The R&D Story of Beryllium-Plated Open Earbuds FiiO EM5
post-15814438
Thread Starter
Post #1 of 36

FiiO

Sponsor: FiiO
Joined
Jul 30, 2008
Messages
6,953
Reaction score
3,296
Location
Guangzhou,China
Joined
Jul 30, 2008
Location
Guangzhou,China
Posts
6,953
Likes
3,296
Age
13
Website
www.fiio.com
With the substantial improvement of the front-end audio performance, it is irreversible that open earbuds have been replaced by various in-ear monitors with better sound insulation, greater dynamics, stronger resolution ability, and wider frequency response in the audio industry. Therefore, there are actually very few brands that are still focusing on open earbuds. The reason why we researched and developed the EM5 is actually for ourselves and some old audiophiles. If considering the commercial value, the EM5 is undoubtedly a money-losing project. The open market itself has almost gone back to zero, especially when coupled with the bold and personalized (weird) exterior design and expensive price. We don't have many expectations for the sales of the EM5 in the market. Instead, we are delighted to finally make a model of open earbuds that we are satisfied with and can share it with our friends.

1. Why Did We Design Such a Unique Look for the EM5
The EM5 project was actually established in 2017. At the beginning, we wanted to copy the most fashionable double flute design at that time. Those who are familiar with that era may know the classic one like the V99. We even went to find some old earbuds to explain to our young engineers what a flute (bass sound tube) is and what its structure is.

However, during the design process, we found that even the materials, design tools, and production processes have been improved. Today, it is impossible to go beyond the traditional open earbuds. So what left to us was either to directly copy the design, or to find out a different way. Therefore, the progress of the open earbuds project has moved terribly slowly.

During this period, FiiO also began to introduce 3D printing technology to mass-produced models. From the FA7-FA1-FA9, by cooperating with HEYGEARS and the manufacturer we have overcome many obstacles which also helped us know more about the application of 3D printing technology. On this basis, the idea of using 3D printing to make the open earbuds came to us. After carefully figuring it out, we assumed it might have many benefits.

1) The 3D printing can achieve seamless processing workmanship. Compared with the conventional gluing workmanship, the 3D printing is obviously more advanced on the fineness. And the high-end resin materials used in 3D printing have amber-like texture, making the shell of the open earbuds look fantastic.

2) The structure of the traditional sound tube is complicated. Besides, it might lower the audio quality as a result of easily leaking air. What's more troublesome is, such as some classic tube models, the volume of the whole earphone would be relatively larger to ensure the length and caliber of the tube.

3) Controllable integrated cost. If we decided to copy the classic, a lot of molds would be needed. In this way, the research and development cost would be extremely high despite the low manufacturing cost of mass production. For models like the EM5 that are unlikely to be mass-produced, although the 3D printing processing and manufacturing cost of a pair of shells is high, the overall cost of choosing 3D printing (included the mold cost) will be more friendly.

Considering the above factors, the ID designer put forward a bold design according to our requirements (acoustic flute design), and deliberately isolated the sound tube as an interesting design visually. Some people think of this ID design as an alien, while some say it looks like a snake, a dragon, and even a predator. However, one thing everyone agrees with is that this ID is a bit wild, bold and unrestrained, completely out of the traditional frame of the open earbuds.

To be honest, FiiO's styling has always been stable for considerations of many commercial factors as well as user preferences. Therefore, it is unavoidable to be led by users, which contributes to rather reserved and stable ID designs.

In conclusion, the ID design has actually taken most time in the three-year process of the EM5. In order to create something new, we finally reappeared the classic acoustic flute design 30 years ago in a different way by virtue of the newest 3D printing technology in the 21 century. A collision of tradition and modern gave a personalized exterior style to the EM5. In fact, according to the feedback from netizens we have contacted in the past two days, those who like it like it so much while those dislike it just dislike it. But this is not important, for the EM5 itself is not focusing on the mass market.
1597829119160-c47a4de15cb4698a.png
1597829158316-d77d90efbdcc51db.png
1597829163932-4e0678c41bc21cd2.png



2. Why Choosing Beryllium-Plated Diaphragm
After decades of development, the open earbuds technology has actually become very mature. Therefore, it is not enough to meet our expectations of the open earbud model by merely inheriting the acoustic flute design. The beryllium-plated diaphragm technology which has been introduced first starting from the FH7, has been applied to earphones like the FD1/EA1/FH3 and accumulated some experience and won praise from users. Simply speaking, its advantage is that it has extremely high intensity, thus achieving wider frequency response and lower distortion. In terms of the diaphragm material, it is still much more advanced than diaphragms decades ago.

As a result, we naturally introduced the beryllium-plated diaphragm to the EM5. In this way, with the bass tube, it can make up for the disadvantages of traditional open earbuds that cannot go down at low frequencies and up at high frequencies. Another possibility is the mid frequencies have become more outstanding to lead to haunting vocals.

Not only can it retain the advantages of the large sound field, loose timbre, prominent mids, etc. in terms of the sound quality of traditional open earbuds, but also it can suit for modern high-definition recording as well as the distinctive sound sources.

By the way, a big reason for the decline of the traditional open earbuds is because of the decline of the walkman. The low SNR and narrow frequency response of the walkman tapes are good for open earbuds. But for in-ear monitors, it would be easy to hear the noise floor of the tape unit because of its great ability to insulate the sound. Moreover, the wide frequency response of the IEMs is unable to act its excellence when using for tape devices.

3. Why Not an Interchangeable Cable Design?
Back in the day, if the open earbuds are equipped with an oxygen-free cable, it would be regarded as incredible earbuds. Unlike now, there are so many choices for cables of various materials and structures. Therefore, most of the earbuds facing the HIFI market now adopt a replaceable cable design to meet the needs of users to "burn" cables.

However, due to the limitation of its structure, open earbuds rarely use a cable with the replaceable 2PIN/MMCX connector. If you are interested, you can take a look at a few of the designs with replaceable connectors, either of which is with a thick handle or a large and raised cavity.

So at the beginning, we have thought about referring to the structural design of the Sennheiser IE800 with which one part is fixed while the other is replaceable. Although it is impossible to replace the entire cable, it still has the playability to change different cables of different materials. It is also convenient to replace different connectors of 3.5/2.5/4.4 and so on.

Later in the tuning process, our tuner had tried a variety of different materials of cables, and found that the best sound comes with a sterling silver cable. He suggested to not change cables on our own. Considering that the EM5 is not a market-oriented model, we decided to respect the tuner's opinion. As for uses' needs to match the front end of different connectors, we figured out the replaceable plug design.

Therefore, if you are really entangled in burning the cable, we are sorry to say we fail to help.

1597829247518-9aaa78791c38237c.png

1597829256574-420ae6ac56f8ee40.png



4. Is It expensive for such a price?
After the price was announced, some audiophiles said it was too expensive. Old FiiO users may know that FiiO's pricing is sincere and kind, especially for some recent models like the M11/M11Pro/M15, whose price would not be officially lowered even when the production ceases. For one thing, during over one year of production process, the cost has risen instead of dropping. For another thing, it is also because the pricing from the beginning is already in place in one step. Besides, if a product is highly competitive, there is no need to grab the market by reducing the price.

As mentioned earlier, the EM5 is different from other FiiO models and is not a market-oriented product. So we don't have to consider its sales and profit. Basically, the pricing follows the principle of hardware cost + reasonable profit. We assume that the EM5 project will make a negative profit in the end. But as long as it can fulfill the wishes of us and some loyal fans, it is enough.

Here, we would like to briefly analyze the pricing reason for the EM5 for our consumers.

1) How much is the 4th-generation 3D DLP printing technology worth? Some people said it only costs a few bucks. In fact, the cost of 3D printing is related to resin materials, printing accuracy, and faceplate processing craftsmanship. The EM5 has a more complicated flute design inside and a 3D printing faceplate different from traditional in-ear monitors. We have adopted the latest high-precision printing equipment for the case. The materials have still imported from Germany. The surface is over-varnishing and spray painting to ensure automatic spray painting effects. (Manual spraying cannot guarantee the uniformity which is easy to accumulate gloss material locally). It is estimated that the overall 3D printing cost of the EM5 is over 30 USD.

2) How much is the monocrystalline silver cable? For some reason, we will not promote any of the cable purity officially. The included cable of the EM5 is a 4N monocrystalline silver cable plus the standard 2.5/3.5/4.4 replaceable connector design. If we sell this cable alone, the price of it will be set to over 160 USD.

3) The other expensive segment is the beryllium-plated diaphragm unit. Since its diameter is different from the FD1 and FH7, we have to open a new set of mold frame units. Plus the molding cost and the research and development (R&D) cost, the overall cost of each unit is not cheap.

During the R&D process, we have thought about the selling issue it might encounter for the cost is really so high. However, we eventually follow our heart. The most important thing should be the product itself.

5. Evolution of the Design Scheme
Figure 1 was the earliest design, which showed the earliest scheme was our familiar old structure of traditional open earbuds.
Figure 2 was an attempt of using metal CNC craftsmanship because most of the open earbuds have used plastic male molds.
Figure 3 was the actual effect of scheme 2 of being adjusted after putting the acoustic speaker unit inside.
Figure 4 was further optimized according to the faceplate design.
Figures 5, 6, and 7 were plans to use 3D printing for the later design after abandoning scheme 4.
Figure 8 was an acoustic faceplate with the flute structure using the 3D printing technology.
Figure 9 was the first creative plan and the final scheme.
Figure 10 was an attempt of using the metal faceplate but was later abandoned due to processing problems.
Figure 11 was the original interchangeable plug design scheme referring to the IE800's.
Figure 12 was the further optimization of the structure.
Figure13 was the finalized scheme of mass production.
1597829056321-01c93b0327f13f48.png



In fact, there were many other adjustments in the middle phase during the R&D process. But it won't be listed here one by one. All in all, the EM5 project is quite a challenging and fun project.
 
Last edited:
FiiO Stay updated on FiiO at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
https://www.facebook.com/FiiOAUDIO https://twitter.com/FiiO_official https://www.instagram.com/fiioofficial/ https://www.fiio.com
post-15817210
Post #3 of 36

emusic13

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 7, 2011
Messages
404
Reaction score
98
Joined
Nov 7, 2011
Posts
404
Likes
98
Really enjoyed the story. It makes me want to buy it now although I was a little skeptical on the price. I guess I will wait for impressions from Mochill ^:beyersmile:
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: mochill
post-15818072
Post #5 of 36

Philimon

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 14, 2007
Messages
1,076
Reaction score
176
Location
Portland
Joined
Oct 14, 2007
Location
Portland
Posts
1,076
Likes
176
Will @FiiO release a budget version with cheaper driver and cable but still using the unique flute design styled after aiwa v99?
 
     Share This Post       
post-15818329
Post #6 of 36

HiddenHero

New Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 5, 2015
Messages
1
Reaction score
0
Joined
Jan 5, 2015
Posts
1
Likes
0
I like the story, and even though I haven't used any open earbuds for a long time (since Zune V2) but I think I'd try this.
I'll wait for release date :)
 
     Share This Post       
post-15818445
Post #7 of 36

gerelmx1986

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Messages
10,523
Reaction score
3,133
Location
Germany
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Location
Germany
Posts
10,523
Likes
3,133
What I hate from earbuds is that they do not seem to stay put on my ears,they always fall down. Reason #1 I use IEM
 
     Share This Post       
post-15818452
Post #8 of 36

ezekiel77

Reviewer at Headphonesty
Joined
Jun 16, 2015
Messages
4,329
Reaction score
4,027
Location
Malaysiurrr
Joined
Jun 16, 2015
Location
Malaysiurrr
Posts
4,329
Likes
4,027
Website
headphonesty.com
Thank you for sharing the backstory. This gives the EM5 a soul.
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: guitardave
post-15818460
Post #9 of 36

gerelmx1986

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Messages
10,523
Reaction score
3,133
Location
Germany
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Location
Germany
Posts
10,523
Likes
3,133
Would like to try hi-end buds after many years with IEM. @FiiO how do you guys made research on the problem of the typical earphone (earbud) constantly falling out, I think 16mm diameter is fairly large to fit and yo stay relatively stable for hours.

The flute is for the bass response? Another calamity of earbuds lack of bass.

On earbuds maybe the 14mm is a worlds first. On IEM sony has produced several with16mm lateral-firing designs (Ex1000/800ST, XBA- H3/A3/Z5)
 
     Share This Post       
post-15818855
Post #10 of 36

ledzep

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 14, 2015
Messages
1,490
Reaction score
428
Location
Blighty
Joined
Apr 14, 2015
Location
Blighty
Posts
1,490
Likes
428
Been after a pair of decent buds for a bit looks like a purchase is on the cards, I think 12's look embossed onto the black would look good.
 
     Share This Post       
post-15818932
Post #11 of 36

CEE TEE

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 4, 2010
Messages
2,184
Reaction score
402
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
Joined
Mar 4, 2010
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
Posts
2,184
Likes
402
Calling @ClieOS ! :ksc75smile:

I love this project...I have heard a great, modded version of Sennheiser’s MX980 earbud that made me want a pair. One of the tricks the modder used, if I recall correctly, was some sticky Comply foam wrap around the earbud head. This gave them some grip to stay in and a bit more seal but remained comfortable.

I like the explanation of processes and design choices. Very interested to see how people like these. It may be a great time to bring back the earbud as many people have gotten used to AirPods and the all-plastic feel with loose fit. However, the bigger drivers and internal space should mean a warmer/richer/thicker sound which is hard to get with the AirPods.

Balanced output from Bluetooth pucks and DAPs will probably be helpful...and these may scale with desktop amps? I didn’t see the impedance of these. The Yuin PK1 was high at 150 ohms, while the Sennheiser MX980 was only about 16 ohms.

Very cool to see this, FiiO! Your explanation is great to help frame this for people since it does not follow your usual design/features/expected pricing. Some things are cool and worth doing or bringing back with new updates.

Cheers! :beerchug:
 
     Share This Post       
post-15819532
Post #12 of 36

Florimer

New Head-Fier
Joined
Sep 27, 2013
Messages
29
Reaction score
17
Joined
Sep 27, 2013
Posts
29
Likes
17
Buds are love, buds are life.
Due to unfortunate genetical circumstances, my ears produce a lot of wax. Wearing IEMs for me is out of question (they get dirty ridiculously fast), and walking with full sized cans in the summer is horrible heat experience. So i am quite interested in any new Earbuds. Especially high end ones.

P.S. It seems only chinese manufacturers are producing high end Earbud designs these days. Wonder why?:thinking:
 
     Share This Post       
post-15819813
Post #13 of 36

ClieOS

IEM Reviewer Extraordinaire
Joined
May 11, 2004
Messages
19,829
Reaction score
9,026
Location
Middle of Johor, Malaysia
Joined
May 11, 2004
Location
Middle of Johor, Malaysia
Posts
19,829
Likes
9,026
Website
InEarMatters.net
PSX_20200823_083736.jpg


A fair warning to anyone wanting an EM5 - if the first listening sounds a little underwheling to you, don't panic or regret. EM5 really does transform itself after 2~300 hours of burn-in, probably enough to make anyone a real burn-in believer afterward. Then it will shine like a diamond, so be patient.

Balanced output from Bluetooth pucks and DAPs will probably be helpful...and these may scale with desktop amps? I didn’t see the impedance of these. The Yuin PK1 was high at 150 ohms, while the Sennheiser MX980 was only about 16 ohms.
It is in the 32 ohm range,

P.S. It seems only chinese manufacturers are producing high end Earbud designs these days. Wonder why?:thinking:
Probably because the Chinese audiophile community is the single largest group of earbuds user left in the world and they are much more willing to spend on high-end earbuds as they are on IEM.
 
Last edited:
post-15820314
Post #14 of 36

xkoo

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 1, 2019
Messages
343
Reaction score
147
Location
France
Joined
May 1, 2019
Location
France
Posts
343
Likes
147
I don't understand why Fiio didn't do this with MMCX cable like Fiio LC-RE like that people could have very nice cable and optional IEMs.
 
Last edited:
     Share This Post       
post-15820442
Post #15 of 36

gerelmx1986

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Messages
10,523
Reaction score
3,133
Location
Germany
Joined
Aug 25, 2014
Location
Germany
Posts
10,523
Likes
3,133
P.S. It seems only chinese manufacturers are producing high end Earbud designs these days. Wonder why?:thinking:
Maybe due the bad reputation buds got after apple inc. Ipod earbuds with bad SQ/build quality?

What is @ClieOS avatar is? Looks like star wars BB8 with soda glass bottles
 
     Share This Post       

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 1)

Top