REVIEW: FiiO FA1

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Price: 99$

Where to buy them: https://amzn.to/2WbBJbG

Specifications:

  • Single BA Knowles ED-33357
  • Impedance: 15 Ohm
  • Sensitivity: 111 dB @ 1mW
  • Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
  • Maximum input power: 100 mW

Thanks to FiiO for this free sample. Everything I write reflects my own thoughts and impressions about the FA1.

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Unboxing and first impressions

For a sub-100$ In Ear Monitor, I’d say I’m impressed with the accessories. Inside the white box, we find the IEMs, a 4-core black braided cable (the connector type is MMCX), a hard case, a cleaning brush, some tips (3 pairs of white narrow-bore ones and 3 of red and gray medium-bore ones). And a warranty card too. For the price, the case is a good surprise, even if it’s not the best in terms of build quality. The IEMs themselves, instead, are built amazingly well and they have a unique design which reminds me of the other FiiO products of their balanced line-up. They are made of acrylic, with a smoke effect which gives an interesting overall look. The faceplate is kind of wavy, and it perfectly merges with the shell. I believe these IEMs are 3D-printed. The nozzle is made of the same resin as the shell, so there’s no metal reinforcement. For being a universal IEM, the fit is also more than good; and they are very lightweight. They aren’t the smallest earphones out there, but they are not fatiguing to wear, even after a long time. The cable has solid gold-plated connectors, and it feels well-made overall. It’s a 4-core twisted cable (silver, copper-plated) with strain reliefs on the L-shaped connector and on the Y split (which are both made of metal). This cable comes in 3.5mm single ended, while other FiiO IEMs come with another cable which is a 2.5mm balanced. But I’m good with this, considering it’s an entry-level earphone. The only issue I have concerns the ear hooks: they are a little bit too hard, so they keep their shape more than adapt to my ears (it’s because they are just a bit too long, too).

 

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Sound

This single balanced armature sounds like you would expect a single balanced armature to sound: balanced. The FA1 provide a neutral signature, on a reference side, with a touch of color on the upper midrange.

Because they are pretty easy to drive, the bass is quick and punchy, while remaining very well controlled. It’s not an enhanced bass, so my impressions are far from a fun sound. It’s not one of the best things of these earphones either, actually: even though the sub-bass extension is pretty deep, the body of it is just average, but it feels smooth overall. This is actually pretty good for a single armature, considering that work is usually assigned to specific armatures or dynamic drivers. If you are a basshead, though, it would be difficult for me to suggest the FA1, which are more on a flat – yet sparkly – side.

Mids are the best part of the package: they sound full, well-layered, giving the right space and harmonics to vocals. The clarity is stunning, thanks to the body given to the upper midrange. The only less convincing thing is the artificial/metallic feel which sometimes comes in the lower midrange, and sometimes even in the higher frequencies, which may thin the body of it but isn’t really all that noticeable.

The treble is also really convincing: luckily, it’s not picky or bright, nor sibilant, which are the aspects I’m more sensitive about. Like the rest of the frequency range, the highs are well-tuned and controlled, but airy and energic.

I wouldn’t say the soundstage is very wide, but the emphasis on the upper midrange helps to widen it, for sure. You don’t feel a congested sound, neither like it’s in your head. It fairly expands in width and depth and it gives a holographic feel, which you may appreciate or not – I’m not sure on its precision. Imaging is average, even more than average if you think of the price of these IEMs. The isolation is top notch, which is a great thing, allowing you to listen to your music even while you are in a very noisy area without any problem.

 

Comparisons

Brainwavz KOEL: even though I think Brainwavz did a good job with their KOEL, providing a flat sounding In Ear Monitor, I think they need more refinement on the 3D printing area, as well as on a comfort side. The FiiO FA1 are more convincing (better cable, better fit, unique design) exteriorly, and for me even interiorly (the sound feels more solid, due a better bass extension on the FA1 and a wider soundstage).

BGVP DMG: I like them and I think they are one of the most intriguing earphones for about 100$ right now. But they are sibilant. Comfort-wise, they are comparable to the FA1 (even considering the different materials and shapes). DMG are more fun sounding, for sure. They sound like they are meant to: their hybrid configuration provides a solid and punchy bass, thanks to the dynamic drivers, while their Balanced Armatures grant a good level of detail. Yet, I’m asking myself how FiiO make a single Balanced Armature sound that good, in comparison. I may consider buying the FA1 for a more reference sound and better accessories, and the DMG for 360° fun (on switching filters, too).

Simgot EM1: this single dynamic is an honest competitor to the FiiO FA1. It’s one of the best sub-100$ earphones, because of the overall balance (price, build, accessories, sound). Being a dynamic gives more bass, a wider and deeper soundstage, but a less balanced sound signature. I’d say, if you need precision and you want entry level monitors, go for FA1; if you want a comfortable listening experience, go for the EM1.

Tin HiFi T3: really difficult choice. The price is a great advantage of the T3, and the cable, the build quality, the versatility of the fit, make them a really interesting choice. They are less flat than the FA1, for sure, and this could be the reason not to choose them. FA1 are good monitors, Tin T3 are amazing for listening (detail, bass, treble extension, soundstage), but less comfortable to wear.

 

Conclusions

It seems that single balanced armatures are getting more mainstream (Campfire Comet, Brainwavz KOEL, these ones…) As far as my experience goes, this kind of design is able to combine and merge many aspects of different technologies, not excelling in any of those in particular, but providing a great overall experience for a very reasonable price, not even sacrificing build quality, aesthetics or sound.

There obviously are some things I like more on single dynamic driver earphones, while others excel on single armatures, like precision, speed, detail, but this seems to be a good “middle ground” that doesn’t leave disappointed at all.

I would recommend the FA1 to any customer looking for an elegant monitor to potentially use as an everyday solution, as it provides the right balance to catch the details of the sound without empowering or hiding too much any frequency, making it perfectly suitable for somebody who wants to experience a good sound in any situation with any setup, without having to combine the earbuds with a DAC or a sound card to give them a boost or eliminate static noises.

 

Pros

  • Accessories
  • Signature
  • Comfort and design
  • Cable
  • Midrange and treble

 

Cons

  • bass could have more impact and extension
  • vocals could be more mature and organic

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