Fiio requires little introduction, the company has been an audiophile favourite for years on behalf of their competitive pricing and well-rounded products that nail the fundamentals. This impression continued with their IEMs, some of which have become staple recommendations in recent years. Their line-up diverged last year, with the FA-series earphones possessing balanced-armature driver setups and a generally warmer sound; the FH earphones being more balanced with a hybrid setup. The brand new FA9 joins the FH7 as a co-flagship of the company. It sports 6-balanced armature drivers and some sophisticated acoustic design that looks very promising in the sound department. Fiio have adopted 3D printing to enable more complex designs with a higher level of finish. The FA9 retails for $599 USD, you can read more about it on Fiio’s website here and purchase links are available on HiFiGo.
The FA9 is a medium to large-sized IEM that adopts a 3D printing process in order to achieve a very svelte aesthetic. Such production technique permits appreciably more complex sculpting of the housing in addition to enhanced finish and intricacy of the internal acoustics. This can be observed via the complex array of sound tubes, in particular, the 80.6mm tube on the output of the dual bass drivers offering a physical low-pass filter similar to that on the venerable Shure SE846.
The fit is excellent as is comfort with a perfectly smooth design that hugs the folds of the outer ear. I am also impressed by the quality of the transparent housings, they are resin filled and without a trace of bubbles or imperfections; showcasing that complex driver and acoustic filter array stunningly. The faceplates are also gorgeous and provide immersive depth in the right lighting. With a fully-sealed design, both seal and isolation are very good, suitable for commute and even air travel with foam tips.
The cable is a lovely 8-core SPC unit with MMCX interface and right angle 3.5mm plug. It has a supple albeit slightly tacky jacket with visible conductors below. As with Fiio’s previous earphones, the cable feels beefy and well reinforced/relieved at each metal termination. The MMCX connectors themselves are also high-quality, tight with even tension between sides, a clear step up over previous implementations. Finally, the pre-moulded ear guides provide a comfortable and stable fit.
Sound Impressions –
Though essentially all have been tunable with tips and later filters, the FA9 if first to introduce tuning switches. There are bass and treble switches that provide a very distinct effect on the sound with an additional impedance/sensitivity switch that really just serves to increase the volume of the sound in addition to providing a more balanced signature; in high-impedance mode, the signature is noticeably brighter. As these are first impressions, I will delve into the sound with the pre-installed Spinfit tips alongside the stock switch configuration, you can view my measurements below to gauge the effect of the switches in the interim.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Note that 7-9KHz peaks are artefacts of my measurement setup. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1K. Take this graph with a grain of salt.
As with the FA7, its newer and higher-end sibling is warm, smooth and full but also reasonably balanced overall. That low-pass filter provides some impressive results, showcasing very good extension for a BA earphone and rather hard-hitting sub-bass for a BA earphone. There’s moderate emphasis in the sub and mid-bass providing a warm and full low-end that sits just in front of the midrange. In addition, it has a reasonably slow decay for a BA earphone that provides a more natural and dynamic image than most. Nonetheless, this remains a BA low-end, controlled and without flab but ultimately lacking the sub-bass pressure and texture associated with DD’s.
Mids are interesting, the tuning is quite unorthodox yet the result isn’t all that strange. A small upper-bass dip prevents bass warmth from seeping in, the tone is lightly warm but not to the extent that it defines the presentation. Rather, vocals come across as more smooth and full-bodied, not especially open, clear or defined but still natural and inviting. There’s a moderate wide-band bump through the centre-midrange that ensure bass never over-powers vocals in terms of quantity, they sit just a hair behind to my ears. Though twin peaks at 4 and 6KHz are to be observed, in the context of its warm voluminous low-end and smooth lower-treble, the presentation rides a good balance between vocal positioning, size and accurate articulation. Still, a controversial 3KHz trough does sap openness, causing vocals to sound a touch off-timbre and truncated despite 4KHz emphasis. I will need to spend more time with them to really break this down.
Highs are crisp with a clean transient response and good resolution. A small 6KHz bump aids note attack and definition with a 5KHz trough smoothing off articulation and sharpness. As such, details are well-present in the presentation, in line with mids and bass, but instruments are presented in a smooth and airy manner over a focussed and aggressive one. There’s good headroom on display in addition to strong extension and background detail retrieval if minimal sparkle in the highest registers. The background itself isn’t especially dark or clean, but also isn’t bright, glaring or splashy either, quite refined and well-controlled. Rather, the top-end of the FA9 comes across as light and airy.
The soundstage is also impressively wide, a very good performer in the price range. Imaging is quite concise too, vocals are well-centred and there’s a good balance between width and depth for a well-rounded presentation. However, rather than a stable and layered image, the FA9’s airier top-end produces a floatier presentation though instrument localisation isn’t quite sharp enough to make them holographic. As such, they don’t quite reach the performance bracket where they’d be competing with kilo buck IEMs in terms of technical performance. Tri-frequency separation is good, especially considering the tuning but separation overall is not their strongest point.
Early verdict –
It’s still early days with the FA9, but I think this will be one of their most significant IEM launches in recent years irrespective of their similarly higher price tag. The presentation has some very intriguing qualities, that being a spacious and immersive soundstage and warm, smooth signature that showcases good refinement, especially up top. The fit and design are also alluring as is the extensive accessory suit that Fiio has always been good with. This is also their most customisable earphone yet when it comes to sound which will widen appeal. Arguably, in pursuing performance, some of the value the company is known for has been sacrificed though; unfortunately, no company is above diminishing returns. Still, the Fiio FA9 occupies a wise price range; one where it offers almost kilo-buck performance but at enough of a discount not to compete with these models directly.
Stay tuned for the full review!