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FiiO FA1 Balanced Armature HiFi Headphone Review

By Christopher Coke on June 05, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

FiiO FA1 Balanced Armature HiFi Headphone Review

Whether you’re a gamer or music lover, investing in a quality pair of headphones is a smart idea. Great audio is important everywhere, so spending a little extra on a headphone you can use wherever you need is far wiser than buying multiple sets for the different places you like to listen. Today we’re looking at the FiiO FA1 in-ear headphones, which might just be your all-in-one solution. Coming in at $99, they offer single balanced armatures, a swappable cable for easy bluetooth, and hi-fi audio, but do they do enough to stand out from the pack at this crowded price point? Let’s find out.

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Specifications

  • Current Price: $99.99
  • Headphone Type: In-Ear (over-ear hooks)
  • Driver Type: Single Balanced Armature: Knowles ED33357
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz
  • Impedance: 15 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 111dB
  • Maximum Input Power: 100mW
  • Plug Type: 120cm
  • Cable: Detachable MMCX
  • Single Earbud Weight: 4.5g
  • Included Accessories: Hardback carrying case, x3 pairs balanced ear tips, x3 pairs bass ear tips, cleaning brush

FiiO is no newcomer to the headphone business and if you’ve ever searched Amazon for a set of in-ears, you’ve probably come across their brand. Based in Guangzhou City, their goal is to raise the standard of what “Made in China” means, delivering Hi-Fi to the masses at reasonable prices with outstanding reliability. Based on their rise and reputation since their founding in 2007, it’s fair to say they’ve made a name for themselves for exactly these reasons. Before this review, what I knew of them was this: their prices were good and they came highly recommended.

The FiiO FA1s are an especially interesting headphone. They’re not your average set of earbuds for a lot of reasons but the most distinctive is their 3D printed housings. They look almost like precious stones and are easily the most beautiful in-ears I’ve ever seen (we were sent grey but they’re also available in a red/blue set). This modeling/printing process also means that the entire housing can be made from a single piece of plastic, adding to their durability.

The mold is also designed to fit into the natural curvature of your ear. As a stage musician, I was quite impressed to see this kind of design applied on a $99 IEM. It’s almost exactly what you’ll find on headphones that are multiple times the price and for good reason: once they’re fit, they stay in place until you take them out.  For normal movement or sitting down at your PC to stream, you’ll have more to worry about from your buddies or fans asking where you got the unique-looking headphone than their falling out. In the audiophile world, they fit right in but compared to normal consumer headphones, they definitely look unique.


You can see the balanced armature through the shell.

The other distinctive feature is that they feature single balanced armature drivers. Balanced armatures can be specially tuned to excel within tight frequency ranges, so you’ll often see them used in multi-driver headphones for their exceptionally detailed performance (they’re also used in hearing aids for their responsiveness and clarity). For the the FA1s, FiiO opted for a high-end Knowles driver but kept it in isolation to deliver a smooth sound that offers lots of detail without being too sharp or too bassy.

Coming to these headphones from an exercise headphone or gaming headset, you might find that they’re a bit light on the bass. FiiO has definitely opted to keep the low-end response tame while slightly tweaking the treble to illuminate the texture in the middle-highs and treble. The clearest and most consistent example of this tuning is in the cymbals. With these headphones, you can clearly hear how the drummer strikes each cymbal - is it a light tap, a slide with a brush, a slammed crash? You’ll be able to pick that out. As a guitar player, they also allow me to pick out some nuances in picking technique and how guitarists are modulating their notes and playing with dynamics.

Translating that into games and movies, this tuning brings out the tinkle of falling bullet shells and breaking glass. It’s a headphone that, while not completely neutral, allows you explore into analytical listening.  On the flip side, this type of character does make them a bit less cinematic. Bass is present, so you won’t miss out on the bass guitar or the impact of big explosions, but it won’t encompass what you’re hearing the same way a themed headset like the HyperX Cloud Alpha will or even the audiophile-grade Audeze Mobius.

All of that said, while these obviously aren’t meant to compete with something like Beats By Dre, with a few EQ tweaks, they can definitely bring the bass. I played around with EQ settings again before typing this review and bumping the low-end on tracks like Same Soul by PVRIS makes the FA1s sound like an entirely different headphone and an amazing one at that. Even with the bass tripled, the Knowles armatures keep it from stomping on the other frequencies and make these headphones a ton of fun.

The point is - don’t be afraid to play with an EQ. The stock tuning scratches one itch but these headphones are able to do so much more.

The other big feature FiiO brings to the table with the FA1s is the detachable cable. I love this feature and more consumer headphones need to take the hint. The included cable is remarkably good and is dual-wire wound to avoid tangling, but what’s the most common thing to break in wired headphones? The wire, of course, usually right where it connects to the jack. Since the FA1s use a standard MMCX, you can easily replace the cable and without replacing the entire headphone. This also frees you up to try different cables, which is another fun way to customize your headphones.

This also means that you can easily turn the FA1s into a bluetooth headset. The MMCX connection allows you to easily use the earbuds with any standard bluetooth cable or adapter. FiiO’s own cable retails for just over $30 and offers aptX, AAC, and SBC codecs for high quality wireless audio and an in-line remote with microphone for taking calls.

If you’d rather keep them wired, FiiO also includes a nice hard-plastic carrying case to keep the earbuds safe while traveling.

Final Thoughts

Between the three sites I write for, I review a lot of headphones; like, a lot, a lot. This is a world of diminishing returns, so when I look at a new set, I’m always paying attention to the level of quality you’re receiving for the money. The FiiO FA1s are simply outstanding for $99. The detailed sound signature and excellent physical design are well worth the cost of entry, even if I do wish the bass were tuned slightly higher out of the box. Their resilience to even major EQ tweaks without losing detail is impressive and makes these one of the most malleable headphones I’ve used to date.

If you’re using them at the PC, you’ll need a separate mic but the quality you’ll get in return more than makes up for it.

Pros

  • Unique 3D printed design and look
  • Relaxed sound with tons of detail
  • Very resilient to EQing without loss of detail
  • Detachable cable and MMCX allows for easy bluetooth
  • Included hard-back carrying case is very nice
  • Excellent price for the quality and external design

Cons

  • Some may find it a bit bass light

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

Christopher Coke / Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight