IEMs

REVIEW: FH7 – FiiO’s Fabulous Flagship

REVIEW: FH7 – FiiO’s Fabulous Flagship

Bass

You’d think with a substantially larger dynamic driver (13.6mm in the FH7 vs 10mm in the FH5) that the FH7 would be a bass monster. Well it is, in a way, but not in the way you’d think. The bass has actually been tuned down in quantity compared to the FH5, as a quick glance at the frequency graphs of both IEMs demonstrates. But what the graphs don’t tell you is how much more detailed, extended, and textured the bass has become. What the FH7 lacks in sheer scale, it more than compensates for in speed and resolve. 

Like the FH5, the FH7 won’t add bass where there is none in the track. When called for, the FH7 delivers bass that is tight, punchy and lightning-fast, with a natural decay that lingers just long enough for you to feel it. It won’t rattle your jaw, but it will tickle your ears, and for a more refined and less fatiguing listen, that’s just about perfect to my ears. 

If it’s chest-pounding bass you’re after, there are probably better IEMs out there for you. This is audiophile-grade bass that gives strings their weight and drums their texture without overpowering the mix in any way, but also not shying away from it. 

Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ is one of my go-to bass-laden albums. With some IEMs – especially those tuned with a steep V – the bass can become a bit too loose, but the FH7 has it tamed like a housecat. The steady bassline that comes in at the 20-second mark on the foot-tapping track ‘Doin’ It Right’ has just enough palpable weight to lay a solid foundation without taking anything away from the higher frequencies (which are actually the emphasis of the track).  

But don’t mistake this tight-fist control for meekness. Lorde’s ‘Royals’ lets you know in seconds if your IEMs can deliver a good dollop of bass when required, and the FH7 delivers with aplomb. 

All that said, the bass is very well balanced. It underpins the music, sets the pace, then gets out of the way. The gorgeous bass notes in the intro to Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘The Way I Am’ are full of rich, weighty texture, but as soon as the vocals begin, the bass takes a back seat, falling back respectfully into the mix. With hardly any mid bass bleed, the FH7 gives the midrange a clear, crisp stage on which to shine, and that is perhaps its most impressive quality.

Mids

This was one area where I really wanted the FH7 to improve over the FH5, and fortunately, I was not disappointed. Whereas the FH5 has an annoying upper midrange peak that could make female vocals a little forward and ultimately piercing, the FH7 pulls the mids back a few notches while adding a not-insignificant amount of additional detail. As a result, both male and female vocal are rendered beautifully, without any errant dips or peaks. 

Having said that, the FH7’s overall brighter signature also extends to the mids, and while vocals and instruments that fall into the midrange band are full of nuance, they can also sound a touch cold, depending on the recording. I don’t want to call them thin, because that’s not what I’m hearing, but the mids certainly aren’t as full bodied as they are with some warmer, more mid-centric IEMs like Meze’s Rai Penta, for example. This is less a case of weight and more a case of character – picture a ‘drier’ Brut Champagne, rather than a ‘wetter’ Rose Champagne. 

When I listen to Norah Jones sing ‘Come Away With Me’, I’m not getting the same buttery, smoky vocal presentation I’m used to, but rather a more neutral, airier, more intricate performance. 

Recently though I’ve been finding some (but not all) higher pitched female vocals aren’t sounding quite as smooth as I’d like them to. The problem is I’m not sure if this is an issue with any of the midrange drivers or the ultra-high BA drivers, though I suspect the latter. I mention it here because I’m only hearing this subtle ‘ghosting’ on a small sample of female vocals, of which the recordings are pristine and sound perfect with other gear (almost every track on Norah Jones’s ‘Come Away With Me’ is a case in point). It’s something that requires more attention, but nine times out of ten won’t be an issue for most listeners.        

Highs

Even if some of the treble drivers are indeed responsible for the vocal artefacts mentioned above, the FH7’s overall treble presentation is very much on point. FiiO clearly went to town with the treble on this IEM, making it immediately more extended and sparkling than the FH5’s slightly rolled treble. 

I’m normally quite treble sensitive, easily irritated by peaky highs, but the FH7’s brighter character doesn’t make them harsh in the least. If anything, the treble is among the smoothest I’ve heard in an IEM. So many IEMs shoot for extended treble in the hope of adding extra detail – and fail miserably. The FH7 just about pulls it off, perhaps not as well as a class-leading treble-centric IEM like the Andromeda, but close enough to make the price difference between the two academic.  

When listening to brighter recordings, like def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’, I often find myself turning the volume down to avoid some of the high hats and cymbal splashes, and as far as possible avoid the sibilance in the vocals. With the FH7 I find myself turning the volume up, so painless are the highs. The FH7 seems to have a firm grip on the highs to the point where they never overpower the mix, even though they might dominate the track. 

This is a good thing, especially if you like energy (and even some grit) in your electric guitars. Joe Satriani’s masterful ‘Always With Me, Always With You’ is expertly rendered here, reaching the highest highs without ever making me wince. Timbre is excellent too, with the guitars sounding full and realistic. Sting instruments are likewise a joy to listen to with the FH7’s, and Max Richter’s recomposed version of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter 1’ from ‘The Four Seasons’ is both engaging and utterly believable. The detail in the strings on that track is actually astonishing, as is the way the FH7 is able to balance the highs of the strings with the lows of the bass, and everything in-between.

I’m still undecided about giving the FH7’s treble full voice by using the green filter or, as I’m doing now, keeping it slightly in check with the red. I’m still leaning towards the latter, mostly because I’m generally a fan of warmer over brighter, and with a transparent source like the M11, the FH7’s need a bit of help not to tip the scales. Switching to a pure copper cable is also something I’ve considered doing, given copper’s reputation for a warmer sound balance, and I’ll report back here should that experiment prove successful.  

Imaging, stage and separation 

Whereas the FH5 is one of the most open sounding IEMs I’ve heard, the FH7 is even more so. It presents a natural, spacious stage, with ample ability to fool your brain into thinking some sounds are coming from way outside the space between your ears. It’s definitely not the widest stage I’ve heard, nor the deepest, but it won’t leave you wanting in either axis. 

More complex tracks, like the crescendo to Daft Punk’s ‘Giorgio by Moroder’, are deftly handled, not quite as well as some higher end IEMs known for their spacious separation and control, like 64Audio’s U12t, but at less than 25 per cent the cost, that’s not too surprising. The FH7 is far closer in its presentation and separation to the likes of Andromeda and Solaris, even though the far more expensive Campfires probably have the edge in overall balance and resolution, but again, given the gulf in price, the slight compromise is well worth it, and astounding to think how capable the FH7 is at its price point relative to these more expensive IEMs. 

Stereo imaging is always precise, notably using Pink Floyd’s supremely-mastered version of ‘Time’ from the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ as a reference. The ping, tick and chime of every clock is rendered precisely in its own space, and the nimble balance the FH7 displays across the frequency range lets you follow each clock as if you’re in the room with them. Anyone who knows this track also knows how it can trip up even some very good full-size headphones that cost more than the FH7, so to hear it performed so capably in an IEM is impressive to say the least.   

Skip to page 4 for our closing thoughts and verdict…

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