Today we’re checking out Benny Tan’s newest creation, the Fidue A85 Virgo.
My introduction to the brand was through the baby of the lineup, the sport-focused a31s. While not the best sounding product I’ve heard, the a31s’ warm and bassy signature was suited to the intended purpose of the earphone. It was also unique in that it’s housing wasn’t much larger than the 8mm driver inside, making it one of the most compact and durable products I’ve seen to date.
The Virgo is a completely different animal entirely, featuring a triple hybrid setup with two custom-made balanced armatures and one Fidue-exclusive dynamic driver, per side. The crossover network within this earphone ensures the frequency division is clean and accurate, leading to a cohesive end product.
Fidue’s primary goal “is reproducing original sound accurately, and maintaining clarity, dynamics and natural expression”. How well does the A85 do this? Come with me on a journey of discovery and wonder to find out.
The A85 was provided free of charge for the purposes of review. I would like to thank Penon Audio for contacting Fidue on my behalf, and for arranging the shipping of the sample. The thoughts within are my own and do not represent Fidue or Penon. There was no financial incentive provided to write this review, nor was there any expectation set for positive coverage. At the time of this review the A85 retailed for 399.00 USD.
Penon Audio: https://penonaudio.com/fidue-virgo-a85.html
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer unique examples of signatures I enjoy.
For at home use the A85 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp, iFi Pro iCan, or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, F-Audio S1, or Shanling M1. The Walnut F1 also made it’s way into the rotation at times, even though the A85 in no way needs to be amped.
- Headphone sensitivity: 107db
- Frequency range: 7-41000Hz
- Max Power Input: 50mW
Packaging and Accessories:
Unlike many other reviewers, I place a fair bit of emphasis on the unboxing experience. This is especially true when it comes to premium products. To me a quality unboxing experience shows a manufacturer takes pride in their product, and it displays a certain level of respect for their customers. You’re putting down your hard earned money to get something special, so it should feel like it. This doesn’t necessarily mean the packaging should be flamboyant and over the top and the accessory kit packed to the brim with tips, cases, and other stuff, though those things won’t hurt if done well. Fidue’s unboxing experience with the A85 is quite good, giving you an involving and multi-layered experience with a generous helping of items.
The black/green color scheme is a Fidue staple and is handled very tastefully. It’s easily something that could end up looking quite garish, but that’s not the case here. On the front you have a small viewing window showing off the A85’s organically designed earpieces and a list of features. The rear contains a list of specifications in English, Chinese (Mandarin?), and German along with Fidue’s phone number, website, and physical address. There is also a scannable QR code.
Cutting the security seal reveals a twin flap system which hugs the package. Opening the first flap, on the left you find information on tip usage. The centre flap contains a Benny Tan quote, “Original Sound, Beautifully Voiced” and a brief statement telling you about the Virgo. To sum it up, this triple-driver hybrid is intended to deliver “the realism of vocals and the spectacular clarity of instruments.”
Flipping back the final flap uncovers the A85’s earpieces nestled in a foam cutout along with the carrying case containing the cable below. On the right is a slew of informative statements telling you how to care for the Virgo, how to wear it, and how to remove the cable using the included shim (guitar pick looking thing). While mostly plastic and not particularly premium feeling, I quite like the case. The lid is covered in a thin metal plate which is engraved with the Fidue name. The inside is lined with foam to ensure the A85 isn’t scratched during transport. The case is a little bulky, but not so thick you can’t pocket it. While I think Dunu does this style of case a little better, I’m perfectly content with what Fidue has included.
The rest of the accessories are contained in a small black cardboard box tucked under a couple layers of foam. In all you get a very extensive list of items;
- A85 Virgo earphone
- Silver-plated OFC audiophile cable for full-ranged balanced use
- Plastic carrying case
- Four pairs of single-flange silicone tips (xs/s/m/l)
- Two pairs of bi-flange silicone tips (m/l)
- Two pairs of foam tips (T500 Comply and one generic set)
- Shim for cable removal
- Cleaning tool (looks like a SIM card remover)
- Airplane adaptor
- 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter
- Warranty card
All-in-all you’re getting quite a lot with the A85, and the quality is there too. The silicone tips are comfortable and feel dense and durable. Both sets of foam tips are comfortable and seal well. The case is perfectly functional, and the rest of the add-ins are welcome, even if they might not be used all to often (airplane adapter and shim come to mind).
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
Out of everything I’ve reviewed, the A85 is one of those that feels most deserving of it’s premium price tag. The CNC machined aluminum housings are met with flawless fit and finish, free of sharp edges, gaps, discoloring, or anything else that would take away from their impressive design. L and R indicators look to have been laser etched on the ear-facing side of each housing so they won’t wear away in time. You don’t really need them though, as the A85 is designed to be worn one way only. The cables are also imbued with blue and red colored rings at the plugs denoting left and right channels respectively. The overall design and build is so clean and organic, it’s easy to get lost in the finer details and find yourself sitting and staring. My only concern surrounds the lip less nozzles which makes tip-rolling less universal.
The A85’s cable has a lot of positive qualities. The straight jack and y-split share the same beautiful machining of the housings and as a result feel durable and expensive. They’re also effectively relieved which I always appreciate since it serves only to increase cable longevity. The application of well implimented MMCX connectors also serves to increase longevity, but of the base product itself. If and when the cable dies, just replace it instead of buying a whole new earphone. When you’re spending upwards of 500 USD for a product, omitting a feature like this would be a critical failure which is why I’m glad it’s there. The built in ear guides are some of the best in the business with an aggressive arc that wraps around the entirety of your ear making the A85 one of the most stable earphones I’ve tried. You won’t find any finnicky memory wire here. This cable is also quite resistant to holding memory, it doesn’t tangle despite being slightly on the sticky side, and it’s fairly thick. The only real downside to it is microphonics which are quite prominent. Not as invasive as the cable on the Meze 11 Neo and 12 Classics, but not too far off. I’m glad Fidue thought to include a chin cinch because in my opinion it is absolutely necessary to effectively combat that cable noise.
The combination of well-machined, lightweight aluminum housings with a low profile, ergonomic design means the A85 fits naturally in the ear without any qualities that hinder comfort. The shallow fit design and fairly relaxed angle at which the nozzle protrudes may cause some issues with getting a good seal, as I experienced, but you’ve been given a hefty selection of tips. There is enough variety there to ensure you’ll find something that works for your ear.
In terms of noise suppression I found the A85 well-below average; not entirely surprising. The inner half of the housing is very well-ventilated with a pinhole vent near the base of the nozzle and two larger vents a little further back. This semi-open nature combined with a shallow fit means the A85 lets in a fair bit of outside noise. As is usually the case, throwing on the foam tips certainly helps negate this, but not enough to make this an ideal product for use in extremely noisy areas.
The A85’s mid-range is quite natural, prominent, and has a very commanding presence through it’s very articulate vocals. On Aesop Rock’s “Citronella” every layer and dynamic filter applied to his vocals sticks out. The same can be said for Benjie Webbe of Skindred whose vocal prowess, be he screaming or crooning, is on full display through the A85, I also found this presentation particularly suited to textured guitar work which has a hefty weight, definition, and depth to it.
The A85’s treble doesn’t fare so well to my ears, suffering from a cold, dry crispness that takes away from cymbals and effects, rending it all very artificial. This is quite apparent in the opening moments of Michael Jackson’s “(P.Y.T.) Pretty Young Thing”. On the plus side, extension is excellent and you’re provided lots of information and detail. Separation is also quite impressive which combined with an airy presentation makes the A85 sound quite spacious when compared to most earphones.
Throwing on a bassy track like Massive Attack’s “Angel” or Ephixa’s “Dubstep Killed Rock ‘n’ Roll” you might notice the A85’s mid-bass bias with some roll off in the sub-bass regions. It can rumble, but not with the level of aggression I personally prefer. This gives the A85 a very methodical bassline. You’d think this also means it’s quite slow and it certainly seems that way, but it never tripped up on particularly quick basslines, such as the crazy double bass kicks you hear in a lot of metal tracks. It meanders, yet it’s still quite nimble.
When it comes to sound stage, the A85 has a reasonably vast and open presentation to it, as if you’re sitting a reasonable distance from the source. While I find this hurts the overall accuracy of the imaging, it does give a more satisfying headphone-like feel, especially when backed by the competent layering and separation qualities that are present. Overal detail and clarity is quite good too, particularly in the treble and mid-range, it’s just not apparent due to the lack of aggression that seems to be more commonly tuned into those frequencies.
Overall I find the A85 an oddly satisfying listen. I don’t think the tonality of the dynamic driver and the balanced armatures is traditionally well matched which gives the A85 an incoherent sound, but it doesn’t hinder the final signature like you would expect. The balanced armatures are somewhat cold, quick, and dry, while the dynamic is plodding, warm, and smooth. Somehow it all pulls together into something that works and meshes successfully. The lack of any uncomfortable treble peaks serve to make this a good listen over long periods. The large mid-bass emphasis, while not my cup of tea for personal listening in the comfort of my home, works exceptionally well out in the real world where the ample ventilation lets in enough noise to balance out the presentation.
Brainwavz B400 (189.50 USD): The B400 and A85 are very, very different products. The A85 looks and feels like the most costly product it is with it’s all-metal build and organic design. The B400’s 3D printed housings are very rough around the edges. However, both are very comfortable and ergonomically sound with the A85’s smaller housings taking the edge. In terms of sound I find the B400 more relaxed yet they are about equal on detail. The A85 is one of the few products I’ve heard that can almost keep up with the B400 in terms of layering and separation, almost making up the difference with a larger sound stage. Neither product is particularly aggressive or energetic, though the A85’s extra upper range emphasis makes it the more vibrant of the two. In terms of mid-range the A85 is more forward, but the B400’s silky smoothness and similar levels of detail makes it the more accomplished of the two. Despite the A85’s use of a dynamic driver for the low end, the B400 displayed better depth and impact on bassy tracks, and with more texture to boot.
Optoma Nuforce HEM6 (399.00 USD): The HEM6 is a triple balanced armature unit with a very mellow sound. Compared to the A85 it’s treble sounds very rolled off and could use a notable boost to liven things up. The A85’s mid-range is more crisp and clear, leaving the HEM6 slightly veiled. The low end of the HEM6 is better textured and punchier with similar extension. While the A85 comes across much more detailed and nuanced, the HEM6 sounds a lot more natural and realistic. In terms of build the A85 is again the more premium of the two, but the HEM6 impresses with it’s lightweight, ergonomically sound design that makes it less intrusive than the A85. As nice as the Fidue’s accessory kit is, Nuforce did HEM6 customers right by giving them two excellent cases, two decent cables, and a slew of tips to ensure you can get a great fit.
Campfire Audio Polaris (599.00 USD): The Polaris is the only one of the bunch that rivals the A85 for that premium feel. Despite the angular design and extra weight, I didn’t find it lagging behind on comfort either, unless you throw the stock cable back on. That memory wire on the Polaris is terrible, showing further just how great the A85’s preformed guides are. In terms of accessories and packaging the A85 and Polaris take very different approaches. Campfire kept things simple with the Polaris, including only a few accessories, but extremely high quality ones. In terms of sound the A85 and Polaris are quite different. The Polaris is v-shaped with big bass and bright treble. It’s dialed back mid-range is quite noticeable when a/bing the two with it’s lower mid-range sounding more artificial. The Polaris does a better job of pulling micro details and with providing a more textured sound. It’s low end balance between mid-bass and sub-bass is also much better than what the A85 provides. Both have a large sound stage with the A85 providing a greater sense of movement and depth. It’s imaging is less accurate than the Polaris’, but it moves sound with a dynamicism Campfire’s hybrid is missing.
Fidue’s A85 Virgo was a tough one for me to review. It’s packaging is great, you get lots of accessories, it looks gorgeous and feels just as impressive in hand, and it’s supremely comfortable. All that is reasonably easy to discern, especially after putting as many hours through it as I have over the last month and a half. What made it tough to review was it’s sound signature and how unique it is.
While I would generally consider the incoherency between the tone of the dynamic and balanced armature drivers a negative, here it’s not that straightforward. It doesn’t distract from the listening experience. It adds another layer to the presentation that makes it stand out from most other products I’ve tried. Because the two driver types sound so different, they end up complimenting each other rather than conflicting.
Going back to a question posed at the start of the review, I don’t think the A85 meets Fidue’s mission of “reproducing original sound accurately”, but I don’t think that’s what they were going for anyway. That to me is highlighted by the quote you are greeted to upon first unboxing; “Original Sound, Beautifully Voiced”. Those four words describe the A85 to the T. It gives listeners a wholly unique listening experience among peers that I’ve heard, so if you are tired of traditional tuning and want a premium product with a unique signature, the A85 is worth a look.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Fidue and Penon for the opportunity to hear this unique earphone.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)