iBasso Amp8EX (the iBasso Amp 8 - special edition version).

Lots of width, height and depth as usual using the Andromeda OG.

Black as black background

Lots, oodles of space between the instruments

Musical (dynamic), yet reference.

Some of the best money i spent last year on audio gear. It brings the DX220 to a whole other level.

More info here:





A modern classic, Vision Ears’ VE8 has it all. German craftsmanship, a complete accessory set, an instantly likable sound signature, along with impressive technical ability to match. This is a no expense spared, flagship-grade earphone with few equals, if any.

Germany. I haven’t been there, but mention the country and the first few things I think of are engineering pedigree, Oktoberfest, and dudes named Jürgen. Willfully domesticated and stuck in an office job, I only have stereotypes to go by. My narrow worldview is hopefully enhanced by trying out in-ear monitors (IEMs) from around the world, capturing the essence of a regional tuning, and hearing what makes them tick.

Swatting aside the other obvious German brand, today I bring you a boutique company from Cologne specializing in handcrafted, custom IEMs. Founded in 2013, Vision Ears is headed by Marcel Schoenen and Amin Karimpour, combining years of musicianship and technical nous to a small, focused company. Their vision (heh) is to produce world-class IEMs with the perfect style and sound.

Among the freewheeling, high-spending elite of portable audio, the IEM I’m reviewing today needs no introduction. I’m talking about the VE8, the former flagship that carries the reputation of being a top-of-the-line (TOTL) that can do it all. Eschewing the belief that TOTL IEMs should be as neutral and detailed as possible, VE8 instead goes for the aching, bleeding heart.



VE8-01.jpg
Leaf it to VE8 to deliver a knockout sound signature.



This is the behemoth that was created with phenomenal musicality, lifelike realism, and total immersion to the music in mind. A statement that music should be enjoyed and not analyzed. The VE8 consists of 8 (obviously) balanced armatures (BAs) in a 2-bass, 2-mids and 4-high configuration and a 3-way crossover system, but don’t mistake this for a treble-oriented IEM, for the VE8 is much more than that.

The VE8 retails for the base price of €2350 (~$2600) and is available only in custom form via their official site. While definitely pricier than their peers in relation to driver count, Vision Ears are well-known for their exacting, exhausting standards when it comes to engineering, build quality, and of course the tuning. How very German, I guess?

I would like to thank Johannes from Vision Ears for the discount offered in exchange for this review, and the fluid back-and-forth communication.

This review was originally featured in Headphonesty.



VE8-02.jpg
The china reminds us of the fragility of life, so seize the moment and spend that cash.



Equipment Used:

DAP
  1. Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0
IEMs
  1. Vision Ears VE8
  2. 64 Audio tia Fourté
  3. Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate
Albums Listened
  1. Adele – 25
  2. Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
  3. Bee Gees – The Very Best of the Bee Gees
  4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  5. Denean – The Weaving
  6. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
  7. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  8. George Michael – Ladies & Gentlemen
  9. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
  10. The xx – I See You
  11. Tool – Fear Inoculum


VE8-03.jpg
Not since courtship have I received something so personalized.



Packaging and Accessories

Remember that burst of joy when you ordered takeout and received more food than you ordered? VE8’s “packed with love” packaging and accessory set dang near melted my heart, going above and beyond what other companies do. You get a personalized, handwritten greeting right on the wrapping itself, welcoming you to the VE family. Ahh… feelings.

The highlight of the accessory set is the black aluminum case, with your name emblazoned on top. It is large enough to carry your precious IEMs and a spare cable or two. It’s mighty sturdy too, conferring excellent protection should you drop it off a tall building (pretty please don’t). But that’s just the start! Completing the accessory set is a loaded list of stuff you never knew you needed.

  • Cloth pouch
  • Plastics One cable
  • Cable strap
  • Cleaning spray
  • Wax cleaning tool
  • Cleaning cloth (they really care about hygiene)
  • 6.3mm adapter
  • Drying capsules x2
  • Stickers x2
In an industry where top CIEMs are often just kitted with a case, cable and wax cleaning tool, Vision Ears shows what it can do to elevate the humdrum unboxing experience. Heck, it set a new untouchable standard. Think of the best Christmas you ever had, and Vision Ears just bettered it lol.



VE8-04.jpg
Everything including the kitchen sink, even pepper spray.



Design and Build Quality

You’re on your own, sort of, in terms of design. One of Vision Ears’ goals is to provide an uncompromised, king-sized, customized experience for your very own IEMs, and that includes designing the VE8 from the ground up. The biggest weapon in your arsenal is the configurator tool, which allows you to choose shell colors, faceplates and logos while they are rendered in real-time.

If you have hidden artistic tendencies (or you bugged someone artsy to help), now is the time to flourish. The configurator is home to designs conventional to cutting-edge, juvenile to avant-garde. You could, of course, click at random until something sticks, who am I to judge? I think I spent more hours on the design than this review lol.

Protip: If you’re in need of some pointers, the transparent purple shellspurple-themed faceplates, and mirrored faceplates are extremely well-received among Vision Ears customers. Like Prince, they’ll make a purple-believer out of you.

I paid a lot of smackeroos for this, so my VE8 had to be grandiose and flamboyant. It has transparent purple shells on both sides (duh), champagne sparkle faceplate with gold logo on the right, and purple sparkle faceplate with silver logo on the left. If passersby had a look at my VE8 and thought “gosh they must be expensive,” I have done my job.

The build quality is splendid. The transparent shells permit a careful look at their meticulously assembled driver units (some with VE8 engraving), gold and blue internal wiring, crossover units and dampened tubing. Moreover, the integration of the faceplate onto the shell is smooth, and there are no bubbles seen internally. Obviously, a lot of attention to detail was given to making these tiny jewels.



VE8-05.jpg
He takes the driver’s seat and won’t settle for anything less.



Fit, Comfort and Isolation

Every good custom IEM company should have a robust refit policy, where if your CIEMs do not fit ideally the first time, they should do the necessary adjustments for free, until you, the always-right customer, are satisfied. A better, smarter company would give you the perfect fit in its first attempt, circumventing all potential logistical nightmares.

Vision Ears, to me, are one of the latter, smarter companies. My VE8 fit perfectly the first try, gliding effortlessly into my eager and thirsty ear canals which were begging for a good old-fashioned plugging. If I may, compared to other companies I’ve tried like Empire Ears and Custom Art, the VE8 provides a tighter, more secure fit, thanks to its slightly thicker canal and deeper nozzle.

This skintight, watertight fit means that absolute comfort, although eventual, takes time to attain. After a week of wearing them, my ears finally registered the fit as snug and cozy. The biggest benefit the optimum seal provides is in the top-tier isolation. Putting them on, I could barely hear anything above the music and my heartbeat. It’s almost like the outside world ceased to exist, great news for people-haters like me.



VE8-06.jpg
In case metaphors are too much, here’s a literal cup of hot cocoa to describe VE8’s sound.



Sound Quality

Aesthetics and packaging are but smoke and mirrors obfuscating the most vital aspect of the VE8, that is the sound quality. Hopefully, when I’m done, the price tag will be justified… or not. €2350 (~$2600) is a lot of money, after all, and can even get you a used car. But! Can a used car properly convey the rich emotions and subtleties like the VE8 can? We shall see.



Overall Sound Signature

Imagine hot cocoa right after coming back from blistering cold weather, or how you felt when Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman finally reunited at the end of the Shawshank Redemption. You feel all kinds of gooey, tingly warmth inside, the very best kind, that assures you the world is a beautiful place worth fighting for.

Vision Ears’ VE8 hopes to embody that spirit in IEM form. To capture hope, elation, and promise within the confines of 8 drivers in an acrylic shell. It carries an accomplished neutral-warm signature, perhaps the very best I’ve heard. There is a slight emphasis in the midbass and lower mids regions that lends warmth and body throughout the signature.

But that’s not the only trick in the bag. The warmth is balanced out by a cheerful and sparkly treble, injecting some excitement and buoyancy into the brew. But through it all, the MVP of the signature is simply the mids, a euphoric, timbre-accurate middle section that shines a lingering spotlight onto instruments and voices. The very foundation of the signature.

Many IEMs have a neutral-warm signature, so how different could VE8 be? The masterstroke lies in its technical ability and utterly marvelous coherency. The former renders details with startling finesse, so you hear everything going on; while the latter grants stunning realism to every performance and plants you in the center of the stage, with nothing between you and the music. You not only listen to music, but feel it come alive with a soul of its own.

Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in with music in normal volume. The vibrations generated by the BA drivers also marginally softened the acrylic, making the earpieces easier to fit post-burn-in. I hope you can tell when I’m kidding. The main review rig was Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman modded by Project K with the stock Plastics One cable.



VE8-07.jpg
Partying like it’s 1999 yet?



Bass

The bass is an expert in the art of deception. Powered only by 2BAs, you’d expect tight, frank hits, a quick decay, and an usher to pull your attention towards the wonderful mids instead. But no. VE8’s bass is like picking a dance partner with a skillset way above yours, who swings and sashays with graceful authority. It surprises you, but instead of fighting it, you let her take the lead.

VE8’s bass marries the best of what a dynamic driver (DD) and a BA bass can do. Full-on, natural and rounded attacks paired with quick, tidy decays. The notes bloom beautifully with velvety texture but dissipate just before crowding the soundscape, with an effortlessness that belies its top-tier resolution. Even with all this going on, you don’t miss a beat with the stellar bass layering.

Sub-bass extension is quite good, with a rumble that goes for the esophagus at times. A bass you can taste. The midbass though, is undeniably the focus here. It sounds dynamic and powerful, but cleverly shows a bit of restraint to attain a lovely timbre, rather than pounding away with head-numbing hits. It’s still as fun as hip-hopping with a hippopotamus, just not as messy.

Make no mistake, like the irresistible curtain-closer in old-timey musicals, this is a bass that pulls you in and invites you to get jiggy with it. While not the speediest nor tightest, it has equal amounts of detail, authority, and fun. You can simply have your cake, eat it and order another. Just make sure to offer some to your dance partner.



VE8-08.jpg
Create a lasting memory, declare your love from the rooftop today.



Mids

I’m showing my age, but the VE8 mids reminded me of a pivotal scene from long-ago Best Picture winner American Beauty (starring Kevin Spacey when he was a wanted actor rather than just, well, wanted). A young man films a plastic bag floating in the air for 15 full minutes, and declares it the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it”.

The VE8 acts like a lens that unwaveringly peers and zooms into the beauty of your music. It uncovers the minute details and delicate nuances of every sound uttered or played, and glorifies it, like watching a flower blooming in slow motion from a shiny new television. Like the plastic bag, even the depressingly mundane and ordinary sounds majestic and important through the VE8.

VE8 captures your heart with the most breathtaking, true-to-life mids rendition, where instrument timbre and vocal expression are second to none. Lower mids are pleasantly elevated to lend gravitas to male vocals, while a tilt at the upper mids lends air to soaring, sensuous female voices. And in the middle? On lord, just soul. Starry, misty-eyed soul found in every key struck, bow drawn, and string strummed.

Notes are lush and rounded, but intricately detailed and layered. Emotions are laid bare, coaxing some captivating, awe-inspiring performances. Best of all, VE8 weaves its mids magic effortlessly and nonchalantly. Rather than bring attention to itself, it immerses you completely into wave after wave of lovingly-crafted notes, melodies, songs, concertos. The music that matters to you most, cry out to be heard with the VE8 treatment.

If I could use a word to describe VE8’s mids, it’d be perfect. Was that a tear in my eye? Probably.



VE8-09.jpg
Gold makes this earpiece more narcissistic than the other.



Treble

The bass and mids already serve up a delightful appetizer and full-course dinner, so what could possibly top that? Why, dinner and a show of course! I remember nights of merry-making in Shanghai, where we indulged in spicy hotpot before being whisked away to a waiting bus to make it in time for the acrobatic show.

Most IEMs would tune the bass and mids nicely and call it a day, but not VE8. The show’s not over yet when you’re onboard the VE8 train, and the treble has some serious chops to display. The key to VE8’s signature is in the treble extension. While not the most extended I’ve heard, the VE8 showcases a rise in the lower treble, and more vitally in the middle treble, to impart precious air and spaciousness to the signature.

It’s a rarity to have a warm, lush signature balanced out by resolution, deft separation and ample treble air, but like a seasoned acrobat, VE8 has done it. Notes weave in and out comfortably with sufficient space in between while possessing a subtle crispness and bite, not obvious but very welcome, like detecting coriander in your noodle soup (unless you really hate coriander).

The treble tuning is sublime, balancing between reaching lofty heights with a playful sparkle while remaining smooth and congruent with the rest of the signature. Cymbals, high hats and percussion play with admirable timbral accuracy, and a sweet, innocuous tint. Like the rest of the signature, it doesn’t show off, but once you realize how little it does wrong, you’re left gobsmacked.



VE8-10.jpg
Who’s afraid of spiders?



Soundstage and Imaging

What do you need when you have 16 million colors at your disposal? A large canvas to paint on. Likewise, with all the luscious, full-bodied notes from top to bottom, you need a pretty big soundstage to contain them so everything doesn’t dissolve into a fine mess. And thankfully, VE8 delivers in spades here.

The bountiful bass and luxuriant mids are kept distinct, thanks to a sufficiently wide and tall soundstage. It’s not very deep, but you want those fantastic vocals near you when you’re um, fantasizing know what I mean? Voices and instruments are closer to you, like you’re seated with the conductor at the front of the stage, just not waving a stick around.

More magic happens in the imaging, because the soundstage unfolds naturally and beautifully around you. Imaging cues are precise, while sound elements are well-separated by dollops of black space. Every instrument has their own playing area, but you can imagine them complementing each other onstage rather than being artificially kept apart.

The air bestowed by the mid and upper treble is in full glory here, while the enhanced stage height and width does wonders with layering. It’s not just large for large’s sake. Closing your eyes, you can picture yourself enveloped by the band or orchestra, not just listening from a distance. This is immersion level 9000, my friends.



VE8-11.jpg
Didn’t we do a hot cocoa shot just now? Well, one good cup deserves another.



Comparisons

64 Audio tia Fourte
Let’s go slay a giant. One of the few IEMs whose reputation precedes them, 64 Audio’s tia Fourté lets its price tag do most of the talking. But thankfully, it’s no slouch in the sound department either, boasting an incredibly detailed and technically accomplished signature coupled with jaw-dropping soundstage capabilities. This is in no way a walk in the park for VE8.

If picked apart and scrutinized, the contest would be over soon. Fourté would gain quick victories in bottom-end extension, sub-bass presence, treble extension and transparency, overall detail levels, soundstage size, and imaging accuracy. But VE8 is a different beast, and worth more than the sum of its parts. Like frickin’ Devastator, baby.

Rather than a mess of robot parts, VE8’s sound spectrum combines into a single-minded, musical juggernaut, winning two key battles to tip the scales in its favor. The Fourté cannot compete with VE8’s mids and coherency, however confident and ostentatious. VE8’s beautiful and faithful mids tone is as good as the real thing, making Fourté sound artificial and strident.

What’s more, VE8’s treble, mids, and bass ebb and flow together like brothers in arms, resulting in a coherency that’s seemingly lifelike. Fourté’s excesses in the bass and treble department tend to contrast and contest each other, sounding warm and bright at the same time, and never really engaging the listener. Its uneven mids will turn off quite a few too.

Ultimately, Fourté is like a flashy sports car, impressing almost immediately before you realize the many compromises it makes in comfort, space, fuel economy, what have you. The VE8 might just be a luxury sedan, understated but significantly better in the long run. VE8’s tuning will be remembered through the ages while Fourté seems like a flash in the pan.



VE8-12.jpg
Somewhere down the line I’m out of ideas and started to use bedsheets.



Spiral Ear 5-Way Ultimate

Legend vs legend. I’ve always wanted to say that. VE8 is such a consummate performer it unlocked a secret boss battle with one of the most decorated IEMs in recent memory, Spiral Ear’s former flagship SE5U that has ranked first in at least three TOTL shootouts. Both VE8 and SE5U are at the summit in their respective signatures (neutral-warm vs neutral), but let’s see how they compare.

VE8 is the early aggressor, pushing more midbass and treble, turning excitement levels up a notch. Notes are crisper and airier because of the mid-treble boost, aiding a clean black background and creating some impressive dynamics. VE8 is ideal for modern genres, with an electrifying, fist-pumping signature that sends pulses racing.

Unfazed by VE8’s aggression, SE5U huffs out a relaxed, smoother and more organic tone. Its mature tuning is a delicate interplay from bass to treble, forming its own brand of magical cohesion. It sounds more mellow and neutral than VE8 owing to its leaner midbass and treble, but its raised sub-bass imbues some warm air and a sense of grandness. Classical music is SE5U’s forte, giving a concert hall-like, epic presentation.

Technically, they are pretty much equal. SE5U delves deeper and heartier down below, but the treble rolls off early. VE8 is airier and more extended up top but tails off in the sub-bass regions. VE8 has a wider stage with cleaner imaging, while SE5U is deeper with better layering. Both have a knack for marrying a breathtaking tone with outstanding technical ability.

But where VE8 ultimately triumphs, and why I prefer it over the mighty SE5U, is in the mids. VE8’s astutely well-tuned mids have the power to rouse and soothe, please and provoke, charm and enrage. Its meaty, musical and engaging mids make SE5U’s pleasantness sound seemingly uninvolved, like the stiff upper lip unwilling to get their hands dirty. The VE8 dives into the raw, emotional core of the music, and emerges the better for it.



VE8-13.jpg
Never hit a brick wall again, be a hit with your friends by owning the VE8!



Final Words

In school, my teacher used to say, “learn your idioms well, or look like an idiot.” VE8 emphatically warms the cockles of my heart with its tuning, even before I knew my heart had cockles that needed warming. Every nuance however subtle, and emotion however faint, is captured stunningly by it and given a soulful rendition to thaw even the vilest and coldest of cockles. Wahey.

We live in an era where top-tier IEMs are instructed to mine and extract detail like a pricey commodity. We exist in a time when sound signatures are peer-reviewed to come to a consensus on what pleases people most. VE8 willfully and gleefully ignores both, and does the Robert Frost thing, coming up with a unique tuning that excites, evokes, and essentially elevates your listening experience.

This is the real deal, ladies and gentlemen. VE8’s sound signature should be plotted, dissected, studied and emulated for eons to come. Like I told my pal the other day, they should teach this *** in tuning school, not the Harman curve. Whatever special sauce they put in the tuning should be reverse-engineered and mass-produced so people can understand what a big deal I think the VE8 truly is.

I put the VE8 on a pedestal, figuratively. I’d get a real one for it if I could. At home, it’s never kept in a drawer long, because I experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t listen to it after some time. No other IEM moves, enthralls and captivates me like it can, and I implore you to try your darndest to listen to them. The VE8 might just be the ticket to the greatest listening experience you’ve ever had.



Pros

- Personalized packaging
- Practical and complete accessory set
- Stellar build quality
- Top-tier isolation
- Probably the best tuning I’ve heard
- Excellent resolution and transparency
- Warm yet clean bass
- Endgame-level mids, tone and timbre
- Smooth, extended yet playful treble
- Large soundstage
- Natural imaging and separation
- It’s just emotion taking me over




Cons

- Expensive
- Supplied cable could be better
- Tighter fit than other CIEM brands I’ve tried
- Sub-bass extension and bass speed
- Not the deepest soundstage




Rating: 5/5
Through the years, we watched as fledgling company FiiO grow from seed to sprout to splendour. Today we look at their finest earphones, the FH7, another touchstone in their meteoric rise as one of the go-to brands in portable audio.

I grew up on a steady diet of rice, ramen, and kung fu movies. Like any good Jacky Chan flick, the protagonist has to go through increasingly arduous tasks and opponents before saving the village/getting the girl/winning battle of the bands. The payoff is meeting the final boss and delivering sweet, eternal justice via the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Without exaggerating, FiiO are the wunderkinds of portable Hi-Fi. Entering the in-ear monitor (IEM) market via rehashed Dunu earphones in 2015 (check out my ancient review), they’ve gone from strength to strength, perfecting the craft of manufacturing their own IEMs to great response. The FH5 remains my benchmark for $300 IEMs until today.



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Nowt to do with Brit flair, but I love the colors, guv'nor.



FiiO were basically throwing their henchmen IEMs at me before the ultimate showdown. In what is my sixth FiiO in-ear review, the mighty FH7 awaits at the top of the mountain. Positioned a tier above FH5, FiiO’s fascinating, flamboyant flagship is a hybrid monitor combining 4 Knowles balanced armatures (BAs) and a delicious-sounding 13.6mm beryllium-coated dynamic driver (DD).

Not content with having the most drivers in a FiiO IEM to date, the FH7 has other tricks up its sleeve. New to FiiO are changeable sound filters, to alter the sound signature when the mood hits. The S.Turbo sound tubes make a return, acoustically-tuned to coax more performance out of the DD. FiiO says they were inspired by turbine designs, but I say it looks like the snail from Turbo.

The housing boasts a full metal shell, dubbed the TriShell, a rigid 3-point structure that reduces resonance and distortion. Add to that an all-new complex crossover design, improved stock cable, Hi-Res Audio certification, and you can see why the FH7 is armed to the hilt and ready to rumble.

The FH7 ventures out of the $300-and-below comfort zone and is their priciest IEM yet. It is currently available from Amazon. I would like to thank Sunny of FiiO for the review sample, and her patience in making this review possible.

This review was first featured in Headphonesty.



Equipment Used:

DAP
  1. Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0
IEMs
  1. FiiO FH7
  2. FiiO FA7
  3. FiiO FH5
Albums
  1. Amber Rubarth – Sessions From The 17th Ward
  2. Diana Krall – When I Look Into Your Eyes
  3. Ed Sheeran – Divide
  4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  5. Journey – The Essential
  6. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
  7. Moby – Play
  8. Taylor Swift – Reputation
  9. Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair
  10. Toto – Greatest Hits: 40 Trips Around The Sun


[​IMG]
The annual “March of the Ear Tips” got off to a great start despite poor weather.



Packaging and Accessories

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just flex it. FiiO’s finest IEMs share nearly identical packaging and accessory set with the FH5 and FA7, with just a few updates to hit home its flagship, “I’m better than you, nyeh nyeh” status. First off, the amount of ear tips provided are staggering. A total of 15 pairs are at your perusal headlined by the SpinFit CP145. You’re sure to find one that suits you best.

The carry case is also updated. This time around you get the FiiO HB3, a synthetic leather case in smart peacock blue. A semi-hard case with velveteen lining and a magnetic clasp, it provides ample room and protection for the FH7. The most notable inclusion is a capsule housing the FH7’s sound filter system, screw-on color-coded dampeners applied at the nozzles to fine-tune your preferred signature.

Here’s a rundown of the accessory set, and it’s quite a mouthful.
  • FiiO LC-3.5C cable
  • FiiO HB3 case
  • 3 pairs sound filters (black, green, red) with capsule case
  • 3 pairs SpinFit CP145 ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Balanced silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Vocal silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 3 pairs Bass silicone ear tips (S,M,L)
  • 2 pairs foam ear tips (M)
  • 1 pair double-flange silicone ear tips (M)
  • Cloth pouch
  • Cleaning brush
  • Cable organizer
This is simply one of the most remarkable and complete accessory sets I’ve seen. FiiO really went for the jugular in this one, including everything plus two kitchen sinks. I tip my hat to you, if I had one.



[​IMG]
The summer workout regime resulted in a tan, bigger muscles and a longer, um, appendage.


Design and Build Quality
Beauty is in the eye of the tiger. What? Risin’ up and back on the street, FH7 takes the existing FH5 design and imparts further wisdom and fine-tuning. The housing is once again built with CNC-machined aerospace-grade aluminium-magnesium alloy to impress your mates. The shells are now slightly bigger to fit more drivers, while the nozzles are longer, addressing an age-old complaint about FH5’s poor fit.

The FH7’s faceplate features a wave motif, which according to marketing, implies ferocity and dominance, showing you who’s boss. The result is a striking, captivating design decked out in black and gold, the color combo of winners. The build quality is unmistakably impressive too, with a rigidity that can withstand the rigors of daily usage, and a stunningly smooth finish you can hold and admire for hours. FiiO habitually excels in design and build quality, and the FH7 is a fitting testament to the fact.



[​IMG]
Hang on, is that an ovary on the box?



Cables

The stock cable provided with the FH7 is actually the LC-3.5C, the single-ended 3.5mm version of the LC-4.4C that I have covered in my FA7 review. It’s a lovingly-made 8-wire silver-plated copper cable with good ergonomics and sound properties, and is already a competent enough cable to pair with the FH7 without having a formal FOMO attack.

However, if one day the itch to get something new overwhelms you (and it’s a very, very familiar feeling), do consider what FiiO considers its next upgrade, the LC-D series. Sunny was kind enough to send me the LC-4.4D balanced cable to be used with my Sony audio player.

The LC-4.4D is proudly made with 4 strands of monocrystalline pure silver, chosen for its high electrical and thermal conductivity. Also because it looks cool. Each strand consists of 7 bundles of 8 Litz silver wires insulated by DuPont sheaths. Litz is a wiring pattern that distributes current equally among the wires, reducing resistance. Theoretically, less resistance translates to better conductivity and sound quality.

The LC-4.4D is well-built and pleasing to the eye. The gentle shimmer of the silver wires and matte silver Y-split and 4.4mm jack go well together, while the color-coded MMCX connectors is a helpful touch. The cable is soft and flexible and makes for easy handling. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the cable is the loose braiding in places, which messes up the brilliant aesthetics of the cable.

As for sound quality, the LC-4.4D conveys an excellent black background, in a faithful rendition of “Tarry, Tarry Night”. Thanks to the solid, clean blackground (sic), details jump out from across the spectrum, compared to the stock LC-3.5C cable. Bass is tighter and more controlled while treble sounds less grainy when switching back and forth.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade in terms of sound is the bigger soundstage and better imaging accuracy. The LC-4.4D accommodates a coherent, effortless sound, while handling complex passages with great aplomb. Available on Amazon, it’s one of the cheapest pure silver cables I’ve had the pleasure of trying, and an easy recommendation.



[​IMG]
The waves are making you sleepy… now give me your wallet.



Fit, Isolation and Comfort

I’m not a fan of sticking metal objects into orifices, but after the FH5 I became a convert. The FH7, albeit with a bigger shell, fits comfortably, with its sleek, smooth edges and contours caressing my inner ears as I slid them in. Being all-metal they’re quite bulky, and for the FH7 to sit and seal properly, you’d need the right tips to do the job. Otherwise you’d be jammin’ until the break of dawn like Stevie Wonder.

Before we talk about tweaking FH7’s sound via ear tips, they have to sit in your ears first. The double-flange ear tips did the job best for me. While not the most pleasing in terms of looks (God I wanted so much to like the SpinFits), they provided a very safe and secure seal, evoking a level of comfort akin to rolling around in a field of fluffy rabbits.

Regrettably, sound isolation is below average, because of two vents on each earpiece. The vents, as explained by FiiO, attempt to relieve air pressure buildup in the eardrums, granting better listening comfort. In real world use, you can’t take the FH7 on your daily commute, because the outside noise distracts from the listening experience.



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These tiny microphones make excellent spy accessories. Available in 3 colors!



Sound Quality

You know how there are three Jokers, apparently? Me neither. The FH7 does, however, come with three filters to fine tune your sound signature. Add that to the myriad of tips given, and the ability to change cables. Depending on perspective, you have either a dream or nightmare scenario when deciding on your final FH7 sound. Minimalism, this is not.



Overall Sound SIgnature

The FH7, like many first-timer flagships, has neutrality in its blood, with equal emphasis on bass, mids and treble. The bass slams powerfully, but cleans up after itself hurriedly. The mids are detail-focused, with a tinge of brightness due to a rise in the upper mids. The treble is smack in the middle of Sparkleland. The end result is an energetic, all-rounder signature that fits most sonic palettes.

The sound filters aren’t for show, and they do alter the sound signature. The filters introduce dampening effects, but the base signature is largely intact, sort of like Heidi Klum in different Halloween costumes. The red bass-focused filter attenuates the treble and introduces a calmer, smoother signature; while the green treble-focused filter does the opposite by reducing sub-bass thump.

My favourite is the black balanced filter, which has sub-bass and treble in optimum amounts, while sounding fun and transparent at the same time. It’s all of the sound quality with no obvious compromise, and will be the signature I write about in this review.

Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in, balancing between priming the dynamic driver and holding off beryllium poisoning. I kid, I kid. Burn-in resulted in a darker background, with the core signature intact. I believe I’m immune to beryllium compounds too. The main review rig is Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman, using the LC-4.4D cable and stock double-flange ear tips.



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Two earpieces ventured to the wild outdoors. Only one survived to tell the tale.



Bass

The beryllium-plated dynamic driver sort of markets itself with garish neon lights. The light and rigid metal is famed for its flexibility and ability to reproduce a quick and taut bass, and is often name-dropped in mega-expensive headphones like the Focal Utopia. If you want to make an audiophile sit up, shout in his ears “beryllium drivers!”

While I’m not claiming that you can recreate the Focal Utopia experience here, FH7’s bass is pleasingly implemented. The sub-bass is hearty and full, with impressive extension down low, and a head-rattling thump. Note attacks are on-point, with a visceral rumble and clean decay, showcasing impressive discipline amidst the fun.

Into the midbass, notes sound grand, full and natural, with a precise and realistic tone. Best of all, impact and slam are plentiful. It has a more lingering decay than the sub-bass, so snare drums and bass guitars have more meat on their bones. The entire bass spectrum is highlighted by incredible background cleanness, lending some spectacular dynamics. Like fitting into skinny jeans from your teenage years, the bass experience is just tight, tight, tight.



Mids

Sometimes you breathe into a mirror before wiping it to create the impression that there is a difference before and after cleaning. Such trickery is not needed in the FH7, which, like a good spray of Windex, provides a clear window into the mids. These mids are articulate, with a proud emphasis on detail and transparency.

Notes do have good thickness to them, while texture is readily palpable from attack to decay. The lower mids are neutral in note size and tone, with a steady rise as we move towards the upper mids. Female vocals and brass instruments sound their best, while strings and pianos perform just above the passing mark in terms of realism and engagement level.

The mids will never be accused of lacking air or details, but I wish for better musical flow, smoothness and soul in exchange for all that detail. They tend to be grainy too, and this makes it hard to get emotionally involved, while disturbing some sensitive ears. At worst, the timbre has a shiny, metallic tinge, with a bright skew. Technically astute yes, but the soullessness of the mids might be a deal-breaker for some.



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In ancient Rome, the finest IEMs are put on a pedestal and fed grapes.



Treble

Ironically, the treble shines with the same attributes that made the mids falter. A bright, exciting tone, well-defined notes, a magnitude of air and details galore bring the treble to a higher plane, figuratively. It’s a given that FH7 wants to wow you with technical adroitness above all else, and sure enough the treble here is spectacularly extended with massive reach.

Notes ring clear and true, undeniably bringing you ever so close to the source of the music. Here, the metallic timbre bothered me less because, well a lot of treble-centric instruments have metal in them anyway! Cymbals, bells, hi-hats and the first 30 seconds of Pink Floyd’s Time sound suitably vibrant and alive, even life-threatening.

Of course, with all this treble excitement, there is always the odd sibilance or two. The FH7 can be revealing in less friendly ways, and the treble gets tizzy and hot. The bass-centric red filter provides an easy fix for this, but for me, the default treble is like an addictive drug I don’t want to wean out of. Be wary, since what’s rewarding for one is perilous for another.



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We might have overdressed for board games night again!



Soundstage and Imaging

FiiO’s IEMs always gave me the impression that they will go the extra mile for tuning excellence, but take a relaxed step back when it comes to soundstage and imaging capability. The FH5 and FA7 were noted for having, well, not so notable stage sizes and average separation/imaging. It’s far from bad, just unremarkable.

You can’t have an epic boss battle in an enclosed space, so the FH7 is an encouraging step in the correct direction. This is the most expansive (and expensive lol) IEM I’ve heard from them yet, with very good width and depth, and some height thrown in. Instruments and vocals diffuse out in front and around you in a realistic, from-the-front-row manner.

I think I’ve harped on all review about the elegantly dark background, which leads to better-heard transients, and here, imaging supremacy. Every element of the music is clearly and cleanly demarcated, with enough room to shine, and air to breathe. This is one sequel worth waiting for, unlike the new Star Wars stuff. FiiO really tried their darndest here.



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The feeling you get when you visit a hipster cafe that looks like every other hipster cafe.



Comparisons

FiiO FA7

To put it nicely, they’re too dissimilar to be compared, because of divergent signatures. FA7 appeals to the warm, thick and brothy chicken soup lover in us, while FH7 is sparkling water. Different foods for different moods. Getting back to audio lingo, FH7 is an all-rounder with a neutral signature, while FA7 is a warm IEM best suited for slow-tempo tracks, more a genre specialist.

Although tonally rich and beautiful, FA7’s massively-elevated midbass and lower mids are tenacious enough to engulf the entire spectrum, leading to a congested, overwhelming listen when tackling faster tracks and EDM. The FA7 mids edge out the FH7 in tone and timbre, but if we compare the technical attributes of both, the FH7 pulls ahead effortlessly.

The FH7 features better extension both ends, with a leaner, tighter bass, more articulate mids and brighter, well-textured treble. Details are better conveyed while separation and layering are a tier above, at least. The FH7 accomplishes this while maintaining balance and coherence throughout, with plenty of fuel left in the tank or getting back to food analogies, plenty of food left in the fridge.

Unless your entire catalogue of music consists of Diana Krall, Holly Cole and their ilk, the FH7 is a far better bet as a more competent and pleasing IEM.



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Don’t mate with the zebra, he’s bad news.



FiiO FH5

The FH5 was released as a statement of intent from FiiO, that they were ready to play with the big boys in the IEM sphere. A few years later, I would say it is mission accomplished, because FH5 is still whispered when people ask for mid-tier IEM suggestions. I still recommend them as my favourites below $300.

No longer an up-and-coming company, FiiO are now expected to deliver great products all day everyday. The heir-apparent FH7 is positioned as a direct upgrade to the FH5, although at a significantly higher price tag. The obvious question, then, is should you get the FH7 if you already own the FH5? Let’s find out.

Not surprisingly, their signatures are similar, with a few slight differences. For those complaining that the FH5 had too much sub-bass and scooped-out midbass/lower mids, you have reason to rejoice. The FH7 is better balanced in the bass regions and does not lack any way in punch. Notes hit faster and cleaner, with surgical precision and no bleed (good for both audio and surgeries).

The mids sound nearly alike for both FH5 and FH7, in that they are both technically competent, a bit grainy, and found wanting in euphony and emotion. The treble for FH7 is crisper and more textural, with better definition and sparkle from attack to decay. It can get sibilant (unless you use the red filters), so tread with caution.

The FH7 performs like a FH5 with more polish. The good thing is FH5 is already an accomplished IEM to begin with, so we’re not just polishing turds here. The FH7 betters the FH5 in detail levels, soundstage size, layering ability, imaging accuracy and dynamism. You can hear the extra resolution (and dollars) in note texture, and the immaculately black background.

So to the casual fan, no, I don’t think existing FH5 owners need the upgrade. But for audiophile junkies like you and I, hell yeah, sell the FH5 and don’t look back. The FH7 has enough firepower to address all your sonic wants and needs. Long live the new king!



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FiiO’s fabulous, formidable flagship feels funky fresh.



Final Words

Traditionally, IEMs price tiers were easy. Budget-fi was $100 and below, the heated mid-tier battleground was at $300 thereabouts, while the holy grail of summit-fi starts from $1000. The $500 price tier was no-man’s-land, too expensive to be value for money, and too cheap for high rollers to consider. I’m offended too lol.

Today, established mid-fi Chinese brands like iBasso and Fearless Audio are refining their products and dipping their toes into this “upper mid-fi” category, daring their followers to take a leap of faith with them and well, spend more. Hopefully we get to see true innovation instead of yet another cash grab exercise.

FiiO’s FH7 too shines a bacon, I mean beacon, for others to follow in this price range. What makes the FH7 so special is its exciting, all-rounder tuning guided by two tenets. They are, to extract the most intricate detail possible, and to provide an unfettered fun factor. The FH7 gives every genre a good go and for all intents and purposes, succeeds.

With years of experience behind them, FiiO has fine-tuned their craft to deliver what is probably the total package. There’s nothing to fault in the build, cable and accessories, but vitally, the sound quality is up there as well. The FH7 is certainly their finest IEM to date. With steady, experienced hands manning FiiO’s ship, their best is yet to come.



Pros

- Exemplary packaging and accessories
- Eye-catching design
- Excellent build quality
- Comfortable fit
- High quality stock cable
- Switchable filters add flexibility
- Neutral, coherent all-rounder signature
- Brilliant bass tuning
- Energetic and detailed mids and treble
- Large soundstage with good imaging




Cons

- Expensive
- Shells on the larger side, might affect fit
- Subpar isolation
- Grainy and emotionally distant mids
- The odd sibilance
- Only minor improvements over FH5




Rating: 4.5/5