FiiO FA9

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Paradigm Shift Complete – FiiO FA9 Earphones Review
Pros: + Build Quality
+ Cable Quality
+ Comfort
+ Overall Detail
+ Warm mids that work with any music style
+ Good package
+ Competes well with other flagships
+ Switches to flavor the sound
+ Imaging / Precision is top notch
Cons: - Swithces do not change the sound entirely, only flavor it
- All-BA design means dynamics aren't as good as some dynamic competitors
- Soundstage is not more on the intimate side, FH7 is wider sounding
- Needs a good source
- Prefers a wide / bright source rather than warm / intimate ones
Paradigm Shift Complete – FiiO FA9 Earphones Review


FiiO FA9
is the first flagship IEM made by FiiO, and they are priced quite aggressively at 500 USD, making them a direct competitor to other flagships, like Meze Rai Penta, Final Audio B1, and Campfire Atlas. Can’t forget to do a proper comparison with FH7 too, given that FA9 is some kind of upgrade from it, at least if you like a more musical sound. The pairings will include iBasso DX220, FiiO M11, and Lotoo Paw S1, based on your requests to pair the FA9 with.




Introduction

You probably already know all about FiiO, they’re an omnipresent company in this hobby. It is almost impossible to be a music lover and not have anything related to FiiO, regardless whether it is something huge or something tiny. This being said, I always recommend trying to purchase FiiO products from local agents / marketplaces like Amazon.com, local sellers, shops, etc. The company is huge now, and it is complicated for them to handle warranty directly, which is why most agents will replace a defective unit right away, without any questions asked.

That being said, it should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with FiiO. I’d like to thank FiiO for providing the sample for this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in FiiO find their next music companion.



About me

https://audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging

First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:






Ah right, we’re back to top tier packages with FiiO. tips from every category, including spinfit, a high quality cable, and a high-quality leather carrying case all make me think that FA9 is going to make it to Audiophile Heaven’s Hall Of Fame pretty quickly already.

This feels like F9PRO all over again, a product that really comes with a complete package for the price asked.




What to look for when purchasing a high-end In-Ear Monitor

https://audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Youtube Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLx-jBdemng



Build Quality/Aesthetics/Fit/Comfort

Fa9 is made of plastic, but that ain’t no issue, because it is one of the most comfortable IEMs I have ever tested. They aren’t small, and they are considerably larger than RE800 Silver form HIFIMAN, but for my ears FiiO fits a bit better. The cable is just sweet, no microphonic noise, great comfort, and I could say that I’m in love with the soft ear guides they put in.


There’s no driver flex, but there was none to be expected as FA9 is an all-BA design, so I’ll be exploring in the sonic part of this review how well FA9 fares when it comes to transients and textures. Fa9 is quite easy to drive, but also fairly sensitive to hiss, so FiiO’s own DAPs sometimes show a bit of hissing, including the two I enjoyed FA9 the most with, M11 and M11PRO.

Overall passive noise isolation is around 20 and up to 25 dB, making FA9 good even for live performances. Etymotic ER4XR and ER3XR isolate a bit better, but the advantage FA9 has in terms of comfort makes it a much easier option for those who like to wear their earphones for a few hours in a row.


You can actually see the drivers inside FA9, and you can notice that they are the good stuff, high quality, and not some ripoffs, and the cables are detachable and based on the MMCX connector standard making FA9 the type of IEM that can be serviced for many years. You can see them both as a listening pleasure, but also as an investment, since FiiO products tend to hold value quite well in the first two years after you purchased them.

The biggest hidden feature of FA9 are the three mechanical switches, which are also fairly hard to reach. I don’t give them enough credit for those, but they can change the sound, from warm to more neutral, although I found that once you find a position you like, you will mostly leave them like that.


They give different aromas of the same sound, rather than giving Fa9 many different signatures, and IEMs like those from IMR employ solutions that change the sound far more drastically, which is why I didn’t insist that much on FA9. You can think that you can slightly tweak Fa9 compared to my sound Quality descriptions, but they won’t become an entirely different IEM, and my setting was on V-Shaped for most of my listening.



Sound Quality

And this is the first FiiO that made it. They finally made it warm, musical and gave their all to voice FA9 in the way that only high-end IEMs usually sound. The sound of FA9 can be described as warm, musical, detailed, clear, sparkly up top, hard hitting down low, and with an excellent imaging / instrument separation. They have a moderately V-shaped signature, but you’ll be first surprised by how natural they sound, and after you’ll start thinking that they are meaty, powerful, controlled and sparkly at the same time.


The bass is clearly the strong point now, with a depth that’s scary to think about. I just recently got a true stereo system that can reach as low as 28 Hz, thanks to a large subwoofer, and I would say that FA9 reaches lower. It can rattle my jawbone, along with my skull if I drive them loud enough, but they clearly weren’t made to be listened this loud, as there’s a lot of detail, nuance and finesse at lower volumes too. In my youth, I used to listen extremely loud, because most of the equipment I was using was not dynamic nor impressive at low volumes, but this isn’t the case anymore. FA9 manages to impress, deliver a solid punch, and handle multiple basslines just fine without me turning it all the way up. In fact, even at the lowest volumes, it is clear and punchy.

The midrange is also a strong point of FA9, with a beautiful voice to both male and female performance. You get a juicy presentation of textures, so bands like Dance Gavin Dance sound superb, while Nirvana, Iron Maiden and even Antrax are dynamic to listen to. It is a treat to hear some older Metallica too on FA9, and although they handle Jazz, Classical, and pretty much everything else, the detail, clarity and rapid punch makes them perfect for rock and metal. Indeed, you’d be expecting a quick sound out of FA9, given their all-Ba setup, and they are fast, but they’re a zero grain fast. This is different from the likes of Etymotic which is known for having a fairly grainy sound thanks to their 1-BA configuration.


The treble of FA9 is slightly elevated with a peak around 9kHz, and it gives them a good amount of air / sparkle, but they are not quite as wide sounding as FH7, although each instrument is defined better, with more instrument separation and much better overall imaging. The treble rolls off after 9kHz, it is never sibiland, never harsh, and although they have a good amount of air, they never sound cold and bright. On the contrary, they are a warm, fun to listen to IEM, which is very different from the FH7, which was the previous FiiO Flagship.



Comparisons

The main competitors have been chosen based on your request, and I’m really thankful for your comments, mails and messages! FH7 shall be the first, Final B1 next, then Meze Rai Penta und Campfire Atlas.


FiiO FA9 vs FiiO FH7 (500 USD vs 400 USD) – Starting with a FiiO vs FiiO, FA9 improved a lot on both the design, but also the comfort. Somehow, it sits better in my ears, with more hours until it becomes uncomfortable. Both IEMs have a bit of hissing with hissy sources, and they are about even in this sense. Both IEMs have a lot of detail and clarity, the largest difference being that FH7 sounds quite cold and bright, with less bass, and a far colder midrange, where FA9 has a meatier sound, more bass, a warmer mid, but still keeping the same detail / clarity from FH7. FA9 has a quicker bass, which works well with faster music, but FH7 has a wider soundstage.

FiiO FA9 vs Final Audio B1 (500 USD vs 700 USD) – B1 sounds considerably more aggressively V-Shaped than FA9, and the comfort is actually good on both. Final tips vs Spinfit is an old-age dilemma, and unless you can test both, either should work well for most people. I used to prefer spinfit, but while using Final Tips I prefer those. The biggest difference between B1 and FA9 is in the midrange, where Fa9 is more open, and B1 is thicker, warmer, more romantic. Fa9 has a wider soundstage, and they both have more or less the same detail level.


FiiO FA9 vs Meze Rai Penta (500 USD vs 1100 USD) – Rai Penta was never all about the detail, and right from the start I would say that Fa9 feels more detailed. Not only that, but Fa9 sounds more impactful, dynamic and meaty. Rai Penta has a far larger soundstage, but the instrument separation is better on Fa9. Fa9 sounds a bit like Studio Monitors, where Rai Penta makes me think far more about larger hifi setups with large speakers and tube amplifiers. If you enjoy detail, go for Fa9, while if you want a more airy, smoother presentation go for Rai Penta. The difference in price makes me think that Fa9 is a great value, and a deal you just can’t miss.

FiiO FA9 vs Campfire Atlas (500 USD vs 1300 USD) – Atlas is just amazing when it comes to its detail / clarity, but not only. They have one of the most grand presentations with an impactful bass and a sparkly treble. The only downside to them is the driver flex, which they sorted out in newer releases. FA9 feels warmer in the midrange, with less bass quantity, and a smoother treble. Atlas feels more dynamic, more detailed and more punchy, where Fa9 sounds more friendly and easier to enjoy for many hours in a row. The detail levels are better on the Atlas, but not twice as good, Fa9 is already outstanding in its own right, and especially if you don’t want the super-aggressive V-Shaped signature of Atlas, then FA9 is a mode moderate V-Shaped sound with a warm mid that should totally satisfy you.



Pairing

The main pairings explored will be with with DX220, FiiO M11 and Lotoo Paw S1, also based on your request. FA9 works well with most portable sources like FiiO BTR5, and they do well with the likes of Earmen TR-AMP too.


HIDIZS AP80PRO is also a good pair, and FA9 really doesn’t need the latest flagship DAP to shine. They do need detail and clarity, so if you’re on a tight budget and don’t need Bluetooth, FiiO M3PRO is also a great source for them.

FiiO FA9 + iBasso DX220 (500 USD + 900 USD) – I never knew if FiiO likes me pairing their IEMs with iBasso DAPs, since the two are big competitors, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you guys, the one reading this like it, and I’m always happy to help you get the best setup that works for you! DX220 is quite good at handling FA9 both in terms of detail, clarity, but also space / separation. DX220 sounds best with AMP9 if you’re driving FA9, but there will bit a slight hint of hiss. I love the overall tonality and natural sound they make together, and think this is one of the best pairings you can go for.

FiiO FA9 + Lotto Paw S1 (500 USD + 170 USD) – S1 is the kind of DAC/AMP that’s amazing for its EQ, high driving power, but also very low background noise. With FA9, I never really felt like I needed to engage the EQ, they sounded amazing on its no-EQ profile. Furthermore, the power is adequate even at half of its maximum volume, but the soundstage and wide presentation surprised me. I was also quite impressed by the overall clarity of the pairing, along with excellent imaging.

FiiO FA9 + FiiO M11 (500 USD + 420 USD) – M11 is the type of DAP that’s a tiny bit colder, brighter and better suited for darker and warmer sounding IEMs / Headphones. It has a bit of hiss with FA9, but it is faint, and if you ever wanted FA9 to sound a tad brighter, more open and wider, this is the DAP to get. I actually like what it is doing, and where I was not such a bit fan of warmer DAP combinations with FA9, natural or brighter ones like M11 really bring out the details in FA9.



Value and Conclusion

The value of FiiO FA9 is amazing, given how easily it can stand against other high-end IEMs and other flagships. The package is amazing, with tips enough to fit any ear, and the cable is also amazing from the start. Of course, if you’re looking for multiple cables, the value will lessen a bit, but as I always say, better to have one and good, than to have many and poor.


Going forward, the build quality of FiiO FA9 is outstanding, with detachable cables, good comfort, and good ergonomics. No void, no driver flex, no microphonic noise, and surely enough, FiiO made sure that you can see the high-quality drivers inside of FiiO FA9, making them a beauty to behold.


The sound of FiiO FA9 is warm, natural, full and impactful. Pretty much what I’d consider perfect for all music styles, from rock to metal to classical to rap. Not only that, but FiiO FA9 has amazing detail, clarity and impact, along with one of the best imaging / instrument separations I’ve heard. The three mechanical switches also allow you to tweak the sound of FiiO FA9 to your liking, giving you some flexibility on how you can fine tune them


All of those reasons, combined with how well it compares to other IEMs make me sure that I got to add FiiO FA9 to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, as one of the best IEMs there are in the entire world, and one you really need to know about. They don’t replace the original FH7 though, both of them can stay in the Hall Of Fame, as both serve a different signature, and will please different music lovers. As for the title of this review, I think that the paradigm shift is complete now, and FiiO shouldn’t be thought of as an entry-level producer, but is now a true audiophile company with flagships, midrange and entry-level products serving our passion for music.


At the end of this review, if you’re looking for an amazing experience, if you want both comfort, but also style, if you love a natural presentation with a warmer midrange, impactful bass and airy treble that’s fatigue-free, FiiO FA9 is one of the best IEMs I can recommend at the 500 USD price point.



Full Playlist used for this review[/B]

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.



Youtube Playlist


Tidal Playlist

https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b

I hope my review is helpful to you!









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Hits: 93,725
BA-ONLY,FIIO,SPINFIT,WARM MIDRANGE
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ezekiel77

Reviewer at Headphonesty
FiiO FA9 – The Canticle of Charisma
Pros: -Fantastic packaging and accessories
-Mesmerizing design
-Robust build quality
-Excellent fit and comfort
-High quality stock cable
-Versatile switch system
-Resolute yet musical signature
-Natural tone and timbre
-Bass cleanness and physicality
-Splendid mids tuning
-Detailed, realistic treble
-Large soundstage with good imaging
Cons: -Expensive
-Average isolation
-Unintuitive switch system
-Lack of dynamics and air
-Bass resolution and layering
-Lower mids dip
-Some treble sharpness
What, another flagship? In audio, to quote from Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” FiiO hopes to lead the pack with their brand-new IEMs, promising to be more than just a pretty face(plate).

To have staying power, take a cue from international superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A genuine crossover success story from rasslin’ to acting to an inexplicable singing gig in Moana, he has done it all, save for “Dancing with the Stars” when his star power wanes, lol. His recipe for success is simple, just be the hardest worker in the room.

FiiO’s humble beginnings in 2007 started with desktop speakers and amplifiers, before crossing over to portable audio full-time in 2011. Since then, their repertoire has expanded to DACs, DAPs, IEMs, Bluetooth gadgetry and cables, basically the entire audio chain. Today, FiiO is a humble, hungry company that holds two major launch events a year to showcase their latest innovations, like Q from James Bond.

Undoubtedly one of the hardest-working companies in recent memory, FiiO shows no signs of stopping. As a hobbyist keeping track of them since their early days, it’s like watching a child progress to young adulthood amidst the blood, sweat, and many tears. FiiO rolls with the punches and trudges on as one of the premier go-to brands in portable audio.

Searched for demigods, found denim gods instead.


Long-time followers (or just me?) would be aware of FiiO’s three-pronged attack in the IEM sphere. They have the FD series for dynamic driver IEMs, FH for hybrids and FA for balanced armatures. Today we look at the FA9, their new flagship from the FA lineup, featuring 6 Knowles BAs and a 4-way crossover packed in a 3D-printed shell.

But like an irritating salesman, that’s not all, folks. Debuting in the FA9 are two new technologies commonly seen in higher-end IEMs.
  • Thanks to FiiO’s electronic crossover technology, at each earpiece are three switches that allow the user to adjust FA9’s impedance, treble, and bass/mids.
  • An ultra-long 80.6mm sound tube for the bass drivers that act as a low-pass filter to isolate unwanted mids and treble frequencies, resulting in a clean and detailed bass.
Available in black or clear colors, the FA9 is currently sold on Amazon. How much are you willing to pay for monochromic goodness? A thousand? Two? Don’t answer yet, click on the link to find out. Many thanks to Sunny of FiiO for the samples of FA9 and LC-RE, without which this review would not be possible.

Equipment Used:
DAP
  1. FiiO M15
IEMs
  1. FiiO FA9
  2. FiiO FH7
Albums
  1. Amber Rubarth – Sessions From The 17th Ward
  2. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
  4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  6. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
  7. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
  8. Taylor Swift – Folklore
  9. The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
  10. The Weeknd – Starboy
Technical Specifications
  • Frequency Response: 15Hz – 40kHz
  • Drivers: 6 Balanced Armatures (Knowles SWFK-31736, EJ-33877, HODVTEC-31618)
  • Impedance: 16~32Ω @ 1KHz
  • Sensitivity: 110/113dB @ 1mW
  • Maximum Input Power: 100mW
  • Cable Connectors: 3.5mm headphone jack, expanded MMCX connectors
  • Cable Length: 120cm
  • Unit Weight: ~6.2g
FiiO's fall/winter 2020 collection goes for striking colors.
FiiO’s fall/winter 2020 collection goes for striking colors.

Packaging and Accessories
If you’ve followed FiiO’s evolution in upper-tier IEMs, you’d know that they are stellar examples of packaging excellence. From the FH5 to FA7 to FH7 to this, the box and packaging are so impressive and complete, it’s almost like they’re compensating for something. They’re not, by the way. Like a shampoo ad, they’re head and shoulders above the competition in this area.

FA9’s packaging mirrors FH7’s in many ways. The thick cardboard sleeve, enclosing the thick cardboard box, and a jackpot’s worth of accessories, some that you’ll only use once or not at all because of the astonishing variety. The accessory set is identical to FH7 too, down to the cable, ear tip selection, and leatherette HB3 carry case. In full, this is what you receive, besides a smirk on your face.
  • FiiO LC-3.5C cable
  • FiiO HB3 leatherette case
  • 3 pairs SpinFit CP145 ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Balanced silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Vocal silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Bass silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 2 pairs foam ear tips (M)
  • 1 pair double-flange silicone ear tips (M)
  • Cloth pouch
  • Cleaning brush
  • SK-01 Magnetic cable organizer
Design and Build Quality
Each of FA9’s earpieces contain six BA drivers, a crossover unit, internal wiring, and the infamous 80.6mm bass tube. Not to mention the switches on the surface too, so the shells are medium-sized because there is simply a lot going on. It takes a certain skill and a ridiculous amount of OCD to arrange them as neatly as they did inside the FA9. This ain’t stuffing a turkey my friend. In fact I’m surprised the shells aren’t larger, frankly.

The earpieces are made from 3D-printed, medical-grade resin, and are transparent so that you can admire the excruciatingly-arranged internals. You wonder about the amount of shed tears, lost sleep, shot eyes, and pulled nerves while assembling this miniature technological marvel. But was it worth it? Yes indeedy.

Completing the shells are diamond-cut faceplates with jaw-dropping, hypnotic qualities, like the Hypnotoad from Futurama. Depending on your viewing angle, the faceplate might look like packed prisms, or a fleet of Mercedes logos, reflecting light as you turn. Spellbinding.

Nothing is objectively, universally beautiful (save for maybe Scarlett Johansson), but FA9 gives a good go at it with their sensational design and build quality.

The bored lord adored a lengthy cord.
The bored lord adored a lengthy cord.

Cables
The stock cable provided with the FA7 is the LC-3.5C, in single-ended 3.5mm with an L-shaped plug. The cable is made up of 8 strands of monocrystalline silver-plated copper with a high wire count, resulting in high transmissibility and minimal signal loss. This translates to a clean and clear sound. You won’t have to worry about subpar stock cables out of the box with this one.

However, if you’re itching to try something new and expensive (because why not), FiiO’s flagship upgrade cable, the LC-RE, is waiting in the wings to empty your wallet and soul. Again, because why not.

FiiO LC-RE
The LC-RE is an indulgent beast, a hybrid cable that reminds us of the finer things in life, like oysters, caviar and wines with names we can’t pronounce. Three types of wires go into the making of this cable – Furukawa monocrystalline copper, gold-plated monocrystalline copper, and pure silver. Gold, silver and copper, like the Olympic podium of cables.

These materials undergo ultra-high temperature continuous casting and Litz Type 2 wiring to lessen resistance and improve signal transmission. The wires are also individually insulated to reduce skin and proximity effects. For cables, all effort goes toward signal purity no matter what metals are used. Great looks are just a fortunate side effect, lol.

Wait... this isn't what it looks like.
Wait… this isn’t what it looks like.

And in a first for FiiO, the LC-RE introduces a swappable plug system, so you can switch between 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm plugs to match with any DAP in your collection. The swivel-lock mechanism is easy to apply and greatly increases the usability of the cable. For improvement, I’d prefer if the cable came with a pouch, since it’s quite easy to lose the plugs.

The LC-RE is well-built, with the tri-color wires immensely pretty to look at. The cable is soft and supple, and handles superbly. Memory effect is minimal, as is kinking. Wearing the cable is extremely comfortable too, thanks to the gently curved ear guides at the connector end, without the use of memory wires.

Sound-wise, the LC-RE captures the essence of a hi-fi sound. The tone is rendered sweeter throughout, while note edges are given a rounded finish. Clarity is not affected and the details are very well present. This coloration matches well with the FA9, which already has an incredible sound to begin with.

The LC-RE upgrades the technical attributes of FA9 too, providing a more expansive soundstage with sharper imaging. Paired with FA9, the presentation is more relaxed and organic, yet manages to remain massively detailed. It’s a first-class cable that comes at a first-class price. I’d recommend it ifever you’d like to indulge.

This, kids, is the original spreadsheet. Noted.
“This, kids, is the original spreadsheet.” “Noted.”

Fit, Comfort and Isolation
If it fits, I sits, and the FA9 fits exceedingly well. FA9 comes from FiiO’s long line of perfectly crafted resin shells that resemble custom IEMs, also evident in the FA7 previously. The shape of the earpiece is no guesswork, but garnered from a large database of scanned ear anatomies from their customer base. So every earpiece is meticulously and precisely crafted.

Every curve and crevice of the earpiece has an intended purpose and an expected result: a fit so comfortable that I achieved zen. If you Google about it, it’s mostly about still bodies of water, yin/yang symbols and stacking smooth rocks. Exactly right, my friend.

Interestingly, sound isolation is just average. I thought an all-resin enclosure with no vent would block off most outside noise, but nope. I can hear one kid watching YouTube and the other hacking away in Minecraft. In real world use, the FA9 was able to reduce irritating engine hums and fan whirrs, so it’s not all bad.

The ear tip is there for emotional support.
The ear tip is there for emotional support.

Sound Quality
Simplifying the nozzle filter approach in the FH7 even further, the FA9 allows you the luxury of altering the sound signature courtesy of three switches in each earpiece. Marketing spiel would have you believe that getting the FA9 is like getting four IEMs in one, but before we get ahead of ourselves, here are what the switches do.
  • S1 switch up: lower impedance and higher sensitivity, ideal to be driven from low-powered sources like cellphones.
  • S1 switch down: higher impedance, meant to be driven with proper DAPs, or what I decree as FA9’s proper sound.
  • S2 switch up: treble boost, or the super sizzle switch. Watch out for your ears, I’d say.
  • S2 switch down: normal treble. No shame in choosing this. We’re not masochists.
  • S3 switch up: normal bass with mids emphasis. Mids are pushed slightly forward.
  • S3 switch down: bass boost, or the boom boom switch. Mids rightfully take a back seat.
There’s a learning curve to the switch system. Note how the switches for enhancing treble and bass go opposite ways, so it’s not intuitive or user-friendly for casual listeners. To make matters worse, the official FA9 website provides confusing documentation, because the words do not match up with the diagrams. So I prefer to use ‘up’ and ‘down’ to clear up the muddle.

Learning the Switches
S1 is an impedance switch, while S2 and S3 directly affect the frequency graph.
S1 up is intended for cellphone use, but the sound rendered is forward and aggressive with a congested head-stage and noisy background. I avoid this like a disease. S1 down has a natural tone, and is much more spacious. Plus, I use a DAP all the time anyway, so S1 up is practically useless for me.

S2 up boosts treble to the point of harshness, and trust me S2 down has enough treble quantity for everyone. Transients remain just as fast, and the tone is much more agreeable. S3 up provides a clean, even bass response, and does wonders for the mids, but can sometimes lack punch. S3 down is great for sub-bass thump and low end extension, until you notice the high noise floor.

I asked for bass bloom, now he won't leave me alone.
I I asked for bass bloom, now he won’t leave me alone.

Overall Sound Signature
The FA9 is highly versatile, and depending on the switch positions, the sound signatures can vary from:
  • Neutral (S1 down/S2 down/S3 up)
  • Neutral-warm (down/down/down)
  • Neutral-bright (down/up/up), and
  • V-shaped (down/up/down)
I much prefer the first two over the others. The fabulous (or frustrating) bit is, it’s easy to switch sound profiles, so you can change to your heart’s content until you find a favourite, or adapt to the music as you play. There’s no right or wrong in this.

Curiously, no matter the switch positions, the FA9 sound is a tale of two halves. The bass up to the centre mids are dedicated to an organic and sweet sound. Notes are juicier, and flow smoothly from one to the next, with little regard for dynamics and air. From the upper mids to the treble, the signature is technically-focused, delivering clarity and speed in equal measure.

Listening Conditions
Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in. I know BAs don’t require burn-in per se, but what about those convoluted, labyrinthine sound tubes? Who knows what’s going on in their heads? Who’s going to show them who’s boss? I am, that’s who. I play with tubes for a living! The chief listening chain is FiiO’s M15 player, stock cable and included SpinFit CP145 ear tips.

Yee we trapped a snake! It's a live one!
Yee we trapped a snake! It’s a live one!

Bass
Gotta say, I’ve never encountered an instance where having long tubes is a compliment. Anatomically-speaking, enhanced tubing brings the wows at first, but regular-sized tubes are perfectly fine and functional. Try not to get distracted here lol. So how does the much-purported long sound tubes affect FA9’s bass?

True to their word, the bass conveys warmth and weight cleanly, without bleeding into the mids. The sub-bass shows brilliant extension, audible in the lowest regions and just enough to be physically imposing. With the bass switch on, FA9’s sub-bass positively growls, lending some menacing authority to bassline-heavy tracks like The Weeknd’s Starboy and Kendrick Lamar’s All the Stars.

The focal point is the midbass, providing much of the signature’s lushness and body, coupled with a pleasing tone. Mission accomplished? At first listen, nothing is missed. Notes bloom and decay beautifully, albeit with a hasty, plasticky timbre typical of BA drivers. More importantly, the bass weight doesn’t come at the price of congestion, making good use of space while sounding full-bodied.

Upon closer scrutiny, cracks start to show. The background is not entirely dark, with residual haziness affecting note definition. Resolution is likewise lessened, making it hard to appreciate layering, despite having excellent note texture. This is why I like the bass switch off, to keep the stage as clean as possible. But doing so removes some bass impact and slam, taking fun out of the equation. While FA9 does some marvelous things with the bass, you’ll have to choose between fun and dynamic or clean and detailed. Can’t have both.

Illuminati confirmed?
Illuminati confirmed?

Mids
An English teacher once said, most writing assignments are like eating fish. The head and tail, or the beginning and the end, are mostly for show; while the body, or the middle, is everything. The FA9’s mids encapsulate that lesson, filling the signature with supreme importance. It’s a big meaty fish, and there’s nothing fishy about the execution. I’ll stop with the puns.

Affluent both ways, the mids are rich in detail and tone, maintaining a balance that’s intricate and delicate. The journey to greatness starts with a road bump. There’s a slight dip in the lower mids to accentuate the clean separation from the bass, and while the thought is appreciated, male vocals sound nasally and half-baked. From that point on though, they become a delight to savor and enjoy.

Neutrally located with just the right amount of thickness, the center to upper mids are smooth as luxurious silk. The tone is enchanting, while instrument timbre is natural as ever. Be it strings, guitars or female vocals, prepare to be overwhelmed by the sweet caresses of FA9’s musical masterclass. For more magic, turning off the bass switch pushes the mids slightly forward, enabling an intimate concert made for one.

The congruent, immersive musicality comes with compromises in airiness, speed and dynamics, although this considerably improves towards the upper mids region, where clarity is at its superb best. Here, like shards of crystal, the sound is pristine and transparent. Notes are sharply defined with bountiful air in-between, providing welcome contrast to the mellow lower regions. Taken together, the mids are a formidable flexercise of flow, fluidity and finesse.

Nope, just a squadron of Mercedes Benz logos.
Nope, just a squadron of Mercedes Benz logos.

Treble
I have a terrible inclination, even a fascination with procrastination, but can’t wait to tell you how amazing the treble is. Where the complex mids might take time to digest, the treble is more straightforward ie. plenty. Treble aficionados should tread carefully, for even the normal treble setting has more than enough zing and shine to spare.

Continuing the work of the upper mids, FA9’s treble shows remarkable extension and technical finesse on a bedrock of tonal accuracy. There is much vibrancy and liveliness to be had, where notes are rendered with skilful speed, clear-cut definition and a playful sparkle. Perhaps most vitally, they finish off with a rounded decay that does wonders for realism, negating a potential metallic aftertaste.

Treat (or torture) your ears to the first minute of Pink Floyd’s Time to get a taste of the treble limits. Epitomized by a 6kHz to 8kHz spike, the normal treble setting already ventures towards sibilant borders for me. With the treble switch on, or extra crispy mode, notes are even sharper and airier, but most ears won’t appreciate the ringing, pummelling and metallic zing that is to follow.

For the most part though, FA9’s treble is a journey of discovery, unearthing multitude layers of musical information, while staying clear of unfriendly hazards. Equal parts fun and scientific, it gets pretty addictive.

Soundstage and imaging
Today we don our space suits and funky boots (or if you’re Chinese, time to buy a lottery ticket of your lucky numbers), because after umpteen tries, FiiO has finally hit the ball out of the park. The soundstage provides something to write home about, and it’s positively large, probably a first for FiiO transducers that tend to prefer the intimate side of things.

It took a global pandemic, but now, distance is king. And FA9 boasts excellent dimensions in height, depth, and especially width, whatever your switch settings. The spaciousness provides breathing space even in the maximum bass or mid-forward settings, simply because there’s plenty of room to go around. The non-aggressive, relaxed approach also helps create the out-of-head experience.

Imaging and separation is fine across all three axes, but the last bit of holographic precision is marred by the hazy background in the lower regions, where bass layers can congeal into audio goop once things get too hot and heavy. The lack of black space and air hampers dynamics and spatial recognition too, but thankfully the problem is corrected from the mids upwards.

Did we just enter a game of Space Invaders?
Did we just enter a game of Space Invaders?

Comparisons

FiiO FH7

And now we have a totally titanic, titan vs titan tournament. FH7 is the king of the hybrids in FiiO’s stable, and has been a regular recommendation for a good IEM in the $500 region. FA9 will hope to be the usurper. They differ vastly in presentation, with FH7 being clinical, aggressive and forward, more a W-shape. In contrast FA9 is relaxed and euphonic, neutral-warm with some zing in the treble.

FH7 annihilates the FA9 in the bass, with the beryllium-coated DD shining through with excellent quality, rumble, slam and to-die-for timbre. The FA9’s matter-of-fact bass is no match for the natural, speaker-like boom the FH7 is capable of, not even close. From here on though, the FA9 has the upper hand, boasting a better tonal balance and more accurate timbre for mids and treble.

FA9’s magic is weaved in sheer musicality and immersion factor while being no slouch in technical ability. Listening to FA9, It’s easy to sink into the music, enveloped in joyful sound. FH7 hopes to sustain your interest by wowing you all the way with its details, airiness and dynamism. FH7’s Achilles’ heel however, is its metallic timbre. Note edges are grainy and sharp, detracting from the listening experience.

FA9 has one card left to play. Its wider and deeper soundstage dwarfs the FH7 in size, providing an epic scope to further enhance listening enjoyment. FH7 might have the edge in separation and imaging, but we know the fight is over. FA9 stands tall and proud as the finest IEM FiiO has produced, and is an easy recommendation unless you really, really like bass.

Narrator and Marla at the end of Fight Club: retirement edition.
Narrator and Marla at the end of Fight Club: retirement edition.

Final Words
Like a cement mixer, FiiO churns and churns, putting out product after product, and laying down the foundations of portable audio brick by brick. Their release schedule is staggering, making sure the audio chain is well-represented, providing alternatives to alternatives. Their ascent to greatness will probably not stop until a skyscraper stands before you. And then they’d add more floors.

Right now, their star is the FA9, cementing (ahem) its status as the most accomplished transducer they’ve released so far. The FA9 possesses a tuning that is hard to ignore, combining a mesmerizing tone with captivating detail, pulling the listener in for second, third and fourth listens. The icing on the cake is the versatile switch system, making it a multi-genre master. Can you say four IEMs in one?

FiiO hopes that, with continued innovations and technical wizardry, their legacy as one of the most prolific audio companies will be cemented (heh). The FA9 is their crowning achievement in IEMs, the culmination of all their knowledge condensed into one product. Even if you take away the gadgetry and gimmicks, you are left with a stunning sound signature. And as they say in audio, a great tuning is eternal.

rev92

100+ Head-Fier
Fiio FA9
Pros: Good build quality
Great tech inside
Fantastic unboxing experience
Great accessories
Stunning looks
VERY good detail
Cons: Unnatural, shallow and just unpleasant tuning
Treble
Poor mmcx connectors
p8410988-1.jpg

FA9 is an all balanced armature driver flagship from Fiio. It’s priced at 499 USD, and it promises to deliver top tier sound quality with 4 different sound signatures.



Packaging


Unboxing of flagship Fiio products is always a treat, and it’s not different this time.
The box has this intriguing, shimmering effect which looks very colorful in a decent light, without being too flashy or shoddy.

It’s what’s on the inside that really matters though. And you’ll be very happy with what you’ll find there – a great, hard case, soft pouch, a cable, cleaning tool and LOTS of different eartips, from which every single one has it’s own sound signature – according to Fiio.





Cable

The cable included in the box is a decent, silver-plated, 8-strand one. It’s quite comfortable and doesn’t tangle too easy, but it’s nothing extraordinary for the current market. I wish that Fiio would ditch the mmcx connectors and use 2-pin instead. Why? You’ll find out in the next segment.

Build quality
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The build quality of Fiio FA9 is great, but not perfect. Firstly, the surface of the shells is very smooth and perfectly polished. IEM’s feel very sturdy and pleasant in your hand.

About the connectors…Fiio has had some problems with MMCX connectors for some time now, and it’s still present in FA9. Take any Campfire Audio IEM’s – mmcx connectors work flawlessly every time, with a pronounced click that informs you, that the cable went in and isn’t going anywhere.

With Fiio, this click is very inconsistent and sometimes lacking, resulting in a loose connection which can lead to even disconnecting the cable during use.

Also, i cannot rate FA9 build quality higher because of the materials used. Campfire Audio IO is 200$ cheaper and is made of metal with better connectors.

Comfort
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Where the Fiio FA9 shines is comfort. These are the closest to custom in-ear monitor’s universal IEM that i’ve used to date. Using the FA9 for long periods of time wasn’t a problem for me…well, at least comfort wise.

Technology

I can’t deny that Fiio FA9 has some great tech inside. It uses 6 Knowles balanced armature drivers per side, it has a 8cm (!) long sound tube and a four-way crossover which can be adjusted via 3 switches on the IEM shell.

Sound

First thing’s first, having the IEM with 4 different sound signatures to choose from can be quite hard to evaluate. Nonetheless, the differences between them are quite small and the overall sound quality and signature remains the same throughout every setup. Majority of my listening impressions are made upon using the “neutral” tuning, which isn’t so much different than the other settings.

The FA9 feels and performs like a well engineered piece of equipment, but unfortunately it’s unpolished and very specific, being a good choice for only one receiver’s group in my opinion.

That’s because the FA9 is a very uninvolving, unpleasant and just shrill pair of IEMs. I cannot listen to them for more than 30 minutes at once, as i get tired very quickly and bad recorded music is far from being enjoyable.

The Bass is very music dependent. Sometimes it slams really hard and has a great texture and sense of presence, being the best part of FA9. On the other hand, in some music genres or in differently mastered albums it starts to sound just okay, not being able to hit those really low frequencies.

The midrange is gray, a bit grainy and uninvolving. Vocals have a tendency to be pushed a feet behind the rest of the mix. I won’t call it neutral, but rather analytical and just unnatural, resulting in the lack of timbre and overall unexciting performance. In my opinion, the midrange of Fiio FH5 is far more natural and pleasant to listen to.

Treble is the worst part of FA9. In great recorded and mastered music it tends to sound truly spectacular and very accurate, creating an absurd quantity of details. The word “WOW” just came into my mind immediately. However, with 90% of the music i tried with these, regardless of what source I’ve been using, the Fiio FA9 sounded just harsh and unpleasant. It is overly bright and saturated on top, which is great for hearing every single detail, but also leaves us with a sound that you don’t want to listen to. For example, Campfire IO also has quite forward treble response, but it is better polished and mature, sounding much more enjoyable with not so great mastered music.

As for the soundstage, it’s pretty unconvincing. The slight lack of depth makes the whole stage quite shallow and intimate, which can be a good thing, if the imaging is on point…well, it isn’t.
Usually, FA9 has a problem with the middle of the soundstage, resulting in a slight hole in front of you. Sound’s come from the sides, a bit from the front and that’s basically it.

Summary
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I understand what Fiio wanted to accomplish with the FA9, but in my opinion they didn’t deliver. Top quality drivers, well designed crossover, revolutionary long sound tube stops meaning anything, when the performance leaves you not wanting to listen to them.

I prefer the great FH5 and an even better FH7 over the FA9. I’d even say that i prefer to listen to the budget FH3 than to their new flagship. Maybe it’s something about the FA series, as i personally think that the FA7 is the worst IEM that Fiio has ever created.
Im quite a fan of Fiio for their fantastic FH series, great M11 and stellar BTR3/5, but sadly this time i believe that FA9 is just an unpolished product for a very narrow group of customers.
If you’re a professional and you’re looking for an IEM that is VERY detailed and has this in your face treble response then yes, get them now, as you won’t find anything like that in the similar price range.
But, if you’re a music listener, i don’t recommend the FA9.



Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:

  • IEM – Lime Ears Aether R, Campfire Audio IO, Andromeda, Cayin YB04, Fiio FH3, Fiio FH5, Fiio FH7.
  • Source – Smartphone, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M11, Fiio M15, Cayin N8, Shanling M5s.


www.ear-fidelity.com
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Ichos
Ichos
Unnatural tuning?
Well I guess that we all hear very differently as found the FA9 to have one of the most natural tunings in the market and way more natural than FH5 and FH9
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rev92
rev92
Yea, i think my description of natural is different than yours :) No problem mate <3
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Ichos
Ichos
No problem at all as every opinion is highly respected.
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Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
FiiO FA9 - Chameleon
Pros: Excellent tonal balance
Custom like fit
Unique and well implemented tunable crossover
Great selection of accessories
Good quality cable
Lack of distortion
Cons: Dynamically shy
Stage lacks sense of space
No balanced cable
FiiO FA9 - Chameleon

This review was published at the printed edition of hxosplus magazine and now I have translated it for Headfi.
The sample was kindly provided by FiiO and remains under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of the earphone.

You can buy it from FiiO.eu

Introduction

FiiO currently has two series of premium in ear monitors the FH where "H" indicates that it is a hybrid headset and the FA where "A" indicates that all units of the headset are of the balanced armature type.
The top model - so far - of the first series is the FH7 while the brand new FA9 is the flagship of the FA series.
IMG_20200802_170128.jpg

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The FA9 is an iem with six units of balanced armature drivers two more than the previous model the FA7.
Two pieces (SWFK 31376) for the very high and high frequencies, two (EJ 33877) for the medium and two (HODVTEC 31618) woofers for the low all made by the famous Knowles and specially configured for the specific needs of FiiO.
In addition to the necessary four-way electronic crossover, FiiO has added to the FA9 an extra long 80.6mm sound tube which acts as a passive low-pass filter and ensures the proper homogenization of the sound of the individual units as well as the better behavior of the low frequencies.

Tuning system

We all know that the FH7 sports the ability to micro adjust the audio profile through a passive filter that screws into the nozzle of the iem.
This feature also exists in FA9, only here FiiO has taken a completely different approach.
The passive filter has been replaced by three micro-switches located on the body of the iem that directly interfere with the operation of the electronic crossover by changing its frequency response.
IMG_20200803_170537.jpg


The first switch adjusts the impedance and sensitivity of the FA9 with two available values - 16Ω / 110dB for ease of driving with the disadvantage of noise sensitivity or 32Ω / 113dB for more stable and clear sound.
The second and third switches are the ones that regulate the cut off frequencies of the crossover.
There are two working options for each one while all combinations are possible so we are talking about four separate sound profiles.
Switch two on is treble boost while off is treble normal.
Switch three on is reduced bass and increased mids while off is increased bass and reduced mids.
Add to this the two positions of the first switch and we have at all eight possible configurations to fine tune the FA9 to our taste.
IMG_20200803_170237.jpg


Build quality

The outer shell is made with the method of 4th generation DLP 3D printing with the advantages of being very light at 6.2g per unit plus the ultra compact anatomical shape for a perfect fit like a custom monitor.
Particular attention has been paid to the choice of the construction material that is a special plastic made in Germany with a medical certification for its anti-allergic properties and discoloration resistance.

Accessories and cable

IMG_20200802_165928.jpg

The cable that comes with the FA9 is of high quality with reinforced MMCX connectors and eight - hand woven - strands of high purity monocrystalline silver plated copper.
As we are accustomed with FiiO the accessories provided are more than enough.
We get 15 pairs of sound adjusting ear tips including Comply and Spinfits plus two carrying cases.
One luxury storage hard case with self closing cover padded with faux leather and one soft carrying case from neoprene.
A special tool for cleaning and adjusting the micro switches is also provided.
Now we are nitpicking here but at this price point a second balanced cable would be greatly welcomed.
IMG_20200802_165946.jpg


Into the sound

The fit and comfort are extremely good - much better than the FH5/7 or the FA7 - with negligible weight and no inconvenience in long term use and excellent passive noise attenuation.
It is a custom like experience one of the best we have ever tested.
IMG_20200803_165341.jpg

The FA9 is very easy to drive at any given position of the first switch and we have opted for the 32Ω variant when we used two of our benchmark devices the FiiO M11PRO and EarMen Sparrow.
IMG_20200803_165841.jpg

After trying all the possible sound profiles we ended up listening mainly with the switch two set to off and three to on since it seemed to be the most tonally correct combination.

In this setup the FA9 sounded very balanced with an even frequency response quite close to the ideal.
A very natural (not neutral) tone presentation throughout the whole spectrum and with an excellent instrument timbre , areas in which it is better than both the FA7 and the FH7.
The right amount on the bass without never feeling that something is missing in balance with the rest of the spectrum.
All acoustic bass instruments are rendered perfectly and bass heads can use the bass boost option to emphasize it a little.
Quality is good with very satisfying layering and excellent definition but it lacks a bit in slam compared to a good dynamic driver but then it compensates with the total lack of distortion even at very loud volume settings.
The middle area sounds crystal clear and with the right articulation and voicing.
There is a smooth emphasis as needed so that there is liveliness without ever sounding tedious or out of tune.
High frequencies are masterfully tuned the best we have ever heard from a FiiO iem till now.
The FA9 has the liveliness and speed that characterize the balanced armature drivers and it sounds very tonally accurate without being sibilant or bright.
We can hear all the fine nuances and micro details in perfect harmony with the whole presentation without being sterile or analytical.
Driver speed is excellent and the decay over time is very good resulting in a very natural sounding percussion and high pitched instruments.
If we would like to complain about something that would be the lack of ultimate dynamic behavior and the slight absence of body and 3d layering.
The stage is quite open and airy able to present dense music tracks with success but we thought that it lacked in spatial accuracy and pinpoint positioning.
Despite that few shortcomings mentioned above we found the whole presentation very satisfying with high levels of enjoyment without severely lacking in technical ability and above all with a great natural tonal accuracy.
IMG_20200803_165749.jpg

The active crossover equalization system works very well and enables the user to fine tune the FA9 without exaggeration and above all without loss of total quality.
A very smart and well implemented idea from FiiO allows the FA9 to adjust to our personal tastes like a Chameleon.

At the end

The FiiO FA9 is a step up in the right direction as it is a much improved version of the FA7 and in some ways even better than the FH7.
In our opinion it is the best tuned iem of FiiO till now with excellent sound qualities able to rendered perfectly all kinds of music.
Add to this the perfect custom like fit with great noise attenuation and above all the unique and very successful fine tuning system and we got in our hands a clear winner.
FiiO once more again have surpassed their selves and we wonder what is coming next.
Very highly recommend especially if you value natural tonal accuracy.
IMG_20200803_165359.jpg


The test playlist - http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2020.
Last edited:
Ichos
Ichos
Hi , I am preparing a review but for our printed edition.
When I find some spare time I will translate it for Headfi.
Tip - It is an amazing performer.
Cat Music
Cat Music
Do you have a link on your website where you can share your reviews? I'm interested
Ichos
Ichos

NymPHONOmaniac

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Smooth tonality with a nuanced macro-resolution, Neutral yet musical, Clean Bass-mids-treble, beautiful vocal, non-fatiguing treble, tunable switch make it versatile, generous accessories and nice packaging
Cons: Not very exciting to listen too, not as crisp as we could expect, lack of separation between sub and mid-bass, timbre lack a bit of texture, a rather intimate soundstage
P1060218

SOUND: 8/10
CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN: 9/10
PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES: 9.5/10
TONAL VERSATILITY: 9/10
VALUE: 8/10
FIIO often collaborates with Knowles balanced armature drivers company, in fact, it looks like all their IEM that use balanced armature are from Knowles.

From the single customized BA used for FIIO FA1 to the FH7 Hybrid flagship using 4BA, they earn lot of valuable experience implementing different balanced armature models from this great American micro acoustic company.

In my audiophile journey, I have tried multiple IEM using Knowles BA, should it be multi BA from less known companies like Audiosense and Akoustyx or Hybrid iem like IKKO OH10, DUNU DK2001, and FIIO FH7, I’ve always been please by the natural timbre of Knowles drivers. I tend to prefer their BA over cheaper Chinese BA like Bellsing and even older Final Audio BA used in F series which can sound thinner, brighter, or more artificial.

In the other hand, when badly implemented, the Knowles BA can sound overly smooth and lack in the attack, this is mostly due to distance placement from nozzle end as well as multiple filters and dampers used. Knowles permit to tune the sound with different filter material, some will overly affect attack sharpness. Some models are brighter than others too, and my theory is that it’s because they are of a lower quality like the 33518 model.

My favorite multi-BA IEM is the Audiosense T800 that uses 8 Knowles balanced armature, so when I was aware FIIO was launching a flagship 6BA universal custom in-ear, my curiosity was extremely high as well as my expectation. I know that the mids and highs would most probably be great, but my worry was about bass even if FIIO uses an ultra-long sound tube that promises excellent bass performance. From the specs sheet, no Knowles BA drivers can go lower than 200hz, but the Audiosense T800 uses the exact same 31618 bass dual woofer driver and achieve a very authoritative bass performance with a chunky impactful slam. I was really surprised to hear a completely different low end with the FA9, with a leaner and more natural extension, but the less weighty impact and forward presence. Those two IEM aren’t similar at all, the T800 being more V shape while the FA9 being more neutral and balanced.

One of the FIIO FA9 highlights is its sound switch, which is a novelty in the FIIO IEM line up. This ”new” way of tuning your IEM to your liking was the most intriguing feature for me and I will share more thought about this in this review, but the switch combination permit you to have 8 different sound flavors.

Priced 500$, the FA9 enter a very competitive price range where I became more severe to judge the benefits return it gives. The sound switch sure is a plus in terms of investment value, but it means nothing if the overall tonality and technicalities aren’t impressive. Let’s see in this review if the FA9 should be seen as an End Game Flagship IEM or more like an audiophile IEM collector caprice.

The FIIO FA9 can be bought for 499$USD on their official Aliexpress STORE.


Specifications

Type:In-ear
Acoustic Principle:Closed
Drivers:6x Knowles Balanced Armatures
Impedance:16-32Ω @ 1kHz
Frequency Response:15Hz – 40kHz
Sensitivity:111 dB/mW
Cable:1.2m interchangable 3,5mm MMCX cable
Connector:3.5mm

INTERN

FiiO FA9 - 6 Knowles BA IEM w/3 sound adjustment switche ...


The FA9 use 6 Knowles BA, or more likely high-end dual BA. The SWFK-31736 dual tweeter BA is used for treble, the EJ-33877 for mid-range, and the dual woofer HODVTEC-31618 for low frequencies. These are flagship balanced armature that are very costly, for example, the 31736 sells between 70$ to about 40$ when bought in high quantity. Another particularity of FA9 acoustic engineering is the inner tube design that are connected to BA and acts like passive tuning, these earphones use the longest tube ever done for connecting the bass BA to the nozzle end, at 80.6mm of length it’s very puzzling to wonder how they do to fit it in rather small housing of FA9, it permits to avoid interference with other BA and condense the bass so it became amplify and more powerful. As well, it uses a 4-way crossover that can be tweak via the 3 tuning switch by changing different crossover paths affecting different frequencies response zone.

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES

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When you present your product as flagship, it should have an impressive presentation with great care to details so the full purchase experience feels respectful towards the consumer reception. FIIO sure gives a lot of effort to achieve a luxurious product experience and the whole unboxing process shows it well. FA9 boxing is classy, sober, and practical. It comes in a glossy black big box that has a distinctive look. When opened, the shinny IEM are beautifully presented and star of the show. When you pull off the first package cover, the presentation is again well done with a very informative ear tips display (and holder) that have nothing less than 14 different pairs of ear tips, including real Spinfit, bi-fangle, silicone and memory foam with description under it like Vocal, Balanced, Bass so you know how it will affect the sound, this is a very welcome display! The included carrying case is very fancy too, made of real leather and with enough space in it to include an extra cable or another IEM or…well, another carrying case as included with the FA9. Yep, the number of accessories is near over-kill, but I would have preferred an extra balanced cable or modular cable than an extra carrying case. Anyway, we are already very spoiled with FA9 accessories.

CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN

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The FA9 uses a medical-grade resin plastic of very high quality, which is smooth and easy for the ears. They are of medium size for a multi-BA scoring that many drivers and will fit any ears. The housing share is long and thick with an organic shape that is well-conceived for a universal custom in-ear. The IEM is quite light due to both housing and drivers’ low weight. Unlike some other UIEM, the nozzle length is both enough long and small in circumference so you don’t have issues finding the right ear tips. Connectors are solidly embedded into the shell without any asperity that can create easy disconnection. The switch system is perhaps the only fragile part even if well built because I feel it’s where water damage can occur if you walk under the rain or sweat a lot, as well, as you need a tool to use them it can perhaps cause scratching to the body, but thanks to high-quality resin, it’s not easy to scratch at all.


P1060205


CABLE is the very same LC-3.5C model included with the FH7, it’s of very nice quality, thick and flexible, beautiful, and with solid mmcx and all-metal L shape jack. It really feels tolt, but as I feel the FA9 benefit from the balanced output, it would have been incredible to have the FIIO modular cable included, even if it makes the price 50$ more.

DESIGN is not revolutionary and uses a common shell that is very similar to the Audiosense T800 or whole FIIO FA series, still, this kind of housing is among my favorite due to good isolation, comfort, and durability. The FA9 is strictly thought to be used with cable over-ear, even with a cable that has no ear hook it does not tend to fall from ears do to an enough deep fit. The molded organic shape of the housing is well thought and does not have any protuberance that can feel uncomfortable or too invasive in the ears.

ISOLATION is above average and you don’t need to crank your music at high volume to enjoy noise-free listen. Noise leakage is extremely minimal and among the best in its class. Unlike Dynamic drivers, the BA tends to project sound forward without background reverberation and helps to avoid high noise leakage.


DRIVEABILITY


P1060208


It’s not clear if the GAIN switch just affects impedance or sensitivity too, anyway from the specs it’s 16ohm when ON and 32ohm when off, both surely with rather high 111db of sensitivity. I found the FA9 to sound more open and lively when using 32ohm impedance with a powerful DAP, while it’s brighter-shoutier at low impedance. Drove with JDS LAB ATOM amp can produce slight bass distortion at very high volume but sound edgier in attack and weightier in bass slam with the more holographic soundstage. The FA9 is very sensible to the audio pairing you make, powerful clean DAP with slightly bumped bass can do a good match as I can conclude using the Ibasso DX90 which add extra bass and sparkle.

SOUND SWITCH SYSTEM


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The sound switch system is what makes the FA9 special and FIIO state you can have 8 different sounds signature by tweaking the crossover via the switches. Did it mean it’s like owning 8 different IEM? Not really because overall tonality, technicalities and timbre stay the same, it’s just about little boosting or taming of certain frequencies range here.

Switch 1 ON=lower impedance and louder sound. Brighter tonality and slightly more aggressive attack. Less clean and little more grainy than with higher impedance.

Switch 1 OFF= Impedance is now 32ohm instead of 16ohm. Sound is more clean, organic and nuanced with fluid transparency. No harshness to be found.

Switch 2 ON (S1+S3 OFF)= Slightly more V shape sound with extra bass and treble, mids are still clean but less dynamic and lively.

Switch 2 and 3 ON (S1 OFF)= More analytical sound with fowards mids and extra upper treble boost that enlight mico-details and percussions.

Switch 3 ON (S1+S2 OFF)= Bass is leaner but still clear and articulate, mids are more present and lush and treble is well balanced.

Switch 2 and 3 OFF (S1OFF)= Warmer signature with biggest bass focus , relaxed mids and treble.


EAR TIPS PAIRING


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While the sound switch system does tweak the sound a little, I feel ear tips are even more influential. The switch cannot improve soundstage, imaging, or bass impact but the ear tips can so I suggest you try as much as you can and stick with the one opening the more the sound. For me, the BASS tips is the best and it opens the sound and permits the bass to be better articulated. The Spinfit is nice for extra punch and energy but makes soundstage a little tunnel-like. Everybody has different ears canal shape, so I’ll just say that it looks like the FA9 like to have ear tips with a big nozzle hole but not too long length.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS


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Gear used: Xduoo X20 (balanced and unbalanced), Ibasso DX90, X20+JDS LAB Atom, Xduoo X3, Tempotec V1+Audirect Beam2 (favorite pairing is with Ibasso DX90)

It’s always a little complicate to review an IEM with multiple tuning possibilities, should it be with changeable nozzle filter or tuning switch, you just can’t make a different in-deep sound review of every tuning tweak because it will be very redundant in numerous aspects like timbre and overall tonality. Firstly, let’s be realist, you do not get 8 different IEM with the FA9, while the switch do boost or lower certain frequencies range, it’s no drastic change but more taming or not a certain part of the sound. Firstly, has a purist, I tend to want the less compromise sound and I found that putting all the switch off offer the more open, clean and detailed sound. FIIO states it ”boost” bass or treble when On and could tame the bass but the difference is very minimal, you still have impressive bass extension whatever tuning switch you play with.

So, OVERALL TONALITY is lean, warmish and smooth with a hint of lower bass emphasis, clear full mids and liquid delicate treble. Tough with high sensitivity the sound can be a little brighter, it’s never rough or aggressive, the bass extension for BA is very well controlled and quite realist, and perhaps among the more natural one I heard in muli-BA whatever price range, but it’s not particularly impactful in mid-bass punch but very thigh in control. The mids are very present and well separated, offering clear vocal with a soft edge to it. Treble is very crisp and super well controlled. Tonal balance is excellent, all BA working in fluid tandem and never feeling dissected, it reminds me a little the impressive transient response of a full beryllium high-end IEM like the Final Audio A8000, but tamed in impact and less detailed in texture. Timbre will never aggress you with unwanted grain or fuzzy density, it’s natural yet very polished. Transparency is another impressive aspect of FA9, it permits to have good articulation and separation as well as a good sense of deepness. In fewer words, the FA9 offer an organic clean sound that fully cover all frequencies range without really coloring the sound apart from little bass and treble bump when you listen to them for the first time you aren’t hit with any particular emphasis but rather slowly immerse into a fascinating life-like sound experience. It really feels like FIIO tries to tune the FA9 to please everybody (or offend nobody) and put the tuning switch to be sure bass and treble lover can have extra enjoyment, so it’s not a bright or warm IEM but a Lukewarm one.


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TONALITY is near neutral with natural extension in low and mids and slightly sharper presence in the treble. The sound is smooth and warm until mid and high treble which adds a hint of brightness that mixes organically with the sound spectrum, not unbalancing tonal fluidity by extracting too much texture details in the upper register. Smooth, effortless, balanced and liquid in transient response, you feel in life-like musicality with extra comfort due to a soft sound pressure edge (in high sensitivity it’s a hint more shouty-brightly).

TIMBRE has great transparency, a nuanced and subtle texture and a nice sense of 3D density that do not have the disadvantage of opaque thickness. It’s polished without sounding tamed or blanked. I rarely heard this kind of timbre, apart from real life and my brain is really tricked here!

SOUNDSTAGE has average wideness that permits music to feel just enough out of your ears. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wide enough, but not very tall and slightly deeper than all the rest so you have a rather intimate presentation in the end. It’s important to note that ear tips fit will greatly impact on spatiality result (you can read more about this in eartips section).

BASS is very unique and like nothing I ever heard before, I think this will be a love or hate affair due to its dense smoothness and soft impact. We have very good articulation with a longer resonance that tends to thicken the sub line without affecting overall resolution, the extension is a little wobbly and not as natural as the end of bass impact found with a dynamic driver, it sounds more similar to the bass presentation of planar IEM or Headphones than a balanced armature too. Still, as said, the Audiosense T800 use very same dual woofer driver and have a more impactful and weighty slam that is nearer to DD driver than BA, while I do understand the use of a sound tube to keep bass separated from other sound spectra, I feel the long tube travel do darken both it’s texture and impact lead. It’s the type of bass that is kept in the back, mid-bass hit is not very punchy and forwards and kick can even be subdued in music mix because of sub boost, so I would not consider the bass perfectly balanced. Still, it’s far from being a flat anemic bass and the punch can become quite heavy when asked for like with the boosted kick in Trap Rap or electronic, so while the weight can be there, it’s just not very snappy with kick definition. As said, the texture is soft, so for slap bass or acoustic bass lover this can be a little underwhelming in resolution, add the compressed extension to this and your favorite bass line might sound little hollow and even undercooked. FA9 bass does better with pop, electronic, classical and some rap than jazz, rock. It’s not the fastest bass even if it’s super well-controlled and extremely clean, in term of speed, impact and even textures the Dynamic driver used in FH7 do better. To some extend, FA9 is unpredictable and finding myself banging on ”BB” from SHYGIRL is a great example of how the sub-bass can gain authority when needed, it’s presence with the digital bass instrument is pretty intense and feel like having a sub stock in the back of your head, all this without affecting vocal crispness and melody line clarity.

MIDS are gently forwards, superbly clean and transparent, smooth in timbre and have a very realist tonality. To my ears, they are the highlight of FA9, while the resolution is high, it’s never harsh or bright and it has an effortless naturalness to them. They aren’t particularly thick, but far from thin too due to a lush airiness to them that make them well extracted from rest of music. Sure, some will lack the fluid bass foundation that offers chunky male vocal gauge, but you will at least be able to understand every lyric word with high intelligibility. The instrument like violin and saxophone sound tonally right and have a wide airy presence while piano lacks a bit of weight in note impact, but this isn’t surprising as I found BA to struggle with any instrument that has sound produced by a hit, should it be an acoustic piano hammer or drum kick that need well-rounded bass and lower mids transient response for proper weight impression or percussions that need post-impact sparkle. Timbre is a hint liquid and polished in upper mids so you got a high level of clarity that is very polite. I will repeat myself here that the bass doesn’t interfere at all with mid-range so it’s always ultra-crisp and what impress is how this sharp presence isn’t offensive and keep a mellow lushness, offering sweet vocal without lipsy texture or awkward sibilance. Every instrument benefit of this clarity and while the soundstage isn’t the biggest, the FA9 will never struggle to deal with busy tracks.

TREBLE is the sound frequencies part that can be the more tweaked with FA9, should it be by using low impedance mode, different ear tips, or treble boost. It follows the same tonal smoothening that offer an organic feel to the sound but it’s the most energic aspect of FA9 musicality nonetheless. One would think that due to multi BA use the FA would sound very detailed and even analytical, but it isn’t the case at all, it’s more about macro-resolution than micro-resolution here and you will not hear a tremendous amount of micro-details pushed forwards. Instead, we have well-layered transparency, full highs presentation that offers nuanced timbre and nice extra shimmer in upper highs that offer a full extension to percussion, harpsichord or violin. The attack is quite fast and snappy without feeling super edgy or aggressive. The FA9 delivers impressively thigh and realist percussions and drum rolling that will sure make smiling jazz lovers. Sure, with Boosted Highs switch ON, the tone of highs are brighter and more forward, but it’s never to the point of creating unbalance and feel rather flat as a whole, only very few time I heard upper highs resonance that was a little trebly. It’s not the kind of highs I would call sparkly as their not a lot of decay to them, so it lacks a bit of air to permit a better articulate definition. I think FIIO targets a specific house sound that can please everyone due to the inoffensive dynamic it offers, the whole sound feels relaxed yet the treble is full and revealing. Clarity is not forced, and as a listener, you feel comfortable for a long listen free of any fatigue. The FA9 deal easily with Classical Symphony, without omitting any instrument, it offers a fluid presentation with effortless macro-resolution.


QUANTITYQUALITY
BASS: 7/107.5/10
MIDS: 8/108.5/10
TREBLE: 8.5/108/10
ATTACK-DECAY: 7/108/10
SOUNDSTAGE-IMAGING: 7.5/107.5/10

COMPARISONS:

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VS FIIO FH7 (450$)

The FH7 is flagship hybrid earphones from FIIO, it has an all-metal construction and it’s bigger and heavier than FA9, making it a bit less comfortable. Like the FA9, it’s tuneable, but by changing nozzle filters instead of using a switch.

SOUNDSTAGE is more intimate in both wideness and deepness with FA9, the IMAGING has better transparency and layering but instrument separation isn’t as wide and easy to spot than FH7. BASS is lighter, slightly faster, and a hint more textured, mid-bass isn’t as punchy and weighty and lower extension lack naturalness and fullness of FH7. MIDS are slightly more forwards, but more intimate too, they are smoother, thinner and airier, not as edgy and full as the FH7 which have more upper mids presence bite. The TREBLE is more delicate and transparent, it will please the treble sensitive people but I personally prefer the more dynamic highs of FH7.

All in all, the FA9 offers a flatter and even more neutral sound than FH7, making them nearer to a softened Diffuse field target while the FH7 is nearer to brighten up Harman target. It’s less fun, smoother, and more mature sounding IEM than FH7.


VS DITA FIDELITY (1300$):

The Fidelity is a high-end dynamic earphone, the construction is great but the fit is less comfortable than FA9. The cable is a little cumbersome and thick but has a changeable jack so you can use both 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced connection. This is something I regret about FA9, because FIIO do have a modular cable with changeable jack but didn’t include it with their flagship IEM. Anyway, all in all, both construction, comfort, and accessories are better with FA9.

SOUNDSTAGE is notably bigger in all aspects with the Fidelity and the IMAGING is more spacious because of this, offering wider space between instrument but not as much layering nuance as the FA9. BASS is more textured, flatter and thinner with the Fidelity, but it has a more aggressive tonality too that makes kick hit clearer, though with less weight. MIDS are brighter and thinner with the Fidelity and has more upper mids emphasis so while it can give extra attack grip to violin, the vocal sound less full and natural than FA9. Separation isn’t as good as FA9 too and the Fidelity will struggle more with a very busy track. TREBLE is sharper and more forwards with Fidelity, it offers hint more sparkle-decay but isn’t as thick and balanced as the FA9, the attack is less fast as the FA9 which is more problematic for complex percussions that can sound a bit hot with the Fidelity.

The DITA FIDELITY offers a more bright and energic tonality with more out-of-your-head soundstage but isn’t as well balanced and full sounding as the more laid back sounding FA9.


VS AUDIOSENSE T800 (300$):

The T800 is a multi-BA using 8 Knowles balanced armature that include some used in the FA9 like the dual woofer BA for bass (without the long sound tube). The construction is extremely similar, using the same resin plastic but a bigger housing. Due to the big size and a rather small nozzle length, the T800 is less comfortable than FA9 due to the tricky seal issue that affects the sound. In terms of accessories, I personally prefer the 8cores copper litz cable included with T800 even if construction doesn’t feel as durable, as a whole, again, FIIO is unbeatable for packaging and accessories.

SOUNDSTAGE is bigger and more holographic with T800, but not as deep. IMAGING is more lively and surrounding and have wider instrument separation but not as much transparency in layering capabilities. BASS is notably more boosted with T800, it has more slam and weight and will even please basshead while the FA9 is more controlled and well separated but lack a bit of punch. MIDS are less well balanced and neutral with T800, they are pushed forwards with the help of upper mids emphasis which makes them more lively but less natural and smooth than FA9, still, they have more texture and energic attack too, as well, male vocal are thicker. TREBLE isn’t as full and balanced as FA9, making the T800 strangely W shape compared to flatter FA9, the attack is more aggressive and micro-details are pushed more forwards too in upper high which can be problematic for treble sensitive people, the FA9 has a more natural treble that does not color as much the sound.

All in all, while I still find the T800 more fun, immersive and energic, I can still conclude that FA9 is technically superior in every aspect but soundstage here. The problem is that T800 wake you up while the FA9 can make you sleep.

CONCLUSION

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FIIO really impress me this time with how maturely tuned is their FA9 IEM, it isn’t an easy task to offer such a well-balanced sound using that many drivers and the tonal cohesion are very fluid. I admire the new acoustic design and the use of a super long sound tube for the dual woofer BA sure worth my respect. I see the FA9 like a laboratory for new future tunings experiment that opens new doors for balanced armature sound projection. While the sound switch did not turn as useful as I thought due to overly subtle change in sound signature, I respect the effort and think it could be quite a plus for those enamored with the overall tonality of FA9.

For 500$, the FIIO FA9 offers a well-built universal custom that is very comfortable and has high passive noise isolation, incredible packaging with a lot of accessories and ear tips and a smooth neutral sound that is perfect for a long listening session. The FA9 isn’t a fun sounding iem and even if the bass dig deep it isn’t for basshead at all, it’s neither for the treble head, but perhaps more interesting for serious mids lover that search life-like vocal and instrument in this range. The resolution is high without sounding analytical or cold, it’s calm and limpid like a beautiful lake on sunset with water that is perfectly lukewarm for a relaxing and contemplative musical immersion.

For those who like serenely lush neutrality and enjoy IEM like Final Audio E4000 or wish that Final Audio B3 sound smoother, I think the FA9 can be an interesting step up to for even better macro-resolution and cleaner mids. While the FA9 isn’t a giant killer in terms of value, it offers a sound that became tastier and tastier with time, like a fine wine full of nuance to be discovered by the mature audiophile gourmet.
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B9Scrambler

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Outstanding build quality – Smooth, natural sound with a good overall balance – Extensive accessory kit
Cons: Middling imaging near centre – Tuning system is not a gimmick, but the changes are fairly subtle – Pressure build up during insertion
Greetings!

Today we’re checking out something truly special, that being the flagship for FiiO’s armature-only lineup, the FA9.

While probably best known for their amps, dacs, and DAPs, FiiO has been humming along nicely with their earphone releases. Single dynamic, hybrids, and armature-only models abound. The FA9 is their new armature only flagship with some features that help set it apart from other products in the price range, like the use of all-Knowles armatures (one of which was custom designed for FiiO), a unique 80.6mm long sound tube, and an electronic tuning system via three switches built into the rear of the earphone.

I’ve been using it regularly over the last three weeks and have come away quite pleased with the performance, especially upon comparing to some strong competitors. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

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What I Hear I didn’t really know what to expect from the FA9 going in. While I’ve got plenty of experience with tunable earphones, they all use various physical filters to mask or release frequencies. Since the FA9 alters from the crossover itself, I was curious to see how effective it would be, and if it would end up as more of a gimmick than a useful feature. And since it’s much easier to flick a switch than fumble with tiny filters, would it be something that is actually used on the regular. I can tell you now that the switches are not a gimmick and ended up being useful, even if they were left alone more often than not.

Tuning Switches The FA9 features a tuning system that is still fairly novel. Unlike most which require swapping out various filters, the FA9’s sound can be changed with the mere flick of a number of very tiny switches, three in total. The first makes the FA9 easier to drive but also raises the noise floor. Personally I just left it off the whole time since I listen quietly and the FA9 doesn’t need a ton of power to get up to volume anyway. The second switch handles treble response. It doesn’t do much to the presence region but does add a few extra dB of life to the brilliance region making the FA9 a bit more lively and improving the sound stage slightly. The final switch handles midrange and bass perception. When off it raises the low end making the midrange feel less prominent. When combined with the 2nd switch in the on position, gives off the closest thing to a v-shaped signature the FA9 will output. Turn the 3rd switch on and the bass drops bringing forward the mids to make the FA9 a vocal powerhouse. Overall the switches do not make massively sweeping changes to the signature, but the alterations are definitely enough to be noticeable, especially if you make changes to one side and forget to alter the other. I’d be very curious to see just how far a company could take this tech if they wanted to make a truly flexible, jack of all trades earphone.

Listening with my preferred settings (1; off, 2; on, 3; off) Set up like this, the FA9 provided a very engaging sound that offered just enough low end thump and upper range sparkle to keep me entertained, regardless of what I was listening to.

Starting with the treble the FA9 provides a very smooth and refined experience that is not unlike what you would expect to hear from products a step up the price ladder. The brilliance region is subtly elevated and gives the FA9’s presentation clear sparkle and shimmer, though not to the point of nuking note weight or leading to ear fatigue. Lower treble sees a polite bump that compliments the upper range energy. Everything is presented with plenty of detail and excellent clarity with no smearing or bleeding of instruments/effects into each other, but falls short of being overly analytic. Notes are presented with a satisfying speed that sits somewhere been the uber quick attack and decay typically experienced with armatures, and the slower, more natural feel of a dynamic driver. Overall it is pleasant and just as capable with Eminem’s “Monster” as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of “Night Ferry”.

The midrange sits slightly back compared to the treble and in line with the low end, unaffected by any form of midbass bleed. With a small upper mid bump, vocals have a satisfying warmth to them and remain very coherent with neither male or female vocals getting preferential treatment. Such balance can be heard on the mellow, relaxing duet “Quando, Quando, Quando” featuring Michael Buble and Nelly Furtado. Alongside this, you can add the more varied vocal stylings of the RTJ boys, Big Boi, and Phantogram’s Sarah Barhel on Big Gram’s awesome “Born To Shine” and “Run For Your Life”. The good times continue thanks to the FA9’s outstanding timbre which is absent of the plasticy texturing or breathy dryness (a quality I actually like) common to armatures. Instruments sound as they should. Pianos have the right body with notes subtly lingering, guitars have the right amount of grunge and zip, and drums feel plenty rich.

Bass performance is where that 80.6mm long sound tube comes in, at least according to the marketing material. While I don’t have a version of the FA9 without that monster sound tube available for comparison, I can say that the FA9 kicks nicely when called upon. I’m generally somewhat underwhelmed with the low end presentation of Knowles products, but FiiO dialed the 31618 in very nicely. Extension is great for an armature with the FA9 able to provide a sense of visceral feedback often missing from armature-only earphones. While I find the texturing and detail fairly smooth, I could use a bit more grunge with bands like Tobacco and The Prodigy. For the most part there is enough information and depth provided to satisfy across various genres. In typical armature fashion things move quickly, though again not quite as fast as I’m used to from armatures, thereby giving the FA9 a slightly more natural presentation. This doesn’t hinder articulation though, with the FA9 easily taking on the crazy, messy bass lines oft found in heavy metal tracks.

Sound stage is where the FA9 pulls things back a bit. Sizing is good with plenty of width and moderate depth. This gives the FA9 adequate room to toss sounds off into the distance, but limits layering capabilities leading to tracks sounding less dynamic and diverse when facing some of the competition. Separation is quite good though, and I never came across any instances where the FA9 sounded congested or compressed. Imaging is about the only area where I could levy the term ‘underwhelming’ at the FA9. Just off centre (ex. eye-to-eye) there isn’t a lot of movement so subtle tracking from channel-to-channel lacks nuance. Move past this and it cleans up quickly. I personally don’t think any of this matters all too much with music, but if you’re planning to game with the FA9, or enjoy watching movies with earphones, it can be slightly distracting in my experience.

Overall I find the FA9 a pretty stellar performer. Their implementation of Knowles drivers for the low end has been handled very well, and the treble quality is outstanding. The sweet midrange is also plenty satisfying on vocal-centric tracks. Start playing about with the tuning switches and various ear tips and you can get a lot of mileage and variety out of this earphone.

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Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Fearless S6 Rui (389.00 USD): Like the FA9, the S6 Rui features 6 balanced armatures per side, though Fearless left out any form of tuning system so you’re left to experiment with tips and EQ for that. Treble out of the S6 Rui doesn’t place as much emphasis in the brilliance region resulting in a less airy, less sparkly sound. More emphasis is found in the presence region giving the S6 an edge in detail and clarity at the expense of a drier sounding presentation with a hint of grain. The S6 sounds faster and more aggressive with instruments having more initial impact and a shorter decay, though it handles complicated passages no better. Mids on the S6 Rui are more forward compared to the FA9 (though you can bring emphasis more in line with the 3rd switch in the up position) where they do a better job of sharing space with bass and treble frequencies. The FA9’s mids are warmer and smoother with a slightly leaner feel. Where the S6 has the edge in detail in the treble region, the FA9 easily matches it in the mids, while also touting a more natural sound and realistic timbre. Bass on the two is very similar though I hear the FA9 as more linear with better extension, less mid-bass presence, more physical sub-bass, though neither offers dynamic driver levels of feedback. The S6 Rui’s low end doesn’t offer quite as much warmth and has a meatier, slightly slower feel to it. Texturing is pretty similar in that it is quite good. Sound stage size is comparable, though strengths are different. The S5 Rui lacks the width but provides more depth. It images better than the FA9 (due to that off centre vagueness) but doesn’t quite layer or separate instruments as impressively.

When it comes to build the S6 Rui is outstanding, but the FA9 has an edge in a couple particular areas. First is the connectors. Fearless went with a 2-pin system and while that is generally my preferred connector, this one is unreliable with a right earpiece that routinely detaches unexpectedly. Not an issue with the FA9’s rock solid MMCX connectors. The other area I prefer the FA9 is in the housing construction itself. The S6 Rui is just as neat and tidy inside, but it’s hollow. The FA9 is solid providing additional protection from drops and crushing. The FiiO’s metal grills also offer more protection from ear wax and gunk than the S6 Rui’s open sound ports. Fit an comfort is pretty much a wash. The S6 is a little thicker but not quite as long so it might offer a slightly better fit for smaller ears. The FA9 isolates outside noise more effectively.

Overall I prefer the FA9 thanks to it’s more natural sound and innate tuning capabilities.

Dunu DK-3001 Pro (469.00 USD): The DK-3001 Pro is a five driver hybrid so it’s not surprising to hear it bests the FA9 in the bass department, though the FA9 puts in a pretty darn good showing. I perceived the Dunu to have more emphasis in both mid and sub-bass with slightly better extension, impact, and texture, likely due to lack of treble to counter. The FA9 is slightly faster and more articulate with rapid bass lines. The Dunu’s midrange is thicker and more linear with a better balance in the presentation of male and female vocals. The FA9 sounds cleaner and more articulate though. Timbre is close with the Dunu’s armatures doing a better job with instruments versus the FA9’s more accurate vocal renditions. Treble out of the DK-3001 Pro offers less extension and sparkle in the brilliance region instead focusing more on the lower treble. The FA9 ends up with more space between notes and provides a lighter, more detailed, and airy experience against the DK-3001 Pro. Personally I prefer nearly every aspect of the FA9’s treble presentation, which is slightly more nimble to boot. Sound stage is also in the FA9’s camp providing a wider experience, though depth is pretty similar. Imaging is cleaner and more nuanced out of the Dunu and I found it to be slightly more layered but with similar levels of instrument separation.

When it comes to build they are both class leading examples so in my opinion it comes down to your preference for metal or acrylic, and your ear size. The Dunu makes the FA9 look positively massive and defies logic cramming by cramming five drivers (one of which is a relatively large 13mm dynamic), MMCX hardware, and a crossover into such a tiny housing. The FA9 is more stable and better isolating, though the size will limit who can wear it. The DK-3001 Pro is the more universal of the two in that regard. Each earphones’ cable is also outstanding. I prefer the FA9’s tighter braid and generally more durable feel, though Dunu’s Quick-Switch modular system gives it a clear edge in terms of flexibility. Instead of changing the cable entirely to access 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced options as needs to be done with the FA9, you just swap plugs. FiiO has a similar modular cable out now, the LC-RE. It would be great if the FA9 came with it or a variant out of the box.

Overall I find these two to compliment each other quite well. The Dunu’s low end provides an experience the FA9 can’t match, while the FA9 provides improved treble quality and the flexibility of it’s inbuilt tuning system. My pick would be the Dunu, but it lines up slightly better with my personal tuning preferences.

HiFiMan RE800 Silver (599.00 USD): The RE800 is a single dynamic earphone with a signature that matches up nicely with the FA9 in the 1:down, 2:up, 3:up tuning setting, so I’ll be comparing in that layout. Starting with the low end, the FA9 is warmer and more emphasized with the RE800 besting it in terms of impact, extension, and texture. It also feels a bit quicker and even more articulate on rapid passages. The RE800 has slightly leaner, more detailed mids with very similar emphasis, until the upper mids. The FA9 brings in a hint more warmth and with it a slightly more natural tonality. The FA9 has a cleaner, better controlled treble presentation with a more even balance of upper and lower regions. The RE800 is more detailed and has a more accurate attack and decay pattern that really resonates with live recordings. Sound stage also goes to the RE800 which sounds slightly wider and deeper. Imaging out of the Hifiman’s single dynamic is cleaner and more nuanced with better instrument separation, though layering is in the FA9’s camp.

The RE800 is nicely constructed and made with nice materials but it wouldn’t feel out of place on the 50 USD product. The FA9 bests it in every way except fit which comes down to the RE800 being extremely small, light, and of a more traditional barrel shape. It can’t compete with the FA9 in terms of isolation or stability during heavy movement.

Overall I prefer the FA9’s slightly warmer, smoother, and more refined presentation.

Campfire Audio Andromeda (1099.00 USD): The Andromeda features five armatures per side and is one of my reference armature-only models. The FA9’s low end is slightly warmer and more emphasized with better extension. It has a smoother texturing and lesser impact when compared to the Andromeda, but it a little snappier and more responsive. Midrange presence is very similar with the Andromeda’s vocal clarity and coherence being a step up though slightly thinner. Timbre is also in the Andro’s court. Treble on the Andromeda is cleaner and but less linear with a heavier presence in the brilliance region. It provides more space and air without relying in a leaner, lighter note weight, and in general just sounds better controlled and more crisp. Sound stage is also firmly in the Andromeda’s camp, which is no real surprise given it’s somewhat known for it. The FA9’s stage isn’t quite as wide nor as deep, with imaging that falls behind (quite a bit just off centre). The Andromeda’s improved note spacing also helps it really stand out in terms of layering and separation, areas in which the FA9 is no slouch.

When it comes to build we find ourselves in a similar situation to the Dunu; it comes down to your preference for metal or acrylic, and your ear size. Both are basically flawless in terms of fit and finish and the Andromeda has that iconic design, oft copied but never replicated. For me the Andromeda is the better fitting earphone thanks to a more compact design and shallow fit. The angular edges lead to no discomfort. The FA9 isn’t far off though, and with its superior isolation and stability during movement might be better for you. The FA9’s cable is thicker and more durable and looks much more impressive, but I’m one of those weirdos that like thin, light cables which the Andromeda has. The FA9’s cable is the better of the two though, hands down.

It should be no surprise to hear that I prefer the Andromeda, but the FA9 serves to highlight the law of diminishing returns and how good products in the 500 USD price range really are. You get near TOTL performance at half the price, and in the case of this comparison with more features and flexibility thanks to that handy tuning system.

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In The Ear The FA9 takes on what has become a very familiar silhouette within the last few years with its custom-like shape. This is a good thing because such designs have been crafted from the average of thousands of ears and as a result provides as close to a universal a fit as it gets, at least for a large, low profile earphone. The FA9 is a fairly hefty earphone, understandable given what has been crammed inside each 3D printed shell; 6 Knowles armatures, 4-way crossover, tuning switches, 80.6mm long sound tube (plus two shorter tubes), and the MMCX hardware. Even being as large as it is, the FA9 fits wonderfully. It fills the outer ear ensuring an even weight distribution and therefore a stable and secure fit. Since it fills so much of the ear and is a sealed design, passive isolation is outstanding. Note that there is a small vent on top of the FA9 by the face plate where the earphone tapers in. I suspect it is an artifact of the printing process because the vent seems to arch into the back of the face plate and end there. Since the rest of the shell is solid acrylic, I don’t see how it can be used to ease pressure, hence saying the design is sealed.

As I’m writing, a lawnmower is going full bore outside my apartment window and I can barely hear it, with no music playing, preinstalled medium Spinfits in place. Trade those out for some foam tips and the FA9 becomes one of the most highly isolating earphones I’ve used to date. The only trade off is pressure build up upon initial insertion thanks to that sealed design. This is a pretty common observation with fully-sealed, armature-only earphones and can be mitigated a few different way; foam tips, putting the FA9 in slowly, and/or pulling on the top of your ear with your mouth open while inserting. Sure you look ridiculous for a few seconds, but it eases the pressure so you can listen comfortably.

When it comes to build quality, the FA9 is top tier. Their budget minded FA1 is one of the cleanest looking 3D-printed earphones I’ve seen. The FA9 builds on this foundation resulting in an even more impressive product. The acrylic is completely transparent allowing you to clearly see all of the innards, where the FA1 was semi-transparent with a cloudiness to it. The layout of the drivers, crossover, switches, and various tubing is extremely neat and tiny with zero sloppiness or misaligned units. The switches are positively tiny though, hence why FiiO suggests using the prong on the included cleaning brush to move them. The nozzle is well formed with a small lip, though it’s not quite prominent enough to hold on tips of every style. All the included tips stay in place though, and since you get so many of them, and of varying designs and styles, I don’t see any reason beyond curiosity to dip into third party options. The MMCX ports on the FA9 are very firm, though not so much so you feel like you’re going to break something when attaching and detaching the cable. This firmness is welcome because it keeps the cable oriented in the position you set it. The earpieces cannot freely swivel around on their own which can be very annoying and wears out the connectors faster than normal. Overall fit and finish is basically flawless. Not complaints about how this earphone is constructed.

That goes for the 8 strand monocrystalline silver-plated copper cable too, which is every bit as premium as the rest of the presentation. The silver shines through the clear sheath giving off visual appeal in line with the price tag. In addition to looking great, the sheath is soft and flexible with effective tangle and noise resistance. The chosen hardware is of good quality too. The MMCX plugs are smoothly angled with red and blue metal rings at the base ensuring right and left channels are clearly marked. The preformed ear guides that lead out of them are smooth and flexible, much nicer than the stiff plastic tubes used for the FA1’s otherwise excellent cable. Travelling down towards the y-split we find a metal chin cinch. The cinch is just tight enough around the cable to remain in place when used, but not so tight as to make moving it a challenge. Some are so tight they pull uncomfortably at the cable which is not an issue here. The y-split is a simple aluminum ring with FiiO laser-etched on it. It acts purely as a place where the 8 strands divide and lead up to each ear piece. The 90 degree angled jack is another solid piece of aluminum with pronounced knurling and a hefty protective strain relief. While the jack is definitely thicker than average, the 3.5mm output is extended so you shouldn’t have to worry about your phone or DAP case getting in the way.

Overall a gorgeous looking earphone with outstanding build quality both inside and out.

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In The Box The FA9 arrives in premium packaging befitting it’s stature in FiiO’s lineup. At first glance it looks like nothing more than a large black box. There is a very cool aspect to it though, which is the rainbow colouring that appears when light hits at an angle. The face of this otherwise large, unassuming package is adorned with nothing more than the FiiO logo in silver foil dead centre with a Hi-Res Audio logo present in the top right corner. On the left is a lone authenticity sticker. The back contains visual representations of the the FA9’s switch-based tuning system and how each switch affects the sound output, along with logos for Knowles, HeyGears, and Spinfit. The entirety of the right side is an opening to slide out another textured black box contained within, this one adorned with only a glossy black FiiO logo centred on the lid. It’s all very reminiscent of a high quality book tucked into a decorative sheath.

Upon removing the lid from this inner box you find the FA9 with cable attached, neatly stored in a thick foam insert. Lifting out the insert reveals the rest of the accessories. In all you get:
  • FA9 earphones
  • 8 strand monocrystalline silver-plated copper MMCX cable
  • Spintfit tips (s/m/l)
  • Vocal tips (s/m/l)
  • Balanced tips (s/m/l)
  • Bass tips (s/m/l)
  • Bi-flange tips (m)
  • Foam tips (m x 2)
  • Faux leather, hard shell carrying case
  • Soft shell cloth carrying case
  • Magnetic cable tie
  • Cleaning multi-tool
Overall a pretty darn impressive and extensive accessory kit. You get a ton of tips with no redundancies so surely you can find something that fits well without needing to dip into third party options. If they all fit you can use them in conjunction with the switch system to further tailor the sound to your preferences. I also love how they are neatly stored and displayed in their own, fully labelled foam insert. You don’t have to mess with any tiny plastic bags and risk dropping a tip, or hunting for two of the same size. This insert may seem like a relatively insignificant deal but as someone that has tested hundreds of earphones, it greatly improves the user experience and I would love to see this become the standard. Lastly, the inclusion of two different storage cases is appreciated. You can use the large hard case while at home, and take the smaller soft case with you on your travels.

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Final Thoughts The FA9 has shown itself to be a well-rounded and versatile earphone thanks to it’s strong low end performance, natural midrange, and refined treble. It is all controlled by a tuning system that, while subtle, makes enough of a difference to frequency emphasis to enable users to tailor the sound to their preferences. Imaging just off-centre could be better, but this is all that mars what is otherwise a very refined and capable auditory experience.

Build on that solid foundation with an attractive, well-built design, a quality cable, and an extensive accessory kit that is packed with various tips and useful extras like two different carrying cases, a cleaning tool, and a handy magnetic cable tie, and the FA9 is a package that should ensure you don’t need to spend extra “upgrading” or compensating for cheap add-ins out of the box. About the only thing FiiO could have improved upon is that nice cable, instead providing one that takes advantage of their new modular plug system.

Overall the FA9 is a very strong mid-range offering. While it doesn’t quite hit the same high marks as your typical kilo-buck flagship, it gets very close at half the price. That is something FiiO should be very proud of, and potential customers should be happy to hear. This one is absolutely worth adding to your auditioning list if hunting for a new product in this price range.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer Thanks to Sunny with FiiO for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the FA9, and for sending over a sample for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on almost a month of testing. They do not represent FiiO or any other entity. At the time of writing the FA9 retailed for 499.99 USD: https://www.fiio.com/fa9 / https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4001035600968.html

Specifications
  • Impedance: 16~32 Ohms @ 1KHz
  • Sensitivity: 110~113dB @ 1mW
  • Frequency Response: 15Hz~40kHz
  • Maximum Input Power: 100mW
  • Drivers: SWFK-31736 (highs) EJ-33877 (mids), HODVTEC-31618 (lows)
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO M3 Pro, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends

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LuckyGhoul
Not sure if you’ve heard Blessing 2, but I’d love some sound comparisons between FA9 and B2!
B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
@WongGang Thanks! Glad you're enjoying yours :)

@LuckyGhoul I wish. Really enjoy Moondrop's gear but I've only heard the Starfield and Spaceship so far.
DJ Core
DJ Core
Some say the new FH3 smokes this one
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