So today I had the opportunity to audition the FiiO FA7 (quad-BA IEM, $299) and compare them with the FiiO FH5 (quad-Hybrid IEM, $249), using the FiiO M9 digital audio player and a collection of a my favourite Redbook and high-res flac test tracks. Read on to find out which wins out in this tale of two FiiOs.
Build and fit
If you’ve owned or seen the FH5, you’ll feel right at home with the FA7. Same high-quality packaging, (mostly) same selection of excellent tips, same top-drawer cable (the FA7 arrived with both LC-3.5B single ended and LC-2.5B balanced cables, although I only used the balanced cable for this test), same meticulous attention to detail.
Unlike the FH5’s metal alloy shell, the FA7 is made from what looks like a single piece of extruded resin. If you’re going to use plastic in an IEM, this is the gold standard – seamless, soft, superb. I personally prefer the metallic finish of the FH5 but wouldn’t for a second feel short-changed by the FA7. Both these IEMs put $1000+ earpieces to shame with their build quality, and the overall package just exudes class.
From day one the FH5 has been the most comfortable pair of IEMs I’ve had the pleasure of wearing. That said, some of the tips I’ve used with other IEMs were either too small to fit on the wider nozzle of the FH5, or too shallow to make a proper seal with the FH5’s shallower-than-normal nozzle length. And without a proper seal, the FH5 falls flat. (hint: if your favourite tip doesn’t work with the FH5, try one size up).
With a thinner, longer nozzle, the FA7 was said to address some of the fit issues others were having with the FH5, and so this was the first thing I was eager to test for myself. The first tip I tried with the FA7 was the medium double-flange silicon tip FiiO now supplies as standard with the FH5 (mine didn’t come with any, so this was a first for me). Combined with the longer nozzle, the double flange tip was just too long for my smallish ears with the FA7.
Switching the double flange tip to the FH5, however, was love at first fit. Not only did it fit perfectly without wiggling, it sealed perfectly too. So if you’re struggling with a tip that fits both the FH5 and your ears, give the FiiO double flange a go. It’s also the best sounding tip I’ve heard with the FH5 to date, but more on that later.
Another favourite of mine, JVC’s Spiral Dot, is sometimes hit-and-miss seal-wise with the FH5 (I’ve been using the MS size Spirals and they don’t always pass the yawn test – losing seal with a wide yawn). With the FA7 and its deeper insertion, the Spiral Dot was perfectly seated at the first time of asking. Seal was good too, but having grown accustomed to the shallower insertion of the FH5, it took a little while to get used to the FA7’s deeper intrusion in my ear canal.
In my experience the thickness of the nozzle (or lack thereof in the FA7) makes a bigger difference. For example, swapping tips is a breeze with the FA7, they just slide on with minimal pressure. With the FH5 it’s a process – turn the tips inside out, squeeze them, stand on your head and face left, and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get them on without them popping right back off. The extra thickness of the FH5 also stretches most silicone tips and some foam tips so that the fit is quite a bit tighter with narrow ear canals. Makes it easier to seal sooner, but also easier to fall out if the tips don’t reach deep enough.
I tried a few other tips, on and off, with both IEMs, with differing degrees of comfort. Bottom line, for me, is this: it’s easier to find tips that both fit the FA7 and fit my ears, but the FH5 is the more comfortable IEM with tips that fit my ears well. At this point, there are two that make the cut every time: FiiO’s M double flange tips, and FiiO’s M bass tips. FiiO’s M balanced and vocal tips fit well too, but less well than the more ‘splayed’ bass tips. I’ve got M-size JVC Spiral Dots on order, which will hopefully mimic the fit of the M bass tips while giving me the superb Spiral dot sound.