Empire Ears – Odin (2DD/5BA/4e-stat; $3,399)
Empire’s just released Odin is one of the most anticipated products of 2020. Heck, people have been waiting for it since last year’s August. The Odin is a tri-brid design just like the M5, but it uses a whole different setup.
Compared to each other there are quite a few differences. The Odin for example has deeper extension into the sub-bass region. It pushes a heftier and more physical bass compared to the M5’s tighter and faster lows. The M5 on the other hand is quicker and has a meaner punching low end. The Odin has higher levels of resolution and texture in the bass to my ears. The M5 has a dryer low end that comes with loads of precision.
The mids sound a bit richer and warmer on the Odin than on the M5. The M5 is darker sounding overall. Odin provides more clarity in the mids. Especially the upper mid-range is where the Odin puts the M5 in its rear-view mirror. It has a richer tone, a more open sound and makes vocals sound more emotional and grabbing. The M5 sounds more intense.
Odin creates a wider and deeper stage in comparison. Although the M5 is not that far off in width to me. The M5 and the Odin both have very nice layering and positioning. But in terms of detailing and resolution it is the Odin again that comes out on top to me. It renders information at a higher rate and displays them clearer.
The M5 creates a brighter tuned treble, that is closer to sharpness and sibilance than the Odin. I feel that the M5 has higher extension into the upper registers though. Odin has a richer and softer sounding top end in direct comparison to the M5 to my ears.
Noble Audio – Sultan (1DD/4BA/2e-stat; $2,900)
The Noble Audio Sultan is yet another 2020 launched tri-brid flagship. Noble’s first ever e-stat monitor. Compared to the M5 there are again noticeable differences which we will look at.
Sultan and M5 both have similar low-end extension, but the M5 has more texture and a more precise bass. The Sultan on the other hand has higher levels of richness and a fuller body. The M5 is faster, snappier and more dynamic. The Sultan has a more rounded low-end and sounds more natural in the mid-bass segment to me.
The M5 has a darker sounding mid-range, whereas the Sultan positions them a bit more forward. The mids on the Sultan are a bit more open sounding and lighter. The M5 again has more body and fuller notes. The Sultan sounds more nimble-feet in comparison here. With the M5 you get a thicker sound.
One of Sultan’s biggest strengths in my opinion is its ability to layer. It does that better than almost all IEMs I have heard to date. And it also does it better than the Fir Audio M5. Both monitors create a similarly stretched stage, where the M5 edges out the Noble in width. The M5 also has a more holographic appearance and displays the scene more in front of you. While the Noble keeps things closer to you. The M5 has better imaging to my ears, although the Noble has a darker background.
Treble on the M5 is sharper, brighter and more energetic. The Noble also has a slightly brighter tuned top end, but it’s still softer and easier on the ear than the M5’s. The M5 does have wider extension and higher levels of clarity.
Comparisons Part 2 – Lieven
In my comparison part I want to focus on Hybrid (C)IEMs, and therefore I have chosen to look at the Elysium, Pola39 and MEST.
The Vison Ears Elysium – priced at €2.900 – is a 4 driver IEM with the following configuration: 1 balanced armature driver for bass, 1 dynamic driver for the mids and a double electrostat driver for the highs.
These are very different sounding IEMs. The Elysium sounds lighter and has a more spacious, wide and open sound. It doesn’t have the body and presence of the M5 and is such it is more neutral. The Elysium is a more clean and clear sounding monitor, and compared to the M5 is is more balanced and linear.
The Elysium’s bass isn’t as impressive and the treble section isn’t as lively but it’s the best technical performer and detail retriever of both monitors. The experience and signature with both IEMs is very different, and as such they in my eyes are more complimentary than they are competitors.
The Unique Melody MEST – priced at $1.899 USD – is an 8 driver IEM and a config as follows: 1 dynamic driver for the lows, 2 Balanced Armatures for the high mids, 2 BA for the highs, 2 Electrostat drivers for the ultra highs and the bone conduction driver. Especially interesting here of course is the bone conduction driver.
The MEST in general is closer to the Elysium than it is to the M5, but it does have a fuller body and more impactful bass just like the M5 has. As with the Elysium, the MEST is technically stronger than the M5. The sound stage, spaciousness and airiness here is quite a bit better and the bone conduction driver ads something special to the mix and experience.
You could say you’re getting best of both worlds with the MEST: the engaging and impactful bass and mids of the M5, combined with the technical excellence of the Elysium.
The Shozy & AAW Pola39 – priced at $1,050 USD – is a 3 driver IEM with this configuration: 2 x Electrostatic, 1 x 10mm Dynamic driver
Again the Pola39 is very different sounding from the M5. It’s much lighter in bass in mids and it doesn’t come with the same impact. It’s a monitor focusing more on precision and technicalities like the Elysium, and as such it’s more linear and neutral. The experience and sound signature here simply is very different from each other. Looking at both units from a build point of view, the M5 is miles ahead of the cheaper Pola39. Like the Elysium, the M5 and Pola39 are very different and as such complementary.
Driveability & Sources
The Sony WM1Z by nature is a fuller and warmer sounding player and I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the M5. Turns out they actually match very well, what a nice surprise. The voices in this combo are incredible and the musicality and engagement level are through the roof.
I expected the bass to become overly powerful here, not even mentioning the tightest, but this isn’t the case at all. You get a smooth, full sounding, musical combo with great vocals. The energy presence and clarity are less present in this combo, but buy do I love listening to it in my free time.
The Luxury&Precision P6 is the brand’s latest R2R DAP. L&P are famous for their excellent sound quality and it is no different with their newest DAP. What I expected from the Sony in regards to bass presence and fulness actually is more the case here: you get heaps of it. At the same time this combo probably is the best when it comes to detail retrieval, clarity and precision. So it really depends on the type of music you’ll be playing. With something like Melody Gardot, this combo is heaven. With Billie Eilish it’s more extreme and you better like body and bass. To each his own.
The brand new Hiby R8 isn’t in the same price class or level of the before mentioned DAPs, but it is a really good DAP. At the same time there’s some noise audible here which isn’t the case with the other DAPs, especially when streaming from Tidal. Anyway, the R8 is a do-it-all DAP and the synergy with the M5 is quite good. The R8 doesn’t do anything surprising with the M5, and it is more like the SP2000 in this regard, only not at the same technical level. That being said, it’s a really nice combination to listen to. No exaggerated bass, warmth or thickness and you can hear the M5 like it really is.
My favorite portable source with the M5 still is the SP2000, though a DAP with the mix of the SP2000’s technical level and the L&P P6’s musicality and detail retrieval would be the ideal DAP for the FiR Audio M5.
The Earmen Sparrow is one of the hottest portable DAC/AMP dongles of the moment and it also performs perfectly with the M5. Bass impact and mid body is somewhat elevated here, but the energy level is quite good. The combo also sounds very musical and exciting, typical for the M5. There’s a tiny bit of noise audible here as well but it isn’t annoying or audible when music is playing. Do watch out with the Sparrow’s volume as the M5 will get very loud fast/ My listening level is 1 out of 100, to give you an idea.
The Chord Electronics Hugo 2 is one of the very best transportable DAC/AMPs on the market but it unfortunately doesn’t have a balanced output. In single ended mode the Hugo 2 and M5 combo is one of Linus’ favorite combos and I can only agree to that. You get the perfect mix of bass impact, mid body, clarity and energy. The delivery is engaging and musical and the sound stage is quite good as well. This combo will definitely make you happy, all day long.
The Fir Audio M5 is a very special kind of flagship. One in which enjoyment, intensity and musicality are the key words. If you like good bass impact, full sounding mids and gorgeous vocals, the M5 will be a TOTL monitor for you.
At the same time the M5 isn’t the technically strongest IEM on the market, but it makes up for that with the way it presents the music and draws you in. Do note that there’s quite a difference between the universal and custom model in regards to the tuning.
I can listen to the M5 all day long without listening fatigue and it’s actually been the monitor I have been listening most to in my private time, when relaxing before going to sleep.
With the M5 FiR Audio has created a reference monitor with a very spoken out character. It’s a monitor that will please many listeners but it at the same time also leaves room for improvement in the future. I can’t wait to see what FiR Audio comes up with next.