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Review: Fearless Audio Barcelona – Dark and Dreary

Fearless Barcelona
Fearless Barcelona

Fearless Audio’s entry level model is bland, boring, and uninspiring.

I’d like to thank Linsoul for providing the Fearless Barcelona for review.

Fearless Audio has a rather interesting and bold name. Founded in 2012 Fearless Audio has gained mainstream attention in the past couple of years and has a rich portfolio of IEM offerings. However, most of them are in the midrange and high-end price tiers.

The Barcelona are the cheapest Fearless Audio earphones to date and sport a unique design.

Design alone does not cut it anymore in the hyper-competitive IEM market and these IEMs need to show their tuning chops as well to stand out.

Fearless Barcelona
Bottom Line

Fearless Audio got the build quality and shell design right with the Barcelona. Unfortunately, they got the tuning downright wrong. The sub-bass chomps down on everything below it and the lack of treble further exacerbates the problem. Due to the inconsistent and incoherent tuning, coupled with inferior technicalities - I cannot recommend the Fearless Barcelona.

What We Like
  • Beautiful and unique shell design
  • Good quality accessories
  • Comfortable, isolates well
What We Don't Like
  • Overzealous sub-bass and mid-bass boost
  • Mid-bass bleeds into lower-midrange
  • Vocals sound a tad too recessed
  • Severe treble roll-off past 5KHz
  • Compressed dynamics
  • Congested stage and below average imaging

Technical Specifications

  • Form: IEM
  • Drivers: 1 x dynamic driver, 1 X Balanced Armature driver
    • Fearless special research pole magnetic dynamic driver
    • Sonion 23 colorful world cooperation funds medium and high frequency BA
  • Impedance (Ohm): 24 Ohm (@ 1KHz)
  • Sensitivity (dB): [email protected]
  • Frequency Response (Hz): 15 Hz – 20 KHz
  • Removable Cable: Yes
  • Source Jack: 3.5mm
  • Shell Jack: 2-pin 0.78mm
  • Mic: No
  • Additional Features: maximum +/- 2dB channel imbalance

Packaging

The Barcelona comes in a rather oversized box while the contents are minimal.

The packaging of Fearless Barcelona.
The packaging of Fearless Barcelona.

In the box

  • Barcelona IEMs
  • 4 pairs of eartips (S/M/L/LL sizes)
  • 8-core 1.2m SPC cable
  • White carrying case
  • Microfiber cloth and cleaning tool
Supplied accessories.
Supplied accessories.

Accessories

In terms of quality of the supplied accessories, I have no complaints. The stock tips can be a hit or miss but for me they worked well. The 8-core SPC (Silver-plated copper) cable has a nice heft to it and is rather soft/pliable. However, the 3.5mm jack housing is quite heavy – though it’s not a big deal.

Stock cable of the Fearless Barcelona.
Stock cable of the Fearless Barcelona.

Finally, the carrying case is of good quality and offers decent protection. One can not ask for much more at this price point.

Design

Fearless is fond of using resin shells for its IEMs and the Barcelona are no exception. Here we have 3D-printed, UV-cured, resin-shells with the drivers placed in a vertical alignment to each other. Each driver is encased in a green housing, with the dynamic driver housing getting extra ornamental treatment. The backplate finish varies upon model, mine have a pink faceplate with numerous reflective elements.

The dynamic driver housing has an interesting pattern.
The dynamic driver housing has an interesting pattern.
Fearless Barcelona has a stunning faceplate design.
Fearless Barcelona has a stunning faceplate design.

At the bottom of each earpiece we find the 0.78mm 2-pin connector, which is thankfully recessed. There were no vents on the earpiece which is a curious omission given the hybrid nature of the IEMs (dynamic drivers usually benefit from a vent).

In short: the build quality is excellent and the faceplate design belies the affordable price-tag.

Comfort and isolation

Comfort is excellent due to the lightweight nature of the shell. Isolation was also very good and drowned out surrounding noises effectively.

Internals

The Barcelona utilize an electronic crossover circuit to separate between the bass and rest of the frequencies. There is a two-way crossover with two internal acoustic tubes which run the length of the entire nozzle. As a result, the Barcelona are rather susceptible to tip selection (since the tip itself becomes part of the acoustic tubing).

Driver setup of the Fearless Barcelona.
Driver setup of the Fearless Barcelona.

The dynamic driver is a 10mm unit with a specially designed magnet-assembly that Fearless refers to as “pole-magnetic driver”. Their claim is that this specific design reduces distortion and increases diaphragm responsiveness.

The balanced armature (BA) unit is a custom Sonion 2300 series driver that handles the midrange and treble frequencies. My assumption is that it is one of the unvented 23 series drivers (perhaps a custom-tuned 2323) due to lack of venting in the driver shell.

Fearless Audio Barcelona Sound

The following sound impressions are formed with the stock tips + stock cable + Sony NW-A55

The general sound signature of the Barcelona can be described as dark, L-shaped tuning with early treble roll-off.

Bass

Bass is treated as first-class citizen in the Barcelona’s tuning. Unfortunately the bias towards bass is too skewed and ruins the entire tonal balance as a result. The sub-bass pulls a haze over the entire frequency range, whereas the mid-bass bleeds into the lower-mids.

Unfortunately, even with this heavy bass focus – the quality of the bass is not good. Sub-bass rumble lacks physicality whereas mid-bass lacks slam.

The bass tuning follows the “quantity over quality” mantra.

Bass texture is also lacking, making it sound one-note. Bass decay is slower than ideal resulting in fast flowing bass notes smearing into one another.

Midrange

The lower-mids are masked by the encroaching mid-bass and as a result cannot portray lower-level details. Thus the subtlety of male vocals e.g. small shifts in pitch and scale, and breathing patterns are often muted. The extremely early rise of the lower-mid frequencies (beginning from 600Hz) is the culprit, while the sub-bass shelf makes it worse.

The upper-mids meanwhile sound recessed with female vocals getting drowned out. Guitar riffs and the leading edge of string instruments are blunted. The mids in general are not resolving, especially for the price-range.

Treble

To my ears, the treble tuning is the most questionable aspect of the Barcelona. The treble peaks suddenly around 5KHz and then goes for a drastic downturn. As a result the leading edge of cymbal hits are prominent but then the decay is very abrupt and quite jarring.

Meanwhile bells, hi-hats, and high-pitched violin notes sound mushy. The abrupt peak also adds splashiness to ride cymbals.

If the bass response of the Fearless Barcelona is questionable, the treble is downright shoddy.

Soundstage/imaging

Soundstage is cramped, thanks to a lack of treble extension. Imaging is mostly left/right with very little separation between instruments, which tend to overlap each other.

Dynamics/speed

Dynamics are extremely compressed, especially macrodynamics (sudden change in volume). The dynamic driver sounds over-dampened and has a very slow decay which also leads to incoherency with the faster BA driver.

Frequency response graph

Measurement setup: IEC-711 compliant coupler, Fearless Barcelona with Final E-type (Medium) tips and Questyle CMA-400i as source.
Frequency response graph of the Fearless Barcelona.
Frequency response graph of the Fearless Barcelona.

Fearless Audio claimed a +/- 2dB threshold for channel imbalance, and it appears that they were right on the money. The 8KHz peak is a coupler resonance and is not indicative of the true response in that area. The rest of the graph is fairly identical between both earpieces, so in this regard, a job well done by Fearless!

Comparisons

Vs Final E4000

Final E4000 are single-dynamic IEMs and have similar tuning to the Barcelona. This makes for an interesting comparison.

In terms of bass, the E4000 has less sub-bass extension (sub-bass rolls off around 30Hz) but makes up for it with superior bass texture and speed. The E4000 is not the fastest dynamic driver IEMs around but it is comparatively more agile.

The midrange tuning sounds similar with both having a warm, thick lower-midrange. The E4000 manages to eke out the subtleties of vocal and string instruments though, unlike the Barcelona. Treble is also noticeably more extended on the E4000 with no splashiness and cymbals having a natural decay.

Soundstage is noticeably wider on the E4000 whereas depth/height is similar. Imaging is slightly better as well, though the E4000 is not class leading when it comes to positional cues. Timbre and coherency are other differentiating factors with the Final IEMs being better in both aspects.

For those preferring a warm, smooth signature with a focus on bass, the Final E4000 are a superior alternative.

Fearless Barcelona has slightly different design on each faceplate.
Fearless Barcelona has slightly different design on each faceplate.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

Fearless Audio got the build quality and shell design right with the Barcelona. Unfortunately, they got the tuning downright wrong. The sub-bass chomps down on everything below it and the lack of treble further exacerbates the problem.

Due to the inconsistent and incoherent tuning, coupled with inferior technicalities – I cannot recommend the Fearless Barcelona.

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