Looking for a well built, budget priced in-ear earphone with a nicely balanced sound? Look no further than the FiiO F5.
We would like to thank FiiO for sending us the FiiO F5 for review. We are not commercially affiliated in any way and this review is our honest and independent opinion. The FiiO F5 costs 69.99USD from Aliexpress.
Readers who are in the know will already know FiiO as a great brand for audiophile products such as DACs and amps at an affordable price. In my earlier days as a fledgling audiophile, I used their products as well – the FiiO E06 served me well to drive higher impedance IEMs that my phone could not drive, and the E07K portable amp and DAC still gets brought out with me (although the battery is now faulty).
If you didn’t know FiiO before, yes, they are from China, but before you discount them as just another unrefined budget Chinese brand, they’re actually very well established and make quality products for a great price. In more recent years, they’ve started designing earphones and in-ear designs as well, and having tried some excellent products at CanJam SoCal 2018, I decided to review the FiiO F5.
|Frequency response||20Hz ~ 40kHz|
|Plug||3.5mm gold-plated stereo jack (CTIA standard) / 2.5mm TRRS straight gold-plated stereo jack|
|Cord length||1.2 m|
|Detachable cable design||Yes (standard MMCX connector)|
Packaging & Accessories
Packaging is a straightforward, but reassuring affair here. There are 6 sets of silicon earphone tips in S, M, and L sizes nestled inside a reliable looking hard plastic case which resembles an expensive Pelican case. 3 of them have stiffer, coloured inner cores, while the other 3 are made purely out of the softer silicon. I did not notice any huge difference in sound between them – maybe the ones with the coloured core were a tad brighter.
Nestled inside the foam block are the earphones themselves, detached from the cables which are kept inside the smaller cardboard box.
The interesting part about the accessories supplied is the 2.5mm balanced cable, which most budget products will not have. This cable is slightly stiffer than the 3.5mm cable. Unfortunately I did not have a DAP with balanced output and thus was not able to test this. Both of the cables also come with built in soft plastic cable ties so you can keep things neat and tidy.
Design & Ergonomics
The price bracket arena that the FiiO F5 is fighting in is filled with other strong contestants, and especially so these days with the rise of ChiFi. However, the F5 stands out by having a sleek design with great build quality. The earphones are made with anodised and galvanized aluminium alloys – in my experience, this is quite rare in this price bracket. Fortunately, the use of metal doesn’t make it so heavy that it compromises the comfort of wearing them. Coupled with the nice attention to detail with no mismatched seams, colours and materials consistent throughout the entire product, from plug to mic to earphones, the F5 is a pleasure to use.
The form factor is reminiscent of classic Audio-Technica earphones like the ATH CKS50, with a slight bump that connects to an elliptical disk that houses the driver. The F5’s design is much sleeker and doesn’t stick out as much, and the aluminium design feels much more secure than the cheaper plastic builds of those old budget ATH designs. The F5 is designed to be worn in-ear, with the cable facing downwards – the classic, straightforward way of using earphones (as opposed to over ear cables). I did not find any problems wearing it, although I can see the driver housing part potentially push against smaller ears.
As the F5 is a dynamic driver design, there are 3 small holes which server as driver vents on the inside face, and one small hole on the bottom face as well. As the presence of vents does tend to reduce isolation of outside noise, having it on the inside face helps reduce the amount of outside noise while still serving the purpose of venting for the dynamic driver, but ultimately there will be a bit of extra noise compared to full on balanced armature designs which do not require venting.
The in-line audio and phone call control is nice and hefty. I’m not sure if it’s the shell is made of plastic or aluminum as it feels cool to the touch. Regardless, it feels solid and the aesthetic is right in line with the rest of the product. The buttons are easy to find, and the dip in the centre makes it simple to feel for the play/pause/call pick up button. Less apparent is the recessed switch on the side that switches between iOS and Android usage capability. You will need a thin pen or pencil in order to toggle this setting.
The weakest part of the design in this budget earphone is the strain relief at the 3.5mm jack. Since the cable is not a braided cable, the plastic insulation sleeve around the cable will definitely tear after extended use as it gets bent day after day. On the other hand, this cable is one of the least tangliest cables that is also very non-microphonic. In the event it does break, the cable can be replaced, but it can still be a hassle to do so. The MMCX connectors also look to be of decent quality – not on the level of the finish of high end cables like Campfire Audio’s, but undoubtedly better than the connectors on some of the very budget level IEMs which skimp on these details.
Detailed Sound Review
This review was done using the iPad Pro as a source, as it is a decently powered source with a slightly warm, accurate, low distortion sound that I prefer. I found that the FiiO F5 is quite source dependent; it was much more congested and less resolved from my OnePlus X phone compared to my iPad so I highly recommend using a decent source for this great value earphone.
It’s been a while since I closely reviewed a budget earphone in the FiiO F5’s price range of 50-70USD, and since my daily driver lineup is made up of high end IEMs like the Oriolus and Lyra II, it took some time to adjust my ears again. A case of the HiFi-itis, as we like to call it here at Accessible Audio – where your ears and brain get so used to listening to the high end audio, everything else sounds bad.
As I took out my budget earphone collection to compare and do my review properly, I pessimistically expected a bassy, muddy mess as is common in the budget market; instead, I was greeted by a well balanced arrangement of tight, focused bass, smoothly transitioning to mids, finished off by a gentle high frequency response.
There really is no obvious emphasis on a certain frequency range with the FiiO F5. However, I would not call it a reference level earphone – there is a little bit of bass boost, and the highest highs are a little rolled off to be considered reference. Not a bad thing, as most people aren’t looking for a reference sound signature.
Like most dynamic driver designs, the overall sound produced by the 13.6mm dynamic driver in the FiiO F5 tends to be quite warm, especially with its rather flat bass to mid frequency which gives a satisfying fullness to the sound. The bass frequencies roll off towards the subbass end slightly, so it never gets too rumbly or boomy. Bass impact is superbly solid, enough to satisfy a metal and EDM head like myself while keeping things tight enough for listeners seeking that bit of audiophile refinement. However, buyers looking for more massive bass may find it too tight. Snare impact is surprisingly realistic and strong; coupled with the good amount of bass, you’re bound to get your toes tapping and head nodding.
Mids are one of the F5’s strengths, as the full midrange transitioning from the bass gives a realistic and natural rendition of instruments and vocals full of body and lower frequency detail. But they’re not perfect; in heavier, more layered tracks such as metal for example, I found that the F5 could do with a slight boost in the mid high frequencies for sharper definition of vocals as they sometimes struggled to surface from behind the wall of guitar chords and drum cymbals sounds. Listening to the trio of female vocalists in The Living Sisters is as warm and intimate as ever, but the harmonising vocals seem to take a small step back with the F5. It does perform very well in tracks which do not have too much going on at the same time though.
High frequencies are gentle and smooth, and not at all peaky and harsh like badly designed IEM. However, I feel like roll off just a smidgen too much for my own liking – if it had slightly more high emphasis I would definitely give the F5 an even higher rating. While it’s nice that the harshness of the S sounds in John Mayer’s Where the Light Is live album are all but gone, there is sometimes a sense that some airiness and fine high frequency detail is a little recessed.
While the soundstage of the F5 is wider than many other budget earphones without sounding artificially so, separation is not the greatest, especially in the lower to mid frequencies. That region tends to sound a bit congested with certain tracks. There is also a slight grainy sound throughout, though I only noticed this happen with worse sources.
There are certain things the F5 may be lacking in, but expecting perfection from a budget earphone may be asking a bit too much. Make no mistake – it is an incredible budget single dynamic driver earphone at a bargain price of $69.99 and showcases a lot of thought put in this refined sound from the team at FiiO. This big dynamic driver does seem to need a certain amount of power to reach its potential, so make sure to give it a good source.
As a contender in the 50-70USD price bracket for earphones, the FiiO F5 is a strong competitor against other earphones such as the following:
It’s hard to pick a clear winner here. Both are very strong earphones at this price bracket. The IM50 has a more fun sound with more boosted bass and slightly more forward mids, which is great for people who want a little more oomph in the lows and bigger vocals. The high frequencies are pretty similar, perhaps with slightly more refinement in the FiiO F5. The F5 wins out in terms of soundstage width as the IM50 is a very intimate sounding IEM. So if you want something more neutral and open sounding, go for the F5, if you want something more bassy, go for the IM50.
The F5 also has an advantage in that it doesn’t use a proprietary system of detachable cables unlike the IM50, so if anything happens, it is easier to replace.
The F5 is much more balanced in its sound, overall much flatter and refined compared to the very deep V shaped sound signature of the Sennheiser Momentum. As a result, vocals are much better in the F5. The F5’s bass is also much more in control compared to the dark boominess of the Momentum. The FiiO’s build quality is also much better, and having a detachable MMCX cable is also a huge plus over the Momentum.
The FiiO wins this matchup hands down in my opinion. The Meze 12 Classics Meze’s first effort in IEM design and suffered from a strange resonance in the mids which gave it a somewhat strange hollow sound. The cable choice was also badly picked as it was highly microphonic. The F5, on the other hand has a very soft cable that doesn’t transfer any impact noise upwards at all, and the sound is much more natural.
Perhaps a little unfair to compare it to this classic budget IEM from Shure, which has been around for ages. But, I do still see it in many shops so I guess it’s still game. I would pick the FiiO F5 over the Shure, as I prefer its more balanced, more “audiophile” sound. The SE215 is not extremely V shaped like the Momentum, but its bass is still quite boosted and tends to be too dark for my liking.
Measured with the Vibro Veritas, so not the most accurate setup but certainly gets close enough for an enthusiast reviewer! The FR graph does reflect the flatness of the overall sound, with only a slight dip in the 500Hz – 1kHz region, creating the warmth in the lows and mids. There aren’t any huge valleys in the high frequencies either, but the fullness of the low and mid frequencies does leave them less room to shine.
- Great value
- Balanced sound signature
- Solid, refined bass with full midrange and smooth highs
- Detachable cable
- Good build quality
- Cable strain relief seems weak
- Could do with slightly more mid-highs frequency for more vocal definition
- Needs a decent source to bring out it’s best performance (…or at least don’t use the OnePlus X for audio)
If you’re looking to dabble in the world of audiophilia, or are merely looking for something cheap and affordable to use everyday that still sounds good, be sure to check the FiiO F5 out. It’s got everything that you need for a beater everyday carry earphone – metal body to prevent it from breaking easily, in-line mic and audio control, replaceable cables in case they break after getting snagged on the metro, and a nice easy going sound signature that I know most listeners will warm up to.