Comfortable and well-finished design, Great modular cable, Huge soundstage, Well-balanced sound easily tuneable with covers, Especially resolving treble for an earbud
Cable is fixed, Bass a little woolly
The EM5 is an especially resolving earbud with a comfortable, well-built shell and great, albeit fixed, modular cable that permits enjoyment from any source.
Fiio hardly requires introduction, the company is world renowned for their value-orientated products that specialise in versatility. It was then a surprise when the company announced the new EM5, a premium, high-end earbud with a rather unorthodox design. Actually, James, the CEO, wrote up a brilliant story on Fiio’s Facebook page about the ethos of the EM5. This is not a product designed for mass appeal and, in turn, the highly specific, small-batch nature of its production is paired with premium pricing to match. What Fiio have done is take the earbud back to the drawing board, utilising the latest technologies such as a high excursion Be plated dynamic driver and 4th generation DLP 3D printing to revitalise and modernise a legacy design. The EM5 employs proper acoustic design in a comfortable, non-sealing form factor that has, until now, been dominated mostly by either cheap or DIY products.
I would like to thank Sunny from Fiio very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the EM5 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earbuds free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Driver: 14.2mm Be-coated diaphragm dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 20 kHz
- Sensitivity: 109 dB @ 1mW
- Impedance: 32 ohms @ 1 kHz
- Cable: High-purity sterling silver
- Weight: 23.9g (incl. cable)
The Pitch –
Custom Dynamic Driver with Acoustic Flute
Earbuds have always struggled with end to end extension by virtue of their non-sealing design. This means that reflections and distortion are much more prevalent, and a substantially higher sensitivity is required to achieve a full, detailed sound. Fiio implemented a completely custom 14.2mm high-excursion Be-plated dynamic driver to combat this; built atop the feedback the company received from their in-ears utilising similar driver type. The more rigid diaphragm material enables a thinner and lighter component to be used, optimising high-end extension and lower distortion. Furthermore, the acoustic flute and long-stroke design aids a powerful bass performance in the absence of a seal. Similar to a bass reflux system in speaker designs, balancing back pressure can create a stronger sub-bass extension and opens up greater control over impulse response.
4th gen 3D Printed Shell
The design team at Fiio decided that a flute design would best deliver their intended sonic performance, however, they wanted to do so with a completely unique design. 3D printing permitted such a unique design while freeing up the company to implement more complex acoustic designs such as the flute bass reflux system. As a unibody shell is possible with 3D printing, the company was able to optimise the acoustics further than a traditional cast and mould manufacturing. The result is a seamless shell with stunning resin-like aesthetic and increased cost-effectiveness. Fiio’s CEO James also wrote up a great explanation of the EM5’s creation here.
Fiio are doing a fine job with their unboxing experiences, they provide a large range of accessories but, more importantly, a very useable selection. The EM5 exemplifies this, the unboxing is premium, indicating the status of the product. It comes in an over-sized box with a rubberised texture on the outer sleeve. Inside are the earbuds showcased in a protective foam inlet with separate inlets containing the accessories. The earbuds come with 3 types of foams, bass, balanced and vocal. The bass and balanced foams cover the sound output on the face of the earbud, so they attenuate more high-frequencies whereas the vocal tips are donut foams that enable these frequencies to pass through less impeded.
Another excellent addition is Fiio’s new twist-lock cable system that enable users to exchange connectors. Fiio includes all the connectors one would want including 3.5mm TRS, 2.5mm balanced and 4.4mm balanced. The adapters are very high-quality with an aluminium shell and nice right-angle design. Fiio also include the HB3, their synthetic leather carrying case. It has a nice texture and padding throughout, alongside a soft fur interior. There’s an additional elastic pocket for the unused adaptors or other foam covers and plenty of room for a small source device too. Altogether, a really nice set of accessories that enhance the user experience.
I’m always impressed to see custom earbud form factors that provide contrast to the vast majority. This is exceedingly rare since earbuds are a less popular form-factor, and cost of production increases drastically in lower quantities. Fiio circumvent these challenges to some degree by using 3D printing and the result is captivating. The smoke shells are coated in an immaculate hyper-gloss finish with perfectly even surfaces and a seamless design – which I’m told aids sound quality by better controlling pressure. The acoustic flute has been implemented into the aesthetic design, weaving off the main housing in a serpentine fashion. The face is more simplified but similarly smooth and rounded. There’s a metal mesh beneath to protect the driver from wax and other debris.
The cable too showcases exceptional design. The insulation is smooth, supple and highly transparent, showcasing the sterling silver conductors below chosen specifically for this driver. It has a square braid beneath the y-split and internal braid above with additional insulation, in turn, it resists tangles well. The cable is fixed but feels very high-quality and, due to its supple nature, conducts minimal microphonic noise too. The silver y-split looks somewhat out of place but is a nice aluminium component while the plug steals the show with great strain relief and twist-lock exchangeable termination. The twist is smooth and effective, the connection reliable, and the solidity reassuring once locked down. The execution here is excellent.
Fit & Comfort –
The face of the EM5 is similar in size to earbuds with the VE-style shell and a little larger than Yuin-shell earbuds such as those from Shozy. In turn, the experience is very familiar coming from other earbuds despite the unique design. They feel similar in the ear with the steam falling comfortably through the inter-tragic notch though the flute actually improved fit in my case by stabilising the shell on top of the tragus. The flute also makes it easy to orientate, since they always face forwards, coloured indicators and bumps are implemented to also aid this. As you would expect, there’s minimal seal and isolation but also zero wearing pressure. If you have smaller ears, you may struggle.
However, for my average sized ears, I had no difficulty finding a stable and comfortable fit that remained so over longer listening too. They sit slightly shallower than smaller earbuds and can be slightly angled forwards and backwards to alter the sound. They also tended to keep their position well once adjusted due to the ergonomic shaping. On a side note, I also found that the EM5 leaked less sound than most earbud designs which may be something appealing to higher volume listeners. Of course, this comment is relative, given the lack of seal, they still emit more noise than the majority of in-ear designs.