Through the years, we watched as fledgling company FiiO grow from seed to sprout to splendour. Today we look at their finest earphones, the FH7, another touchstone in their meteoric rise as one of the go-to brands in portable audio.
I grew up on a steady diet of rice, ramen, and kung fu movies. Like any good Jacky Chan flick, the protagonist has to go through increasingly arduous tasks and opponents before saving the village/getting the girl/winning battle of the bands. The payoff is meeting the final boss and delivering sweet, eternal justice via the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
Without exaggerating, FiiO are the wunderkinds of portable Hi-Fi. Entering the in-ear monitor (IEM) market via rehashed Dunu earphones in 2015 (check out my ancient review), they’ve gone from strength to strength, perfecting the craft of manufacturing their own IEMs to great response. The FH5 remains my benchmark for $300 IEMs until today.
- »Exemplary packaging and accessories
- »Eye-catching design
- »Excellent build quality
- »Comfortable fit
- »High quality stock cable
- »Switchable filters add flexibility
- »Neutral, coherent all-rounder signature
- »Brilliant bass tuning
- »Energetic and detailed mids and treble
- »Large soundstage with good imaging
- »Shells on the larger side, might affect fit
- »Subpar isolation
- »Grainy and emotionally distant mids
- »The odd sibilance
- »Only minor improvements over FH5
The Game of Deaf
FiiO were basically throwing their henchmen IEMs at me before the ultimate showdown. In what is my sixth FiiO in-ear review, the mighty FH7 awaits at the top of the mountain. Positioned a tier above FH5, FiiO’s fascinating, flamboyant flagship is a hybrid monitor combining 4 Knowles balanced armatures (BAs) and a delicious-sounding 13.6mm beryllium-coated dynamic driver (DD).
Not content with having the most drivers in a FiiO IEM to date, the FH7 has other tricks up its sleeve. New to FiiO are changeable sound filters, to alter the sound signature when the mood hits. The S.Turbo sound tubes make a return, acoustically-tuned to coax more performance out of the DD. FiiO says they were inspired by turbine designs, but I say it looks like the snail from Turbo.
Full Metal Racket
The housing boasts a full metal shell, dubbed the TriShell, a rigid 3-point structure that reduces resonance and distortion. Add to that an all-new complex crossover design, improved stock cable, Hi-Res Audio certification, and you can see why the FH7 is armed to the hilt and ready to rumble.
The FH7 ventures out of the $300-and-below comfort zone and is their priciest IEM yet. It is currently available from Amazon. I would like to thank Sunny of FiiO for the review sample, and her patience in making this review possible.
- Amber Rubarth – Sessions From The 17th Ward
- Diana Krall – When I Look Into Your Eyes
- Ed Sheeran – Divide
- Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
- Journey – The Essential
- Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
- Moby – Play
- Taylor Swift – Reputation
- Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair
- Toto – Greatest Hits: 40 Trips Around The Sun
- Drivers: 4 Balanced Armature (Knowles DFK+SWFK) + 1 Dynamic (13.6mm beryllium-plated diaphragm)
- Freq. Response: 5Hz – 4kHz
- Impedance: 16Ω @ 1KHz
- Sensitivity: 111dB/mW
- Maximum Input Power: 110mW
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Cord Length: 120cm
- Connector: MMCX
- Single Earbud Weight: ~8.15g
Packaging and Accessories
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just flex it. FiiO’s finest IEMs share nearly identical packaging and accessory set with the FH5 and FA7, with just a few updates to hit home its flagship, “I’m better than you, nyeh nyeh” status. First off, the amount of ear tips provided are staggering. A total of 15 pairs are at your perusal headlined by the SpinFit CP145. You’re sure to find one that suits you best.
The carry case is also updated. This time around you get the FiiO HB3, a synthetic leather case in smart peacock blue. A semi-hard case with velveteen lining and a magnetic clasp, it provides ample room and protection for the FH7. The most notable inclusion is a capsule housing the FH7’s sound filter system, screw-on color-coded dampeners applied at the nozzles to fine-tune your preferred signature.
Locked And Loaded
Here’s a rundown of the accessory set, and it’s quite a mouthful.
- FiiO LC-3.5C cable
- FiiO HB3 case
- 3 pairs sound filters (black, green, red) with capsule case
- 3 pairs SpinFit CP145 ear tips (S,M,L)
- 3 pairs Balanced silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
- 3 pairs Vocal silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
- 3 pairs Bass silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
- 2 pairs foam ear tips (M)
- 1 pair double-flange silicone ear tips (M)
- Cloth pouch
- Cleaning brush
- Cable organizer
This is simply one of the most remarkable and complete accessory sets I’ve seen. FiiO really went for the jugular in this one, including everything plus two kitchen sinks. I tip my hat to you, if I had one.
Design and Build Quality
Beauty is in the eye of the tiger. What? Risin’ up and back on the street, FH7 takes the existing FH5 design and imparts further wisdom and fine-tuning. The housing is once again built with CNC-machined aerospace-grade aluminium-magnesium alloy to impress your mates. The shells are now slightly bigger to fit more drivers, while the nozzles are longer, addressing an age-old complaint about FH5’s poor fit.
The FH7’s faceplate features a wave motif, which according to marketing, implies ferocity and dominance, showing you who’s boss. The result is a striking, captivating design decked out in black and gold, the color combo of winners. The build quality is unmistakably impressive too, with a rigidity that can withstand the rigors of daily usage, and a stunningly smooth finish you can hold and admire for hours.
FiiO habitually excels in design and build quality, and the FH7 is a fitting testament to the fact.
The stock cable provided with the FH7 is actually the LC-3.5C, the single-ended 3.5mm version of the LC-4.4C that I have covered in my FA7 review. It’s a lovingly-made 8-wire silver-plated copper cable with good ergonomics and sound properties, and is already a competent enough cable to pair with the FH7 without having a formal FOMO attack.
However, if one day the itch to get something new overwhelms you (and it’s a very, very familiar feeling), do consider what FiiO considers its next upgrade, the LC-D series. Sunny was kind enough to send me the LC-4.4D balanced cable to be used with my Sony audio player.
The LC-4.4D is well-built and pleasing to the eye. The gentle shimmer of the silver wires and matte silver Y-split and 4.4mm jack go well together, while the color-coded MMCX connectors is a helpful touch. The cable is soft and flexible and makes for easy handling. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the cable is the loose braiding in places, which messes up the brilliant aesthetics of the cable.
Sounds Of Silver
As for sound quality, the LC-4.4D conveys an excellent black background, in a faithful rendition of “Tarry, Tarry Night”. Thanks to the solid, clean blackground (sic), details jump out from across the spectrum, compared to the stock LC-3.5C cable. Bass is tighter and more controlled while treble sounds less grainy when switching back and forth.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade in terms of sound is the bigger soundstage and better imaging accuracy. The LC-4.4D accommodates a coherent, effortless sound, while handling complex passages with great aplomb. Available on Amazon, it’s one of the cheapest pure silver cables I’ve had the pleasure of trying, and an easy recommendation.
Fit, Comfort and Isolation
I’m not a fan of sticking metal objects into orifices, but after the FH5 I became a convert. The FH7, albeit with a bigger shell, fits comfortably, with its sleek, smooth edges and contours caressing my inner ears as I slid them in. Being all-metal they’re quite bulky, and for the FH7 to sit and seal properly, you’d need the right tips to do the job. Otherwise you’d be jammin’ until the break of dawn like Stevie Wonder.
Before we talk about tweaking FH7’s sound via ear tips, they have to sit in your ears first. The double-flange ear tips did the job best for me. While not the most pleasing in terms of looks (God I wanted so much to like the SpinFits), they provided a very safe and secure seal, evoking a level of comfort akin to rolling around in a field of fluffy rabbits.
Regrettably, sound isolation is below average, because of two vents on each earpiece. The vents, as explained by FiiO, attempt to relieve air pressure buildup in the eardrums, granting better listening comfort. In real world use, you can’t take the FH7 on your daily commute, because the outside noise distracts from the listening experience.
You know how there are three Jokers, apparently? Me neither. The FH7 does, however, come with three filters to fine tune your sound signature. Add that to the myriad of tips given, and the ability to change cables. Depending on perspective, you have either a dream or nightmare scenario when deciding on your final FH7 sound. Minimalism, this is not.
Overall Sound Signature
The FH7, like many first-timer flagships, has neutrality in its blood, with equal emphasis on bass, mids and treble. The bass slams powerfully, but cleans up after itself hurriedly. The mids are detail-focused, with a tinge of brightness due to a rise in the upper mids. The treble is smack in the middle of Sparkleland. The end result is an energetic, all-rounder signature that fits most sonic palettes.
The sound filters aren’t for show, and they do alter the sound signature. The filters introduce dampening effects, but the base signature is largely intact, sort of like Heidi Klum in different Halloween costumes. The red bass-focused filter attenuates the treble and introduces a calmer, smoother signature; while the green treble-focused filter does the opposite by reducing sub-bass thump.
My favourite is the black balanced filter, which has sub-bass and treble in optimum amounts, while sounding fun and transparent at the same time. It’s all of the sound quality with no obvious compromise, and will be the signature I write about in this review.
Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in, balancing between priming the dynamic driver and holding off beryllium poisoning. I kid, I kid. Burn-in resulted in a darker background, with the core signature intact. I believe I’m immune to beryllium compounds too. The main review rig is Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman, using the LC-4.4D cable and stock double-flange ear tips.
Meeting A Bassline
While I’m not claiming that you can recreate the Focal Utopia experience here, FH7’s bass is pleasingly implemented. The sub-bass is hearty and full, with impressive extension down low, and a head-rattling thump. Note attacks are on-point, with a visceral rumble and clean decay, showcasing impressive discipline amidst the fun.
Into the midbass, notes sound grand, full and natural, with a precise and realistic tone. Best of all, impact and slam are plentiful. It has a more lingering decay than the sub-bass, so snare drums and bass guitars have more meat on their bones. The entire bass spectrum is highlighted by incredible background cleanness, lending some spectacular dynamics.
Like fitting into skinny jeans from your teenage years, the bass experience is just tight, tight, tight.
Sometimes you breathe into a mirror before wiping it to create the impression that there is a difference before and after cleaning. Such trickery is not needed in the FH7, which, like a good spray of Windex, provides a clear window into the mids. These mids are articulate, with a proud emphasis on detail and transparency.
Shiny Object Syndrome
Notes do have good thickness to them, while texture is readily palpable from attack to decay. The lower mids are neutral in note size and tone, with a steady rise as we move towards the upper mids. Female vocals and brass instruments sound their best, while strings and pianos perform just above the passing mark in terms of realism and engagement level.
The mids will never be accused of lacking air or details, but I wish for better musical flow, smoothness and soul in exchange for all that detail. They tend to be grainy too, and this makes it hard to get emotionally involved, while disturbing some sensitive ears. At worst, the timbre has a shiny, metallic tinge, with a bright skew.
Technically astute yes, but the soullessness of the mids might be a deal-breaker for some.
Ironically, the treble shines with the same attributes that made the mids falter. A bright, exciting tone, well-defined notes, a magnitude of air and details galore bring the treble to a higher plane, figuratively. It’s a given that FH7 wants to wow you with technical adroitness above all else, and sure enough the treble here is spectacularly extended with massive reach.
Notes ring clear and true, undeniably bringing you ever so close to the source of the music. Here, the metallic timbre bothered me less because, well a lot of treble-centric instruments have metal in them anyway! Cymbals, bells, hi-hats and the first 30 seconds of Pink Floyd’s Time sound suitably vibrant and alive, even life-threatening.
Of course, with all this treble excitement, there is always the odd sibilance or two. The FH7 can be revealing in less friendly ways, and the treble gets tizzy and hot. The bass-centric red filter provides an easy fix for this, but for me, the default treble is like an addictive drug I don’t want to wean out of. Be wary, since what’s rewarding for one is perilous for another.
Soundstage and imaging
FiiO’s IEMs always gave me the impression that they will go the extra mile for tuning excellence, but take a relaxed step back when it comes to soundstage and imaging capability. The FH5 and FA7 were noted for having, well, not so notable stage sizes and average separation/imaging. It’s far from bad, just unremarkable.
You can’t have an epic boss battle in an enclosed space, so the FH7 is an encouraging step in the correct direction. This is the most expansive (and expensive lol) IEM I’ve heard from them yet, with very good width and depth, and some height thrown in. Instruments and vocals diffuse out in front and around you in a realistic, from-the-front-row manner.
I think I’ve harped on all review about the elegantly dark background, which leads to better-heard transients, and here, imaging supremacy. Every element of the music is clearly and cleanly demarcated, with enough room to shine, and air to breathe. This is one sequel worth waiting for, unlike the new Star Wars stuff. FiiO really tried their darndest here.
To put it nicely, they’re too dissimilar to be compared, because of divergent signatures. FA7 appeals to the warm, thick and brothy chicken soup lover in us, while FH7 is sparkling water. Different foods for different moods. Getting back to audio lingo, FH7 is an all-rounder with a neutral signature, while FA7 is a warm IEM best suited for slow-tempo tracks, more a genre specialist.
Although tonally rich and beautiful, FA7’s massively-elevated midbass and lower mids are tenacious enough to engulf the entire spectrum, leading to a congested, overwhelming listen when tackling faster tracks and EDM. The FA7 mids edge out the FH7 in tone and timbre, but if we compare the technical attributes of both, the FH7 pulls ahead effortlessly.
The FH7 features better extension both ends, with a leaner, tighter bass, more articulate mids and brighter, well-textured treble. Details are better conveyed while separation and layering are a tier above, at least. The FH7 accomplishes this while maintaining balance and coherence throughout, with plenty of fuel left in the tank or getting back to food analogies, plenty of food left in the fridge.
Unless your entire catalogue of music consists of Diana Krall, Holly Cole and their ilk, the FH7 is a far better bet as a more competent and pleasing IEM.
The FH5 was released as a statement of intent from FiiO, that they were ready to play with the big boys in the IEM sphere. A few years later, I would say it is mission accomplished, because FH5 is still whispered when people ask for mid-tier IEM suggestions. I still recommend them as my favourites below $300.
No longer an up-and-coming company, FiiO are now expected to deliver great products all day everyday. The heir-apparent FH7 is positioned as a direct upgrade to the FH5, although at a significantly higher price tag. The obvious question, then, is should you get the FH7 if you already own the FH5? Let’s find out.
Brothers In Arms
Not surprisingly, their signatures are similar, with a few slight differences. For those complaining that the FH5 had too much sub-bass and scooped-out midbass/lower mids, you have reason to rejoice. The FH7 is better balanced in the bass regions and does not lack any way in punch. Notes hit faster and cleaner, with surgical precision and no bleed (good for both audio and surgeries).
The mids sound nearly alike for both FH5 and FH7, in that they are both technically competent, a bit grainy, and found wanting in euphony and emotion. The treble for FH7 is crisper and more textural, with better definition and sparkle from attack to decay. It can get sibilant (unless you use the red filters), so tread with caution.
The FH7 performs like a FH5 with more polish. The good thing is FH5 is already an accomplished IEM to begin with, so we’re not just polishing turds here. The FH7 betters the FH5 in detail levels, soundstage size, layering ability, imaging accuracy and dynamism. You can hear the extra resolution (and dollars) in note texture, and the immaculately black background.
So to the casual fan, no, I don’t think existing FH5 owners need the upgrade. But for audiophile junkies like you and I, hell yeah, sell the FH5 and don’t look back.
The FH7 has enough firepower to address all your sonic wants and needs. Long live the new king!
Traditionally, IEMs price tiers were easy. Budget-fi was $100 and below, the heated mid-tier battleground was at $300 thereabouts, while the holy grail of summit-fi starts from $1000. The $500 price tier was no-man’s-land, too expensive to be value for money, and too cheap for high rollers to consider. I’m offended too lol.
Today, established mid-fi Chinese brands like iBasso and Fearless Audio are refining their products and dipping their toes into this “upper mid-fi” category, daring their followers to take a leap of faith with them and well, spend more. Hopefully we get to see true innovation instead of yet another cash grab exercise.
The Two Tenets
FiiO’s FH7 too shines a bacon, I mean beacon, for others to follow in this price range. What makes the FH7 so special is its exciting, all-rounder tuning guided by two tenets. They are, to extract the most intricate detail possible, and to provide an unfettered fun factor. The FH7 gives every genre a good go and for all intents and purposes, succeeds.
With years of experience behind them, FiiO has fine-tuned their craft to deliver what is probably the total package. There’s nothing to fault in the build, cable and accessories, but vitally, the sound quality is up there as well. The FH7 is certainly their finest IEM to date. With steady, experienced hands manning FiiO’s ship, their best is yet to come.