and yet not afraid to delicately smear it where it counts, it is pure rock and roll. It is as at home with Tiamat as it is with Arcade Fire, but I have a feeling that has less to do with bass as it does with perfect musical gestalt. In the same vein, this presentation mates to trance and classical like a frog on a finger in May – there’s no romance more absorbing.
Extreme lows, those of Marcus Schulz’ Mainstage, are easily discernible from very low volumes. However, through the TG334, Mainstage doesn’t yawn with the feckless volume of a 1980’s horror movie as it does with at the behest of an Atrio or the FX500, but it certainly growls. The difference in decibels would be about 5-10 depending on fit.
If you are looking for an organic bass sound, you will still probably have to look up something like the Victor FX-500. From lows to highs, TG334 is decidedly armature: fast, detailed, and ultra precise. However, thanks its incredible delineation from midrange frequencies, and the mesmeric sense of space from low to high, I feel that a number of dynamic-only fans will fall in love for a genre of earphone they otherwise may not have have.
‘Ow ’bout the highs and mids
I will bunch these together for the simple reason that these two gel with an energy – sometimes overlapping – that is studded with detail and texture. The TG334 is the king of strings and percussion. There is just so much detail to devour. Every string has two audible edges, one that builds up as energy is impressed into it, and one where it is released. Both are clear as a bell.
Highs and mids are also utterly inseparable. Spatially, mids and vocals are bunched more in the centre of the head than highs and lows are, so it is easier to concentrate on them. There may be a temptation to call the TG334 mid-centric. It isn’t – not from the stand point of frequency response. Here’s where we got back to the argument for dubbing this particular earphone ‘flat’.
Mid tones benefit the most from the mesmeric instrument separation. There are few genres that will not drown you in it. You will easily pick small groups or even single violins from larger bodies. The slightest of nicks a drumstick makes on the rim, the wet sounds a tongue makes, the rub of a finger over steel strings – it’s all there in gory detail.
High mids and lower high frequencies are all attack and decay. Sibilance is null, though with bad fit, you will get an abundance of treble. With perfect fit, you will find no genre too fast or demanding.
As mentioned above, the TG334’s commercial progenitor is the MH334, an earphone tuned by the famous Mr. Harada. Mr. Harada obviously prefers cleanliness to dripping sensuality. This has some negative impact when it comes to certain higher-voiced female vocals, which, at times, can sound thin.
In particular, Christine, in The Original Canadian Cast recording of Phantom of the Opera, sings with a little less pertinent edge than she does from an ER4s, for instance, or even my beloved CK10. I tend to prefer a little more edge in high female vocals. But that is just me. Reading Head-Fi, I have a feeling I’m in the minority.
To amp or not to amp?
When I originally reviewed the FitEar Private 333, I waxed lyrical about its fun, yet overall neutral sound. The 333 is more forward than the TG334 is, but only barely. It is also harder to drive, but only barely.
The TG334 is efficient, not as prone to hiss as the 333 is, and doesn’t seem to dive down as many Ω as the 333 does when it runs into upper mids and high frequencies. An iPhone 4s or an iPod touch 4G or a clip+ alone are enough to do it.
I don’t feel that an amp is necessary at all. In fact, it is possible that the amp you use will handle the TG334 worse than your iPhone does. Keep that in mind. If you have something like an ALO Rx, a VorzAMP, or an iBasso T3D, then use it – it will better your iPhone in some small, key areas, but don’t go out of your way to buy a new amp just to enjoy your new earphone.
There is plenty of resolution there for you.
Now, if you are using an older iPod touch, say 2G, or 1G, or a Cowon, or a Sony player, you WILL lose a LOT of resolution in mid upper mids and gain a lot of distortion. Those players simply aren’t up to snuff. A small amp may help. Or, a Sansa Clip.
Out and About
Aside from its size, there is nothing daunting about using the TG334 in public. It does stick out from the ear quite a bit, and is heavy, but it handles itself well. When you find perfect fit, isolation is excellent, and for the most part, there is no wearing fatigue. Similarly, the cable is excellent. It is resisting this awful Japanese summer perfectly. I see no signs of sweat or body oil induced crystallisation. None.
The only thing to think about is the termination of the cable. The long straight plug should be handled with care. It fits into narrow headphone outputs, but it puts more stress on the cable and output than an l-shaped cable does. Here, the Private series comes out on top.
I feel strongly that no other earphone manufacturer is as involved in the lives of audiophiles as FitEar are. FitEar started making earphones for enthusiasts, experimenting and tweaking endlessly. They’ve found perfection in their tweaking. It’s heavy, and black and made of solid acrylic and sports a titanium tube. It’s 3D presentation of instruments and balance of frequencies is nonpareil.
It is however, expensive. If you were looking for a custom earphone, you now have a universal option that in many ways betters a custom earphone. Fit, of course, is extremely important. Pay attention to it and you will have possibly the best earphone on the planet. But having the best is difficult. Sleepless nights ensue. The zombie is outed. And the zombie absolutely loves his To Go! 334.
|Title:||FitEar To Go! 334||Developer:||FitEar|
|Reviewed Ver:||To Go! 334|
Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette