Fiio has made a lot of growth in a quick amount of time the past couple years. This more pertains to the company’s bread and butter – audio players. Headphones are still a new space for them, and judging by the F9 Pro we looked at a couple months ago, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
This is where the new FH5 earphones come in. Despite being part of the “FH” series and negating the “Pro” moniker, we’re somehow looking at a new flagship. The FH5 packs four drivers in total (compared to three on the F9 Pro) and a reworked design, but is it a worthy upgrade overall? This synopsis sums up the need-to-know details.
The FH5 is a big step into serious audiophile territory, where the F9 Pro dabbled in it. It’s not just the quad-driver configuration (one low-end dynamic driver and three balanced armature drivers for the mids to highs), but also higher-end details like triple bore nozzles and specially designed acoustic chambers driving the earpiece design. Progression comes at a cost, but being Fiio we’re talking about, it’s controlled and relatively very competitive at $260.
- Premium aluminum-magnesium construction
- Detachable cable design (MMCX standard) and included silver-plated copper, braided cable
- A bunch of ear tips, including foam
- Great definition and clean sound
- Earpieces are large
- Not the tightest seal/best isolation
- No balanced cable included in box, like with lower-costing F9 Pro
- Soundstage and dynamics could be better
What it’s like to use
- The FH5’s packaging isn’t far from the previous flagship, including a soft, zipper pouch inside of a secondary clear waterproof case and selection of four different kinds of ear tips. But a notable exclusion is the 2.5mm TRRS Balanced cable. Like the F9 Pro, the FH5 uses a detachable MMCX standard. Maybe it’s the non-“Pro” status that just a standard 3.5mm TRS cable is given.
- That said, the cable does feel like an upgrade. It’s a braided type in robust, textured sheathing. It’s a little on the thick and stiff side, but we’d say that the durable feel makes up for it (and superb tangle-resistance). Aesthetic-wise, it’s gunmetal color and transparency makes it quite the looker.
- We’re indifferent on memory wire in general (stiffened portion of the cable that routes around the ear), as they’re hit or miss. Fiio’s attempt here is mostly successful. Despite being thick, it’s soft and flexible, which does translate to notable comfort. However, the material goes down the cable too much. It makes a curl underneath our average-sized ears, which doesn’t have any ergonomic implications, but just looks unflattering.
- Moving on to the earpieces, we once again have housings constructed from CNC machined metal, in typical Fiio fashion. They feel as premium as it gets, which says a lot for the price-point. The shape of them has changed drastically from the jellybean style of the F9 Pro, which we feel is for the worse. The earpieces look great with their muscular form, but they’re undeniably chunky.
- Fortunately, Fiio was very careful to not make the thickness equate to discomfort. The contour of the shape is natural to the ear, and it fits like it’s meant to be. This doesn’t make things 100% good, though. The thickness, more than normally, limits how far you can push the ear tips in. We had to use a larger tip than normal as a result.
- Ear tip selection is like that on the F9 Pro. That is, not just sets of standard silicone and foam tips, but two different kinds of SpinFit tips (which emphasize vocals or bass), which are highly regarded in the audiophile community.
- Isolation with the silicone tips is just average, as one may suspect, so we’re glad that Fiio includes the optional foam set.
- Moving on to the critical aspect of a headphone, the sound, we were interested at the sound signature update from the new quad driver config (hybrid, actually, with one dynamic driver for the lows and three balanced armature drivers covering the rest of the spectrum). It’s distinctly an airy presentation, such that you get a sense of distance like that of a concert hall rather than intimacy of a closed space that other headphones go for.
- It’s apparent that the lows are provided by a dynamic driver, via a natural and amply bodied presence. The sub-bass in particular is the star here, via an excellently deep and impactful strike. It may be a tad too strong for some audiophiles, but not uncontrolled or boomy, just emphasized.
- There’s a slight disjointedness from the upper bass to lower mids, to our ears, where it sounds slightly recessed or light in comparison to the surrounding regions. We can almost call the sound sig U-shaped as a result.
- The treble has a rich presence (detailed and layered). We can’t call it the crispiest or brightest we’ve heard, but well done nonetheless.
- There isn’t the widest soundstage or the most dynamic play between different elements, but dimensionality is still detectable (probably from the notable “openness” of the sound). What also helps is the clean separation throughout. There isn’t much muddle to speak about. Coupled with the high grade definition, it’s evident what the extra money gets you. It also remembers to be a fun and pleasurable listen too.
- Despite a somewhat average impedance of 19 ohms, we interestingly found some sensitivity in the FH5, such that low-level hiss (i.e. Chord Mojo DAC/amp) and low volume levels would signify. It’s not as bad as the sensitive Shure SE846 earphones of course, but not far from.
We found the FH5 to be a nice step up from the F9 Pro, as the pricing and upgraded tech would suggest. However, it is a manner of a few good steps forward, and a couple back. The ergonomics of the F9 Pro still reign. We did enjoy the more premium feeling cable bundled with the FH5, though, but can’t ignore that a Balanced option was excluded unlike formerly.
At the meat of it (the sound), this is the real upgrade to speak of. Fiio is progressing quite nicely in refining its earphone sound quality. There’s still more work to do if it wants to compete with the high-end big boys. That’ll come sooner than later at this rate. But being mindful of this kind of HiFi quality at this price-point, we’d say it’s a noteworthy deal.