Final Audio's high end in-ear, the Final Audio Design Piano Forte X, is causing a stir, and it's not all due to the price or styling. Lauri Cular takes them home after leaving his sister behind as security.FINAL AUDIO PIANO FORTE X Piano Forte, when directly translated into English, means 'soft and loud'. With appropriate amplification they certainly go loud, but in terms of their outward design they struggle with softness. Indeed they could be used to mug someone - and with the hefty price tag here the proceeds of a few muggings could come in handy. If only these were available years ago. All those hours spent collecting conkers and ruining my mum's roast dinners by sneaking them in the oven to harden them could have been more fruitfully spent. Never mind pretending to miss, and hitting your mate's hand on a cold morning, what fun!
More seriously, the 'soft' is quite accurate when describing the sound of these. The first thought which struck me was 'where's the treble?' followed closely by 'surely these are the Emperor's new headphones, has everyone gone mad?' but I'm glad I reserved my judgement. I collected together some pieces of music which would bring out the strengths of the Piano Fortes - a recording of Hariprasad Chaurasia's bansuri (with genuine jungle sounds accompanying), Handel'sMusic for the Royal Fireworks and a work which I think reflects Beethoven's best period -Beethoven's Greatest Hits. Added to this is theTemperance Seven, which is just perfect - the music brings to mind the huge acoustic horn speakers of the 1920s and the Piano Forte Xs really bring this quality to it. Not the scratchiness or the narrow frequency range, but the liveliness of it all - it really gets me involved. Also tagging along is my Wurlitzer CD from Blackpool Tower ballroom and my fairground Gavioli LP. Rockin'! These don't do electronica or pop, and rock is not recommended - unless particularly atmospheric, that is. The Piano Fortes are designed to be at their best for one type of performance or production only - the acoustic. Hence my selection of twiddly stuff. Now I'm not one to go for the classical or acoustic out of habit, so it made quite a change to don these gold blobs and be immersed. The usual half life for this stuff is about 10 seconds with me, so it's a feather in the Final Audio cap to keep me listening. Closing my eyes, I could imagine the space and myselfinit very easily. The classical, and music of a higher-brow-than-mine variety is all very well but I don't know it intimately - these aren't reference tracks for me. The Temperance Seven CD full of them though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the various instruments involved. I was hit with as much information as any great headphone; it was just that the emphasis here is on the midrange and it matches the music perfectly. It's like the best of both worlds - the charm and ease of an old-style phonograph presentation, but with the sound quality and convenience of 21st Century technology. These are not necessarily designed for the hectic lifestyles of now, as evidenced by their tendency to drop out when leaning forward or moving the head rapidly. This may be more to do with my ears than anything; I checked Final Audio's website to check how they were fitting me, and the chap on the page had managed to ingest the things almost completely. On me, most of the body tended to balance half in and half out of my concha, and the nozzle up against the opening of my ear canal kept it in. They stayed there and would offer no trouble if used in the same manner as full-size headphones of the same calibre. In summary, these headphones may not be the most practical for our busy modern lives, but they are not meant to accompany any activities other than relaxation. With the Piano Forte X, it might be said that any foul mood can easily be conkered!