Review: Fearless Audio Shangri-La – Serenity in Name, Not Sound

The fiery and intense Shangri-La, shown in 'Horizon' livery.
The fiery and intense Shangri-La, shown in ‘Horizon’ livery.
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Are the top model of the Colorful World lineup worthy of their idyllic namesake?

First, a sincere thank you to Linsoul for allowing Headphonesty to review the Fearless Audio Shangri-La. As is my standard, I did not read any reviews before my evaluation.

First Impressions

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 Fearless Audio Shangri-La (L) and the Provence (R). The primary internal component difference between them are the additional BAs in the Shangri-La.
The Fearless Audio Shangri-La (L) and the Provence (R). The primary internal component difference between them are the additional BAs in the Shangri-La.

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 fiery and intense Shangri-La, shown in 'Horizon' livery.
Bottom Line

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. 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.

What We Like
  • Fantastic design, build, fit, and finish
  • Highly detailed sound signature with high clarity and airiness
  • Coherence and blending
  • Well-balanced across all frequency ranges, with the addition of high treble extension
  • Premium cable and carry storage/travel case
  • Light and very comfortable for extended listening
What We Don't Like
  • Not entirely flexible across all genres and sources for everyday casual listening
  • For some listeners, the high-energy, aggressive sound may be overwhelming
  • Extended treble may be fatiguing, with some evidence of sibilance when pushed
  • Few included ear tips to choose from

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).

In his bestselling 1933 novel Lost Horizon, English writer James Hilton created Shangri-La, a fictional utopian monastery located in the mountains of Tibet. Over many years, Shangri-La has become a symbol of an imaginary paradise on earth, a faraway haven or hideaway of idyllic beauty and tranquility.

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?

The Shangri-La's design, in Horizon, is as alluring as its mythical name.
The Shangri-La’s design, in Horizon, is as alluring as its mythical 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.

After a lengthy burn-in period (72-100 hours), I always begin evaluations with the same protocol: experiment with all of the ear tips to find the best fit. In addition, I do not use secondary EQ adjustments while testing.

Company Overview

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 case feels premium and appropriate transportation for the Colorful World Collection - that is, when they are not in your ears.
The case feels premium and appropriate transportation for the Colorful World Collection – that is, when they are not in your ears.
“Our corporate culture guides us in the pursuit of the ultimate music experience with the craftsman spirit of excellence, and a business philosophy centered on fearless, quality, and innovation” – Fearless

Fearless Audio produces a range of in-ear monitors (IEMs), from accessible budget-friendly options to more exclusive models.

The Shangri-La have a window with a view from all directions.
The Shangri-La have a window with a view from all directions.

Technical Specifications

  • 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

Packaging

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.

There is no way that the minimal product and pieces inside will be damaged tucked into the sizeable box.
There is no way that the minimal product and pieces inside will be damaged tucked into the sizeable box.

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.

The black microfiber cloth picture above not only further protects the Shangri-La, it is a handy accessory along with the cleaning tool for keeping your precious IEMs immaculate!
The black microfiber cloth picture above not only further protects the Shangri-La, it is a handy accessory along with the cleaning tool for keeping your precious IEMs immaculate!

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
All parts and pieces fit well and securely in the box. The distinctive white case is quite nice! (I couldn't resist the smiley face)
All parts and pieces fit well and securely in the box. The distinctive white case is quite nice! (I couldn’t resist the smiley face)

Cable

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 included cable is excellent and befitting an IEM over USD$200.
The included cable is excellent and befitting an IEM over USD$200.

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.

The cable terminates in a gold-plated 3.5mm plug, with 2-pin connectors for the IEMs. The heavy metal end feels high end.
The cable terminates in a gold-plated 3.5mm plug, with 2-pin connectors for the IEMs. The heavy metal end feels high end.

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.

The deep and majestic design of the Shangri-La, Horizon edition.
The deep and majestic design of the Shangri-La, Horizon edition.

Design

The Shangri-La, in Canyon black finish.
The Shangri-La, in Canyon black finish.

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.

The Shangri-La, in a snowflake adorned Moraine Blue.
The Shangri-La, in a snowflake adorned Moraine Blue.

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.

High-quality build with virtually perfect fit and finish.
High-quality build with virtually perfect fit and finish.

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.

Comfort

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.

As with all IEMs, the right ear tips and seal are crucial to realize the best sound and isolation. It is always worth the time to experiment until you find what’s best for you. Please reference this Ultimate Guide to Selecting the Perfect IEM Ear Tips.

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 ear hook sheathing is formed enough to hold, and flexible enough to be so comfortable that I often forget it's there.
The ear hook sheathing is formed enough to hold, and flexible enough to be so comfortable that I often forget it’s there.

Internals

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.

The Colorful World drivers are all visible from various angles.
The Colorful World drivers are all visible from various angles.

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.

In addition to being the name of this line of Fearless Audio IEMs, Colorful World also appears to be a Chinese manufacturer partner. Unfortunately, further information is not readily available.
”The Shangri-La utilizes the new proprietary dynamic driver, the Fearless Special Research Pole-Magnetic dynamic driver. This powerful 10mm driver has been specially designed to focus on low frequency performance by minimizing distortion levels while enhancing membrane responsiveness through a strengthened magnetic tension.” – Fearless
Colorful inside and out, the 10mm dynamic drivers has its own design flare casing.
Colorful inside and out, the 10mm dynamic drivers has its own design flare casing.

Fearless Audio Shangri-La Sound

The links posted are generally YouTube or YouTubeMusic links and the quality varies drastically and are provided for quick reference. I primarily listen and evaluate from original source CDs or high-quality lossless files.

For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:

A high sensitivity of 112db and a low impedance of 22 ohms means that these IEMs are easy to drive with virtually any source.

”The Shangri-La has a more natural mid-range than the Provence, allowing for a more studio-appropriate tuning, while still maintaining an impactful low end. Separation of the crossover between the mid and treble drivers also allows a greater level of instrument layering and imaging capabilities than the Provence or Barcelona.” – Fearless
The Shangri-La comes well equipped, except for the lack of differentiated tips.
The Shangri-La comes well equipped, except for the lack of differentiated tips.

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 frequency responses of the two siblings are similar, though differ primarily when it rises to the treble region. (Source: https://hbb.squig.link/?share=Fearless_Provence,Fearless_Shangrila)
The frequency responses of the two siblings are similar, though differ primarily when it rises to the treble region. (Source: https://hbb.squig.link/?share=Fearless_Provence,Fearless_Shangrila)

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.

The Shangri-La's treble is extended, detailed, and crisp.
The Shangri-La’s treble is extended, detailed, and crisp.

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.

The Shangri-La has a balanced sound signature with elevated treble extension.
The Shangri-La has a balanced sound signature with elevated treble extension.

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 2-pin connection is secure and the nozzle collars hold the ear tips securely.
The 2-pin connection is secure and the nozzle collars hold the ear tips securely.

Bass

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.

The drivers' tuning ensure that they perform seamlessly.
The drivers’ tuning ensure that they perform seamlessly.

Midrange

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.

The Shangri-La's recessed 2-pin connectors fit perfectly and securely, though it behooves one to take care inserting the pins slowly to avoid bending.
The Shangri-La’s recessed 2-pin connectors fit perfectly and securely, though it behooves one to take care inserting the pins slowly to avoid bending.

Treble

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

The Shangri-La, despite a very wide frequency response, are not the best choice for super bass-heavy music.
The Shangri-La, despite a very wide frequency response, are not the best choice for super bass-heavy music.

Conclusion

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.

If you love and want treble, airiness, and crispiness, the Shangri-La are a great choice that differentiate themselves well from many others in the market in the same price category. You will most certainly be thrilled with these if the descriptions presented in this review seem to fit your audio style.
The Shangri-La are easy to recommend for detail-loving audio enthusiasts and professionals.
The Shangri-La are easy to recommend for detail-loving audio enthusiasts and professionals.

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.

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