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FIDUE A81 In-Ear Noise Isolating Earphones Heaphones with High-End Super Dynamic Driver

  1. Brooko
    Fidue A81 – Warm, Smooth, Dynamic (Fun)
    Written by Brooko
    Published Sep 28, 2014
    Pros - Warm but clear sound, fun factor (bass), build quality, comfortable fit, great cable
    Cons - Some initial driver flex, fit can be tricky (expect to tip roll)
    For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images


    I’d read a little about the Fidues products on these forums, but really knew nothing about the company or their IEMs. And whilst I’d looked at a couple of the reviews of their products, and was genuinely interested, their TOTL Hybrid (A83) and Dynamic (A81) were both reasonably pricey at USD 279+, and considering I already had a set of Dunu DN-1000 and Altone200 (both also triple hybrids), I was a little reluctant to take the plunge.

    Then Vic (djvkool) contacted me and generously offered to send me his pair of A83 to trial and review them. I jumped at the chance, and ended up buying a pair from Fidue. They remain my favourite IEMs at this moment in time. Vic then asked me if I’d like to also review the pair of Fidue A81 Dynamic Driver IEMs that he’d also been sent – which of course I said yes to. I’d like to thank Vic once again for the opportunity to have these for the review.

    Fidue Acoustics is a Chinese earphone company founded by Benny Tan (who has more than 20 years design experience – developing earphones for other global branded companies). The name Fidue is simply an acronym of the principle design points that the company strives to implement in their product range

    1. Fidelity
    2. Inspiration
    3. Durability
    4. Uniqueness
    5. Enjoyment.

    Fidue’s product catalogue to date has included mainly dynamic driver models ranging from the sub $50 bracket, all the way to their current triple driver A83 flagship (which at present is also on Amazon at $280). The A81 is their top Dynamic Driver IEM.

    In the last week I have tried to spend as much time as possible assessing the Fidue A81. In that time I have also listened to my Fidue A83, Altone200 and DN-1000 so that I can reference differences, but the A81 has taken most of my listening time – and it has been a very different experience (as the A81 is not my usually preferred signature type). This earphone did not “wow” me from first listen – but as I’ve come to get to know their signature, they have slowly “grown on me”.

    I’d estimate that so far I’ve logged around 20-25 hours with the Fidue A81 to date.


    I was provided the Fidue A81 as a loaner from dkvcool. I am in no way affiliated with Fidue - and this review is my subjective opinion of the A81. Price listed as the purchase price is actually the Amazon price at time of writing the review.

    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

    I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5 > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs (I do also have the Beyer T51p, but IEMs command most of my portable time) - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, Dunu DN-1000 and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.

    For the purposes of this review - I used the Fidue A81 straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X5, and iPhone 4, and also from the Beyer A200p when at work. I did not further amp them, as IMO they do not benefit from additional amplification. In the time I have spent with the Fidue A81, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in). I will respect others choice if they believe in physical burn-in, but I am yet to experience it.

    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.



    The Fidue A81 arrived in a reasonably large, but attractive green and black retail sleeve over an inner hinged (but extremely well made) black cardboard box. The box was larger than I was expecting – even bigger than the box from the A83.

    A81-01.jpg A81-02.jpg

    Front of retail sleeve

    Rear of retail sleeve

    Sliding off the sleeve reveals the inner box, which in turn opens to reveal an attractive stitched leather case with a metal clasp. The inner box is completely foam padded, and also holds the warranty card and instruction manual. The innermost leather case exudes quality and style and gives the immediate impression that the A81 are going to be something special.


    Carboard inner box

    Leather case

    Opening this case (once again foam lined) reveals the A81 IEMs, and an oval zippered pocket case. Inside the case are the accessories and 2 sets of cables. At this point I should note that oval zippered case would be ideal for day to day carrying of the IEMs – and I wish this had been included with the A83 accessories.

    A81-06.jpg A81-09.jpg

    Leather case + manual + waranty card

    Inside the leather case - carry case + Fidue A81

    The accessory pack is a little spartan – especially compared to what was included with the A83, and simply includes 3 pairs (S,M,L) single flange silicone tips, and 1 pair of foam tips (non-Comply), and one shirt clip. It does however include 2 cables – one of which is designed for smartphone use with microphone and button.

    A81-10.jpg A81-11.jpg

    Carry case + A81s

    Inside the carry case - accessories and 2 cables

    A81-12.jpg A81-13.jpg

    All the accessories

    Inside the carry pouch

    (From Fidue)

    Dynamic Driver Inner Ear Monitor
    10mm with Titanium Composites
    Frequency Range
    13 Hz – 25 Khz
    16 ohm
    103 dB
    Max Input Power
    20 mW
    3.5mm gold plated
    1.3m silver plated OFC copper, removable
    1.2m coated OFC copper, removable, microphone + play/pause button
    19g with cable, 6g A81 units (no cable)
    IEM Shell
    Molded plastic shell with separate face plate.



    The above frequency graph is from Innerfidelity’s website – and my thanks to Tyll for providing it. I sourced the frequency graph after writing the review – but it does show some of my findings from the sound section (emphasised bass – especially mid-bass, recession in lower mids, peaks in upper mids and upper treble).


    A81-21.jpg A81-22.jpg

    A81 molded shell

    A81 molded shell

    The Fidue A81 has a molded shell designed to be worn with the cable over the ear, and the body of the A81 sitting inside the outer ear. It is a tear drop shape – and is a somewhat similar shape to the UE900 IEM. When I’m wearing the A81, the shell sits relatively flat against my concha with the nozzle protruding on an angle into the ear. As stated in the specifications, the shell is a molded plastic which is very smooth and seamless, with a plastic separate faceplate. The A81 is approx. 19mm long and 15mm deep at its widest point. It is approx. 13mm from the faceplate to the base of the nozzle, and the nozzle itself extends approx. 7mm from base to tip. The nozzle has a generous lip, and tips are held very securely. The nozzle does seem to be wider than standard (I measure 5mm diameter), and I have experienced some problems getting tips to actually fit on the nozzle. Once they’re on though – they stay in place. There is a single port or vent adjacent to the base of each nozzle.

    A81-19.jpg A81-23.jpg

    2 prong connectors

    Sockets - notice raised ridges - fit is excellent

    The cable is connected to the A81 housing using 2 prong connectors. The plugs are shaped so that they actually fit over a raised ridge on the IEM body – and this keeps them extremely secure once fitted.
    The standard cable is once again (like the A83 cable) extremely well built, and should be extremely durable. The only issue I have seen with Vic’s pair is that they so not have a tight twist close to the Y-split (becoming slightly unravelled?) – but this could be easily rectified with a little DIY. Comparing this to the A83 cable (which has a clear outer sheath), I do wonder whether this is one of the upgrades (the addition of the clear sheath) to eliminate unravelling for subsequent models.

    A81-18.jpg A81-17.jpg

    Y split on the standard cable

    Braid below the Y split

    From the twin prong connectors, there is a 6 cm length of memory wire (on both cables) which is both soft and extremely pliable, yet still holds its shape. Above the Y split, the cable is a twisted pair encased in a soft and pliable sheath. Below the Y split – the cable is beautifully braided until it reaches the 3.5mm plug. The Y split is extremely minimal on the standard cable – just a piece of heatshrink. The plug itself is straight, slim, and is both stylish and has very good strain relief. The entire cable appears to be extremely sturdy, quite flexible, and is not prone to tangling. Microphonics are minimal (worn correctly over ear) unless it comes into contact with textured (ribbed) clothing, or a zip – and then the contour of the cable can create quite a bit of noise against the contours of clothing. So far I have had no issues with walking – having the A81 cable tucked inside my shirt. There is no neck cinch – but a shirt clip is provided. I’ve found the standard cable hangs pretty well without a cinch anyway.

    A81-20.jpg A81-16.jpg

    Formable ear guides - quite flexible

    3.5mm plug - excellent build quality

    The smartphone cable is once again extremely durable, but this time encased in a shiny plastic sheath (not sure of the material). It has similar connectors and memory wire as the standard cable – but this time has a microphone unit with button. When worn, the microphone hangs approximately 4-5cm above my mouth on the right hand side of my face. The button is easily accessible and uses a standard format – one push pause or play, two pushes to advance one track, three pushes to go back one track. I tested the cable with an incoming call, and it was very clear – both at my end, and for the caller (so it’s a good microphone).

    A81-27.jpg A81-26.jpg

    Smartphone cable microphone and control button

    Smartphone cable Y split

    This cable does have a proper Y split with excellent strain relief (no cinch though). The jack is a 4 pole 3.5mm, once again very slim, extremely well built and has extremely good strain relief. My only comment with the smartphone cable is that with the outer casing, it tends to have a lot of memory, and retains kinks. This is minimised by tucking the cable underneath clothing – so for me is a bit of a non-issue. So far (again) when worn correctly over ear, microphonics are very minimal.

    A81-25.jpg A81-30.jpg

    Smartphone cable covering

    Smartphone cable above the Y split

    A81-24.jpg A81-28.jpg

    Smartphone cable jack

    Smartphone cable formable ear guides

    Overall the build quality is an extremely high standard. I can’t really fault them too much.


    I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) - so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don't fit overly well. I initially tried the included large silicone tips, and whilst they fit OK, I was unable to maintain a seal. I tried their included foam tips, and they fit me well and were relatively comfortable – but did irritate a little when worn long term. I tried a lot of other tips with varying success. The biggest problem was the large diameter of the nozzle – which meant getting tips on was sometimes quite tricky. Large Monster Super Tips worked quite well with a high level of isolation – but again, long term listening caused irritation. I finally grabbed my trusty Comply T400’s and although it took some quite hard pushing to get them on, once in place they completely solved seal and comfort issues – and I could now wear the A81 for hours.

    A81-14.jpg A81-15.jpg

    Included tips with the Fidue A81

    Included tips with the Fidue A81

    A81-38.jpg A81-32.jpg

    Tip rolling - single flanges from one of my other sets

    Fidues included foams worked reasonably well at first

    So the fit may be a little tricky at first until you find the right tips for your own ears – but with the T400s it takes no time at all for me to get a perfect seal every time.

    Isolation with the T400s fitted is much better than average (not quite near Shure’s almost perfect isolation – but very effective), and I think they’d be good enough for long distance air travel (yet to try it). Because of their flat profile (when worn they do not extend past my ear), I have had no issues at all relaxing or sleeping with the Fidue A81. They would rank up there as one of the more comfortable IEMs I’ve worn – with the T400s fitted.

    There can be driver flex on initial insertion – but this is minimal. I also experienced this with the Fidue A83.

    So what does the Fidue A81 sound like, and why has its signature “grown on me”?


    The following is what I hear from the Fidue A81. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X5 as source.

    Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

    A81-36.jpg A81-35.jpg

    Fidue A81 ready for testing

    The X5 goes well with any IEM - the A81s included

    Thoughts on General Signature
    If I was to describe the signature in a few words – I’d choose the words “warm”, “fun” and “dynamic”.

    I’m finding the Fidue A81 to be quite a bassy V shaped IEM with pretty good bass extension, a mid-bass bump, a slight recession in the lower mids, emphasis on the upper mids, and again in the upper treble. This combination gives a reasonably clear sound with north of neutral bass slam. The A81 is a warmish sounding IEM that can sound a little thick on the bottom end (the mid bass has a slowish decay with many tracks). It is definitely a coloured sound overall – but for a lot of genres (more on this later) it provides a very energetic and dynamic presentation. In a word – “fun”.

    Overall Detail / Clarity
    For this I always use both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in both tracks, and the recording quality for both is excellent.

    The Fidue A81’s detail retrieval is good on both tracks. With Gaucho, the sax intro is natural sounding and smooth – with maybe a little more bass guitar emphasis than I’m usually used to. Vocals are exceptionally smooth – and there might be a slight glare or brashness in the upper end (cymbals) – but it’s not annoying. I can definitely hear the bass guitar, and occasional thump of the kick drum coming through. But overall – a really enjoyable listen. Biggest comment I could make here is that there is a real contrast between the brighter upper end and darker bass lines – but overall the sense is of warmth and smoothness.

    Switching to Sultans of Swing, and once again it’s a really dynamic and fun listen. The constant background sound is the bass guitar, but it’s punctuated with the crunch of Knopfler’s guitar and the polite splash of cymbals. The bass is reasonably good overall, with a slight mid-bass bloom and longer decay. Vocals are clear – but Knopfler’s vocals definitely sit very slightly behind the bass guitar and his own lead guitar. Again it’s not a bad thing – just different to what I’m used to. Detail is all there – and the subtle hits of snare and cymbal are quite vivid. Separation of instruments is good, and there is no real evidence of smearing on any track I’ve listened to so far. The only real critique is that some of the bass can be just a little loose.

    Sound-stage & Imaging
    For this I use Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage.

    It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The Fidue A81 has an intimate stage with this track, and although there is reasonably good imaging, the sense of space is not expansive. I am wondering if this limitation may be due to the instruments and their bassier focus with the drums and cello (maybe the longer bloom/decay having an effect).

    I also used Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” and the Fidue A81 gave a very smooth and enjoable performance. Once again the tonality of this IEM is just a little dark for what I am used to – and although it still delivers good imaging within the intimate stage it sets, I am missing some of the sweetness of Loreena’s vocals that the A83 delivered (in comparison). In this track, the applause at the end is so well presented that with some headphones (HD600) I can actually close my eyes and imagine myself in the crowd. With the Fidue A81, the applause doesn’t take me into the audience – I feel more of an observer than a participant.

    Bass Quality and Quantity
    I’m used to hearing some quite impactful and good quality bass with the recent triple hybrid IEMs I’ve been spending time with lately – so switching to a full blown dynamic driver has been an interesting contrast. The A81 definitely has a V shape – but with more of a mid-bass bump than my other IEM’s – although it does have an impressively extended low end as well.

    Amongst my test tracks, one of the tracks to stand out was Muddy Waters by Mark Lanegan. This blues rock track is quite dark and brooding anyway – and the A81 really just made this track thump. I wanted to see how low the bass would go – so switched to Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” – and the A81 delivered without breaking its stride. Bass is effortless – if a little boomy in the mid bass. Quantity is copious – quality is not quite as tight as I’m used to with my other hybrids. But the nice thing with this track is the contrast between Amy’s vocals and the thumping bass – nothing is understated, and the track just really works with the A81.
    Switching to Zoe Keating’s “Escape Artist” (Zoe plays Cello – and has a Bandcamp site – definitely worth looking her up!), and the cello’s depth is really good here. The decay may be slightly more than strictly natural – but the performance is very enjoyable.

    Going to a more contrasting track – I queued up Seether’s version of “Immortality” and the impact of both drums and bass guitar is very good – always there supplying texture and perfectly balancing out the bite of the acoustic guitars and crash of cymbals. This is the sort of track that the A81 really excels with – great impact, but enough contrasting brightness to balance things out.

    Overall the A81 delivers more bass than I’m used to, and it’s not as defined or tight as some of my other IEMs – but for sheer raw power – let’s just say that sometimes it really does hit the spot.

    Female Vocals – A Special Note
    Around 60-65% of my music revolves around female vocals – be it jazz, pop, rock, electronic, or even opera. I’m an unabashed fan. For me the most captivating thing about the Altone200 I reviewed previously was how it rendered female vocals. Other IEMs I’ve owned in the past had sometimes struggled with some of the artists I like – and this includes IEM’s like Shure’s SE535 LE (upper-mids on the SE535 LE are quite forward). The Altone200 just nailed everything though – often bringing an almost euphoric quality to the overall presentation.

    I didn’t really know what to expect with the A81 – but with its upper mid-range bump, I suspected it may perform well. One of my early litmus tests is usually queuing Agnes Obel – as some of her recordings can become quite strident or shouty if the mids aren’t quite right. With the A81, her vocals aren’t as euphonic as with the Altones – but they are by no means unpleasant. The overall tone of the track though is much darker than I’m used to – but the cello is pretty good though. I then proceeded to play a medley of other tracks from artists including Christina Perri (Human was really nicely presented – man that bass!), Gabriella Cilmi (the track Safer was absolutely beautiful), Florence and the Machine (great contrast between thumping bass and Florence’s vocals – although I would have preferred the vocals to be just a little more forward), and Norah Jones (smooth and buttery – but I prefer the A83 with Norah). The presentation of the A81 is definitely different than anything else I’ve heard. Mostly it’s the contrast between bass and vocals. On some tracks it performs extremely well, on others I’d personally like a slightly lighter sound (especially with slower tracks).

    Male Vocals
    It’s only fair that I contrast my comments above with the other end of the spectrum, and again with the A81 it’s sometimes hit and miss. Kicking off with pure rock (3 Doors Down “Away from the Sun”), and this presentation is very good – although the vocals are very slightly distant. The A81 so far seems to nail many Rock tracks quite well. Most of the male vocals I listen to are rock based in some form or other, and most of them play nicely with the A81. Green Day especially was really good – visceral bass, great vocal contrast, a lot of fun. About the only thing I’m noticing is that I’m listening sometimes louder with the A81 than I would be with other IEMs – and this is especially noticeable with some male vocals if they’re slightly recessed (Joe Bonamassa was another example). Nils Lofgren was very good though, and Pearl Jam really shone with the A81.

    Genre Specific Notes
    Again for tracks, albums, artists – please refer to this list: http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks

    Rock – The Fidue A81 mostly nail this genre for me – and although on some tracks the bass can be a little strong and bloomy (boomy) the overall fun factor is pretty high. I’ve already mentioned quite a bit of this in the male vocal section – so I won’t recover old ground.

    Alt Rock – First up (in my usual test rotation) was Pink Floyd’s “Money”, and the A81 delivers nicely – it often seems to when tracks are reasonably dynamic with good contrast. It’s a smooth delivery, somewhat darker to what I’m used to – but everything in the track appears to be presented. Cymbals and bells are coming through nicely and the sax is portrayed nicely. Switching to Porcupine Tree’s “Trains”, and wow – this presentation is pretty good. It’s still warmer and darker than I’m used to – but when the bass hits …. really good, stunningly good in fact. I think it helps that Wilson’s voice is slightly higher pitched anyway – so vocals are really clear, and the bass is just magic. This is one track where the A81 even trumps the A83.

    Jazz / Blues / Bluegrass – Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” is always a first stop for me when testing a new IEM with Jazz, and the A81 is impressing me with jazz tracks so far. I think the secret here is the contrast between the bass and upper mid-range and treble. Cymbals are punctuating things nicely – and the only criticism is that the sax (while smooth) sounds a little subdued. Time to switch to Miles (the track is “So What” from the album Kind of Blue), and once again a very smooth and easy to listen to presentation. I do find I’m pushing up the volume just a little bit more (once again) but the overall track presentation is very nice.

    I covered blues previously – with Lanegan’s “Bleeding Muddy Water”portraying well, but Bonamassa’s vocals being lost a little in some of his tracks. I also tried Beth Hart’s “Lifts You Up” from her live performance (Live at Paradiso). This is a recording that was mastered quite “hot” or bright – and this really suited the A81 well (for my tastes anyway). At last a little brighter tonality, which further added to the overall dynamics. Nice listening experience.

    Rap / EDM / Pop – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is really good with the Fidue A81s – with bass hitting low and hard. Personally I’d prefer it dialled back a little – but the vocals are clear, and I can see bassheads really enjoying this. Time to switch to some pop and this time Adele’s “Turning Tables”. This track was actually really nice with the A81s – great portrayal of Adele’s vocals, smooth and enveloping. On to some EDM – and Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin” = magic. EDM often sounds better to me with a V shaped IEM and the A81 really deliver – pumping bass, but also a sweet upper end. On to Little Dragon’s “Little Man” and it’s equally as impressive. In fact any EDM or electronic music seems to work really well with the A81, and even lighter electronic like The Flashbulb is really enjoyable. If there is a single genre that the A81 masters for my tastes – this is the one.

    Classical / Opera – Unfortunately this was the one genre that for me just did not gel at all with the Fidue A81’s. With opera, the vocals were a little distant, dark and flat – especially Netrebko and Garanca. There simply wasn’t the magic I’m used to. I hoped that solo piano might be better but even Kempff’s Moonlight Sonata wasn’t giving me it’s usual “goose bumps”. The tonality was just a little dark, a little off. I hoped some full orchestral music might be the answer – and whilst Julia Fischer’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D was enjoyable, it was also darker and smoother than it should be. For my tastes anyway – the A81 just doesn’t play well with any of the classical pieces I own.


    The Fidue A81 is easily powered straight out of the portable devices I have, and I haven’t experience any issues with the 2 DAPs I’ve tested (iPhone 4, or Fiio X5), nor from my A200p (at work). With typical pop/rock songs on the X5 I’m usually at a volume level of around 30-35 on low gain, but this is louder than I would normally listen with the A83. So far I’ve had no issues with hiss on the X5 or iPhone4.


    I haven’t played around a lot with EQ with the A81, and really all I wanted to do was see if I could turn the signature quickly into something that would be more suitable to my ideal signature. So I fired up Accudio Pro on the iPhone4, loaded a CX300 preset (bassy IEM with serious mid bass issues and issues with recessed vocals). Accudio automatically corrects the issues based on the preset chosen so effectively it was giving the A81 a cut in the mid bass, and a bump in the mid range. Using this preset actually enhanced the A81 quite a bit for my tastes – and going back to the track Aventine revealed a much sweeter mid-range. Much closer to what I am used to – and very pleasant for my preferences. I think with further experimentation I could really hit my ideal EQ with the A81, and to the credit of the drivers, they responded really well.

    EDIT : Additional note - strangely enough with further listening I haven't EQ'd these, and actually prefer not to for now. Their signature smoothness is what is unique - and to EQ that out of the A81 would be taking away one of its strong points. For now I'm just enjoying its native signature!

    QUICK COMPARISON OTHER HYBRID IEMs – Fidue A81 vs Fidue A83, T-Peos Altone200 and DN-1000

    For this exercise I’ll try and give you a rough general comparison with my other Hybrid IEMs which I have on hand, and which range in value from around USD 180 – 280. Rather than referencing particular tracks – I’m trying to make this general. This test was made with no EQ enabled, and I’ve volume matched as closely as possible when performing the comparisons (using test tones and an SPL meter) – but it is relatively difficult to do this without a perfect set-up, and I fear that the results may not be entirely accurate. So as always – take the following with a large grain of salt. Remember these are my preferences only.

    Vs Altone200
    The Fidue A81 has a similar V shaped frequency response, but the main difference is that A81 are a lot darker and warmer – where the Altone200 is slightly clearer with a sweeter top end. The Altone 200 has vocals a little more forward, but this does come at the expense of some upper end peaks. Both have a similar tonality though. The A81s do have more bass thump and impact with bassy tracks.

    Vs Dunu DN-1000
    This one is a lot more contrasting. Although both are still V shaped IEMs, the A81 are very definitely warmer and darker – where the DN-1000 actually feels more balanced. Vocals are definitely clearer and more forward on the DN-1000. Although vocals are smoother on the A81, they also sit further back comparatively. Bass impact is a lot stronger on the A81.

    Vs Fidue A83
    The biggest contrast of all of the IEMs. The A81 show their V shape more fully in this comparison, and when first switching the A83 appear quite bright, and dear I say it a little thin in the vocals. The A83 still has good bass impact (sub) – but not as much bass thump. Switching back to the A81 after a couple of minutes with the A83, and vocals are definitely back a little, and more subdued – but thicker and warmer with fuller body.

    Add-On Vs Brainwavz S5
    It occurred to me toward the end of the review that the overall signature of the A81 may come quite close to the S5 – another V shaped dynamic driver with a bass emphasis and lower treble splash. The two were actually a little similar except once again the A81 were darker, warmer, and much smoother – with its upper end splash centering more in the upper treble (whereas with the S5 it is more lower treble and more peaky). The A81 is definitely more full-bodied - no sign of some of the thinness or dryness that the S5 can sometimes portray.


    When I first saw the A81 I was once again struck by the quality of build – really top notch. And although the fit took a while to get right (quite a bit of tip rolling), I am finding it really comfortable with the Comply T400 tips. It is at least as comfortable to wear as the A83, and maybe even a little more so.

    I wasn’t so enamoured with the initial sound though – but this is probably due to the amount of time I’ve spent with the A81’s hybrid brother – an altogether different sounding IEM! But I persevered and tried to listen as much as possible to the A81 so that I could truly appreciate its unique sound signature, and I’m actually glad I did.

    The A81 is a very warm, smooth and darkish sounding IEM – but it is still able to convey a lot of clarity without appearing peaky and this is its overall strength IMO. If you’re treble sensitive and prefer a smooth warmish but clear sounding IEM, then you should really consider trying this IEM. It does display a lot more bass than I’m usually used to – but for a lot of music this makes them extremely dynamic and fun sounding, and I think even bass heads would enjoy these.

    The good news is that they also respond very well to EQ – and as Vic has suggested I hang onto these for a while, I’m going to try to find an EQ on both my iPhone and X5 that will do these justice (Fiio – please allow the option of saving more than one EQ on the X5!).

    The question of value is an interesting one and at $280 the asking price is pretty steep considering you can buy some very good triple hybrids at around the USD 200 mark. But they don’t have the A81’s overall build or removable cable options – so that must be factored in. Ultimately if my preference was for a smoother and darker IEM, even at $280 I’d recommend them as a viable option – they do a lot of things right. But for my personal taste OOTB I’ll stick with the A83 for my day-to-day listening. But the A81 will be on hand for those times when I feel like just jamming out.

    I’ve given these a 4 star rating – and I do think they fully deserve this.



    Just a couple of things that I’d recommend if they are updated at any stage in the future:

    • Include an airline adaptor and 3.5-6.3mm adaptor. At the price bracket they’re currently measuring against, these should be standard accessories.
    • Perhaps think of including some more tip options – again at the value point they’re being pitched, it would be a small cost but deliver considerable perception benefits.
    • Consider adding the same clear sheath above the Y split as is used for the A83.
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