FiiO have been on a roll this year with a huge range of product offerings and they have already released some quality headphones with the FT3, but with the FT5 this marks a significant audiophile step up, into the world of planar magnetic headphones, a segment of the industry traditionally dominated by brands like HIFIMAN, DCA, Meze and of course Audeze.
So with the FT5, priced at an $449, this firmly puts FiiO into the competitive mid-fi planar segment against some well regarded HifiMan planars like Sundara and Edition XS and some recent Moondrop offerings like the Venus and the Para.
So the questions is did they succeed? Let’s delve into the specifics of this review.
Note: FiiO kindly provided me with the FT5 for review purposes.
Whats in the box
When you purchase the FiiO FT5, you’re not just getting a pair of high-quality headphones, but also a comprehensive package that ensures you have everything needed to enjoy a premium audio experience.
Once you open the box you are greeted with a cloth cover - giving a nice premium anticipation to what is
Here’s a detailed overview of what’s included in the box:
Faux Leather Storage Case:
The next thing you are greeted with is a well-built and aesthetically pleasing case is provided for storing and transporting the headphones. My wife thought this whole unboxing experience was worthy of a high end luxury hangbag.
The case is designed to accommodate all the plugs neatly. So I can imagine this packaging will make for a very impressive gift.
The Cable and its connectors:
The provided cable is a high quality 1.5m long 23AWG gauge cable. It’s sturdy and features soft parts around the plugs for excellent durability. The cable immediately make me understand part of what FiiO were aiming for with this headphone, basically a rugged design that can withstand significant usage. While I love the sound of my other planars, their accessories and build quality is not as premium as what FiiO are offering here.
A key feature of the cable and comes with interchangeable connectors, with a unscrew mechanism allowing you to switch between 3.5mm or 4.4mm connections.
Noticed how you cleverly unscrew the 3.5mm connector:
You alight the arrow inside the adapter next to the 4 pins and you align this with the grove on which ever connector you
want to swap.
And then you screw in the 4.4mm balanced connector:
One thing of note with the cable is that while FiiO provide balanced adapters as connectors to the source end of the cable, the dual 3.5mm ends are single ended so it’s not a fully balanced cable, as you can see in this photo:
But I did test the FT5 with fully balanced cables so you can easily swap to a fully balanced cable if you so wish.
I thought a lovely touch was the inclusion of a XLR connector:
With the inclusion of all these connectors, users have the flexibility to connect to almost any amplifier or audio source and the convenience of a portable and protective storage solution all housed nicely within the premium carrying case.
Two Sets of Earpads:
FiiO includes two sets of earpads with the FT5. One set is made of suede, while the other is made of protein leather.
I have large ears and the cup sizes were just large enough to encase my ears with the protein leather and are fractionally larger and deeper than the suede. I imagine there will be some people where these are not large enough, and certainly when compared to the egg shape Hifiman earpads these earpads are on the small side.
But even comparing the sizes with some of the oval shared Hifiman earpads while they are similar in shape they are slightly smaller than the hifiman:
While I liked both earpads, for comfort and a slightly deeper sound signature, I preferred the leather. The Suede were touching the inside of my ears which would definitely affect the sound signature but I can imagine the suede earpads will be some peoples favourites.
And so to the centerpiece of the package, these are the flagship open-back 90mm planar magnetic driver headphones from FiiO.
Here are the specifications:
- Driver Size: 90mm planar magnetic
- Diaphragm Thickness: 6um
- Impedance: 36Ω
- Sensitivity: 110dB/rms (@1kHz), 96dB/mW (@1kHz)
- Frequency Response: 7Hz-40kHz
- Max Power Input: 2000mW
- Cable: 1.5m, 392 wires of high-purity silver-plated monocrystalline copper
- Connectivity: Dual 3.5mm plugs with swappable audio plugs
The open-back grilles, fashioned in a turbine-like pattern:
Fit, Comfort and Feel
While the earpads fit might be a problem for those with larger ears, I did find, for me, that the leather pads where extremely comfortable for hours of use and FiiO included some nice design touches to make the headphone suitable for a wide range of head profiles.
Here’s a closer look at the features of the headphone:
Swivel Mechanism and Suspension:
The FT5 headphones feature a well-designed swivel mechanism that enhances their flexibility and fit. This feature allows the ear cups to adjust naturally to the shape and angle of your head, providing a more personalized and comfortable fit. The swivel mechanism contributes significantly to the ease of wear, especially during prolonged listening sessions.
Here are 2 photos showing the extremes of the swivel mechanism but also showing the flexibilty of the suspension.
The suspension mechanism distributes the weight well across your head, so a good choice to faciliate longer listening sessions. This design provides good adaptability to different shaped heads and peoples preferences.
Despite their robust build, the FT5 headphones maintain a manageable weight of 456 grams, thanks to the use of
lightweight materials in their construction. It looks heavier than it feels when you are wearing it.
The choice of magnesium alloy for the frame strikes an ideal balance between durability and lightness, ensuring that the headphones don’t become a burden during extended use.
The rugged external construction of the FT5 greatly helps the durability and solid feel of the headphone. I would have no problem “throwing” this headphone in a bag for a long trip unlike most of my other planar’s where I am always worried that the “open” nature of the design means they are fragile.
Overall, the FiiO FT5 stands out for its comfortable fit and feel, thanks to the thoughtful design elements such as the swivel mechanism, lightweight construction, and earpad options. These features work in harmony to provide an enjoyable and fatigue-free listening experience, even for extended periods.
Listening and Sound impressions
The FiiO FT5 headphones, particularly when paired with the protein leather pads, offer a distinct sound quality that can be best described as warm with a U-shaped sound signature. This characterization refers to a slight emphasis on the lower (bass) and higher (treble) frequencies, while maintaining a satisfactory representation of the midrange.
Warm and U-Shaped Sound:
The use of protein leather pads on the FT5 accentuates a warm tonality, enriching the listening experience with a fuller extended bass. This U-shape tuning makes for an engaging listening experience, particularly for genres that benefit from a more pronounced low-end and a lively treble. However, the midrange, while slightly recessed, still retains enough presence to keep vocals and instruments clear and distinct.
That said I do believe the ideal headphone is not only has its own distinct ‘fun’ sound signature but one that can easily be adapted with a few EQ filters to a much more balanced ‘detailed’ sound. I will present my EQ settings and the logic behind them later in this review.
FiiO have gone for a broad bass sound remincent of some high end Meze planars like the Empyrean but the subbass on the FT5 doesn’t go as deep especially below 30hz. That said it a full wide bass response, some people will not like the enhanced mid-bass and lower midrange regions but these are easily EQ to taste as you will see and I appreciate that FiiO wanted to do something different, providing a “rich sounding” rather than the typical ’neutral sound signature’. It means some tracks like Portisheads Roads had just a little too much bass with this tuning but with most rocks tracks e.g. AC/DC or the new Rolling Stones album, I found the sound fun and engaging.
The lower midrange on the FT5 (as I mentioned above) is emphasised but the upper midrange is scouped out, providing that U-Shaped sound. This specifically was the one area where I felt I needed some EQ especially in vocal heavily tracks but this tuning is becoming much more popular as a ‘warm luxurixous sound’ and when I get to some Frequency Response comparisons later you will see some very similar frequency response from very expensive and well known headphones.
It was an interesting decision by FiiO to not follow the harman / neutral sound signature that the majority of headphones at this price point follow but go for a rich “more expensive” sound, possible in the knowledge that their customers might already have a more ’neutral’ sounding headphones (like FiiO FT3) and want something a little different.
I found treble excellently balanced with the bass in that U-shaped sound. For me there was no sibiliance but that midbass extension does mask some of the treble detail you should expect and once I started to play around with EQ and lowered the midbass region I also slightly tweaked treble region to match.
Soundstage and Imaging
I found the soundstage good with the FT5 but not massive like the Hifiman Edition XS. That said songs classic binarual recordings like Earth Drum or Horikawa’s Bubbles had excellent width.
With imaging, I found that without EQ some of the detailed treble that provides that ‘pin precise’ imaging within the soundstage was masked by that midbass extension. But once I applied some EQ that detail and then subsequently that accuracy to the imaging was restored. Songs like Tools ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ had excellent distinction between instruments as the percussive parts were floating around the soundstage.
Adaptability to EQ (Warm or detailed sound - it’s your choice):
As I mentioned above the FT5 sound signature is great for some genres of music with its warm and engaging sound. The FT5 as with most planars are highly responsive to equalization due to the low distoration. This is especially true with the FT5 as it is incredible easy to drive. Even with EQ requiring a few DB of headroom a dongle as basic as the Apple Dongle still had significant head room for those wanting to listen very loud.
Over the past two weeks of alternating between EQ settings and no EQ, it has become evident that these headphones can be easily adjusted to approach a more balanced sound signature. With EQ the FT5 is versatile for a variety of listening tastes, but it is by no means necessary to apply EQ as I loved the warm luxurious sound on a significant amount of my audio test tracks and favourite artists. Whether you’re aiming for a flatter response or wish to accentuate certain frequencies, the FT5 responds well to these adjustments without losing its inherent sound characteristics.
Note: These graphs are based on RAW measurements from a BK-5128 - Fiio provided the raw data but I have only use some of
the data provided as there is a limited set of BK-5128 data on other planars to compare the FT5 with and as of this review still not new BK-5128 “Harman Curve”.
First - the RAW Left and Right channel at 96db and 104db taken with the Suede earpads - I do not have BK-5128 measurements of the Protein Leather pads but I will present some third party measurements of both pads a little later. These subtle differences where due to different placements when taking the measurements. I noticed while listening to a sweep (which I always do to verify EQ with my own personal HRTF) that the treble peaks where slightly different with the suede ear pads on my head, so as every I think about care should be taken EQ blindly from a chart especially beyond 8Khz (where subtle placement differences can make large differences in FR).
Note: I also noticed that the large drop off at 400Hz was not as deep as it appears in this measurement so I went for a smoother EQ when lowering this mid-bass peak.
Here is a brief comparison of one of these channels with a Hifiman Sundara and compared with FiiO recently released FT3 (note these alternative measurements are only for illustration purposes): You can see from this comparison the extended bass response up to 400Hz and that dip in the 1.5K region. The treble region is mostly very smooth and as you can see the FT5 avoids the hifiman treble peaks.
Distortion is good even at 104db so no worries about EQ and plenty of dynamic range:
I do believe that FiiO was going for something of a premium sound from the FT5 and were heavily imspired by some premium sounding planars.
To illustrate this check out these measurements I borrored from VSG Squig.link:
As I mentioned in the subjective section, there is a rich “warm” but slightly muffled (lacking in detail) default sound signature - some minor eq tweaks can really bring out the best in the FT5 and have the ability to A/B switch between this EQ and the default sound signature was a very reveling experience while listening to my favourite tracks:
Filter 1 is the main one to lower that mid bass entension. Filter 2 and 3 are to raise the dip in the midrange (filling in the U-Shape) Filter 4 is totally optional but I decided to slightly lower the treble
Also I did play with a sub-bass filter for a few days but I ultimately felt it wasn’t needed - but you may want to add one to your own tastes.
Put simply these are the easist to drive set of planars I have. Without EQ even just using the Apple Dongle I barely needed to goto 50% to get a deep satisifying sound at very high volume. With EQ applied I did have to increase the volumen to roughly 70% but I still had lots of headroom. With that as the base level you can be confident that it will sound great on any of your equipment.
I was mainly listening with my FiiO K7 and a Schiit Midgard both of which had so much more power than the FT5 needed and happily drove it at low gain settings, while working I also used my Macbook Pro’s headphone Jack and again even with EQ I was barely at 50% volume when listening at comfortable levels.
I gave the FT5 an overall pragmatic rating of 4 its price while very reasonable for such a high quality product is expensive and while I loved the sound signature especially with the leather earpads, I feel it more limited sound stage compared to say the Hifiman Edition XS means that it is less appealing as first choose Headphone. I actually think it makes the perfect second planar, because it is much better built and more rugged and can be driven by mobile and has a beautiful carrying case it is a perfect travel planar.
So with the FT5 FiiO have created an impressive first entry into the premium planar headphone segment. The packaging and quality of the accessories are amazing at this price point. I was especially impressed how easy to drive the FT5 for a planar even with a basic dongle. But I was a little disappointed with the soundstage and imaging and thought the rich bass was masking some of the treble details that lots of users crave. For users that want a harman like neutral sound, I believe the very simple EQ recommendations I presented above will provide an extra dimension to the sound should they require it.
Overall it is a strong recommendation especically for those who like a complete premium package and are happy to do a little EQ.