FiiO FH5 – Beauty In Detail
FiiO FH5 is the current flagship made by FiiO, one of the titans of the Audiophile Industry. It comes at an interesting moment, as it has a lot of competitors, and needs to do a lot to justify its price, but we’re going to give it a run through our tests and report back on how it performs.
FiiO became an unbliquious name with Music Lovers from all over the world, and for a good reason. They have been among the first to offer affordable solutions for an enjoyable portable experience, and we even started with FiiO Players many years ago. If you need the best warranty there is, FiiO tends to fix all stuff you send their way, they offer excellent promotions for their products, and you can always find something that does much more than its price dictates it would do, among their offerings. Truly, FiiO is a sweet dream of a company for anyone with a limited budget who wants a great bang for their buck.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with FiiO, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by FiiO or anyone else. I’d like to thank FiiO for providing the sample for this review. The sample was provided along with FiiO’s request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with FiiO FH5. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in FiiO FH5 find their next music companion.
You can purchase FiiO FH5 from www.amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/FiiO-FH5-Headphones-Earphones-Detachable/dp/B07DNYWDQH
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
The package for FiiO FH5 is exactly what you’d expect from a proper flagship. They come packaged in a large box, with beautiful renders, along with the technical data on the back.
Inside the package, you get a really sexy new carrying case, transparent this time, which is just lovely. We like this one much better than the previous one for aesthetic reasons, although we should mention that the black case included with F9 and F9Pro is still part of our portable setup, regardless what IEMs we take on for a listen.
There is a really large number of tips, 4 types in total, with each type sporting 3 sizes of the tips, resulting in an amazingly large selection selection of tips, comparable, or even better than some of the best known flagships out there. Compared to IEMs at a similar price, FH5 has at least as many, or even more tips included in the package. The only thing that is missing are spinfit tips, but happily, the stock ones are so good that we didn’t feel the need to experiment this time around.
There is a secondary carrying case included in the package, made out of soft leather, which you’ll probably want to get on for a lighter walk.
The IEMs themselves are seated in a soft foam cutout and the whole packaged is designed very nicely, with most things you may require included there by FiiO. Happily, FH5 does not suffer from microphonics, so no shirt clip is needed for them, and the default cable is absolutely lovely, the only thing that some might be looking for in the package being a balanced cable, which isn’t included with FH5, but FiiO offers one if you grab a FH5 while the promotion is still running. This being said, Balanced vs Single Ended is a complex subject and both sides have excellent arguments, so we’ll just say that for a Balanced cable you may require purchasing FH5 while it comes bundled with a free Balanced cable, or look for an alternative.
All in all, the package reaches the golden standard, and you won’t feel like anything is missing with FH5.
What to look in when purchasing a flagship In-Ear Monitor
Starting with their body, FH5 is made out of metal. They are cold to the touch, and you can feel that they are a slightly hefty IEM that feels really well put together. FiiO used MMCX connects on FH5, but those are different from the ones used in the more entry-level IEMs they sell, feeling much more secure and rugged, clearly being able to take more of a beating and still keep working.
The IEMs themselves have a vent hole, so there is no driver flex to speak about, which is amazing. Compared to most competitors in this price range, this is interesting, because most do have a solution to avoid driver flex, but not all of them work equally well, FH5 working exceptionally well.
The cable included with FH5 is one of the thickest cables we ever seen to come with an IEM. It is ended in a 3.5mm Single Ended connection, but the cable itself has the correct wirings to be ended in a balanced connector, if one desires as such. Where the IEM connects to the cable, the ear guides are rubbery and not made of memory wire, but rather a rubbery part which is soft enough to adapt to the ear, but not hard enough to remember the shape after it has been applied. In practice, it works just as, or better than the typical memory wire, we noticed an improved comfort compared to most typical memory-wire cables using this one. The cable is transparent and slightly golden in color. The cables are on the stiff side overall, they are not very nimble or flexible, but given their thickness, this is not an issue and it is rather normal.
The Aesthetics of the IEM are simply beautiful, an elegant matte gray for the IEM body, with a golden lining around the face plate, along with a modern model on the face plate. While it doesn’t strike one as colorful, it surely strikes us as being modern, elegant and well-made, making FH5 a good fit for both a business environment, as well as a more casual environment. They are small enough that they won’t catch unwanted attention, although the cable is quite thick and different from most IEMs.
FiiO FH5 is one of the most comfortable IEMs we ever tested. We aren’t even sure why, since the body is not very small, the cables don’t look very ergonomic, and they don’t look like a custom IEM, but it simply sits so comfortably in the ear, that you forget you’re wearing them. The mere fact that the anti-drive-flex vent works so well means that it doesn’t express any kind of pressure on your eardrum. FiiO FH5 is fairly good at isolating, and we could say that it is one of the least leaking and best isolating IEMs we tested as well.
All in all, the build quality, aesthetics and comfort are all golden with FH5, and we consider them an excellent overall choice from those points of view.
The sonic signature of fiiO FH5 is slightly different from the FiiO IEM House Sound we’re used to from F9 and F9Pro. If you had either, you need to forget everything about their sound before imagining how FH5 sounds like, because FiiO redesigned the sound from the ground up.
The sonic signature can be generally described as mildly V-shaped, or rather W-shaped, since the sub-bass has a good amount of emphasis, then it gets to a lower point around 600 Hz, after which it gets a bit of an enhanced area around the midrange, after which it gets stronger in the treble, leading to what can be considered a fairly natural overall presentation. Since the midrange is not exactly backwards, many will feel that FH5 is a little midrange-forward, at least compared to a true V-shaped IEM like F9Pro, but in all fairness, both the sub-bass and the treble make enough of a presence to balance the overall signature well.
Starting with the bass, most of the focus is in the sub-bass, with a powerful and quick slam, fast speed, yet large size for impact. FH5 is able to resolve finer textures fairly well, especially useful for metal music, where speed is important in the bass. The mid-bass is still fairly enhanced compared to the lower midrange, so the bass feels pretty warm yet quick, on an overall level.
The midrange gets a little playful, but not enough to be colored. The lower midrange is less enhanced compared to the main midrange body, while the upper midrange also gets a little less enhanced compared to the treble and the main midrange body. Those peaks and valleys are very smooth though, and with no acute drops or peaks, this means that the overall sound is balanced, and feels rather natural.
What is actually intriguing in the midrange is the amount of detail FH5 is able to push. Compared to most 500USD flagships, it still does an amazing job, and the price of FH5 is about half of that, priced at about 260USD at the moment of writing this review. The imaging and layering are also out-of-this-world good, being at the level of Sennheiser IE800, which is our flagship standard for imaging and layering, all while having a much more balanced overall midrange presentation.
The treble of FH5 gets more sparkle in the utmost part of the upper midrange, after the valley around 6kHz, and it stays enhanced in a smooth peak until about 10kHz, after which it pretty much rolls off, until around 12kHz. This means that the treble has a good amount of sparkle, and just as good of a treble expression as most IEMs it competes with, but the extension isn’t the highest out there. The texture of the treble is very natural and smooth, and some listeners may not even hear higher than 12kHz, especially those advanced in age, but since most of our test team is younger, the fact that iBasso IT-04 has more extension is easily detectable.
The treble is fun, has enough extension to be exciting, and it doesn’t offend, the treble being rather well balanced with the rest of the sound.
All those things make FH5 a really universal and versatile IEM, which works amazingly well with any kind of music, from pop to metal, to electronic, to Jazz, all with the exception of large-hall symphonic, which tends to require a presentation that is not quite as personal and as intimate.
At the end of the day, the terms balanced, detailed, well layered and well-imaged are what best describe FH5. It is fairly natural, fairly balanced, and for most listeners, this kind of sound will be a real delight, especially as the level of detail FH5 has is much better than the 300USD flagships of a few years ago, competing with most 500USD flagships of today. This being said, a few other companies also made IEMs with those levels of detail, so in the comparison part of our review, it will be a real fight among those.
The soundstage of FH5 is its only weakness, if it can be named as such. Basically, the soundstage is pretty intimate, to the levels of either being in the same room as the singer, or in the first rows of a concert. This means that the width is rather restricted, thing which is connected to the treble extension rolling off after 10 kHz. This being said, the depth of the soundstage is rather good, and the excellent instrument separation and layering both make FH5 very interesting to listen to, and the sound doesn’t feel congested or mushed together, just intimate. This should be a delicacy for Jazz and room-music listeners, but won’t work very well with symphonic or music which is supposed to sound wide.
ADSR / PRaT
The ADSR and PRaT (Texturization) is natural to fast, and textures, along with micro-textures are rendered with agility and delicacy, even the micro-textures in the music of Mindless Self Indulgence being rather easy to distinguish and enjoy. This means that most guitars sound really vivid, impactful and playful. This texture speed is kept all across the midrange, so most instruments are really interesting and real to listen to through FH5, but this isn’t the case for the treble, where the textures are considerably smoother, so if you dislike having a harsher or more grainy approach, FH5 is totally likeable in the treble as well. With the bass, the textures are natural to slightly slow, so it comes off as natural, quick enough for most technical death metal to sound speedy and well-presented.
The portable usage is good.
The things you need to keep in mind are that FH5 is really really comfortable, it isolates well, and it is really easy to drive. It will pair lovely with any source, but the fact that it has such an excellent detail and clarity also means that you need a better source to give them life, they do not work well with a typical smartphone, and they will sound much much better from something dedicated, like iBasso DX200, Burson Play, or iFi xDSD.
The only downside to their portable usage is the hiss, which is present, and noticeable with sources that tend to have hiss, so you may need to keep this in mind when picking the source to pair with them.
Other than this, they are pretty much a dream for portability, and they also reach our golden standards in portability.
Now, this is going to be fun. Please try to follow and read our reviews on the other three IEMs as well. At this moment, there are 4 major contenders in this price range, which are FiiO FH5, iBasso IT04, Final Audio E5000, and Periodic Audio Be. All of those are incredibly good at what they do, and at the moment, they are the main fighters in the ~300USD arena.
FiiO FH5 vs iBasso IT04 – We had second thoughts about starting with this comparison, but at the end of the day, it is necessary to start with something that will keep our readers intrigued. Starting with the package, IT04 has a better carrying case, made out of thick metal. It is heavier than FiiO’s solution, but it is better in terms of how much it protects the IEMs from damage. IT04 comes with a balanced cable as well, but not exactly. Basically, they only come with a balanced cable, so there is just one cable included in the package, just like with FH5, but it has a plug adapter from 2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm Single ended. This makes them more versatile, but at the same time means that there is a plug connector in the middle of the cable. The cable of IT04 is braided, much more flexible than that of FH5, and it doesn’t have ear guides. The IEM shells are rather different, with IT04 being made of plastic, and being a tad larger than FH5, and although it has vent holes, if you cover those, you can get a bit of a driver flex with IT04, while this doesn’t seem to really happen with FH5. The isolation and comfort is comparable between the two, with FH5 sitting a tad better in the ears as it is smaller. Now, the large difference comes with the sound. IT04 has considerably less bass quantity, its midrange feels more forward than FH5, especially in a specific 1kHz area, and it has better treble extension, with a more natural treble. The detail levels of FH5 are a tad better than IT04, but it is hard to tell those two apart. One thing that is more noticeable is the texture levels, which are more expressed on FH5, especially in the midrange, where the midrange of iBasso IT04 feels smoother. The dynamics and impact are comparable, but IT04 has more impact in the treble, while FH5 has great impact all across its sound. The soundstage is quite different though, FH5 is rather intimate and personal, while IT04 is large, wide, energetic and vibrant. This made a lot of people consider FH5 to be midrange forward in comparison to IT04, but it isn’t the midrange response which is more forward, as much as it is the soundstage, which being more intimate on FH5, things feel much more closer physically. Now, we consider both to be excellent choices, and really, both make really strong entries in this price range. FH5 is a little cheaper, and if you prefer a bassier, warmer, more impactful, more textured, and more intimate sound, then FH5 is the choice for you, while if you prefer a larger soundstage size, a more extended treble response, more midrange smoothness in the textures, and a more mature overall sound, IT04 makes the better choice for you.
FiiO FH5 vs Final Audio E5000 – Those two sure are tricky, as the package and the whole concept is rather different. E5000 is a single dynamic driver IEM from Final Audio, who are known to also develop unique technologies for their products, while FiiO (as well as the iBasso IT04 above) are using drivers created by another company. E5000 comes packaged quite differently, in a smaller package, with less tips included in the package, as well as with an entirely different carrying case. While very novel, E5000’s rubber carrying case will not protect them as much as the hard carrying case of FH5 protects them. E5000 does not come with a Balanced cable either, and their cables are, like those of FH5, relying on MMCX connectors for their IEM shell to cable connection. Now, the size and shape of FH5 and E5000 are vastly different. E5000 is a bullet-shaped IEM, with a really tiny body, and with great comfort regardless whether you wear it straight-down or over-the-ear. The comfort of FH5 is just as good, as long as you wear it over-the-ear. The sound of the two is not all that different, both have really similar amounts of details, but E5000 is smoother in the treble, considerably thicker across the bass and midrange, and it sports a certain kind of life that most other IEMs don’t manage exhibit. FH5 though, has a pretty lively and dynamic sound as well. As for the differences between them, FH5 has a more intimate soundstage, with less width and with a more personal approach, and E5000 does not isolate very well, and E5000 leaks quite a lot compared to FH5. E5000 is also considerably harder to drive than FH5, and less sensitive to hiss, though in all honesty both require a high-quality source to sound their best. If you’re looking for a thick, warm, smooth, and open IEM, and if you don’t mind sonic leakage, E5000 is a great choice, while if you prefer a more balanced sound, with more sparkle in the treble, with slightly better imaging, and with more isolation, FiiO FH5 is a really sweet option at this moment.
FiiO FH5 vs Periodic Audio Be – Just like Final Audio E5000, Periodic Audio Be is a 1 Dynamic Driver IEM with a custom designed driver, made especially for this little IEM. Periodic Audio likes to create custom membranes for their drivers, using exotic materials, thing which allows them to have a unique sound, along with using the inherent properties of each element. When it comes to their package, FiiO FH5 is better equipped, with a larger selection of tips. Both IEMs come with effective carrying cases, and one could say that Periodic Audio Be’s case is golden (pun intended). Now, the IEMs themselves are rather different, FH5 being an over-the-ear IEM with a unique metallic build, while Be shares the same IEM shell as its brothers, it can be worn both over-the-ear and straight-down, and it is a barrel-type IEM, with no detachable cables. Both FH5 and Be have a vent in place to avoid driver flex, and both do a great job. The sonic signature is slightly different between the two, and although both are intended to be mildly V-shaped, the midrange coming forward for FH5 does change that, and Be is mostly a smooth, warm, friendly, organic, and natural performer, while FH5 tends to sound more balanced, but less organic, more textured, but less smooth. The treble extension is really similar, with maybe a bit more extension on Periodic Audio Be, but with FH5 being really close. The most major difference between them is that Be is more organic and warmer, with a larger soundstage and similar instrument separation, while FH5 is more natural, more balanced, with more texture emphasis and with a slightly better overall detail. If you’re looking for something really organic and large-sounding, Periodic Audio Be surely fits that bill well, while if you’re looking for something more personal and intimate, FiiO FH5 makes an excellent choice.
FiiO FH5 is rather sensitive to the source it is connected to, being a bit sensitive to hiss, as well as being rather sensitive to the resolution of the source. Most revealing IEMs are able to show the difference between a good and a less good source, and FH5 is no exception, as it really doesn’t work its best magic with something like a typical Xiaomi Mi Max 2, but it sings heaven when one adds a FiiO q5 to that Xiaomi Mi Max 2.
FiiO FH5 + FiiO Q5 – This is a really lovely combo, not only because of the really accessible price of both components, but also because of the sound. Q5 is a very capable and versatile DAC/AMP, and the same can be said about FH5, which is a really capable and versatile IEM, making the whole combo one that can work wonders with almost anything you can play through them. There’s not much hiss with this combo and FiiO made a great job at creating Q5 as a very detailed and clear DAC/AMP with a lot of textures, which plays really well with FiiO FH5.
FiiO FH5 + FiiO M7 – FiiO M7 is a great option if you’re in need of a great DAP, but you’re low on cash. Still with FiiO’s well-known quality under the hood, M7 does a great job at playing with FH5. M7 is very neutral, thing which works great with the balanced sound of FH5, and it also has a great detail level, especially for its price, along with its versatility, and its small form factor, making M7 a really intriguing option for those looking to power FH5 on a budget.
FiiO FH5 + FiiO X7mkii – FiiO X7mkii is the flagship from FiiO’s DAP line, and for a good reason. It has the software, the hardware, and the sound to support it as an amazing Flagship device. Starting with the hiss, there is none to speak of, with the default AMP module. Furthermore, if you want to make Fh5 sound thicker, you can always add a FiiO AM03B to the mix, which will make music thicker and more impactful. The abilities of X7mkii are vast and it is really versatile, being able to play music from its two microSD slots, to stream music from most streaming devices, and even being able to use multiple AMP modules, the pairing being a really sweet one.
Value and Conclusion
FiiO FH5 sells for about 260USD at the moment, making it one of the most affordable entries in the 300USD IEM range. Of course, with a sound like the one it has, it can even stand its ground against some of the 500USD IEMs out there, not to mention even more expensive flagships.
Starting with the build quality, FH5 is bullet-proof literally, being made of metal and sporting some high-end MMCX connectors on the IEM shells. They sport wax guards, and they also come bundled with a large number of tips, each selection having a unique sound tuning of their own.
The package also includes a high-end carrying case, along with a sport / soft carrying case. The only thing that is lacking from this package, at least compared to FiiO’s previous offerings, is a balanced cable, for balanced cable fans, but the cable included is good enough for this to not be a large issue, and we’re fairly sure you can also re-terminate it to balanced if you want to. If you rush enough, you will be able to catch one of the sales on Balanced cables from FiiO, at this moment, the balanced cable coming as a free add-on to FH5.
The sonic signature is most impressive, and something we probably need to emphasize more is the detail and clarity of FH5. Those have the detail to be priced at 300USD, and even more, having a really great imaging and instrument separation / layering. The signature is an unusual W-shaped signature, with the sub-bass and the bass being enhanced, the lower midrange being a bit recessed, the main midrange being enhanced compared to the lower midrange, and with the upper midrange being recessed once again, to come to an enhanced treble, which extends until about 10-12kHz. The treble texture is smooth and creamy, so it won’t offend anyone, while the midrange is very nicely textured and provides a nice juicy feeling for guitars and other instruments.
The only thing we would write off as a caution is that FH5 has an intimate and personal soundstage, so personal that you feel like you’re sitting in the same room as the singer while they perform, thing which works really well with certain music, like metal, but doesn’t work quite as well with symphonic, as it would be complicated to take an entire orchestra in the same room as you.
FH5 also stands its ground really well compared to its competitors, in this price range all of them making great entries, but each having its own unique sound it can proudly flaunt without you having to worry about their value, as all of them are great value.
At the end of our review, we’d like to note that if you’re looking for a really balanced sound, with a good imaging, really good layering, impressive soundstage depth, good dynamics and impact, with great detail and clarity, and with an excellent overall emotion, and an intimate staging, FiiO FH5 makes a really compelling entry, and it offers all of those at a really affordable price, 260USD being a really fair tag for the qualities FH5 provides.
You can purchase FiiO FH5 from www.amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/FiiO-FH5-Headphones-Earphones-Detachable/dp/B07DNYWDQH
Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!
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