If you're looking for earbuds that delivers flawless performance across the board with a smooth and relaxed immersive signature, then look no further! Just make sure to pair it with a reference source with good power to get the best out of it.
- Scales beautifully with better sources
- Good sub bass power for an open design
- Punchy mid bass slam featuring snappy attack and excellent control
- Dreamy, immersive midrange with a relaxed and warm presentation
- Smooth lower treble with good energy and excellent note weight
- Good upper treble extension providing good air and resolution
- Excellent cable with interchangeable plugs
- Build quality is worthy of a flagship earbud
- Needs decent power and reference source to fully shine
Product Page : https://www.fiio.com/em5
Price : 299$
Fit, Build & Isolation
The EM5 is the new earbuds flagship from FiiO, and as such FiiO put a lot of attention to the EM5 build and has improved is DLP 3D printing process allowing for a seamless shell. It’s also a biocompatible medical grade high quality resin. The EM5 are very lightweight but certainly look sturdy and with an absolutely perfect finish.
The Shell has a distinctive look from your average earbuds, thanks in part to the flute design that I’ll comment on later as it’s part of the singular acoustics design of the EM5.
The EM5 being a flagship with a non detachable cable, FiiO definitely made sure the stock cable looked the part with a 4 wire, 120-core pure silver litz. It also features the same quick plug switch as their LC-RE cable. This means you can enjoy the EM5 balanced either with the 2.5 or 4.4 plugs that are bundled with it. Definitely a plus although a replaceable cable with mmcx or 2 pin like some earbuds might be even more versatile but would have made the shells bigger and add a vulnerability point.
There is no need for introduction as FiiO is so well know among audiophiles, suffice to say the brand is growing its upper end offering and putting a lot of effort into it the top spec’ed M15 DAP (and upcoming M17) and the recent FA9 and FH7 IEMs as well as the the excellent dynamic flagship FD5 I recently reviewed. The EM5 is the flagship earbud of the brand.
Flagship, earbuds? Most audiophile won’t associate the earbud form factor with flagship sound yet FiiO has done its best to grab an audiophile attention : 14.2mm Beryllium coated dynamic driver, bass enhancing acoustic flute design, pure silver cable and swappable plug system.
As a form factor, earbuds don’t isolate as well as in ear designs (and they do leak a bit) and in a day and age of noisy public transportation and open space offices one might wonder what their place is in an audiophile’s collection. Well, there still are upsides : earbuds are easy to pull off if someone wants to talk to you, being open by design they also mean no acoustic pressure, shell design makes using bigger dynamic drivers an option with a small footprint and they leak moderately enough to be used in a quiet open space (they’re actually my favorite form factor for the office).
So how does a flagship earbud sound in 2020?
Let’s find out!
The first thing that came to mind when I listened to the EM5 is full sounding with nice mid bass slam and presence, a full and relaxing midrange and good lower treble energy delivered smoothly as well as more refinement up top that I would have expected.
Let’s dive a bit further!
As an earbud with an open design, the EM5 needs to pack some significant punch to make up for the lack of seal. As usual with earbuds, using a bigger dynamic driver is a constant and the EM5 features a large 14.2mm driver that is beryllium coated for improved impact. But FiiO didn’t stop there and worked on the acoustic design : the EM5 features a flute inspired acoustic bass tube (made possible by 3D printing) which FiiO says boost lower frequencies.
How does this work out for the EM5 bass? Well, I was quite surprised by how snappy the EM5 is. Atypical of earbuds, it packs some good snappy attack. Earbuds tend to be tuned bassy but lack in terms of punch as well as sub extension is commonplace. Not so with the EM5, the R&D clearly seems to have paid off.
Out of the Hiby R6 2020, the sub bass is fairly impressive for an open design and Aphex Twins “Ageispolis” as well as Sohn’s “Falling” both packed some decent sub bass power. Pushing the earpieces to provide maximum seal gave me an idea of the raw sub power and it’s good. I also had a lot of fun with Darkside “Paper Trails”.
Of to the mid bass the performance is really excellent with good mid bass slam and very nice textures, percussions in Luxy Dixon “Stormy weather” or Stefon Harris “Song of Samson” exhibited good speed and very nice control and realism on the drums. The rhytmic and hypnotic drums in Fink’s “Resurgam” and Ted Poor ‘To Rome” were quite impressive in terms of textures and details in the bass section, and a very immersive experience. On to wood instruments, Renaud Garcia-Fons double bass in “Aljamiado” and Ruben Gonzalès “La Lluvia” features rich overtones with very nice textures making up for a very pleasing listening experience.
The EM5 feature a relaxing and warm midrange that I find very immersive. The same kind of tuning in a closed back design such as IEMs would be pegged edging on dark with a clear lower mids bias and conservative upper mids that lack a bit of bite.
The lower mids are nicely lifted making the EM5 a full and warm earbud yet without congestion and overdone warmth. If you add a smooth upper midrange you have yourself a very relaxing listen making even the most energetic pieces like Hank Levy’s “Whiplash” a smooth listen where you can even push the volume safely. Note that the EM5 is not congested or closed in, thanks to its open design and stage size it makes up for its warmer and fuller tuning.
This makes the EM5 quite a dreamy, sit back and relax kind of listen and I must say this is exactly what I am looking for in an earbud that I’ll use mainly while working.
The EM5 treble is key to its overall balance, given the upper mids tuning FiiO wisely chose to give the EM5 some energy and air up top to avoid making the EM5 a dark and possibly congested earbud.
The lower treble has nice lower treble energy with a most surprising note weight for an open design, piano notes in The Hot Sardines “Comes love (L’amour s’en fout)” were a good test for this. The Pixies guitar distorsion in “Where is my mind” exhibited very satisfying bite and the chimelike Kalimba in Vaiteani “How they call it” is spot on and engaging just as a more rythminc cavaco keyboard in Jack Johnson “Staple it together”.
The upper treble is where the EM5 stands well above most earbuds with fairly good extension and presence. The EM5 has good air and detail retrieval. It’s a refined earbud that is able to convey superb nuances, listening to Houston Person “Gone Again” I was quite impressed by the EM5 portrayal of his soulful interpretation.
Hiby R6 2020
For the main part of this review, I paired the EM5 with Hiby R6 2020. It’s a reference DAP with good sub bass presence, linear mids and excellent air and resolution. The R6 2020 is a great pairing to the EM5, boosting the sub bass presence and with excellent control in the mid bass. I stuck to medium gain, the EM5 is not hard to get loud enough in low gain but I found it needs a little bit of power for the bass to be driven properly. The R6 2020 linear and articulate midrange is a good match to the warm and relaxed mids of the EM5. Up top, the R6 2020 excels at brining the best of the EM5 in the upper treble region extracting excellent resolution.
Lotoo PAW S1
I love the PAW S1 for its form factor and performance (especially out of my Mac), I actually don’t bring a DAP to work so it’s my usual office setup. The PAW S1 only has two gain settings and I had to set it to “High”. Compared to the R6 2020, the EM5 sounded less articulate but the R6 2020 and its ESS 9038Q2M is very articulate to begin with. Overall the EM5 sounded warmer with more mid bass presence where the R6 2020 is leaner. Lower mids also have a bit more presence giving a warmer tilt overall. Lower treble energy is excellent, better than the more conservative R6 2020 in this area. Upper treble is pretty good but not at the level of refinement the R6 2020 will take the EM5 to. Notable, the imaging is much less precise than the R6 2020 although the stage is quite excellent.
That’s without any EQ applied, but the PAW S1, like my former LPGT, has excellent EQ that I therefore actually use (I usually don’t). The “Headphone” setting opened the stage spreading out the image while not affecting the signature. But my preferred setting was “Brighter” as it really improves the imaging and resolution with a tad more bite to the upper mids making the EM5 more lively and structured. The PAW S1 is then not that far away from R6 2020 performance (the gap is still quite noticeable) except for sub bass presence where the R6 2020 is miles ahead.
I was curious how the EM5 would scale with a flagship DAP and I certainly love how the EM5 sounds out of iBasso latest flagship. The first thing is how bigger the soundstage is compared to the R6 2020 but the DX300 is the biggest stage I have heard in a DAP to date so it’s not a surprise (maybe not the widest but depth is outstanding and height is superb). The EM5 stage reaches holographic levels furthering the immersive qualities of the EM5 to surprising levels for earbuds : call me impressed. The DX300 also benefits the imaging greatly with its much bigger stage making it easier to position every instruments especially in more busy tracks.
The sub bass is excellent but again not as good as the R6 2020 but the mid bass has more heft and power, I think AMP11 power and current is to credit there. The midrange has a liquid quality that the DX300 is known for with both body and the right touch of bite, textures on the EM5 are sublime and the combo is very analogue sounding. Up top the DX300 infuses great energy in the lower treble department, making the EM5 more exciting and good air as well although I’d give the edge to the R6 2020 in terms of sheer extension and precision in the upper region.
The DX300 and EM5 pairing is one of the most immersive I have heard, providing a smooth experience with a superb stage and a tube like portraying of tracks.
The earbuds market is somewhat of a niche that has its afficionados, owning several earbuds where your typical audiophile owns headphones or IEMs. Most of the earbuds I have auditioned are either excellent value for money like the Penon BS-1 or somewhat fall short as flagships like Astrotec Lyra I liked a lot but lacked in the bass department.
The EM5 is the first earbud that doesn’t fall short of my expectations in any department and actually does provide a solid performance across the board as well as a highly coherent tuning. I believe it’s going to be the reference flagship earbuds for a good while and will be tough to beat.
If you’re looking for earbuds that delivers flawless performance across the board with a smooth and relaxed immersive signature, then look no further! Just make sure to pair it with a reference source with good power to get the best out of it.
I spent approximately 80 hours with the FiiO EM5, listening on Hiby R6 2020, iBasso DX300 and Lotoo PAW S1.
Thanks to FiiO for providing a review unit of the EM5. As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
- 3 plugs(2.5mm/3.5mm/4.4mm)
- 6 bass foam ear tips
- 6 treble foam ear tips
- 6 balanced foam ear tips
- HB3 leather carrying case
- Single Beryllium coated 14.2mm dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz.
- Impedance: 32Ohms @ 1kHz.
- Sensitivity: 109dB @ 1mW.
- Cable length: ~120cm.
- Cable material: Pure silver Litz braided.
- Weight: 23.9g.