FiiO FA9: Initial Impressions
FiiO needs no introduction being that they’re a major player in world of portable audio, and have been for ages. In recent years they’ve expanded into the earphone market and have been hugely successful. The single armature, 100 USD FA1 is one of the most entertaining single armature earphones I’ve used. The FA9 we’re checking out today is a completely different beast, and definitely not a budget friendly offering. At 499.99 USD, or 714.19 CAD for my fellow Canadians, the FA9 moves FiiO firmly out of the budget market and into direct competition with some pretty impressive stuff from brands like Dunu, Hifiman, Campfire Audio, and more.
If looking at specs and tech, you can see why. First off, the FA9 employs six Knowles balanced armatures per side, wrangled by a 4-way electronic crossover. The SWFK-31736 handles upper frequencies while the dual woofer HODVTEC-31618 handles the low end. For the midrange Fiio collaborated with Knowles on a custom EJ series driver, the EJ-33877. Next up is a feature that immediately stands out when you take a close look through the clear, DLP 3D printed shells. See it?
Yeah, that my friends is an 80.6mm long sound tube. According to FiiO, this catacomb-like tube serves the purpose of a low-pass filter that nullifies unnecessary mids and highs resulting in a smoother frequency response. Another benefit is smoother mid-bass and improved texturing. Since I don’t have a version of the FA9 without this impressive piece of engineering bored into it, I’ll take their word for it.
Another feature that likely drew your attention involves the three switches neatly integrated into the rear of each housing. Instead of a more common and cumbersome system by which you swap out various nozzle filters, FiiO took advantage of their advanced crossover and incorporated an electronic solution. The first switch in line is basically an impedance/sensitivity adjustment. Turn in on to drop the impedance and boost sensitivity which makes the FA9 more sensitive, but can also introduce noise. I prefer to leave it off. As a low volume listener, I don’t need the extra volume and prefer as clean a background as possible. The second switch controls treble, adding in a few dB of upper end energy when turned on. Or, leave it off to maintain a more balanced presentation across the board. The third and final switch handles the mids and bass. When on, bass is reduced and the mids are bumped. Leave it off and the low end picks up presence while the midrange steps back into a more balanced position.
So we know the FA9 has some cool stuff going on, but none of that really matters if the sound it produces is mediocre or forgettable. Thankfully that hasn’t proven to be the case. While I still need to spend more time playing around with the various switch combinations, I’ve been quite pleased with the general performance so far and really enjoy it with the following settings; 1: off, 2: on, 3: on. Note that all my current impressions have been taken in the cleaner sounding, high impedance mode.
The dual woofers give the FA9 a slightly warm leaning character. Even with the third switch in the off position to maximize bass quantity, the FA9’s low end is reserved though extension is quite good for an armature-based earphone. Texturing seems pretty solid, though I’d like a bit more grit.
The midrange is where the FA9 really shines for me so far, hence leaving that 3 switch on. It brings out the lush, detailed vocals, and impressively voiced timbre, sounding especially good with fairly basic, acoustic instrumentals. You get the full effect of each instrument and voice without much interference. Lovely.
The FA9’s treble I’m more lukewarm on, though in general it sounds quite good. With the 2 switch on there is just the right amount of sparkle in the brilliance region, however flip it the other way and the FA9 sounds lost. The energy and excitement is gone and experience is somewhat dull. In general though, the FA9’s upper ranges are very clean and smooth. It’s not a detail monster, seemingly trading it for a less fatiguing experience.
When it comes to sound stage I’m not hearing anything particularly massive. Mind you, this space is utilized well. Width is fairly average with vocals playing from just outside the ear. Higher octave vocalists come across a little more intimate than those who produce in lower octaves. Stage depth is excellent resulting in a multi-tiered, heavily layered experience. Instrument separation is also quite impressive and I have yet to find a track where the FA9 sounds congested. Imaging is generally quite good, though delineation just off centre is somewhat vague. Further out things become much more nuanced.
Overall I’m quite satisfied with how the FA9 is coming along, and we haven’t even touched on the build, fit, or extensive accessory kit. I’ll save all that for the full review, so keep your eyes open over the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: The FA9 was provided by FiiO free of charge for the purposes of review. I appreciate that they have trusted me yet again to provide my subjective opinions of their products. You can check it out on their product page or Aliexpress store, links below.
Product Page: https://www.fiio.com/fa9
FiiO’s Offical AliExpress Webstore: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4001035600968.html