In February 2014, Final Audio Design released the Lab 1, a limited run pair of earphones that would eventually set the top-of-the-line performance benchmark for FAD earphones. It introduced several new design features, including a completely redesigned all-metal housing, and boasted some seriously good sonic performance. However, the astronomical cost and labor-intensive production of the Lab 1 would prevent it from ever entering mass production.
8 months later, rumors about new entries in the Heaven series generated much interest amongst FAD-enthusiasts in the audio community. On December 1st, the Heaven 7 & 8 were officially released. The new Heaven earphones shared many similar design characteristics with the Lab 1, including the rather unique all-metal housing. However, some of the more expensive characteristics, such as the titanium 64 build, had been removed. The natural question then was –how did the sonic performance of the Heaven 7 & 8 stack up against that of the Lab 1?
I should note that this review will be a little different in the sense that it won’t so much be an original review as a hybrid review/comparison. As an added note, I’ll be foregoing the packaging/included items section as I did not receive the original packaging.
DISCLAIMER: These units were provided by Yoko @ Final Audio Design for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Final Audio Design. All media rights are reserved.
The Heaven 7 (silver) & 8 (gold) feature a high level of build quality. It’s extremely similar to the Lab 1, but there are several subtle, but nonetheless important, differences. First, the Heaven 7 & 8 are made with stainless steel, which means that they are heavier than the titanium Lab 1. This made it harder to achieve a good seal, as I felt that there was a slight “tugging” force on the earphones in comparison to the Lab 1, which sat nicely in my ears. This is compounded by the fact that Heaven 7 & 8 are approximately 0.3 cm longer than the Lab 1.
In addition, the eartips on the Heaven 7 & 8 have a grooved texture. I’m not too sure about the technical rationale behind the change, so I’ll approach this from a qualitative standpoint. Fit-wise, they are more rigid, and are slightly less malleable than the original silicone tips that came with the Lab 1. They also happen to give a slightly shallower seal, which really is a matter of personal preference. Acoustically, I felt that the new eartips made for a slightly tighter but less immediate sound. I have to emphasize that the difference was very small, and that changing the eartips didn’t provide a “day and night” alteration of SQ. In the tradeoff between SQ and generally increased comfort, I felt that the original silicone tips were still the better choice.
The primary difference between the Heaven 7 and the Heaven 8 is that the latter features FAD’s BAM (Balanced Air Movement) technology, which promises crossover performance without actually necessitating actual crossovers.
Purely qualitative descriptions of the performance of each of the earphones would be abstract, confusing, and ultimately difficult to understand. Hence, I decided to approach the rest of the review in a more direct manner. I’ll be comparing how the earphones stack against each other in terms of performance in various popular music genres. Prior to listening to the test tracks through the FAD earphones, I first used the ER-4PT to get an idea of what an accurate reproduction of the tracks would sound like. This served as the jumping point for all of the following comparisons.
I started with a Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque by Francois-Joel Thiollier for the purposes of comparing the raw technical performance of each of the earphones. Solo piano, I have found, is one of the best ways to directly reveal the strengths of weaknesses of earphones (same applies to the soloist). For reference, here’s a link to the Prelude. To start, the Heaven 7’s interpretation was clean and detailed. It had a good amount air, but also lacked in intimacy of sound. The Heaven 8 improved on the Heaven 7 with better low frequency response, and an increased amount of energy. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Lab 1, which produced a rendition of the suite that put me, as the listener, right next to the pianist. It enthusiastically picked up on the dynamic nature of the Prelude, including the tempo rubato that Thiollier so brilliantly executes (better than the Gieseking interpretation in my opinion). OnHowever, on occasion, the Lab 1 did lose out on subtlety and detail.
For orchestral works, I chose nothing other than the sweeping Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor by Tchaikovsky. The Lab 1’s struggled with the piece in the sense that it emphasized the solo piano too heavily while putting the orchestra (especially the strings) too far back. The Heaven 8’s rendition was a little confused and didn’t quite capture anything specifically. Meanwhile, the Heaven 7, with its slightly detached SQ, produced excellent imaging and soundstage, while daintily navigating the more congested passages with ease.
“Take it, Satch!”. I mainly used smaller ensemble pieces, including Louis Armstrong’s famous La Vie En Rose. The Heaven 7’s approach was technically good, featuring a rather light body and excellent instrument separation. However, it really didn’t capture the sense of a small jazz ensemble playing at a club late into the night. Trumpet solos came off as a bit tinny even. The Heaven 8 brought a more intimate sound signature (and strangely, more sibilance), but was trumped by the Lab 1, which featured the liveliest sound with a naturalness that neither of its two counterparts was able to match.
Bossa nova panned out a little differently then I had expected. Featuring a wide range of instruments, including the guitar, piano, strings, and percussion in addition to vocals, it’s easily one of the most difficult genres to pull off successfully. The Lab 1 returned with its lush, winning mids that made female vocals a true pleasure to listen to. However, the Heaven 7 provided an airiness and resolution that helped to separate all the percussion instruments in a manner that, for some songs at least, made for a much cleaner listening experience. The Heaven 8 performed excellently as well, but didn’t quite strike a chord with me as much as the Lab 1 and Heaven 7 did.
I’ve stated in my past reviews that the Lab 1’s bass strength isn’t in its speed, but in its weightiness. This has, at times, given me some trouble when it’s come to electronic music. The Lab 1 isn’t particularly good with fast moving bass lines. After listening to a variety of electronic pieces, including Happy (Vaux & Amp Rivera Remix), I found that the Heaven 8 was the clear leader in its pack. Featuring good attack and impact in the lower frequencies while providing crystal clear highs, it made for a truly engaging electronic experience. The Heaven 7, while resolving, didn’t provide the bass impact necessary for party mixes and the like. The Lab 1 provided somewhat unpredictable performance, doing favorably in slower songs and less so in faster ones.
While listening to Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars by Mark Ronson, I wasn’t exactly engaged by the Heaven 7’s overly clean approach to the music. The vocals came off a little flat and the lower frequency response once again hurt the overall rendering of the song. The Heaven 8 did much better in terms of bass and general musicality, but was once again surpassed by the Lab 1, which really hit hard with its wonderfully weighty bass tones. That said, there were times when the Lab 1’s lively sound got too “closed” and I found myself leaning back towards the Heaven 8. Older pop, like Abba’s Dancing Queen, once again sat squarely inside the Lab 1’s domain, as the songs focused more heavily on vocals and less on synthetic rhythms/ bass lines. I must say that the Heaven 8 did come close in matching the Lab 1’s amazingly lush sound, while the Heaven 7 stuck with its rather linear presentation.
I listened to a good variety of rock tracks, ranging from Journey to ACDC to INXS. Taking ACDC’s Who Made Who as an example, I was still impressed by the weighty drums on the Lab 1, but it almost felt too heavy sometimes and during long listening sessions, did end up becoming tiring. In addition, the Lab 1’s somewhat unpredictable nature, especially in the mids, meant that the vocals lost out at times. The Heaven 7 brought back excellent resolution, but once again lacked the body to move my listening experience. The Heaven 8 presented the perfect mix of a “live” sound and hi-fi resolution. There was clean separation between the various parts of the drum kit, vocals, and guitars, which provided enough air to prevent imaging claustrophobia.
The Heaven 7 & 8 are truly good earphones. And while it may seem that I’ve been quite harsh on them, it is because I also compared them to the Lab 1. The Heaven 7 brings in a clear, detailed, “reference” sound that many have traditionally blamed FAD for not having. Personally, I do like a bit more musicality and lushness in my SQ, but there are times when I found myself liking the Heaven 7 more than even the Lab 1. The Heaven 8 is a good all-rounder, capable of reproducing many genres very competently. I do find that the Lab 1 overshadows it at times, but this is an inevitable comparison that arises from the fact that the Heaven 8 does come close to the Lab 1 in terms of producing an emotional and moving experience, while still retaining some of the Heaven 7’s detailed characteristics. Of the three, I do have to say that it is by far the most consistent. The Lab 1 continues with its legendary, rich sound. But that’s a story that has already been covered in a past review.
All three are great earphones, and for the Heaven 7 & 8, I’d strongly recommend a good auditioning to find which suits your tastes better. To sum things up succinctly: I’d be very happy with just having one of these three amazing earphones.