How much do you love bass? This isn’t a neutral question because Fender’s flagship headphones, the $499 in-ear FXA7, aren’t even close to neutral. The way you feel about bass will determine how you feel about the FXA7s, which have more of it than probably any other earphones on the market.
Fender is an unusual brand name to find silkscreened on an earphone, because as hallowed as it is in musical circles, it’s most associated with the creation rather than reproduction of sound. Fender guitars are legendary; Fender headphones, until this year, didn’t even exist.
If Fender was building the FXA series itself, you might expect it to tune them to be sweetest and most melodic when playing back guitar music, but the truth is that while Fender’s headphone journey is only beginning now, the underlying hardware has been in development for a few years by a small company named Aurisonics. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Aurisonics was acquired by Fender at the start of this year and simply released its latest batch of headphones under the storied guitar maker’s name. And what is Aurisonics’ signature sound? Bass. So much bass that the brand dominates the top 10 list of a website called Basshead.Club.
That’s what you get with the Fender FXA7: unrestrained, unapologetic bass exaggeration. Fender calls all of its earphones Pro In-Ear Monitors, but that’s not what they are at all. No professional music producer would ever use such a heavily tilted sound balance to monitor anything. Nope, these are pure consumer earphones designed to thrill and delight with their abundance of low-end rumble and enthusiasm.
Akala’s Knowledge is Power Mixtape, Vol. 1 sounds amazing through the FXA7s. The expense of these earphones goes toward producing high quantities of high-quality bass. So it’s no surprise that they are a runaway hit when handling hip hop, conveying Akala’s searing, earnest anger with conviction and authority. The same can be said of Clams Casino’s 32 Levels, which is just tastier with an extra dollop of bass. Aphex Twin’s Cheetah feels like a big throbbing vein inside your cranium, and, in a change of genres, Rage Against the Machine’s eponymous album sounds equally impactful.
On the other hand, Run The Jewels and Aesop Rock's The Impossible Kid both find themselves drowning in the bass deluge. I’m left yearning for a breath of fresh treble air to diversify the FXA7 presentation and show off some dynamic range. But it never comes: the high end and midrange aren’t entirely lopped off, but they are definitely chewed up by the FXA7’s overwhelming low end. Subtlety is not these earphones’ strong point.
Still, the FXA7 sound is fun as all hell, and since it refuses to ever do too much in the treble region, it’s relaxed enough to be enjoyed for hours at a time. I wouldn’t recommend these earphones for listening to acoustic music — such as that of Renaud Garcia-Fons, who plays, funnily enough, the bass — but for anything electronic or intentionally overdramatic like Audiomachine’s cinematic soundtracks, they are hard to fault.
In terms of fit and comfort, I echo what Dan said about the identically designed FXA6: these headphones achieve a very good fit, and while they’re quite bulky for in-ears, they're super comfortable and offer good sound isolation as well. I like their hardy braided cable, which shapes neatly over the ear, doesn't tangle easily, and is user-replaceable. The FXA7 sound reasonable when powered by a smartphone’s integrated amplifier, but once you plug them into something like a DragonFly, their sound gains lushness, fullness, and extra weight to every note (though that makes the bass even more prominent and actually sinks the sound balance even lower).
Priced for audiophiles, but tuned for simpler tastes
It’s worth noting that my first review pair of FXA7s had a faulty earphone, which is an issue also encountered by my colleague Chris Ziegler who purchased (and promptly returned) his own set. Seeing other reports of such issues didn’t fill me with absolute confidence about the FXA7, so I put them through an especially arduous review process and the replacement pair held up well. I’m inclined to believe that other than manufacturing issues that would surface immediately, these are nice and durable headphones.
My lingering impression of the Fender FXA7s is that they’re wrong, oh so very wrong, in their reproduction of my music. But it’s the right kind of wrongness, the type that leaves you feeling pleased, if a little bit guilty. I find myself looking forward to commuting with them and their unabashed bass excess. With good comfort, a nice design, and a quite distinct sound signature, the FXA7 are an intriguing pair of headphones, but they’re tripped up by their price. At $499, you should expect an uncompromising all-round performer, whereas the FXA7 are kind of a one-trick pony.