This review is posted here in partnership with Soundnews.net. It was originally written and published by Sandu Vitalie of Soundnews.net on Mar. 12, 2019.
Disclaimer : The FiiO FA7 was sent to us free of charge in exchange for our honest review. We thank FiiO for that!
FiiO is calling their all new cool looking flagship FA7 in-ear-monitors as SSS (Simple Symphonic Synergy), I’m however calling them to my close friends as BASS (Big Ass Sound System) lovers dream IEMs.
There is something about them I just never experienced in a fully armature-based IEM, which I’ll write about later on.
F9 put a high standard in the affordable IEMs category, F9 PRO raised that bar, FH5 did it again and now FA7 created a new, higher tier category in the FiiO line-up.
Yet another FiiO IEM tier? Yes please!
From the moment you unpack them and start touching them you understand that this was made completely from the ground-up. Almost everything is new.
They decided to go with a very efficient 3D printing technique that will save a lot of time and money into making a quality and long-lasting IEM.
FA7 are completely made from a German sourced resin, it has a very smooth surface – a very important aspect since I feel FA7 is sliding inside your ear much easier than their former designs (plastic or metal made).
FA7 exterior design resembles custom IEMs a lot, that custom-like face plate is very cool looking, FiiO is offering few face-plate designs and colors and I do hope they will offer even more very soon. I’m always choosing a neutral IEM color but with FA7 I felt that red and blue face plates will be looking really cool when I’m jogging outside. My 5-year-old son asked why I am putting candies inside my ears and I started laughing out loud.
They indeed are looking quite tasty in this particular color.
FA7 comes in nicest packaging FiiO came up until now; even established manufacturers don’t offer this kind of attention to details.
FA7 seems to have one pair more of ear-tips compared to FH5, with this one FiiO is offering a total of 13 pairs, 3 different sizes split into 5 categories, as follows:
- Balanced ear tips (the standard black silicone ones – quite balanced sounding, but not the best fit, at least in my case)
- Vocal ear tips (Transparent silicone ones with a red sound tube – these are boosting the midrange to make it feel more present and up-front, works great for opera and soprano)
- Bass ear tips (black silicone ones with a red sound tube – FA7 is already extra special in the bass department, but if you are one of those bass-heads, please be my guest and use these tips)
- Bi-flange ear tips, M size only (white ones that are looking like double stacked silicone tips) – Etymotic users know them very well, supposedly they have a greater passive attenuation, but they don’t work with my ears, my ear canal is not that deep, you should try them yourself and tell us what you think of them)
- Memory foam ear tips (the fluffy foam black ones – I prefer these ones the most as they have the best passive sound attenuation for the tightest bass in the business.)
There are also two carrying cases, a smaller textile one that is very useful for shorter trips to work and back (I use daily this one) and a bigger water proof hard plastic case – this one is much bigger and can hold multiple ear-tips, even a very small DAP or a Bluetooth receiver can fit inside.
Detachable cable seems of very high quality, it’s very sturdy and very flexible. FiiO used high-purity mono-crystalline SPC (silver plated copper) for its conductors for a minimal impact over harmonic distortion, conductivity, achieving a very transparent and distortion free sound.
Tech inside FA7
The 3D printed resin shell is bigger than anything they done until now and for a good reason.
You see, FA7 is using four balanced armatures inside; there is no more a dynamic driver that takes care of bass response.
To counter-attack this issue, FiiO for the first time used a massive balanced armature that will render low and very low frequencies only.
As you can see the in the pictures CI-22955 is really huge and takes most of the internal shell space. This particular balanced armature has a much bigger diaphragm compared to typical BA drivers, I am already expecting ear-shaking bass response.
Midrange is being rendered by a single BA driver, it is the ED-29689 that FiiO used few times in their own designs. Treble playback is achieved by a tiny dual SWFK-31736 BA driver, it is the smallest one you can see in the pictures.
All BA drivers are sourced from Knowles - a very well-established BA manufacturer around the globe.
There are four drivers inside, which means a new four-way crossover was developed as well – it’s the small black circuit board with few chips on it. FA7 is FiiO’s first all-armature based design so I presume they took a lot of research & development time in making sure the cross-over will have a minimal impact over the sound quality.
I also want to point out that the MMCX connectors on the IEM itself and on the cable were improved compared to their first iterations like F9/F9SE, F9 Pro and FH1. It is much harder to pull out the cable, it will no longer fall down from your ears by normal usage – I had few unpleasant cases with their older IEMs when the cable will just detach from the earphones, I’m glad this issue was solved, I presume their FA1 will have the same MMCX connector strength, will see about that.
If you already own a DAP or DAC/Amp with a balanced output, I would recommend buying the LC-2.5B (2.5mm balanced) cable for your FA7, I will open-up that soundstage even more and add few depth layers as well, not to mention a tighter bass response, FA7 deserves a balanced connection.
FA7 has a nominal impedance of 23Ω and a sensitivity of 110dW/1mW – these ones are their second most sensitive IEMs to date and can be powered pretty much by anything that has a headphone jack.
Now, it doesn’t mean FA7 will shine with any audio sources, far from it, being a very high sensitivity earphone means they can pick up noise floor from audio components you never knew had any noise in the first place. FA7 can became a tool in headphone output evaluation of any audio gear.
There can be a slight hum with entry level desktop audio sources, there is faint hum with a Burson Playmate and a non-existent one with a Gilmore Lite Mk2. Luckily, newest FiiO DAPs have a very low noise floor and starting with M6 and going up there is no noise whatsoever.
I was teasing you even from the start that FA7 will have a great bass response, didn’t I? J
Now, what is really different from any of other FiiO IEMs is the sub-bas area, slam and overall speed.
FiiO always believed a warm and natural bass response can be achieved only with dynamic drivers and to some degree that is true. However, such small dynamic drivers will never go as deep as bigger drivers and they will never have the speed of a balanced armature driver.
FA7 somehow solved those issues, the giant BA bass driver will go really low in the sub-bas area and will pleasantly tinkle you ears.
Since our brother Keith Flint passed away just few days ago, I decided to listen to some of The Prodigy for my usual bass tests. From the first notes of their The Fat of the Land album, FA7 sent a clear message to me, their sub-bass and bass response is playing in the big-boy category.
Besides going very low in the sub-bass area, I noticed a much-needed speed improvement. FH5 was no slouch but sounded warm and inviting, never too aggressive, FA7 when called for will be aggressive sounding, with fast transient and killer impact into eardrums.
In general, if you are more excited by speed and slam, FA7 is a good recommendation and a good example of how fast bass could be played by tiny IEMs.
I feel there is again a small rise from sub-bass to mid-bass area, a very common practice in the headphone land, really.
I personally like this slight elevated mid-bass, since it adds a bit of natural presence and warmness, FA7 are not tuned towards a warmish sound signature, in my opinion FA7 is FiiO’s most linear IEM yet, it has everything right this time around.
Double-bass is again a bit groovier and more present in the upper-bass area, but it is not so pronounced compared to mid-bass notes.
Moving on into midrange area is made in a natural way, transition is pretty smooth with no particular dips or rises.
Vocal performance is on a high level as well with voices full of substance and with a right amount of vibration. I observed that mid tones never sounded dull or suppressed which is a good sign in my book, I’m a midrange fanatic and this particular range is most important to me.
Midrange is not bloomy or overdone, I’d call it neutral but with a great presence and transparency.
String instruments have the zing I’m always searching for but they don’t have the most natural texture (like how quality planar-magnetic headphones are having).
Midrange vibration has a shorter decay compared to bass, a common result of a balanced armature driver.
There is something special about the treble response.
It has the same bite F9 PRO and F9 had for that matter, but it is no longer tiring in the long run. I think FA7 have the most pleasant treble response compared to their older design. F9 PRO and F9 had too much of it, FH5 had it rolled-off a bit, FA7 has it somewhere in the middle with a great treble detail without the harshness.
As a result, tonal balance is excellent, I liked every audio piece without notable drawbacks.
IV. Soundstage & Depth
Soundstage size is on the wider side, a live recording will sound amazingly well spread around the listener.
FA7 is very airy, more than the usual suspects FiiO have done in the past. That airiness is really helped by a good transparency FA7 is having. FA7 never sounded muddy, gritty or crowded.
I observed something interesting, on the right music FA7 can be aggressive with a strong punch, but it also can be soothing and calming on the right tracks, it’s like a chameleon.
V. Transient Response
There is also something very different compared to what FiiO had done in the past and that is the transient response.
In my opinion hybrid earphones will never have the speed and impact of an all-BA earphones.
FA7 is very light on its feet and very nimble. I mean, if it can keep up with fast electronica and double drums then it can keep up with everything.
VI. Awaking the Beast (Drive-ability)
To wake up that transient response you will need some quality amplification stage, FiiO’s lower offerings such as M3K, M6, M7, Q1 MKII sadly will not deliver that, even M9 cannot provide that on the SE output. On balanced power out of a M9, Q5 or X7 MKII, FA7 will transform into something else.
On the SE output only my desktop Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk2 shown what FA7 can really provide.
I again put some intoxicating The Prodigy and I felt like all those bass notes are pulsating directly into my brain with killer speed and impact.
Soundstage opened even more and I felt like I’m listening to some big full-sized headphones out of a desktop rig.
All in all, FA7 has the most fun and engaging sound signature out of they entire line-up. Since I am a PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) addict FA7 is exactly what doctor ordered.
FH5 has a warmer sound signature with subdued treble response that makes them uneven in the frequency response. FH5 has a cut-out in the upper registers that makes them not as detailed.
FH5 has longer decays, especially in the bass department. FH5 will never sound aggressive and very engaging, it is more on the mellow side.
Transient response and control are (a lot) better on FA7, everything just sounds crisp, fast and impactful.
FA7 has a better placement of notes around the listener, FH5 is just a tiny bit foggier.
Soundstage size is almost the same, depth again is very similar on both models.
Both models are very picky about the source noise, be careful about that. All-in-all FA7 has a wider frequency response and a faster presentation.
FA7 vs F9 PRO
Truth to be told, there is a big gap between the two.
F9 PRO is hotter on the treble, mind you it is not more detailed in this area, just more tiresome on the long run. FA7 has the same sparkle and zing, it just doesn’t emphasize this area.
F9 PRO is drier sounding and has few dips and rises and can sound uneven really.
Midrange performance is better on FA7 and will have a better focus and outline. String instruments will sound more real on FA7 and a bit faked on F9 PRO.
Should I go unto sub-bass and bass area? Because FA7 destroys F9 PRO when it comes to lows.
FA7 will go lower, will rumble more, will offer a faster kick and slam. FA7 will also offer layers of sub-bass, a thing that F9 cannot do. Bass quality and quantity wise FA7 wins.
F9 PRO is not so picky when it comes to source material and it is not as detailed.
FA7 will sound best only out of a higher quality source and material, so it could hurt your wallet more on the long run.
The 3D printing technique FiiO used is really cool, it’s long lasting and will save them few pennies compared to all-metal shells in the FH5.
Accessories and packaging wise, FiiO outdid themselves offering two cases and 15 pairs of ear tips and a great unboxing experience!
I am a bit surprised that FA7 came as good as I dreamt them to be. I’m glad they took extra measures in developing that 4-way cross-over since it is so crucial and important for a great tonal balance. We did listen to FA7 about half a year ago in a secret meeting and they didn’t sound as good as they are right now.
As a result, FA7 came better than I expected and I can’t wait to know what FiiO comes-up with in the future, as the future is bright as they say.
- Awesome unboxing experience, packaging and list of accessories
- Great fit and finish, just screams quality
- Best tonal balanced between all the frequencies
- Great soundstage and depth
- Awesome sub-bass and bass response
- Natural and vivid midrange
- Extended treble response without being harsh
- Awesome kick, speed and impact
- Transparency and detail retrieval monsters
- Great price for a great performance
- No balanced cable in the package
- Picky when it comes to source noise
- DAPs: FiiO M6, M7, M9, X7 MKII
- DACs: Matrix X-Sabre Pro + X-SPDIF2, Burson Playmate, FiiO Q5
- Headphone amps: Headamp Gilmore Lite MK2, Pico Power, Burson Playmate
- Headphones: FiiO FA7, FH5, F9 PRO, Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S