Fiio have recently changed their packaging, and it seems they’ve finally settled on a constant design. So you can expect nearly identical packaging for many of their products. Truth be told, Fiio has some of my favourite packaging. There isn’t anything overly fancy, but it certainly is well thought-out and engineered, especially when considering how they create neat little compartments on the inside for the inner packaging. This may seem rather redundant, as any product’s packaging is largely useless after you’ve opened it up; but let’s give credit where credit is due. The only minor flaw I could tell with the F5’s packaging is that Fiio had cheaped-out on the printing process. When taking images of products (including the packaging) I always use some alcohol-swabs to ensure that the product is clean and fingerprint-free. However, the F5’s packaging showed noticeable discolouration after this cleaning process.
The nearly-all-black box of the F5 is pretty minimalist, but nothing more is necessary if we’re being honest. The front displays an image of the F5, along with a “Hi-Res Audio” badge, and an ironic “Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad” image at the bottom. The irony here is that you simply wouldn’t be able to use the F5 with Apple’s latest “no headphone jack” approach on some devices.
The rear of the packaging is a bit interesting. Instead of only listing a few features and specs, Fiio decided to also include a 15-line paragraph to introduce the consumer to various design elements and features.
What’s in the box?
1x 3.5mm single ended cable
1 x 2.5mm balanced cable
3x Pairs of silicon eartips
3x Pair of Hybrid silicon eartips
As is often the case with Fiio products, the F5 comes bundles with an above average number of accessories. The hard storage case is also one of Fiio’s newest products the HB1, which is also available to purchase separately for around $9 – $13 online. What makes this case particularly valuable is just how strong it is, coupled with waterproofing. The only possible flaw with this case seems to be that the latch doesn’t seem to close very securely as the only included with Fiio’s EX1 2nd Gen. This may hinder the case’s protection and waterproof capability.
Perhaps the most valuable accessory is also the F5’s star attraction; a balanced cable. Up until now, getting a balanced pair of headphones/IEMs has been rather pricey. For those who don’t know, there actually isn’t such a thing as balanced headphones/IEMs, but rather the cable is of a balanced design. This means that virtually any headphones/IEMs can be turned into a balanced pair, provided that the headphones/IEMs feature removable cables, and that you purchase a balanced cable (if one isn’t already included with the headphones/IEMs). The down-side to this is that, in order to experience this balanced design, your music player or amplifier must have a balanced output.
Fiio also included a standard 3.5mm single-ended cable. What is most interesting about this cable is that you can use its remote function with both Android and iOS devices. I’m not sure if Fiio is the first to introduce this feature, but it certainly is scarcer than hen’s teeth.
A total of 6 pairs of eartips are also included, 3 of which are standard silicon tips, whilst the other 3 feature a stiffer core, very much akin to what you would find on Sony Hybrid eartips.
The F5 shares some similarities with the EX 2nd Gen. Both have a cable down and semi-open design, as well as featuring a 45-degree nozzle design for better ergonomics. However, the F5 takes things a step further by offering removable MMCX cables. Removeable cables at this price-point is pretty much unheard of, so it is a welcomed addition. However, the cables don’t sit quite as securely as they should. They don’t insert with the same reassuring ‘click’ as other MMCX connectors, resulting in a cable that can be disconnected with relative unintentional ease.
The F5’s body also seems to be a combination of plastic and metal, unlike the EX1 2nd Gen which was entirely made of stainless steel and aluminium-alloy. Whilst the EX1 2nd Gen also included some DUNU branding, this seems to be completely absent from the F5. Perhaps the F5 is completely designed and manufactured by Fiio. Other similarities are also carried over from the EX1 2nd Gen, such as a semi-open housing design. The F5, however, does seem to have smaller (less) ventilation holes, which results in a bit more isolation and narrower sound stage compared to the EX1 2nd Gen.
It’s only somewhat recently that Fiio started adding IEMs to their product portfolio, and thus far they’ve been doing a damn good job. Fiio took us by surprise with the performance of the EX1 2nd Gen, but the F5 takes things up a notch in terms of sound quality and functionality. Compared to the EX1 2nd Gen, the F5 seems to have a more refined and balanced sound signature, but offering a smoother overall presentation. Whilst it is still a more v- than neutral signature, the F5 certainly does seem just a bit more balanced than the EX1 2nd Gen. Bassheads still won’t be overly happy with th
e F5, but at the same time the F5 also isn’t out-right lacking in the bass department either. Instead, what’s really going to matter is how the F5 pairs up with your source. For an already warm-sounding source, the F5 might not be ideal if you’re looking for a more balanced and linear sound signature. The sound stage for the F5 is wide and satisfying, as could be expected from a semi-open housing design. This favours binaural recordings in particular, presenting you with a rather realistic stereo-imaging. As noted in the EX1 2nd Gen review, these budget options aren’t going to get you the same detail, clarity, linearity, balance, or other technical capabilities of more expensive IEMs…but what the F5 offers at this price point, in terms of sound quality, is very respectable indeed.
Something that absolutely must be mentioned is how seemingly sensitive the F5 is to eartip selection. Eartips are very important to all IEMs, but somehow using the correct tips seem even more important on the F5. Perhaps this is due to the semi-open design, but if you get the tips wrong, the F5 will punish you. Usually I’d go straight for my JVC Spiral Dot tips, but in the case of the F5 I found the largest of the included “hybrid” silicone tips to work the best in terms of both sound quality and fit. Where the Spiral Dots usually provide me with a more balanced and natural presentation, on the F5 they simply seemed to veil vocals. Or perhaps more of a case that vocals seemed oddly more distant. The hybrid silicone tips simply seems to work better (at least for me personally).
None of Fiio’s current IEMs are quite up to the task of competing with the likes of the MEE Audio Pinnacle P1, or 1MORE Triple or Quad. But then again, Fiio’s offerings also don’t play within those price-brackets. Instead, Fiio is pretty much dominating the sub-$70 IEM market in terms of sheer value. The F5 is quite possibly Fiio’s most valuable IEM to date. Whereas the EX1 2nd Gen offered fantastic sound quality and overall package value for $60, the F5 takes things a leap forward for only an additional $5.
The TECH MERIT rating system is designed to take as many aspects of the device into account as possible. As such, we have a basic rating, as well as a final rating. The basic rating rates the product purely as a high quality portable audio device, and is generally a good indicator of how it stacks up to its rivals in terms of standard features and specs. The final rating, however, grants bonus points for any extra features and specs that aren’t quite as common, and is a great way to judge the product as a complete package.
Packaging Look and feel: 8 / 10
Included Accessories More than 3 pairs of eartips included: YES Protective case: YES