Review – Fir Audio VxV (5x5 / Five x Five)
Website – Fir Audio
Website – Fir Audio
1x Dynamic Driver
2x Mid-driver Balanced Armature
1x High-driver Balanced Armature
1x Ultra-high Driver Balanced Armature
2.5mm TRRS balanced connector
Chassis: Hybrid 6000 aluminum and DuPont engineering plastic
Frequency response: 20-20Khz
Impedance: 16 ohm
Official VxV page.
The VxV unit here was provided directly by Fir Audio company for review.
The Fir VxV arrived in a compact, simple and plain box. Not sure if this is the official box and package or not, but you get everything inside a white cardboard box with a few funny stickers of Firry, the company mascot, and a round leather-like case where the VxV earphones, cable and included ear tips are all tightly arranged. The cable is already attached and the tips selection is limited to very generic single silicone tips in 3 sizes, a pair of small bi-flange and a pair of foam tips, and a cleaning tool. Nothing fancy, nothing special, and if made to cut prices as low as possible, then there is no room to complain.
The Fir VxV has a fixed over-ear IEM fit in a metal and plastic mix and fairly comfortable shells. Build quality is very good made from aluminum for the main chassis (inner body side, nozzle and faceplate base) and DuPont plastic applied on the outer faceplates contour. It is only available in the black and white color theme, that while less fancy, does look sleek. The only part that breaks this discreet look would be the added artwork on both faceplates, with the rabbit ears company logo on the left side and the more cartoon-like image on the right side of featuring the company ‘mascot’, “Firry”. The nozzles have proper length and are angled upwards (40~45º) for a more natural fit into the ear-canal, and have the needed lip to hold ear tips easily. A filter is placed deeper inside the nozzle tube, so would be challenging to replace it if ever needed. The design may not look specifically ergonomic in shape but in practice fits really comfortable in the ears and the isolation is surprisingly good for everyday use. I should note that the included ear tips didn’t work well for me and aftermarket ones were needed. Personally, I settled with larger bi-flange tips for best seal, comfort, isolation, and ultimately, optimal sound results.
The VxV adopts a traditional hybrid drivers’ formula, and as its name suggests has five drivers per side. A combination of a single dynamic driver and four balanced armature units. However, like the previous Fir M series, the VxV differs from the common hybrid IEMs in its inner structure having a tubeless design and the five drivers inside arranged in a specific arrangement, Direct Aperture Technologies – ‘sound reactor’, as named by the company. This ‘tubeless’ system in which the drivers’ sound reaches the nozzle without any tube separating them can have its technical advantages over the usual multi-driver systems and also become less limited, providing a greater acoustic performance. However, it can be a risky gamble and demand more dedicated R&D.
Moreover, the dynamic driver used here is unexpectedly smaller than many hybrid IEMs, being just of a 6mm diameter diaphragm versus the more common 9mm and larger ones. For the balanced armature part there is a dual BA for mids and for highs a single BA twitter and single BA super- tweeter. There is no mention of the specific BA models used on the VxV (but I had confirmed Fir Audio are using a mix of Knowles and Sonion), the dynamic coating material, and actually there are limited specifications data shared about the VxV (just frequency response and impedance).
Another key feature of the VxV is the use of the Air Transferring Open Module, ‘ATOM’ in short, that consists of an internal valve installed as an essential component of the whole earpiece structure. A similar idea to the Apex modules of 64 Audio, but differently applied. Like the other Fir universal models this module is fixed, and in the case of the VxV, placed right next to the dynamic driver. As you may know, this feature is not only meant for actual sonic performance but also should help to relieve the constant air pressure produced by the vacuum-like seal usually found on in-ear monitors. The result is a more comfortable listening experience, and in the long run healthier, too. And it seems to work just right; the fit is more relaxed and in a way feels like a more open-back design earphone.
The detachable cable is of the standard MMCX connection type. However, the sockets on the earpieces side are exposed, instead of being completely flushed with the main metal body surface like on most IEMs. To complement this design, the MMCX plugs’ covers on the cable side are extended in order to completely cover the sockets, so once connected there is no space left, and while it can still rotate, is more secured. While the cable cannot be used on other earphones with the traditional MMCX installation, any standard cable should still work on the VxV side, but do note that the connection won’t be as fixed and secure as when using the included stock cable. The cable itself looks pretty nice and of fair quality for a stock cable (reminds quite a lot of the BGVP DMG cable). Silver plated copper (SPC) wire of two twisted strands on the lower half and single for each side. It is terminated in a balanced 2.5mm plug and there is no 3.5mm adapter included; both the plug and y-split are well assembled, surrounded by TPU layers and covered by solid metal shiny pieces. There are pre-shaped plastic tubes installed at the upper-end that act as ear guides.
Having already described all the special design and drivers’ setup, here’s the most important section, the real sound quality. Hybrid combo, ATOM and tubeless system all considered, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the VxV. In fact, upon first listening to this IEM I must admit that I wasn’t very impressed (or at least not $1K impressed). Blame it to the cable or source pairing, or probably the selected ear tips, but if felt that there was something missing on the sound dept. to be worth the $1K tag.
Luckily, it didn’t take much work and time to start to appreciate the VxV audio performance. A brief break-in period, the use of better tips (extra bi-flange in this case) and sticking to the included balanced cable, revealed a great sound quality with a pleasant and somehow unique presentation. As mentioned before, there are no specs about the VxV, though from real use it proves to be a very effective IEM. Do note that it was used mainly with the 2.5mm cable connected to a balanced source (both 2.5 and 4.4), and so gains a greater output driving power. Even so, there was no hiss, even at higher gains.
Main DAPs used here were the Shanling M5s, M6, iBasso DX220 (Amp1), and on the higher level, the Lotoo PAW 6000 and the larger Shanling M8 as top model. On a more portable option, the Hiby R3 Pro, and the Oriolus BA300s for a tube-amp.
Worth noting that the VxV scales well according to the playing source and the final signature may vary a little (more details at the end of this section). But in general the VxV presents a nicely tuned sound that goes from very even to slightly more midrange forward, yet keeping always a very good overall balance. There is a hint of warmth from the dynamic driver with good extension on both ends, high level of detail and especially a great sense of air and openness.
Starting from the low-end, the small dynamic unit impresses with its quality. It is not very pronounced in quantities for what could be expected from hybrids models compared to most offers out there. It is still above neutral with a linear boost that starts from the sub-bass region down to the low-mids, yet without classifying as being ‘warm’. Technical abilities are very strong, and part of the reason might be addressed to the ATOM tech applied here. ‘Agility’ and ‘dynamics’ could be the best words to describe. The bass is fast and very accurate with a natural decay and timbre. Very tight and well layered, and with sufficient impact when called for. Very even from sub to mid-bass, never interfering with the midrange.
The midrange is neutral to slightly forward, mostly depending on the paired source. Equally balanced between low to upper mids. Very transparent and surprisingly very airy and open. Low midrange is a bit lean to my preference and missing some texture and richness, especially for male vocals that could benefit from having more weight. Upper mids are more energetic and sparkly, if occasionally a bit edgy. The VxV is not harsh but not sibilance free; wouldn’t suggest the foam tips, though, unless you want to miss the transparency and airy presentation. It is a less liquid midrange than other BA based IEMs like the qdc Fusion or Fibae 3, and similar to the RE-2000 in its nice texture, if a little less sweet for upper vocals.
Highs extend very well and are present all the way up to the upper-treble area with little effort. Coherent and very clear; not completely smooth but not harsh or too sharp either, just a little sizzling. The detail is excellent on the VxV and among the best I’ve heard on the ~$1K range; instead of an analytical character, it is capable of showing small micro details naturally. Again, the presentation is particularly special with VxV. While the soundstage is not particularly large in width or depth dimensions, it is still good and tends to scale well the better the audio playing source. What is more unique here is the open and more out of the head feel and more height, very rarely found on IEMs. And if it is thanks to the ATOM or specific structure or whatever, so be it.
Like with any IEMs, the selection of the right ear tips can have a very important effect on the sound, and with the VxV I found it specifically crucial. I didn’t care much about the included tips and opted for better aftermarket tips. While I tried SpinFit and a variety of single flange tips, the best results were with larger/wider dual flanges (which unfortunately are impossible to find online). Not just for the better fit, seal and isolation, but mainly the sound that is more vivid and revealing, more solid in bass impact, air and extension on the highs and more open transparent midrange.
Pairing with different players also shows the transparency (or versatility) of the VxV. With the Shanling M5s it has a more ‘fun’ presentation, where there is a stronger mid-bass lift (and less sub-bass presence), smoother midrange that is fuller on the low-mids and yet an energetic complementing low-treble. Vocals with the M5s sound particularly nice textured. Well-rounded stage, still not the best the VxV can reach but a great portable combo for everyday use.
Going a bit higher with Shanling M6, the soundstage is wider and more open. The extension is further on both ends, especially on the low-end. Sub-bass is more focused than the mid-bass (typical effect of the M6). Midrange is detailed, but colder in tonality, less forward and a bit leaner. Treble is more even than with the M5s, less aggressive though sharper. Overall, the most ‘neutral’ synergy for the VxV.
With the Lotoo PAW6000 it has a more midrange-forward presentation, greater dynamics, bass speed and more accuracy. Midrange is more natural, very airy and sweeter with vocals (more with females’). Excellent control on the treble with no hint of sibilance. Soundstage is not really wide from right to left but the imaging is more coherent.
Lastly, the top players Fiio M15 and Shanling M8 boost the VxV to a higher grade. First since to notice is the wider and larger presentation in all dimensions with greater distance and space and excellent dynamics. I prefer the M8 synergy with VxV over the M15; on the M15 it sounds drier and more neutral on the midrange. The M8 is more flavored and engaging, bigger bass response, very smooth and clear midrange with still high separation. Treble is very smooth with the M8 and more natural and forgiving but with a lot of micro details. The more open effect of the VxV is really appreciated with this higher DAPs, sounding less than traditional IEMs and more like open headphones.
The Fusion is also a hybrid IEM of 4BA+1D. The dynamic driver is physically a bit larger than on the VxV, while the BA setup consists of 2 dual BA (same) units, and all arranged in the usual tube hybrid setup to the 3 bore nozzle. Acrylic shells with metallic nozzle, good build quality but behind the all-metal VxV. The Fusion may look more ergonomic in shape but in practice they are both equal in comfort and fit, and I find the VxV to have even better isolation.
Sound-wise, both models share a similar evenly balanced signature, accurate and very little colored. The Fusion is even more neutral than the VxV, with a less mid-bass impact, very neutral mids and with a cooler tonality. Treble quantities are about the same, but timbre doesn’t sound as natural, and can be more annoying on a A/B test when it gets to sibilance next to the VxV. The VxV can be fuller on the lows and more forward on the mids, more resolving and especially more open. It extends better on the treble and sounds more natural and comfortable. Wider stage and airier presentation and better detail.
Dunu DK-3001 Pro
Another 5-driver hybrid, 1 dynamic, dual BA for mids and dual BA for highs. A box presentation and accessory pack that will embarrass almost every product. The Dunu’s is tougher built with thicker stainless steel shells and while more shallow-fitting it isn’t as comfortable as the Fir and isolation is low to average at best.
As for the sound, they are quite different, the DK-3001 Pro being more midrange-centered with decent bass and treble. Despite the 13mm dynamic driver inside, the bass is very polite, small in impact and not too extended. Mids are more mellow, smooth and well-tuned for vocals thanks to the sweeter texture. Treble is inoffensive, laid-back, but of the best quality I heard in the sub $500 price. At a double price, the VxV is more balanced, pushing more bass power and boosting much higher clarity and detail. It is more accurate and brighter on the treble, less forgiving but more extended and much greater sense of air. The mids are more dynamic and resolving, though more neutral and more equal when it gets to instruments and vocals balance.
The Sarda is a triple driver type hybrid (or tri-brid, aka ‘chimera’) of a dynamic, 2BA and Piezoelectric combination. The sound is opposite to the VxV, having a v-shaped tuning. Full and powerful bass with among the best sub-bass presentation, depth, rumble and extension. Midrange is relatively distant yet thick, mostly on the lower mids, though the timbre is rather off and not natural. Treble is strong and extended while it can be occasionally tiring. The VxV instead is light and tighter in the bass, and cannot reach the same depth but has quicker attack. Midrange is more favorable, leaner, thinner but more open and clear, and natural too. Treble is similar in quantities, though the VxV is less aggressive. The Sarda has still the widest soundstage I’ve heard on an IEM so far, while the VxV offers better imaging.
Oriolus Reborn LTD
Yet, another hybrid of 1 dynamic and 3 BA. The Reborn LTD has a smooth and warmer signature and in a rather mellow ‘safe’ tuning. While stage dimensions are similar, the VxV sounds more open and airy. Bass is more emphasized on the Reborn LTD with a gain towards the mid-bass area, deeper and slower in decay, while the VxV is lighter and faster. Midrange is more forward on the Reborn, and probably the best part of the IEM with its rich, smooth and sweet texture, very suited for vocal focused music. Treble is much more relaxed and a bit rolled-off on the Reborn, whereas the VxV is easily brighter and less forgiving. Details are easier to pick on the VxV, too.
Hifiman RE-2000 (Silver)
The RE2000 is probably the closest in sound (tuning) to the VxV I’ve heard so far. Putting aside all the build, fit and cable that are all way better on the VxV, both IEMs focus into accuracy, resolution and detail. The RE2000 demands more power to sound best, while the VxV is much more sensitive. Bass quantities are very close, though the VxV can deliver a little bit more mid-bass impact (specifically with my preferred dual flange tips) and is a bit faster. Midrange on the RE2000 balance is shifted towards the upper-region, while the low-mid is lean. It also has a critical up-mid/low-treble peak and is more prone to being sibilant. The VxV mids are more even and forward, and the highs easier to handle, and overall sound is more natural. Soundstage: about the same in width, but the VxV has more height and better front to back distance. The RE2000 suits well for acoustic instruments, while the VxV is easily a more all-rounder in comparison.
All-in-all, the VxV might be of the more affordable option within the Fir Audio’s line but definitely packs very good features. Solid build quality from the outside in addition of the interesting and well applied technology in its whole structure, all in a smooth and well finished design that proves to be surprisingly comfortable and more relaxed for long listening periods. Audio quality is pretty good at this price, very competitive in the $1000 and above segment. Easy to drive from any music source and very transparent, scaling even higher with the better source. The sound presentation is fairly natural and very accurate with excellent level of detail.