Oooooh, sparkles! Do these pretty things sound as good as they look and live up to their name?
I will show no fear (or shame for that matter) while wearing the Fearless Audio Provence in their ‘Nice’ livery. Men can wear pretty earphones too!
The Provence IEMs (in-ear monitors) in my possession are ‘Nice’ – not intended as a subtle insult. In this case, Nice is the name of the artwork design, and shares the name of a French city in the Provence region (pronounced ‘niece’).
Fearless Audio has added several new models that comprise their Colorful World collection, all variations on a theme inspired by famous regions (in real life or fantasy). These IEM models include, from least to most drivers: the Barcelona, Provence, and Shangri-La.
I’m impressed with the level of homework that Fearless Audio did in researching the names of the models, in identifying related themes and associations, and then creating inspired designs and colorways. I’m also impressed with the double meaning of this particular Nice model – with livery and tuning to match.
Unfortunately, other than being drawn-in by the Provence’s pretty kaleidoscope-like potpourri of bling and enjoying playing with them in the light, my first impression was not favorable at all. That is, until after ensuring the proper tip seal and my conditioning (burn-in) protocol. I listen to the same track segment (no more than 2 minutes worth) before and after every 10 hours of conditioning, taking detailed notes and impressions.
Post-conditioning, the Provence present a smooth, well-balanced, and relaxed sound signature. They have become as entirely inoffensive as their artwork name.
Founded in 2012, Fearless Audio is committed to providing perfect fitting customized earphones, including in-ear monitors specialized for professional audio engineering and stage performance. As a world-class technical audio company, Fearless Audio established a specialized digital R&D department in 2016 for the exploration and application of 3D printing technology in customized in-ear monitors.
The culminating result was the world’s first 3D-printed lowpass tuning catheter to be utilized in earphones. Today, this technology has gone beyond to developing custom tuning tubes for balanced armature and dynamic drivers in every model that allow specific tuning engineering and minimization of unit variances.
The primary focus of Fearless Audio is on users’ music listening experience. Through years of cooperation with professional musicians, Fearless Audio has developed high performance earphones that suit all types of enthusiasts and musicians. During the past 9 years, Fearless Audio has been recognized as an industry leader by global consumers who insist on an unparalleled music experience.
Fearless Audio produces a range of in-ear monitors (IEMs), from accessible budget-friendly options to more exclusive models.
- Drivers: Hybrid configuration with 3 drivers on each side employing 2-way frequency division
- (1) Fearless Audio special research 10mm pole magnetic dynamic driver
- (2) Sonion / Colorful World collaboration medium and high frequency balanced armatures (BA)
- Impedance: 19 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 116 dB/mW
- Frequency Response Range: 15Hz – 20kHz
- Noise Isolation: Passive noise reduction, 26dB
- Style: In-ear, with earhook cable
- Color: ‘Nice’ design colorway, multi-color faceplate and clear resin body
- Connector: 2-pin 0.78mm notched socket
- Plug Type: 3.5mm gold-plated straight plug
- Cable Length and Type: 1.2m cable with 8 strands of high-purity OFC (Oxygen-free Copper) silver-plated wire and pre-shaped ear hooks
The box is large for a small pair of IEMs. Befitting a premium product, it is clean, well-constructed, well-presented, and quite nice (forgive me). The packaging for all three models in the Colorful World collection is identical.
Sliding off a standard black sleeve reveals a sturdy and stark unlabeled black box that opens like a book with a small magnetized flap. Inside is a black microfiber cleaning cloth covering the contents, with the IEMs presented faceplate up in perfectly shaped dense foam as well as a very attractive white case. Removing the entire foam layer reveals the cable and ear tips underneath out of view.
I appreciate the distinctive presentation and that there are not more boxes to store and to create waste. Thankfully, there is minimal plastic to be found.
In the box
- Fearless Audio Provence IEMs
- 1 high-purity OFC silver-plated cable
- 4 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, 2 M, L)
- White leatherette travel and storage case
- Cleaning brush
- Wipe cloth
The Provence (and the others in the Colorful World series) come with an 8-strand ultra-pure, oxygen-free copper (OFC), silver-plated litz cable that Fearless Audio claims is specifically selected to best enhance the sound signature of the IEMs. It has standard 0.78mm, 2-pin connectors and a 3.5mm single-ended plug.
The glistening white cable is itself an object of beauty. Easily comparable to many USD$30 – $60 cables available on the market, this is a surprisingly premium addition. I expect this kind of cable with a much higher-priced pair of IEMs. It truly adds to the value proposition of the whole Colorful World collection, especially the lower-priced Barcelona and Provence.
The cable is thick and perfectly braided. The metal end is heavy, though not enough to be bothersome. On the contrary, I love the high-quality, weighty feel. It has three flat sides, one laser engraved with the Fearless Audio name, making it easy to grab and helping ensure that users don’t pull on the wire itself.
There is also a metal wire splitter cover and sliding cinch which work well. The construction feels top notch and I expect it all to be durable and wear well. The ear hooks retain their shape well around the ear and do not exert pressure, remaining comfortable for long listening sessions.
My guess is that the designers were inspired by the Nice Carnival, the first carnival in France and one of the most famous in the world. It takes place every February in Nice for two weeks, attracting several hundred thousand spectators. It is the emblematic festival of the Nice event calendar among the 850 or so cultural, festive, or sporting events that take place there each year.
Starting with the super sparkly jewel and cotton candy tones embedded in the faceplate, to the bright green and gold adorning the driver and nozzle, to the brilliant silver cable, the Fearless Provence in Nice livery are whimsical and a feast for the eyes from any angle. They are exquisitely made, encased in clear seamless acrylic.
The chassis is a single resin body incorporating the faceplate, with the addition of a large diameter bronze-colored metal nozzle. I expect that they will be highly durable with proper care.
Super light and form fitting, the Provence are all-day comfortable. While the included tips are adequate, I found a better seal and fit with the AZLA SednaEarfit XELASTEC tips. Excellent sound isolation comes with a proper tip seal.
The contoured shape of the clear resin shells are perfectly smooth, and have a nozzle length and angle that will fit most ears well. The cable ear hooks are more pliable than most and are easy to forget.
The Provence are a pair of 3 hybrid driver IEMs with a 2 way crossover. The Provence have one 10mm dynamic driver and 2 custom balanced armature drivers (per side). The BA drivers handle mid and ultra-high frequencies and are produced through cooperation between Sonion and Colorful World manufacturers.
The 2300 series drivers produce precise mid and high frequency details, and have been tuned for an accurate and well-balanced signature. The 2nd generation Colorful World ultra-high frequency driver has been fine tuned to remove any grainy textures in the upper treble regions, producing crystal clear and high resolution treble playback.
Fearless Audio Provence Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V40 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Samsung A71 (in 2020-21, still has a headphone jack!)
- iPhone 7 Plus
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
- S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amplifier
- FiiO A3 Portable Amplifier
- TempoTec Sonata E44 Portable Amplifier
- Creative Sound Blaster X4 DAC/Amplifier
With a high sensitivity of 116db and a low impedance of 19 ohms, these IEMs are easy to drive with virtually any source. Passive sound isolation is excellent with proper-fitting ear tips.
Throw any tune at the Provence, and their response is: “No problem. Relax, I got this.” While that confidence doesn’t translate to perfect performance 100% of the time, the attitude helps. They are quite adaptable, with a few exceptions.
Somewhat surprisingly in this price bracket, Fearless Audio did not default the Provence to a general V-shape tuning, instead opting for balance, smoothness, and a more natural representation of the source sound.
For a multi-driver IEM, the Provence present coherently. They do not exhibit the harshness, sharpness, or “metallic” sounds that some listeners have come to recognize as the telltale sound of BA drivers. The blending of frequencies via the crossovers is excellent and transparent. Without looking at the specifications or the IEMs themselves, I cannot confidently identify that this is a three-driver hybrid.
The longer I listen, the more I appreciate how smooth and well-balanced these are – nothing jumps out to smack you in the face (or ear drums). This is an enthusiastic compliment to the Fearless Audio team for very well-executed tuning, resulting in a relaxed and enjoyable sound signature. They are easy to listen to and non-fatiguing, without being overly warm or dark sounding, per se. There is an air of effortlessness in the presentation of sound.
The Provence’s frequency graph is a beauty for those who like warmer signatures. Even though I expected to hear more bass presence, the smooth and gentle slope all the way up to approximately 6K Hz helps explain why no specific area of the lows and mids jumps out. There is enough treble for the Provence to sound awake, and enough roll-off in the right places to keep the sound from becoming harsh. Once again, nice!
Let’s begin our usual trips around the musical and physical world…
Tina Guo is a Chinese-born American cellist and erhuist from San Diego, California, United States. Her interpretation of Moonlight Sonata by Germany’s Ludwig van Beethoven has such subtle grace and beauty. Channel separation is clean. Dynamics, layering, and depth interpreted by the Provence is smooth and balanced. There is good sense of depth and dimension complemented by accurate timbre. The entire album Dies Irae is well worth the listening time.
How low can you go? The frequency response range and graph suggest that the Provence can go oh so low (15Hz+). There is enough presence to know the bass is there without being overpowering. The Provence are capable of getting down that deep, cleanly.
Bass is nicely present, musical, subtly textured, and well behaved. The stock low frequency tuning is not boosted up to or beyond the limit of the dynamic driver, which allows the Provence to effortlessly and smoothly produce bass that sounds more natural.
Interestingly, there is ever so slightly more sub-bass rumble than mid-bass impact, unusual in the world of consumer IEMs. While these are not basshead IEMs, they have substantial sub-bass rumble only if it’s emphasized in the mix, and slightly less mid-bass impact/slam. It’s there, just tuned in a way that does not cause mid-frequency bass bleed or muddyness.
The trade off in tuning here, I believe, is to ensure no distortion or bleeding from the mid-bass frequencies into the rest of the spectrum above. The Provence accomplishes this at the cost of a little mid-bass impact/slam.
Exploring a profoundly lush soundscape mixed by Ramyt Ramyt: Pacifica, Session II offers a wide range of sounds to explore the full capabilities of headphones/IEMs. This falls under the genre of EDM, though that may be selling it short for where this goes. This music is at home in vocal, rave, ambient, hypno, and psychedelic trance. It is simply a beautiful experience in flow. In addition, the sense of space and imaging with the Provence are very good.
Start listening at 56:00, and listen carefully for 60 seconds. There is plenty of bass at the start that transitions to slightly lower frequencies at the same tempo just before 57:00, followed by a massive bass drop at 1:00:20. When you hear this, you will discover just how fast your speakers, headphones, or IEMs can bottom or distort. The Provence are taken to their limit and still manage to hold it together relatively cleanly.
England’s presently most famous siren Adele released her new album in 2021 titled 30. The track Easy on Me is tricky for speakers, as Adele’s voice can trigger sibilance in the upper midrange. The Provence bring the mids right into focus, clear and intimately presented, with good resonance and centered imaging. The presence of her voice sounds like it’s centered in my head.
For more emphasis on excellent dynamics as well as treble, we travel to Australia to listen to The Four Seasons, Violin Concerto No. 4 in F Minor, RV 297 “Winter,” a famous composition by Anotonio Vivaldi, the Italian Baroque composer, performed by Christian Li (Australian violinist) and Australia’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It was with this entire recording that I believe I fell in love with the Provence.
The treble, similar to the mid-range and bass, has excellent timbre and is gloriously smooth and detailed, truly shining in classical pieces such as this that feature violins and stringed instruments. Treble can sound a touch dark, only when they get lost in the mix when lows and mids dominate or create a super-busy soundscape at the same time.
Where to Buy
Just like the meaning of “Nice” in English, using synonyms like smooth, pleasant, agreeable, and/or unremarkable may be construed as veiled insults. With the Provence, these descriptions are most definitely strengths. They are easy to forget about, in the best way.
If you are upgrading from a “standard” pair of IEMs, earphones, or ear buds, you will be surprised – these will be a major upgrade.
The downside for some may be the lack of mid-bass impact/slam, super high resolution, treble extension, and micro-detail retrieval. If you love treble, airiness, and crispiness, there are better IEMs for you – including, quite possibly, the most premium in the Colorful World series, the Fearless Audio Shangri-La (review coming next!).
There is a lot of strong competition in this price bracket of USD$100 – $150. The Fearless Audio Provence are beautiful, well-made, capable generalists that will serve almost anyone well. This is not to say that they are average or boring – they are not. The Provence are a safe buy with no unwelcome surprises. They are competent, comfortable, and incredibly easy to live with and enjoy – a perfectly mannered casual listening partner for everyday, all-day use.