FiiO FH5S Hybrid IEMs – Mid Centric Evolution
FiiO FH5s is an upgrade of the original FH5, and this time around it has two dynamic drivers, and two Balanced armatures. It is priced at 280 and naturally has to be compared to FiiO FH5, FiiO FD5, but also to IEMs like Unique Melody 3DT, Kinera Freya, and Mangrid Tea.
FiiO has a really long history now with producing both IEMs and DAPs, DACs and much more. They have grown so much over the years that you would never believe if I told you that I was there when they started and were selling the most affordable headphone amplifiers back in 2010″. I’ve also seen FiiO flourish and provide excellent warranty over the years, but with the state of our current world, it is best to purchase FiiO products from local dealers or Amazon, and expect all warranty to be fulfilled by them. This is because not only the company has grown, but their sales too, soi it is physically not feasible to cover such a high number of products, and distributing this task to local sellers helps a lot, and most of them will replace a defective product on spot.
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. I’d like to thank FiiO for providing the sample for this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it. The purpose of this review is to help those interested in FiiO FH5s find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
FiiO has increased not only the number of drivers in their FH5s compared to the original, but also the package contents, and the quality of the package.
We have a modular cable now, very similar if not the same as the one seen on FiiO FD5, with modular jacks. We also get a good selection of tips, with multiple signatures, although I liked the ones with the Bass type. We do get Bass, Balanced, Vocal and Foam eartips included with FH5s.
While taking the photos of the FH5s I did manage to lose one, although the tips were not lose or anything, so it was probably my own mistake and I rubbed it against my cloth or something.
FH5s also comes with a tool to engage / disengage the switches at the back, and it comes with a carrying case too, exactly like the one that came with FiiO FD5. Ain’t nothing wrong with repeating accessories as long as they are great, and it is keeping the price of a product as low as possible.
FiiO FH5s has many similarities to the original FH5, but also many differences, including the comfort. The original was not comfortable for everyone, thanks to bores that were a bit too wide and too short, so FiiO changed this and now FH5s has medium length and width bores. This means that the new FH5s is perfectly comfortable for pretty much everyone, and the cable also helps a lot. You will be able to use FH5s with a Balanced or a single ended source right out of the box, and you will also be able to enjoy them while running and jogging as they will stay put even during physical activities.
The IEM shell is not quite that similar to the original FH5 which was silvery and did not have those vents at the back like the new FH5s, which is now semi-open. The dynamic drivers are two, and different in size, with a 12mm Be coated driver, and one that is also Be plated, but 6mm in size. We have three switches that flavor the sound, but they do a modest job at changing the sound, basically flavoring rather than EQing or tuning it. We’re looking at + or – 3dB at most. The Balanced armatures are TWFK-30017. The cable is a 4-Core 120 wires Silver Plated Copper Cable.
The main reason FiiO went with two dynamic drivers was that they wanted to cover both the bass and the midrange with a dynamic driver, and this works perfectly, making FH5s really coherent all-around, and while dynamic drivers can keep the mids and the bass, BAs are good for treble, although as we will explore in today’s review, the BAs for the treble can run a bit hot.
FiiO quotes 8 possible configurations from the three switches, but you can further tune that out with tip changes, and FH5s is modestly sensitive to tip rolling, changing their signature a bit with different tips. All in all, the isolation is also ok, not great, since it is a semi-open IEM, but ok for most activities and for medium listening volumes. FH5s also has the advantage of not having such a high leakage for a semi-open design, but it does leak a bit more than full closed IEMs. I couldn’t feel any driver flex, and FiiO did a good job at venting the drivers. Cable connectors are super high quality, and there is an MMCX remover tool included with FH5s.
One important aspect of FiiO FH5s is that it is a big harder to drive than most other FiiO IEMs, as it has a moderate impedance of 40 OHMs and a SPL of 106dB. This made me push the levels quite a bit with it, and I mainly used them with FiiO M11 PRO, Lotoo Paw 6000, iBasso DX300 and other high-quality DAPs.
You can easily drive FiiO FH5s from a modest DAC/AMP, like IKKO Zerda, but they are not driveable from low power DAC/AMPs or Bluetooth Receivers like HIDIZS H2. With Lotoo Paw 6000, I am around 50-60 volume on high gain, on single ended. The IEM shells are made of metal, but ergonomic and really well fitted to my ears.
The sound of FH5s was taken mainly with Lotoo Paw 6000 driving them, listening to a varied collection of lossless files, from Rock, Metal, EDM, Jazz and other music styles. I have also did many listening tests, in multiple days. The impressions were taken with all of the knobs at the back engaged, but also tested them disengaged. Switching all the switches to on provides a more energetic, engaging sound, with more dynamics and better overall impact. Things become a bit more v-Shaped, but also aggressive.
FiiO FH5s is generally a bit mid-centric, detailed and clean. The bass is always a bit higher than neutral, the midrange is always presented forward, with a more intimate soundstage, and a sparkly treble.
The bass is deep and rounded, and the rumbly / deep type. FH5s does have a good amount of substance to each musical note, and a good amount of low extension, down to the lowest notes. There is no “:P” sound emphasis, so FH5s does not have an upper bass uplift, rather most of the energy being in the sub and lower bass. The bass is generally natural in speed, not extra slow nor extra quick. This works really well for EDM, Electronic, Rock, Metal and Classical music. It does not bode as well with technical death metal or speed addicts, but it is quick enough for all Techno / Technocore music. It is truly a sound-shattering experience with music that calls for it, and even lighter pop is presented with a lot of sub-lows and substance. Music is never thin or lacking in body, FH5s being thick at times, but mostly natural.
The midrange is actually presented forward, with a good, close to the listener way of conveying vocals. The voices are always natural, both male and female, and every instrument has a good substance and a very natural presentation. The timbre of FH5s is slightly thick, but also slightly emphasized in the upper midrange, resulting in a clearer than typical presentation. It also has excellent detail retrieval, along with a good instrument separation. This means that you hear everything very clearly, but close to you, and very forward, brooding on slightly aggressive. For Rap, Pop, EDM, Rock, Metal and even Punk, FH5s is perfect. It is not ideal for Orchestra and Symphonic music given the more intimate soundstage, but if you sometimes feel like music is too distant, then FH5s is really made for you, as it never sounds distant or lost away, everything being very easy to describe and tangible within the listener’s reach.
The treble is actually the engaging / sparkly type, pretty close to the treble of FD5. I love the treble’s energy and clarity, but I have to acknowledge it can be a touch hot at times, especially in the upper treble, especially with poorly recorded music, and music that tends to be aggressive. Some of my test tracks show that well, especially Eskimo Callboy – California girls, but tracks that are known to be natural, do not present any kind of harshness or sibilance, nor a fatiguing upper midrnage / lower treble. Mori Calliope Songs show some emphasis in the treble that turns better for the detail, but can be a tad strong if having the treble switch turned on, so I recommend turning it off. You could argue that FH5s is a bit aggressive because of this as well.
The upper treble / air in the music is presented in a limited manner. Most of the high end energy stops above 9kHz. FH5s is never harsh, nor sibilant, and that lower treble / upper midrange aggressiveness can also be alleviated by using foam tips.
Lately, I’ve been more into skipping the pairings part of the review, and switching it up with more comparisons, so today we have more comparisons than ever. We start with FiiO’s own FH5 and FD5, but we also dig a bit deeper, comparing the FH5s to Unique Melody 3D Terminator, Kinera Freya and Mangrid Tea. There are so many other IEMs in this price range that it would be almost impossible to compare the FH5S to everything there is, but if you need more advice, I am always around to help.
To drive the FH5S I do recommend something with good driving power, as the lower than usual SPL opf 106dB and the somewhat higher than usual impedance of 40 OHM will provide the best experience with higher end DAPs / DACs. I recommend using at least a Shanling M2X, FiiO M11 PRO, iBasso DX160, or a DAC/AMP like FiiO Q5s.
FiiO FH5s vs Unique Melody 3DT (280 USD vs 400 USD) – Then, there’s also the new 3DT from Unique Melody. This is like a gold dust IEM, made to be quite intriguing, with three dynamic drivers. The comfort is actually better on FH5s, with a better default cable, that is modular. The sound has a far wider soundstage on 3DT, with more space, depth, and a more holographic feeling to music. The tonal balance is brighter on 3DT, with less bass, less body to music, a thinner, more snappy presentation. FH5s has more substance, more bass, more warmth and it is thicker. 3DT is better when you want space and stage, and if yu don’t mind a colder sound. 3DT has more sub-bass quantity, especially since the bass and the mids are pushed back, while FH5s focuses more on the bass and the midrange. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, FH5s still has a beautiful sub-bass, with lots of substance there, but it also has some emphasis on the mid bass, which gives it a thicker overall presentation, where 3DT is simply emphasized in the sub-bass only.
FiiO FH5s vs FiiO FH5 (280 USD vs 300 USD) – The new versus the original. I just had the chance to re-listen to the original, with the occasion of making this full written review, and digging it up reminded me how much perspective matters when writing a review. I liked the original quite a bit, but at that moment my entire collection was less than half of what it is today, with far less flagships. This meant that at that point I did not notice the inherent flaws of the FH5, like the bore tubes being quite short, and the shallow fit not being for everyone. It worked alright for me, but the original FH5 was not the most comfortable IEM for all folks, and the sound was quite a bit more midcentric, with a bit more roll-off in the sub-bass and treble FH5s is far better built, more comfortable, with a far better cable. The tuning is much more substantial now, but in a good way, with less bass and more sub-bass, more mature, more detailed and more dynamic. FH5s is like a pure evolution going with the same overall tonal balance. I like the treble of FH5s more, it has more energy and reveals details better, but is also far less forgiving, making the new FH5s harder on older records. If you ever heard or have the original FH5 and need something that is technically better, all while having a similar signature, the new FH5s is the best I can recommend. The soundstage of FH5s is better than it was on FH5, which had an intimate / narrow stage. The new FH5s manages to have good layering, and a holographic feeling to it, especially the background instruments being presented nicely separated from the foreground, while the original was just intimate and spatially more limitative.
FiiO FH5s vs Kinera Freya (280 USD vs 250 USD) – It is interesting to see how close the Freya is in pricing to FiiO FH5s. Freya is an IEM that some people heavily criticised for being a bit too undetailed for the price, while others, especially older owners, liked a lot for its musical yet warm presentation. I found Freya to lack the engagement I typically need and to be too relaxing for my tastes, unless listened really loud, when it becomes more aggressive and V-Shaped. Freya is generally open, but indeed the detail is not as good as FH5s, which is far more detailed, better focused, especially in the midrange, with more overall clarity and punch, more dynamics. Freya is more relaxed and smoother, with less treble extension and less sub-bass extension. Freya is aesthetically more evolved, but FH5s is the technically better performing IEM.
FiiO FH5s vs FiiO FD5 (280 USD vs 250 USD) – This is pretty much the big question today, how does the FH5s compare to FD5. Those two are both hot models made by FiiO, released recently, and pretty close in pricing, but with tons of stuff in common. The comfort and build is the same for me, I think that the biggest difference is in overall sound. FD5 is more V-Shaped, more traditional in tuning, and a bit more coherent. With FH5s, I found the coherency to be almost perfect though, so I wouldn’t get FD5 in hopes that it is far more coherent than FH5s, FiiO got that nailed almost perfectly. On the other hand, the overall sound is more aggressive in the midrange, with more vocal presence, and more warmth on FH5s. FD5 is always a bit thinner, a bit more distant, with more space in the music, while FH5s is one of those IEMs that is really holographic, but does not have the most depth. The biggest difference by far is that FH5s is mid-centric with less emphasis on the sub-lows, and more on the bass and the upper midrange. FD5 is more focused on the sub-lows, its treble peak is higher in the treble, and the midrange is pushed a bit away from the listener. Both are great, I prefer FD5 for orchestral, EDM and metal, while FH5s is more magical for country, rock, pop, jazz and most classical.
FiiO FH5s vs Mangrid Tea (280 USD vs 300 USD) – This is going to be a hard one, because the midrange of the Tea is actually a bit better than that of FH5 in term of how natural the tuning is. FH5s has a more detailed midrange though, with better overall bass, thicker bass, and more impact. The comfort is slightly better on FH5s and the modular plugs on the cable are super cool too. On the other hand, FH5s is also capable of becoming more aggressive, but can’t become quite as smooth and relaxing as the Tea, so the baseline is to go for FH5s if you prefer a more punchy, more dynamic sound with better overall detail, and go for the Mangrid Tea if you want something that’s more relaxing and easier on the ears.
Value and Conclusion
Regardless of whether you were expecting a small increase in quality, or the actual result of today’s review, FH5s manages to have one of the best price / performance ratios I’ve seen and experienced, so it is still worthy as a contender to the best IEM out there in this price range. At least, judging by the overall success of the FD5 and the original FH5, you’ll have a hard time not upgrading to FH5s, if you still have the original. On the other hand, if you already have a pretty large collection, and if you needed a midrange-centric IEM with excellent extension in both the bass and the treble, FH5S will be there to improve that collection.
FiiO included a fancy package with their FH5S, and it is, as far as I know, the most affordable IEM with a cable that is modular, and that has both a 4.4mm and a 2.5mm Balanced jacks, but also a 3.5mm Single Ended Jack. There is also a wide selection of tips, and a 3-way switch at the back, for you to fully flavor the sound and performance of FH5s to your liking.
Speaking of that performance, besides the excellent comfort and wearing, FH5S has a sound that is more detailed than the original, with better staging and more instrument separation, although walking the same overall mid-centric signature. I will be adding the FH5S to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, replacing the original there, as the new one pretty much does everything the original did, but with better comfort, better sound, and is a better deal currently.
At the end of today’s review, if you’re looking for a detailed, crisp and fun IEM, with excellent vocal presentation, and an addictive and engaging signature, the FH5s will be happy to help, and will make a partner in crime for a long time.
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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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