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Fostex TE-02: Neutrality on a Budget - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

Meinen Fostex TE-02 habe ich bereits auf Deutsch hier rezensiert: http://kopfhoerer-lounge.blogspot.com/2016/01/Fostex-TE-02.html
Was nun folgt, ist die englischsprachige Variante.


Preamble:

The Fostex TE-02 was bought by me from Amazon for €29.24 sometime in the middle of the past year, so I had some time to get used to the in-ears. At other places, I’ve seen them selling even cheaper.



The TE-02, advertised as waterproof in-ears (and therefore implying that they are sports earphones), never really grabbed my attention until I saw a few posts from reliable people who claimed the in-ears to sound fairly neutral, what I didn’t doubt but had to hear that myself. Well, and the result was indeed that these in-ears have a very neutral sound signature, unlike most other headphones and in-ears that are promoted for sports. Yes, these were a really pleasant surprise and now that I have had them for some months and haven’t seen other reviews, I decided to write down my own.

In the unlikely case that you don’t know Fostex, here is a very brief introduction to them:
Fostex is definitely no unknown name in audiophile circles. Emerged from Foster Electric in 1973, the Japanese company has quickly become one of the most important suppliers and OEM manufacturers for speaker chassis and headphones, but also produces its own products.


Technical Specifications:

Type: Dynamic
Frequency Response: 20 – 20000 Hz
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Sensitivity: 93 dB/mW
Max. Input: 50 mW
Cable Length: 1.2 m


Delivery Content:

The TE-02WP (WP stands for waterproof, as they are IPX5 and IPX7 certified) arrive in a tiny little box that has a small plastic screen on the front  and the same glossy black lines structure all over around the matte black surface like the TE-07’s box. The sides show the delivery content, the back gives information about the technical specifications.
Inside is not much, as besides the in-ears, solely four pairs of differently sized silicone ear-tips come included (not much surprising at this low price point). For storage, I am using an inexpensive little zippered case I bought on AliExpress (don’t remember the seller or product page anymore, but it was definitely below $5).





Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

The IEMs are made of shiny black plastic and follow the shape of a raindrop.
On the “faceplate” is a grey Fostex logo, the sides have a rubber O-ring-kind-of-thing. The sound outlet is made of metal and contains 9 holes, most likely to keep moisture and water out.



The cable feels quite good and sturdy, however it is a little springy (not bothering though) and prone to tangling. A chin-slider is also present. The angled 3.5 mm plug has got a nice strain relief, the y-split and parts right at the in-ears where the side-markers are located however lack any.
The ear-tips are neither very thick nor very thin but of medium density and fortunately thicker than the TE-07’s wherefore it is faster and easier to get a decent fit and seal with the TE-02.




Comfort, Isolation:

The IEMs are comfortable to wear and the lines of the concha due to their raindrop-shape follow. When wearing these IEMs, I either insert them “correctly” and then guide the cables over the ears, or most of the times insert them “upside down” (correct-sided) and wear them over the ears. Both styles are very comfortable and by the way, the IEMs are very lightweight as well.
Microphonics are reduced when using both wearing styles in contrast to the classic “straight down” method, but there are still some small cable noises despite the chin-slider (however they are still low enough not to be bothering).



Isolation is somewhere between “average” and “really good” with a distinct tendency to the latter, however as there is a tiny vent in each side, exterior noises are not as much reduces as with fully closed IEMs like the Logitech UE200, but the TE-02 does a really good job.


Sound:

For listening, I used the largest included silicone tips.

Tonality:

The TE-02 is very neutral sounding and might be too sterile and boring for many – however, if you want to try a fairly neutral IEM for little money, this one could be for you.

The lows reach flat down to 20 Hz without any roll-off and are just very slightly (a bit less than 1 dB in my ears, but it sounds more like ~ 2.5 dB with music, as the dynamic driver isn’t as quick as better BA drivers) more present than the Etymotic ER-4S’ in the area between 20 and 300 Hz; the mids are tonally correct in my ears and are, just like the bass and lower fundamental range, very slightly more up-front than strict neutrality at 1 kHz by 1 dB, but I only notice that with a sine generator and not really with music.
The presence area around 2 kHz is a recessed (just like at most in-ears), giving vocals a slightly relaxed character however still sounding tonally correct. Level starts increasing again from 3 kHz on, with a small spike at 5 and 7.3 kHz.
Extension above 10 kHz is good, however level there is a bit less present than before 10000 Hz.

As the lower treble/lower middle treble is a bit in the background, vocals sound a bit relaxed and the TE-02 has a quite good long-term suitability despite the very slightly more up-front mids at 1 kHz, while still being very neutral.

By the way, the TE-02 sounds more neutral than the TE-07 which is more on the warmer and relaxed side of neutral, whereas the TE-02 has the slightly flatter bass and more treble energy.

Although the Etymotic ER-4S sounds different (= more neutral, especially in the treble), the TE-02 shares similarities except for the more pushed-back lower /lower middle, wherefore it is (tonally) closer to the UERM (which is very neutral as well, however not as flat as the ER-4S).

Resolution:

Shortened: Clearly above the price.
More extensive: Detail retrieval and note rendering of these earphones are a very pleasant surprise, and not only their detailed characteristic but also the quick and responsive bass is a more than welcome thing.
Speech intelligibility is fairly high, with good rendering of singers’ variations, however the moderately recessed presence area and lower middle treble make the mids appear slightly more on the relaxed side, but not much.
Detail retrieval and authenticity won’t compete with good in-ears around €200 (I’m especially thinking of the Ety ER-4S and LEAR LHF-AE1d), however I wouldn’t mind spending around €100 for these waterproof gems.
Treble is crisp and sounds mostly natural and never harsh but also never dull (as level is spot-on and neither recessed nor overly present), however upper treble around 8 kHz sounds very slightly tinny or metallic at times, but that is criticism on a high level and nothing to blame for the €30 price point and wouldn’t even be a problem for triple the money, as it is just barely noticeable from time to time.
A really pleasant surprise are the lows which are among the faster sort for in-ears with dynamic drivers. Speed isn’t as good as with better Balanced Armatures, however among the quickest, most arid and punchiest dynamic drivers and very enjoyable with complex or fast recordings.

Soundstage:

Another very pleasant surprise was the soundstage: it is not only a bit wider and deeper than average, but also features precise instrument placement, layering and rendering. Locating instruments’ position in the imaginary room is very easy and they also appear cleanly placed, without bleeding into each other, and even some “emptiness” between tonal elements or musicians can be heard.
Also with fast tracks, the stage doesn’t collapse much and remains still coherent plus controlled, still being able to display an airy and effortless presentation.

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Quick Comparison:

vs.Logitech UE200:
Having paid pretty much the same except for a few Cents, the TE-02 gives you sound quality that is 1 or 2 classes above.
Let me start off by saying that TE-02’s cable is much better than UE200’s.
The Fostex is the more neutral sounding out of the two, especially in the lows where the UE is a bit bassier and warmer, however still fairly balanced.
TE-02’s bass is much quicker, faster, punchier and with better control; overall resolution is higher as well. UE200’s soundstage is of about average lateral expansion and depth, TE-02 has the larger and more precise stage with finer placement and layering.

vs. DUNU Titan 1:
Build quality is better on the DUNU and it comes with a broader range of accessories as well as a more premium feel, but that should be expected at more than triple the price.
Both are very good IEMs, however the DUNU is slightly better, but the TE-02 comes very close in most parts and even beats the Titan 1 in others.
Titan 1 is more sounded, having a bright v-oriented signature with more fundamental range quantity and bass.
Bass impact is quicker on the Fostex, giving a better sense of speed, control and airiness – although the Titan has a really quick bass impact, TE-02 is even quicker and tighter.
Detail retrieval/resolution is slightly better with the Titan 1, however the difference is relatively small. The Titan 1 has got the larger soundstage (however it is not much larger), with more spatial depth and a more open feeling, but the Fostex has got a slightly sharper instrument separation, whereas the Titan seems to have the more precise layering.


Conclusion:


The Fostex TE-02 are neutral sounding jewels for little money, definitely punching above their price point.



Their tonality is very neutral, despite the waterproof features/advertisement that may somehow mislead you into thinking these are sports in-ears with a massively bass-heavy tuning, which they obviously are not. Rather than that, they are probably among the most neutral sounding in-ears you can find for €30 and also above, plus having really strong sonic aspects, too.
Soundstage is larger than average, with precise instrument placement, separation and layering, generating an authentic as well as three-dimensional imaginary field of sound. Together with the high resolution that could be found in more expensive in-ears and the really fast and arid bass impact, these in-ears are a really good bet if you want to figure out whether a neutral signature suits your tastes, or if you are just someone who prefers a quite neutral sound signature without willing to spend much.