Here’s a bargain on Amazon that doesn’t require you to be a Prime member or rush to get it: Fiio’s new F5 earphones. Priced at $64.99, these have just arrived on Amazon’s online store (and only there, for now), though I’ve had a test pair for a few weeks already. The F5s won’t topple my sub-$100 favorites, the 1More Triple Drivers, but compared to the so-so competition in their price range, they’re a great choice for more constrained budgets.
For those unfamiliar with Fiio, this Chinese company has been in operation since 2007 and has developed a strong reputation for making highly affordable hi-fi music players. Its brand slogan is the amusing mistranslation of “Born for Music and Happy.” The F5 earphones extend that tradition of great value by offering an uncommonly clean and crisp sound, handsome design, detachable cables, and a hard carry case.
Each F5 earbud is made out of aluminum and feels perfectly rigid and tough. The contoured shape fits naturally inside the ear cavity and Fiio’s claim of “all-day comfort” isn’t far from the truth. Fit will vary with each person, but I found the F5s effortless to wear with their default tips. They’re not amazing at isolating exterior noise, but they do a decent enough job of it. The big selling point here is comfort and light weight: the F5s are secure enough to stay in place if you use them on a run, yet also loose enough to put on and take off with ease.
On the inside of the F5s, Fiio uses titanium driver diaphragms, whose extra rigidity should tame unwanted distortions and provide a smoother sound in the mid and treble frequencies. My experience with them confirms that to be the case, though don’t expect too much. Fiio may have snagged a “Hi-Res Audio” sticker from the Japan Audio Society, but I don’t find the F5s to be hi-fi headphones. They’re good, even very good for their price, however they still have weaknesses, among which I’d probably count the overall tonal balance. The mids and upper mids are too prominent for me, which leads to an in-your-face presentation of the music that unfortunately relegates the bass. And the bass on these earphones is very nice and punchy, I’d have liked to have more of it!
Other than my quibbles on the sound — which should still suit a broad range of people — the F5s are hard to criticize for a $65 pair of earphones. Their case is a bit of a ripoff of Peli Micro Cases, but it’s nonetheless superior to the cloth pouch that most other companies would offer you at this price. The default wire has an integrated mic with a remote control compatible with both iOS and Android (switchable via a little toggle). There’s also a second, balanced-audio cable with a 2.5mm termination that plugs into most of Fiio’s portable players. Balanced sound is generally a consideration for far pricier audiophile gear, but it’s nice of Fiio to provide the option anyway.
The thing that most impressed me about these earphones is how well they worked with the Astell & Kern Kann. That $1,000 player upgraded their sound significantly and showed me that the Fiio F5s have plenty of room to scale up with the quality of the music source. If you want a pair of uncomplicated buds that can do a bit of heavier lifting when you find nicer music, the F5s are a good set to consider.