Fiio is one of those brands that you just need to watch. When I first discovered them several years ago, it was through their line of portable amplifiers. Since that time, the brand has been in a constant state of evolution, raising the bar on its products — which include amps, DACs, in-ear monitors, and more — to become an industry leader in the import HiFi space. Over the last two years, I’ve been able to review two of its mainstream earphones with the FA1 and FH1s, each offering a great value for their relatively modest cost.
Today, we’re taking things up a notch with Fiio’s flagship dynamic driver IEM, the FD5. Each of the previous earphones I’ve tested from them has used balanced armatures, but the FD5 uses a single beryllium-coated dynamic driver and a semi-open back design and promises powerful bass and expressive dynamics for a realistic, detailed sound. It has flagship status in more ways than driver design, but is it worth the $299 asking price?
- Current Price: $299 (Amazon)
- Key Features
- 12mm Flagship Dynamic driver: N52 magnet, 1.5 Tesla magnetic flux
- Beryllium-coated DLC Diaphragm: low distortion, excellent dynamics
- Front Acoustic Prism: Smaller phase mismatches, more accurate imaging
- Rear Volcanic Field System: enhances the diffusion of low frequencies, reduces standing waves
- Semi-Open Acoustic Design: balanced, beautiful, unfatiguing sound
- Timeless Industrial Design: stylish faceplate, remarkable craftsmanship,
- Interchangeable Sound Tube: comfortable and exceptional sound
- Interchangeable audio jack: solid stainless steel
- Headphone Type: IEM
- Frequency Response: 10Hz - 40kHz
- Drivers: 12mm Beryllium-coated Diamond-like Carbon (DLC) Dynamic Driver
- Impedance: 32 Ohms @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 109db @ 1kHz
- Max Input Power: 100 mW
- Cable Connectors: 8 Strands, Monocrystalline Silver-Plated Copper Cable
- Cable Length: 120cm
- Unit Weight: About 11g
- Accessories Included:
- HB% Earphone Carrying Case
- Earphone Cable
- Final MMCX Assist Tool
- Interchangeable Audio Jacks: 3.5mm single-ended, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced
- Balanced Ear Tips (S, M, L)
- Vocal Ear Tips (S, M, L)
- Foam Ear Tips (4)
- Triple Flange Tips (S, L)
- Cleaning Brush
Introduction, What’s In the Box, and First Impressions
Let’s get this out of the way first, because looking at these pictures, it strikes me all over again: The Fiio FD5 is a beautiful earphone. Fiio has knocked it out of the park with it’s polished aluminum design. The exterior is a traditional circle split in the center with four mirror-finished contours splitting the open-back grille. When attached to the stock cable, which is an 8-strand silver-plate copper, it looks fancy: like jewelry for audiophiles. Looks aren’t the end-all be-all for audio products (or even in the top three for consideration), but when you’re paying $299 for a set of earphones being marketed as a flagship, you expect a certain amount of swagger and this definitely has it.
Moving onto the earphones themselves, they use a single 12mm beryllium-coated dynamic driver. If you’re not already deep in the audio space, that probably sounds like Greek, so here’s what you need to know. For IEMs, this is a large driver capable of moving a lot of air. Dynamic drivers are already known for their more powerful bass but the larger size allows the FD5 to deliver exceptional bunch and sub-bass texture. Beryllium coating, on the other hand, coats the driver in a thin layer of metal, increasing its stiffness and rigidity, adding both speed and clarity to the sound. Beryllium-coating and pure Beryllium drivers aren’t rare in the HiFi world, but they’re not common in mainstream headphones due to the hazards the element presents in mining and manufacturing. Likewise, all Beryllium drivers aren’t created equal. It can just as much be a marketing point as anything else, but here Fiio has used it well to deliver an excellent sound experience that is tight, fast, and detailed.
The FD5 has a few other neat tricks up its sleeve, which brings us to what’s in the box. The FD5 doesn’t come cheap, but one of the highlights of this release is its versatility. The cable end is detachable, allowing you to swap between a standard 3.5mm single-ended output, as well as 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs. While many of us will be content with the standard 3.5mm output, if you’re shopping for a flagship earphone, there’s a good chance you might also have a good DAC/amp to plug it into, so it’s good to see out of the box compatibility.
Typically, included cables are one or the other and this configuration strikes me as particularly innovative in how it’s applied. This isn’t a basic adapter. Instead, you the silver casing on the end of the cable unscrews and each termination literally plugs-in to a small jack. The casing then secures it in place to protect it from damage and mask that the cable was ever modular in the first place. It’s an elegant solution that also saves the user having to spend more on an alternate cable.
Also included in the box is: a wide assortment of alternative tips, a clearing brush and MMCX removal tool (the earphones are detachable with MMCX connections), a very nice leather case, and a set of alternate, narrow-bore nozzles. Like the cable-ends, the nozzles simply unscrew from the earphones and allow the alternate to be screwed in. Since the alternates are narrow-bore, they only work with the triple-flange tips, which I always find terribly uncomfortable, so I stuck with the preinstalled ones.
Fit and Comfort
When it comes to fit and comfort, the FD5s are very good. I wasn’t sure I would like them at first based on the circular faceplate; I often find this uncomfortable over time. These aren’t like the original Apple headphones (styled as you see here), however, and are thicker than they first appear with rounded edges for comfort. The nozzles are also fairly long and angled to position the tips right at the ear canal.
This is design important because the all-metal design makes each earbud heavier, so a secure fit is all the more important to keep them from falling out of your ear. Here, the FD5s are secured in the canal with a properly-sized ear tip and supported by the outer ear. The result of this design is an earphone I was able to wear comfortably for hours at a time.
Sound and Listening Impressions
When it comes to sound, the FD5s surprised me. These headphones have punch. Compared to any of the balanced armature IEMs I’ve used personally, and even those that also have single dynamic drivers, these have the most solid low-end of the bunch. There are obviously more IEMs out there than any one person could test, but over the last several years or reviewing earphones, these are the hands down winners for bass performance.
That said, I suspect some users may find themselves a bit more torn on the tuning of the FD5s. Fiio has embraced the Harman Target Curve, which is an EQ that approximates what mainstream listeners are looking for at a point in time. It’s a way to ensure broad appeal but doesn’t always fall in line with more traditional “audiophile tunings” that lean more into the high end. Still, it’s doesn’t follow exactly, and the changes we see here do draw out those upper frequencies.
For this review, I tested the FD5s with a mix of electronic music (chillstep) and post-hardcore using Spotify Premium’s highest streaming quality (320kbs). Listening to laid back music like Wayr’s “Silent Thinking” the bass was a solid thrum interrupted by punchy kick drums. In tracks like this, the bass is literally the backbone of the listening experience but there needs to be room for the melody to breathe and ring out clearly. The performance was excellent, only occasionally pushing a bit too far into the middle-bass region. For harder music, like I The Mighty’s “The Lying Lies of Miss Erray,” the kick drums slam with and accentuate the weaving bass line. There is nothing fast or unpleasantly resonant about the bass performance to my ear.
It’s pretty common for dynamic drivers to offer solid bass performance but that often comes at the expense of other parts of the frequency range, but the detail offered here is excellent. Returning to “Miss Erray,” it is a song of many layers and moving parts. On lesser headphones, it can often turn into a cacophony. Here, the layering is distinct, so you can hear each part clearly. For the first time ever, I could hear an acoustic guitar in this song — not even through the notes it was playing but the sound of the pick scraping the strings as he chopped away at the rhythm. Mid-tones aren’t as forward as some I’ve heard, but they’re also not sharp or grating, even when guitars are overdriven to cut. As a detail nut, I absolutely love how much you can discern with these earphones. The resolution (level of detail you can hear) is excellent.
The semi-open back design also works very well here, though the soundstage isn’t as wide as a good pair of headphones. Still, the sense of space is perceptible thanks to the open grilles on the back of each IEM. The open backs also give the high end a greater sense of air. I tried covering them and the upper frequencies immediately sound muffled, so it’s clear that they’re making a meaningful impact on the overall sound. Likewise, Fiio has tuned the FD5s to draw out that treble detail, allowing the texture of cymbals and the airy oscillations of the pads in worship music to resonate.
So far, I haven’t talked about gaming, but as you might imagine, these will work perfectly well for games too. The detail and positionality are excellent and compared to most IEMs, the greater sense of space and depth is a positive for immersion. The bass is also much better than hybrid or BA earphones for that sense of slam and impact required to really “feel” action games and shooters. That said, it’s clear that gamers aren’t the primary audience here, so good gaming performance is an added bonus to an earphone that’s really designed to make music sound great.
The Fiio FD5 is an excellent IEM. Given the flagship status on Fiio’s website, I expected as much, and, to be frank, at this price you expect a great earphone. I was very impressed at the bass performance, but that isn’t enough to make a headphone great on its own. What elevates the FD5 to flagship status isn’t the all-metal shells or swappable cable ends — though, those are certainly nice features — it's a sound that is both powerful and detailed, airy and open. Would it surprise you to hear that even though these aren’t designed for gaming, they’re great for that too? It shouldn’t, because it happens that many of the qualities that make a good gaming headphone also make a good audiophile headphone. So, whether you’re an audio enthusiast looking for a headphone with enough punch and slam to make listening fun again or a mixed-purpose user who wants a versatile all-arounder they can use for music one minute and a match of Valorant the next, this is a solid buy.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.