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FiiO EX1 II Aerospace Titanium Diaphragm In-Ear Monitors

Rating:
4.75/5,
  1. McSchnauze
    FiiO EX1ii -- A Well-staged Sonic Rendition!
    Written by McSchnauze
    Published May 11, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Wide (and quite deep) soundstage, airiness, transparency, visceral impact, 11-vents. Vocal nuances and singing techniques are expressed astoundingly well. Vocal separation is exemplary.
    Cons - Can be sibilant. Mids and highs can sound quite thin.
    I’ve been looking for an IEM that has a large soundstage, airiness across the frequencies, good visceral impact, and ample bass. And it looks like the FiiO EX1 2nd Generation has nailed these requirements with aplomb!

    20180511_162857_20180511163410149.jpg

    ***PREAMBLE***


    I’m a 41 year old lover of all things sonic, with some classical voice training. I compose cinematic-inspired pieces & make choral arrangements on my spare time. I enjoy listening to a wide spectrum of genres, such as classical & cinematic scores, choral music, jazz, folk, world / new age, musicals/theater, pop, rock & alternative. I prefer a relatively flat signature, with some bass enhancement (but not bass-head levels), or presentations with a mild “u” signature (not an exaggerated “v”). I don’t consider myself as an “audiophile” but I am a self-professed music lover. Despite being new to this hobby, I believe I can discern tonal & pitch variances quite accurately. Nope, I am not getting paid by FiiO for this review – this is simply an exercise of sharing my auditory experience regarding FiiO’s in-ear monitor, the EX1 2nd Generation (EX1ii), with the hope that you may find it helpful (if not, at least entertaining). The focus of this review will be on the sonic & experiential qualities, and not on build, packaging & accessories, and other technicalities. Just remember – my ears, gears & sensibilities. Your tastes and perceptions would most likely vary.

    ***GEARS & MUSIC TRACKS***

    Mostly budget-fi / entry level gear.
    For this assessment, I used my Cayin N3, on medium gain, volume set primarily at 50%. The N3 is slightly warm to neutral. No external amp was used. *Note: Since these are “open-back” IEMs (11 vent holes), critical listening was done in a quiet room, as it would be futile to listen to them even in a moderately noisy environment (lows are severely compromised in boisterous conditions).

    Below are the tracks (FLAC) used to evaluate sonic qualities & presentation, and the FiiO EXii’s delivery of certain genres, instruments & vocal ranges:

    SOUND STAGE, TRANSIENCE, DYNAMICS, CLASSICAL, POP: “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity” (Gustav Holst); “Marche Royale” (Igor Stravinsky); “Chasing Pavements -- Live at The Royal Albert Hall” (Adele)

    FEMALE VOCALS, JAZZ/R&B: “There’s A Small Hotel” (artist: Jane Monheit – soprano range); "Anch'il mar par che sommerga -- Bajazet" (artist: Cecilia Bartoli -- mezzo soprano range); “Breathe Again” (artist: Toni Braxton – alto range)

    MALE VOCALS, ROCK/ALTERNATIVE, MUSICAL/THEATER: “Even Flow” (Pearl Jam – Baritone/High-baritone range); “Believe Me Natalie” (The Killers – High-Baritone/Tenor range); “If Ever I Would Leave You” (Camelot – Low Baritone / Bass range).

    IMAGING, TRANSPARENCY, BINAURAL: “Kadu Buva” (artists: Kenny Wollesen, Jonathon Haffner & Dalius Naujo); “Tundra” (artist: Amber Rubarth); “Sweet Georgia Brown” (artist: Monty Alexander)

    And some other music tracks, across different genres.


    ***THE MEAT***

    Curtains are drawn and the stage is set…

    TONALITY & SIGNATURE

    Moderately “U” shaped (not markedly “V”) with enhanced lows. Bass has ample presence that prevents the overall signature from becoming too cold/bright. Natural sounding but not as full-bodied as other IEMs in its price range. Best paired with a neutral or warm DAP to tone down the expressive yet almost brittle highs, and to give a little more heft to the overall sound.

    LOWS

    Energetic and attack. Sub-bass has impressive rumble & extension when called for, paired with a non-bloated mid-bass. Can be quite edgy yet full-bodied. Drums in the intro of “Believe Me Natalie” (The Killers) are convincingly rendered, but lags behind the GR07 and the AF56 in delivery (impact, precision, naturalness). The double bass in “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity” (Gustav Holst) had perceptible and believable visceral impact. So far, no mid-bass bleed. The EX1ii surprisingly does well with alternative/rock, allowing the low-frequency instruments to breathe and avoid distortion.

    MIDS

    Toni Braxton’s rendition of “Breathe Again” lacked a bit of body, but is still hefty enough to not sound anemic. Higher Female vocals are similar in the delivery of lower female ranges, but are slightly more pronounced and mellifluous.

    Male Vocals (both lower & higher ranges) have more heft and good detail. Eddie Vedder’s voice in “Even Flow” had an open and natural grit to it (great!) while Brandon Flower’s higher ranged voice somewhat emphasized its already thin character in “Believe Me Natalie” (not so great).

    Vocals in general are given a natural, almost live/concert-hall rendition to them (even in studio-recorded tracks – good if you like that type of rendition). Especially in live recordings, you could hear (and feel!) the impact of vocal resonance and dynamic variances (clear swells from piano to fortissimo!), the way live sound would project and naturally fill a room/hall – a very perceptible push on the audiences’/listeners’ skin and eardrums! This for me is an astounding feat (something I didn’t expect) – and for those who are accustomed to hearing live vocal performances in an auditorium / music hall (with mic positioned far from or way above the singer, or no mic at all), you would know exactly what I am talking about.

    Amazing instrumental transience, especially with horns, strings and guitars, albeit not the most detailed (which I suspect is due to the numerous vents – a trade-off for a large soundstage).

    TREBLE

    Yes, there is sibilance. Even after ample burn in, if the track has sibilance, this will still ring through. The treble can go soft and gentle (wonderful!) and can expand to a commanding presence when called for! But the treble’s timbre can at times sound brittle, and can be piercing and fatiguing (especially on treble-focused tracks or during very long listening sessions). Again, it is not the most detailed, but definitely not rounded off. It has ample sparkle, as expressed in the cymbals of “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Monty Alexander). Violins have an interesting implementation – they can go very tender then shrill and exciting! The highs are well-extended.

    SOUNDSTAGE, IMAGING, TRANSPARENCY

    Now, this is the aspect where the FiiO EX1ii excels – soundstage! Due to its 11 vent holes, notes are allowed to breathe across the sonic spectrum. And with that openness in design, it will, as expected, not separate one from the ambient noise around you (and people will hear what you are listening to). I see this as a positive, especially if you need to be aware of your surroundings. It is exactly this well-vented design that creates that natural (and not driver/tuning-centered) breathability to the sound. In complex recordings, instruments and vocals retain their separation and transparency due to this feature. So one must purchase the FiiO EX1ii (and even the original EX1) with full knowledge and acceptance that these will not offer much noise isolation. When it comes to imaging, the Vsonic GR07 and the Audiofly AF56 perform better, but they are bowed by the EX1ii’s expansive and airy soundstage. The EX1ii delivers superior directional queues, positioning & holographic effects. Most pronounced is the width of the soundstage, followed by depth (distance of the singer and instruments are well placed), and lastly, ample height. The full orchestra in “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity” (Holst), is given a realistic spread and space, and it’s easy to pick out the instruments from across the stage. Adele’s live performance at the Royal Albert Hall had a satisfying focus on the vocals, with sufficient air between instrumental components – it feels like one is really in the audience – very immersive! If a proper seal is achieved, the FiiO EX1ii delivers good resolution that aids in separation, and can be very revealing. It’s easier to pick apart individual voices in a group (i.e. a chamber choir) -- you’ll hear the differences in timbre & note delivery of individual voices, even amongst a particular vocal section, say a group of tenors, or altos, etc.

    DRIVABILITY & SENSITIVITY

    The EX1ii is fairly easy to drive with my Cayin N3 (16Ohms with 98dB sensitivity), with an almost black background and little driver reflex. Though if you are in a bustling environment or commute, you’ll find yourself cranking up the volume much more (which is due to the “open-back” design) – just don’t overdo it for the sake of your ears (and those around you)! In a noisy environment, one should expect to struggle in hearing the lows, but in a more quiet or conducive situation, the sound spectrum is satisfyingly rendered complete.

    BRIEF COMPARISONS

    I’ll compare the FiiO EX1ii with my other entry level gear -- the similarly priced Vsonic GR07 Classic Edition and the Audiofly AF56 (all retailing at approximately USD100, as of my location and time of purchase).

    Neutrality = GR07 > EX1ii > AF56

    Timber/Naturalness = GR07 = AF56 > EX1ii

    Detail = AF56 > EX1ii = GR07

    Soundstage = EX1ii > AF56 > GR07

    Dynamics = EX1ii > GR07 = AF56

    Transience = GR07 = AF56 > EX1ii (but not by much)

    Bass Quantity = AF56 > EX1ii > GR07

    Bass Quality = AF56 > EX1ii > GR07

    Mids Quantity = GR07 = EX1ii > AF56

    Mids Quality = AF56 > GR07 = EX1ii

    Treble Quantity = EX1ii > AF56 > GR07

    Treble Quality = EX1ii > AF56 > GR07

    Sibilance = GR07 = AF56 > EX1ii (based on first listen, but all have tapered down after burn in)

    Comfort = GR07 = EX1ii > AF56

    Apparent Build / Durability = GR07 = EX1ii > AF56

    CLASSICAL/LIVE = EX1ii > AF56 = GR07

    ALTERNATIVE/ROCK= AF56 > GR07 > EX1ii

    R&B/JAZZ = AF56 > EX1ii = GR07

    POP/EDM = AF56 > GR07 > EX1ii

    ***OVERALL***

    If one’s musical enjoyment is derived much from the expansiveness of soundstage, vocal resonance/technique/dynamics, as well as visceral impact, the EX1ii would serve you well. Once you get over the hump that it is an "open-back" type of IEM (linking you to the world, and the world to you), the FiiO EX1 2nd Generation will immerse you in an exquisite sonic experience with its distinct tuning, breathability and musicality!

    NOTE: As of writing, it seems like it’s harder to get hold of the EX1ii, and it appears like FiiO has already pulled out this model from their roster (check out http://fiio.net/fiio ) and replaced it with the F5 (feel free to chime in to verify/dispute). The original EX1 seems to still be available with some online sellers, but the EX1ii seems harder to source. The Dunu Titan 1 (still widely available) would be the closest alternative (given that Dunu was part of the development of FiiO’s EX1, the Titan 1 and EX1 are similar in looks, build and sound signature). So if you could get hold of a FiiO EX1 2nd Generation, do yourself a favor and buy one! :)
  2. Zelda
    Fiio EX1 (ii) 2nd Gen
    Written by Zelda
    Published Jul 27, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Build quality; Sound quality - clarity - detail - soundstage; Compact and comfortable design; Well accessorized; Price
    Cons - Low isolation; Might be too aggressive and too v-shaped; A bit source dependent
    REVIEW: Fiio EX1 (ii) 2nd Gen

    ex1 ii 2nd (1).JPG

    Website: Fiio

    Product page: LINK



    Specifications:
    • Driver Type: Dynamic (13mm)
    • Frequency response: 20Hz-40kHz
    • Sensitivity: 98dB/mW
    • Impedance: 16Ω
    • Plug: 3.5mm L-shaped gold-plated stereo jack (CTIA standard)
    • Cord length: 1.2m
    • Weight: 18g

    Price: U$D 60~70.

    ex1 ii 2nd (6).JPG

    Accessories:
    • 9 pairs of single flange silicone eartips in 3 sizes (S/M/L)
    • Carrying case
    • Clip

    The accessory pack is the same as with the Dunu Titan 1 or Fiio EX1, with a nice variation of eartips and a solid case. The box and packaging is similar to identical to the F1 and F3 models, which are nice and hassle free.

    ex1 ii 2nd (3).JPG

    Design

    The newer version of the EX1 maintains the same design as the first gen. which was made in collaboration with Dunu, meaning it keeps the identical form factor and excellent build quality from earpieces to plug. The shells are of excellent quality, mixing stainless steel and aluminum alloy giving the EX1ii an elegant and yet discreet appearance. Currently it is only available in black color.
    Despite the large 13mm driver the shells’ size is very compact, easy to fit and very comfortable on the ears. The design is of an open half-ear IEM with an angled nozzle, meaning the fit is very shallow and isolation level is on the low side, but this usually helps for a more open and airy sound presentation. It’s a good option for those looking for a middle ground between more traditional earbuds and in-ear sets, having some more isolation but a less intrusive fit.
    The cable is the same one used on the new F1 and F3, which is already of good quality. It’s thick enough, well behaved and almost tangle free. The attached cable wrap is a huge advantage as well. The L-angle plug utilizes in a TRRS (CTIA) to be used with many smartphones (not all models are compatible, though). The in-line control is placed on the right cable side as well. The control might add a bit of weight, but the whole EX1ii remains lightweight enough for the portable use.

    ex1 ii 2nd (2).JPG
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    Sound

    Overall, the new EX1 has a more conventional lively, v-shaped kind of sound, that parts away from the first Dunu Titan 1. Even after a long burn-in time (100~200 hrs.), the EX1 2nd takes a more aggressive presentation, with much more energy on the bass keeping the similar treble tuning from the first version.
    The bass of the EX1ii is strong, dominant, full bodied and has good depth. Layering and texture are of very good quality coming from the large titanium dynamic driver. Mid-bass is mildly enhanced, with some extra gain towards the upper bass region giving a warmer tone to lower instruments and lower mids in general. Sub-bass extension is great thanks to the open design, very effortless, though a bit less detailed and less controlled and a tad more congested than the so wider sounding Titan 1 due the extra emphasis at the mid bass part, but overall speed is very good with a good decay and very engaging.

    The midrange is quite clear and detailed, however, it takes a step back compared to the fuller and more forward bass and treble. Tonally, the mids are warmer than neutral, not too thick but not too lean either. Compared to the Titan 1, the whole midrange feels more distant keeping the traditional v-shaped response and does not sound as open or airy. The performance is still excellent, with very good timbre and dynamics that are quite impressive for a second model that’s being priced even lower. Male vocals sound somewhat recessed, and definitely not the strong point of the EX1, and while female vocals are more upfront, they still are not safe from certain degree of sibilance. The transparency is very good as well, but again not at the Titan 1 or Soundmagic E80 level.

    Treble detail and extension are very impressive; again, the open half-ear design is the key here. Texture and resolution are very good as well, sounding very open and airy. Overall tone is towards the cool side, and while the extra treble emphasis brings lot of details, it makes the new EX1 a non-forgiving and too aggressive IEM that at a longer listening time can get tiring. Cymbals and other upper instruments can be more exaggerated making the timbre a bit less natural. Next to the RHA MA750, the treble on the Fiio EX1 is less sharp but stronger at the lower treble region. The Dunu Titan 1 showed a bit more refinement and flatter response while still classifying under the bright signatures. The lively presentation is still spacious and well separated, with above than average stage size and nice positioning, and boasts better separation than LZ A3, AAW Nebula, Shozy Zero and Advanced Model 3.

    ex1 ii 2nd (5).JPG

    Summary

    With a same design and a new smartphone compatible cable, the second EX1 version brings a more conventional sound than its predecessor while sitting at an even lower price. Build quality is very solid and fit should be very friendly for most users (at the price of a lower isolation level). The new tuning may not be what the fans of the 1st version should look at, but at its current price it has a great value among the sub $100 range earphones.


    Pros:

    • Build quality
    • Sound quality; clarity; detail; soundstage
    • Compact and comfortable design
    • Well accessorized
    • Price


    Cons:

    • Low isolation
    • Might be too aggressive and too v-shaped
    • A bit source dependent


    Value: 4.5/5