Thanks again to Kerry for arranging review sample of Firestone Audio CustomCute (305USD) to me.
From my previous Firestone Audio Fireye HD portable headphone amp review, I am actually having good feeling to Firestone Audio products, just for your information, CustomCute is not the highest end product in Firestone Audio product range (as pure DAC), there is a eldest brother named ‘Tobby’ in Firestone Audio product range. In the Firecute series however, CustomCute instantly stand out of the crowd, it is really small and beautiful.
Customcute is a different machine than the Fubar HD that I just reviewed not too long ago, it is purely a DAC device, so you will need a separate amplifier to make your headphones/speakers sounded. Size of Customcute still maintaining small and cute, more or less same size like the Firestone Audio Fubar HD that I just reviewed not too long ago (And like).
It is a typical small box foam factor such as the Fubar HD (or any Firestone Audio Firecute series products), to be frank I have zero expectation for the outlook but I am rather surprised when I switched on the CustomCute, the top panel of the DAC will light up and illuminate, really great looking and cool, I am surprised to see this, I have to praise Firestone Audio for the brilliant design. However, the top panel can easily invite scratch, so it is better not to put anything on top of it if you like to do stacking.
I have paired Firestone Audio CustomCute with Firestone Audio Fireye HD, Fubar HD and Bobby, JDS Labs Objective 2 and iFi Audio iCAN, listening through German-Maestro GMP400, Hifiman HE400, Soundmagic HP-100, Creative Aurvana Live!, Shure SE425, Thinksound IEMs and Hifiman RE400. CustomCute has been burned in over 300 hours.
From the first time I listened through CustomCute I knew that CustomCute indeed carried Firestone Audio kind of ‘house sound signature’, which does not bring any sound being too forward (Maybe a little forward than being ‘flat’)m but they have created extremely spacious and comfortable listening distance for the listeners. This is a very nice tuning, I have been told by an Audio Engineer that ‘pull’ sound is harder to tune than ‘push’ sound forward.
Firestone Audio products always have good soundstage to begin with, I am glad to report that CustomCute has retained Firestone Audio good tradition, it has an airy, good width/depth/height and imaging soundscape. The airy kind of feeling is quite impressive, I never feel like CustomCute forced everything into my ears, everything has good space to breath. It is not only wide, but being spacious and airy is the main reason that I think it is impressive, I hate anything that has very close type of sound, I will be stress when listening with something like this, Bravo Firestone Audio!
I played the album live album K2HD (KennyG), nothing is lacking here. Of course if I change to something more expensive and bigger it will give me bigger soundstage and breathful sound, but for 309USD, I can’t complain much. Sax sounded really great with a lot of energy, not in an explosive or forceful way, it breathes and dissolved into the music, being airy and spacious. The recording of this album is fantastic anyway, but being able to play it nicely just shows that how great is the CustomCute.
Album Reveillez-vous from Peter White also resolved with pretty amount of detail and present in an airy and spacious soundscape. Bass is pack with good impact and punch, overall, music has excellent level of clarity and insightful. Guitar is clear and plucking, I am impressed with how this little box is doing. Sound signature is balance and neutral, with little hints of warmth, making music really easily favourable and enjoyable. I played album Caravan of Dream from Peter White, sound is indeed nice and really good.
The fun never stopped just here. If you intended to do something we called as ‘Pc-Fi’ (Which playing good resolution music through speaker or headphone with computer), you can get yourself a good T-amp such as Trends Audio TA10.1, connected to a bookshelf speaker, and you can start the music enjoyment with a space and limited budget conscious in mind.
I have noticed that DACs in 300USD price bracket (from what I have experienced) has tendency to keep music neutral and balanced, not boosting any frequency in significant way, this is not a bad thing. But what made the 300USD DAC and 600USD differed is not only the more expensive DAC provide cleaner, fuller, better soundstage/imaging/positioning, neutral, detail level and so on, but they will also have their ‘personalization’, their ‘character’. The character that I referred is not ‘coloration’, being neutral is not a bad thing but losing characteristic will make you appeared as dull as other competitor, for me, CustomCute fair really good with the competitor, being said, it resolve better than the iFi Audio iDAC, you now know how good it is. According to my ears, I can directly feel the benefits of soundstage after I listening through Kingrex UD384 (Without the U Power), however, I have not yet burning in the Kingrex thoroughly and keep my thought first.
So why not just buy the Fubar HD (399USD) which consists of a headphone amplifier despite just a single unit of DAC like CustomCute. CustomCute has a fuller and better sound quality, for me CustomCute is a higher standard of product, better soundstage/imaging, detail level, more intermediate/fast and overall audio quality. However, for beginner, I will still suggest Fubar HD (Has an integrated amp) if you are tight on budget because it is already quite good for my standard, it is only CustomCute take their house sound to higher standard. I have to admit that I am not particularly impressed from the time I listened to the CustomCute, but I have never getting fatigue or thinking that it is a bad DAC too, this kind of sound signature have to consist of 2 things, a balanced/neutral and not boring sound, also smooth and reasonable soundscape, I do think CustomCute excelled in this area.
I know many audiophile and beginner will not really consider on something they rarely heard of. Firestone Audio is not a new player in this market but I can’t deny though Firestone Audio might not be as famous and can put into the ‘wall of fame’ brand, but their products can definitely produce at least ‘same grade of sound quality’ as those ‘wall of fame’ products. I have never really into their product range just before I have chance to review their products, but after I really listened to them, they are really good and I started to wonder why they have not gained good reputation recently, they are really capable.
Now come to Firestone Audio CustomCute, this is really a capable DAC, I can use it as my only DAC and I think I will still happy with it, it is not perfect but never has any critical shortcomings as well. I am impressed with the Firestone Audio product range entirely, without any doubt, I can easily suggest to you if you are seeking for a good DAC in the market now.