Pros: neutral signature, good performance, good detail, great price, gorgeous, changing signature based on amping
Cons: may be source dependent for sound signature, sometimes veiled on treble/upper mids, average sound stage
Thanks, @Tony-Hifi at HiFi Headphones, for organizing this tour and graciously allowing me to join. My honest opinion of the Fidue A65 follows.
I always start with a bit about me. More details are below the fold, but here’s a little insight into my grading. I grade primarily on sound and value. Coming with 20 pairs of tips won’t help a headphone, and coming with a stupid awful case won’t hurt it unless there are other cascading detractors.
About me (Click to show)
Like most sensible people I started falling in love with music as a child. My first portable audio device was a Sony Walkman (the cassette kind) that I got when I was 10 years old (24 years ago). I listened with the cheap Sony on ears that came with the Walkman until I bought a Koss CD boombox and started listening to UAF College Radio and 103.9 (alternative rock at the time) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I once listened to Louie Louie for 3 days straight, and I’m not insane. My musical tastes started out with listening to what my friends liked (Dr. Dre and Green Day) and what my parents liked (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) and I only really discovered my own musical tastes and sonic preferences in my late teens to early 20s. What I discovered is that I have very eclectic and some would say weird tastes. I could be listening to gay punk rock, Japanese dream garble pop, 8-bit chiptune, Scandinavian black metal, Latin guitar, the Mariinsky Orchestra, or Miles Davis, but I mostly listen to Classic Rock and Indie/Alternative. I’m a big fan of intelligent hip-hop like Metermaids, Kendrick Lamar and Aesop Rock, also.
I tend to like headphones that are all-around performers, this generally means a balanced or neutral sound. I somehow never manage to have much money, so I don’t want to buy infinity headphones to switch between my myriad genres that I play. I can hear all the way down to 10hz and all the way up to 23Khz—these are what I’ve heard doing test tones on headphones. It has been a long time since I had a test with an audiologist. I’m sensitive to peaky treble but do enjoy smooth extended treble. I like deep rich tight bass and impactful drums, and dislike upper midbass emphasis. I like my vocals crisp, so stay away from Josh Tillman’s voice you nasty upper midbass hump. I hear soundstage better than just about anything I identify in music, but my words haven’t caught up to my ears. I listen at volume levels that others consider loud (72 to 75 dB), but I just set it to where the dynamics peak. I’m not here to shatter my eardrums. I like them just how they are.
I generally don’t believe in using EQ, not even for inexpensive headphones, especially in reviews. I won’t claim that I haven’t done it, but I generally try to avoid it.
I’m a firm believer that cables can make a difference, but I don’t think they always do. When I tried out Toxic Cables line, none of them had labels and the cheapest looking one was the one I liked the best. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to spend much to improve my sound. It turned out that the cheapest looking one was the Silver/Gold top of the line cable. I’ve heard the difference that USB cables can make, from upgrading from the crappy cable that came with my Geek Out 1000 to a Supra USB, and then again when upgrading to the LH Labs Lightspeed 2G with the iUSB3.0. When I picked up a cheap shielded power lead from Mains Cables R Us (who also sell iFi gear) to replace my standard kettle lead on my amplifier, I heard more crunchy and clearer treble. I switched the leads with my wife blinded and she heard the same difference. I didn’t tell her what I heard and let her describe it herself. But cables don’t always make a difference. When I switched from my standard HD650 cable to a custom balanced cable (Custom Cans UK, very affordable), the sound stayed exactly the same when hooked up via a top tier (custom made by @dill3000 silver/gold) 4-pin XLR to 6.3mm converter. Balanced mode made a difference in clarity and blackness of background. Your mileage may vary and you may not hear a difference, but I have.
Vital Statistics (specs from manufacturers and distributors)
Tony and the crew at HiFi Headphones in Lancing, UK do a very good job providing the features of the products they have for sale. These stats are lifted directly from the Fidue A65 product page there. From the rumours I’ve seen around HeadFi, these have the same guts as the Fidue A63, but these look far more premium, in my opinion.
- Drivers: Custom 8mm dynamic driver with Titanium composites
- Frequency range: 16Hz - 22kHz
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Sensitivity: 101dB
- Max input power: 30mW
- Distortion: <1%
- Plug: 3.5mm straight gold-plated jack
- Cable: 1.2m, 7N-OFC
- Micro dynamic drivers with titanium composites
- Solid metal housing construction eliminates distortion
- Ergonomic body design and robust metal microphone, splitter and jack
- Universal microphone and control button compatible with most smartphones
- Various silicone eartips effectively isolate and provide secure fit
- Can be worn in a cable down or over the ear configuration
See more at: HiFi Headphones. Tony has also done a video review there that I think was quite good.
I’m a sucker for images showing machines being taken apart like they are being pulled apart by duelling magnets in a paper white zero-g outer space. This image is also stolen from HiFi Headphones. A google image search turned up only HiFi Headphones for this image. I don’t know why Fidue isn’t plastering it all over the internets, because it’s darn cool.
Form & Function
The Fidue A65 is light weight and pretty ergonomic. It is a nice coppery rose gold colour with a little bit of directional texture. It’s like the IEM body was extruded from a piece of copper—it wasn’t, it’s aluminum. The strain reliefs have the best right left identification I’ve come across on any headphone; it is a simple elegant solution to the right/left ear dilemma that can serve any level of visual acuity. Stevie Wonder would look great with a pair of these and the little raised dot on the right strain relief would tell him exactly how to wear them. Most headphones use lettering or colour coding, but these don’t serve you well in a dark airplane cabin or on a late-night coach to London. The little raised dot is a perfect solution. It also allowed me to switch quickly between headphones during testing—bonus! You can see the raised dot in the picture below.
The cable looks fairly inexpensive. I’ve seen it online on a variety of inexpensive Chinese headphones on aliexpress. The cable also has some microphonics—not too bad, and I don’t run often so it doesn’t really affect me. Luckily, for those who do run, it comes with not one, but two clips. I guess they probably knew about that microphonics issue. The cable can be worn up or down, but I found that the Fidue A65 are most comfortable worn down due to the feel of the cable over-ear. The cable is a bit stiff, so doesn’t contour as nicely to the top of the ear as I’d like. Ear-guides would probably make these easier to wear up.
The A65 cable has has a microphone and one button remote for answering calls. The button assembly is plastic with an aluminum shell. I regret to say that I didn’t test out the microphone. I don’t like listening to music out of my phone, and I also don’t like being interrupted when listening to music, so microphone testing ends up low on my listening priority list. I’ll have to remedy that in future reviews.
The package is a nice size, has good icons, nice packaging and presentation, and contains the following:
- Fidue A65 IEMs
- 3 pairs of single flange silicone eartips (S/M/L)
- 1 pair of double flange silicone eartips (M)
- Cable clip
- Shirt clip
- Velvet carrying pouch
- Warranty card
The accessories aren’t as generous as the RHA s500i or the RHA ma750 (two headphones, I think that this one sits in between, reviewed here), but I think that they are sufficient. The silicone tips were good quality. I like the velvet carrying pouch, it has a nice feel and a nice mechanism: you press the sides and it snaps open and release and it snaps closed. I think it is a perfect size for the headphones, and will do a decent job keeping dust off of them, but will probably be prone to dust on the case. It isn’t a terribly protective case, but I think it will do the job just fine. If you want something heavier, there are lots of inexpensive cases on Amazon and ebay. I was satisfied with the accessories included, I don’t need to be wowed when it comes to accessories for any headphone.
The Fidue A65 have a nice relaxed sound signature. When playing out of the iBasso DX50 on low gain, the bass is easygoing, and the sound is not overly forward. It has a nice warm sound on the bass and vocals. When I flip the gain switch to high on the DX50, it’s almost like the headphone transforms a little, it gains more sub-bass and low mid-bass body.
Testing the difference between the gain settings, it seems that the volume scale difference between each level of gain is about 5 to 7 points. When listening to Neil Young – Out on the Weekend (Pono 24-192) turning the gain from low to high suppresses the guitar on the right slightly, lowers the mids in relative terms, and darkens the overall presentation of the headphone.
Comparing the RHA ma750 to the Fidue A65, the ma750 isn’t as clean. It has a bit of fuzz on the lower end of the bass where frequencies are emphasized when on high gain. Lowering gain to medium reduces the fuzz but doesn’t eliminate it. The ma750 has a really romantic feel to the vocals, but the guitars aren’t as transparent. Overall the sound is a bit more congested, it is a more forward overall signature than the A65. Vocals on the A65 are more forward in relative terms to other instruments in the signature than they are on the ma750, but they are less forward in absolute terms. The ma750 just has a much more energetic, in your face signature.
The s500i has an overall drier sound with thinner presentation on metallic instruments. There is less decay on the bass, and the guitar on the right side of On the Weekend is a bit more forward. You can’t hear the stage as well on the s500i as on the A65, reflections off the back of the stage are a bit muted, comparatively.
Something that I observed that I believe is important to note, and also why I’m not sure that ABX really is measuring what it thinks it is measuring, is that for the first 10 seconds or so between switching between any of these headphones, if done in quick succession, they sound more similar than after the first ten seconds. I think our brains try to re-create the sound we expect to hear rather than the sound that is really there. I’d advise that when switching between headphones that you throw out the first ten seconds to overcome this signature smoothing effect.
I also tried out the ERIB-2a and the 64Audio X2 compared to the A65. It wasn’t a contest on either. The ERIB-2a tops everything in this review, and it should, as it’s $775 instead of $75. The 64Audio X2 is my favourite headphone I own (don’t own ERIB-2a, yet). The 64Audio X2 was a Kickstarter special that was made because 64Audio was unable to produce the Control headphones they promised on their Kickstarter. A 64Audio rep has indicated that it is a version of the 64Audio U2 ($399). I feel pretty good about getting it for $150 plus import fees. The 64Audio X2 has better soundstage depth and width, better drum slam, better transparency, and better note decay all around than the A65. It is just better. It is also a more efficient headphone, performing best on low gain on the DX50. If you see an X2 on sale, you should strongly consider buying it.
Continuing with the comparison between the A65 and the ma750 (this time with both on medium gain), I threw on Queen – Loser in the End. I like this track for testing drum slam, guitar crunch, soundstage, and I love the vocals and wood blocks. It is a slamming track. With the RHA ma750 bass is a bit less focused, and the soundstage has less depth and width. The drums kick wonderfully with the ma750. The overall presentation is tighter on the A65 and less forward. While the signature is not as lively as the ma750, it isn’t sleepy in any way. The sound is nicely balanced with no over-emphasis anywhere in the spectrum.
Further comparisons using Fleetwood Mac – Dreams and Tony Furtado – Bolinas give the advantage more to the RHA ma750. On dreams the ma750 did a better job of vocal separation during the chorus, but the overall sound wasn’t as clear as on the A65. The A65 liked the extra bass weight that came with higher gain. This added weight was independent of volume. Whilst the A65 was clearer on Dreams, unexpectedly, it sounded a touch veiled on Bolinas, and sounded a little artificial. The ma750 had better air around the guitar plucks, while still feeling a touch congested, I don’t know how it manages to do that. Neither headphone had the tone quite right on Bolinas.
Putting on City of the Sun – to the sun and all the cities in between for a final comparison between the A65 and the RHA s500i. The A65 has average depth and width on the sound stage. It is easier to drive than the s500i. The backing vocals on this track are a bit hazy with the A65, whilst the sound is clearer and airier with the s500i. The s500i has less bass quantity than the A65, but it has a more precise signature (tighter, crisper) that works well with this track.
The Fidue A65 is a very good performer for it’s price ($50 to $75)(£49 at HiFi Headphones). I found that the signature falls in between the RHA s500i and RHA ma750. The signature isn’t lush and energetic like the ma750, but it isn’t dry like the s500i. It is a nice balanced signature. The soundstage has average depth and width. On some tracks parts of the treble can sound veiled. The A65 has swings in sound signature due to changes in amping, so it may be that different amping setups will provide subtly different sounds. Some will like this flexibility, if you have more sources, you can find a good match, or even if you have gain settings on your player. If you have a source that doesn’t mesh well, you may find fault with this variability. So the changes in sound signature based on amping may be a positive to some people and a negative to others. The accessories are adequate, but not extensive.
Overall, I liked the Fidue A65. It is a good headphone at a good price with a nice balanced sonic presentation. The coppery rose gold finish of the shell is gorgeous to look at. For me the swings in sound signature with different gains were a positive, so I’m giving the A65 credit for them. I thought this headphone was as good as the two RHAs I primarily compared it against, so I would rate it the same 4.25 rating that I would give the RHAs if it existed on HeadFi. Since 4.25 doesn’t exist, I round up to 4.5. Give me a scale with quarter points, please, HeadFi. If Untappd can do it for beer, you can do it for headphones.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment and ask questions below.