In-Ear Fidelity

Behind the Scenes: Tuning the Fearless x crinacle Dawn

Table of Contents


After an initial delay due to Chinese New Year celebrations and then another due to the global pandemic that is Covid-19, the Dawn was finally released on the 14th of March, a little past my estimate of a late-February/early-March release.

The Fearless x crinacle Dawn is pretty explanatory product: it’s a collaboration between me and Fearless Audio, wherein I provide the tuning and the name while Fearless provides… well, everything else.

In this article, I’ll explain my thought process behind the tuning, how it started, what it became, and what I envision for the future. Do note this is not a review and so I’ll be very explicit in my avoidance of audio descriptors and criticism. This is a technical breakdown, perhaps a ramblings piece, or for the more skeptical of you: a product promotion.

That said, many have asked for this article, and I think it’s a good idea for me to disclose more of my personal preferences and tuning biases at the same time. So without further ado: here’s the journey to the Dawn.

Product page:

MSRP: $1,400

Driver configuration: 6BA + 2EST


Q: Weren’t you staunchly anti-Sonion-EST? Why the change of heart in the Dawn?

A: I was provided with a 10BA configuration and a 8BA/2EST configuration. I couldn’t tune the 10BA setup to my specifications but I could with the EST setup, so I went with that instead.
The decision to use the Sonion ESTs was not out of recognition of their superiority, but rather one made out of compromise.

Q: Weren’t you also an avid lover of DD woofers? Why isn’t it on the Dawn?

A: The option was not available.

Q: Why the high price?

A: The Dawn is $100 more than the previous flagship, Lancelot (which has the same driver setup), so the pricing should not come as that much of a surprise.
At the end of the day, the Dawn is a proof of concept to show that something like this can be done successfully, so pricing was not the Dawn’s biggest priority during development.

Q: Is this available in custom fit?

A: I believe it is if you specifically request for it, but do note that the Dawn was tuned with universals.
In other words, I have no idea how a custom Dawn would sound like. Caveat emptor.

Q: Where can I try a demo unit?

A: Demo units should be available to local distributors, provided they ask for it. (For Singaporeans, Music Sanctuary will be carrying a demo.)
For those who reside in locations without local distributors, demo tours will be organised by Linsoul’s “Loyal Community” program, and I will be hosting my own demo tour for my patrons.

Q: Why are you restricting your own tour to your patrons?

A: This is a precaution to reduce the risk of fraud or non-compliance with tour rules.
Requirements and criteria for entry into the Patreon Dawn tour will be released at a future date, but expect priority to be given to longer-standing patrons.

Q: What would be your ranking of the Dawn?

A: I will not be publicly reviewing or ranking the Dawn due to conflict-of-interest.

The "Crinacle Preference Target"

This really deserves its own post, but I figured this’ll be as good a time as any to introduce my “preference target”.

But wait, you cry, didn’t you already make a target curve? What’s that thing in the Graph Comparison Tool then? Here’s where I have to emphasise the difference between a neutral target and a preference target, namely:

A neutral target simply sounds flat to your (my) ears. A preference target aims to sound “good” with no regard for neutrality.

This is the “Crinacle Neutral Target”, which is a curve that represents what sounds “flat” to my ears, i.e. all frequencies sounding like they are all playing at the same volume. It has a noticeably lower “pinna gain” region compared to academic neutral curves such as Diffuse Field, Free Field or even Harman’s own HRTF measurement tests with 2-channel speakers. But this is the curve that sounds flat to me, and can also be considered as “flat at the second bend” for the more technical amongst you.

The obvious implication of this is that while a neutral target sounds… well, neutral, it is not necessarily a target that will sound pleasant. Take the In-Ear ProPhile-8 for instance; hits my neutral target almost exactly, but it’s extremely boring and dead to my ears. I can derive no enjoyment out of the PP8.

But what about the Harman Target? That’s a preference target as well, isn’t it?

I do have my problems with the Harman In-Ear target that most of you are probably tired of hearing me repeating over the years, but here they are anyways.

  • Way too much emphasis from 2kHz to 10kHz (shouty, intense, shrill, fatiguing etc.)
  • High contrast between the upper midrange and lower midrange, which is already 1-2dB recessed compared to a flat line (thin mids, no body, lacks note weight)
  • Probable underestimation of the required upper-treble response, though the Harman research admits that this is due to coupler limitations past 10kHz

The only thing I really agree with the Harman Target on is the bass response. A 200Hz bass rise is the sweet spot for IEMs; any higher and you get potential muddiness, while a lower rise kills a lot of that satisfying punchiness.

As such, here is the “Crinacle Preference Target”, based on modifications to both the Crinacle Neutral Target and the Harman In-Ear Target:

The target is less rigid past 6kHz due to coupler resonances.

Here are the relevant changes:

  • A 1dB lower-midrange emphasis over flat from 200Hz to 800Hz (adds weight and depth to the fundamental frequencies and lower harmonics)
    • This means about a 2dB boost in this region over Harman.
  • 2-3dB “pinna gain” boost over the Crinacle Neutral Target to create a final pinna gain of roughly 7dB above 1kHz, and peaking at 3kHz (extra “bite” and forwardness)
  • Sub-bass emphasis peaking at 50Hz rather than 30Hz in Harman (increases sub-bass perceptability)
  • Increased 10kHz+ estimated response

Keep this target curve in mind when reading the rest of this article.

The Fearless Y2K System

Product page:

MSRP: $4,400

Driver configuration:

  • Y2K-G: 10BA
  • Y2K-J: 8BA + 2EST

The Fearless Y2K is probably the absolute pinnacle of variable-tuning IEM technology, housing all the crossover innards in the large, almost intimidating metal box. The Y2K is the reason why I had the idea to do a collaboration with Fearless in the first place; it seemed like a relatively easy cooperation where I tinker around with the Y2K box and then provide them with the tuning details.

Since the Y2K only modifies crossover values, what it means is that I have no control over other variables like damper values, driver selection and tubing length. 

If I recall correctly, the top row of knobs adjust “volume” while the bottom row of knobs adjust the crossover point, with the “Unison” knobs acting as added impedance loads if you ever choose to use them. This is an extremely simplified summary of the Y2K since going into detail on what each knob does is nigh-impossible, so I’ll leave you with an interesting opinion regarding this complex piece of gear:

The Fearless Y2K is not meant for consumer use.

Sure you can buy it, but honestly unless you have your own microphone and know exactly what you want in your perfect sound signature, the Y2K would probably be extremely overwhelming to you. It would be much more practical to find someone with a Y2K (typically a distributor), tinker with it for a few hours (or days) and then send your tuning to Fearless for your own custom bespoke set of IEMs.

Though in reality, most people that have tried playing around with the Y2K in my possession ended up giving up halfway through due to the sheer amount of ways one can completely screw up the sound with the wrong combination. And if you screw something up by turning the wrong few knobs in a certain combination, it’s very hard to backtrack and most people just completely reset the knobs and start from scratch once again, most often giving up right after.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand.

Early Tunings

The "default" tuning for the Y2K-G.

The “default” tuning of the Y2K-G (the 10BA one) is alright, but nothing special. Before I went all-in to locking in my preference target, the first idea that came to my head was “can I make an IER-Z1R with this?” And so I tried:

Fearless Y2K: Z1R Edition

It measures (and sounds) like an overexaggerated caricature of the IER-Z1R. Not very good sound, very shill and bright and without the raw power of the Z1R’s bass response, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.

So taking things more seriously now, I proceeded to try and tune things to my target, still avoiding the Y2K-J due to my disdain for those EST drivers:

Not quite there, and the 5kHz dip into a 6kHz peak is annoying me more than it has any right to. Back to the drawing board.

And here’s the last prototype tuning of the Y2K-G, adding more treble in a futile attempt to kill that 5kHz-6kHz dip-peak, and more bass because I had the IER-Z1R as a reference that day. I finally threw in the towel and moved onto the Y2K-J, and within the hour I had the foundation of the Dawn established:

The first usable tuning of the Y2K-J

After some fiddling around in the next few days, I realised that the bass boost of this particular tuning would probably be too much for the average audiophile. As such, I had it tuned down:

And so, the Dawn's tuning is finalised.

The First Prototype

Sending over the tuning instructions was as easy as I thought it would be, and I eagerly awaited the first prototype of the Dawn. This was also the time when Covid-19 hit China, so it was a while before the prototype actually landed in my hands.

The unit finally came, and… well, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.

This is definitely way too different from my original Y2K tuning, and so Fearless and I set out to eliminate the discrepancy. My feedback can be more or less boiled down to “cut the bass slightly and bring up the 5-7kHz region specifically“, and at this point of the tuning process it was all up to Fearless to follow through.

And thankfully, they delivered.

The Production Prototype

Production prototype
With original Y2K tuning overlaid

Apart from a touch less bass and an unfortunate (but insignificant) 4kHz peak, the production Dawn more or less hits my Y2K tuning dead-on. The other question is, does the Dawn hit my “preference target”?

You can see that (almost) all the hallmarks of my target curve are here, namely:

  • Focused 200Hz bass rise
  • Lower midrange roughly 2dB over Harman
  • Total pinna gain at roughly 7dB, comfortably below Harman’s

Really, my biggest problem with the Dawn right now is its upper treble presentation. The general treble presentation is fine, but if I truly had full control over its FR I would probably try to remove that odd 12kHz-ish chasm. I’ve pretty much maxed out the EST drivers on the crossover side already, so I guess that’s one limit to the Y2K tuning process.

In terms of everything else though, I’m happy. I don’t think the Dawn would be my final magnum opus by any means, after all I still wish to stuff a DD in that shell…

The Future

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Dawn is ultimately a “proof of concept” to show that a collaboration like this can be done, and (hopefully) can be successful as well. As more and more ears get their opportunities on the Dawn, I hope its sound and reputation can grow organically and eventually establish itself as an IEM to be taken seriously.

As for the future, let me just explain the name for a bit. The name “Dawn” has a double meaning; first, it’s a beginning, a start of things to come.

The second: one can always expect dusk to come after dawn.

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks, the exclusive “Clubhouse” Discord server and/or access to the Premium Graph Comparison Tool! My usual thanks to all my current supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:

Man Ho

And a new Beryllium patron, Rene! Thank you for your kind support during these trying times.

7 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: Tuning the Fearless x crinacle Dawn”

  1. Why did fearless (or you) change driver setup of final product to 6ba+2est instead of original 8ba+2est setup of Y2K-J?

  2. and one more question… I thought sound signature of pp8 with bass boost switch turned on follows your preference curve quite similarly when it comes to measurements. Does the PP8 sound boring even with bass boost switch turned on?

  3. Wondering how do these sound compared to Hyla TE-5B, because the graph looks very similar?
    Very interested in getting either these or the TE-5B. Main reason to consider TE-5B is because my ears physically simply don’t work with fully-sealed/all-BA design (pressure issue) and I love dynamic driver slam.

  4. Nice work Crinacle I’ve just got my Dawn.

    A very pleasurable listen indeed.

    It’s good to get an idea what your target curve sounds like in real life (within the limits you had tuning it).

    It gives me a better understanding of graphs now.

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