Disclaimer: The FiiO FH5 was sent to me as part of the Head-fi review tour. I have received no compensation of any kind, nor do I get to keep the FH5.
The FH5 is the latest hybrid IEM from Fiio and their current flagship. I own Fiio’s previous flagship, the F9 Pro and have found them to be well made and enjoyable. I will admit that when the retail for the FH5 was announced, I was a bit skeptical as it is substantially higher than anything Fiio had done to date and puts them head to head with some pretty established names. Even at the $270 street price, it is a bracket that is crowded with some fairly solid players so Fiio needed to really bring it to compete. The first hint that Fiio has indeed rethought their IEM line is that the FH5 represents the first official partnership between Knowles and Fiio. Many of the best BA drivers are made by Knowles and an awful lot of the boutique manufacturers that use custom drivers actually contract with Knowles to make the drivers for them.
Unboxing / Packaging:
Those with other Flagship FiiO products will recognize the black box design as it seems to be used in all of their high-end models. The box has a slip cover over a book-fold design that is a step above previous models like my F9 pro as the internals are better laid out and allow for easy access to and organization of the accessories. The inner compartment is two layers deep with the headphones sitting on top with the cable in the shape a FiiO’s trademark heart with the remainder of the accessories hiding beneath.
Under the earphone tray, the space is divided in half. At the top is a small packet containing the manual and warrantee cards with the tips in their own foam tray beneath that. A total of 12 different tips are provided, 9 silicone of 3 different types and 3 foams. Small, medium, and large tips of each type are provided with the medium standard tip being installed on the earpieces and the remaining 11 stored in the foam tray. The only drawback is if one wishes to use the large standard tips and place the mediums in the tray, the cutout is slightly too large and the mediums will fall out unlike any of the others which are held well. This is the one oversight in an otherwise well designed tip management system.
The lower portion of the box contains the hard case, a clear pelican style case this time instead of the smoked version of the F9 pro. Inside the hard case is a soft case and a cleaning tool to round out the kit. The only real disappointment here was after purchasing the F9 pro, I had hope the FH5 would also ship with a balanced cable as the F9 did. No such luck this time so those wanting the balanced cable will need to order one separately.
The shells on the FH5 are impressive, larger and deeper seating than the F9 series with all edges well polished. The shell is constructed of 3 parts all of which are an aluminum/magnesium alloy. The main body is finished in the same gunmetal gray of the F9-pro while the divider plate is gold colored and provides a nice accent to the otherwise industrial look. The mmcx connectors have a colored disc surrounding them for quick L/R identification. While larger than the F9 series, the FH5 is contoured in such a way that it sits in my ear more comfortably and I have to rely less on the tips to keep them in place than with previous generation FiiOs. Those with small ears may find the size a bit overwhelming but for those with average to large ears, the comfort level is better than expected.
The FH5 uses a single 10mm dynamic driver to handle the low end and a trio of BA drivers to handle mids and treble. The dynamic driver is of the same style as those found in the F9 Series and I found it interesting that FiiO went to the effort of building a 10mm PEK driver instead of the 9.2mm they already had in inventory for the F9 series. The tuning is also different as the F9 uses the dynamic to cover the lower mids while the FH5 uses a Knowles ED30262 BA to handle the mids, so the Dynamic is a bass-only affair in the FH5. Highs are provided by a pair of Knowles TWFK-31082 Bas to complete the package. Fiio has stated that they believe switching to Knowles drivers has allowed them to produce a more refined sound than was possible using the drivers in the F9 series. An active crossover is added to the mix and one of the sound bores is designed to improve the low pass filtering of the dynamic driver to improve the bass.
While disappointed in the fact that the FH5 does not ship with a balanced cable, I will say that the cable that does ship with the unit is extremely well made and a step above what has shipped with previous models. The wire itself is a heavier gauge silver plated copper braid in a clear jacket. FiiO has bucked the trend of braiding the strands and the cable runs parallel up to the split and then as single strands above the splitter. While the cable looks heavy, it is reasonably pliable and didn’t have much memory so didn’t tend to tangle as badly as previous versions. I was pleased to see a right angle 3.5mm jack with good strain relief. The splitter is of the hollow type with a chin slider mating to the top of it. Both the slider and jack are finished in the same gunmetal gray as the earpieces. At the top end of the cable, sits a 4 inch sheath around the cable with a distinct collar at the lower end. This provides the shaping and is much preferred to memory wire for me. The cables terminate with MMCX connectors clearly marked with red and blue rings for easy identification.
Most headphones these days come with either 3 Silicone tips or 3 Silicone and 3 Foams. FiiO has doubled that number by providing standard (balanced) silicone in 3 sizes, foams in 3 sizes, bass enhancing silicones in 3 sizes and treble enhancing silicones in 3 sizes. I applaud FiiO as the tips are not just a gimmick but actually do impact the signature. I used the balanced for sound impressions but preferred the Vocal (treble tips) slightly for personal listening.
The FH5 has good sub-bass depth and quantity with more emphasis than the mid-bass. Sub-bass rolls-off fairly sharply below about 50Hz but delivers good thump. Sub-bass is well defined and tonal separation is better than many iems at its price point that kind of have a single sub-bass note instead of accurately reproducing the range. Mid-bass sits well behind sub-bass but is well refined and extremely well behaved with no perceptible bleed into the mids and good reproduction of bass guitar notes. There is just something about that Dynamic driver bass that lends a more visceral punch than what can be had with BA arrangements. I would liken the sub-bass on the FH5 to the Empire Ears Bravado as both provide a bass that is as much felt as heard.
Mids on the FH5 need to be discussed in 3 parts. First the lower mids are a bit recessed when compared to either the mid-bass or the upper mids. Lower mids retain good detail and can be EQ’d back to closer to neutral, but it is undeniable that in the default configuration they are well behind all of the signature. This is one reason I liked the Vocal tips for personal listening as they help pull the lower mids a bit forward (mostly by knocking the upper mids a bit back into place).
Upper mids, as alluded to above, are well forward of all of the rest of the signature except maybe sub-bass. The upper-mid hump centers ar around the 2k mark and is very likely the result of using a Knowles driver that was originally designed for hearing aids. This is a very common design element of BA’s for that purpose as it aligns to the frequency of human vocalizations which is most often what listeners want to hear above the background. The nice thing about this spike is it does exactly what is intended as vocals are intimate and extremely well rendered. The drawback to the spike is a somewhat unnatural timbre to some instruments.
The lower treble is somewhat recessed (centered around 5kHz) which prevents cymbals from being too far out front and prevents sibilance that might otherwise be expected with the upper mids pushed as far forward as they are. Treble as a whole is not emphasized with no large peeks in the range that dominate the signature. There is a small emphasis to the upper treble at the 12kHz range that gives some needed air to the signature but does not give the sound s strident or harsh nature as the F9 pro sometimes did. Treble is a far cry from the original F9 and it is hard to believe FiiO has come this far this fast.
Soundstage is deeper than wide but manages to image well within the space and instrument separation was very good with tracks that tend to get muddy.
Vs FiiO F9 Pro
F9 pro is smaller in size so may fit small ears better but is out-classed in every technical aspect by the FH5. If you were wondering if the difference in price between the F9 Pro and FH5 is justified by the difference in performance, the answer is a resounding yes.
Vs Eartech Quint
Ok, unfair fight a 5 BA CIEM vs a Universal hybrid. Having said that, there is also no clear winner. The Quint is more balanced while the FH5 is more W shaped in sound. The FH5 has better bass authority while the Quint has better mid-bass timbre. The Quint is more resolving while the FH5 brings a bit of extra energy that makes it a bit more engaging.
Vs Ibasso IT-03
The IT03 and FH5 share a lot of similar characteristics with differences being in degree. Both have the same forward upper mids although the FH5 is a bit more pronounced than the IT03. Both have a sub-bass emphasis although FiiO is a bit better extended and more authoritative. Tough comparison as more similar than not.
Vs Rose Mojito
Another odd comparison as they really have nothing in common except price point. FH5 wins on build quality for sure but the mojito fires back with a more balanced signature and more detail. The mojito is one of my favorite daily users because I can hear things going on around it so those wanting isolation will pick the FH5 every time.
FiiO made a bold statement when they announced the FH5 at a price point that was double that of anything they had released to date. Sure we all expected it to be better than the F9 Pro, but would it be twice as good? As is usually the case, there is not an unqualified yes or no answer. While I would like to see the balanced cable included in the package, many others at this price point do not (Ibasso) either. The signature is definitely more refined than any previous FiiO offering and brings a lot of good things to the table. For non-critical listening, it is a fun, engaging iem. On the downside, it is a W shape and those two valleys make it less than ideal for all genres and will make some shy away from it. Overall, I don’t think FiiO knocked it out of the park, but it is a solid triple where the F9 struck out and the F9 Pro was a single. At current pace, I expect FiiO to release a home run hitter any day now. Keep up the good work.