The Fearless Audio Roland sets a new bar for what has been achieved by Chinese Hifi companies. After my initial review of the LaHire earphones, which displayed incredible fidelity in the top end yet lacked some low-end grunt. We were wondering what if there was the same setup but with more bass. Essentially that’s the Fearless Audio Roland, a hybrid IEM with outstanding levels of fidelity that utilizes three separate driver technologies to produce a fantastic listening experience.
*Editors Note: We have been informed that the cable, packaging, and accessories have all been updated on the Fearless Audio Roland earphones. This review is with the original accessories set and will be updated as soon as they arrive. For now, we didn’t want to wait any longer before publishing because after all its the sound that counts and these are fantastic.
Multiple Drivers, Multiple Technologies, Multiple Complications.
Hybrid earphones are still a relatively new technology and one that has not always been successful. Many of the early models that were released used balanced armatures in combination with dynamic drivers. This was in the hope that each driver type could handle what they do best without overexerting them through the frequencies.
In its simplest form, the thinking is that a dynamic driver will produce better bass. It can push a higher volume of air due to its large diaphragm. However, sometimes, dynamics can struggle to retrieve detail and can be slow.
A balanced armature with its incredible speed and detail retrieval can produce better mid-tones and high notes. However, due to the small size of the driver and the diameter of the moving iron rod, they can struggle to create impactful bass — especially sub-bass. Many companies attempt to compensate by using multiple BA drivers, but the results are usually far different from how a dynamic setup sounds.
Making a hybrid earphone is not as simple as combining the two technologies. A good hybrid will blend the sound. The handover of the frequencies appears natural and indistinguishable to the listener. A bad hybrid can sound awkward and off either via a sharp and noticeable drop off or usually a distinct hollowness leading into the lower mids.
We are now a few years down the road, and there are still plenty of lousy hybrid earphones being sold, and those use two driver types. That makes this new Fearless Audio Roland earphone quite impressive from an engineering perspective.
The Roland is a hybrid. A hybrid which combines three different driver types. Not two. Three.
Inside every Fearless Audio Roland there are 2 balanced armature drivers, 1 dynamic driver and something completely new in the way of electrostatic tweeters.
The setup goes like this. Dynamic for the bass, BA for the mids and electrostatic for the highs.
That means crossing over and entirely blending three different driver types in perfect cohesion.
The process of creating such an earphone boggles my mind but what is even more outstanding is just how well they managed to pull it off. Fearless Audio did it in a way that this is equal to some of the highest tier IEM's on the planet.
So what is an Electrostatic driver, and why is it such a big deal in IEM’s?
The electrostatic driver is not a new technology to audiophiles. However, it is one of the most revered. I have numerous iterations of the tech, but unlike the Fearless Audio Roland, none of them are in the form of earphones. This is the first of the type I am testing other than the La Hire that I reviewed last week.
I currently have the Strax SR009 and Kingsound KS-H3. Both of those are big full-size headphones that require a plentiful power supply and external amp unit to get the most from them. The sound is terrific full of detail and unbelievable clean. There is no distortion, and the imaging and soundstage are incredible.
Electrostatic speakers in their traditional form. I will try not to be overly technical here and keep things simple. In earphones, conventional drivers use a combination of magnets and a diaphragm. There is a small metal coil attached to a diaphragm. This diaphragm is activated when a charge is applied to the magnet, and this moves the cone. It, for the most part, works very well, and there are plenty of high quality and excellent sounding versions of this tech. However, this design is not without its limitations. Relative to the magnet, the diaphragm is quite heavy and cumbersome. In that regard and the fact that it is physically attached to the coil means there is a loss of energy. Theoretically also a loss of optimum fidelity.
What is different in an electrostatic driver is that it uses an incredibly thin diaphragm that is suspended between two metal plates. The plates are statically charged, and the diaphragm can move entirely free and without hindrance. Think of the old trick of rubbing a balloon on your head and sticking it to the wall; it's that static energy that moves the driver.
The membrane is so light that the static energy has no problem at all moving it and the speed achieved is far higher than a standard dynamic unit. Other than air resistance, there are minimal detracting forces at play on electrostatic drivers. The majority of the energy is transferred into the sound. This means there are outrageously low levels of distortion and massive potential for improvements in fidelity.
Sounds great right? So why then have we not seen this technology used in-ear headphones until now? Well, we have actually. Some years back Shure released the K1500 earphones. These cost $3000 USD, which is why you have most likely never seen or heard of them, but they sounded incredible. Later for about $1000 less, Shure introduced another model the K1200 to equally positive reviews. The problem with these is that they meant you had to carry a sizeable external amp source with you everywhere to get them to work. For many people, the combination of that outer box and the high price were prohibitive to purchase.
The Fearless Audio Roland and Paladin Series implementation of Electrostatic Technology
In the portable audiophile world, there are two extremely well-known manufacturers of balanced armature drivers. Knowles and Sonion. You find that their products are the backbone of many IEM companies and for a good reason. They both make excellent drivers capable of creating a fantastic sound.
Late last year turned some heads in this hobby with the release to manufacturers of their new electrostatic tweeters. The miniaturization of this tech is a big step forward, and their inbuilt transformer manages to negate the need for a large external power source to drive them.
You can see the promo video for the Sonion Electrostatic tweeters above.
Now, these new speakers do have their limitations. They are, at their core, not full-spectrum speakers. They are tweeter that is going to be optimized for handling the highs and midrange of your music sound range. From what I learned, they do not yet have the ability to create sufficient bass when left to their own devices.
That is where Fearless Audio, and other manufacturers, using these drivers start trying to integrate the potential for incredible sounding highs notes with a fully functional audiophile earphone. The Roland does precisely that.
Packaging and Accessories
The Packaging and Accessories for the Fearless Audio Roland are the same that you find right across the Paladin series and some other models of the Fearless Audio lineup. I like it when companies do this. Firstly it means the lower end earphones get all the goodies as the top-end models like the Roland. Secondly, it means that having a standard set of parts means you can order in large quantities and reduce the end cost to the consumer.
The packaging is very stylish and done correctly. I love the attention to detail. Like the design of the outer sleeve and they envelop on the inside with all the documents. It’s simple things that add up to make it an impressive unboxing experience once you open the box the earphones.
The accessories are ok with the earphones but they are definitely not good. The eartips work well and they are good for a stock tip but there is only 4 in the box and just one style. Other earphones like the Fiio FH7 and many others give you a plethora of tip options and its disappointing to not see some Spinfit, Comply or E series tips included in the box.
The silver cable in the pictures is fine but it’s again not great. Its the type of cable that you find on earphones around the $100 mark. It’s a little tangle-resistant and a little prone to retaining memory when its been wrapped up and stored.
The inclusion of a carry case is always nice but I really just don’t like this one and they stick it in with almost all their earphones. I get they were trying to make something cool and classy but it just looks and feels a bit tack. The color is terrible and the construction leave some to be desired.
You definitely won’t be buying these earphones for the accessories. Its the one area where I think Fearless Audio can do much better. Take a page out of DUNU’s book and give us options, and quality. The good thing is for not much money you can buy an outstanding aftermarket cable, some tips, and a carry case. It’s not ideal but certainly not a deal-breaker when you consider the outstanding performance.
Design and Custom Options
The Roland is a hell of a good looking set of earphones. I talked about this in the review of the LA Hire and how I loved the swirled black patterns and inlaid metal flake. Then through all that you get to see glimpses of the driver configuration. They look incredibly premium in hand the Roland look even better. There was no way the pictures I took, no matter how I tried, could do justice to the way they look in person and how they catch the light as they move.
So the style of the earphone is a resin printed universal in-ear monitor. These are principally produced just like traditional custom in-ear monitors. A shell is formed (in this case a universal one with ergonomics to fit the majority of users). The drivers get configured and set into the housing, and then a faceplate is placed over the outer part of the earphone. Instead of being molded to your ears, the universal design has a tip on it designed to accept regular silicone or foam eartips and as such can fit a wide variety of ear shapes.
They are designed to be worn with the cable over the ear, and given the position of the two-pin connector, you will not be able to wear them with the wire straight down.
There are some options when buying the Fearless Audio Roland. Three color options are available (Gold, Silver, and Blue). They are also available to order as a custom-molded set of earphones at an extra cost. I am not sure at this time if full customization of the CIEM shell colors and faceplates is available. I have put in a request for more information and will update this review when I hear back.
Build quality is right in line with the top of the line custom earphone manufacturers. The Roland feels robust and durable in hand. Other universal resin earphones don’t tend to feel as premium as this. Even fearless’s other earphones like the S8P, which by all accounts, are very good, feel hollow next to this model.
There are no seams or sharp overhangs to cause discomfort. The eatips stay firmly on the ends without coming off inside your ear (its unfortunate that I even need to mention that, but it tends to happen far too often with similar designs from other companies.)
The connector is not MMCX which I would have preferred. Its a 2 pin connector. Thankfully Fearless have decided to use a recessed socket so they should be much more resistant to the corrosion you can get from sweat with a flush-mounted model. The cut for the cable is immaculate with no rough edges or overhangs to tidy up.
The branding is inlayed on the faceplate and not printed on the exterior as you might find on cheaper earphones. It's done in a classic gothic font and blends well with the overall aesthetic. It looks classy and discreet. Other than that, on the top of the IEM's is the model and serial numbers.
So the build quality is very impressive yet at the same time, I need to mention that these are not a metal body construction. Therefore you should exercise care when handling them. They will hold up to day to day life but due to the more brittle and less pliable nature of resin, they can't withstand a crushing force (or even drops) as well as metal bodies.
Comfort and Isolation
Comfort is good for me, but the Roland is a large set of earphones, so that is something to consider if you have small ears. The insertion depth sits at just a medium, and I never had a problem getting a good seal with the stock tips. I did change over to the Final Audio E series tips during this review as they are my personal favorite.
There was zero discomfort thanks to the ergonomically friendly shaping on the inner side of the earphones.
The size of the housing is determined by what you can do with the driver setup on the inside. The BA and electrostatic units do not take up to much space internally, but the Dynamic driver does. They are not the largest earphones I have had but larger than usual.
That means they don’t sit exactly flush with my ears and as a result, are not suitable for side sleepers.
Other than that, I had no problems with fit and found them to be comfortable enough to listen all day long.
The size plays a positive roll in when it comes to isolation. The shell takes up most of your outer ear, the insertion depth is quite deep, and the internals is densely packed. This makes them great in isolating you from environmental noise.
The Fearless Roland was very good for use in public areas where there might be a lot of environmental noise such as offices or transit.
I guess this is the section you have been waiting for. How does the Fearless Audio Roland sound?
It sounds incredible — a true top of the line competitor which I cannot in any way criticize. It's a fantastic sounding earphone. It will have a lot of other brands that charge more money for less performance, very worried. If only people wake up to the fact that price does not equal performance. Hello JH Audio, Astel, Empire & Co it seems your days of fisting our community might be coming to an end.
The first thing I want to talk about is the level of cohesion between the frequencies. The way the crossover is handled between the different driver types and there allowed frequencies is superb. If you were to tell me you can notice where the handover is taking place I am going to assume you have magical ears or are a chief supreme of BS. Probably the latter.
Tuning always reigns supreme for me, and in my eyes, this can make a technically inferior earphone sound better. Whereas if an earphone that is technically capable but is poorly tuned can sound bad. The Roland is tuned beautifully and looking at the charts it's following a Harman curve so that should be no surprise.
The tuning is so damn good on these they are very close to edging out the Campfire Solaris that has become my stable this year (I still prefer the Solaris). That’s just the tuning. Let's get into the other thing that makes them sound so unique.
Think of Roland IEM’s like this.
You use an electrostatic tweeter that produces immensely beautiful highs, crisp clear and detailed.
You produce the mids with BA’s that have an amazing ability to resolve detail. They handle complicated tracks with ease and yet still carry enough weight and warmth to engage you in the experience fully.
Then take the low end that requires enough force for impact but remain clear, textured, and distortion-free and handle that with a high quality dynamic.
The Roland is a sum of fantastic parts that have been seamlessly blended. They have taken the best way to present each frequency and joined it together in a way that it becomes an entirely cohesive unit pumping out remarkable performance.
The funny thing is that this has been done with BA and DD hybrid units before. There are many of these earphones and the results have been jaw-dropping. The difference now is the electrostatic tweeter is available, and it makes far more of a difference to how the sound comes together. I think this technology is set to take IEM’s up a level and we are going to see many many manufacturers jump on this quickly. The results are far from placebo. They are right in your face for you to see from the first listening session.
So, I guess we should get into the sound breakdown.
The Highs - The top end of this earphone is one of, if not the best I have ever heard. I like treble and I hate sibilance. The Roland and their electrostatic drivers give me that clarity, soundstage, and energy from the high notes. They sound unreal with the clarity and detail retrieval up here and that really helps to open up the whole listening experience. They are clearly defined packed with nuances. On high hats, they run just right for me with a brightness that gets complemented with the midrange and not washed out by the low end. The top holds its own ad grants you that sense of space.
The Mids - The midrange is extremely clean, slightly smooth and just a touch of warmth. It makes strings sound incredible and the detail retrieval is outstanding. You get the sense that every little nuance is being delivered right to your ears. The dampening of piano pedals, fingers on fretboards, pursing of lips before speech, everything is there. Vocals benefit from that slight warmth and the sound intimate and engaging. The most interesting thing about the mids however is the spacing between instrumentation. It is just so easy to pinpoint and isolate certain sections. I found myself equally able to enjoy them as a musical IEM yet at the same time they work well for disceting tracks and being more techincal in my listening.
The Lows - This was exactly what was missing in the La Hire. The were great in the top and mids but needed that extra push from the low end to make them great versatile and fun sounding earphones. The
Is this a Hype Train?
Yup, it sure is, and I care so little about that.
What would I know? I have reviewed hundreds of earphones over the past 20 years, and I’m just giving my opinion. These are one of the best earphones right now. Are they the best? That is entirely down to your needs and ears. Are there other options? Of course, there are lots.
Do I think it sucks that these cost $1000? Absolutely, but that is the way the hobby has gone. Over the years, we let vulture companies come in and sell us their marketing spiel. Year after year, these companies kept pushing the prices of their flagships higher and higher, and it’s been disgusting to watch.
In that sense, ChiFi and Fearless are like a breath of fresh air… for now, because who knows, maybe they get a big enough following and they too decide to price into the stratosphere. I certainly hope not, but if experience is anything to go by…
Right now though I look at the Fearless Audio Roland I don’t see how JH Audio and others think they should be able to charge so much for their wares.
It comes down to the way you have been conditioned to think that more expensive is better. That brand name means better. That marketing means better. That someone on some forums opinion matters and means x is better. That what I say is better, is better.
The real problem is that these earphones all exist in a world, where realistically, getting significant ear time on them all at once for comparison before a purchase is not possible. If that were the case, many people would be shocked at how minuscule and imperceivable performance differences are, especially past a specific price point.
Is the Roland the perfect earphone? For many, I think yes. For me, I also believe, probably yes. Are the going to be my sole and only earphone from here on out? No, I will probably add them to the rotation of my other gear.
Is the Roland it better than other flagships? No, but I think it’s on a level with them and costs way less.
Once you get to a certain point, it's all side steps. The technical capabilities of these IEM’s are so good it a lot comes down to personal signature and tuning preferences. That is very hard to quantify in definites and why we have so many varied opinions on earphones.
Layla to Roland, Roland to Wraith, Wraith to Solaris these are all excellent earphones that, to me, sit on a plane. The difference between all these earphones is so marginal at this point it’s pointless to get overly worked up about. If I could have one of them at a fraction of the price of the others, that’s probably the one I would buy with my own money.
In case you missed the above find myself a huge fan of these earphones. Fearless already proved with the S8 and S6 models that they can tune the hell out of a set of earphones. The Roland feels like the culmination of all their hard work over the past year. The funny thing is that I don’t think the Roland is meant to be the flagship as the Lancelot is priced higher (not that that counts for anything here). I feel that they have managed to use the perfect drivers for each frequency here and that they also blended those drivers seamlessly.
Fearless happens to be one of the first few to market with this driver and in this setup. I am sure many others will follow when they realize the potential when done correctly. It’s something I was skeptical about, but it honestly took two tracks before I knew this was going be a fun ride. The introduction of Sonion electrostatic drivers to Hybrid setups might be the most significant step up we have had in IEM’s since the original concept of a hybrid earphone.
Build quality and styling are on point, but it is the sound that is going to blow you away. The Fearless Audio Roland is an exceptional sounding earphone that right now I am having a hard time putting down. I genuinely hope these get the attention they deserve because if not a lot of people are going to be missing out on the best IEM release of the year.