Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard while I was back in Singapore during the month of July. Thus I won’t get too in-depth, nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.
Fearless is one of the more recent in the wave of “hifi chifi”, a subset of the Chinese IEM industry where the focus is placed on pure sound quality with no compromise rather than squeezing every last drop of performance out of the buck in your wallet. This means that you’d be expected to shell out more than your typical budget-oriented Chinese IEMs, but they’re still quite a bit cheaper than their Western counterparts.
This niche was mainly dominated by the likes of qdc for the longest time but recent times have seen the rise of brands such Moondrop. The rapid exposure of Fearless in the scene shows that not only is there interest in high end Chinese products, but also sizable demand as well. Their lineup can be described as a split of two tuning directions: what I believe is their house sound that is a “basic” tuning, though taken to a high level; and what I’d classify as “the rest” where they’re more odd skunkworks projects than what I’d consider commercially viable.
Let’s start with the stuff that are easier to digest for the average audiophile.
(Before anybody asks, I’m not really a hardcore photographer. Most of the time I forget to take pictures, so in lieu of eyecandy I’ll just plaster the graphs so the article doesn’t look so dreary.)
As the name implies, the Fearless lineup starts with the Start. A simple single DD configuration that sounds simple enough, a typical “chifi V” signature where emphasis is placed closer to the upper mids rather than the actual treble ranges.
It’s a basic, common signature, not too much to talk about. It’s… fine.
Fearless S4 and S5H
I’m going to lump these two together since it makes no sense for me to talk about them separately. For most ears, they are essentially identical and represent what I think is Fearless’ house sound.
You get a nice upper midrange emphasis that helps with pushing vocals forward, but is also nicely counterbalanced by a wide band boost in the lower frequencies that also encompass the lower midrange. It’s a solid tuning and there is little I can fault in terms of tonality, apart from the fact that the imaging is still pretty average and the transients could be a little more snappy as percussive hits can sound a tad blunted relative to its higher-ranked competitors.
As for the obvious question of “S4 versus S5H”, I guess the S4 is a little bit more trigger-happy with the upper mid boost than the S5H, which is slightly more laid back in comparison. Pick your poison.
The S6 line is where things start to deviate slightly from Fearless’ house tuning, but still similar enough to not be considered an eccentricity. The Rui is the more similar of the two compared to the S4/S5H, with the only major difference being a slightly smoother and shelved treble response.
That said, it doesn’t really make sense to pay more for a different tuning, and the reduced treble response actually seems to negatively impact the technical proficiency of the IEM as a whole. At the very least, it sounds that way to me.
Now here’s something that the neutralheads would love. The S6Pro sports a tuning that is scarily close to the Diffuse Field neutral target, pushing all the details right up to your face.
For me personally, the S6Pro is too much. That’s not the fault of the IEM but rather my own issues with the Diffuse Field curve; it’s just far too upper midrange forward and results in an extremely intense and shouty signature. Without that lower midrange boost to act as a counterbalance, the tonality is simply not for me.
That said, I know many people who can (and happily will) appreciate this kind of tuning. With its solid technical foundation, the S6Pro’s only real weakness is in timbre (per usual) and preferences in tonality.
Fearless S8F and S8Pro
Again, no sense separating these two models as they basically identical. Hell, they’re even more identical than the S4/S5H comparison.
Here are my personal winners of the Fearless lineup, and they’re not even the flagships. Take the S6Pro, and now balance it out with the lower midrange boost that I talked about. Retain the technical proficiencies and what you have is an IEM that is clean and has a tonality that I doubt many would call “unnatural”.
The S4, S5H and S6Rui really are similar to the S8 as well due to the whole “house tuning ” thing I mentioned about, so I wouldn’t mind calling them “baby S8s”. But futher side-by-side comparisons do tell me that the S8 clearly outperforms its baby brethren with a sizable boost in resolution, transient speed as well as imaging capabilities, comfortably projecting beyond the head.
The S8 is one of those IEMs that I should be writing more about, but I can’t. It’s just a damned good piece of gear, and it doesn’t even break the $500 mark. Phenomenal work.
Now beyond Fearless’ standard, “safe” tuning, we have…
Fearless Crystal Pearl
Oh god, it sounds wrong. Oh god, there’s a veil. I have zero love for this, get this out of my ears.
Alright, if I had “zero love” for the Crystal Pearl, then I have absolute disdain for the S5T.
I shouldn’t even be classifying this as an “eccentricity”, this is just plain bad. My only compliment for this is that it is at least not unlistenable.
Fearless S10 Genie
Things get a little weird once you step out of S8 territory. The tuning of S10 Genie is as if they’re trying to do something also diffuse field-ish with their 2-6k gain but ending up with something that’s totally unique. There’s some wonkiness in the centre midrange that I think is due to the abrupt rise from 1k to 2k, and then there’s something off about the treble… it’s not splashy, but it’s not natural either…
I’m kind of defaulting to interpreting the graph which is not something I usually do, since there’s something about the S10 Genie that puts me off. It’s just one gigantic uncanny valley.
Fearless HyperS 12BA
I thought I had different notes for the HyperS12 but as I wrote the S10 Genie’s section, I realised that I’d just be repeating myself again for this section.
Wonkiness, something off, uncanny valley etc. etc. I don’t know. I can’t appreciate this.
This entry is actually a post-publish edit as I actually forgot about the ACME8.
The most interesting thing about Fearless’ flagship is that it truly seems to be a skunkworks project, utilising a 23mm “labyrinth” tubing structure that acts as a physical low pass filter for the BA woofers.
The end result is a lot of bass, admittedly focused better into the lowest registers than Fearless’ other models but still isn’t very strong in transient speed or detail overall. Unfortunately despite their best efforts to low pass, there’s still quite a bit of bleed into the midrange, most likely due to the sheer amount of bass they’ve tuned in in the first place.
When we go into the midrange, the proverbial dumpster now catches on fire. The tonality is all wrong and more akin to some of Earsonics’ worse models than anything I’d consider as “natural”. Which is a shame considering that Fearless clearly knows how to tune for proper tonaltiy as evident in their house sound, but probably couldn’t do so due to having to accomodate for the oddly tuned labyrinth’d drivers.
Back to drawing board, Fearless.