In-Ear Fidelity

[Cliffnotes] FiR Audio Lineup: Tubeless Exorbitance

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The journey of FiR Audio is a bit of a rocky one, spending much of its early life on the market embroiled in uncertainly and doubt over the tuning direction of its products.

In my own experience, I’ve heard about six M5s, four M4s, four M3s and two M2s, all with varying levels of differences between each unit of the same model. It’s only recently that FiR has finally confirmed the mass production of their universal models, which also means that their tunings have (hopefully) been truly finalised as well. And so, now I feel confident enough to talk about FiR’s IEMs given this “assurance” that whatever I’m about to say would apply to whatever the customer will get.

FiR Audio is brainchild of Bogdan Belonozhko; yep, that Belonozhko, of 64 Audio fame. Bogdan is the ex-CEO of 64 Audio, who left to create his own brand of IEMs that’s catered more to the audiophile crowd as opposed to 64 Audio’s musician/artist-focused marketing.

The FiR lineup is unique for one thing: the concept of “tubeless”, wherein the sound of the drivers are pumped directly into the shell itself rather than the traditional method of being piped through acoustic tubing. This is the same concept used in certain 64 Audio IEMs such as the universal-only tia Fourte and tia Trio (to a certain extent, the N8 as well), except this time FiR Audio accepts orders in custom form for its entire lineup.

With all these pedigrees right out the gate, expectations are high for FiR. Let’s see if they can meet them.

Special thanks to Project Perfection/Dita Audio for allowing me to audition the FiR lineup for review purposes.

FiR M2

Product page:

MSRP: $800

Driver configuration: 1BA + 1DD hybrid

Let’s cut to the chase, no BS; the M2 is bad.

I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on a boutique company for flubbing their “budget” model, but I’m the kind of person who believes that “if it’s bad, don’t release it”. And the M2 is bad enough for me to say that it shouldn’t exist, especially at its asking price.

But why is it bad? For one, the first thing that came to mind when I heard the M2 was “unnatural”. That does not happen with many IEMs I know, and for me to get that impression within the first few seconds pretty much relegates an IEM beneath the C tiers. The M2 simply does not sound right, and so it already trips at the starting line.

More specifically, it’s an IEM that’s characterised by its sheer shout. Not Harman-shout, mind you (which is relatively benign timbre-wise and is just “loud”), but rather the kind of shout that messes with the harmonics of whatever instrument to throw at it. Chestiness of the vocal range is gone, guitars lose their weight, violins get screechy, brass instruments become piercing… you get the point.

Sometimes, boutique companies can offer some real gems in their entry-level models. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those times.

Grade: C-

FiR M3

Product page:

MSRP: $1,200

Driver configuration: 2BA + 1DD hybrid

The M3 is where I’d consider the FiR lineup to really begin.

It’s a warm, relaxing signature though with enough treble response to keep things a little clearer, which helps in reigning in the congestion that may arise from the relatively heavy weight of its notes. The tonality is smooth and free from any weird peaks or emphases, akin to one of my favourite IEMs the Vision Ears VE8. Compared to the VE8, the M3 is just lacking in its technical chops, but making up for it a little with the classic DD bass response that I’m unabashedly biased towards.

If I had any criticism, it’s that the M3 doesn’t seem to have the typical qualities of “wide, spacious soundstage” that I’ve come to associate with many tubeless designs, such as the aforementioned Fourte and the Sony IER-Z1R. In fact, the imaging chops are disappointingly average (though again, “average” is the norm in my books), and so it really makes me wonder “why even make this tubeless?” at times.

All in all, while the tonal and technical performances are pretty good, the market is simply too competitive for me to outright recommend the M3. The kilobuck mark may be ripe for the picking even just a couple of years ago, but 2020 is seeing the rise of price-to-performance behemoths that make IEMs like the M3 seem like poor value choices.

But if there’s one thing I can praise the M3 for, it’s that it is easily the IEM with the “best value” within FiR’s lineup.

Grade: A

FiR M4

Product page:

MSRP: $1,900

Driver configuration: 3BA + 1DD hybrid

The M4 is where the FiR lineup starts pushing things a little.

There are some differences between the M3 and the M4. The $700 price premium, slightly reduced note weight, a more forward midrange, an overall more “bright” kind of signature. But in terms of the technical nitty-gritty beyond that? I struggle to see the M4 as an undisputable upgrade over the M3.

In my opinion, if you’re really considering a FiR M4, give the M3 a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Grade: A

FiR M5

Product page:

MSRP: $2,800

Driver configuration: 1EST + 3BA + 1DD hybrid

From the M3 to the M4 and now the M5, it’s clear the FiR has a certain house sound that they follow. And honestly, I think the M5 actually executed it the poorest.

It is the warmest out of the four with some added drawbacks; the worst of which is a little bass bleed that wasn’t there in the M3 and M4 for instance, but enough for me to notice it as a problem despite the largely similar tunings.

I’m not sure why the M5 sounds a little technically inferior to its lower-end brethren; perhaps it’s due to the added complexity of the Sonion EST drivers in the circuitry, perhaps it has to do with the dampening design within the shell. But regardless, it isn’t my job to tell you why, but rather to simply report to you my impressions.

As far as I’m concerned, at a price more than double of the already-expensive M3, the M5 firmly places itself in “overpriced” territory. $2,800 is no place for an IEM, especially when many (arguably) superior IEMs exist at a fraction of that.

Grade: A-

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7 thoughts on “[Cliffnotes] FiR Audio Lineup: Tubeless Exorbitance”

  1. did FiR implemented their proprietary connectors on these iems or just regular mmcx?
    those connecting parts have quite distinct look unlike regular mmcx connectors

    1. For the universals, it’s a standard MMCX connector but with an extruded ring that secures the connector in place.

      The customs come with the “RCX” connector which is similar to MMCX but a square connection that prevents swivelling, but also very proprietary and thus very expensive to replace.

  2. Funny read, thanks :-), as allways trashing things others like, seems a good concept to get attantion ;-).

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