FiiO FH5S Review

FiiO FH5S Review

4 June 2021 0 By Petros Laskis

Patientia vincit omnia

Pros: – Balanced tuning
– Precise and transparent yet musical and engaging
– Reference bass performance
– Highly dynamic
– Excellent midrange quality
– Excellent head stage
– Brutally honest
– Detailed yet not analytical
– Tuning switches
– Very comfortable and lightweight
– Cable with switchable plugs
– Large accessory pack
– Great build quality

Cons: – Requires massive burn in
– Highly exposing
– Treble timbre slightly lagging behind
– Not suitable for poor quality material
– Requires dedicated dac/amp or player
– May not suit laid back listeners
– Semi open design will not isolate well

The FH5s was kindly provided by FiiO as a long term loan and doesn’t need to be returned.
FiiO never asked for a favorable review and I am providing my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

Introduction

The FH5s is the brand new iem from FiiO which is the successor of the highly acclaimed but now discontinued FH5.
It is selling for €249.99 and you get it from FiiO.eu

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Technical information

Although the FH5s is considered as a successor of the FH5 it is not a mere upgrade but rather a totally different design starting from the driver configuration and extending to the outer design.

Let’s remember that the FH5 is a quad driver closed principle iem.
A 10mm polymer nanocomposite dynamic driver in combination with three balanced armature drivers for the middle , high and ultra high frequencies.

The FH5s is still a hybrid quad driver iem but this time in a semi open shell with a different configuration of two dynamic and two balanced armature drivers.

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Driver configuration

A third generation 12mm beryllium plated dome plus PU gasket dynamic low frequency driver which is
engineered to give extremely high-quality bass.
With its rigid yet flexible
polyurethane polymer surrounding gasket + beryllium-plated diaphragm
dome and N52 magnets capable of 1.5 Tesla, this driver is capable of some seriously deep and potent yet controlled bass.

The big surprise is that the mid frequencies are allocated to a 6mm beryllium-plated diaphragm dynamic driver which is carefully tuned to smoothly connect to the other drivers.
Replacing the balanced armature used for mid frequencies in
the original FH5, the new mids dynamic driver provides better vocals and soundstage in the FH5s.
The dual dynamic driver setup connects the bass and mids together more smoothly and coherently as well as covers a wider range of frequencies and provides
a larger soundstage.

A pair of the time tested Knowles TWFK-30017 is used to handle high and ultra high frequencies.
Both drivers are placed directly in the sound tube to be as close to the ear as possible for less high frequency loss and better extension.

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Active crossover

The FH5s is utilizing an active crossover like the one that was firstly introduced with the FA9 (review) and can be customized with three micro switches that are located at the bottom of the shell.
There are three tuning switches for lows,mids, and highs that combined can result in eight different sound profiles.
While the default sound tuning will suit the taste of most
audiophiles, there are also three tuning switches controlling
the bass, mids, and treble for further customization.

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Outer shell design

The semi-open design at the rear cavity was refined through
computer simulations to ensure air pressures at the front and
rear cavities are balanced , resulting in a larger soundstage , a more comfortable listening experience , as well as a natural sound.

The FH5s employs the TRISHELL “sandwich” structural design,
with the 5-axis CNC machined aluminum-magnesium alloy rear
shell, body, and front covers solidly fixed together at 3 points to
greatly reduce excess resonance and distortion.
The shell is made of CNC-machined aluminum-magnesium
alloy, which is firm enough to even reduce the unwanted
resonances within.
Here, the sturdiness of the shell actually improves music.

Cable

The detachable cable features an interchangeable audio jack.
The included twist-lock swappable audio plugs are made of stainless steel making them durable.
2.5/3.5/4.4 plugs are included
so that one cable satisfies the needs of many different kinds of listeners.
The cable utilizes the stable expanded MMCX connector Litz Type 2 braided cable with blue and red markings to easily distinguish the left and right channels.
It’s a litz Type 2 braided cable with four-strand 120 core, high-purity monocrystalline silver-plated copper
that faithfully reproduces music.

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Accessories

As always FiiO is very large with the included accessories.
Except for the cable with three swappable plugs we get a large selection of ear tips plus the luxury hard case HB5 to store everything inside.
The tips include three pairs of vocal , bass and balanced tips for fine tuning the sound plus a pair of bi – flange and three pairs of foam ear tips.
Everything is stored in a foam case and for last we have a cleaning brush and the MMCX assist tool.

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Build quality and fit

Our unit is the black variant with gold accents which is very beautiful looking with a luxury finish and a modern twist to it.
A silver model with gold accents is available for the Asia market and there are chances that it may be sold to other markets too.
Build quality is excellent without any visible signs or spots on the surface of it.
The FH5s is not bulky , especially considering that it is a four driver iem and fits very comfortably and quite discreetly.
The shell is anatomically designed and the nozzle is extended so it can be flushed tight against the ear without causing any discomfort , staying in place even after heavy movement.
We have used it non stop for more than a couple of hours with great success.
Passive noise attenuation is above average but not the absolute best since this is a semi open design.
Overall fit and handling experience is better than the original FH5.

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Burn in and set up

After some early and quite rushed reviews that were on the negative side, FiiO contacted us , strongly insisting that the FH5s should be burned for at least 200 hours before any critical listening.
So after some preliminary listening sessions we left the FH5s playing music 24/7 checking sound performance every 24 hours and stopped the process at the 250 hours mark.

First impressions were that FH5s is a balanced and well sounding iem with a few quirks , namely dynamic drivers lacking in absolute control , sound slightly missing in cohesion between the crossover transition points and high treble sounding slightly metallic or artificial.
Intermediate check suggested that things were indeed improving and at the end of the process the iem truly settled down transforming from the ugly duck to a gorgeous swan.
Timbre settled down , sound became more cohesive and homogenized while the beryllium drivers gained absolute control.

So the impressions that follow are noted after the lengthy burn in process with the balanced ear tips and all crossover switches set to off unless otherwise noted.
To keep things simple we have used only a couple of sound devices , namely the THX Onyx , FiiO M11 Plus LTD/ddHiFi TC44B from the balanced outputs and the Periodic Audio Rhodium for the budget conscious audiophile.

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Well , how does it sound?

The original FH5 was a very enjoyable and good sounding iem with a slightly colored bass to mids response and slightly rolled treble.
Nothing wrong with that but for it’s successor FiiO opted for a more reference and natural tuning adding a bit more treble energy and mids presence.

The overall sound signature is exceptionally balanced with an even tuning that sits close to the natural target response.
All four drivers are well integrated without audible transition at the crossover frequency points while nothing sounds detached or out of phase.

There is a slight emphasis at the brilliance range (around 8kHz) that is very carefully implemented in order to add air and detail , clarity and definition without making the iem to sound fatiguing or harsh.
By doing so without simultaneously overly boosting the presence area , FiiO has successfully succeeded to make an open sounding iem that is transparent and of a revealing nature but not bright or sibilant.

The FH5s is engaging and musical without being boring or artificial and at the same time is to be considered highly exposing of the recording and gear quality alike.
During our listening sessions the FH5s always felt at least lucid if not slightly accentuating all the flaws of the mastering so don’t expect it to be forgiving.
Potential users should be well aware of that and strongly consider that the FH5s is transparent and not suitable for poorly mastered tracks.

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The Bass Master

Bass on the FH5s is fully extended reaching down to the lowest notes without any significant roll off.
It is a strictly reference tuning gradually sloping down to the mids without mid-bass bloat and extra emphasis at any given point of the bass region , really uncolored and without any added boost.
The quantity is exactly the one that was captured inside the recording, nothing more , nothing less , so we may call it a purists approach and extra bass lovers may not be satisfied.

The quality is top of the line with a clean and crystal clear presentation that it is full bodied and weighty while remains super tight and controlled.
The rigid driver is ultra fast with exemplary reverb and decay and the large surface can move plenty of air adding great dynamics and plenty of realism.

Masking is an unknown word for this iem and the listener can easily follow the bass line no matter how many different instruments are playing together.
Bass depth and layering are spectacular and the FH5s is a reference bass performer with top notch technicalities that are to be envied by far more expensive earphones.

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Voices come alive

We are very pleased that FiiO decided to go for a dynamic driver in the critical mid range region.
Mid frequency tuning is also to be considered reference neutral with a gentle rise while reaching the upper mids but it is not the tuning but rather the great timbre that sets the FH5s mids apart.

Mids are voiced naturally with the dynamic driver performing miracles at setting a very analogue timbre without artificial flavor while at the same time adding weight and scale.
Clarity is spectacular and everything sounds present and alive with voices breathing stunning realism , blending together with the instruments in a cunning manner and with the finest articulation.

Solo voices sound eerie and some tracks like this tear shredding lament may haunt your nights.
Be it solo voices , instruments or large choruses the FH5s can successfully portray all the harmonies with an extended sound palette full of the most natural colors.
Great performance that breathes life into the mid frequencies without being mid – centric.

Clarity and precision at command

High and ultra high frequencies are handled by the two balanced armature drivers that are placed very close to the ear resulting in a lively presentation giving the FH5s a forward and energetic character.
Both drivers sound quite well integrated and not detached while their speedy nature is easily followed by the two dynamic drivers that are equally fast.

Upper mid-range and presence area are evenly tuned without any alarming peaks which translates in a fairly smooth behavior free of brightness and sibilants.
There is a slight loss of timbre and articulation quality compared to mids and lows but nothing so wrong to be alarming and spoil the overall experience.

Treble note thickness is almost on par with the rest frequencies and sounds quite full with good overall decay that can follow lower notes without lagging behind , so the overall sense is very natural with great timing across the whole frequency range.
This is a fast and lively sounding iem that calls for your attention , full of energy and transparency but without being bright or fatiguing.
We have listened to a lot of difficult and treble stretching tracks (playlist is available at the end of this text) and the only times we have spotted fatiguing behavior was when it was present at the specific recording.

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Time lapse

Detail retrieval is exemplary for the category and the listener can reach deep inside the recording to listen to all the available information in a holistic and focused approach.
The FH5s should not be considered analytical since it takes advantage of it’s revealing nature in order to present us the inner space of the recording venue in the most convincing manner.

This time frame is magnified by the amazing soundstage that is one of the best we have ever heard of an earphone at this price point and more.
Greatly extended from left to right and proportionally arranged in it’s depth layering it is always accurate and in no way artificially expanded.
The feeling is very spacious with ample room for every instrument to breathe and pinpoint positioning , a truly glorious experience with large symphonic works.

Fine tuning

Users who own the FiiO FA9 should be familiar with the fine tuning system utilizing the three switches that can slightly affect the frequency response.
In the FH5s the sensitivity switch is ditched for a mid frequency switch that is absent at the FA9.
We have three switches , one to boost the bass , one for the mids and one for the highs.
They can be set independently or in all the available combinations to tune the sound according to the user’s tastes.
Don’t expect huge differences as these are meant for fine tuning but they do work and are worth while experimenting.

We did like the bass boost option enabled , sometimes combined with the mids switch set to on.
The bass boost will not accentuate the low frequencies but is rather cutting a touch of the brilliance peak.
As a result the bass region is slightly highlighted (not emphasized) and treble sounds a little less forward with the overall result being more natural and less aggressive.
At the end and after a lot of experiments we have settled down with the bass switch set to on.

A brief comparison against the FiiO FD5

The FiiO FD5 is a single dynamic driver iem that is selling for €299.99 and we have liked it a lot as you can find out reading our related review
The comparison was done from the balanced output of the M11 Plus LTD level matched by the ear.

The two earphones are different not only in their tuning but also in the overall sound projection.
The FD5 bass tuning is a rather colored one boosted a little starting from low bass and stretching up to the mids.
The listener can clearly hear (feel) more sub bass level with greater thump and rumble plus the presentation is more visceral and full bodied.
But at the same time , compared to the FH5s , there is a loss in firmness and layering depth while the bassline is less defined.
Masking creeps in and mid bass bloat is heard so we cannot follow the bass line so clearly and everything sounds massed and homogenized.
Of course there is no right or wrong here because some users might prefer the FD5 which works better for EDM and electronic music but others will clearly choose the FH5s which is much better for classical and acoustic music.

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The FD5 is slightly recessed at the mid range with a more accentuated presence area so it sounds kind of V – shaped compared to the FH5s.
So although from a tuning point of view it is not to be called less treble emphasized it is the use of the single dynamic driver that sets the overall feeling as less forward and aggressive , so at the end you may find it more smooth and with better timbre characteristics compared to the FH5s.
Another difference regarding the treble is that the FD5 sounds just slightly more cohesive with a touch of extra body and a finer articulation.

Going back and forth the listener is to discover that the FD5 presentation feels closer to the listener , more intimate , cozy and easy going while the FH5s is third row seating , fast and distanced with a leaner character.

Clarity and detail retrieval are on the FH5s side as is the head stage which outperforms the FD5 by a fair margin.
Both earphones are very capable performers and are going to suit different moods and musical genres.
In our opinion the FH5s is something like a classical music master while the FD5 is better suited for modern material and laid back listening.

So is the FH5s a tragic scar in FiiO’s history or just another winner?

This was a long and time consuming review but after all this controversy regarding the FH5s sound performance we were obliged to be very cautious and careful regarding our approach and final verdict.

Well it is pretty obvious that we liked it a lot and we can’t think of anything really negative in order not to award a five star rating considering the overall performance to price ratio.
For €249.99 we buy an iem with a fairly balanced tuning , reference bass and soundstage performance , excellent overall timbre , great build quality and large accessory pack.

The FH5s is fast and precise with an exposing and transparent nature.
Brutally honest with a restless and nervous character should appeal well to purists and attentive listeners that prefer a lively listening experience.
Just feed it with good quality material and be patient to let it’s virtues unfold.

Test playlist

Copyright – Laskis Petros 2021