The Fiio EM5 is a brand new $299 USD ‘earbud’ style in-ear headphone from Chinese manufacturer FiiO.
Note: FiiO reached out to us directly and shared a demo unit of the EM5 with us for the purposes of this review. As always, our conclusions are our own and we thank the team at FiiO for the opportunity to share our thoughts with Headfonia readers. You can check out some of our previous FiiO reviews on Headfonia here.
A budding revival
The very first pair of headphones I ever owned was a set of earbuds that came bundled with a knock-off Walkman that I owned back in the early ’90s. I used to sit around of an evening listening to Sydney’s 104.9 ‘Triple-M’ on my parents’ red portable Sanyo stereo, waiting for my favourite rock tracks to come on so that I could record them to a compilation tape and take them to school the next day. I couldn’t honestly tell you what brand the headphones were, but I’m sure that many of you guys also had inauspicious headphone listening beginnings that started with a pair of earbuds.
Earbuds, as a format, are a rather niche and somewhat unfashionable sub-genre of headphones that don’t exactly have a mass-market following these days, and understandably so. By virtue of their design, earbuds don’t offer the isolation benefits of In-Ear Monitor (IEMs) which sit inside the ear canal, with the corresponding airtight seal allowing for a greater reproduction of all frequencies – particularly bass. It’s not surprising that the headphones that come bundled with your garden variety smartphone are IEMs, rather than earbuds. Most punters prefer their headphones to stay in place, offer a degree of sanctuary from the outside world, and deliver a more satisfying low-end.
However, a small (but passionate!) group of earbud devotees still soldiers-on, and a range of manufacturers continue to develop some very high-end earbud options indeed for this steadfast portable open-air contingent. Chinese manufacturer FiiO can hardly be considered ‘niche’ – the prolific personal audio juggernaut having cornered just about every conceivable headphone in recent years. And FiiO must believe that earbud technology is worth ongoing investment in, having just released their new EM5 – a $299 USD pair of earbuds.
Meet the EM5
FiiO’s EM5 is an earbud-style in-ear headphone featuring a pair of 14.2mm beryllium-coated drivers, an advanced 3D printed body that includes a ‘flute-inspired’ chamber to boost bass frequencies, and a unique interchangeable cable termination system that offers owners the ability to pair their EM5 with 3.5mm single-ended or 2.5mm/4.4mm balanced sources.
The EM5’s key specs look a little like this:
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz
- Impedance: 32Ohms @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 109dB @ 1mW
- Cable length: ~120cm
- Cable material: Pure silver Litz braided
- Weight: 23.9g
I will admit being somewhat bewildered when I first caught wind of the EM5 that a) people still deliberately choose this style of headphone, and b) that there actually might be a market of people prepared to depart with three Benjamins for a pair of earbuds. I couldn’t for the life of me think of any circumstances where earbuds would make for a better listening or comfort proposition over IEMs (or full-size headphones, for that matter). After a bit of digging, it seems like the chief complaint with IEMs is that some people find inserting them into their inner ears a little uncomfortable – fair enough. I did use the Etymotic ER4XR as my daily driver for a couple of months, and let’s just say that experience was…intimate.
But, the FiiO marketing materials and product information did seem rather interesting – it seems like FiiO has put a lot of R&D into these strange-looking earphones, and that they are keen to change perceptions about what earbuds can do in terms of performance and listening enjoyment. So it was with equal parts intrigue and skepticism that I put my hand up to give the EM5’s a whirl and share my impressions with Headfonia readers. If I’m stubborn enough to believe that vinyl is worth continuing to use as a music source, then surely I can be open-minded enough to see what all the deal is about with earbuds…right?
Head over to page 2 to hear more about the EM5’s design, comfort, and build.