Review: FiiO F9 – Prime

Disclaimer: The FiiO F9 was sent from FiiO free of charge for my opinion in this article, it doesn’t have to be returned. There’s also a Standard Edition of the F9, which doesn’t have the detachable connectors and balanced cable. This version goes for 100 $ and the Standard Edition costs 90 $. The FiiO F9 Pro will also be released in November, which will have Knowles BA drivers. That version will go for 150 $.

INTRO

While continually developing & updating their DAPs and portable DACs / Amplifiers, FiiO also have been stepping up their game in the IEM business. I’ve reviewed their F1 & F3 IEMs earlier this year, and as usual with FiiO they both had an excellent value, especially the F3. Both IEMs entered our Universal IEM Recommandations page, with their great performance for such tiny price brackets.

Now for competing in the low-mid tier IEM market, they recently introduced the FiiO F9 IEM. With a much more sleek and stylish design, and potentially a higher level of sound than their first couple of models, the F9 is a signal from FiiO indicating they have higher goals in the IEM market.

DESIGN OF BIONICS

Applied to airplane, car and pearly nautilus speaker, as well as the F9.

FiiO claims that they have applied bionic & aerodynamic principles in terms of designing the F9 IEM. Even though it doesn’t look unique or original apart from the “waves” which you can see in the photo below, I absolutely love it looks-wise. I think this is the best built IEM from FiiO as far as I’m concerned. The IEM earpieces are so smooth and well finished. I always praised the progress of FiiO products over the years, and it seems they continue to develop with IEMs too.

I also understand that they derived some inspiration from Westone & Shure IEMs. You can’t blame them though. If you want to produce IEMs with a low-profile design and great fit, this maybe is the best possible design route you can take. And, they used CNC cut metal which I think exceeds those IEMs from the past in terms of build.

The shell is first engraved by CNC as a whole, then anodized and sand blasted, making a beautiful metallic appearance.

Build quality is fantastic and for the price it can’t get better than this. The all aluminum body gives a compact and solid impression when you inspect it in hand. It looks like it can take some blows and stay perfectly in one piece. Yes, these really look like Westone IEMs, but to me the metal shells should be more solid than plastic. Or at least give a better premium feeling. It sure is a great job from FiiO putting up this smooth design and great build.

To eliminate the resonance, there’s also a plastic smaller shell inside the IEM that takes a supportive role for the structure as well. And there’s the MMCX connectors for detachable cables, which are very sturdy and you can pretty much rely on them for their entire life-span.

PACKAGE

The package is quite complete and there’s nothing missing. Maybe some foam tips would be nice and that’s my only small complaint. Otherwise, there are many silicone tips provided and there’s a weatherproof case that looks really cool. It’s shiny, full black and has rectangular shapes on the top; so you see some nice reflections with daylight. This is not a Pelican case but feels really close to that. Not bad for 100$ isn’t it? I absolutely loved the inclusion of this case and I think I’m going to use it for other IEMs in my possession.

FIT

Because of the ergonomic design, the FiiO F9 has great fit as you can guess. They don’t stick out from your ears and you can easily take a nap with them. Nozzle angle is perfect for the majority of the people. I personally would’ve preferred just slightly longer nozzles for better isolation and a snug fit. Even so, it’s still very good as it is.

Isolation is fairly good, not spectacular but not bad either. The good thing is there are many tips supplied in the package. If that’s not enough, I can recommend you to try out some foam tips. Foams provide better isolation and solid fit. However do note that you can sacrifice some treble response that way, but that could be your goal, as I will explain in the sound section.

The earphones are supremely comfortable and as long as your ears are not extremely small, you’ll feel very nice with them even for long periods. I can easily say the fit is almost perfect with the F9.

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Review: FiiO F9 – Prime
4.1 (82.22%) 18 votes

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As a lover of personal audio, Berkhan always seeks perfection in his reviews. He's a good hobby photographer and a reviewer; using those eyes and ears. Warm sounding equipment, a good Scotch and smooth Jazz music are "his favorite things".

15 Comments

  • Reply October 10, 2017

    Brooko

    “To me the balanced cable is clearly better to the standard cable. You get better imaging and separation, better staging and better frequency response. If you have the F9, go straight to balanced and don’t look back.”

    Well unless you’re using a source with massive impedance difference, then there is no measurable change in frequency response. I know, I’ve measured them. There is also no change in imaging, staging or separation – if you volume match and blind test. I take it when you were comparing, you didn’t volume match? What was the source – and does it have a big difference in impedance between SE and Bal?

    • Reply October 10, 2017

      Berkhan

      I’m not a total believer in measurements, and I don’t really like to approach the items completely in a technical way.

      As soon as I’ve heard the balanced cable I was convinced that it sounded better. So I just trust what I hear and pass on that information in my reviews.

      The sources were WM1A, Q1MK2 Amp and Shanling M3S.

      • Reply October 10, 2017

        Brooko

        How can you not be a believer in measurements? they are more accurate than our ears – and they don’t have our brains to filter them. I checked your DAPs. The FiiO and Shanling both use the same circuits, so they shouldn’t sound any different balanced or single-ended. I have the FiiO and the F9 measures exactly the same frequency response on both balanced and single-ended. Sony don’t publish full specs, so can’t really comment on that one. Anyway – suggest you change the review – and take out the bit about frequency response, as it is simply not correct. Otherwise good review 🙂

  • Reply October 10, 2017

    Lieven

    I am with Berkhan on this one regarding the balanced output

    • Reply October 10, 2017

      Brooko

      Wish we were on the same continent Lieven – would love to set up a controlled volume matched blind test, and we could compare notes after that 😉

  • Reply October 10, 2017

    dale thorn

    I wonder, if the audio difference were clear enough, whether measurements would confirm that exact difference? Some of these things are elusive. But I agree on volume matching, which would need to be closer than 1/2 db.

    • Reply October 11, 2017

      Brooko

      Depends on the difference I guess Dale. If its in frequency response – yes definitely it will show up. Imaging, separation, and perceived sound-stage width/depth can have some things show up in frequency (generally if it’s brighter, or cooler tonally, we tend to perceive a bigger stage and better separation (makes sense when you consider the added clarity). But its not the whole story, and definitely when I volume match (to 0.1-0.2 db) and blind test (my wife and kids humour me with the switching), I can’t personally tell a difference. I also accept I have cloth ears 🙂 – but I know thats not the whole story either.

      If we look at separation and staging – and then check against the specs (I’m using X7ii here for the example), between balanced and single ended:
      SNR on SE is 116 dB and on balanced is 119 dB. Both are beyond what we can hear – so no difference. Both have THD measurements at 0.003% = beyond our hearing. You’ll get a magnitude more distortion from your earphones. Now the important one – crosstalk (channel separation). SE is 73 dB and balanced is 97 dB. That must make a big difference – right?

      Well not really – The FCC minimum channel separation/crosstalk spec for FM Stereo used to be 29.7dB…yes, that’s right, 29.7. It had to do with how the signal was generated and handled, but 30 – 40dB wasn’t hard to achieve, and 50dB wasn’t uncommon.

      The bulk of what is perceived as stereo separation happens above 20dB with decreasing detectable improvements above 30dB or so. It’s almost impossible to detect separation improvements above 40dB. Localization of a phantom image depends less on channel separation and much more on relative intensity and inter-aural time delay of the sound, and human hearing response at different angles

      So….long answer…separation above 40dB doesn’t improve sound quality, below 40dB it slowly degrades, the final separation is equal to the device with the least separation in the system. Once degraded by a device, no device following it can restore separation.

      As you can see, SE crosstalk at 73 dB and balanced at 97 dB actually means nothing – we can’t hear the difference.

      So where are these magical differences? I agree that impedance can change frequency response – mostly with multi BA set-ups, and generally with crossovers involved. The F9 though doesn’t change – even with the X7ii’s impedance difference. So where are the perceived changes coming from. I have no doubt “Berkhan hears them” – my question though is are they actually real or expectation?

      • Reply October 11, 2017

        dale thorn

        OK – I see where the lines get drawn now. Between the maximum detectable difference at ~40 db and 73 db is a huge dynamic. So the only conceivable thing that could enter the audible range (all other things like volume being equal) is if something reflected back into the audio or modulated the analog signal somehow. That would be a defect rather than a feature though. This is interesting. I’ve never used a balanced rig, so maybe I’ll try this at some point.

  • Reply October 10, 2017

    HUGO SILVA

    Fiio F9 or Magaosi k3 Pro?

  • Reply October 11, 2017

    Bill Ruschmeyer

    Sound is so subjective. For me i like transparency, accurate tonal bass and a little forward sound, that is what draws me in. The next person with the same iem’s and source could be completely different, and guess what the measurements don’t change. To me the only measurement that matters is my ears and no two are alike.

    • Reply October 12, 2017

      Armand

      If sound is completely subjective, then why read or write reviews…

    • Reply October 12, 2017

      dale thorn

      Different genres of music, and/or different eras of recordings, can make a much bigger difference in sound than just the difference between headphone A or B. There are so many factors, and you have to take them into consideration when reading reviews of things you want to purchase. Of course, when researching new amps and headphones, you can also explore those other genres of music that different reviewers are featuring in their reviews.

  • Reply October 21, 2017

    Yannick Khong

    Thank you for this review. How does it compare to the Oriveti New Primacy as both share hybrid drivers?

    Thanks

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