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Hands-on with the FiiO FH5s In-ear Monitors
Hands-on with the FiiO FH5s In-ear Monitors IBTimes / Jeff Li

In the last few years we've seen FiiO continuously innovate and develop new designs, experiment with different materials and try out new manufacturing processes, which is what you want to see in a market as competitive as the headphone industry.

The latest from FiiO's now extensive line of In-ear Monitor (IEM) is the FH5s, where the 'H' in its name stands for 'hybrid', meaning it has a mixed array of dynamic and balanced armature drivers. While it does not bring any game-changing technology, it's more an incremental refinement of the original FH5, a maturing of existing designs.

So how does FiiO's latest play out in real life? After spending a considerable amount of time testing it, let's dive into what we found out.


Handsome two-tone metal build

It could be a guy thing, but I'm quite convinced that the FH5s aesthetics is a heart winner. At least in our office which consists mostly of men in their 20-30's, everyone was impressed with how the FH5s looked from the get-go. Whether it's inspired by the Iron Man suit, or the gills of a mechatronic shark, the tri-slit vents on the face of the FH5s has all the big boys going.

The best thing about this is that though the two-tone polished brass and anodized black aluminum alloy combo looks cool, it is not overly flashy. The look is quiet and low-key, yet at the same time makes you want to show it off. These are earphones with which you can afford to be a little geeky with while not risking your professional appearance.


Semi-open back design

What's worth geeking out even more is that the three vents are not just for show, but actually serve a process. The FH5s has a semi-open design, which in terms of the listening experience, opens up the soundstage, and doesn't cause any build up of uncomfortable pressure in the ear canals.

Since it is technically open, if the volume is high enough, the music though barely audible, can be heard by those standing nearby. But that's the price that one needs to pay for open-back designed headphones.


Wide and realistic soundstage

The soundstage of the FH5s I have to say is very impressive, with great instrument separation, which plays extremely well with multi-instrument music with good production. Listening to Jamiroquai's classic 'Traveling Without Moving' album in FLAC, I could hear the separation even of the percussion instruments, with the claves sounding like they are being played right behind me.

By using the included interchangeable 4.4 mm balanced connector together with the FiiO M11 Pro's balanced output, I was able to get an even cleaner and clearly spaced out sound from the FH5s. Which is incredible considering these are sub-$250 earphones.


Hybrid Dual Dynamic Drivers, Dual Balanced Armatures

Probably the greatest differentiating point between the first generation of FH5 and the new iteration FH5s is the pair of dynamic drivers instead of the single dynamic drivers in the original. The extra set of 6 mm beryllium-plated dynamic mid frequency driver adds a warmth to its sound in an organic way. The effect of adding this to the wide soundstage results in one of the fullest, and very realistic listening experience I've had on an in-ear monitor.

The added midrange driver also adds noticeable attack to bass sounds, and if you're someone who enjoys your bass guitar lines, the FH5s will get you going through your music collection, listening and enjoying all your favorite bass lines all over again.


Maturing hardware quality

As mentioned above, I feel FH5s is a good demonstration of FiiO's iterative maturing of their products, and the hardware illustrates this point exactly. The MMCX plug on the previous FiiO earphones that I've tried out all basically 'slide' into the port, but the FH5s is the first FiiO earphone where there is a satisfying 'click' every time the MMCX ports are connected. I don't know if it's a change of supplier or a change of spec on FiiO's side, but the improvement in its manufacturing quality can be clearly seen, or in this case - heard. It gives confidence to me as a user that the quality of FiiO products are not only good, but they are getting better.


Generous care package - no extra purchase of cables needed

One move from FiiO that is a big win for customers but probably upsetting some competition, is their generous care package that comes with the headphones.

Since the release of FiiO LC-RE cable system that has interchangeable jacks, FiiO's newly released headphones like the EM5, FD5 and now the FH5s have all included this cable system. This means, for all these earphones (and possibly all future FiiO releases) the buyer would never need to fork out additional cash to purchase balanced cables anymore - which at times can cost as much as headphones do. Included in the package are interchangeable jacks that allow you to connect to 4.4 mm or 2.5 mm balanced outputs.

Coming standard with the package is also a large array of silicone tips with varying softness that gives the sound signature a subtle tweak in the bass or treble. There are also three sets of memory foam tips, a pair of bi-flanged tips, and three sets of black, balanced tips. Also included are a cleaning tool, and a faux leather carrying case. It's not hard to see how much FiiO is trying to impress with their care package, they really ensure that buyers get the best set up from the getgo.


Final Verdict

It's no secret that the growing chi-fi audio market have been challenging the notion that audiophile worthy gear means making a significant investment dollar-wise. For quite some time the audiophile community have scoffed at the attempts, but what can be seen now is that not only are the hardware improving, these new audio makers expertise in tuning and perfecting these products are also maturing.

The FiiO FH5s for me is a earphone that exemplifies the the chi-fi movement, for a sub-$250 earphone, it's amazing how much high quality sound I was able to get out of a beautifully crafted in-ear monitor.


If I'm after some open-backed listening experience on my next business trip, the FH5s is what I would be taking with me. The FiiO FH5s is awarded with IBT's Recommended Badge as a business traveler's headphone.

Sam is a production engineer turned tech writer who specializes in seeking out gadgets that enhances productivity while still looking sharp. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.