disclaimer: I purchased the FAAEAL Hibiscus from the OPA Audio store at a reduced cost for the purpose of this review. I have recieved no other incentives for this review, nor do I have any financial interest in OPA Audio or FAAEAL. If you are interested in the Hibiscus and need more information, please see their facebook page or visit OPA Audio Store to purchase yours.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The elephant in the room, is that there is a lot of similarity in packaging and artwork that hints at a relationship between Moondrop and FAAEAL. None exists to my knowledge so I am not sure if this is a case of imitation or just of similar mindsets, but the similarities are certainly undeniable. They begin with the character on the front of the package with the name Hibiscus being the only other detail on the front. The reverse has all the details of what is contained within, but the front would offer little to suggest an earphone. Inside the box, the earpieces rest in a foam surround with the remainder of the kit hiding in a box beneath. The warranty card continues the trend started with the front of the box with another drawing (this time in color) also reminiscent of some of that has been seen on Moondrop’s packages. The kit includes a leatherette carry bag, 7 sets of tips (3 each in SML or 2 different styles of silicones, and a spare mid-sized of the clear variety), a shirt clip, the cable and earpieces. A hard case would be appreciated at the price point, but the cable quality makes up for some other shortcomings as it is well better than expected.
The Hibiscus is a 2 part shell with a clear resin inner shell (including nozzles) and a polished zinc/magnesium outer shell that looks like polished steel. The inner shell can be had in 5 colors, but I chose the clear to be able to see the driver more clearly. The body shape is of FAAEAL’s own design and is quite ergonomic with easy fit for most, although it is a bit on the larger size so those with small ears may need to try them on before purchase. Nozzles exit the lower front with a pronounced forward rake and a large lip to hold standard t400 tips in place. Venting is provided by pin-hole vents at the center of the dynamic driver on the inner face. The bi-pin connectors are flush with the surface and well fitted as is the faceplate with no signs of slop or glue. Two caveats are worth noting, first, the thickness of the shells is more than most and they do sit partially in and partially on the ear and second, the nozzles being made of resin instead of metal means these may be more susceptible to breakage if handled roughly. (again a hard case might have helped here).
The Hibiscus sports a 10mm dynamic driver with a diamond like carbon diaphragm. This material has become popular as it is stiffer and lighter than Beryllium or Titanium and is lower cost than either to manufacture. Nominal impedance is listed as 32Ω with a sensitivity of 110 dB/mW. While the impedance might suggest that the Hibiscus needs more power than the average cell phone can deliver, the sensitivity more than makes up for it and I had no problems using it with either smartphones or tablets in my tests. It does scale some qualitatively with better sources but also tends to have some hiss with higher potency sources and I found the iFi match to be useful with higher potency sources to help eliminate the hiss.
The cable provided with the hibiscus follows the recent trend of bundling better cables with the iem rather than a minimal version and offering an upgrade separately. The Hibiscus takes it to a new level though as rarely do you find a true Litz 5N copper braid in the package with a sub-$75 in-ear. The cable alone is worth most of the asking price for the hibiscus. Beginning at the south end, the jack is of the 3.5mm straight variety with a polished metal housing and a short strain relief before the 4 wire litz exits. Each wire is 56 individual strands of 5N oxygen free Copper in a clear housing. The braid is hand-woven (per FAAEAL) and does show some minor variation in how tight each individual braid is, but is very well done in the overall. The splitter is matching polished steel with the hibiscus name on the side and a matching top cap that operates as a chin slider above it. From there, a pair of two wire twists continue northward terminating in pre-formed earhooks and .78mm standard bi-pin connectors in matching polished housings with L/R clearly marked on the sides. Those looking for replacement cables would do well to look at the FAAEAL offerings as the cable alone can be purchased for $17 and is well worth the cost in my estimation.
The Hibiscus eschews the standard of elevate the bass and instead goes for a more linear low-end with both sub-bass and mid-bass being in roughly equal proportion and neither being elevated above the mids. The result of this is that when combined with its upper-mid/lower-treble push, the Hibiscus initially seems bass-lite. Once you listen a bit longer, you realize the bass is present and has good rumble and thump when called upon although roll-off is a bit higher than some with it becoming noticeable in the mid 40Hz range. Detail and texture in the bass is good as the driver has good speed with slightly slower decay than attack. Overall, the bass is not quite as well controlled and has a bit more bleed than some other popular models like the diamond or T4. I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the bass as loose, but it isn’t quite as articulate as the other two mentioned.
Mids are the star of the show here with lower-mids being inline with the bass and then climbing as you move up through the range. Vocals cut through the mix and stand a step in front of other instrumentation but remain fairly thin when compared to something like the Starfield. Detail is only moderate as the tuning goes more for smooth than absolute detail. Here again, the slightly slower decay of the driver plays into the tuning. This also impacts strings as they sound a bit unrealistic and thin. Upper-mids climb dramatically and give the Hibiscus an overall bright tilt as a result. I did find that at times they can become slightly over-stated and a touch harsh. A bit of EQ helps here.
Lower-treble is on the same plateau with the upper-mids before falling back fairly quickly above that plateau. This does limit extension at the top end and while it prevents some fatigue, it prevents the hibiscus from sounding entirely realistic as the air and sparkle needed to do so is limited pretty severely. Detail is good in the lower treble which keeps the hibiscus from sounding too closed in, but at times that upper range is missed. Snare rattle is slightly too slow to be believable and cymbals fall a bit flat as well. a little more top end would be helpful, but I found the area less than amenable to EQ.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage is wider than deep with some height. This is somewhat countered by its above average separation, but still leaves the hibiscus wanting for a bit more depth. Seating the orchestra often places instruments next to each other rather than in front and behind. This gives the hibiscus a fairly intimate feel. Imaging is average as sometimes isolating the exact position in space is difficult. Layering follows suit and while passable is not class leading probably due to the driver speed issues mentioned earlier.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
FAAEAL has made most of their reputation to date on earbuds so the Hibiscus is a departure from their normal offerings and a foray into new territory. The earphone itself is a great first effort with good low end and a very vocal-centric tuning, while the cable is a home run by itself. Overall, I have to give FAAEAL an A for effort even if the tuning is more of a C+ for me personally. The Hibiscus has good lows and is nearly linear through much of its range, and were the upper-mid/lower treble turned down a notch and the treble extension a bit better the Hibiscus would compete on a near even footing with the Diamond, Starfield, and T4 which is saying a lot for a freshman effort.
- Bass - 6.5/106.5/10
- Mids - 7/107/10
- Treble - 6.5/106.5/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 6.5/106.5/10
Pros – great cable, vocal-centric tuning, good timbre and texture in mids
Cons -Size may be an issue for some, bass could be a bit more articulate, will be too bright for some, some durability concerns