FiiO FH1S Review – Low-Fi Price > Hi-Fi Sound

Overall Score 87/100
Sandu Vitalie Headphones

My Video Review:

At FiiO Winter Launch Event held at the end of 2019, some interesting things were revealed as their Top-Of-The-Line M15 DAP and other affordable products as LA-UA1 noise attenuator, LC-BT2 Neckband Bluetooth cable but also their newest and most affordable hybrid IEM yet: the FH1S.

We tested its predecessor FH1 about one year ago and we liked its form factor, its build, its price point, but most importantly its sound quality. However, with the release of FH1S, FiiO accepted a mission impossible: making them even more affordable and better sounding too. Can that be achieved? Let’s take a close look

Unboxing experience

Unboxing experience is quite good, product box is quite thick. Inside it, a nice user manual can be found, from which last 7 pages are in English. I really like their much bigger and easier to read user manual, it looks to be a newest revision. Underneath it, FH1s are sitting like a beauty in black in a protective foam. Near them you will spot another box that holds the plastic HB1 carry case. This one is fully water proof, inside it you will find all those replacement ear tips: 3 pairs of balanced ear-tips, 3 pairs of bass ear tips and the last pair is the best one: memory foam ear-tips. We will be testing, listening and measuring their performance with all ear-tips, that should be interesting.

Detachable Cable

Cable seems nice, it is quite thick, it lacks any microphonics, it’s soft to the touch and very flexible. A 180 degree turn and a first in FiiO portfolio is moving away from those MMCX connectors to 2-pin ones. A 2-pin connector will not wobble around, will not rotate and as a result will have a (much) longer life. I personally exchanged the MMCX cable on some FiiO IEMs, it’s a pain when that happens.

The conductors inside the cable seems to be of a higher quality, inside the cable 120 braided and individual high purity monocrystalline wires will push your tunes forward.

Looks & Build Quality

This is an interesting topic, at least for me it is. FH1S are looking a lot like their much more expensive designs like FA7. FH1S have a very custom IEM look which I quite enjoy. There is even a small plate underneath the cover with a FiiO logo. I have the smoky one with a see-thought shell that will show all the circuitry inside. You can easily spot that huge 13.6 mm dynamic driver, its engine (the magnet), a small crossover and that Knowles balanced armature. Since it has a polished resin shell, it is very lightweight and really smooth to the touch.

FH1S has among the most comfortable shapes I’ve tried; I’m inserting them really easy and they never touch my ear lobe. It looks a lot like KZ AS16, even the golden nozzle is very alike. Speaking about it, that is a 4.1mm nozzle (inner diameter) and you should use the standard sized tips with them. I am not really sure if FiiO used any filters for that balanced armature, I can’t spot it, probably it was unnecessary for this particular IEM. In typical IEM fashion, there are 2 small holes on the IEM body that will remove the air pressure which is created by dynamic and BA drivers inside the IEM.

Bottom line is that I like their look, their shape, their high comfort level and the jump to 2-pin cables is a welcome addition. It might not have premium materials but it looks great, very much like a custom IEM, it is small and cheap enough to carry in the pocket without any protection. The nozzle is protected by a metal mesh, so why not just throw them in a backpack or put inside a jeans pocket, you never know when you might need them and this is exactly what I’m going to do.

Tech inside FH1S

FH1 was already cool about one year ago, it was a hybrid IEM and for that time it had a big 10 mm dynamic driver. Since bigger is always better, FiiO upgraded that one with a huge 13.6 mm dynamic driver. As a point of comparison, their FH7 flagship IEM is also having a 13.6mm dynamic driver that takes care all about that bass. FiiO is ensuring a better sub-bass performance and a better control over both drivers. That big dynamic driver will also take care of upper bass and of a big part of the midrange area.

The balanced armature from Knowless (model 33518) will take care of the upper midrange and of all the treble region. Exactly the same BA is also used in the former FH1 and in the Jade Audio (another FiiO sub-brand) EA3, FiiO (and other manufacturers) is not specifying the exact crossover zone and browsing Knowles website for half hour didn’t yield any results.

FH1S has an impedance of 26 Ohms, that shouldn’t magnify the background noise of an amplifier or source. It hisses less than those sensitive FH7 and should work nicely with a bigger number of portable sources and headphone amplifiers.

At 106 db per 1mW of power, FH1S will be moved by anything that has a headphone jack. But the ultimate detail retrieval, control, slam and wide stage will be felt only with better equipment. I personally tried them with mobile and desktop sources and it shows a difference, but not a huge one. I will not bother them with balanced drive, it seems to be overkill in this particular case.

Sound Performance

I. Sound Signature

Generally, when I am thinking about $60 IEMs, I don’t expect too much out of them, seriously now, who would? I don’t expect a nice tonal balance, a good detail retrieval or a good sub-bass performance. Heck, even past $100, some IEMs are just plain wrong sounding (KZ AS16 I didn’t forget you yet)

For a better seal, I put the memory foam tips on them and decided to have a listen. The shock came when I’ve felt the sub-bass rumble on Invisible Sun by The Prodigy, when I’ve heard the bass-guitar amp being engaged on Bulls On Parade by R.A.T.M, I knew there is something interesting in this one. When the instrument placement was felt all around me on Radiohead – No Suprises, I checked again their price, yeah it is still 60 bucks! FH1S is sounding clean, detailed and quite transparent, that big dynamic driver pushes large amounts of air so the slam is quite good and speed of delivery is great too. I am hearing a linear performance up to the treble area, where there seems to be a rise that increases the perception of a better detail and crispness. Let’s break it down step by step.

II. Bass

The first generation FH1 wes great on mid-bass and decent on sub-bass. Mid-bass was elevated a bit and attracted a lot attention to it with some particular music. FH1S by comparison offers a better sub-bass performance. It goes much lower, taking into consideration the chills I’ve felt on Invisible Sun, I presume it going as low as 20 Hz. I believe it is quite nice in terms of quality and quantity and I consider it linear and precise. This time around mid-bass is not elevated at all and presents itself as clean, layered and defined. Overall, bass area is detailed but not hyper detailed, multiple layers were not felt on Infected Mushroom or Pendulum. Bass slam depends a lot on the source, it was just decent out of my smartphone and snappy and impactful on the FiiO M15 DAP and on the Benchmark HPA4. Memory foam ear-tips are also improving the slam and impact of FH1S. Bass ear-tips are actually calming the treble a tiny bit, so you can spot those bass notes easier, those are not actually enhancing the bass performance and same can be said about the memory-foam tips but to a higher degree.

III. Midrange

Transitioning from bass to midrange is done impeccable without rises or gaps, just a smooth and grain free transition. When I moved to acoustic music and jazz, I’ve heard the shape and I’ve felt the material of those instruments. The tonality shifted accordingly but I mostly felt their outline and not the full weight of the midrange. Midrange itself is defined but it is linear and doesn’t call for attention. It is sometimes weighty, full bodied and decent enough for a midrange addict like myself. The scary throat singing on the Mongol warriors of The HU wasn’t as guttural, scary and heavy weight as I wanted, it was a bit lighter and didn’t carry as much air and vibration as I would like to.

Somewhere in the midrange area, the dynamic driver and the balanced armature driver are shaking hands and the crossover is telling where first one should stop from working and where the next one should carry out midrange duties, this is probably the reason midrange can be a bit hollow sounding at times.

I again felt that memory foam ear-tips dealt with the rising treble and let everything else breath, if you long for a sweeter and warmer midrange, then I recommend using the foam ear-tips only.

IV. Treble

If you like treble and want some presence up there, then FH1S will be exactly what are you looking for. Treble is extended, very present, attracts attention to it, has a very clear shape and texture. With the balanced silicon ear-tip it might be too much for some, it was for me and memory foam tips worked much better in my case.

Treble is somehow present on its whole range and drops only past top-octave so it can be even considered rolled-off a bit past 15 kHz.

Apart from that, it is clear sounding, has a lot of presence, moves air and even can be smooth sounding with the right ear-tips. I feel that newest generation of FH1S surpassed the FH1 on both the sub-bass and high-treble and presents a much wider frequency response, it is more linear, even more engaging sounding with a better source and amplification. It doesn’t drop a lot in the treble area and will impress even in terms of details and transparency.

V. Transient Response & Slam

FH1S will sound speedy only with the right source. When I connect them to my smartphone, volume wise it was enough even at 80%, but music lacked impact, didn’t carry a big air mass and subsequently slam was quite weak. Moving on to entry level sources like FiiO BTR5 or Shanling Q1, the sound improved a lot. Midrange is somehow fuller sounding now; music becomes snappier and much faster. When I connect them to TOTL equipment, FH1S started sounding like a much pricier IEM, everything is improving but it is still the same FH1S that I know.

That big 13.6 mm dynamic driver needs a bit of power to sound nimble and fast, take that in mind as a more powerful source will make a bigger difference than a clearer sounding source with this particular IEM. If you want to improve the slam, the memory foam tips will do that and your music will start sounding impactful and more engaging.

VI. Soundstage & Depth

This is the second IEM that I am testing (if I am disregarding older Ultimate Ears IEMs) with a 2-pin cable, for this one I do not have a balanced 2.5 or 4.4mm cable so I used only the stock cable. In SE configuration, FH1S has a decent soundstage level, it is about on the shoulder level and it is truly on the same level with IEMs up to $200.

Due to high transparency and detail retrieval, FH1S has a nice see-through depth and instrument placement around the listener. Music is spread out and I can appreciate the distance between all the musical notes. FH1S are not forward sounding at all and will add some distance between the listener and the music

VII. Transparency & Detail Retrieval

Having a nice and defined treble response makes you feel that FH1S is crisp and clear sounding. To some degree that magic trick is doing its job and FH1S will offer an amazing level of detail, considering its price. FH1S will dissect easily every track, good recorded music will sound great and bad mastering music will sound almost unbearable. It can offer a smooth and refined listening experience only with the foam ear-tips, otherwise it feels more like a monitoring experience. At this price, this kind of detail should be banned.

VIII. Measurements

My subjective opinion is clear, now let’s see what a measurement rig will say about them. When it comes to measurements, I trust only the most linear and detailed headphone amp to do the job: Benchmark HPA4. The source was my trusty Matrix Audio Element X and the measurement rig was the MiniDSP E.A.R.S. system.

I used only IDF (IEM Diffuse Field) compensation files for this particular EARS serial number. EARS have some huge silicon ears but tiny ear-canal openings, I redid all my measurements more than 20 times because is not that easy inserting silicon tips that are rubbing against silicon ears.

I measured all 3 ear-tips and memory foam ear-tip seems to be offering the most linear experience. I’m amazed to see a straight line from sub-bass up to 1 kHz, I presume that the 3 kHz or 4.5 kHz area is the crossover frequency where there is a gentle slope. As you can see, the rest of the treble is elevated and the difference between all ear-tips is actually in the treble area. Bass ear-tips are very similar sounding to the balanced ones and will just have a quicker roll off in the treble. At 11 kHz there is a huge spike in the treble, more exactly a 15-dB difference from linearity and that is a lot. Memory foam ear tips are helping a lot in that region and my subjective opinion remains the same: balanced and bass ear-tips are sounding very alike. With memory foam tips, the spike is rising only by 10-dB, it is making those sounds more manageable, easier to listen in the long run, so these ones are sounding the most natural to me.

Overall, their RAW measurements are quite amazing, considering their price point.

The next measurements that will follow were made with memory foam tips only. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) is pretty good. Bass never goes past 0.5% and the rest stays somewhere between 0.5 and 0.2%, except for the upper midrange that will hit the 1% of distortion.

Waterfall and spectrogram are showing the hot spots and as you can see that treble will be bothersome long term.

Decay shows a longer vibration in the bass compared to the rest, that is because a dynamic driver is moving slower compared to a balanced armature.

IX. A Comparison

FiiO FH1S ($60 to $69) VS FiiO FH1 ($75)

I like both when it comes design, both have smooth shapes, are smaller in size and are quite comfortable to wear. FH1 is equipped with MMCX connectors and FH1S is using a 2-pin connection. The MMCX connection on FH1 was not that sturdy and even a gentle pull would detach the cable from the IEM. FH1 is coming with 2 cables in the package, one is terminated in 2.5mm and another in 3.5mm. However, both cables are not that sturdy and will not resist a lot of abuse, I’ve exchanged cables on FH1 and I know somebody else who had the same experience. FH1S has just a single cable, but it is thicker, it is much sturdier, it’s flexible, has high quality copper conductors and will resist a lot more than those 2 lower quality cables combined. In the FH1 package the memory foam ear-tips are missing and to me those are the most important ones. I would exchange two cables with a single sturdier one and that additional memory foam pair feels like an extra bonus.

When it comes to sound, FH1S with a much bigger dynamic driver will just push more air, will have a higher impact in the lows, will have a higher engagement factor and will always deliver a fuller experience no matter the song. FH1 will not go as low in the sub-bass, will have a gentler punch and as a result doesn’t offer an extended frequency response. Midrange performance is similar, both have a tiny hollow effect in the upper midrange, but again that bigger driver will push those notes further away and will offer a bigger and a more believable soundstage. FH1 are sounding closer to the listener, vocal performance is pushed forward a bit and my cozy jazz recordings will sound inside my head most of the time. If you like a bigger stage that has more air, that breathes and goes deeper, then FH1S will be the clear winner here.

Treble performance is clearly more extended on FH1S, cymbals are sharper, have a better-defined shape, have a clearer zing attached to them. Overall, the frequency response is wider and feels complete compared to FH1. FH1 is rounding those lows and the upper treble and goes with a smoother sound that will not impress as much a critical listener.

As you can see, at a lower price tag we are getting a nicer and sturdier cable, a better 2-pin connection that will resist a lot more and even a better sound on all key aspects, especially in the frequency response where FH1S feels like a complete package.

Conclusions

I really like their custom look, that face plate is pretty cool and the smoky see-through shell is amazing to look at. it has a simple natural shape; it doesn’t touch my ear lobes and it has just the right size for a longer listening session. Packaging is well thought out and accessories are plenty.

Sound wise, they convinced me that even at a lower price a high sound quality can be achieved. From low bass notes to higher treble registers, everything was there in spades.

You really can’t complain for a close to perfect IEM that costs just $60. FiiO raised the bar again in the affordable IEM segment and if you just started this wonderful hobby, then FH1S is an easy recommendation for you.

PROS:

  • Good packaging, decent amount of accessories
  • Good fit and finish, high comfort levels
  • Airy soundstage, good depth
  • Amazingly linear sub and mid-bass performance
  • Good treble performance with a decent sharpness
  • Good detail retrieval and transparency
  • Alive and engaging sounding with the right source
  • Measures incredibly well
  • Extremely easy to drive
  • The best value

CONS:

  • The treble rise can be bothersome sometimes, use the memory foam ear-tips to make it smoother

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT:

  • DACs: Audio-GD D-28, Matrix Audio Element X, KECES S3, Burson Audio Conductor 3 Reference
  • Headphone amps: Audio-GD D-28, Benchmark HPA4, Kinki Studio THR-1
  • IEMs: FiiO FH1S, FH1, FH7, Moondrop Starfield, Simgot EN700 PRO
  • Portable headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics
  • Full-sized headphones: Erzetich Phobos, Audeze LCD-4, Hifiman Arya, Quad ERA-1
  • Loudspeakers: KEF LS50W
  • Interconnects: QED Reference XLR, Aune AL3 XLR
  • Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x2)
  • Balanced Isolation Power Conditioner: PLiXiR Elite BAC400, KECES BP-600

Overall score 87/100

Driveability 95/100
Resolution 85/100
Dynamics 84/100
Frequency Response 87/100
Stage Size 79/100
Comfort 92/100
Build Quality 89/100
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