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Fender cashes in its cool with consumer in-ear monitor headphones

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/05/2016 Josh Constine

After 70 years of rocking musicians with its guitars and amps, Fender today releases its first general consumer product: a range of headphones that double as in-ear monitors for performers.

They sound vibrant and clear even at loud volumes, and run from $99 for the basic DXA1 to $499 for the audiophile-worthy FXA7. Instead of just being earbuds, the hand-assembled titanium housings fill up the concha of your ears to block external noise and fit the powerful balanced armature and dynamic drivers.

They’re designed to handle the beatings doled out by working musicians who want to use them as replacements to traditional amplified stage monitors — speakers that let performers hear themselves and their bandmates. The non-slip thermo plastic elastomer bud tips and over-ear hooks keep them in place, and detachable cables that can be replaced if necessary. The sound they produced is balanced, not overly bass-heavy, so musicians and fans get an authentic impression of the music.

The opportunity here is for Fender to trade on the hip image of its iconic instruments and amplifiers to widen its market with product that are useful to and affordable for music listeners, not just creators. Fender VP Jim Ninesling explains the shift, saying that now “We are a lifestyle brand…cool enough that people who don’t play an instrument to want to buy a t-shirt with our name on it.”

Ninesling tells me that with smartphones boosting mobile music consumption, the headphone market has exploded to a $8 billion a year business. This is the path to Fender becoming a much bigger company.

The audio expertise that made Fender a legend in instruments shines through in the headphones. They make it feel like the singer is in your head. There’s remarkable distinction amongst the different sounds. You can actually hear the imperfections in studio recordings. The words that kept coming to mind were “crisp like iceberg lettuce”.

The Fenders were designed to fit 90% of people’s ear shapes. Still, a $200 pair of other in-ear monitors plus a $200 etymotic fitting, where they take a custom mold of your ears, might give musicians better isolation from crowd noise. That’s according to my buddy Johnny Hwin of 20 million-stream indie band Cathedrals. He tried the Fender FXA6s, and enjoyed the sound balance but stressed the importance of a perfect fit.

We’ll conclude with the thoughts of Brian Heater, TechCrunch’s new hardware editor. He gave the high-end Fender FXA7s a spin, and said “They sound really good. They’re accurate to the source material and the levels are clear and even. One of the best set of in-ear headphones I’ve tested in a while. They’re also comfortable and stay in the ear. Custom headphones would fit better, of course, but Fender’s done a good job for a one-size-fits all pair.”

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