Disclaimer: FiiO sent me FB1 to review at Headfonia. I paid nothing for it. This is a Picture Sunday post where we take a quick preview of various gear before their full review. You can take a look at our other Picture Sunday posts HERE.
Like space opera and science fiction cinema, Bluetooth audio has been around for a long time. There have been horrible flops. There have been amazing hits. There has And not long ago Bluetooth surmounted the last obstacle: saturating uncompressed 16-bit audio.
But the Bluetooth headphone space is overpopulated. Standing out in this space is almost impossible. Unoriginal manufacturers compete on price and spec; few compete on usability and creative branding through excellent, human-oriented design. Still, almost every week I’m approached by a new Bluetooth maker with a new earphone or headphone that – guaranteed – will at least change my life if not revolutionise the market. And every week I go back to Flare Audio’s Flares Pro and Apple’s AirPods. Why? For either one it is the combination of features, integration, build quality, and sound – not price – that blew me away from day one and continue to blow me away today.
The 40$ an FB1 will set you back is measly. The FB1 comes with an amazing case. It connects well, maintains signal well out to thirty metres. But it’s made to a price point that allows little innovation in any single area. It fits like a thumb in the ear. Its dirty, off-colour seams belie its white shell. It looks like a marshmallow stuck to a distended jelly bean. It lacks strain reliefs. It’s got too much, throbby bass and too little instrument separation.
FiiO are an innovative and important company in the portable audio space. But FB1 is less A New Hope than it is Han Solo, let alone The Empire Strikes Back. It doesn’t fit as well as AirPods. It doesn’t stay put as well as Flares Pro. It is neither sleek nor sturdy. And it sounds far worse than either Flares Pro or AirPods. Its drivers are sensitive, picking up plenty of hiss from its DAC/amp module. What it screams is: “I’m just 40$!” Rather than: “Here’s how much 40$ can get you!”
But maybe that’s the way of things in a market that would rather define itself on price rather than perfection. Maybe that’s the way of things in a market fatigued by too many options, all fo which look, smell, and perform in facsimile. Maybe that’s the way of things in a market whose uncritical fandom accepts The Force Awakens.
I may or may not have a review of it forthcoming. For now I think it meet to turn a sceptical eye on Bluetooth Audio makers and products. FiiO could have kept it seams pretty. It could have installed a driver that didn’t boom as much. It could have made a tighter remote control. It could have done many things. It certainly has the ability. But it chose to sell FB1 at 40$. And because of this, I’m left with a funny looking earphone with funny build and design quality that sounds just okay and which refuses to scream anything but “40$!“