FiiO FH1s: Spicy
Today we’re checking out a new budget offering from FiiO, the FH1s.
After building up a great reputation for quality DAPs, DAC/AMPs, and other like devices, FiiO introduced earphones into their lineup and haven’t turned back. From their humble beginnings with the EX1 in 2015, basically a Dunu Titan 1 rebrand, FiiO has continued to expand and improve their lineup which now features seven iems (with more on the way), a couple earbuds, and the EH3NC headphones.
The FH1s that we’re checking out today is built upon the foundation laid by the original FH1. Gone is the ubiquitous jellybean-shaped shell in favour of a more organic, custom-styled, low-profile design not unlike those recruited by KZ and TFZ for a few of their more popular models (ZS10 Pro, King Pro, etc.). I love this design because the stability and ergonomics are second to none. The 10mm dynamic has also been swapped out in favour of an even larger 13.6mm dynamic with a bio-polymer diaphragm and powerful N50 magnets for improved control and speed. Knowles is still providing the balanced armature (33518) that accompanies the monster dynamic.
Does FiiO’s second go at the FH1 formula provide listeners with a compelling reason to drop 69.99 USD? Let’s find out.
What I Hear I never had the chance to hear the original FH1 but from what I gather FiiO was looking to address the shortcomings of that model with this revision. What I hear is a reasonably well balanced earphone with a w-shaped signature beset by a prominent upper midrange that skews the tune into being overly bright and quite fatiguing, at least for me. This can be addressed by making adjustments between 1k and 3k using an audiophiles favourite tool; an EQ. I also found that short, wide bore tips like those from JVC mitigated things somewhat for me.
Treble out of the FH1s is for the most part quite pleasant. Extension is great with the presentation having plenty of pizzazz and shimmer up top, and enough lower treble energy to provide gobs of detail without sounding unnecessary or overboosted just for the sake of adding wow factor. As expected from a Knowles driver, attack and decay are both quite quick keeping the FH1s clear and consistent even with busy, congested tracks. While notes are generally well defined, they do edge towards sounding splashy at times so improvements can be made in that area. This region is also not the most natural sounding thanks to a somewhat plasticy edge to everything.
The midrange also suffers from the same issues with timbre thanks to a pretty hefty spike between 1k and 3k. While normally I’m fine with peaks, it seems this one falls into an area I’m particularly sensitive to. This is a first. As a result, the general midrange presentation ends up feeling overly bright and synthetic with the ability to fatigue extremely quickly. Males vocals sound good and fare far better than female which feel quite shouty and sibilant. Way too much sizzle going on here. It’s not all bad though. Clarity and note coherence is outstanding with plenty of detail coming through. If you enjoy analyzing the crap out of a tracks midrange, the FH1s is probably the best budget offering I’ve coming across.
Bass is where I have absolutely no qualms with the FH1s. They picked an excellent driver to handle the low end, and tuned it just right. Extension is top tier and it has no issues digging plenty deep and providing listeners with a warbly, visceral grumble. Mid/subbass balance is quite even, though I wouldn’t mind just a hint more midbass to warm things up a bit and help counter that edgy midrange. Texture and detail and quite good. It’s not as impressive as some other earphones in its class, but it fits in with the general presentation and takes a step back to let the mid and treble detail shine. For a big driver it’s also plenty quick, able to handle rapid transitions and the congested bass lines common to metal tracks with ease.
Sound stage is a another area the FH1s excels in giving off the impression that things are playing just to either side of your head. The emphasized upper ranges ensure there is lots of air for notes to play within, and effects commonly careening off into the distance. This movement is handled smoothly and with nuance, allowing the FH1s to immerse you in tracks that have swirling effects and instruments moving from channel-to-channel. The satisfying depth of the stage permits effective track layering and good instrument separation. Nice sound stage, good technical abilities. Yes please!
Overall I’m of two minds about how the FH1s sounds. On one hand I love the quality bass and raw detail and clarity of the presentation through the mids and treble. On the other hand I find the mids/upper mids to be way too hot and exceptionally fatiguing. If you’re not sensitive to that frequency range, you’re in for a treat.
Compared To A Peer
Dunu DM-480 (69.00 USD): Treble on the FH1s is better extended with a more even balance between upper and lower regions. The DM-480 in comparison has a more dry feel to it thanks to it’s stunted upper treble. The FiiO is brighter and more detailed with improved air between notes and a snappier, faster attack to notes, but at the same time they do not sound quite as well controlled. Both have an elevated upper midrange that keeps the overall presentation somewhat bright. In the case of the FH1s, I find the elevation a bit too much making it quite fatiguing to listen to, even at low volumes. The DM-480 simply comes across somewhat harsh. Foam tips helps smooth out the DM-480’s upper mids while shallow wide bore tips have the same effect on the FH1s for me. Not really a fan of the midrange presentation on either model. Bass is where they both shine. The FH1s’ larger driver gives off a slower, more visceral experience with better extension compared to the DM-480 which has a tighter, punchier, more textured feel to it. When it comes to sound stage, they have a similar presentation. The FH1s has a more intimate, default vocal presence which usually pulls in the staging, but the additional upper treble helps to add back a bit more air between notes and give it the edge. Technical abilities are also quite comparable. They both image smoothly and accurately with the FH1s’ hybrid setup and larger staging giving it’s reproduction a slightly more layered and well separated sound. While I find the FH1s the more technically adapt, the enthusiastic upper midrange is a bit much and as a result the DM-480 with it’s tighter note presentation ends up being the most pleasing to the ear of the two, at least for me.
In terms of build and comfort these two are mostly a wash for me. The Dunu’s tiny shells feel a little more premium thanks to their more organic, 3D printed shape, but the 2-pin system is even less encouraging for long terms use. It’s comfortable and isolates better, but I found myself adjusting it more often than the FH1s which rarely required touch ups. FiiO’s cable is also more premium feeling and looking thanks to it’s twisted design, but, I’m a bit fan of the long term durability of the style of cable Dunu went with. I’ve got a number of earphones with very similar cables that are many years old and still going strong. As you can see, I’m at odds to which I prefer in this section.
Tinhifi T3 (69.99 USD): Treble on the FH1s is similarly emphasized, extended, and detailed, though the T3 sounds more natural with a more realistic tone and timbre vs. the FH1s’ slightly plastic edge. Notes are also better controlled and a little more dense and weight. The FH1s has a more aggressive crack to notes with similarly rapid decay, both of which are presented a little more casually through the T3. The mids of the T3 are notably more balanced and even but not as forward overall. Regardless, the bright, tiring upper mids of the FH1s are nowhere to be found with the T3 again having a more true-to-life presentation thanks to some warmth injected by the midbass region. Speaking of bass, I prefer how it’s handled by Tinhifi’s hybrid as well. While depth and texture aren’t quite a good, nor is it quite as quick, I found it to have a more suitable mid/subbass balance that helps add some warmth and counter the bright, lean, sound that Tin’s earphones are known for. The FH1s has a fairly reserved midbass region that does little to soften or counter the brightness which ends up exacerbating what is the problem area to my ears. The T3’s sound stage is similarly deep but lacks the width of the FH1s and as such feels a but more confined. This puts it a step behind the FH1s in terms of layering and separation, but I find the T3 to more accurately move sounds channel-to-channel. Overall I much prefer the T3’s presentation. While it’s technicalities are a subtle step behind FiiO’s FH1s, the overall tuning balance and tonality is preferable to my ears, particularly through the midrange.
In terms of build I’m going to have to give it to the T3, comfort to the FH1s. The T3s shells may not be as attractive, nor are they as comfortable and easy to achieve a secure fit, but the machining quality is outstanding for this price point. Also, being entirely aluminum, durability is going to be a bit step up from the FiiOs plastic and metal mix. The MMCX connectors on this Tinhifi model also seem to be holding up extremely well despite numerous cable swaps, mind you, there really is no good reason to change cables. As good as FiiOs cable is, Tin managed to find something even more plush and premium to include with the T3. You can’t go wrong with either though.
In The Ear As noted earlier, FiiO has gone with a shell shape that I’ve seen quite a lot over the last couple years, and that is a good thing. The low profile design conforms to the natural shape of the outer ear providing a stable fit that is only helped further by the use of preformed ear guides. Those who have particularly small ears or outer ears with an unusual shape might have troubles wearing the FH1s, but for the majority they should provide a comfortable wearing experience.
That’s helped along by the fact they are so light thanks primarily to the use of plastics for the construction. Fit and finish is excellent with tight seams between the inner half of the shell and face plate. The metal nozzles are glued neatly in place without any excess glue having seeped out. The 2-pin ports are slightly raised and about the only area of concern since I have seen numerous images of this style of port cracking. That said, the raise is fairly conservative with thick sidewalls surrounding the actual ports, so I have faith they’ll hold up. One aesthetic touch that FiiO rightly seems proud of is the layered celluloid face plates which are unique from model to model. This is apparently the same material used for guitar picks so durability should be very high.
FiiO always goes the extra yard with their included cables and the FH1s’ is no exception. This cable is outstanding for a product under 100 USD, and I’m have been plenty happy to see it included with something notably more expensive. The twisted design is thick but very flexible and not so weighty that it tugs at the earphones while you walk. The 90 degree angled jack in one that FiiO has been using for a while now and has ample strain relief in place to protect the cable. The extension for plug also helps ensure good fitment with a variety of phone and DAP cases. The FiiO branded metal y-split doesn’t have any strain relief, but with cables of this style and with splits this compact I’ve never found it an issue. Sitting just above the y-split is a compact metal chin cinch that moves with just enough resistance to ensure it stays in place while remaining easy to adjust when needed. Leading up to the 2-pin plugs that angle at ~45 degrees are preformed ear guides. Since FiiO went with shrink wrap instead of the hard plastic some manufacturers use, they remain flexible and soft but stiff enough to keep the cable from bouncing out of place. Another nice touch is the redundant left/right markings. On the inside of each plug is a small letter to denote the channel, while on the base of each plug is a coloured pad; red for right, blue for left. It is always nice when companies go out of their way to add various methods of determining channel. Shows an attention to detail that is sometimes lacking in the industry. The only complaint I have is that the plugs sit flush with the raised ports on the earphone instead of wrapping around them like you’ll see on similar designs from a few other manufacturers. Leaving this out means the pins are more easily damaged, but treat the product with a modicum of care (ex. use the case and don’t simply toss them into a pocket) and you shouldn’t have to worry.
Lastly, the FH1s’ isolation is not amazing. I’d put it into the “average to slightly below” camp thanks to the reasonably shallow fit that goes along with this shell design, and ample ventilation through a pinhole in front of the driver, and another cleverly hidden behind the 2-pin ports. On the plus side, wind noise is kept to minimum which is cool. They’re definitely usable in noisy areas, but you may have to compensate with added volume (less so if you opt for foam tips).
In The Box Even with their inexpensive products, FiiO always puts effort into their packaging. While most could not care less, I do not fall into that camp and always appreciate when a company takes their time to make unboxing their products a positive experience.
With the FH1s you get a fairly large matte black box with a clean image of the FH1s on the front, as well as the prerequisite branding, model info, and Hi-Res Audio logo. Flipping to the back it is oddly barren with only a brief description of the product and a notice that it will likely be upgrade so pictures are for reference only, as well as FiiO’s complete name. Grasping the magnetically sealed flap and lifting open the top cover reveals a manual covering two inserts. The top insert contains the earphones on display tucked in a cardboard coated holder, underneath which is the cable neatly wrapped and tied off with a handy Velcro strip. The other insert is a small cardboard box containing the rest of the accessories. In all you get:
- FH1s earphones
- 120-Core high-purity monocrystalline copper cable w/ 2-pin 0.78mm connectors
- HB1 carrying case
- Small bore single flange tips (s/m/l)
- Wide bore single flange tips (s/m/l)
- Memory foam tips (m)
- Velcro cable tie
In all a very satisfying unboxing. The tip selection is good with each style of tips offering a slight variation on the sound signature and use decent quality materials. They’re a little stiff in my opinion but still seal well and should be durable in the long run. The HB1 Pelican-style case looks great and has a rubber seal around the base where the lid rests and should offer some water resistance if you’re the type to take your earphones out in adverse weather or with you on a camping trip.
Final Thoughts FiiO is very consistent in producing well built, high quality products and the FH1s absolutely displays this. The shells are wonderfully put together with a very cool looking face plate. Comfort are ergonomics are great, the cable is outstanding for the price, and it’s all backed by a comprehensive and useful kit of extras. If I were rating this earphone purely on these metrics, it would be a shoo-in for a high recommendation. However, sound also plays arguably the most important roll in an earphone and I found the FH1s to fall a little short.
It certainly has a lot of positives, like its clarity and detail, end-to-end extension, texture, and the speed of the Knowles armature and big old dynamic installed. It’s where the midrange general tuning comes in that I have some issues. Bass is fine, but as you head into the mids the upper mid peak results in an unnatural presentation and, at least for me, a very fatiguing sound. The treble is also fairly well emphasized which results in a double dose of brightness. I’d be fine with this if there was more low end warmth to counter, but its just not quite there. At very low volumes or for short, bursty listening sessions at moderate volumes the FH1s was plenty enjoyable, but for any other use case they were simply too fatiguing to use for more than a few minutes at a time. Your experiences may differ and I know there will be many out there that adore this high energy, high detail sound, I just found it a bit overwhelming.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer A huge thanks to Napoller with Hifigo for sending over the FH1s for the purposes of review and trusting me to share my subjective opinions of this product. They do not represent FiiO, Hifigo, or any other entity. At the time of writing the FH1s retailed for 69.99 USD. You can check it out here: https://hifigo.com/products/fiio-fh1s-1baknowles-1dynamic-hybrid-earphone-iem
- Driver: Knowles 33518 balanced armature + 13.6mm graphene dynamic driver
- Impedance: 26ohms
- Sensitivity: 106dB
- Frequency response range: 5Hz-40kHz
- Cable: 120-Core high-purity monocrystalline copper cable w/ 2-pin 0.78mm connectors
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501
Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams