FiiO FA9 Review
FiiO FA9 – Chameleon
Pros: Excellent tonal balance
Custom like fit
Unique and well implemented tunable crossover
Great selection of accessories
Good quality cable
Lack of distortion
Cons: Dynamically shy
Stage lacks sense of space
No balanced cable
FiiO FA9 – Chameleon
This review was published at the printed edition of hxosplus magazine and now I have translated it for Headfi.
The sample was kindly provided by FiiO and remains under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of the earphone.
You can buy it from FiiO.eu
FiiO currently has two series of premium in ear monitors the FH where “H” indicates that it is a hybrid headset and the FA where “A” indicates that all units of the headset are of the balanced armature type.
The top model – so far – of the first series is the FH7 while the brand new FA9 is the flagship of the FA series.
The FA9 is an iem with six units of balanced armature drivers two more than the previous model the FA7.
Two pieces (SWFK 31376) for the very high and high frequencies, two (EJ 33877) for the medium and two (HODVTEC 31618) woofers for the low all made by the famous Knowles and specially configured for the specific needs of FiiO.
In addition to the necessary four-way electronic crossover, FiiO has added to the FA9 an extra long 80.6mm sound tube which acts as a passive low-pass filter and ensures the proper homogenization of the sound of the individual units as well as the better behavior of the low frequencies.
We all know that the FH7 sports the ability to micro adjust the audio profile through a passive filter that screws into the nozzle of the iem.
This feature also exists in FA9, only here FiiO has taken a completely different approach.
The passive filter has been replaced by three micro-switches located on the body of the iem that directly interfere with the operation of the electronic crossover by changing its frequency response.
The first switch adjusts the impedance and sensitivity of the FA9 with two available values – 16Ω / 110dB for ease of driving with the disadvantage of noise sensitivity or 32Ω / 113dB for more stable and clear sound.
The second and third switches are the ones that regulate the cut off frequencies of the crossover.
There are two working options for each one while all combinations are possible so we are talking about four separate sound profiles.
Switch two on is treble boost while off is treble normal.
Switch three on is reduced bass and increased mids while off is increased bass and reduced mids.
Add to this the two positions of the first switch and we have at all eight possible configurations to fine tune the FA9 to our taste.
The outer shell is made with the method of 4th generation DLP 3D printing with the advantages of being very light at 6.2g per unit plus the ultra compact anatomical shape for a perfect fit like a custom monitor.
Particular attention has been paid to the choice of the construction material that is a special plastic made in Germany with a medical certification for its anti-allergic properties and discoloration resistance.
Accessories and cable
The cable that comes with the FA9 is of high quality with reinforced MMCX connectors and eight – hand woven – strands of high purity monocrystalline silver plated copper.
As we are accustomed with FiiO the accessories provided are more than enough.
We get 15 pairs of sound adjusting ear tips including Comply and Spinfits plus two carrying cases.
One luxury storage hard case with self closing cover padded with faux leather and one soft carrying case from neoprene.
A special tool for cleaning and adjusting the micro switches is also provided.
Now we are nitpicking here but at this price point a second balanced cable would be greatly welcomed.
Into the sound
The fit and comfort are extremely good – much better than the FH5/7 or the FA7 – with negligible weight and no inconvenience in long term use and excellent passive noise attenuation.
It is a custom like experience one of the best we have ever tested.
The FA9 is very easy to drive at any given position of the first switch and we have opted for the 32Ω variant when we used two of our benchmark devices the FiiO M11PRO and EarMen Sparrow.
After trying all the possible sound profiles we ended up listening mainly with the switch two set to off and three to on since it seemed to be the most tonally correct combination.
In this setup the FA9 sounded very balanced with an even frequency response quite close to the ideal.
A very natural (not neutral) tone presentation throughout the whole spectrum and with an excellent instrument timbre , areas in which it is better than both the FA7 and the FH7.
The right amount on the bass without never feeling that something is missing in balance with the rest of the spectrum.
All acoustic bass instruments are rendered perfectly and bass heads can use the bass boost option to emphasize it a little.
Quality is good with very satisfying layering and excellent definition but it lacks a bit in slam compared to a good dynamic driver but then it compensates with the total lack of distortion even at very loud volume settings.
The middle area sounds crystal clear and with the right articulation and voicing.
There is a smooth emphasis as needed so that there is liveliness without ever sounding tedious or out of tune.
High frequencies are masterfully tuned the best we have ever heard from a FiiO iem till now.
The FA9 has the liveliness and speed that characterize the balanced armature drivers and it sounds very tonally accurate without being sibilant or bright.
We can hear all the fine nuances and micro details in perfect harmony with the whole presentation without being sterile or analytical.
Driver speed is excellent and the decay over time is very good resulting in a very natural sounding percussion and high pitched instruments.
If we would like to complain about something that would be the lack of ultimate dynamic behavior and the slight absence of body and 3d layering.
The stage is quite open and airy able to present dense music tracks with success but we thought that it lacked in spatial accuracy and pinpoint positioning.
Despite that few shortcomings mentioned above we found the whole presentation very satisfying with high levels of enjoyment without severely lacking in technical ability and above all with a great natural tonal accuracy.
The active crossover equalization system works very well and enables the user to fine tune the FA9 without exaggeration and above all without loss of total quality.
A very smart and well implemented idea from FiiO allows the FA9 to adjust to our personal tastes like a Chameleon.
At the end
The FiiO FA9 is a step up in the right direction as it is a much improved version of the FA7 and in some ways even better than the FH7.
In our opinion it is the best tuned iem of FiiO till now with excellent sound qualities able to rendered perfectly all kinds of music.
Add to this the perfect custom like fit with great noise attenuation and above all the unique and very successful fine tuning system and we got in our hands a clear winner.
FiiO once more again have surpassed their selves and we wonder what is coming next.
Very highly recommend especially if you value natural tonal accuracy.
The test playlist – http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2020.