Are the top model of the Colorful World lineup worthy of their idyllic namesake?
My last review was for one of the Fearless Audio Shangri-La’s IEM (in-ear monitor) siblings, the Provence. Physical attributes are virtually identical with the exception of the faceplate designs and the addition of two extra balanced armature drivers per side in the Shangri-La. As such, we will review the differences, particularly in the sound section.
The Shangri-La are at the top of the ‘Colorful World’ collection, Fearless Audio’s entry-level models. They are all variations on a theme inspired by famous regions (both real life or fantasy).
The Colorful World IEM models include, from least to most drivers: the Barcelona, Provence, and Shangri-La. While the price gap between the Barcelona and Provence is relatively small (approx. +15%), the price gap between the Provence and Shangri-La is comparatively huge (approx. +60%), putting them in an entirely different competitive price bracket (over USD$200).
Giving audio technology this majestic name and a disproportionately high price tag for the model collection is as bold as the available designs. I wonder if the Shangri-La can transport us to an exotic utopia and live up to the glorious name?
Given my unpleasant first impressions of the Provence before extensive burn-in, I made extra sure to give the Shangri-La ample play time before doing any critical listening. Similar to the Provence, the Shangri-La benefited; conditioning seemed to smooth out some sharp edges, though not entirely.
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.
Fearless Audio produces a range of in-ear monitors (IEMs), from accessible budget-friendly options to more exclusive models.
- Drivers: Hybrid configuration with 5 drivers on each side employing a 3-way crossover
- (1) Fearless Special Research 10mm Pole-Magnetic dynamic driver
- (2) Sonion 23 Colorful World collaboration medium and high-frequency balanced armatures (BA)
- (2) Colorful World 2nd generation high-frequency balanced armatures (BA)
- Impedance: 22 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 112 dB/mW
- Frequency Response Range: 15Hz – 20kHz
- Noise Isolation: Passive noise reduction, 26dB
- Style: In-ear, with earhook cable
- Color: ‘Horizon’ 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, and well-presented. The packaging for all three models in the Colorful World collection is identical.
Under the black sleeve is an 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 above an attractive white case. The cable and ear tips are underneath out of view.
I appreciate the distinctive, yet simple, presentation, not more boxes to store or the creation of more waste. Thankfully, there is minimal plastic to be found.
In the box
- Fearless Shangri-La 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 Shangri-La (and the others in the Colorful World collection) come with an 8-strand ultra-pure, oxygen-free copper (OFC), silver-plated litz cable that Fearless 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 an unexpected premium addition. It truly adds to the value proposition of the whole Colorful World collection, especially to the lower-priced Barcelona and Provence.
The cable is thick and perfectly braided, with a high-quality and weighty feel. Three flat sides, one laser engraved with the Fearless Audio name, make it far easier and safer to handle.
There is also a metal wire splitter cover and sliding cinch which work well. The construction feels top notch and I expect it 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.
Inspired by Shangri-La’s imaginary and real environments, the designers gave us three more stunning designs to get lost in with the Shangri-La. The deep orange-red color of a rising sun is aptly named Horizon, the deep black, Canyon, and the ice water blue, Moraine.
Just like the Barcelona and Provence, the Shangri-La are functional art. Starting with the depth of the faceplate color, to the bright green and gold adorning the driver and nozzle, to the brilliant silver cable, the Shangri-La are stunning and a feast for the eyes from any angle. They are exquisitely made, encased in light, smooth, and seamless acrylic.
The chassis is a single resin body incorporating the faceplate, adorned with a large diameter bronze-colored nozzle. With few seams and external parts, proper care should result in a long life.
The Colorful World IEMs share the same super light and form fitting shape. As a result, they are all comfortable for extended listening periods. While the included tips are adequate, I found a better seal and fit with the AZLA SednaEarfit XELASTEC tips. Sound isolation with either the stock or other tips is excellent.
Forgive me in advance for a small rant, I want to take advantage of my pedestal here to make a point. it would be greatly in companies’ best interests to include more diversity of ear tips – varied materials and shapes. Especially at price points over USD$100. Ear tips are the cheapest thing to upgrade, and one of the most important aspects of the listener hearing the best possible sound the IEMs can produce.
Ear tips are like tires for cars, where the rubber literally meets the road.
The contoured shape of the clear resin shells are perfectly smooth, and have a nozzle length and angle that should fit most ears well. The cable ear hooks are more pliable than most and are easy to forget.
The Shangri-La are 5-driver hybrid IEMs with a 3-way crossover. They have one 10mm dynamic driver and 4 custom balanced armature drivers (per side): two mid frequency drivers and two ultra-high frequency drivers that were produced through cooperation between Sonion and Colorful World manufacturers.
This special 2300 series driver produces extremely precise mid and high-frequency details, and has 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 frequency regions, producing crystal clear treble, an airy atmosphere, and realistic soundstage.
Fearless Audio claims that doubling these drivers in the Shangri-La reduces the THD noise floor at a greater sound output, resulting in a higher-resolution playback.
Fearless Audio Shangri-La 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 2022, 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
A high sensitivity of 112db and a low impedance of 22 ohms means that these IEMs are easy to drive with virtually any source.
Fearless Audio is aiming for a balanced and detailed sound signature, with an emphasis on powerful bass and detailed treble. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the bass “powerful” and will get to that in the Bass section below. Detailed treble – yes!
The tuning of the Provence and the Shangri-La are similar, as are the frequency graphs. Given this, I listened to many of the same test tracks to directly compare the two. Both have balance, smoothness, and a natural representation of the source sound.
Like the Provence, with the addition of even more BA drivers, the Shangri-La present coherently – not a small feat. The blending of frequencies via the crossovers is excellent and transparent.
The Shangri-La’s frequency graph is a beauty for those who like more balanced signatures with plenty of detail – just shy of being too piercing. I expected to hear more bass presence, which is not nearly as strong as the graph suggests. The smooth and gentle slope all the way up to approximately 6kHz helps explain why no specific area of the lows and mids jumps out.
Both sound quite similar until they begin to take different paths from approximately 5.5kHz to 9.5kHz. Moving higher, the divergence grows and the sonic presentation is audibly distinct. In treble extension and detail retrieval, the Shangri-La walks away from the Provence. This is not to say that this is good or not – it depends on what you want to hear, and what you can actually hear given the health and sensitivity of your ears.
There are audible distinctions between the Provence and the Shangri-La.
The Provence do not sound like an obvious BA hybrid. Unfortunately, the Shangri-La do, most likely due to the extra BAs focused on treble. They occasionally exhibit the harshness, sharpness, or “metallic” sounds that some listeners have come to recognize as the telltale sound of BA drivers.
In contrast to the Provence’s more laid back, relaxed, and enjoyable sound signature, the Shangri-La are detailed, crisp, and forward. Subtlety is not their style. They demand your attention more than the Provence and may become fatiguing for some listeners, depending on preferred genres of music. This signature is excellent for classical and instrumental music. For heavy metal, well… it depends on what kind of sound profile you enjoy. There is brimming energy – lots of it.
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. Dynamics, layering, and depth interpreted by the Shangri-La are smooth and balanced. There is good sense of depth and dimension complemented by accurate timbre.
Detail retrieval truly stands out with this piece of music. Interestingly, the difference in the very beginning of the track is noticeable, with the sub and mid-bass rumble of the Provence being slightly more pronounced. Where the Shangri-La begins to differentiate and excel the most is in the sense of space between instruments, soundstage, and high clarity and resolution in the treble. It’s a beautiful experience.
The frequency response range and graph suggest that the Shangri-La and Provence can extend down to 15Hz+. Due to the tuning, the Provence has slightly more body in the sub-bass.
Bass is musical and well-behaved. The stock low frequency tuning allows the Shangri-La to effortlessly and smoothly produce natural sounding bass. The overall tuning clears the way for more detail throughout the remainder of the frequency response. There is no mid-frequency bass bleed or muddyness.
Exploring a profoundly lush trance soundscape journey mixed by Ramyt Ramyt: Pacifica, Session II offers a wide range of sounds to explore the full capabilities of headphones/IEMs. The sense of space and imaging with the Provence is very good. With the Shangri-La, even more so.
The Provence’s sound is fuller than the Shangri-La by a wide margin overall, starting with the fact that the Provence are more substantial down low. This difference is accentuated because the Shangri-La’s treble is so much more pronounced that it grabs all my attention and runs away with it.
England’s presently most famous siren Adele released her new album 30 in 2021. Adele’s voice can trigger sibilance in the upper midrange on Easy on Me. 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.
With the Shangri-La, the overall presentation is slightly thinner, and Adele’s voice is even sharper in focus, though taking the sound just a hair closer to sibilance. Overall detail is clearly superior, though slightly clinical and a touch cold. The Provence are smoother and warmer.
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.
Interpreted by the Shangri-La, the timbre is slightly less pleasing to my ear and the treble not as smooth as the Provence. In contrast, it is more detailed and lively, dynamically outshining the Provence in classical pieces such as this that feature violins and stringed instruments. Again, this will be a matter of listening preference.
For a clear contrast, let’s spend some quality time in a mosh pit, with American metalcore band Wage War. Their track Teeth, is a heavy challenge for headphones and IEMs and will quickly expose weaknesses. To start, the beginning of the song with the Shangri-La lacks some bottom-end oomph. At :15, the distortion and treble spike is intense.
The Provence are more reserved and polite.
Both are able to handle the transition speed, and transitions from high frequency to ultra-high frequency are smooth. The greater detail and forward presentation of the Shangri-La may become fatiguing for some listeners. I found that I immediately needed to decrease the volume and overall sound pressure level as compared to the Provence. This is not obvious with many tracks and will only stand out with music that pushes to extremes.
Where to Buy
Fearless Audio has done an incredible job bringing high-end sound, technicality, and quality to a lower price-point with the Colorful World Collection. The fit and sound isolation are excellent, and the Provence and Shangri-La are legitimate introductions to IEM audiophile territory.
The Provence are better for all-around listening, while the Shangri-La excel at monitoring, mixing, critical listening, and high-energy enjoyment with superior resolution, treble extension, and micro-detail retrieval. They are a great match for jazz, funk, swing, folk, classical, orchestral, country, reggae, and music with high complexity and speed, with the exception of heavy metal with significant treble edginess and high distortion.
The Fearless Shangri-La are beautiful, well-made, and highly technical performers targeted to a discerning audience and professional users. With the inclusion of the premium cable, I believe this 5-driver advanced hybrid is reasonably priced for its capability, albeit against some strong competition at this price point.