FA9 is an all balanced armature driver flagship from Fiio. It’s priced at 499 USD, and it promises to deliver top tier sound quality with 4 different sound signatures.
Unboxing of flagship Fiio products is always a treat, and it’s not different this time.
The box has this intriguing, shimmering effect which looks very colorful in a decent light, without being too flashy or shoddy.
It’s what’s on the inside that really matters though. And you’ll be very happy with what you’ll find there – a great, hard case, soft pouch, a cable, cleaning tool and LOTS of different eartips, from which every single one has it’s own sound signature – according to Fiio.
The cable included in the box is a decent, silver-plated, 8-strand one. It’s quite comfortable and doesn’t tangle too easy, but it’s nothing extraordinary for the current market. I wish that Fiio would ditch the mmcx connectors and use 2-pin instead. Why? You’ll find out in the next segment.
The build quality of Fiio FA9 is great, but not perfect. Firstly, the surface of the shells is very smooth and perfectly polished. IEM’s feel very sturdy and pleasant in your hand.
About the connectors…Fiio has had some problems with MMCX connectors for some time now, and it’s still present in FA9. Take any Campfire Audio IEM’s – mmcx connectors work flawlessly every time, with a pronounced click that informs you, that the cable went in and isn’t going anywhere.
With Fiio, this click is very inconsistent and sometimes lacking, resulting in a loose connection which can lead to even disconnecting the cable during use.
Also, i cannot rate FA9 build quality higher because of the materials used. Campfire Audio IO is 200$ cheaper and is made of metal with better connectors.
Where the Fiio FA9 shines is comfort. These are the closest to custom in-ear monitor’s universal IEM that i’ve used to date. Using the FA9 for long periods of time wasn’t a problem for me…well, at least comfort wise.
I can’t deny that Fiio FA9 has some great tech inside. It uses 6 Knowles balanced armature drivers per side, it has a 8cm (!) long sound tube and a four-way crossover which can be adjusted via 3 switches on the IEM shell.
First thing’s first, having the IEM with 4 different sound signatures to choose from can be quite hard to evaluate. Nonetheless, the differences between them are quite small and the overall sound quality and signature remains the same throughout every setup. Majority of my listening impressions are made upon using the “neutral” tuning, which isn’t so much different than the other settings.
The FA9 feels and performs like a well engineered piece of equipment, but unfortunately it’s unpolished and very specific, being a good choice for only one receiver’s group in my opinion.
That’s because the FA9 is a very uninvolving, unpleasant and just shrill pair of IEMs. I cannot listen to them for more than 30 minutes at once, as i get tired very quickly and bad recorded music is far from being enjoyable.
The Bass is very music dependent. Sometimes it slams really hard and has a great texture and sense of presence, being the best part of FA9. On the other hand, in some music genres or in differently mastered albums it starts to sound just okay, not being able to hit those really low frequencies.
The midrange is gray, a bit grainy and uninvolving. Vocals have a tendency to be pushed a feet behind the rest of the mix. I won’t call it neutral, but rather analytical and just unnatural, resulting in the lack of timbre and overall unexciting performance. In my opinion, the midrange of Fiio FH5 is far more natural and pleasant to listen to.
Treble is the worst part of FA9. In great recorded and mastered music it tends to sound truly spectacular and very accurate, creating an absurd quantity of details. The word “WOW” just came into my mind immediately. However, with 90% of the music i tried with these, regardless of what source I’ve been using, the Fiio FA9 sounded just harsh and unpleasant. It is overly bright and saturated on top, which is great for hearing every single detail, but also leaves us with a sound that you don’t want to listen to. For example, Campfire IO also has quite forward treble response, but it is better polished and mature, sounding much more enjoyable with not so great mastered music.
As for the soundstage, it’s pretty unconvincing. The slight lack of depth makes the whole stage quite shallow and intimate, which can be a good thing, if the imaging is on point…well, it isn’t.
Usually, FA9 has a problem with the middle of the soundstage, resulting in a slight hole in front of you. Sound’s come from the sides, a bit from the front and that’s basically it.
I understand what Fiio wanted to accomplish with the FA9, but in my opinion they didn’t deliver. Top quality drivers, well designed crossover, revolutionary long sound tube stops meaning anything, when the performance leaves you not wanting to listen to them.
I prefer the great FH5 and an even better FH7 over the FA9. I’d even say that i prefer to listen to the budget FH3 than to their new flagship. Maybe it’s something about the FA series, as i personally think that the FA7 is the worst IEM that Fiio has ever created.
Im quite a fan of Fiio for their fantastic FH series, great M11 and stellar BTR3/5, but sadly this time i believe that FA9 is just an unpolished product for a very narrow group of customers.
If you’re a professional and you’re looking for an IEM that is VERY detailed and has this in your face treble response then yes, get them now, as you won’t find anything like that in the similar price range.
But, if you’re a music listener, i don’t recommend the FA9.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- IEM – Lime Ears Aether R, Campfire Audio IO, Andromeda, Cayin YB04, Fiio FH3, Fiio FH5, Fiio FH7.
- Source – Smartphone, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M11, Fiio M15, Cayin N8, Shanling M5s.