Fiio FA9 Review – Fun Times
Great BA bass extension and texture, Airy and refined top-end, Well-rounded soundstage, Nice design and ergonomics, Highly tunable to listener preference, Impressively source agnostic in high-impedance mode
Larger housings won’t suit smaller eared listeners, Tuning options can be overwhelming, Raspy vocals, Only mediocre Separation
The FA9 offers an appealing tunable sound alongside almost kilo-buck performance at enough of a discount not to compete with these models directly.
Fiio 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, though off to a rocky start, the company quickly appended common complaints, achieving new heights with each revision. Fiio is at the point where quite a few of their IEMs have become staple recommendations at their respective price points. 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 leveraging the intricacy permitted by DLP 3D printing.
The FA9 retails for $599 USD, you can read more about it on Fiio’s website here and purchase links are available on HiFiGo.
I would like to thank Fiio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the FA9 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Drivers: SWFK-31736 (tweeter), EJ-33877 (midrange), HODVTEC-31618 (woofer)
- Crossover: 4-Way
- Frequency Response: 15Hz – 40kHz
- Impedance 16-32 ohms
- Sensitivity: 110/113dB@1mW
- Weight: 6.2g
The Pitch –
Knowles Driver Setup
The FA-9 is a 6-BA earphone arranged in a 4-Way crossover, low, mid, high and ultra-high. The highs/ultra-highs are covered by dual SWFK-31736 tweeters while the low-end is delivered by Knowles’ dual HODVTEC-31618 woofer setup Meanwhile, the midrange is serviced by a pair of custom Knowles/Fiio EJ-33877 driver for a lush vocal presentation.
The 80.6mm twisty sound tubes act as a physical low-pass filter. As high-frequencies are attenuated before low-frequencies, increasing the distance of the sound tube effectively filters out mids and highs, leaving a cleaner and more impactful bass. We’ve seen this implemented by Fiio before with the FH earphones and the same concept was a notable design element of the venerable Shure SE846 which touted some of the best bass extension or a BA earphone. Fiio is attempting similar feats here, taking the FH system to a new level in tandem with Knowles’ HODVTEC woofer drivers.
A first for Fiio, there are now 3-tuning switches on the read of each driver that permit basic bass and treble boost functionality to tailor the sound to a wider range of sound preferences. Interestingly, the third switch doesn’t affect the midrange, but rather the impedance value of the earphones, from 16 to 32ohms. As one would expect, the 16ohm setting is more efficient while the 32ohm setting is less sensitive to noise and output impedance of the source. I did also find the sound to change between the two despite Fiio not stating it so.
Fiio have really been stepping up their packaging with their latest flagship in ears and the FA9 is no exception. The earphones come within a colossal hard box with a lustrous exterior. A smaller box slides out, opening up to reveal the earphones within protective foam. Beneath is an extensive array of ear tips in HB3 leather carrying case with a more portable fabric zippered case inside. The case is tough, premium and protective with ample room to fit a small DAP such as the M5 in addition to the earphones. The ear tip selection is very extensive similar to previous Fiio in ears. Installed from factory are Spinfit CP145 tips. However, Fiio also include 3 pairs of bass, vocal and balanced tuning tips in addition to 2 pairs of memory foam tips and an additional 2 pairs of Spinfits in small and large sizes. Biflange tips are also included for added isolation. This is a highly premium experience suitable for a flagship product. I am a fan of the extensive tip selection as well, maximising the chance that the buyer will find an ideal fit.
The FA9 is a medium to large-sized IEM that adopts a 3D printing process in order to achieve a very svelte aesthetic. The diamond-cut faceplates especially dazzle in a spectacular play of light. As seen below, the FA9 is surely Fiio’s most distinct designs. Such production technique also permits appreciably more complex sculpting of the housing, being appreciably more comfortable and stable to me as opposed to the FA7. The finish is also enhanced with zero seams or rough edges and a super smooth exterior. Though not as dense in the hand as a metal earphone, the FA9 definitely doesn’t disappoint in the looks department and feels like a solid and well-finished piece of hardware.
The cable is similarly premium and feels substantially more compliant than the cables featured on Fiio’s other in-ears. It’s an 8-core SPC unit with MMCX interface and right angle 3.5mm plug. It has a supple albeit slightly tacky rubbery with zero memory and minimal microphonic noise. As with Fiio’s previous earphones, the cable feels beefy and well reinforced/relieved at each metal termination despite its softer construction. The MMCX connectors themselves are also high-quality, tight with even tension between sides, a clear step up over previous implementations that garnered some complaints here. Finally, the pre-moulded ear guides provide a comfortable and stable fit for my ears.
Fit & Isolation –
The FA9 is on the larger side, not outright large, but they are quite tall. As such, those with smaller ears may experience discomfort or limited fit depth. For my average-sized ears, I experienced great comfort from the perfectly smooth design that hugs the folds of the outer ear. I could feel some contact at the top of my ear due to the height of the housings but no sharp hotspots or pain over time. 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 dense housings in tandem with a fully-sealed design results in excellent seal and isolation, easily suitable for commute and even air travel with foam tips. They also aren’t susceptible to wind noise when out and about.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.
Tip Choice –
As with their previous models, the FA9 comes packaged with 5 pairs of tuning tips. Equipped from factors are Spinfit CP145’s which have a slightly elongated design relative to the CP100, providing a deeper fit. All further comments will be in reference to these tips and in the stock switch configuration.
Vocal: Slightly more forward and intimate vocals, tighter sub-bass, lows are a touch more laid-back overall. Slightly sharper and splashier treble. These are the most open sounding tip but surely most users will prefer the balanced tips as they provide similar effects but without the splashiness.
Bass: Warmer sound with reduced treble energy. Bass is a touch fuller, tipped slightly more towards the mid-bass. Also, more bloat with less definition. Mids are warmer and fuller, similar positioning. I find them a bit too congested but YMMV.
Balanced: Slightly more vocals forward but are similarly voiced, tighter sub-bass and reduced bass emphasis overall. Highs remain quite similar to the Spinfits, a touch more controlled around the lower-treble especially.
I personally preferred the stock tips most from an ergonomic point of view and sonically, besides the slightly boomy low-end, found them most engaging as well. I found this a nice complement to the FA9’s warm and rich voicing, introducing a bit more energy up top in addition to enhancing midrange clarity. Still, those valuing greater balance may want to use the balanced tips.
Tuning Switches –
Low Impedance (S1): The S3 switch is set to off by default delivering a higher impedance sound and reduced sensitivity. Immediately, turning the S1 switch on (lower-impedance), the FA9 assumes a slightly more engaging sound with enhanced bass impact and treble clarity. There’s more energy in the sound and it assumes more of a V-shaped presentation.
Treble Boost (S2): Going off of Fiio’s website, this switch is actually set to on by default. As such, users aren’t really able to achieve a more neutral sound, rather you can turn off the S2 switch for a smoother top-end and articulation. There is noticeably less crunch and bite to instrument attack in addition to a slightly fuller vocal presentation. I personally preferred to keep the treble boost on as I found it more balanced, being a bit too smooth and closed in with the S2 switch turned off. Of course, this is just my personal preference and will also be subject to tip preference.
Bass Boost (S3): Increased bass presence, seems like a fairly linear boost, so you do get a fuller sound and a bit more kick and slam, but also not too much additional warmth. I also hear slightly more laid-back vocals and obviously, treble is more laid-back too, by comparison, assuming an overall more L-shaped signature. However, this setting also doesn’t produce the same bloat and muddiness observed on the bass boost tips so it is a much more desirable bass boost for those wanting more fullness and colour in their sound.
I tend to prefer the stock setting on most earphones and that was the case here as well. That means high-impedance mode, treble boost on and bass boost off. That said, I can definitely see many listeners preferring the low-impedance mode as well as it does make the sound appreciably more engaging and dynamic. The S3 setting is very usable too, overall, a much more refined way of tuning the sound than the included ear tips. The issue with the FA9 is that there’s, if anything, too much adjustability which can make the initial setup confusing and convoluted. I would advise choosing the tip that provides the best seal and comfort, then toggling the switches systematically before trying different combinations.
I will be assessing the FA9 with my preferred CP145 Spinfit tips alongside the stock switch setting. This is a nicely balanced sound overall, tipped just a touch towards the bass due to a smoother vocal delivery. Like the FA7 before it, the tone is warm and the voicing generally full-bodied. However, the FA9 is appreciably more open, defined and simply, a cleaner sound while retaining a similar style of tuning. I would attribute this mostly to the tighter bass alongside a more energetic and extended treble. Though not nearly bright, even with the treble boost on, there’s pleasing clarity in the lower-treble and a nice, linear extension on display. The FA9 is a musical and easily enjoyable earphone, perhaps a touch safe sounding but the S1 switch has a good effect here.
The low-pass filter provides some impressive results here, showcasing very good extension for a midrange BA-earphone. Of course, don’t expect the same quality as the higher priced CFA Ara or Craft Six which also implement some snazzy acoustic design. However, the listeners is still rewarded with almost as much depth which, alongside a modest sub-bass lift, produces a very solid slam and clearly defined rumble at the very bottom. Sub-bass indeed possesses more authority than the vast majority of BA earphones and represents a huge step up over the FA7. This is followed by modest elevation of the mid-bass before a gradual slope into an attenuated lower-midrange to avoid excess midrange colouration. Bass remains full and warm with enlarged notes. Emphasis isn’t excessive and doesn’t overshadow other frequencies, but this what I would describe as a rich and full-bodied sound.
Contributing to this impression is the attack and decay properties of the FA9’s low-end. Driver control is surely good, upholding a higher level of detail retrieval. However, the FA9’s low notes decay quite slowly for a BA earphone, not quite DD-like, but bass isn’t of the quick-decaying and highly defined nature one might expect. Sub-bass also isn’t the tightest, being very heavy-hitting but also just a touch muddy. On the contrary, there are positives to this display, conveying passages with convincing dynamics without overly upsetting pace and organisation in addition to providing a nicely textured sound when taken as a whole, the timbre is quite natural. This is ultimately, a full, warm and hard-hitting presentation that will find fans in those searching for a fun and engaging listen without going for something overtly bass-heavy.
Though certainly a touch bass-focussed, the FA9 achieves good balance overall with a centre midrange push that brings vocals forward and creates a reasonably large and powerful voicing. As the 3KHz region is attenuated, they steer clear of excessive intimacy and this tuning does also help to redeem some smoothness sacrificed by a later 4KHz peak. It’s a non-traditional tuning for sure but relatively natural as a whole. The full and warm low-end is partially counterbalanced by a small lower-midrange dip that increases separation. That said, some colouration remains as the dip is relatively small, so the midrange still comes across as moderately warm and full-bodied, a rich and organic sound.
And yet, no semblance of veil is to be observed on behalf of a sizeable 4KHz peak that serves to increase vocal extension, clarity and openness. There’s also a small 6KHz peak higher up though articulations comes across as relatively accurate to me with a 5KHz trough smoothing off sibilance. Vocals are quite raspy despite being full and well-articulated due to the upper-midrange tuning. They aren’t strident nor thinned out, as the 3KHz tuning ensures positioning remains fairly balanced with the bass, while the full low-end tuning provides robust and well-structured notes. Vocals are presented with good clarity and avoid sounding closed in, thick or overly chesty as a result of this tuning. However, though clear, the FA9 is not to be mistaken as an especially well-defined or separated earphone, rather continuing the theme of its low-end. This is a warm and smooth presentation that retains good vocal clarity and a relatively natural albeit slightly truncated voicing.
Highs are crisp with a clean transient response and good resolution too, again, a very noticeable bump over the FA7 that I found quite closed in up top. 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 with my preferred tip and switch selection. Note attack is on the smoother side so details are presented in an airier manner over a focussed and aggressive one. Treble instrumentation is also a touch thin albeit crisp and well-defined, flattering percussion and strings in particular. However, though shimmer and decay are only slightly on the quicker side, combined with the thinner instrument body, you may miss some texture on cymbals and high-hats.
Above, there’s good headroom on display with strong extension and background detail retrieval if minimal sparkle in the highest registers. The background itself isn’t especially dark, delivering a bit more air than neutral while retaining cleanliness with no notable peaks. So despite instruments being quite crisp, the presentation is never bright, glaring or splashy, sounding well-controlled. This is overall a nicely refined sound with a light and airy character. It obviously lacks the same balance and technical ability of most high-end IEMs but also represents a clear step up from cheaper earphones too. Altogether, this is a good performance for the asking price and a very well-considered tuning that injects a bit of energy and openness into a sound that might otherwise become bogged down by its warmth and body.
With strong top-end extension and a linear middle-treble, the FA9 is able to create a convincing sense of distance, with width stretching easily beyond the head, being a great performer in this price range. Depth is a good performer too on behalf of well-positioned vocals in addition to a very solid and stable low-end forming a well-rounded presentation. Imaging is concise but lacking the pinpoint sharp localisation of higher-priced models. And, rather than a stable and layered image, the FA9’s airier top-end produces a floatier presentation but, as aforementioned, without the sharp enough localisation 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 given their fuller voicing. On the contrary, these definitely are not a congested earphone even when listening to already warmer tracks, commendable.
The FA9 has an impedance of 32/16-ohm impedance on high and low -impedance modes respectively. The sensitivity mirrors this at 113/110dB to quote Fiio’s spec page. There is a distinct difference in efficiency between the two modes; when paired with the Shanling M2X I found that volume setting 12 was equivalent to setting 15 when switching from low to high modes. In neither instance was hiss noticeable, however, for noisier sources, the high-impedance mode does effectively filter out a good deal.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
The same goes for output impedance, where the high-impedance mode makes the FA9 substantially less susceptible to signature changes. Comparing the 10-ohm Hiby R6 to the 1-ohm Shanling M2X on the low-impedance setting revealed an immediately leaner and brighter sound. However, when switching to the high-impedance setting, the effects were drastically lower, sounding very similar. Vocals were a bit thinner and shoutier, but bass presence remained sound and overall, a very palatable and balanced sound.
It did sound a little better through my Khadas Tone Board + THX789 desktop setup, gaining more sub-bass authority and a bit more body in the midrange. However, overall, the FA9 is an easy earphone to drive, not requiring excessive driving power and playing well with a variety of source signatures too.
Suggested Pair Ups
I most preferred listening to the FA9 from the M2X which balanced out the sub-bass a bit and introduced a slightly more energetic top-end. I would surmise than most AKM chipsets would complement the FA9 as well, with Sabre chips perhaps coming across as too intense given the already airier treble and upper-midrange. The impedance switch makes it very versatile too should the user have a noisy or high-impedance source.
Fiio FA7 ($299): Immediately, the FA9 is a more balanced earphone while being similarly voiced overall. Both are smooth and warm, the FA7 more so with its more overt mid-bass focus (balanced tips installed). The FA9, meanwhile, is deeper reaching, it has substantially better bass extension and slam which permits a cleaner mid-bass while retaining almost as much body. In turn, the FA9 isn’t quite as full, but is much cleaner and more defined. The midrange reflects this, being more balanced on the FA9 and more laid-back on the FA7. The FA7 is lacking a bit of vocal clarity and separation by comparison, being again, fuller and warmer, also more vocal recessed. Meanwhile, the FA9 strikes admirable balance, possessing good presence and appreciably better clarity and definition.
The treble is also responsible for increased clarity and openness, being more energetic on the FA9 with considerably better extension and definition. The FA9 once again has better balance while the FA7 has a small bump in the lower-treble but a lack of air that makes it feel more closed in. The FA9 is airier with greater detail retrieval and clarity, it provides a substantially larger soundstage with a lot more separation. Imaging is sharper and more precise simply by virtue of its more even tuning. The FA9 is a very immediate upgrade to the FA7 and the optional bass boost will appeal to those concerned that the FA9 may lack fullness for their liking.
Campfire Audio Polaris II ($499): The Polaris II is a more V-shaped sound with much bigger DD bass and a more energetic top-end. Bass is substantially more present, better extended with more sub-bass pressure – that sensation of moving air. It has more mid-bass too, being more bloated and boomy in timbre. However, the Polaris II has good driver control and quicker decay which counterbalances this to some degree, it has good definition and heaps of texture. The FA9 remains a more balanced and insightful performer when it comes to smaller details here that said. The lower-midrange has a much sharper dip on the Polaris II before a large climb through the centre and upper-midrange.
Still, it’s both more laid-back and thinner than the more linear FA9, also warmer in tone and a bit chestier given its more present bass. It retains great vocal clarity, and is as naturally voiced as possible given its bass emphasis but the FA9 provides the more balanced, separated and natural presentation overall. The treble is also very crisp on the Polaris II, employing a similar 5KHz trough and 6K peak. It is crisper, similarly thin in body and just a touch more detailed in the foreground than the FA9. The FA9 has a bit more air and extension at the very top, neither are especially sparkly. The FA9 has a slightly wider stage while the Polaris II is deeper. The FA9 has much better separation and its imaging is a bit more stable.
Oriveti OH500 ($499): The OH500 is more W-shaped and cleaner in tone and body, it upholds similar overall balance. Being a hybrid, the OH500 has slightly stronger sub-bass extension, rumble is more defined and there’s more kick to drums especially, it also has a bit more emphasis here. The mid-bass is similarly a touch forward while the upper-bass and lower-mdirange are more recessed, creating a more neutrally toned sound. The OH500 demonstrates greater definition and has similar decay speed. It’s more physical and aggressive with more texture while the FA9 is a touch more balanced if warmer in tone. The midrange follows suite, with vocals being more forward on the OH500 due to its greater centre midrange emphasis. It also has a neutral tone and body that contrasts to the warmer and most noticeably, more full-bodied FA9.
The OH500 has better definition and layering, counterbalanced by a very smooth articulation that ensures though vocals are very clear, they are never sibilant. The Fiio is a but more coherent to my ears, it’s warmer and the voicing is more natural. This will likely come down to personal preference that said, whether you prefer a clean and revealing presentation or a warm and smooth one. The top-end presentation on the OH500 has greater contrast. Both have small 6K peaks, delivering crisp, slightly thin instrumentation. The OH500 has more focus here, with a slightly more detail-dense foreground paired to a darker and smoother background. The FA9 is thinner but airier with more shimmer and showcases a bit more headroom. Both have similarly wide soundstages but the FA9 has more depth. The OH500 has better separation while subjectively the FA9’s imaging is a bit more immersive with its airier presentation.
Custom Art Fibae Black (450 EUR): A custom fit option with a single-BA setup enhanced by some quality acoustics. It is a smooth and full-bodied sound similar to the FA9. Bass extends deeper on the FA9 and is a bit cleaner through the upper-bass especially. The Fibae Black has a much softer sub-bass impact but has plenty of kick in the mid-bass. It is a bit more bass focused and even fuller and warmer. The Fibae Black has quicker decay but the FA9 is simply a cleaner and more defined listen here while the Black caters towards those wanting thick, meaty notes if at the expense of some sepration. The midrange is very natural on the Black, with a lower-midrange dip aiding separation followed by a natural climb to 3KHz peak and drop off after for a dense and smoothly articulated sound.
The FA9 is notably clearer and more defined, it is also a bit more separated but also raspier and not quite as natural in voicing. The Fibae Black has even greater body, and lacks any rasp, over articulation or sibilance. It is a hyper-coherent kind of sound with very whole, almost thick but perfectly filled-in notes and a highly natural voicing. The top-end is much smoother on the Fibae Black, being more energetic and appreciably more extended on the FA9. As such, the FA9 comes across as a much more open sounding earphone. The Fibae Black has a touch of crispness in the lower-treble but above, an immaculately clean, black background. The FA9 has a lot more treble presence, it has better detail retrieval if less instrument body, in addition to a lot more air and headroom. It has a much larger soundstage in all axis while the Fibae Black has more stable imaging and clearer layering. The FA9 has better separation.
Craft Four (550 EUR): The Craft Four is a custom option with a 4-BA setup around the same price range. It has a more balanced sound, smooth and natural in voicing. The FA9 has more sub-bass extension, with noticeably more slam and rumble. Meanwhile, the C4 delivers a punchier mid-bass, it has similar emphasis here before a slightly less present upper-bass. As such, the C4 is a bit less dynamic but cleaner in tone despite being similarly full. It has sharper attack and quicker decay, delivering a more defined presentation. The FA9 is more textured and harder-hitting with a bit more bass focus overall but also less detail retrieval through the mid-bass especially. The midrange is more forward on the C4 with a prominent centre midrange rise that continues through to the upper-midrange. It has a slightly full-bodied sound with a lightly warm tone and smooth articulation due to its attenuated lower-treble. The FA9 has more laid-back vocals, it’s raspier due to its less linear tuning and also warmer and fuller yet.
The C4 to me strikes as the more balanced and natural performer while retaining a similar warm, smooth character. However, the FA9 will be more to the liking of those wanting a bit more bass focus. The FA9 has a slightly more forward detail presentation on behalf of its more present lower-treble. It has more crunch and sharper attack while the C4 is smoother with a bit more middle-treble bias. Both are airy, the FA9 more so. The FA9 also showcases slightly better extension at the very top with greater air. The FA9 has a larger soundstage while the C4 has more accurate imaging with sharper localisation. The C4 has better separation besides the treble where the FA9 showcases greater technical ability.
In my initial impressions of the FA9, I suggested that it may be one of their most significant IEM launches in recent years. After spending more time with the earphones, my standpoint remains unchanged. The FA9 is one of the most competitive IEMs in its respective price point, more so at $599 than the FA7 was at $299. The presentation has some very intriguing qualities, being spacious and immersive but also warm and smooth while showcasing good refinement and vocal clarity. Still, lovers of absolute balance and linearity will find a presentation pushed more towards the fun and engaging side here, with notably raspy vocals and a slightly muddy low-end. The fit and design remain very alluring to me, similarly, the extensive accessory set. The sound customisation options are also very usable, 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. 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.
The FA9 is available from Fiio’s Aliexpress store and HifiGO (International) for $499 and $519.99 USD respectively at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Fiio or HiFiGO and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Bob Seger – Night Moves
David Bowie – No Plan
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Loopified
Emotional Oranges – The Juice: Vol. II
Eric Clapton – Unplugged
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Kanye West – ye
Lauv – I met you when I was 18
Lorde – Pure Heroine
Lorrie Morgan – A Picture of Me
MAMAMOO – BLUE;S
Niki – Zephyr
Rich Brian – The Sailor
The Weeknd – After Hours
ZICO – RANDOM BOX
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