FiR Audio NE4: Universal Love
My impressive audition of the KR5 led to a wonderful chain of events. The result was the start of a partnership with FiR Audio that I am now proud to offer on Elise Audio.
As a result, I am not an outsider anymore. The below needs to be read in context.
I received the entire Frontier Series earlier this week. And because I love torturing myself, I decided to start my critical listening with the “little bro” of the series. That’s the Neon4, later called NE4.
Here was my unboxing experience. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
To lightly paraphrase John Massaria’s review of the Kennerton Rognir: the NE4s are so good, there’s no reason not to get them.
That should really be the review. But I have more to say.
NE4 is one of those iems you fall in love with at first audition. The issue with that type of iem is that they sometimes become boring after a while.
Not in this case.
The below impressions are all using the Black Atom module, my favorite by far with NE4.
Let’s have a quick look at the graph:
Once again, I find my listening impressions somewhat different from what the graph implies. NE4 bass is different from KR5 as it has a bigger emphasis on sub-bass and less emphasis on mid-bass.
The NE4 is a warm iem. But the warmth here is exquisitely executed. Bass has satisfying body, slam, speed and texture. The bass boost is substantial yet it doesn’t get in the way of mids clarity or resolution. It isn’t bass-head level, that would be XE6 on silver module. But NE4 delivers bass in spades with a very satisfying impact and decay.
And while it has a sub-bass emphasis, mid-bass is also fully present. Kick-drums and bass guitars sound impactful, natural and textured.
Moving on to mids, NE4 vocals are exceptional. This isn’t just my opinion. I had 6 different serious (crazy?) audiophiles try it this week and the feedback is fairly unanimous. There were lots of "wow"s.
If vocals are an important part of your library, this iem will give you plenty of joy. Both male and female vocals sound rich and emotional. I could never detect any sibilance even when listening to “difficult” tracks.
This is a theme with the NE4: the tuning is so balanced, it doesn’t step wrong in any direction. And I tried. I was looking for the type of music that would expose a weakness. I didn’t manage to.
This is not to say it is a perfect iem. But the tuning and the sound you get is smooth, even with bad recordings.
Treble is well extended but clearly on the softer side. As you can see from the graph, NE4 has less treble energy that its immediate sibling, KR5.
NE4 is not dark but any means. You are still getting all the information and treble sounds natural. But it is delivered wrapped in a smooth, light and warm blanket. If you are a treble head, this might not be the one for you. But you will still like it, because it’s so likeable.
Technicalities are interesting with NE4. It outperforms the vast majority of iems (except KR5 and to some extent XE6 and Elysian X) in terms of stage size. You are not listening to an iem, the stage here firmly flirts with open HP territory. It has to be heard to be believed. The Frontier series with its open design is just pushing the boundaries in terms of how big an iem can sound. The stage is also three-dimensional and you get that wonderful psycho-acoustic effect where sound comes at you from all directions at the same time.
And while NE4 is smooth, it is not soft and mushy. Dynamics are superb and worthy of its TOTL positioning. Separation and layering are also very good but they are not NE4’s "special sauce". There are (generally more expensive) iems out there that will deliver more micro details and better layering. But it doesn’t matter. Because you fall in love with the NE4 when you first listen to it, and you keep falling in love with the mix of musicality and technicalities it delivers.
Also worthy of mention: the whole Frontier Series line-up is easy to drive. NE4 is no exception. The sound will scale with better sources but small dac/amps like the Qudelix 5k will do the job.
Very quick comparisons:
- Compared to KR5: out of the box NE4 delivers more sub bass and fuller vocal performance. KR5 on the other side has a slightly bigger stage and better clarity and separation. Especially in the upper frequencies where it also has more energy.
- Compared to ThieAudio V16: V16 has some of the best BA bass out there, but NE4 takes the lead with its impressive Kinetic Bass. Stage on V16 is also impressive for an iem but it is a touch smaller than NE4. This said, V16 stage can feel a bit higher on some tracks. Where V16 takes a small advantage is resolution and clarity. V16 sound feels a bit more “crisp” and has more of an edge to it. Vocals are clearly fuller and more emotional on the NE4.
- Stay tuned for a comparison to the XE6. I need more time to articulate my thoughts because there is so much to say!
In conclusion, I predict that the NE4 will have a prominent spot in the universally-acclaimed iems pantheon. This category was in the past dominated by iems such as 64 Audio U12t, Vision Ears VE8 and more recently ThieAudio Monarch MKII.
You can call the tuning safe, or masterful. It is really hard to make an iem (especially a hybrid) that takes a step back, fades in the background and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the music.
Because in the end, it is about the music.