Review: Fiio Fh5s – As Versatile As a Father’s Tool Kit

Fiio FH5s
Fiio FH5s

Swappable plugs, multiple tuning switches, and more. The FiiO FH5s are as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife.

Thank you to FiiO for sending the FH5s for review purposes. If you would like to purchase the FH5s, they are available directly from Fiio.

The FiiO FH5s are the successor of the hugely acclaimed FiiO FH5. At the time that the FH5 came out, a pair of well-tuned hybrid IEMs usually cost a fortune. However, with the FH5, FiiO disproved that theory with a reasonably priced hybrid that sounded amazing.

I have to admit that I only tried the FH5 for a short period, but if you are interested in knowing more about the FH5 before reading the review of their successor the FH5s, you can find the review for the FH5 by our colleague, Lau, here.
Fiio FH5s
Bottom Line

The FH5s have their own special characteristics which make them stand out from other FiiO products. The wide collection of accessories, extremely well-built body, and sonic versatility have definitely earned the FH5s a solid spot in the IEM market. There may be a bit of incoherence between the upper-midrange and the lower-treble, and an unnatural feeling would occasionally strike me. However, I fully believe that the good traits of the FH5s are able to make one overlook this slight imperfection and I recommend the FH5s as a solid option.

What We Like
  • LARGE amount of accessories
  • Good transparency throughout the sonic spectrum
  • Good detail retrieval
  • Nice extensions at both ends
  • 3 switches to slightly tailor the sound to allow for great versatility
  • Swappable cable plugs
What We Don't Like
  • Quite heavy which may affect comfort
  • Average noise isolation
  • Slight incoherence between upper midrange and lower treble

About Fiio

Unless this is your absolute first day in head-fi, you will have heard of FiiO during your journey. FiiO is one of the most successful Chinese head-fi brands. Founded in 2007, FiiO started by launching portable speakers and headphone amplifiers. Eventually, their business expanded to other audio products such as DAPs, desktop headphone amplifiers, and earphones/headphones.

Even though FiiO say they are Black and Gold in colour, I found them being closer to dark blue than black.
Even though FiiO say they are Black and Gold in colour, I found them being closer to dark blue than black.
“FiiO designs, produces and sells high-quality products at favourable prices to those who love music and style; our high-resolution digital audio players, portable headphone amplifiers, DACs and earphones have all received praise from the majority of users.” – Fiio

Technical Specifications

  • Drivers: 1 x 12 mm Beryllium-plated diaphragm dynamic driver for bass, 1 x 6 mm Beryllium-plated diaphragm dynamic driver for midrange, 1 x Balanced Armature for treble
  • Impedance: 40 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 106 dB/mW
  • Frequency response: 10 – 40000 Hz
  • Cables: Silver-plated copper cable, swappable 2.5 mm TRRS, 3.5 mm TRS or 4.4 mm TRRRS plug

Packaging and Accessories

You can see the sketching of the internals of the earphone drawn on the box.
You can see the sketching of the internals of the earphone drawn on the box.

The FiiO FH5s come in a box that has a sketch of their internal structure on the front. Probably the most eye-catching image on the box, however, is the Hi-Res Audio logo.

What does Hi-Res actually mean? Hi-Res or high-resolution audio simply means that the audio file has a sample rate that is greater than 44.1 kHz or a bit depth greater than 16 bits. For a pair of earphones or headphones or even a speaker to be “certified” as Hi-Res, it has to be able to reproduce frequencies up to 40 kHz or above.
Another box-in-a-box packaging design.
Another “box-in-a-box” packaging design.

After removing the outer box, there is an inner box that has a simpler design. On this box you can find a simple sketch of the faceplate of the earphone, and also Fiio’s slogan “Born for music”.

The earphones and the cable attached on them are organised in a heart shape.
The earphones and the cable attached on them are organised in a heart shape.

Opening up the inner box, the FH5s earpieces and the carry case are kept safely and beautifully in a piece of foam. Two pieces of ribbons on either side of the foam allow us to lift it up.

12 pairs of ear tips? 2 balanced connectors? I have never seen so many accessories provided with IEMs!
12 pairs of ear tips? 2 balanced connectors? I have never seen so many accessories provided with IEMs!

Speaking of lifting up the layer of foam, that will be something that you will want to do because underneath you will find all the accessories you’ll ever need.

Every type of ear tips have been labeled so you will have a brief idea of the sonic characteristics.
Every type of ear tips have been labeled so you will have a brief idea of the sonic characteristics.

Can we just spend a minute to give a round of applause to Fiio? I have yet to encounter any brand that provides 12 pairs of ear tips with a pair of IEMs! This is surely more than enough for us audiophiles to select from to get a comfortable fit and to tailor the sound for your own tastes.

I didn't figure out how to open this carry case at first (lol), but eventually I realized I mixed up the top and the bottom.
I didn’t figure out how to open this carry case at first (lol), but eventually I realized I mixed up the top and the bottom.

The carry case is also of good quality. It is on the bigger side for portability, but nonetheless, it is very sturdy to protect the earphones.

You get 2.5 mm and a 4.4 mm balanced plugs.
You get 2.5 mm and a 4.4 mm balanced plugs.

Now we move on to what is, in my opinion, the party piece. Swappable cable plugs! Man, I can’t tell you how much I loved this design back when dita Audio introduced the swappable plug idea with The Answer Truth Edition and its Awesome plug. However, because of its TOTL status and high price, they remained unattainable for most. Now, this idea is available at a much more reasonable price with the FH5s.

2 balanced and 1 standard stereo basically covers most, if not all, the mainstream connections.
2 balanced and 1 standard stereo basically covers most, if not all, the mainstream connections.

In order to change the plug, all you have to do is unscrew it, then re-attach the desired plug onto the cable.

If you look carefully and closely, you can see the 4 needles inside the termination.
If you look carefully and closely, you can see the 4 needles inside the termination.

However, when doing so, be very careful not to break the plug. From this photo, you can see the 4 tiny needles inside the termination. So when you attach the plug, make sure to put them in at the right angle and to do it slowly and gently. Although I have yet to hear any reported problems, better safe than sorry, right?

Design and Comfort

A closer look at how the 2 earpieces are placed in a heart.
A closer look at how the 2 earpieces are placed in a heart.

FiiO calls the design of the FH5s “Dragon Scale Fins” on their own promotions and news feeds. I didn’t like it at first, but this design did start to grow on me, especially with how unique and recognizable they are.

Another rather standout feature is the 3 switches for bass, midrange, and treble boost. These switches are located on the top of the earpiece, and they don’t touch your ears so you do not need to worry about accidentally switching them on/off, or any sort of discomfort.

Each switch is labeled B/M/T for bass/mid/treble.
Each switch is labeled “B/M/T” for bass/mid/treble.

However, the switches make the earpieces thicker than average, and they do stick out of your ears a bit while wearing them. I was a bit worried about comfort because of this and also because the FH5s are slightly heavier than many of my other IEMs.

Not the most aggressively semi-custom shaped IEMs, but they are ergonomic enough to fit most ear shapes.
Not the most aggressively semi-custom shaped IEMs, but they are ergonomic enough to fit most ear shapes.

Fortunately, the FH5s have a fairly well-shaped shell. The shell isn’t as custom-shaped as the See Audio Yume or the Hiby Crystal 6 I have previously tested, but even so, the FH5s still provide a decently comfortable fit. With the right choice of tips, the fit is quite satisfying. Even though they aren’t as comfortable as the previously mentioned IEMs, they sit in my ears without too much of an issue for hours until the weight causes slight problems.

However, being a pair of semi-open IEMs, the isolation is only just average. It is much better than my semi-open headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT880, but it is barely enough for nosier areas like commuting. With foam tips, the isolation is slightly improved, and that will be your best choice if you want to maximize isolation.

If you’re looking for IEMs with good isolation, you’d be better off with other choices.

Sound Analysis

I paired the FiiO FH5s with the Lotoo PAW 6000, the Cowon Plenue D3, the iFi ZEN DAC + Gustard H16 stack, and my newly acquired Luxury & Precision W1 to conduct the sound analysis.

Before doing the actual review I burned in the FH5s for about 150 hours. What is the point of burning in? Here is more information about it right here. This is something that I do for every review to ensure consistency among all my reviews.

The Dragon Scale Fin design.
The “Dragon Scale Fin” design.

When looking at the specs, the dual dynamic driver may lead you to think that the FH5s are bass monsters. However, they aren’t. When all the switches are turned off, the FH5s are naturally neutral earphones. Even with all the switches turned on, they are closer to being a gently v-shaped sounding pair of IEMs.

I will break down what the switches do to alter the sound signature in later parts of the review, but to give a spoiler, they provide a subtle fine-tuning rather than transforming the FH5s into another monitor.

Unless specified, all sound analysis are done with the switches on the default setting

Bass

The 12mm beryllium-plated dynamic driver implies good bass response, and the FH5s do have exactly that. They are not a bassy monitor, and the bass never becomes dominant or covers up other frequencies. Instead, the bass has good control, deep extension, and full-bodied punch without sounding bloomy.

The texture on both the case and the earphone feels premium.
The texture on both the case and the earphone feels premium.

The sub-bass has a good extension, and the resolution is also nice. Quantity wise, for a 12mm dynamic driver, the FH5s are on the calmer side, but even so, the punches sound good and natural. For mid-bass, the quantity is more than the sub-bass with a fuller body, that introduces a bit of warmth and gives a solid foundation for the music.

The upper bass is slightly recessed after the small rise in the mid-bass. This ensures a clean presentation and prevents any sort of muddiness in the sonic performance. It is just a small dip so you don’t have to worry about coherence, at least in the transition from bass to midrange.

Midrange

The FH5s employ an interesting trick to produce a good midrange. Usually, in a pair of hybrid earphones, the dynamic driver is used to produce bass only and the rest is handled by balanced armature driver(s). However, in the FH5s, the midrange is covered by a smaller (6mm) dynamic driver. Does this move allow the FH5s to stand out? Or does it just make the FH5s weird and abnormal? Let’s find out more.

Transparency, clarity, airiness. These are the main traits of the FH5s midrange.

As I was saying, the transition from bass to midrange is coherent and natural. While the midrange is not particularly thick and warm, it has a good body and gives a realistic presentation. However, because of this, some deeper male vocals may lack a bit of power at times. On the other hand, the neutral body provides nice transparency throughout the midrange for both instrumental and vocal pieces of music.

The Y-splitter is also beautifully crafted, while still maintaining a light weight.
The Y-splitter is also beautifully crafted, while still maintaining a light weight.

When moving up the spectrum and entering the upper-midrange, I started to have mixed feelings. The upper midrange is slightly thinned out and placed a bit forward to provide more detail. That’s good. However, this also makes the FH5s sound unnatural for instruments such as the upper end of a piano or violins. While they aren’t particularly shouty or harsh, the timbre just does not seem perfect.

Treble

The transition from upper-midrange up to lower-treble is not the smoothest, unfortunately. The lower treble also carries that unnatural feeling. They are again thinned out and pushed forward. Luckily, the details aren’t lacking and the treble is not overly aggressive or sibilant.

The mid and upper-treble is quite smooth and not shouty. There is good sparkle and resolution up top, with decent treble extension. Maybe not class-leading, but not far from that either. They also have good agility throughout the upper region of the sound and so the treble sounds effortless and not forced. Overall, the upper treble is clearly handled better than the lower treble.

Good build quality! No gaps between the faceplate and the body found.
Good build quality! No gaps between the faceplate and the body found.

Technicalities and sensitivity

With the sensitivity level of 106 dB/mW and impedance of 40 Ω, the FH5s aren’t the easiest to drive. However, an amplifier is not required, you’ll just have to turn up the volume a bit. That being said, the FH5s do scale quite well with an amp. The soundstage is widened and the impacts are faster when being fed from a good source.

Being a pair of semi-open earphones, the FH5s have good soundstaging ability. Both the width and the height are near best in class. The depth, while not as impressive as the other two dimensions, is still very good.

The switches

The switches are there to provide subtle adjustments to the sound, so don’t expect day-and-night differences. With the bass switch on, the mid-bass quantity is increased, and the sub-bass is a hair more forward. The upper bass is similar to the stock form. Overall, you will get a slightly warmer shift to the sound.

For the mid switch, things get a bit confusing. At first, I thought all these switches are there to boost the specific sound spectrum. However, with the mid switch on, I actually found the midrange to be more recessed. Not by a whole lot, just that the vocalists are now a step or two back from the stage. What this does, however, is to create a more airy midrange performance with improved transparency.

You will need to use the other end of the cleaning tool to turn on/off the switches.
You will need to use the other end of the cleaning tool to turn on/off the switches.

The treble switch does not match my personal preferences, but it does boost the lower to mid-treble a bit. With the switch on, the treble is placed a bit more forward. Although, while the FH5s are still not sibilant, listening to them this way can be tiring after a while.

Comparison

There is one pair of earphones that the FH5s must be compared to: the FiiO FD5. FiiO announced the FH5s right after the huge success of the FD5. So while the FH5s are quite amazing, are they necessary after the FD5? Are the FH5s that different from the FD5 to justify this marketing strategy?

I will also compare the FH5s to the Obravo Cupid. The Cupid, a bit like the FH5s, are hybrid IEMs with an usual setup. Unlike the FH5s, the Cupid do not use balanced armature drivers. Instead, they use a dynamic driver with a planar magnetic driver.

FiiO FH5s vs FD5

The FD5 are single dynamic driver earphones, unlike the hybrid FH5s. They feature a 12mm beryllium-plated dynamic driver, similar to the bass driver in the FH5s. However, I don’t know if they are using the same driver, as they sound quite different. The FD5 have a very typical “dynamic driver” sound in a positive way. Warm, deep bass with smooth treble and good coherence. Our colleague Eric reviewed them here.

I borrowed the FD5 from a friend for this comparison, and I loved them.
I borrowed the FD5 from a friend for this comparison, and I loved them.
This unit is borrowed from a friend. So although everything is in stock form, I could not ensure a similar burn-in time.

The FD5 are very, very good, and are quite different from the FH5s. The FD5 have a stronger bass response. They are similar in depth, with the FD5 a slight bit deeper, but quantity-wise the FH5s are no match to the FD5. If you are a bass-head, the FD5 are a much better choice for you. The FH5s, in turn, have a cleaner low end because of the lesser quantity.

When we move up to the midrange, the FH5s have better transparency and air, while the FD5 are richer. The FD5 have warmer and thicker vocal performance whereas the FH5s are more neutral with better resolution. The transition from upper-midrange to lower-treble is more coherent in the FD5, due to the nature of a single dynamic driver compared to the hybrid setup of the FH5s.

The FH5s, with the extra balanced armature drivers, have a more forward treble response, with more sparkle, better extension, and better resolution up top. The FD5, on the other hand, are smoother with a warmer presentation that is non-fatiguing, and you can enjoy them all day long.

For my taste, the FD5 suit me better, but both of them are very good. It makes sense to me that FiiO released these two different sounding IEMs back to back.

Both have excellent soundstaging ability due to their semi-open back design. The FH5s have a better height due to the treble sparkle, and the FD5 win in terms of depth. Overall, they are vastly different, but both of them are very good in their own way. Choose the pair that best matches your tastes and you will be good.

FiiO FH5s vs Obravo Cupid

I have owned the Cupid for a while now and the scratches show how much they have been used.
I have owned the Cupid for a while now and the scratches show how much they have been used.

The Obravo Cupid is a weird pair of hybrid IEMs. Not just due to the driver setup with a dynamic driver + planar magnetic driver, but also in their tuning. By weird, I mean, a bit off. They have good bass response and treble response, but the midrange sounds unnatural. However, their superior technicalities meant I used them extensively.

The bass extension and quality are superior on the Obravo Cupid compared to the leaner sounding FH5s. They are a bit of a bass cannon and the details in the bass are also better on the Cupid.

However, the FH5s have better midrange performance over the Cupid, by a long shot. The Cupid have a thinned out midrange and they sound sharp and unrealistic. This is very apparent when listening to lower, deeper vocalists, where they should sound rich and powerful. On the Cupid, they sound thin and weak.

The treble is a toss-up between the two. Both of them have a good treble extension, with the Cupid slightly on top. The Cupid also have better detail retrieving abilities over the FH5s. The treble on the Cupid is one step more forward, making them often too much for me and fatiguing. Although the FH5s may not have as good extension as the Cupid, they are smoother.

The soundstage abilities are great on both. They have a similar width, with the FH5s barely stretching wider, and the Cupid taking the crown for height and depth. Overall, the Cupid are a pair of unusual earphones that I generally do not recommend. However, there is no denying that the Cupid show great technicalities at a very affordable price.

The FH5s and their carry case have a matching colour scheme.
The FH5s and their carry case have a matching colour scheme.

Where to Buy

You can buy the FiiO FH5s from:

Verdict

Beautiful indeed. Both the looks and the sound.
Beautiful indeed. Both the looks and the sound.

I was a bit confused when I saw the FH5s announced right after the huge success of the FD5. Why would a company release a revised product at almost the same price to compete? Adding to the confusion, both of them sound very good, however, after conducting this review, it all makes sense to me now.

The FH5s have their own special characteristics which make them stand out from other FiiO products. No, I take that back. Not just Fiio’s own products, they stand out from the rest of the market. The wide collection of accessories, extremely well-built body, and sonic versatility have definitely earned the FH5s a solid spot in the IEM market.

There may be a bit of incoherence between the upper-midrange and the lower-treble, and an unnatural feeling would occasionally strike me. However, I fully believe that the good traits of the FH5s are able to make one (myself included) overlook this slight imperfection and I recommend the FH5s as a solid option.

Thank you FiiO again for the FH5s. They may not be 100% perfect, but they aren’t far from it either. Well done.

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