IntroductionThis is a review of the Fearless Dawn x crinacle. It is a $1400 IEM sold by Linsoul that was made in collaboration with Fearless and crinacle, a well known community member (in)famous for his IEM ranking list and large library of frequency response graphs. The Dawn boasts a 6 BA + 2 EST configuration and was made using Fearless' $4400 Y2K tuning system. For this review, I was sent the Dawn as a loaner unit from Linsoul. As the title suggests, I'll give my thoughts on the Dawn from the perspective of someone who has minimal experience with TOTL gear. Hopefully this will be helpful for those looking to move into more expensive gear but are unable to demo IEMs.
What's in the Box?The box itself is quite large and upon opening it you're greeted with the glitzy black and gold of the Fearless Dawn. Past this initial bit of showmanship is a circular leather case, a cleaning tool, and an interesting star-shaped tip holder with 7 sets of tips. The tips aren't anything special; they're run-of-the-mill stock Fearless tips. Oh, and you get a user manual card to read that's mostly in Chinese I guess. Truth be told, it's a little disappointing that there isn't much more in such a large box but oh well.
The Dawn is meant to be worn over-ear and thus has the usual 2-pin cable with pre-molded earhooks. The cable is actually also sold separately for $80. Anyway, it feels soft to the touch and has no cable memory. There is a bit of cable noise but nothing to really complain about. What is worth complaining about is the extremely heavy connector joints they chose to go with in this cable. The Y-split, cable cinch, and 3.5 mm jack are all made of solid metal that weighs an ungodly amount. It's horrendously impractical for any realistic scenario. Even sitting at my desk, I can barely use it as the Y-split and cinch drag the entire IEM down.
Fit and isolation is about average for me. That is to say, pretty good. A lot of these all-BA resin-shell IEMs tend to isolate quite well since they don't have venting ports but also tend to have larger nozzles to accommodate all the BAs in there. The Dawn is slightly more comfortable in that regard, especially compared to the Fearless S6Pro. No complaints here.
Overall Impressions:While I've demo'd a few hi-fi IEMs before, I generally review budget and occasionally mid-fi gear. So I was initially quite impressed when I first listened to the Fearless Dawn x crinacle. So much so that I briefly considered if I should buy it. The large step up in resolution and tuning competency wow'd me. Pretty much every track I threw at the Dawn was a pleasant listen with tons of little details I hadn't noticed before in my cheaper IEMs. But to be honest, over the two weeks I've had with the Dawn, it partially lost its lustre. Other than its tuning prowess and high resolution, it doesn't bring anything unique to the table.
Having been tuned by crinacle, you'd expect the Dawn to have superb tuning and tonality. Well, it doesn't disappoint. The Dawn has a relatively "balanced" tuning that tilts warm and has a reasonable bass boost. Its frequency response falls within what I would consider an "ideal range". While no IEM will have a 100% perfect match to the listener's preferences, the Dawn's tuning is extremely likely to match an individual's preferences closely with minimal adjustments needed. Or in other words, it's what the Harman IE target should have been. The Dawn is a forgiving, non-fatiguing IEM you could easily listen to all day and not think about it. It plays politely with most every genre but I think rock is best on it. The Dawn is more a jack of all trades, master of none.
I think what makes a great IEM is a combination of three factors: 1) Tuning/tonality; 2) Technical ability; and 3) Presentation. All three work together and enhance each other. The Dawn has 2/3 of them. Tuning is on point. Resolution is great. But the sound of BA bass persists and overall presentation suffers from pitfalls common to IEMs. For me, the Dawn's lack of the last factor is what keeps it from being the very best of the best. It's darned good and deserves its TOTL status but its clear that there are improvements that can still be made.
Bass:crinacle himself is a bass lover and that shows with the Dawn. There's a satisfying sub and midbass boost that tactfully rolls off into the mids. Thanks to the great seal I get, the Dawn easily extends down to 20 Hz and bass rumble is well presented. I'd consider the Dawn to be boomy rather than punchy and at times, I think the bass borders on being excessive. Tonality and resolution are, as throughout the Dawn, excellent. Subtle bass notes are clearly audible and well resolved where it would otherwise be overlooked or lost. Common bass instruments such as the floor tom, kick drum, and bass guitar have a realistic tonality to them. Low synths have great clarity and nuanced note distinction. Midbass definition is tight and well controlled for rapid bass lines. It neatly wraps up the bass section as it transitions into the mids.
While the Dawn is unfortunately unable to fully escape the pitfalls of BA timbre, it's miles better than the Fearless S6 Pro and other cheaper BA IEMs that I reviewed in the past. Here, there's much more weight and power to the bass notes that makes the Dawn sound big and boomy compared to the dry, sterile notes from cheaper BAs. Although it does sometimes feel like the Dawn overextends when going for a heavy, boomy note and ends up slightly loose with uncontrolled decay.
Mids:The mids are the best part of the Dawn's tuning. I just adore the tone of electric guitars in the Dawn. It has just the right balance of lower and upper mids for a full bodied, ever-so-slightly warm sound that's absolutely perfect for rhythm guitar and excellent for lead guitar. Vocals sound effortlessly natural, being neither too forward nor recessed. Both male and female vocals are presented equally well. The snare drum is particularly outstanding as the Dawn easily replicates the unique and complex sound of the snare in each track. Honestly, I have no complaints. Its tonality is as good as you're gonna get in any IEM.
Treble:Treble is good but nothing outstanding. Here I think the Dawn plays it just a little too safe. It seems to be tuned to be as inoffensive as possible but still retain treble presence. There isn't any peakiness, stridency, sibilance, harshness, etc. While hats/cymbals do have a crisp attack and clean decay, it feels lacking in terms of brilliance. The shimmer of cymbals is slightly muted in that sense. The Dawn isn't particularly airy as the upper treble is recessed compared to the modest lower treble. It's a bit disappointing that the Dawn is a touch conservative on the treble but I guess that if you want a tuning that will appeal to the most amount of people that's the go-to compromise.
Presentation:The presentation on the Dawn is its weakest point. It feels flat and on a single plane. The soundstage is fairly wide horizontally but has little height and depth. There isn't a sense of space needed for more complex layering. Imaging is good. It's nicely nuanced and makes full use of the soundstage. Overall, the staging is a only small step up from a good mid-fi implementation. It's as if Fearless worked on it a bit, ran into a wall, and gave up. I will make a note here that sometimes I do get a glimpse of excellence. On rare occasions, in very well recorded/mastered tracks, I'll hear a couple notes coming from way off the usual stage or with a depth far separated from other instruments. It's a nice little treat when it does happen, rare as it may be.
Generally speaking, the dynamics of the Dawn are pretty much what I'd expect good IEMs to have. But it is fundamentally BA-like and a tad compressed. Brick-walled songs sound even more brick-walled on the Dawn. On a more macro level, I sometimes find that some instruments jump out at you for a bit before receding back into the overall track. I haven't heard this phenomenon and the aforementioned rare off-stage staging before in other IEMs so YMMV.
The resolution of the Dawn is worthy of a flagship product. While I haven't heard some of the most well regarded TOTL IEMs for resolution such as the qdc VX or Shure KSE, the Dawn is certainly no slouch. Instrumental separation is solid and detail retrieval is far and away better than any of the IEMs I've reviewed in the past. Compared to budget IEMs, it's like hearing a new note in every five in some cases. Yes, that's how much detail that can be missed. Guitar riffs are so much cleaner and defined with individuality heard behind each note. Little syncopated beats in the hats are peppered in and shows off the drummer's character. I think a lot of people mistakenly look for a night and day difference in resolution for an obvious "wow" moment. But in reality, it's the many little things that add up to separate hi-fi from mid or budget-fi. The subtle couple of notes that breathes life into the background. Or low sound of the bassoon that you've always heard but never truly noticed until it was distinct enough to catch your attention. I think this level of refinement is necessary for the Dawn's tuning to reach it's full potential.
Select Comparisons:Note: I will denote the ones I've only demo'd, not owned, with a *
Campfire Andromeda* and Solaris*:Soundstage and imaging are better than the Dawn but that's about it. Tuning and tonality is far, far superior on the Dawn while resolution is notably better from memory. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed when I first heard the Andromeda and Solaris and I don't think they belong in the same league as the Dawn. I include them in this comparison as they are popular hi-fi IEMs due in part thanks to CFA's strong marketing presence.
Sony IER M7* and M9*:I'd get the Dawn over the M7. M7 was too warm for me, borderlining dark. While staging was better resolution and tonality were not. M9 is a different story. I'd take the M9. The tuning of the Dawn edges out the warmer, more laid back M9 but the M9 has much better staging and comparable or stronger resolution. While they both have BAs for the bass response, the Sony's in-house BAs have a more realistic bass presentation than the Dawn's. The trade-off however is that they can sound slightly bloomy and/or slow.
qdc 8sh*:It's a bit of a toss-up for this one. The Dawn had more immediate "wow" factor for me but the qdc 8sh kept my attention the longer I listened to it while I find myself tuning out of the Dawn sometimes. The flat presentation of the Dawn really hurts it in my opinion. When it comes to comparisons against the best of the best IEMs, having near perfect tuning and tonality is no longer enough. I'd have to listen to the 8sh again to decide but I think I'd lean towards it.
Etymotic ER4SR:As you'd expect from something more than quadruple the price, the Dawn beats the ER4SR in pretty much every aspect. The only reason I can see someone getting the ER4SR over the Dawn is if they specifically enjoy the ERSR's unique tuning and laser-focused presentation that I reviewed here. Or I guess if you want the best isolation possible without going into CIEMs.
Moondrop Starfield, Tin Audio T4, Blon BL03, popular budget ChiFi, Fearless S6Pro, etc.:Although these popular ChiFi IEMs are reasonably well tuned, the Dawn absolutely crushes them with vastly improved resolution and clarity, near perfect tonality, and overall balance. The sheer sense of refinement on the Dawn is just light years ahead in comparison. It goes to show the importance of competent tuning combined with top tier technical ability. The only reason I include this comparison is because I've seen silly comments complaining about the lack of budget comparisons in other reviews. Well here you go. Obviously from a pure price-performance ratio diminishing returns exist and spending 10-20x more on luxury IEMs isn't practical for the vast majority of people. But the improvement in sound quality for someone coming from a budget background (such as me) into TOTL is eye-opening in a way that can only be appreciated by hearing for yourself. Unfortunately, that privilege is not available to many people. And for those who believe that "technicalities" are a made-up term or that EQ can fix everything, well I don't think there's anything I can do to convince you otherwise.
Sony MDR-EX1000:The EX1000 is my current daily driver and I reviewed it before writing this review. When pitted against the Dawn, its age certainly shows. The EX1000's detail retrieval and tonality are almost pitiful in comparison. But the EX1000's major advantages lie in high dynamism, beautiful presentation, and of course, a 16 mm DD for phenomenal bass reproduction. These strengths make up its X-factor that keeps me coming back to it. So while the Dawn is undoubtedly a better overall IEM, I don't feel too sad when I need to let it go to the next person in the loaner tour.
Should You Buy It?Yes, if you're coming from a more budget background looking for a safe, all-rounder IEM to upgrade into hi-fi and you aren't too nitpicky about presentation. The Dawn's tuning and tonality is a near-perfect fit for most anyone and the step up in resolution and refinement is sure to be a significant upgrade coming from mid-fi. $1400 is "affordable" in terms of TOTL IEMs and I think the Dawn is worthy of a spot among the top even if it has a significant (relatively speaking) weakness in staging and presentation.
In terms of options, the most notable ones are likely to be the Hidition Viento (which I have not had a chance to demo) or the Sony IER-M9, both of which are quite a bit cheaper than the Dawn. This places the Dawn in a bit of an awkward position. At the end of the day, I think the choice comes down to this: how much do you value tuning. If all you truly care about is wanting a TOTL that has the best tuning and tonality possible, the Fearless Dawn x crinacle is it. It is by far the best tuned IEM I have heard. But if you're more flexible with your tuning options in favor of technical ability, the Dawn starts to face some serious competition.
Ultimately, I think the Dawn represents the concept of the TOTL "normal" IEM. By that I mean the Dawn has practically an ideal frequency response, near perfect IEM tonality, and excellent resolution, the primary pillars of any IEM. It handles all genres without a hitch and doesn't ever get fatiguing. There's no doubt that it's a great IEM. But it also showcases some of the flaws seemingly inherent with many IEMs, such as BA bass and flat-ish staging. What the Dawn truly lacks is an X-factor to really separate it from other great IEMs over time. Unlike IEMs like the Etymotic ER4 or Sony EX1000 which have followings despite being decade old, I imagine the Dawn will be superseded and mostly forgotten in a few years as the market progresses.