Fit for a king
Cable gripes aside, once you actually see, hold, touch and feel the Rai Penta in your hand, all other thoughts are banished. These really are the most beautifully made IEMs I’ve seen, bar none. They feel more like polished gems in the hand, anodised as they are in a deep blue hue with a slight glimmer, looking every bit the part as precious metal ornaments.
The earpieces are surprisingly smaller than I expected, but it’s this lack of bulk that also makes them so incredibly comfortable. Until now I’ve been raving about the comfort of FiiO’s smoothly polished metal IEMs, and considered the FH7 to be the most comfortable IEM I’d worn. Not anymore; the Penta quite easily takes the comfort crown, and not by a small distance.
The ultra-shallow nozzle barely enters the ear canal, relying on the size and width of the eartip to provide a proper seal. This is perhaps the only Achilles’ Heel for many, because much like the FiiO FH7 and FH5 before it, a shallow fit isn’t ideal for everyone. Personally, the Penta fit my ears like a glove, and the seal, while important, is not nearly as important as it is for the two FiiOs in terms of its effect on the sound.
Both the stock cable and upgrade cables (I only opened the 2.5mm version, assuming the 4.4mm cable is the same) are made of a braided and sheathed material that’s light, flexible, tangle free and mostly free of microphonics. The audio connectors are made with rhodium composite for extra rigidity, and the mmcx connectors are gold-plated and perfectly angled.
Unlike the anodized earpieces, the nozzles are a matte stainless steel finish that looks like it can take serious abuse without any problems. Each nozzle is indented to prevent the eartip from slipping off during use, a nice touch that’s missing from some other, more expensive IEMs I’ve used before.
Surprisingly the three rather large sound bored on the nozzles are exposed and unprotected, and despite the inclusion of a cleaning tool, I think it’s just asking for trouble. That said, tips slide on easily, and longer tips with smaller openings should at least partly protect against errant wax deposits and other debris clogging up your precious Pentas. If, like me, your go-to tips are wide-bore JVC Spiral Dots, I suggest you exercise maximum caution and clean, clean, clean after every listen.
I said at the start that the sound of the Pentas was secondary to its build and fit, and I was only half joking. So impressive is the design that you’re almost willing to forgive some flaws in the sound.
Luckily you won’t have to be too forgiving, because the Rai Penta are a damn fine sounding pair of IEMs by any measure. They’re not immediately impressive – as in, you’re not going to put them on and say “wow, these are incredible!” – unless you’re switching from EarPods or some cheap Chi-Fi wannabes.
It won’t come as any surprise, then, to hear me describe the sound profile as ‘comfortable’. It’s about as laid back and easy-going as I’ve heard in a pair of IEMs, but done in a way that still manages to engage you with the music. Veiled the Penta is not; the sound is finely balanced, fairly even and very natural, but also very safe.
With four custom-made balanced armature drivers for the mids, highs and super highs, and a 10mm dynamic driver for the lows, the Penta manages to be highly resolving and solid at the same time. They’re easy to drive, with an impedance of 20 ohms preventing unwanted hiss from more powerful DAPs, and also quite sensitive at 110dB SPL/1mW. There’s some interesting technology built-in to the shells, most notably a pressure equalisation system that acts like a super vent to smooth out the response of the compactly-packed drivers (though not to be mistaken for ear de-pressurisation systems like Apex and ADEL).
Other than one or two peaks (mostly in the upper midrange), you won’t find anything jarring about the Penta. In fact, you could play almost any genre and the Penta will turn it into ever-so-pleasant background music. It’s a laid back, luxurious listen in stark contrast to the V-shaped tunings so popular in today’s mainstream.
To get a better appreciation of what the Penta can do, I fed it with a selection of my go-to test tracks, but also broadened it out to include new material, so pleasant – and sometimes peculiar – was the listen. I have a massive digital library of more than 4,000 lossless albums, and having the Penta around the house gave me the chance to discover numerous tracks I was hearing for the first time.
All testing was done after a 50-hour burn-in period (mandatory for most dynamic driver and hybrid IEMs), using a FiiO M11 DAP, Spiral Dot tips and the 2.5mm balanced upgrade cable – having confirmed for myself how much better the Rai sounded balanced. The song list included, but wasn’t limited to, the likes of Lana Del Rey, Brandi Carlile, Beyries, Jethro Tull, Morcheeba, Feist, Sarah Blasko, Heart, Def Leppard, Foo Fighters and Tool.
Jump to Page 3 for more sound impressions…