The FiiO EM5 is a flute-designed earbud using a beryllium-coated 14.2mm dynamic driver with a twist-lock swappable jack system. It is priced at $299.99
Disclaimer: The FiiO EM5 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank FiiO for this opportunity.
To learn more about FiiO reviews on Headfonics you can click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
As the self-proclaimed Earbud King, I have demanded that the audio cosmic abstracts descend upon me a new earbud for my amusement.
And with merriment abound, a package from FiiO arrived at my doorstep. Giddy with glee, I ran down to acquire the package just in time for the delivery man and his truck to pass by, a sparkling smile adorning his face as he forgot to watch the road and…well, that’s a story for another day, probably somewhere at the city morgue.
Today, we will be taking a gander into the FiiO EM5, a fantastic new earbud of the hanging variety.
Packaging & Accessories
Holy smokes, what a fantastic presentation. Gorgeous setup in there. The exterior is standard cardboard and nothing to boast about, but the interior is quite lovely.
I am met with three cutouts for three different types of ear foams. Each one has its own carrying case. I do not think I have ever seen anything like this before, I love it! Beyond that, some paperwork and a stunning carrying case for the earbud as well.
FiiO went above and beyond on this $299 earbud. I value that little 3-D printed material carrying case for each type of foam piece.
How often do we all lose these little things, or how often do they fall out of the bag that they arrive in? Is it 6:00pm? Must have lost some of my earbud foamies, better go check where they are. Like clockwork, I swear.
But, in all seriousness, the packaging and accessories are fantastic. You also get some different adapter heads that unscrew off the headphone jack that can be used for different setups.
I really hoped to see some metal in this product, but alas, it is entirely 3-D printed material. A stark contrast to the Ucotech ES-P1 earbud that I reviewed recently, which was entirely metal, and screamed premium build quality.
This EM5 from FiiO is similarly priced, yet entirely 3-D printed material in design. True, it is comfortable and exceptionally light compared to the UcoTech ES-P1. But even a full metal chassis is still light enough to not be a bother, almost never intruding on comfort levels. The FiiO EM5 does not feel as premium to me as the ES-P1.
Beyond that housing, the cable is particularly good quality though and made of high purity Sterling Silver.
The EM5 is not offering a detachable cable styling but rather hardwired. However, in a move I have not seen before, the 3.5mm end plug is what is removable. It seems that the plug can rotate off and be replaced with one of the two included alternates for different usages.
That plug end is really solidly built, a very high-quality adapter quality and certainly something I would like to see more of in the audio world.
Ok, well well well. FiiO. What have you done here? You deviants heathens! You have created a moderately bass IEM that does not sound muddy. In a first in the audio world that I am aware of, the EM5 has nice bass in an earbud!
True, it requires some boosting to achieve, but still! It is capable of it. Compared to the Ucotech, the low end on the EM5 is thick, weighted, and highly responsive. It requires a lot of boosting, but the good thing is it can handle it and not get muddy.
The quantity potential is more than the Ucotech and even the older MX980 from Sennheiser. To date, only the ridiculously cheap Yincrow earbuds had similar bass quantity. But that earbud is dirt cheap and housed extremely poor quality.
That is not a problem with this EM5, FiiO has done a great thing here. I am so happy to see the tech advancing…finally…for earbuds of the hanging style.
Bass Impact and Fidelity
The EM5 is not a relaxed presentation product, this is a very forward and, in your face, highly engaging sound type. The bass has some good slam effect to it while retaining an excellent depth for an earbud of this type.
In fact, I do not think I have owned an earbud in the hanging style that can match the responsiveness that this EM5 has. Do not compare this to IEM bass. If you are expecting that, please do not. This is an earbud and things are different down here.
The low end of the EM5 is nowhere near IEM level capability but it is immensely impressive they squeezed this much out of a hanging style driver. The physical slam effect can be a bit potent; this earbud is highly engaging in every aspect. If you are looking for smooth relaxing bass, this is not the earbud for you.
I used to think the PK series from Yuin was very forward but this, this EM5 is a new level of forward envelopment in vocals. This earbud offers supremely forward and intimate vocal and midrange. Closing in on Audio Technica ESW series on ear levels of forward…that’s nuts!
If you want a super close feel to the artist, this is a great option and probably the only option I would be recommending directly as an earbud dedicated to a highly engaging midrange. Artists like Seth McFarlane, Tony Benet, and similar, all sound vividly upfront and lively.
This earbud has a potent upper midrange, with a ton of midrange bloom effect, so the staging elements of the physicality of the vocals sound massive for an earbud. Absolutely titanic.
Side by side with my MX980, one of the biggest staging in an earbud, this EM5 sounds larger and significantly more forward.
As far as the raw purity factor in tone, this EM5 takes the cake. It is clearly made for purists who like a raw unfiltered sound. This is not a musical set by any means to my ear. It is more of a purist, accurate-type experience and seemingly set up for that in tonality presentation factor.
The quality of the midrange is sublime, my pick for the purest and clean sounding earbud I have ever heard, bar none.
True, there are awfully expensive earbuds out there I know of but have not heard, so I can only speak for the models I have actually heard, and I am not generalizing that statement. It only applies to my inventory of experience.
If I had to give an award for the most fidelity-pure earbud, this would be it, that I have ever heard. It is certainly a step above the Ucotech in quality and realism.
I prefer reserved and sparkled treble. This EM5 is the opposite of that. It can be harsh and impacting, bright, and raw. Sometimes, maybe too raw.
My personal EQ setup with this has dialed down the treble response, for the most part, because I cannot handle the brightness and impact sometimes. But again, a lot of listeners love this accuracy to the track. I am not one of them.
I regard it as highly pure and absolutely pristine in quality, objectively the cleanest sound. However, subjectively, I find it hostile and sometimes experience breaking, especially when listening to older tracks.
With the right track and a good source, this is far less of a problem, and for the most part, I do not have issues with the top side of this earbud. In terms of fidelity, I think it is just on par with the Ucotech, but both of those earbuds portray treble in a completely different manner.
The EM5 is raw, pure, and accurate. The Ucotech is soft, reserved, and gently sparkled. Musicality vs Accuracy pick your poison, both are the top tier earbuds for the price.
Here is where things got interesting. Let me tell you, the EM5 smashes every other earbud I have ever used for imaging vastness in width and height factor.
Significantly bigger sounding than the Ucotech, and noticeably larger than the older MX980 from Sennheiser. The separation of instruments is absurdly good, shockingly good! You will be saying wow, this is an earbud?
However, in terms of depth of field and forward-realism, it is simply good overall. That Ucotech sounds deeper, more layered. If anything, it feels like the MX980 stage depth than anything else and that is still one of the best in the depth of field factor.
Comparing to that MX980 in the depth of field is a blessing. Besting it is hard and only one set I have heard has done it. No doubt, this earbud is the titan of Imaging.
The sound stage size is its strong suit and damn, it does a great job overall on it. Easily the largest sounding and most vast feeling earbud in the hanging style that I have heard.
Almost none required. Just get yourself a good source and enjoy. No amps needed. This experience is actually ruined by over-amping into my awfully expensive Feliks Audio ANV tube amp. It makes the entire experience wider than tall and totally ruins the amazing forwardness factor that the EM5 plus my Cowon Plenue DAP has.
Sure, that is subjective preference there, but I feel like the EM5 was setup for engaging factor in every possible way. I would stick to very forward sounding gear with this one. Otherwise, you miss the good things it offers in midrange potential.
This earbud runs perfectly off the smaller Hidizs AP80 variants, as well as the old SanDisk players. I would not worry about amping needs, whatever you have will be fine so long as it is generally considered above the budget tier in fidelity offerings.
Meaning, do not use cheap amps just because this is an earbud. This EM5 is a solid midrange fidelity experience. It deserves good sources.
I prefer my personal set up to be highly musical and able to respond well to EQ alteration. Cowon’s JetEffect system is still the best and most powerful software I have ever used in a portable source player, so I opt to keep it, despite it not being up to par in fidelity.
For personal usage, this is my primary portable player. The EM5 pairs nicely with it and I can alter the physical quantity of bass and treble to my liking.
However, tonality is really not well suited to this DAP for the EM5. I find the Plenue to be highly hostile, overly so. Proof in that I can run the same track through just the Plenue M and find it extremely potent in slam factor. Then, run the same track through the Plenue M, but while connected to a very high-end tube amp, with a totally different tonality experience in the physicality factor.
My Feliks Audio ANV tube amp sounds much smoother in the physical strike factor, but still on the very engaging tier.
Rig pairing is especially important here and this tells the tale of excellent synergy with most players and amps out there. You can get a different sound than someone else’s rig, quite easily. I expect this of a clinical product like this.
A smoother amp will sound much better than a neutral amp with this EM5, so it is good to know the EM5 responds nicely to different rig setups. Out of my Burson Conductor 3x, the EM5 sounds different than through the Feliks and in turn my Plenue M portable DAP.
FiiO has created a nightmare for other earbud makers. That imaging factor is bloody massive, and I am positively shocked at how engaging the upper midrange can get. It sounds immensely aired out and well separated.
The included 18 foamies are lovely and change the sound just a bit, the case and cable are both fantastic.
Overall, this is easily one of the best earbuds in the hanging style that I have ever heard. Despite all 3-D printed material housing, it still is worth the price.
If you are a critical listener and are looking for an incredibly open and forward feeling earbud, look no further. You have found your purchase.
FiiO EM5 Specifications
- Driver configuration: Single Beryllium coated 14.2mm dynamic driver.
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz.
- Impedance: 32Ohms @ 1kHz.
- Sensitivity: 109dB @ 1mW.
- Cable length: ~120cm.
- Cable material: Pure silver Litz braided.
- Weight: 23.9g.