With a sheet of rainfall finally absolving the city of its ungodly heat, I’m kicking back in the MajorHiFi review headquarters high above Manhattan. In my ears sit the new FiiO FA1 earphones – a pair of scrappy little morsels retailing for a fair $99. But how do they sound? And at this price, how do they fare against their competitors?
FiiO FA1 Review
The FA1 comes in your standard FiiO packaging with six pairs of eartips, a cleaning tool, and a hardshell case.
An included removable MMCX cable measures a standard 4 ft (1.2 m) and terminates in a 3.5 mm plug. With a braided design and no mic or remote, this cable seems fairly businesslike, with a robust but lightweight feel that seems pretty satisfying. Like other FiiO earphones, the FA1 sports a comfortable but ergonomic design that fits securely in my giant crater ears.
Once the proper fit has been acquired, this earphone does a good job of blocking out ambient noise, improving isolation.
Inside each earpiece, a single balanced armature driver handles audio quality.
Each driver is housed in a colored, semi-translucent earpiece. For my review, I sampled the FA1 “Smoke” variation. However, folks itching to own the FA1 can also purchase it in a dope red-blue color scheme.
In the lows, the FA1 give a decent account for itself, with a good amount of detail and an energetic sound. Bass guitars and drums sound meaty and full, but never go overboard. This gives way to a fairly punchy but well-controlled sound that feels articulate and precise with any test track. Songs like Madness by Muse and Interpol’s The Rover highlight these qualities excellently, with guitars that surge to life amid the sharp thunderclap of snares and kick drums.
Feeling just a little forward, the mids play host to some solid detail and excellent presentation. Instrumentation feels solid and well-handled, without an ounce of compression or distortion. Vocals feel just as clean, but seem to take center stage on almost any track, set apart from backing noise. Croony tunes like Brand New’s Batter Up and the Jehst banger China Shop Taurus show off this quality with aplomb, delivering three-dimensional lyrics that seem to occupy their own space and time.
The FiiO FA1 features a slightly smooth high end that doesn’t skimp on detail. Like the mids, the highs tend to handle vocals with a little extra shine, leading to a mesmerizing sound that works wonders for pop and electronica music, but doesn’t sound all that shabby with classical tunes, either. Tracks like Kylie Minogue’s New York City and Olivia O’Brien’s Inhibition with a heavy emphasis on female vocals deliver an impressive mix of detail and energy, leading to a mesmerizing but revealing listening experience.
Surprisingly, the FA1 does offer a sense of space and a sense of depth, leading to a fair impression of some soundstage. While still not as awesome as an earphone from 64 Audio or an open-back over-ear headphone, the FA1 still offers a fantastic sense of space for its price.
If you’re in the mood for a solid pair of $99 earphones that deliver good lows, mids, and highs, the FiiO FA1 offers real bang for your buck. Compared to the Shure SE215, the FiiO FA1 feels just a little less warm (but with better emphasis on treble, while not sacrificing bass response.
If you actually want the most mid-high emphasis you can get at this price, I might actually recommend the Sennheiser M2 In-Ear headphones. At $99, these earphones don’t have a removable cable, but they do sound great with pop or classical music.
Personally, at $99, it’s hard for me not to recommend the FiiO FA1 for just about anything. This earphone constitutes a great all-around listening solution that pleases and then pleases some more.
The FiiO FA1 and its balanced sound strut a fine line few other earphones can. Similar to a compromise between the Shure SE215 and the Sennheiser HD1 In-ear, the FA1 touts a balanced, tempered sound that never sounds out-of-place with anything I throw at it. And to its credit, the FA1 doesn’t just not suck, it actually sounds really good with pop, rock, hip-hop, and classical tunes. Got $100 and need an earphone that does it all? Boom. Match made in heaven, folks. Buy this baby and live happily ever after.
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