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Fender’s first foray into headphones sounds great

TechCrunch TechCrunch 13/05/2016 Brian Heater

I was cynical at first. I mean, I still have some underlying (if not entirely well-founded) suspicions that Fender’s new line of in-ear monitors is part of a bigger play to expand beyond its customary guitar and amp offerings. But if the FXA6 is, indeed, just the first step of some larger world domination plan, it’s an extremely solid one.

I know I’m not the only one who had questions when the company announced its plans to get into the headphone business. After all, there’s certainly some precedent for respected brands reaching beyond their means by slapping a logo on some OEMed piece of hardware.

On a phone call last week, Fender CMO Evan Jones assured me that it was doing nothing of the sort. The company sees the product as not only a logical next step in its professional music product line, but a continuation of the audio work it’s invested in its amps over the years.

The company has also made some new hires and expanded its operations in Nashville to accommodate that growth. That Fender insists on referring to the product as a “monitor” versus just plain old headphones is clearly an indication of its plans to market the product to professional musicians. On the call, however, Fender more or less used the words interchangeably.

But all of that is secondary, really. The most important thing is, of course, how the product performs. And there’s definitely some good news on that front. The FXA6s sound stellar. The team the company assembled clearly knows a thing or two about building a pair of great sounding headphones — something purchasing high-end audio company Aurisonics might have had a thing or two to do with.

The headphones are exceptionally clear, even at high volumes (sorry mom). They do a great job staying true to the source material, not leaning too heavily on the bass to compensate for shortcomings on the other frequencies (as many consumer headphone manufacturers have in the past).

The FXA6 do a great job isolating sounds, particularly at higher bit rates, making it easy to pick out the different instrumentation, rather than the muddy jumble that one often encounters on cheaper sets. As I write this, I’m able to enjoy Carol Kaye’s bass work on Pet Sounds from the orchestral cacophony around her.

Fender’s done a nice job on the comfort side, as well. Of course, you’ll never get as snug a fit as you will on custom earphones, but the FXA6, when coupled with the right set of tips, fit nicely, the shells conforming to the contours of the outer ear.

The company seems convinced that the headphones are more or less one-size-fits-all (well, 95-percent of all), but I certainly can’t promise that they’ll be quite as comfortable for all wearers. But when the fit is right, it also serves as passive ambient noise reduction, blocking out errant sounds by forming a tight seal around the ear.

The braided cable is detachable from the monitors — a decided plus in a pricey pair of headphones. I can say from experience that the cable is pretty consistently the first part of any headphones to flake out on me, so it counts for a lot knowing that it can be swapped out should anything happen.

It’s worth noting here, however, that there’s no mic on the cable that ships with the FXA6, so you won’t be using it to make any phone calls. Though I suppose that just comes with the territory for a pair of monitors aimed at an audience of musical professionals.

That last bit brings us to the next key bit of information. At $400, the FXA6 are well out of the reach of most consumers. Of course, any user who has shopped around for a pair of Ultimate Ears will happily let you know that those monitors get even pricier.

It’s hard to say if there’s enough of an open market for the FXA6s to really succeed at that price point. Fender is no doubt banking quite a bit on brand name recognition to help stake its claim in the market. At the very least, however, the company’s foray into a new space in decades doesn’t disappoint.

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