FiiO has a lot of variety – there are dynamic models, and reinforcement, and hybrid ones. At the same time, it cannot be said that any particular line is top-end – the flagships alternately come out both among fittings and among hybrids. And now, at the top of the earphone Olympus, the company’s engineers have placed the FA9 model, so this round is behind the fittings.
The quality is impeccable: no chips, seams, burrs. The surface is smooth, each rounded contour of the body flows into the next without any irregularities and unexpected drops.
The outer part of the case is adorned with a three-dimensional insert that shines in such a way that the Swarovski crystals will envy – but it is hidden under the layer of resin from which the headphones are made.
The resin is not simple, but German, specially designed for use in the ears – and through the translucent body, in addition to the shining lining, one can see reinforcing emitters and sound guide tubes, as well as the letters L and R printed on the crossover board.
The shape of the body is very anatomical – the FA9 sits well in the ear shell, does not rub, does not rest on anything. Of course, everyone’s ears are different, but FiiO claims that they deduced the shape of the body through a test on thousands of volunteers, so it should suit many. True, my right earpiece sometimes sat too deeply, and my ear was blocked, but this moment can be easily corrected by simply moving the earphone slightly.
The rounded, sleek housings house six Knowles armature drivers: the high and ultra-high frequencies are played out by two SWFK-31736, the mids are created specifically for this model EJ-33877, providing, according to the site, “powerful sound with enchanting vocals”, and on the lows working HODVTEC-31618 with two woofers. The headphone crossover is four-band and customizable – and physically customizable. By the way, there is one noticeable difference from the FA7: the FA9 has a sound guide covered with a mesh.
At the end of the earbuds there are three tiny levers, slightly recessed into the body – you can’t even pry off your fingernail. With their help, you can select the value of the headphone impedance and sensitivity, as well as slightly adjust the frequency response of the headphones. Using the first lever, either resistance is set to 32 ohms with a cleaner and more natural sounding and less background noise, or to 16 ohms with higher sensitivity for weak sources.
The second lever adjusts the high frequencies: they can be raised, which the developers recommend for rock, or you can leave them at a standard level, getting a balanced sound. The last lever adjusts the bass and the middle: one more, the other less – and vice versa.
Switching the levers is inconvenient. Judging by the way they are positioned in FiiO, the sound can be changed in almost every genre: for rock, include one, for symphonic music, omit another, and so on.
But doing this on the go is simply unrealistic – you need to carry with you something with which you can pry these levers. The company’s marketers also thought about this and included an updated cleaning brush in the package – it just has a suitable needle at the end.
It seemed to me that the levers are not a radical equalizer, but rather a light spice to the sound. Changes in character from switching are not very noticeable, but experienced listeners will allow you to add nuances in a particular range. The change in impedance is felt most clearly: as the impedance rises, the background noise does indeed become slightly less.
But from changing the ear pads, the sound changes dramatically. And FiiO understands this, therefore, as many as 15 pairs of nozzles are put in the set for the headphones: both silicone and foam. Like the FA7, some are more suitable for bass, some for high frequencies, some are just frightening looking Christmas trees.
Unfortunately, I got an incomplete set, so I used ear pads from my stocks – the diameter of the sound guide is common, so even if none of the 15 pairs offered by FiiO fit, you can find something to your taste in the bins.
The set is basically rich: in addition to a handful of ear pads, it also includes two covers (soft cloth and hard leather) and a branded 8-core cable. The conductors are made of monocrystalline copper plated with silver. Braided cable with light transparent sheath. It bends well, does not get tangled, its plug is massive L-shaped, it looks very reliable.
The cable is designed exclusively for behind-the-ear mounting: the part near the MMCX connectors is already bent in an arc – and cannot be unbent. The right and left channels are primarily identified by color indication: red – right, blue – left. But there are also inconspicuous raised R and L icons on the MMCX connectors.
The first time I listened to FA9, I connected them to the phone via a USB-C to 3.5 mm adapter. Absolutely not audiophile, and it is worth making allowances for the character of the DAC in the adapter, but the sound, even with all the limitations, was very pleasant. Multi-layered, convex, detailed, but not deliberately: background overtones remained in the background and did not come to the fore, although they acquired an additional texture.
There was a slight accent on the high frequencies plus a slightly convex bass – but quite slightly, so that, for example, the introduction to “Can’t Leave The Night” by BadBadNotGood acquired a depressing weight, but did not fill the whole melody with impenetrable noir darkness.
There is no suffocating sub-bass – this is the main merit of the fittings. In some tracks – for example, “Breathe” by Prodigy – the emphasis on the tops led to the fact that some elements rolled into an uncomfortable creak – but there are not so many such melodies.
Basically, attention to high frequencies played into the hands: there was more information in the music, sonorous, barely noticeable samples in electronic tracks sounded brighter and more textured, adding fullness to the overall mix, and hysterical violins acquired more emotions.
In general, the sound seems a little lukewarm, attuning to comfortable, rather than analytical listening. There is a lot of air and volume, instruments on a small imaginary stage feel imposing – if, of course, this is how the melody is constructed.
There are no problems with meaty and meaty genres: the raised top makes the melody lighter, but the distorted guitar “j-j-j” paired with a brisk kick drum remains readable to the desired degree and does not turn into an endless stream of viscous indistinct hum, while maintaining massiveness.
Let me remind you: this is with a simple DAC. But, fortunately, I had the FiiO M15 at hand – a new flagship player with balanced DACs, some unrealistic amount of power and the ability to translate all signals into DSD.
The difference is striking. The sound has become refined-neutral, sterile, emphasized even, technically flawless. The detail and layering have not gone anywhere, they have even multiplied, small rises on the top and bottom remained in place, albeit in a smaller volume, but the dashingness has disappeared.
The sound became emasculated – the most nimble, perky, heavy tracks were performed technically, ideally, but a little soullessly.
And this is great – because it demonstrates that FiiO has managed to achieve maximum neutrality from the headphones, allowing all the features of the source to be brought out. And they were able to create M15 close to indifference. But a bunch of two such devices is not suitable for everyone – some will find it too lifeless and honest.
FA9’s voices play out close, clearly, voluminously, without adding any special beauty to them, without detracting from the after-sounds and sighs, not erased by the sound engineer. There is no obvious emphasis on them, only a slight additional warmth and fullness, but barely perceptible – and even quite compatible with the same Trent Reznor.
The instruments at the middle frequencies play gracefully, fluidly, but precisely: the saxophone hits the ears without undue aggression, and the guitar cuts turn into a textural stream of sound. There were no genres in my library that FA9 could not play – and it’s nice.
In the first minutes of listening, the headphones do not surprise with anything – it seems that this is a model that was created in order to please everyone. The sound does not have any bright, immediately noticeable features.
Only later it becomes clear that the melodies – for all their clarity and intelligibility – turn out to be somehow surprisingly comfortable, that there are more high frequencies than usual, the bass is roundish and soft, and a spoonful of molasses was added to the vocals. Getting used to the sound of FA9 happens instantly – all these features are as unobtrusive as possible.
The rest of the headphones turned out to be neutral. On a neat, chamber stage, the sources are located clearly and do not climb where they do not need to. Small rises at the top and bottom give the neutral sound a touch of naturalness, but otherwise the FA9 tries to embellish the sound to a minimum.
The rich equipment and tone controls on the headphones themselves will allow you to adjust the character of the headphones for yourself, but in a fairly small range. The warmth will not go away, but the perception of nuances will change – and for some this will be enough. The sound is influenced by both the pile of ear pads and levers, so there is plenty of room for experimentation.
And the choice of the source must be approached wisely: a fairly neutral and transparent nature of FA9 with a source similar in neutrality may not make good friends emotionally. Technically, everything will be perfect – but boring. So it’s better to look for a source with character.
If we compare FiiO FA9 with FA7, then this is an unambiguous step forward: the sound is more elegant, more precisely, more universal. Maybe because of this, there is less liveliness in the headphones, but it can be corrected with a clockwork source – they are willing to support the FA9 drive.
The system with levers raises questions, and first of all, not even with its expediency, but with water resistance: walking with the FiiO FA9 on a rainy day would be a little scary for me. But the ability to adjust the impedance is a clear plus.