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FiiO’s new earbud looks and sounds more expensive than it is

FiiO’s hardly a newcomer to headphones, but their FH5 is miles ahead of what came before.

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FiiO FH5 headphones

FiiO

FiiO designed some very decent wired in-ear headphones over the past few years, but this new one, the FH5, feels like a fresh start. Great, but since most phones no longer have headphone jacks and Bluetooth headphones now rule the portable market, who's still buying wired in-ear headphones? Audiophiles, for one, or anyone who wants to hear music at its best!

Hold the FH5 in your hands and you'll get a feel for its build quality -- it's downright luxurious. The very solid-feeling earpieces and user-replaceable and very flexible 47-inch (1.2-meter) silver-plated copper cables are top-notch. Each CNC-machined aluminum earpiece is fitted with three balanced armature drivers, plus a 10mm bass driver. Impedance is rated at an easy-to-drive 19 ohms.

The earpiece shape and form-fitting, around-the-ear cable are designed to provide a secure fit. I found the FH5 far more stable than any true wireless 'bud, that's for sure.

Since proper ear-tip seal is essential to maximize the performance of any in-ear 'phone FiiO includes a generous assortment of sizes and types of tips. Rather than just jumble them together in a plastic bag the FH5 has them neatly laid out in a sturdy compartment.

The FH5 sells for $260 on Amazon in the US, £230 in the UK and AU$380 in Australia.

Listening to the FH5

I listened the FH5 on my desktop first with a JDS Labs Atom headphone amp ($99), next with an old Astell & Kern JR portable music player, which has a 3.5mm headphone jack. I also listened with my iPhone 8 with an Apple 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter.

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The FiiO FH5's ear tip selection

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Comfort levels were good -- it's an easy headphone to wear for hours at a time. On the New York City subway the FH5's noise-isolation was about average for this type of headphone.

Texas band Khruangbin's meaty funk grooves had plenty of high impact slam, taut definition, and the drums transients were crisp and clear. Cymbals shimmered and sparkled, detail was just right. There was a tactile quality to the texture of the sound, without it ever turning harsh.

The Jesus & Mary Chain's Stoned & Dethroned album's sprawling reverberation almost made me forget I was listening over headphones, the sound was that big. The FH5 is a very open-sounding headphone; the sound isn't stuck between your ears with good recordings. 

I next listened over a set of Etymotic ER4XR headphones ($349), and while the sound was clear, it lacked the FH5's weighty impact and more natural sound with vocals. The ER4XR's dynamics punch was nowhere as satisfying as the FH5's, and its stereo imaging was less three-dimensional than the FH5's. Frankly, it was no contest, the FH5 totally clobbered the ER4XR.

The FiiO FH5 is an extraordinary headphone for the money. With well above-average comfort, build, and sound quality, it comes highly recommended!