My Fairbuds XL just arrived today from the UK. I was more excited for them than the Fairphone 5 which accompanied them. The first piece of music I put on any set of headphones is Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor. The first time I listened to this piece with good headphones it brought tears to my eyes. After listening to it on the Fairbuds XL I just want to cry. I listened through the piece on these headphones in full only once. I’ve listened to the beginning numerous times now as I work different EQ and noise cancelling settings, but I can’t even bring myself to listen to the finale through these headphones again. It’s that disheartening.
In case I wasn’t clear, the sound from these headphones is markedly subpar. I’ve read a lot of reviews that say they are a little lacking in sound quality - I think those reviewers have all been universally throwing Fairphone a bone. I need to get these on a proper mannequin frequency response measurement rig, because people need to know objectively how bad these are. My cheap in-ear backup headphones from Ali Express have more accurate sound. I mean that literally. The Fairbuds XL are notably lacking any sort of crispness or fidelity. I have tried them with and without noise cancelling turned on, and unfortunately the issue is not the noise cancelling circuitry. I have tried them with every EQ setting and spent time trying to rectify the issue with a custom one. No amount of selective frequency amplification can fix this. The mid-to-high-end overtones are missing to the extent that strings sound like you are listening to them through an old telephone. Without those overtones and high end harmonics everything sounds dead, wooden, and listless. Even a deep rich cello needs those overtones to give life to the sound.
I have a pair of Bose QC35 II headphones that my dog has gotten to more than once. I have replaced all the padding and headband on it more than once with aftermarket parts, but the plastic frame assembly and built-in clips for the earpads are broken in places and it’s difficult to get the ear pads to stay in place any longer. This is why I was reluctantly looking to replace them. I have no love for Bose as a company any more as I had to go through a very technically challenging process to revert a firmware update on them because Bose sabotaged the QC35 II’s sound quality and noise cancelling in a firmware update. The QC35 II’s were outperforming their then new flagship 700s so they “remedied” that with a firmware update to the former. After that debacle, I promised I wouldn’t give money to Bose ever again. So when I learned of the Fairbuds, it seemed a match made in heaven.
I understand that other factors are at play with the Fairbuds XL. Recycled materials, fair wages, repairability. But one shouldn’t enter the headphone market with those factors alone. I didn’t expect the noise cancelling in the Fairbuds to be perfect. But I did expect better sound. If a 250€ headset with the amount of materials in it that a Fairbuds XL has can’t perform as well as an in-ear 5€ set, then no amount of recycled materials or fair sourcing can remedy the waste of resources. I laud Fairphone’s cause and aim. I just think this product does those aims no justice.
Hello, sorry to hear about your disappointment. That’s good indeed that you can check the device and return, should it not fulfill your expectations.
That being said, we have had on a forum separate threads on people playing with EQ settings, perhaps you could have a look?
Best and good luck
People have very different expectations on headphones (and generally audio gear). What is considered good for somebody might be deemed abysmal by somebody else (Example, the good old “Loudness” setting, which is a must-have for some, but an abomination for others…).
Without being a rabid “audiophile” who only uses wires of “virgin free-range organic electron-starved copper”, I do enjoy when all the tech between the performer(s) and myself makes itself as invisible (inaudible) as possible, and I assume this is the case of @VA1DER too.
Fact is, people expect some level of sound quality on kit costing north of 100 €. Even among those not called “Kurt”.
(Disclaimer: I don’t have those “Fairbuds XL” and don’t have any specific opinion on them. I do have the small ones though.)
German computer magazine c’t published this response curve together with a generally very favorable assessment of the headphones (German, paywall).
(Reference: Sennheiser HD600, yellow curve)
They further consider the sound quality roughly equal to the Anker Soundcore Q45 which is about 100€ cheaper but neither fair nor repairable.
Not being an audiophile myself, I’m more than satisfied with the sound - maybe just because I don’t know any better.
The response graph also doesn’t really mean much to me, but maybe you can get some more insights from that than me.
Didn’t say that.
I was just saying that the issue is more complicated than it might seem at first glance. That “many find them good enough” doesn’t necessarily mean much in this case.
I don’t judge either, as I said I don’t have them, I just say I understand where @VA1DERseems to be coming from. -shrug-
Response curves are one good measuring tool, but not the be-all. They only typically measure single-tone response of the headphones produced by a sweep generator. The issue that no music is played this way, as a single tone. Some reviewers will measure fidelity, which is the headphone’s ability to reproduce complex waveforms. I can’t speak much toward the frequency response that this review published, since I haven’t done my own yet, but I can guarantee you the Fairbuds highest response is absolutely NOT at the 5kHz+. It is, however, certainly very poor in the 1.5-4.5KHz, as that graph does show. Which is why it sounds like you’re listening through an old land-line telephone.
Actually reviews of the Bose QC35 II’s generally note that while its noise cancelling is top-of-the-line (and continues to top the Bose line, even over the more recent 700’s and QC45’s), that its sound quality is only fair. I am absolutely not judging the Fairbuds on their noise cancelling, which I actually find quite respectable. It is purely sound quality I am concerned with. And Fairphone should be very concerned too.
I did that, actually, and have a few things to say about the EQ app. First of all, an EQ should only tweak the sound. It shouldn’t be required to make it passable. But it’s quite clear in using the app that the EQ isn’t actually applying an equalizer to the headphones. Whether or not there is even a proper DSP on the headphones capable of supporting an EQ is debatable, and I suspect the lack of one is why the sound is so poor. The app is actually applying the EQ on the phone itself. This significantly limits what it can accomplish. Incidentally, there is actually no technical reason why the Fairbuds app couldn’t work as an EQ with any headphones. I suspect it’s just for optics (to make it look like it’s adjusting the sound reproduction on the headphones itself) that it restricts usage to only when it detects Fairbuds are connected.
Here is the EQ profile I’ve created which best brings some measure of fidelity to these headphones:
Note how aggressive this is. And it’s still not really effective. It would make the sound almost livable for me, except for some limitations of the EQ app. Because it’s not sending EQ settings to an onboard DSP means it has to run all the time for you to get the benefit from it. This draws battery, but more importantly makes it subject to killing. And sometimes Android will just kill it. If I pause my music/bookreader/podcast app for more than a few minutes with the side button, when I unpause the EQ has dropped off. It will just drop off in the middle of playback at times too. It requires such constant micromanaging that it’s not really usable as more than a demonstrator.
Did you update the firmware of your Fairbuds to the latest version (V90)? This solves the issue where the STUDIO EQ functionality is limited (resets when rebooting your headphones). It does actually upload the EQ settings to an on-board DSP. So your EQ settings should be stored permanently once you’ve performed the update (despite of whether you constantly use the app, or if you connect the Fairbuds XL to another device once you applied the custom EQ).
As I had expected, unfortunately. Fair is fine, but quality also. Very nice being able to even disassemble/replace every tiny single part, but headphones are simply to convert and listen to audio, not placing more weight on ones head or keep ones ears warm in cold times.
Reading through the tech specs gave me essential information on what audio quality to expect.
So no surprise reading your statement.
Did anyone ever wonder how come it’s not easy to find tech specs (frequency range, dynamic range, distortion…) on audio equipment labeled with a bitten fruit? Well, guess why…
True audiophile customers wouldn’t hype these products and invest even lesser amounts for much better equipment from better brands. But many customers just got for the style and hype.
I wished Fairphone would had put a bit more focus on audio quality here. Anyway they got scored in the middle field in a product test which surely will help to catch customers.
More for my own education, could you share with us a particular rendition of a song or classical piece that you feel does not live up to par on the Fairbuds? As in a particular orchestra or quartet, ideally with a link to it on youtube? Or does it need to be an extremely high quality source? Does the device that is producing the bluetooth signal also need to have some high quality playback capability?
I’ve been trying to hone my own listening ability, but I’ve yet to find an example that shows a clear difference in quality, so maybe it is just my ears, but I’d like get your take on it.
Almost anything instrumental or classical. You can’t properly hear the reed of any oboe, for example, or the fingering of plucked or staccato strings. For example:
Leopold Stokowski and the Symphonia Orchestra playing Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor. From the very introductory notes of the oboe it sounds muffled. Also notable in the bassoon overtones. And the ending triumphal chord is flat and listless.
Ennio Moricone’s soundtrack to The Mission. Advance to 2m20s and listen first through a good pair of headphones. That oboe, flute, and staccato choir is just astounding. Note the slight dying echo of the vocal punctuations on good headphones.
For more contemporary music:
4) Anything Abba sounds like you’re listening through cotton. Super Trooper will make you want to take the headphones off.
5) Alan Parsons Project Sirius / Eye in the Sky
I have relegated my Fairbuds to podcast listening where sound quality isn’t an issue. But even there, I also listen a lot of old-time radio shows (The Shadow, Dimension X/X Minus Ohe, The Mysterious Traveller). These shows are very hit and miss on the Fairbuds, since some of them are of low audio quality and the Fairbuds just don’t have the dynamic range to reproduce the remaining frequencies in already muffled old recordings.
These little $15CAD headphones provide far superior sound. I get the “fair” part of of the Fairbuds, one reason why I bought them. I just hoped for a little better sound from that.
Incidentally, after I decided to use them for podcasts and try and give them a fair shake, the left headband base broke, so I am now already in needs of parts.