Someone over at Fender HQ clearly has a bee in his or her bonnet. The most universally acknowledged instrument maker on the planet has released several new lines of products in the last six months to a year, all of which harbor allusions to an underlying theme; one of absolute professionalism. Leo’s descendants shelved their Standard and Blacktop series of guitars and basses a few months ago in favour of the new American Professional range, which offers a cleaned up, no nonsense rendering of their most unanimously sought after builds. Last issue I reviewed the P Bass from this line and was struck by how distinctly sturdy and work-ready it felt in my hands. All of their attention lately seems aimed at the modern working musician whose needs do not include many bells and whistles. Aside from the instruments themselves, Fender’s next logical step is to offer some of the most stage friendly designs they’ve ever come up with: the FXA, CXA and DXA series of in-ear monitors.
First off, let’s examine how an IEM differs from your bog-standard, run-of-the-mill ear bud. For one thing, just as with studio monitoring, there is a very real need for a drastic increase in frequency response. Secondly, the unit needs to be able to block out the outside world in order to make good use of said response. Where even a top tier, hi-fi style headphone might have a considerable enough range, usually between 50Hz and 20kHz with a particular focus around the 10-15kHz mark for the sake of vocals and melodic instruments, a performing musician will often need to venture a little outside this perimeter and pay more or less attention to the high-mids. Fender’s new IEM designs offer an extended 6Hz to 23kHz of crisp, clear and colourful field with enough headroom in the 9.25mm precision rare-earth or armature drivers (model dependent) that you could just about hear the whole spectrum in one track before any break up occurs. With 22dB of attenuation afforded by the medical-grade silicon form-fit sleeves, there is so little spill that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the studio even on the loudest of stages.
Another key ingredient to the success of any IEM design is how comfortable and unobtrusive any of these units are when perched atop your lobes. I’ve tried a few IEMs of varying qualities in the past and one thing that keeps coming up, particularly at the cheaper end of the spectrum, is the unavoidable seam that is the belly-button of injection molded, plastic chassis. In some instances, this omnipresent border between pleasure and pain has been the only thing that turned me off a unit insomuch as the irritation was realistically too much to be ignored when performance is paramount. 3D printing solves this problem with ease and grace as each of Fender’s units are printed from hard wearing and extremely lightweight plastics, making them so invisible that you’d forget you’re wired at all save for the clear-as-a-bell signal sailing down the line.
Designed and hand assembled in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the chance to sit with the whole range. To be perfectly frank, all seven iterations are so impeccably put together that, aside from the differing shapes, sizes and pearloid colour variants, the difference between any of them is negligible. Starting at the entry point to the range, the FXA2, there is an incredibly air filled and clear-as-day sonic quality, which increases in nuance and fleetness as you advance up each rung. Simply put, every tier of the Fender IEM ladder will perform the task assigned to them with grace and aplomb, delivering a simple yet entirely functional version of your mix to your skull without impacting your performance in any way other than affording you some much sought after focus.
Hits and Misses
Comfortable and durable design
A crystal clear frequency response
Each tier is so close to the next it’s difficult to choose between them