Fearless Audio has been, in my opinion, the most successful of all the Chinese IEM brands to emerge this year. There is something different about the way they have chosen to approach this very competitive space and its working. We reviewed the Fearless Audio S8 Pro a couple of months ago and were incredibly impressed, yet the company seems to be intent on putting out many more models to compliment them. Today for this review, we have the new La Hire model. It is a two balanced Armature and two electrostatic driver hybrid earphone.
Why Hybrid and Why Electrostatic?
Until recently, there were two main driver choices for earphones. Dynamic Driver diaphragms or Balanced Armature. While there was, of course, various styles and material within this realm, there’ wasn’t a lot of options other than them available to consumers. Stax, of course, is perhaps the most famous of the electrostatic headphone companies. I have owned a few sets over the years, and the thing that stands out is the upper mids and treble. Somewhat lacking in this technology has been a bass presence.
So Fearless Audio seems to have taken a different approach and are using 2 Sonion electrostatic drivers to handle the upper frequencies and balanced armatures to provide the low-end grunt and the mids. This is a smart approach and in theory, should give you the best of both worlds.
Packaging and Accessories
Fearless has been putting a lot of effort into presenting a total package experience, and it shows with the box for the La Hire. A white sleeve with a stencil pattern looks tremendous but doesn’t give a lot of information about the headphones. If you open it up, you get the manual card and underneath you get the Fearless Audio carry case.
This case is pale blue and being honest it’s tacky and not too well put together. Companies like Campfire Audio and Dunu are usually the gold standard for cases, and I think Fearless should abandon the current design and go in that direction. The Otterbox style case that came with the S8P is far preferred to this latest iteration although I do know what they were trying to do.
The cable is pathetic. I wish Fearless used the same cable you find standard across the rest of the Fearless IEM lineup as its a perfect one. This one is a sorry excuse, and up there with some of the worst, I have used. It has all the parts to make it a good cable, but for some reason, somebody thought it a good idea to use one of the slackest braid patterns I have ever seen. This makes it a nightmare for tangling and just generally feeling sloppy in use. There is a metal splitter and cable cinch with Fearless Audio branding. They are terminated with a straight 3.5mm jack and MMCX at the opposing end.
Tips wise there are only a few options in the box. They are good quality, but there should be more variety in both styles and sizes, so users don’t have to purchase aftermarket extras.
So the accessories are a big let down but its frustratingly just down to poor execution. The parts used are all good, but it seems that in trying to stand out they accidentally made their accessories just a little bit worse than the competition. The good news, however, is that these parts can be picked up as aftermarket and are not integral to the performance of the earphones themselves.
The build quality of the LA Hire earphones is outstanding. For a relatively new company, Fearless Audio continues to impress, and this is one of the finest offerings I have seen from them yet. The quality of the fit and finish on the LA Hire is right up there with the big boys of universal IEM’s.
They are a hard acrylic shell universal IEM. They come ergonomically molded to fit a wide range of ear shapes and sizes and are available in multiple different finishes.
My set can result in black swirl patterns through the acrylic that has been laced with metal flakes. It looks stunning, and the pictures I have included in this review does not do justice to how the light catches them when you see them in up close and in person.
Branding is kept to a minimum, and you only have Fearless printed on the Left and La Hire on the right. The back end also has a serial number. Its a super clean and modern aesthetic, but what gets me is how robust they feel.
Making a good set of acrylic earphones is undoubtedly not easy. Many of the brands I have tested feel hollow or fragile but the LA Hire (im sure due to the density and weight from the multi BA setup) feel solid.
The negative here is that instead of the newer MMCX connector design Fearless Audio has opted to fit the La Hire with the older two pin standard. Many people do still prefer two pins, but I find that they are more susceptible to damage over time. On a plus note though the connectors are recessed into the housing which will help stop any ingress of sweat or water.
Due to the unique driver setup, there are 3 boreholes on each earbud. You will want to keep these clear by using the included cleaning tool as a build-up of wax can hurt fidelity.
Comfort and isolation
Comfort wise I found them LA Hire to be very good for my regular sized ears. Those with small ears might struggle a little to get them to sit flush with the outer ear. This is a byproduct of having so many drivers meaning that the shells have to be slightly larger than usual.
The good news is that if they do fit in size, they will fit in comfort as well as the way they have been shaped was agreeable with everyone I tested them on. The insertion depth was the only thing that was brought up as it is a medium-deep. If you’ haven’t had earphones, sit this deep before it can feel unusual the first few times, but you will eventually get used to it.
In terms of isolation, I found the Fearless Audio LA Hire to be up there with the best universal IEM’s I have tested. The combination of the density, insertion depth, and broad coverage of the outer ear blocks out a lot of environmental noise and makes them a perfect earphone fortravel.
The sound of the Fearless Audio shocked me quite a bit. I don’t know why I had such bias coming into it; I guess I was excited by this new electrostatic setup. Now what I want to say is that the La Hire are not a bad sounding earphone by any stretch. They are what I think of as a specific use case for earphone. They do most genres well, but the issue is in most of those genres they are beaten by other earphones.
After hours of skipping between tracks and being a little underwhelmed considering the price something did click clicked. Female vocals and higher range jazz (flute etc.) sounded bloody fantastic with these earphones. Incredibly impressive in fact with the detail retrieval and clarity.
The bass though with other genres just left me wanting more.
The Highs - Crystal clear and extremely detailed. The electrostatic drivers handle these highs, and I am 100% converted to this new tech. It had played on my mind that these may be another gimmick. I doubted if I would notice any substantial elevation over that of a standard balanced armature. I was wrong to challenge them.
The Mids - The midrange is very similar to the highs in that they are lightly presented with good clarity and detail. Micro detail retrieval throughout the mids was beautiful, and the air and spacing provided by the highs let the nuances of mid focussed music shine. Technically they were very good, but they lack somewhat in musicality for the way I now like to listen to music. There was a time when I lived in Japan back in 2005, and I was obsessed with the Japanese tuning of the earphones and the La Hire are very reminiscent of that time. Asian earphones have always been tuned to focus more towards the highs and have less emphasis on the bass and the midrange, as a result, is somewhat cold.’ That’s what I got here, but I don’t think it was intended by design.
The Lows - The bass is very light. Not terrible like the Campfire Audio IO but honestly a deeper low end would make for a more rounded and pleasing signature. It’s detailed yet lacks texture to back up what is essentially an excellent top 2 thirds of the sound spectrum. More than lack of texture’ it’s the lack of depth. I would listen to a track build up in the mid and top notes, and when it came time to hear that bass drop, I was always left wanting. I needed impact; I needed something to engage me. I should add that this wasn’t just displayed in bass-heavy tracks, but anywhere the was a smattering of bass it just felt to lightly applied.
The soundstage was very good, and this is something that you typically find in an earphone with nice treble. People too often imagine it is bass that is giving the spacing and openness to an earphone, but in truth, it’s the highs that carry that expansive feeling.
The real problem is not with the La Hire themselves, they are a good earphone. The problem is the competition. At this price, the competition the La Hire goes up against consists of some incredible earphones. To drive that point home I’m going to give you two earphones that cost over $100 less than the La Hire and another that costs over $400 less. All these beat its ass into the ground when it comes to sound quality. The Fiio FH7, Fearless Audio S8P, and Tin Hifi P1 are many times worth a purchase over the La hire. I don’t want to spend any more time breaking down why because these are just not worth buying when there are other options so strong and more well rounded.
Conclusion - There is light at the end of the tunnel
So much of the Fearless Audio LaHire is perfect. The build, the style, the highs, and mids. However, I can’t get over the need to want more depth, warmth, and impact from the sound. It seems though the new use of electrostatic is a winner so there is something there and I have excellent news inbound.
One of the reasons I enjoy working with Linsoul is they give me and other reviewers freedom to speak freely. I would say I’m positive on about 60-70% of the earphones they send for review and negative on the rest barring a few I fell in love with. I mentioned all the above points about the La Hire before publishing this review, and the response was not to stomp there feet and disappear in a huff like many manufacturers had done when I bashed a product (Master & Dynamic, Sony, Skullcandy). Instead, Linsouls response was, “you should try the Roland, it has the same tech but with a dynamic driver as well.” The Roland has arrived for review, and my jaw is on the floor for the past week.
Now I know price wise they aren’t comparable but if you have the money I suggest holding off till we get done publishing the full Roland review next week. If not save a bit of cash and get better performance with the alternatives we outlined above.
Recommendation: Don’t buy there are better alternatives for your money.
If you do wish to go against my reccomendation the La Hire can be purchased on Amazon and Linsoul.