Hey there fam. In this review I’m checking out the FiiO FA1 single balanced armature in-ear monitors. FiiO has been releasing a flurry of products in recent times, including their FH5 and FA7 earphones. The FA1 is a more affordable variant and comes equipped with a single Knowles BA driver. It’s aimed squarely at a very competitive price point so I was keen to see how it would compete. Let’s dive in for a closer look.
The FiiO FA1 sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
In what seems to be FiiO’s preferred packaging style of late, the FA1 comes in an understated white cardboard box. It has a very clean minimalist look with just a simple outline of an earpiece on the front.
Beneath the magnetic flap is the earphones, secured in a cardboard insert. Beneath this is an exceptional carrying case. Having no prior knowledge of this I was really surprised at its inclusion since you rarely see a case of such quality supplied with earphones in this price range.
Let’s break down the contents of the package:
FiiO FA1 in-ear monitors
Detachable MMCX cable
3 pairs of wide-bore silicone tips
3 pairs of narrow-bore silicone tips
IEM cleaning tool
Build Quality and Design
A recent trend in IEM manufacturing is the use of 3D printing and that’s exactly how the FA1 is crafted. This type of construction offers more consistency from unit-to-unit as well as better overall sound when compared to traditional injection moulding methods.
The FA1 sports what FiiO is calling a “ripple texture” in the faceplates and translucent solid resin shells. The end result is a really gorgeous looking in-ear monitor, regardless of which colour you choose; there are two colours sets available, one is a smokey grey and the other is red and blue.
Build-quality is nothing short of exceptional here. The earpieces are buffed to a smooth finish and show no signs of streaking or bubbles. Because the faceplates are enveloped in the resin body the housings are a single piece with no seams or joins, making the entire surface completely smooth and uninterrupted.
Adding to the already impressive quality of the FA1 is the included cable. It’s a 4-strand twisted type with glossy black TPU sheathing. It’s quite flexible, does not exhibit any memory or kinks and has minimal microphonics.
At the top end are the colour coded MMCX connectors followed by pre-formed ear guides. Further down is a cylindrical, aluminium Y-split with a matching metal chin slider. The Y-split is lightweight and unobtrusive.
An interesting addition here is the silicone cable tie, much like the one found on DUNU cables. I much prefer this to the more common Velcro ties which I generally find more frustrating than useful. Finally, the cable terminates in a right-angled 3.5mm plug. Strain reliefs are solid from top to bottom and overall the cable feels comfortable and reliable.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
According to FiiO the shape of the FA1’s earpieces were designed based off of tens of thousands of ear measurements. I’m inclined to believe the claim because the FA1 is one of the most comfortable IEMs in my collection, along with others such as the Brainwavz B400 and TenHz P4 Pro.
Noise isolation is slightly average thanks to the solid resin non-vented body of the FA1. This in-ear monitor should be suitable for any regular everyday environment, including public transport and other noisy environments. Noise leak is not an issue whatsoever so you won’t need to worry about disturbing others around you.
The general sound signature of the FiiO FA1 is fairly balanced with an emphasis on the upper midrange and lower treble, making it lean towards bright. It has above average clarity and vibrant vocals with very tight bass and energetic, detailed treble.
Like most single BA earphones, the FA1 bass is very nimble and tight but lacks authority and rumble in the lowest ranges. Mid-bass is enhanced and relatively punchy and there’s no sense of anything lacking in regards to this. With a medium attack and fast to medium decay the mid-bass notes have a nice weight and drive.
This IEM will probably not be suitable for bassheads or to a certain degree some types of musical genres, such as EDM and hip-hop. It will suffice in a pinch for sure but those rumbling sub-bass notes remain the one area where single balanced armature drivers simply can’t compete with dynamic drivers. I will say though that the FA1 responded extremely well to the FiiO K3’s bass boost which really added some satisfying body to the sound.
The FA1 excels in the midrange and really flexes its muscles with instruments and vocals. Upper midrange notes are enhanced providing good vocal presence and vibrancy. Clarity and articulation are above average.
Resolution is good and timbre hits the spot too. In “Through The Dark” by Helen Jane Long the piano and string instruments have an accurate timbre and lifelike resonance. Of course, with such a tight bass accompaniment there’s no bleed or congestion from the low end, allowing the midrange to shine.
Treble is really nice on the FA1. It’s fairly energetic but also linear so there aren’t any unwanted peaks or shrillness. It provides a good amount of detail and provides clarity without sibilance. At times it might sound fairly forward due to the conservative level of lower and sub-bass.
Extension is quite good, as are the timbre and sheen. The FA1 reproduces really nice hi-hats and cymbals that thankfully, are not fatiguing, meaning I can listen to songs like Long Distance Calling’s “Ascending” and enjoy it from start to finish.
The FA1 soundstage is fairly intimate while at the same time not feeling confined. It has a touch more width than depth. Imaging and positional cues are fairly solid while the layering is average. There’s nothing spectacular about the FA1 stage but it feels quite natural.
Brainwavz Koel ($69)
The Koel has several similarities to the FA1 including being 3D printed, having a single balanced armature driver and having transparent resin housings. That’s where the similarities end though, as these two in-ear monitors definitely sound different.
First of all, the Koel requires more power to drive; I had to turn up the volume significantly to match the SPL of the FiiO. The Koel is a bit more linear from sub to mid-bass but it has less bass overall than the FA1.
In the midrange the Koel has thinner notes and faster transients. It makes the Koel feel faster and improves instrument separation but it lacks body compared to the FA1.
The Koel has a better treble extension but it is less refined and can at times be sibilant. It’s harsher in general too; cymbals tend to sizzle and sound artificial compared to the FA1.
The FiiO FA1 is a compelling in-ear monitor, especially when you factor in the comfort, build quality and the excellent carrying case. This single BA earphone ticks all the boxes when it comes to audio quality too but it might not suit those who demand powerful sub-bass. For everyone else though, I think for the asking price of $99 the FA1 is a great way to get into balanced armature IEMs.