Oldie but rose-goldie? Can a 3-year-old IEM hold its own in this highly competitive market? Thanks to the kind people of Final Audio, we will have a try.
Final is a cool company. I’m not gonna throw dates and history about them. I want to talk about the people. It’s them who create the core of the company. I had an opportunity to bump into them at Munich Hi-End 2022. I didn’t get to meet the CEO, Mitsuru Hosoo, as he couldn’t attend the show this year. Luckily, I got to talk with Mr. Yamamoto and Mr. Khaw, representing the company. They have described him as a person who believes in his team wholeheartedly and places learning and experience above all else.
I think this philosophy shapes what Final Audio stands for. I was introduced to them by my friend, Mr. Mori, polish distributor of Final. You are the best Nobumasa, love you man! We have had a fantastic discussion about Finals policies and product development. They eagerly answered all my questions, which surprised me because I expected a Japanese company to be more secretive. Well, it’s proof that traveling is a lesson in life.
Back to the topic. Final’s CEO, Mr. Hosoo, believes in releasing a product only when it brings new value to the market. Very often, the development alone takes 2-3 years for a single product. It’s not EA’s Battlefield game, we don’t get a buggy product each year. Engineers at Final are doing their best to deliver us the best possible experience they can. This can be a disadvantage in a competitive market like ours when new products pop up monthly.
Speaking of new releases, I was lucky to be invited for a press release of two new products: the new revision of the flagship D8000 PRO headphones and the upcoming ZE8000 IEM. The latter can really make some noise, so stay tuned. After that, I received some gifts, including a fresh pair of B1. It wasn’t a review sample, but we have decided to do one. Final was always a great company to work with, and we want them to feel appreciated. Also, this IEM, while not the newest, can still kick some serious ass. All the more reason to read the review down below. B1 is a part of the three-piece B-series. Other earphones in this series use only BAs.
Unboxing Experience and Fit
I know the box in the pictures is dirty. Sorry, it had to travel in my bag all the way to Poland. It happens. Especially when it’s a white box made from a thick, fancy finished cardboard. The logo and the series name are stamped into it with a golden-colored foil.
The same applies to the sticker naming the model. It’s super simple yet very elegant. I dig it, I think it looks like it belongs to a more expensive product. Inside we don’t find an abundance of accessories. There are earphones, a case, and a set of Final’s famous ear tips type E. All the materials used in packing feel luxurious, to be honest. Paper, thick plastic foils, stamped paper insert. Super cool. What has changed on the market since the B1 was released is the situation with accessories. In 2019 this amount of accessories was acceptable at this price point, but even then, people were expecting something more than a 3,5mm terminated cable.
Now, the market has shifted into more accessory-rich sets. I hope that Final will follow up on this trend and include at least an option for a 4.4 mm terminated cable when ordering. Or, the best option is for a modular plug cable like Dunu, FiiO, and others started doing. On the flip side, the standard cable is very good, though a little stiff. It’s developed by a Japanese company called Junkosha, which manufactures high-speed cables, e.g., for a Japanese supercomputer called KEI. I think it might be fast enough for some IEMs.
Its insulation is made of PFA and PVC jacket. Inside I found a super fine stranded, silver-plated copper wire. Yes, I did find it myself. I ripped an MMCX connector on the cable because I’m a neanderthal brute with big hands and a small brain. Yes, reviewers are people too. We get rejected by pretty girls at the bars, and we pay taxes. It’s fixed now with Ranko rhodium-plated connectors. Nothing I can do about the taxes.
Design, Build and Tech
The earphones look very good. The polished rose gold finish is a show-stopper.
On the back of each earphone is a small opening for pressure relief, which is pretty standard for DD-based stuff. Shells are made of injection molded stainless steel. They are held together by two Allen screws. The screw on the ear-side is protected by injected silicon, so the user won’t feel its edge on his ears.
That is what I call attention to detail. While screws aren’t the prettiest thing in the world, they provide repairability for a product. It’s a nice touch proving the amount of thought behind every product at Final Audio. Under the shell, we will find one dynamic driver and one balanced armature. They don’t say much more about them, but I suspect DD is custom-made by Final. Not much? True. At least they are all working, unlike some manufacturers tend to do lately. Their name starts with K, but I can’t tell you it ends with Z.
Roasting aside, competition at this price point offers more drivers, and it’s a fact. But the amount of drivers is one thing. Their quality is another one. Final is well known for its high-quality drivers (ones they made and bought). I’m not discouraged by B1 being a simple hybrid, and you shouldn’t either. Both drivers are working full range, so no crossover is used. That should lead to a very smooth transition when pulled off correctly.
I have the highest respect for a company that claims, “we have made those earphones to sound like this, and it’s our conscious choice”. No “it’s the best in class”, “pure music”, “perfect sound”. It takes balls to do this and shows the experience of flexible engineers to design different sound profiles. According to Final, B1 is supposed to balance dynamics with precision while having a close presentation. Following their website, its narrower presentation is supposed to create a more intimate and real presentation. This is exactly what we get, I would call it modern vintage sound. It’s a warm style focused on being easy to listen to. It has its thick tone coming from the DD driver. It feels like the BA is playing upper midrange and up. As Final has stated, the sound is close to the listener, but it doesn’t curve around your head.
I didn’t feel that my head was in a bucket of sound. Musicians are close, but they are in front of you to the left and right. For me, this is preferable to be surrounded by music, which, while spectacular, for me is unnatural. It can get tiring too. Stereo imaging is good, sizes are natural, and their direction is easy to pinpoint.
It’s nothing crazy, and multiple IEMs do It better, but B1s keep it natural and realistic. Describing detail is kind of hard for me in this case. When you listen to those IEMs, everything feels fine, but when you are using other headphones, you suddenly feel that B1 is not particularly resolution and detail-oriented. They provide an acceptable amount of detail, but their focus is clearly on engaging the emotion. This is why I’m calling it a modern vintage, as it reminds me of the sound of old Hi-Fi gear. It’s a fun, V-shaped sound that is very engaging and just issueless.
Lows are clearly playing a big part in this IEM. They are the main character in this story. This arm of the “V” in v-shaped is longer. There is something satisfying about this bass. It’s not epic, over the top. There is a lot of it, it’s substantial, thick and it sets the tone for a whole IEM. I think the word that describes it is thumping. Meaty, fatty, and delivering some impact when needed.
There is not too much sub-bass, most of the action is in mid and high bass. Interestingly, the louder you play, the leaner and more controlled the bass becomes. It changes its character a bit. B1s shine in pop music. Listening to beats in Banks “Alaska” gives pure joy. You can feel the air actually flow inside your ears. While a little looser, especially on low volumes, lows are very satisfying. I have achieved even better results with “Starlight” by Muse. The bass guitar intro sounds very natural. Instant foot-tapping action. B1s paint the bass in their own colorful way.
Voices, strings, annoying trumpets. Everything we love the most. The first thing that you will hear is the warm tone. Used DD gives an almost analog type of sound. Smooth, colored, but very exciting. Harsh sounds are rounded out for your pleasure, please, and thank you. It’s like that big-ass chair at grandma’s place that is absurdly comfy.
Final engineers know what they are doing, the B1 has that realistic presentation. The type of tone and the way the midrange flows are very addictive. When listening to a good recording like Arne Domnerus “Limehouse Blues” from beaten to death album “Jazz at the pawnshop” you can feel the atmosphere of the event. Instruments like trumpet and cymbals don’t sound perfectly natural, but they sound in a way that is always pleasant. Voices are also benefitting from coloration.
Take Katie Melua, her smooth mezzo-soprano feel very intimate on those IEMs. It adds to her soothing style of singing, elevating all the pros of her style. Roundness and smoothness have their price though. You won’t hear super dynamics and lots of details. The B1 has its focus elsewhere.
The high-frequency range starts with a bang, giving a sparkle to the otherwise smooth and thick sound of B1. They are like a little acidity in a yogurt sauce, they keep the excitement up. This is the territory of BA driver that won’t let us get too bored.
Again, by design choice, this range has a nice impact in the territory of percussion cymbals but then it rolls off in the top octave. This allows the sound to have some life but doesn’t break the overall impression. Highs have a nice, fast attack, but they finish pretty quickly, not building up in an aggressive manner. This range has a shape of “^” with its peak around the lower part of high frequencies.
Take Fleetwood Mac’s certified classic “Little lies”, where highs play a big part in the song’s overall theme. They make the sound more alive and exciting without being harsh and offensive. Another example of their spicy charm can be found in Dave Brubeck’s “Take five”. Yes, today I’m pulling out certified hood classics. But no Pink Floyd, that’s a promise.
Back to the topic at hand (ear?). This is the type of music that B1 is perfect for. High frequencies, while tuned in a non-standard way, still create the sense of space that the music is being played in. I can easily hear the sound of the cymbals bouncing off the walls in the room, creating again a close but realistic illusion of being there with the artist.
How does the B1 stand up to the flagship, the mighty A8000?
The first difference is that the A8000 is more chunky. The second one is the driver used. It uses only one DD with a pure beryllium diaphragm.
Now down to the sound. The Bass of the A8000 is more linear, faster, more refined, and fuller in the lowest octave. B1 provides more quantity over quality in this aspect. The midrange in the A8000 is much more in line with the rest of the range. A8000 gains detail and crispness without sacrificing smoothness. B1 is a more “play it safe” type of approach but can do some magic with its colorful tone.
Finishing in high-frequency territories, the flagship delivers supremely last, linear, neutral, and objectively amazing treble. B1 has nothing on A8000 in this range. Period.
To wrap things up, A8000 is a magnifying glass for sound, while B1 gives more of its character to the music.
The CFA Mammoth is what I would call the bass head’s wet dream. A hybrid, just like B1, this American IEM is tuned completely differently.
It’s all about big and bold. Mammoth delivers a larger soundstage and more detail than the B1. The Bass of this IEM is legendary. It’s limitless in volume, and it goes insanely low. It is also more defined and has better resolution than B1 can offer.
The midrange of the Mammoth feels much drier. It’s played by a BA, so while it is more detailed and less colored, it doesn’t have that nice presence. The top end of the Mammoth is more linear, but it is a little sharper. B1 is more delicate in this range.
In the end, both are completely different products for completely different people. Mammoth is great for electronics, metal, and just smacking you with bass. B1 is like warm pajamas and a glass of whisky. A rave, or a jazz concert, you choose.
I had always liked Final, even when I was just starting with headphones. I used E3000 for a very long time, I’ve changed girlfriends more often than earphones.
You can say that is why I have some bias for Final Audio. I would rather say that I have confidence in them. A winner combo is a solid product and excellent customer service (shoutout to Nobumasa Mori!).
Final B1 is an IEM for somebody looking for a smooth and engaging ride. I can recommend it wholeheartedly to people listening to lots of live recordings, jazz, rock, blues, and similar genres. Those earphones will bring you lots of joy. While not an absolute bargain or the most universal pick, it still is a relevant product on the market. You can’t say that about too many 3-year-old IEMs, can you? I wish Final would update the design with a B1 v2. Newer drivers might bring more details and a smoother response. Accessories also need revision, modular cables, or at least plug selection is becoming a standard at this price range.