When the pandemic hit full force in March, we were almost instantly cut off from many of the things we took for granted, including the ability to hear live music performances. In the beginning, we found ourselves on most days glued to the TV to learn of the latest updates about the virus and its impact, or listening to news on the radio or internet. Once our awareness was sufficiently raised about health and safety practices, we remembered that we needed to pay closer attention to what was going into our ears, and how. Luckily, one of the rare positive treats we discovered in 2020 were the Atlantic FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors.
Most ear buds offer a sound quality that leaves much to be desired, often cutting out some of the highs and lows. Ear buds can also be uncomfortable, especially when used for longer than a few minutes. And, if they don’t fit properly, many users find the need to turn up the volume to compensate for external noise, which as we all know is not a good thing. In-ear monitors provide a cleaner, unaffected version of sound directly to the ears. This technology is preferred by many on-stage musicians, as they can provide high-quality sound but also protect against the high volumes associated with live performances. While the Atlantic FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors weren’t designed with the high-end, on-stage user in mind, they do put out amazing sound for the price, plus a super comfortable, ergonomic fit.
High-resolution audio is delivered by Hybrid Triple Drivers with Graphene Dynamic Woofers and Dual Balanced Armature mid and high-frequency drivers. Dr. Mead Killion pioneered the use of a balanced armature design, and the well-regarded Etymotic ER4s are still a high bar for earphones to meet. However, as accurate and balanced a single armature design can be, some listeners missed the punch that dynamic drivers are known for. A bit of oomph can be a welcome boost, especially when travelling, or where there is ambient noise. The Atlantic FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors carry the Hi-Res Audio logo, indicating that they meet the frequency range required for certification. Mind you, plenty of products now have that logo, and while they might meet the requirement on a technical level, believable musicality is quite something else.
Our test units came in a lovely shade of blue and white, a nice and cheery change from the scores of black or bling-y products out there. Other color choices are red, black, and white (with gold accents). From a longevity and audiophile aspect, they are equipped with MMCX connectors, making cable replacement or upgrades, as easy as plug and play. If you have a frayed cable, or mischievous kittens, in the house, the MMCX connector allows easy replacement, or even a step up to third-party cables, such as ones from Kimber Kable. The included 4-foot 20-strand Oxygen-Free-Copper cable connects with either a 3.5mm jack or a Apple Lightning connector, depending on the version selected. We are still fans of 3.5mm headphone jacks - call us old fashioned, but we love the easy compatibility. For those who aren’t familiar with the MMCX connector, it’s designed to be a universal connector for high-end earphones, and you can see them on a variety of the best models on the market. They are small, secure, gold-plated for better contact surface, and it makes trying out different cables a breeze.
Integrated into the cable is an in-line three-button remote control, volume up/down plus on/off talk, compatible with most Android or iOS phones. We found it worked just fine on many platforms, whether iOS, Android, Mac OSX, or Windows. The Atlantic In-Ear Monitors can be driven quite loud without clipping, and sound stays satisfying at all levels, which is a bit of a feat, since as drivers are added, you may risk a non-linear response with amplification level changes. Well done. They ship with a gold-plated 3.5mm to ¼-inch adapter, different size ear-tips, in a useful hard case. They were also seriously comfortable, thanks to the soft but durable foam ear tips, always a favorite of ours.
Unlike some brands that pour a lot of design detail and execution into packaging for the almost fetishistic “unboxing experience” (which we have yet to have any interest in, to be perfectly honest), these are contained is a straightforward box and zippered hard case with the IEMs inside. No bling anywhere, with the exception of the gold plated ¼-inch adapter. We’d rather that funds are spent on the products themselves as opposed to over-the-top packaging. And the build quality is excellent. The cables are of a nice weight and thickness and they feel solid and have proved reliable, no matter what conditions and abuse we put to them. Nancy found that they were as adept at handling podcasts on long walks and workouts, as they were when listening to high-res music from Qobuz. There is little or no microphoning from the cable, and they struck us as quiet and reliable. The cable material works great for active users, and ship with some nice around-the-ears loops, and memory cable. We found they stayed in place for walking, jogging, in the gym, and in the rain.
These in-ear monitors sound splendid and musical, yet not boomy, with a restrained yet exuberant lower end and bass response. We listened to them with a variety of sources, including a Motorola G6 phone, the excellent PecanPi USB DAC/Headphone Amp, the new Earman Sparrow DAC/Headphone Amp, and the Earman TR3 DAC/Headphone Amp, along with our reference units, the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and the Oppo HA-1 DAC/Headphone amp. When not using the Qobuz desktop and mobile apps, we used Amarra 4.0 Plus, a highly regarded audiophile music player. Like Atlantic’s full line of products, these can be purchased only through their website, or from carefully chosen authorized dealers (look to https://shop.atlantictechnology.com/apps/store-locator/all to find a dealer near you).
In addition to Qobuz and Chesky Records, Universal Music was kind enough to send us the recently released restoration of “Goats Head Soup” by the Rolling Stones, and the upcoming “Jewel Box” from Elton John. One thing that a decent set of earphones reveals is the noise floor of associated equipment. One of the first things that set the PecanPi USB DAC/Headphone Amp apart from others is a virtually silent noise floor. Pecan has a uniquely minimalist design aesthetic. Apart from the volume control knob on the front of the unit, there is absolutely nothing that indicates whether it’s powered up, on or off, the sampling rate, bit depth, nothing. It’s a good match for the FS-HAL1, as they don’t telegraph their value either.
How did they sound? After a break-in period of about a week of 24 hours a day music, they settled in for good, with a bit of brightness tamed down, and a bass response that allowed for a solid punchy bass, but not muddied by spillover. "Goat’s Head Soup" was amongst the lowest quality recorded and mixed album of the Stone’s discography. The recent anniversary release is more properly considered a restoration then just a deluxe treatment. The soon to be released “Jewel Box” is a remastered box set that contains a highly personal set of tracks that range from rarities, to B Sides, and much more. It’s an interesting collection, and one that John compiled and supervised himself, and represents his view of his work vs. the popular tunes. For both collections, the FS-HAL1’s revealed the sparkling new remastering.
Studio Electrophonique – “I Don’t Think I Love You Anymore” is a lovely 2:50 minute fifty piece of audio bliss, by a young “angel faced” songwriter and performer by the name of James Leesley. He records himself solo, with a tape machine late at night, so as not to upset his neighbor’s newborn. The FS-HAL1’s soundstage was open, quiet, and sensitive. The ambience was there, in just enough measure, to make this song of love at the edge of loss, achingly alive. A perfect match for the new Earman Sparrow, a small USB powered DAC and amplifier, with no hints of grain, and serious competitor to the superb line of DragonFly’s from AudioQuest.
“100 Years Ago” from the newly restored “Goats Head Soup” by the Rolling Stones, comes across as powerfully punchy, with Billy Preston’s funk electric piano punctuating both the percussion and melody lines with a great sense of musicality and energy. “Winter” one of the albums better ballads, has a warm feeling during this time of political instability. Again, using the Pecan Pi, the strings are believable, and the musicality is smooth and atmospheric. “Angie,” the breakout hit from the album, is as strange a song to follow the legendary "Exile on Main Street" as exists in the Stone’s catalog. With the FS-HAL1, the ache in Jagger’s voice, is palpable, even if that clarity makes you wonder if the song is a bit of a send up of its own genre. Richards said that he wrote it about his daughter Angie, and although it’s a bit saccharine, listening through the FS-HAL1, its sweet sound and mix comes through clarion clear.
All in all, the Atlantic Technology FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors are a serious product, presented with a matter-of-fact directness. The quality and build are first-rate, and after months of putting them to the test in various types of weather, from jogging with a cell phone, to high-res music files with state-of-the-art DACs and amplifiers, they acquit themselves quite nicely, are easy to listen to and wear, and at the price, a solidly good buy. The Atlantic Technology FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors come highly recommended.
By Nancy Burlan and Harris Fogel, Posted July, 20, 2020, Updated November 10, 2020
For more information on Atlantic Technology FS-HAL1 In-Ear Monitors visit: https://shop.atlantictechnology.com/products/fs-hal1-in-ear-monitors