Those who follow FiiO’s product development will know how much it has grown through authentic R&D in its earphones. The latest generation of earphones from FiiO in the last few years has unique features such as the semi-open design which offers a wider soundstage, CNC machined shells instead of plastic for durability and aesthetics, and external interchangeable filters to allow sound customization to name a few.
The FH9 is the latest hybrid IEM from FiiO that is a conglomerate of the best of what the company has to offer. But can it truly top the ranking as the best earphones from the Guangzhou based Hi-Fi company? Let’s dive in to find out.
On first encounter, the FH9 is quite a sight to behold. Instead of a polished resin shell, which is typical of IEMs, the new FiiO flagship earphones have a satin metallic finish. This differs even from previous IEMs from the company, like the FD5 and FD7 which have been polished stainless steel. Machined using CNC out of Titanium, the low sheen metal finish is both industrial and polished, and will hopefully set a new trend for future FiiO earphones. The entire body of the FH9 is so well machined, the parting lines on the shells are so precisely crafted, that you would see but never feel it against the sensitive skin in the ear.
The face of the FH9 consists of triple grills that look almost like claw marks, which again has that industrial yet polished aesthetic about it. Just like the FD7, these grills are not merely for looks, but play an important role as the semi-open sound vents, which is instrumental to shaping the wide soundstage and transparent sound of the FH9.
Meticulous to a T, FiiO includes braided cables with the FH9 that has angled elbows MMCX connectors that use the exact same finish as the shell, giving the overall earphone a coherent and polished appearance, not to mention a strong and durable exterior.
7-Driver Hybrid Arrangement per Earpiece
What sets the FH9 apart from the other top-tier FiiO earphones is that it has 7 drivers in total in each ear – 6 Knowles balanced armatures (BA) and 1 in-house dynamic driver. It’s worth noting that the dynamic driver (DD) in the array has a DLC (diamond like carbon) diaphragm, which are stiffer and therefore more responsive and less distorted than conventional DDs. What’s more, FiiO decided to pack a 13.6 mm diaphragm, which is an even bigger driver than the FD7, FiiO’s flagship dynamic driver earphone.
A signature FiiO design is the interchangeable sound filters, which traditionally are placed right inside of the shell, in front of each BA unit to filter out harsh frequencies. By innovatively placing the BA drivers right at the tip of the sound tube, the filter can now be accessed externally, opening customization possibilities for its user.
FiiO includes 3 pairs of filters, which essentially filters out high range frequencies resulting in three sound characteristics: treble, balanced and bass. Personally I prefer the balanced filter paired with DACs that use the ESS chips that have a sharper treble response, or the treble filters when using the warmer sound AKM chips. In each of the pairing, the characteristics balance out the DAC/Amp used nicely, proving the versatility of the FH9.
Despite the hybrid arrangement, FiiO went for quite a ‘flat’ response, and did not over accentuate the bass on default. However, because of the multi-driver arrangement, it means that the FH9 can be equalized to boost frequency ranges in an isolated and accurate way.
Another change worth noting is the removal of the physical toggles for equalization (Which was still present on the FH5s). This is a personal win for me, as I much prefer a digital EQ that can be visualized and tweaked.
It goes without saying that with the DD covering the lower end, the FH9 can produce an incredible extension on the low-end that would satisfy any bass-heads out there. The 13.6mm DLC diaphragm driver is able to handle any amount of bass that I throw at it. Using the FiiO M11 Plus ESS, coupled with PowerAmp player, and maxing out the Bass booster, the FH9 can produce an obscene amount of bass and sub-bass – without any hint of distortion. Comparatively, using the FA7s, the BA drivers held until around 80% and started distorting at 90% – while the bass is not as impactful as what the DD is producing.
I’ve been a fan of FiiO’s semi-open design on their earphones since the release of the FH5s. For earbuds that highly depend on a good silicone tip seal, it usually ends up suffering in two areas: discomfort from the pressure buildup in the ears, and a narrower soundstage. With the semi-open design, FiiO resolves both of these issues, which is the same case that can be found in the FH9.
The natural and punchy bass of the dynamic driver together with the semi-open design results in excellent holographic imaging, yet powerful presence. Due to the fairly flat response of the FH9, I found that it suits most music genres, but especially shines with bass heavy music.
Even though with the semi-open design, there is almost no pressure buildup in the ear canal, the FH9 leaks minimal sound. Unlike typical open back headphones that sound like mini-speakers to the wearer’s surroundings, these earphones retain your privacy and are ideal for travel.
Rich Care Package
FiiO has raised the bar so much in the past releases of earphones, that a rich care package is a given, and the FH9 is no exception. In total a whopping 30 tips are included, ranging from FiiO’s in-house silicone tips, Bi-flange tips, foam tips, and two pairs of SpinFit tips – a favorite among the audiophile community. With this many tips to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect fit.
Other than the array of tips, there are the interchangeable 2.5 mm and 4.4 mm balanced jacks, a cleaning tool, magnetic cable organizer, carrying case and FiiO’s stainless steel MMCX plug remover. With the FH9 you can be sure that without needing to spend extra for third-party accessories, you’ll be getting the best performance out of them right out of the box.
FiiO has taken the audiophile community for quite a ride, and it feels like the journey is just getting started as the company continues to come out with new innovations and improvements with each new product. The FH9 is the latest iteration after a long line of IEMs from the company, and it speaks volumes of all the research and development that has been invested, and it evidently paid off resulting in a very capable pair of earphones that excels in holographic imaging and powerful bass production.
The durability of the solid titanium case, semi-open back design that is comfortable but doesn’t leak sound makes these headphones ideal to travel earphones. We’re awarding the FiiO FH9 with the IBTimes Recommended Badge.
Sam is a production engineer turned tech writer who specializes in seeking out gadgets that enhances productivity while still looking sharp. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.