[Cliffnotes] FiiO’s FA1, FA7 and FH7: Mainstream

Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard while I was back in Singapore during the month of July. Thus I won’t get too in-depth,  nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.

Introduction

I remember the days when FiiO was more known for their budget portable amplifiers than anything else. It wasn’t that long ago that I myself was provided a FiiO F9, their cautious entry into the hybrid scene that had pretty lukewarm reception; not quite the market shaker but not exactly a horrible purchase either.

Now it seems that the tables have flipped over, with FiiO’s identify now built on the success of its many IEMs (which are now almost as plentiful as their amplifier lineups these days, I might add).

A massive success in their transition into the IEM scene meant that FiiO’s new lineup of IEMs were some of the most requested IEMs I’ve gotten recently. There was a period of time where I couldn’t go one day without somebody pinging or messaging me about one of the 3 FiiOs; of course back then (and now again) I’ve been stuck in Australia so I haven’t had any opportunity to analyse them at all.

Now with my return to Singapore back in July, I can finally give my thoughts on them all. Let us begin.

FiiO FA1

Product page: https://www.fiio.com/fa1

MSRP: $100

Driver configuration: single BA

I went in with very little expectations and was rather surprised at the performance of this not-so-little thing. It’s no giant killer but the FA1 certainly holds its own in a very competitive price bracket, which makes it a pretty decent recommendation for those specifically looking for the typical “fast-sounding” traits of BA IEMs without the tonal quirks that plague other similarly priced BA competitors.

That said, I’ve noted that the FA1’s frequency response is similar to the following models:

Comparison courtesy of the Graph Comparison Tool

Of course, this purely “on paper specs” so don’t expect them to sound exactly alike in real life. Just an interesting observation that I’d like to share.

There’s not much else to talk about the FA1: it doesn’t sound tonally off, it has passable resolution, the imaging is nothing special (like 80% of IEMs out there) and there’s still some of that nasty BA timbre peeking through. But you can certainly do much, much worse for a hundred bucks.

Grade:

FiiO FA7

Product page: https://www.fiio.com/fa7

MSRP: $300

Driver configuration: 4BA

If there’s one IEM in recent times that has unironically been described as “giant killer” by the Head-Fi community, it’s the FA7.

Do I think it deserves that title? No.

Yeah alright, I see your pitchforks. Here’s the thing: nothing about the FA7 makes me think that it’s worth its asking price, much less anything above its price bracket. It is tonally skewed in an extremely niche direction (super warm and almost dark-ish), it struggles in technicalities and it has one of the most boring, non-exciting signatures (FR-wise) I’ve heard in any IEM. It doesn’t satisfy my pedantic objective side, neither does it appeal to my enjoyment-seeking subjective side. It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere close to being any of my own personal measure of good (which is what my list is based off). It’s a thing that exists, and “a thing” shouldn’t cost $300.

So what exactly is wrong about the FA7? Well personally it’s too warm, but that’s a preferential thing so someone else might argue that they enjoy the warmth. What’s “objectively” wrong is that FiiO has tuned in this warmth at the expense of definition, resulting in an overly-smeared and unclear blanket of notes that is actually outresolved by its smaller brother. The big bass response doesn’t do it any favours either, with the FA7’s weak woofers barely squeaking out sub-bass frequencies that are closer to farts than actual rumble. With that amount of lower midrange tuned in you’d expect that the FA7’s tone weight would be heavy and meaty, yet it still manages to sound like every note is missing its fundamental.

The FA7 isn’t horrible. That’s my praise.

Grade:

FiiO FH7

Product page: https://www.fiio.com/fh7

MSRP: $450

Driver configuration: 4BA + 1DD hybrid

Post-publish edit: it has come to my attention that the FH7 comes with interchangeable filters. I haven’t tested the other filters yet and I have no idea which filter I’ve listened to, so take these impressions as “tentative” just in case.

God, FiiO is one minefield after another. If the FA7 is overhyped then the FH7 is a cult, especially after the traction the FH5 got.

The big weakness of the FH7 is that its tonality has a sort of “uncanny valley”-ness to all of it. It’s not outright wrong, but there are times when specific instruments come in that make you think “wait, that isn’t quite right”. As a personal example, the FH7 sounds okay with most stringed instruments to my ears, but every time a piano section starts my head just automatically tilts at an angle in mild confusion. There is just something wrong but not totally wrong: is it the probably-too-early pinna gain from 500Hz? Is it the peak at 2k that is followed by a relative 3-7k suppression?

Who knows. Not going to go too deep with the analyses; these are just cliffnotes.

The obvious question would of course be how it compares with its smaller brother. Here’s my hot take: it’s worse. I’d take the FH5 over the FH7 any day, and I haven’t exactly been in agreement with the FH5 hype myself. It’s not like the FH7 is technically better than the FH5 either; at best they’re equal, at worst the FH5 seems to outresolve the FH7 and comes with a more realistic and tactile bass response to boot. And of course, the FH5 doesn’t have any of the tonal weirdness that the FH7 exhibits which already puts it as the winner in my books.

Not even going to talk about pricing on this one, the answer should be obvious. I’d say that if you absolutely have to go with a mid-tier FiiO IEM, just stick with the FH5.

Grade:

August’s IEM giveaway coming soon on Patreon! And of course shoutouts to my big money boys: “McMadface”, Denis, Nicholas, “caravan” and Justin. 

2 thoughts on “[Cliffnotes] FiiO’s FA1, FA7 and FH7: Mainstream”

  1. OK – I have had the FH7’s now for about 2 months. I’ve owned or had long term access to shure 846, Etymotic ER4(all), Shure KSE, andromeda(s). I found the FH7’s to equal or be in the same league to these relative to openness, balance, fun and soundstage (obviously each of these excel in one or more specific performance criteria relative to each other & and the FH7’s) . HOWEVER – I’ve found the FH7’s to be _very_ dependent on the tips used (I have not tried the filters just have used the “middle” balance filter). With the FH7, changing tips (good seal always preserved) can alter the sound from flat, harsh, tinny and sucked out mids . Other tips result in full and controlled bass, outstanding mids and refined highs (only bettered by my andromedia’s or the Shure KSE). Although all IEM’s are tip dependent, none of the IEM’s I’ve cited are anywhere near as sensitive to tip match as the FH7’s. My guess is that the wide variance of reviews is at least partially due to not evaluating with a wide range of tips. FYI, I have used, among others, the spin fit cp-240’s, the “bass” tips (delivered with the FH7’s), spinfit CP-500’s and various comply tips (none of which I find workable). I’m not recommending any of these tips – tips are very personal and subjective – my only point is that the sound of the FH7’s are _very_ tip dependent compared to other IEM’s I’ve auditioned.

    1. I will have to disagree with a reason. The review is quite pinpointing in that the SPL response of FH7 is too perfumed in the treble; too sparkle, and the reasons are peaks (and dips) and the general level.

      I work in HD SoundLab (Norway) and there we work with only audio things of all kinds, for example see our demos on SoundPimp.com, an error corrective technology for playback on loudspeakers. Our aim is something so boring as the word EXACTNESS. This is the best solution in the long run.

      To accompany our brilliant LG V30 with its close to perfect DAC, two of us purchased FH7 based on other reviews. After being initially impressed, the perfume smell got too strong, and we have (so far) made a coarse attempt on applying EQ. See and try the solution on my personal blog http://www.noach.one/blog/eq-suggestion-for-fiio-fh7/, and we both agree:

      Post eq, now the FH7 is quite an amazing transducer, where the basic very high quality of the mechanics, the beryllium driver, etc, is allowed to step forward. The bass is amazing all the way down to 20Hz. (We have a bass array in the lab with 9 elements and 1500W per channel so we are used to supergood bass. FH7 is the only headphone that matches this, to date). I am in the process of re-listening to all old favorite tracks, and they ALL sound better than I have heard before. It is not one track here and one track there, but ALL.

      And regarding the tips, our conclusion is that both the filters and in particular the tips impose close to ignorable changes. The filter has some minor effect but compared to one single eq setting, nothing.

      If you like, try our premature suggestion and give us feedback or suggestions for even further improvements. Email at bottom right of that webpage.

      We are a little shocked that FIIO could put all that intelligence into the mechanics and the “basic system”, only to diminish the whole product with that SPL. Hope they read this and make a decision to redesign the midrange and treble into a more exact transducer. It could be a hit!

      Regarding the measurements on this page, we perceive that the peaks and dips between 5-8kHz is about the double of that. It is when we reduce the 5700-7700 peak with 10dB (almost) that the FH7 starts to blossom. Such a peak completely destroys many finegrained information elements, about room ambience, etc.

      Generally speaking, I prefer a tint of loudness so as to be able to lower volume a bit (healthy for ears, and could be fun), but I am superallergic to any kind of whissle and sjsss on a female voice, when it is not there in the recording. I want FIIO to understand that the mixing process is outside their responsibility, don’t start to mix in not-there overtone structures, the result will only be thumbs down like this review. Post recording, leave it to me to apply artificial perfume. OK, FIIO?

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