Enjoy smooth mid-range sounds with quality passive noise reduction, in a low-fatigue 3D printed in-ear-monitor.
Whether you listen to music, to audible books, watch movies, or play games, you are enjoying sound through some form of speaker. At times, you may enjoy the sound through a sound bar, surround sound, computer speakers, over-ear, in-ear, or on-ear setups. Looking specifically at in-ear-monitors, they slide into the ear and create a seal between the outer world and your eardrum. This technology produces a passive sound reduction and allows performers to be able to hear music, tracks, colleagues, or themselves. Essentially serving as a hybrid earphone/earplug, the devices rely upon quality fit to enhance the sound. For this reason, many of the higher end balanced armature in-ear-monitor/receivers can set you back $400 or more. For those of us on a budget, the FiiO single balanced armature driver earphone, for example, combined some pretty amazing tech into a small affordable package.
The FiiO earbuds arrived in a 5 inches wide by 7 inches tall by 2 inches thick retail box. Similar to an Apple device, the company chose to use a clean and sterile white background for their product. Resembling a book, the top, fore edge and bottom panels were unadorned. The spine could have been well adorned but alas there was only a small “Scratch Query” sticker. The pristine surface of the back panel was only interrupted along the bottom two inches by “FA1 Full Frequency Single Balanced Armature Driver Earphones with Detachable Cables,” a Note: “The product will probably be upgraded; pictures are for your reference only,” a QR code linking to www.fiio.com, an SKU panel and several manufacturing labels. The nondescript cover provided the FiiO name across my top left, FA1 along my bottom left, “knowles” along my bottom right and a 2 1/2 inches wide by 2 1/4 inches tall black ink outline of an earbud. I was a little disappointed with the cover and with the overall feel of the bland packaging/imagery; I would have preferred a photographic quality image or a magnetic flap with access to an inner window to add detail to the packaging. In its current state, only the small sentence elbow “FA1” on the back cover provided much useful information. Otherwise, it may appear equally likely that you had purchased a hearing aid.
I removed the thin outer plastic, lifted the magnetic flap along the fore edge and opened the box. I loved the iridescent, wavy-blue sheen along the back of the earbuds and the red/blue rims along the L/R speaker base. The product provided a much needed splash of color to an otherwise bleak white surface. I was disappointed to find that the inner flap and the lower accessory box lacked additional information or imagery. I wanted more attention to detail and more of a dialogue from the company. The box was filled with an upper 3 1/4 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches thick earbud box, a lower 4 1/2 inches long by 3 1/4 inches wide by 1 5/8 inches thick accessory box. Beneath the earbud box, there was a small 4 3/8 inches long by 3 1/4 inches by 3/16 inches thick instruction manual box. Within the accessory box, I found a classy 4 7/16 inches long by 2 7/8 inches wide by 1/2 inches thick earbud carry case. The top, semi-translucent surface, with opaque FiiO logo along the middle, contrasted brilliantly with the black base. The case had a prominent posterior hinge, a secure front hasp, and four small plastic feet inferiority. Lifting the front latch, I found a small 1 3/4 inches long by 3/16 inches diameter bristle brush, and a semi-opaque ziplock bag containing large and small clear ear tips and by all, medium and large black-red ear tips. The earbud box contained a 0.81 ounce pair of wired earbuds.
Returning to the instruction manual, I flipped to the English section at the back. The first page provided a few details about FiiO and their High-Tech, High-Res products. The subsequent pages detailed the wearing instructions, sound/use precautions, warranty terms and conditions, and how to reach customer service. Before I could test the FiiO knowles earbuds, I had to dig out my lightning to 3.5mm adaptor. I plugged the 90-degree angle 3.5mm socket into the adaptor, and then the adaptor into my iPhone XS Max. I placed the loop of the earbud with the red collar over my right ear, placed the earbud vertically and then rotated it counterclockwise 90 degrees. I was pleased with the pre-installed white silicone tip and with the contour of the earbud. I placed the left loop over my ear, the earbud vertically into my ear canal and rotated it clockwise until it was snugly within my ear. Located 32 1/2 inches from the 3.5mm port, I found a 3/4 inches long 1/4 inches diameter metallic divider with white FiiO. The look and the feel of the spiraled rubberized wires reminded me of licorice. I loved the metallic accents, the small metallic strainer ring, and the red/blue colored collars. Each of the 3D printed translucent ear buds weighed 0.14 ounces and disconnected easily from the cable with outward tugging against the MMCX connector. The instruction manual provided an easy to follow guide on how not to separate the MMCX connectors.
Once I placed the earbuds into my ears, I navigated to audiocheck.net to test them. I used the Low-Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10–200 Hz) and heard bass starting at 30Hz. Although smooth, the low sounds did not drive deep enough into the sub-bass range and some may shy away from them for that reason. The sound output seemed well balanced and favored blend instead of exceptionally bass heavy sound. Do not misinterpret my meaning, the headphones sounded great, the bass was there, but it was not the focus. Utilizing the High-Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22–8 kHz), I was able to hear the test tone at 15kHz, which was standard for my degree of hearing. Most average adults can hear about 14kHz due to loss of upper tones with age. Essentially, the earbuds were tuned for the mid range sweet spot of modern pop songs, favoring vocal fluidity to heavy bass. Prince, Michael Jackson, Megan Trainer, Charlie Puth, Lady Gaga, Disturbed, and Pentatonix for example, sounded good without grittiness or sharp raspiness. I listened to most of the test tracks at 6–8 ticks on my iPhone XS Max and used a combination of YouTube and Amazon Prime Music.
Pleased with the frequency range, I used the Left/Right/Center test and found the earbuds to be appropriately programmed. The Stereo Perception and Sound Localization Test is my favorite part of the audiocheck.net website. My children love to listen to the knocking on the Stereo perception test and with the “Sound Of Silence (3D Binaural Audio)- Simon and Garfunkel Cover-Jarvis Brothers (Ear to Ear). While using my typical test tracks, my wife noted that she was able to hear the music coming from my earbuds. I had her place the earbuds into her ears and did notice a mild to moderate amount of sound leak. Although not noticeable in an average room, in the quiet of our bedroom, it was easily identified. I listened to Bob Marley and the Wailers “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” Radiohead “The National Anthem,” “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, the “Dragonborn” Skyrim Theme by Jason Soule, and “Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold” from The Hobbit. I liked that I was able to hear the sounds in space but wanted just a little more bass. The synth pop song “Bright Lights Bigger City” by CeeLo Green, showed good mids and upper range but there was a lack of feeling from the lower range. Similarly “Train Song” by Holly Cole, and Dark Knight Rises “Why so serious, Jokers Theme” were okay but lacked the feeling of the bass. I loved the sounds of the Far and Away Soundtrack, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves Soundtrack and Queen “Somebody to Love,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
I was pleased with the sound but at times I wanted more from the lower register. As an instrumentalist in my younger years, I appreciated the staging, the mids and the blend of the sounds. Furthermore, I love to listen to music, to watch movies and to listen to audible while in bed. The 3D printed earbuds were well designed, comfortable, and rested flush within my concha. I found the white earbuds to be the most comfortable and did not notice much difference between the other tips. The included carry case was a surprising, and thoughtful inclusion, as were the accessory ear tips. I do not think that you will find a better option than the FA1 for a sub $100 pair of balanced armature earbuds. When you consider the addition of the carry case, this deal becomes a no brainer.