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.
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.
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.
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