Review: Fiio EX1 – Dunu’s euh, Fiio’s First IEM

SOUND QUALITY

The following is what I hear from the Fiio EX1. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X3ii as source, no EQ, and Sony Isolation silicone tips with the cable worn down. For the record – on most tracks, the volume level on the X3ii was around 30-40/120 which was giving me around an average SPL around 70 dB and peaks at around 80-85dB. I am going up to 50/120 on tracks with more dynamic range (classical).

Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

Thoughts on General Signature

If I was to describe the signature in a few words/phrases, I’d choose the words “relatively balanced” (but with slight bass emphasis), “spacious”, and “clear”.

I loved the DUNU Titan’s sound signature from very first listen, and as the EX1 is essentially the same, I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying it as well. In fact during my listening, I set up a splitter so I could have both earphones plugged into the same source – listening to one ear piece from the Titan and one for the EX1 – and the sound was essentially still matched (within about 0.2 db anyway).

The EX1 has a really nice coherence between bass, midrange and treble – with just a slight V shape (mainly mid-bass emphasis) plus a bit of a peak at around 3-4kHz for vocal clarity.

So far I personally haven’t encountered any real sibilance – the upper mids and lower treble are emphasised enough to give some great detail, but not overdone or splashy (with my chosen music anyway).

Overall Detail / Clarity

Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing”

With Gaucho, the sax intro is natural sounding and very smooth, but definitely in the forefront. Bass guitar is ever present in the background, but it’s not overpowering anything. Cymbals and snares are coming through very clearly, and the overall impression is one of cohesion.

Switching to Sultans of Swing, and wow – this is dynamic and really enjoyable. Detail is fantastic. The constant background sound is again the bass guitar. Snares are crisp and fast – and Knopfler’s guitar is forefront and crisp – with enough edge to keep things lively. Cymbals again are present but not overstated. For my particular preferences, these opening tracks in my critical listening are very enjoyable.

Sound-stage & Imaging

Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra”, and Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer”

It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The Fiio EX1 (because of its openly vented design) has a reasonably spacious and almost expansive stage for an in-ear monitor. It is also pretty good with imaging, providing good directional cues. With Tundra, the stage was very close to being out of head – but more importantly, the actual imaging was able to portray a good amount of 3D realism.

Dante’s Prayer was a little more intimate, but the tonality of the EX1 with this track was pretty near perfect for me. Directional cues are again very good (the cello is where it usually is to the right, and piano slightly off center). Loreena’s vocals are sweet and nicely centered.

In this track, the applause at the end is so well presented that with some headphones (HD600) I can actually close my eyes and imagine myself in the crowd. With the EX1, I’m definitely there in the audience – it really is a strong point of this earphone.

Bass Quality and Quantity

Mark Lanegan’s “Bleeding Muddy Waters”, and Lorde’s “Royals”

The EX1 definitely has a little more bass than some of my more neutral earphones, and it does reach quite low (even with my hearing, I could easily hear 25Hz, and just hear 20 Hz with the volume up a bit). Most of the time the bass is reasonably agile and well defined, but I have noticed the occasional track exhibiting a little mid-bass bloom.

Muddy Waters is a track I use to evaluate bass quality. This blues rock track is quite dark and brooding anyway – and while the EX1 handled the bass exceptionally well, the kick drum just shows a slight bit more decay than my DN2000J or A83. It doesn’t detract from the track though – and I really like how the gravel in Mark’s voice comes through.

I wanted to see how low the bass would go in real music – so switched to Lorde’s “Royals” – and the EX1 delivered – made it effortless really. Again there is some bloom from the bass guitar and kick drum – but I really think that some of this is in the recording itself. The good thing is that it doesn’t intrude into the rest of the spectrum. The amazing thing is despite the rendition of bass, the vocals are still crystal clear.

Female Vocals

A lot of my music revolves around female vocals – be it jazz, pop, rock, electronic, or even opera. I’m an unabashed fan. For me personally, the sign of a good IEM is how successfully it conveys emotion and timbre with my female vocalists.

By now I was expecting very good things from the EX1 – especially with its upper mid-range bump. One of my early litmus tests is usually queuing Agnes Obel – as some of her recordings can become quite strident or shouty if the mids aren’t quite right. With the EX1, her vocals aren’t quite as euphonic as my Fidue A83, Altone200, or DN-2000J – but the magic is definitely there, and the cello also shows wonderful timbre and tone.

I then proceeded to play a medley of my other tracks from artists including Christina Perri , Gabriella Cilmi, Florence and the Machine, and Norah Jones. The EX1 definitely portrays my female artists incredibly well – dynamic bass, sweet vocals, powerful when it needs to be.

Male Vocals

At the other end of the scale sits a lot of my rock tracks.

The continued theme here was good bass impact, clear vocals, and nicely balanced guitars and other instruments. The EX1 portrays male vocals really well – and doesn’t sound thin or lacking life. 3 Doors Down, Green Day, Breaking Benjamin, Seether all were portrayed dynamically and once again the vocal quality was superb. The EX1 also had no issues with Diary of Jane (Breaking Benjamin), which can overwhelm some drivers. The EX1 handled it with ease, and still managed to be clear and detailed.

My litmus test is always Pearl Jam. Great contrast, great tonality, and Vedder’s vocal presentation is spot on. Deep enough to have timbre, but not dark, or lacking body and depth.

Other Genres

I tested the EX1 with all of my main listening tracks, and there was no weakness (for my preferences) anywhere.

Alt Rock was brilliant – whether it was Floyd or Porcupine Tree. Dynamic, detailed, and showing wonderful agility and clarity

With Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” (Jazz) the EX1’s added sense of space really helped make it hugely enjoyable. Again, key attributes are clarity, contrast, and a sense of dynamism. Switching to some local Jazz/Funk (Sola Rosa) and the EX1 really delivered on timbre and detail. The brass in this track was wonderful, and simply induced foot tapping.

Blues was tested with Bonamassa’s vocals and guitar being a favourite of mine. The EX1 presented guitar brilliantly, and Joe’s live performance was really compelling listening. With Joe’s vocals I could hear the emotion and again I’m floored by how good these sound.

Rap was tested with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”– crystal clear, and the bass was pretty good for my tastes. Plenty of thump. I really enjoyed this one, and I’m not the biggest rap/hip-hop fan (it’s the only album I have in this genre). Adele’s vocals (Pop/Soul) with piano accompaniment was once again stunning, and the ability to convey sweetness and clarity (vocals) along with the timbre and depth of sound (piano) was a definite strength of the EX1.

For Indie, I listened to Band of Horses and Wildlight – and the EX1 are an Indie lover’s dream – or more correctly this Indie lover’s dream. One more – vocal clarity, contrast and cohesion – magic.

With Electronic / EDM, Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin” is also brilliant. The bass is thumping, the violin is clear and this track is so vibrant with the Fiio EX1. Little Dragon’s “Little Man” is equally as impressive, and any EDM or electronic music seems to work really well with the EX1. Lighter electronic like The Flashbulb is brilliant.

With Classical and Opera there was a wonderful sense of space, dynamics, timbre and tone. Standouts for me were Netrebko and Garanca with the Flower Duet. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was a pretty special encounter as well.

Amplification requirements and comparisons on the next page, click HERE

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Paul is a Kiwi from Down Under (New Zealand) and spends his time selling Lamb by day, and playing round with audio gear by night. He's a self confessed music junkie, with wide musical tastes and a penchant for female vocalists. He is not a golden eared listener, prefers to review armed with an SPL meter and objective measurements, and does his best to balance objectivity and subjectivity. Mostly though, he can be found with headphones on his head, and a smile on his face - lost in the moment.

    44 Comments

    • Reply August 13, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      We’re gonna have a talk about cables sounding different, Paul 😉

      • Reply August 13, 2015

        Brooko

        Yet to hear a difference Lieven, and I pretty much call it as I see it. I’d be more than happy to entertain a difference – but both my own experiences, and the science also, indicate to me that the only audible differences occur when a cable is actually extremely poorly made. I am a sucker for a nice flexible, low noise good looking cable though. In fact my next job will be to recable my AKG K553 at some stage. But I’ll be doing it for aesthetics rather than sonics 😉

        • Reply August 13, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          If only you could borrow my magic box of cables people don’t believe I have, I really should take a picture of it

          • Reply August 13, 2015

            Brooko

            LOL – I always have an open mind L. But lets just say that I haven’t seen any compelling evidence so far.

            • Reply August 13, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              My office is like Area 51: the evidence is there! 😉

            • Reply August 24, 2015

              ohm image

              All it takes is a difference in impedance. Depending on the transducers, the difference can be big. But I’m with you otherwise: if all else is the same, the sound should be the same.

              • Reply August 25, 2015

                Brooko

                Oh I agree – impedance can definitely affect the sound on some earphones.

              • Reply August 25, 2015

                dalethorn

                Capacitance in a cable can make a big difference in high freq. response.

        • Reply August 13, 2015

          dalethorn

          Technique might make a difference. Take a song like Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken – there are a series of phrases where you can toggle on/off or A/B *between* phrases, rather than toggle in the middle of a tone or phrase. This technique helps me hear things that I couldn’t hear otherwise. First example phrase: “Morning has broken”, and 2nd phrase: “Like the first morning”. Or, I can combine both of those as the first segment and the next equivalent segment as the 2nd for comparison. The spectral content of this track makes differences easier to hear. I highly recommend this example or something equivalent for testing things like cables or highres versus lowres tracks.

          • Reply August 15, 2015

            Brooko

            Thanks Dale. I pretty much volume match at 1kHz with test tones and a calibrated SPL meter. Then I A/B, and if possible ABX (if I can get someone to help me). For music formats, I use Foobars ABX comparator. Where possible I set-up a switch box, so that I can switch very quickly between sources etc. In the end its all subjective, and clouded to some extent by my own limitations. But I’m only really testing for my own limits/thresholds anyway 🙂

            • Reply August 15, 2015

              dalethorn

              The point I was making is to NOT switch during a tone, as is most commonly done, but to encourage people to try playing short consecutive phrases with comparable tonalities to see if they can detect a difference that way. If you’re not keen on trying that technique, then just ignore my suggestion.

              • Reply August 15, 2015

                Brooko

                I don’t Dale – I volume match with tones. I A/B or ABX with music 🙂 Usually something that I know really well, and that has very good transients and dynamic range. Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” is a good example.

                • Reply August 15, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  So what you’re saying is that your technique is better without trying mine? I don’t understand what you’re trying to say then, because I’m trying to make a suggestion for other readers here, and you didn’t address the specifics of my suggestion.

                  • Reply August 15, 2015

                    Brooko

                    No – you’re reading something into it that isn’t there – and this has nothing to do with the EX1 review either – so surprised you’re even raising it. I was asked about cables by L – I replied that I haven’t found any differences in my own experiences so far. You then started talking about a test method for both cables and also hi-res vs low-res. I explained my methodology for testing hi-res vs low-res. I ABX. Here – I even wrote a thread about it (http://www.head-fi.org/t/655879/setting-up-an-abx-test-simple-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding). I use real music to test. I use the same track, and I ABX properly (the gold standard of testing). But again – if you want to debate it (I don’t) – then please take it to another medium rather than this review 🙂

                    • Reply August 15, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      You are taking it wrong. This isn’t about you, it’s about sharing a test technique with interested users, which I posted in a context that makes sense. I also suggested that *you* should ignore my suggestions as you wish, and you chose to contest them instead. Ball -> court -> you.

                      • August 15, 2015

                        Headfonia_L.

                        All is good guys, let it go 🙂

    • Reply August 13, 2015

      willy vlyminck

      Great review Lieven, you only mentioned two progressive recordings from Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, a genre where the bass guitar usually have a prime role, think of Yes, Steven Wilson solo, king Crimson, etc. which Dunu does the very best here?

      • Reply August 13, 2015

        Headfonia_L.

        Hi Willy, Paul wrote the article, not me 😉

        • Reply August 13, 2015

          willy vlyminck

          Stupid me?

      • Reply August 13, 2015

        Brooko

        Hi Willy – I’m a big fan of Wilson (love his new album – Hand Cannot Erase). I’m a bit biased with the DUNU’s. Due to my liking for a slightly brighter earphone, I really love the DUNU DN2000J, and find them perfect for Floyd, PT, SW ….. anything Progressive. Because the recordings are generally highest quality, I’ve never had an issue with over exuberant treble – and the bass on the 2000J is sublime (fast, textured, some of the nest I’ve come across).

        • Reply August 13, 2015

          willy vlyminck

          Hi Broko,thx, outdoors i use mostly the IE80. As a prog fan, I like clarity , detail but also a good bass that make sound the Rickenbacker bass as it should, from there my question, and yes the latest SW is fab. You should also try Anglagard if you don’t know them yet?

          • Reply August 13, 2015

            Brooko

            Hadn’t tried Anglagard before. Thanks for the recommendation. Looking into their discography now.

            • Reply August 13, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              Maybe they’re on HDTracks as well?

              • Reply August 13, 2015

                Brooko

                Just checked – looks like they have no digital downloads for purchase anywhere. Luckily I have clients in Sweden – so can probably get them to find me a copy. Listening to “Viljans Oga” (full album) on youtube while I’m typing this. It’s pretty good. BTW – I’ll do that Bio for you tomorrow.

                • Reply August 13, 2015

                  willy vlyminck

                  There is only a live album for download because this one was orginally released by Musea. The 3 studio recordings and the newest live( on their own label) are not for download neither can you stream them, but they were responsible for the renaissance of prog in 1992. Their first two were massive sellers only by mouth to mouth as only form of publicity.

                • Reply August 13, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  I went looking on iTunes for Anglagard and found ProgFest 1994. It’s expensive and prob. typical iTunes quality, but the bands and previews are good.

    • Reply August 13, 2015

      real_cranium

      Have you heard the Superlux HD381F ?

      • Reply August 13, 2015

        Brooko

        Sorry – haven’t heard any of the Superlux line yet.

        • Reply August 13, 2015

          real_cranium

          I meant that as to share that this popular “semi-open design” by DUNU might have been influenced by the HD381 series..most prolly not though. Them HD381F is not too shabby too IMO. Nice write up as always anyways!

    • Reply August 14, 2015

      Anthony Kimball

      Great review Paul…It’s great to see that your reviews are getting around.The Titan’s have been on my shortlist, but these, being a little cheaper will probably be my next IEM…thanks!

      • Reply August 15, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks Anthony. The EX1 (like the Titans) really are one of the absolute sonic diamonds I’ve experienced when considering value vs performance. As such they are a very easy recommendation. What other IEMs are you coming from?

        • Reply August 15, 2015

          Anthony Kimball

          My finest (at this point) are my Shure 535s…I also favor my Westone 2 & Meelectronics 161…on the more “fun” side, I have the B&W C5 (2nd gen), Jays 5 Jays & the Onkyo IE-FC30 (and a ton of bargain bin stuff). I find I like a balanced sound, with a little more bass than say the Etymotic ER4P. I’m really interested in these & the Aurisonics Rockets….thanks!!

          • Reply August 15, 2015

            Brooko

            If you’re looking for contrast – go with the Titans/EX1. IMO the Rockets are more similar (very mid forward) than different to the SE535.

            • Reply August 15, 2015

              Anthony Kimball

              Thanks for the tip…although the Rockets would be a more durable travel companion than the 535…I can put that off (for a while at least).

    • Reply August 16, 2015

      Savage Brit

      What a superb review and thanks to it, I’ve just ordered these. Bravo, mate… cheers to you and FiiO.

      • Reply August 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks – post back after you’ve had a chance to get used to them, and let me know what you think.

    • Reply August 16, 2015

      Mokies

      Wow, it seems that EX1 is a fun sounding IEM. Can’t wait to get it locally to compare it with my TTPod T1E.

      • Reply August 16, 2015

        Brooko

        I really like it – and there is enough bass to get my toes tapping. The slight V shape is enough to call it fun I guess. At the price thy’re asking it is easy to recommend though.

        • Reply November 25, 2015

          John S

          what’s the difference between Fiio ex1 and titan 1 in sound? They are the exact same?

          • Reply November 26, 2015

            Brooko

            Not exactly the same John – but so close that you won’t really tell the difference easily. The bass is practically the same, and the only real difference sonically is that the Titan vocal area is just the tiniest bit closer and more intimate. The other real change is in the cable (different sheaths).

    • Reply October 1, 2015

      Andrew

      I’m having trouble with Dunu cables and thinking of downgrading from DN1000 to this. I personally don’t like the bass on the DN1000. Can you please do a quick comparison of this to the DN1000.
      If the EX1 have better mids, a notch reduced bass, and the same highs, then it would be perfect for me.
      Also can you give any iems that shares the sound signature of the Sennheiser HD598?

    • Reply November 15, 2015

      krishtrinity

      How is it compared to fidue a73,i already own fidue and vsonic vsd 5 but dunu looks really tempting

    • Reply May 15, 2016

      Maxwell Herman

      How is it compared to the IE 80? I see you have one in the picture. Right now the IE 80 with the Tape mod is my reference IEM.

    • Reply September 18, 2016

      Artie Gregorsome

      my assistant was looking for Wh 382 form a few days ago and used a great service with an online forms database . If you want Wh 382 form as well , here’s a https://goo.gl/bvtqCh

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