Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard but can’t be bothered to fully review. 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.
It’s not my first rodeo with the Fearless boys; in fact, you can read my writeup of their entire lineup (besides this one) right here.
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.
Now, Fearless partakes in the trend that is the Sonion EST drivers, tweeters marketed as “electrostatics” but are closer to electrets themselves. And so the “Paladins” series is born, comprising of two traditional EST/BA hybrids (the La Hire and the Lancelot) and the Roland, a unique (for its time) EST/BA/DD “tribrid”.
Let’s see how they fare on the chopping block.
Fearless La Hire
Driver configuration: 2EST + 2BA hybrid
The “entry level” Paladin is the La Hire, a relatively simple 2+2 design.
There is nothing much to say, it’s tuned to have a decently balanced signature with no outward oddities in tonality. My biggest criticism however, would be that the La Hire seems almost irrelevant next to Fearless’ other great products, and is one of the prime examples of how the EST drivers really adds nothing to the table that wasn’t already there. In fact, by virtue of raw extension and sparkle, the EST drivers actually fare worse compared to their BA counterparts in this particular case.
Credit where credit is due: the La Hire is a good IEM overall and has adequate technical performance for the price you pay. It’s not going to be the best deal in terms of value, but definitely not the worst deal you can take. Just a tad overpriced is all.
But again, considering its position in Fearless’ lineup especially with the allure of the EST drivers surrounding it, it gives the impression that Fearless could’ve done better. They’ve set the bar high, and now it seems that they’ve stumbled.
Driver configuration: 2EST + 2BA + 1DD hybrid
Let’s cut to the chase. The Roland is a disappointment.
But this is a more painful disappointment than usual, because the Roland does have a ton of underlying potential. It just seems that it was severely bottlenecked by the use of the very hard to implement Sonion EST drivers, which have been the cause of many other shortcomings in similar IEMs. And this just makes me daydream about how it could’ve been so much better if Fearless had just stuck to the tried-and-true BA tweeters like they usually had.
So the big problem: the Rolands have very little treble. And yes I know, signature preferences may dictate that you would be fine with these level of treble response, but on a somewhat realistically expected level… the Roland has far too little. It is one of the darkest IEMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to, and in turn this makes them super muffled and unenergetic. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that they sound like listening to music in a different room from where the speakers are.
But from the midrange and downwards, the Roland can be very good. It’s just really hard to tell when the upper harmonics are basically nonexistent, so I don’t want to theorycraft too much (or at all). Every problem that the Roland currently has can be linked back to its treble response, which simply rolls off harder and earlier than a vast majority of IEMs out there.
No point talking about what could’ve been when what we got was a disaster. Time to go back to the fundamentals, Fearless.
Driver configuration: 2EST + 6BA hybrid
Ah, there we go. After that high-frequency drought, it looks like we’ve got our treble back again.
As with the La Hire, the Lancelot isn’t anything special in terms of tuning or technical ability. In fact, it’s tuned a little warmer and thicker than the La Hire, so the clarity is compromised in favour of that musicality. No issues with that, but at flagship TOTL prices you would expect that a no-compromise approached would’ve been taken instead.
And like the other Paladins, the Lancelot suffers from the same issues relating to its treble response. Upward extension is poor and while sparkle is there, I would’ve personally preferred the presentation from traditional BA tweeters.
I think I’ve overused the word “generic” in recent times, but I think it’s this very overuse that just pushes my point across even more. The Lancelot’s tuning is very generic, nothing special and just… unexciting. There’s nothing about it that impresses me on a technical, tonal or even theoretical level, since everyone and their mothers are coming out with EST hybrids these days.
The Lancelot’s price demands a lot, and it has delivered too little. Simple as that.
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