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FiiO FH5 Review

  1. bowei006 Contributor
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    The FiiO FH5 (MSRP $299) is released following the success of their earlier IEM line but this time changes up the game. FiiO joined the earphone market in 2015 with the release of the EX1 and a budget EM3 in 2016. 2017 saw the expansion of their earphones with their popular F9 Series along with a variety of other earphones. Come mid 2018 with the release of the FH5 and FA7 is when things got really juicy.

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    Previous generations of FiiO earphones were well regarded but thought of still as just simply add-on items for their popular DAPs, DACs, and Amps; effectively an afterthought. The FH5 and FA7 are here to reap the success of FiiO’s earlier efforts and are the latest display of their prowess.
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    The FiiO FH5 is a 4 driver hybrid IEM with three Knowles Balanced Armature Drivers (Knowles ED30262+ Knowles ED30262) with the fourth being a dynamic driver. (The FA7 has four BA drivers with no dynamic driver). The dynamic driver is here to provide the bass which helps to carry songs and support the complex array of mid frequencies that the balanced armature drivers handle. See here for a comparison chart of FiiOs IEMs.

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    I heard both IEMs at CanJam NYC 2019 and immediately was interested in the FH5. My friend I went with bought the FA7’s and I demo’d those as well but my interest stood resolutely with the FH5s.


    Build:
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    The FH5’s famously use the “TRISHELL structural design” with its CNC’d aluminum-magnesium alloy construction to help reduce resonance and distortion. Effectively, the whole body is rigid and made of ‘metal’. My friend was stuck with going with the FA7 which uses the more traditional resin like the kind found on CIEMs. User fit is more problematic with the FH5’s shell and narrower insertion. Standard tips would not give me enough penetration and so I had to resort to doubling up and used the included double flange tips to give me the angle I needed. I typically roll Comply tips (generously sponsored by Comply) but was not able to get the right fit even with those.

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    The FH5 punches above its weight and price for the quality of the IEM itself and the included cable. If the word “Premium” can scream, then these would definitely be yelling it as loud as a branded SUPREME sticker would. No imperfections could be spotted on the IEM housing or cabling. They came pristine and aesthetically matched. A plethora of higher-end audiophile cables often do not match the look or ‘feel’ of the headphone they go with as they are thrown in as generic afterthoughts; only the cabling standard needs to fit. FiiO shakes their heads at that idea, everything must simply fit with the look and feel of the FH5 and it does.


    The cable is separated completely by channel(right and left) for the entire run up to the IEMs themselves and terminates on both ends to solid connectors. On the 3.5mm side, the termination is bulky enough to sustain years of use yet lightweight and agile enough to not be a hindrance even with a DAP. The termination to the IEM driver itself snaps in solid and has a elbow plug protecting housing around the MMCX area.

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    I’ve had a good relationship with FiiO for 8 years now and have reviewed their products since late 2011. The one thing that hasn’t changed about them in that time since is their generosity with accessories. The FH5 comes decked out with over 12 sets of tips with six sets specific to a tonality (vocal or bass geared), a soft carrying case, and a harder water resistance carrying case. My one chagrin is that there really is nowhere to keep the tips besides in the original foam sorting block. As a reviewer with stacks of IEM products, I don’t like to get my tips messed up and throwing them all into the same pile is a no go. Sometimes I wish for cases that have integrated areas for storing tips AND keeping them segregated at the same time. The former already exists with the mesh areas in some soft cases but keeping them organized isn’t done. It’s a nice idea so someone can quick swap tips without having to match the right ones to the right size.
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    Sound:

    So let’s start with some gear I used with the FH5 while testing. I mostly had it plugged into the Burson Swing DAC with the Sabre ESS9038 which feeds into the Burson Fun with their V6 op amp upgrades. I also have an Objective 2 with Burr Brown OPA2228, Monolith Liquid Spark designed by Alex Cavalli. DACs used in conjunction with the review include a dedicated AK4396 DAC and two DAC/Amp combo units from Swan Song Audio’s “USB-Stage 2” series. FiiO’s own X3 II and M9 DAP were used often with the FH5 as well.

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    My Qobuz Studio account sponsored by Headphone.Guru was used alongside offline files in Foobar during formal testing. Spotify Premium was used often on the go as well.

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    The FiiO FH5 is undeniably a fun and warm sounding IEM. It has energy and a sweet tonality that is smooth sounding with an abundance of bass. Think of it as a more ‘audiophile’ consumer sound signature that really fits whatever you throw at it.
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    Let’s start with one of my favorite songs of the month, Lucky Ending by VICKEBLANKA which is the ending song used in the tv-show Fruits Basket (2019). It bleeds Japanese pop from every pore and is a very generic consumer sounding song; it's not high end by any means. It’s simply perfect for the FH5. The light percussion tapping at the beginning to start the song had a good weight to every hit but was not very detailed, it had more energy and ‘visibility’ to the listener though most likely due to the intensity of the FH5. The effeminate male vocals that enter into the song had a hint of sweetness characterized by the tonality of the FH5 which is warm with vibrance. Lots of jargon recently but its a comparison to listening to this song with say my Hifiman Ananda or Sundara sitting around the corner. Those excel in making the song sound very open and like they are right there. Instruments are much more clear and detailed beyond regard. Yes, indeed they are much better and are planar magnetic.

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    But it’s also why I enjoy the FH5 with its tonality towards modern consumer sound. It’s straight up poppy and dynamically bouncy. Sometimes, a meal at Panera Bread can be more comforting than eating at Jiro’s sushi shop. The FH5 is audiophile high taste poured onto the consumer world. Such as consumer sound being McDonalds, and the FH5 being like Panera Bread or Chik Fil A. The FH5 doesn’t try to sweat out audiophile superiority. It takes the normal stuff in everyday life and makes it sound better.

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    Next up is Time by Pink Floyd. It’s a classic that needs no introduction. The first thing you can notice with the FH5 is that it has some decent soundstage. Whereas entry level IEMs often sound like the music is being drilled INTO your eardrums, there is some pull back here where the sound seems a bit further away. The background sparkles that are audible constantly before the 2 minute mark are noticeable with the FH5 and that’s about all I can say. These IEMs aren’t very detailed or sharp. Compared to your run of the mill earphones, you will definitely pick out more in the song than you have before, but it isn’t a night and day sparkle.


    Vocals on the FH5 aren’t overly forward. This is due to both the sound being slightly more pulled back and also from the sweetness and mid-range pronunciation which can sometimes be said to be laid back. The energy from the FH5’s come mostly from how peppy it makes everything sound and its strong quality bass it produces. The mid-range is easy and comfortable to listen to but isn’t overly exciting once you actually sit down and listen to it. Think a night club with some strong EDM and pop and lights flashing. On the surface and to most people, it is simply “lit” and energetic but one look at the people dancing robotic-ally and you’re clued in that it isn’t actually that “lit”.

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    Is this bad? Certainly not, its that quality of the FH5 in why I liked it when I heard it the first time. It has electric power behind the low-end backed by a creamy smooth mid-range. It works with 99% of the genres I throw at it. It is never harsh, too bright, or too agonizing to listen to. It’s like a comforting bowl of oatmeal in the morning when you aren’t awake yet.

    Conclusion:

    The FH5 is not an overly audiophile detail monster IEM meant to change the game up on what ‘music’ sounds like. Rather, it’s a great sounding cozy IEM meant for those that already know what they want (pop consumer sound) and want more of it. It’s the IEM meant for the person that knows it is versatile enough with every song and also robust enough physically to be brought out everywhere for use. I, Panda, do indeed recommend these IEMs. They are my daily drivers for when I go out for casual listening.
     
    Byronb, viatraco, FiiO and 1 other person like this.
  2. DankAudio
    How is the fit and isolation based on your ear size? Thanks
     
  3. bowei006 Contributor
    Fit with the bi-flange tips included is excellent. Stay in place even when walking and doing light physical activities (partly due to how close the IEMs huge your canal and the ear guides with plastic tubing). With Comply, I would always need to spend an extra 12s to squish, prepare, and insert each one with two hands (one holding the top tip of the ear lobe). Now it's just insert and go.

    Isolation is above average (8/10) in terms of being able to hear around you. With music playing at mid vol, you can barely make out what is happening around you. But still not good like CIEM

    None of the normal regular tips sans the bi-flange will fit my ear unfortunately.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  4. highlightshadow
    Spinfit CP145's work really nicely on the FH5's - i find the fit awesome with these on - struggled to get a decent seal with the included stuff
     
    sidecross and bowei006 like this.
  5. bowei006 Contributor
    Yeah getting a seal can be hard sometimes.

    I really like the included Vocal tips but putting them onto the nozzles takes me seriously 1min each time and I've done it multiple times already........its not getting easier.

    Add in the insertion depth issue and i have an issue with maintaining a seal with them. I have to sit in the form of a buddah reaching nirvana without moving (I kid) to have them stay in place
     
  6. miguel.yarce
    Hi all, Im using the FH5 with the FH1 balanced cable to a pioneer xdp-30r, and I really like this combination, and adding the spinfit tips. I know that the original cable is better than the FH1s but I really feel a better result with the balanced ones...
     
  7. bowei006 Contributor
    Thanks for sharing your anecdote!
     
    miguel.yarce likes this.

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