Although FiR Audio is a relatively new name in the high-end in-ear monitor market, they’ve quickly established themselves as one of the big players. The company’s founder Bogdan Belonozhko has over a decade of experience in the industry and created the company in 2018 to pursue innovation and excellence. In this review, I’m looking at their latest product the FiR Audio 5×5.
The 5×5 (aka VxV or Five x Five) is a hybrid five-driver earphone with 1 dynamic driver and 4 balanced armature drivers. Inside and out, the 5×5 is loaded with innovative FiR tech and brings the FiR sound at a more accessible price point. Let’s dig in.
Chassis:Hybrid 6000 Aluminum and DuPontⓇ Engineering Plastic
Impedance: 16 ohm
Frequency range: 20-20Khz
Packaging & Accessories
I must admit to feeling perplexed when I first saw the 5×5 box. Isn’t this a high-end audio product? It’s just a little white, square box with a picture of Firry (the brand’s bunny mascot) on the top. When I opened the box, however, the 5×5 and Firry started to work their charms on me.
Inside the box, there’s a semi-rigid circular faux leather carrying case with the FiR Audio logo embossed on the top. The carrying case contains the FiR Audio 5×5 earphones, detachable MMCX cable and a foam insert with the included eartips and a cleaning tool. There’s 1 pair of foam tips, 1 pair of dual-flange silicone tips and 3 pairs of generic silicone eartips.
Also included in the box are 3 cute Firry stickers and a warranty card. Despite being a simple unboxing, there are elements of charm and fun involved.
The Five x Five is designed as an every day carry (EDC) item. That not only tells us something about the sound signature but also that the shells were planned with durability in mind. 5×5 is intended to be rugged enough for EDC and thus should be able to take a beating if used as a daily driver on the go.
The chassis is made from hybrid 6000 aluminium and feels very robust. Surrounding the faceplate is DuPont Delrin® engineering plastic that is also extremely strong and built for longevity. The shells have some heft and by holding them in your hand you get a sense of the strength of the materials.
Firry makes an appearance on the right faceplate while the left faceplate sports a FiR Audio logo. The monochrome design looks striking but fairly low-key. Apart from the faceplates, the 5×5 shells look similar to the M Series.
Standard MMCX is the choice of connector for the 5×5 and just in front of those connectors is a modified ATOM pressure-release module that relieves pressure build-up for fatigue-free listening. As far as comfort goes, the 5×5 feels great in my ears in terms of the physical shape as well as the lack of any “cabin pressure”, courtesy of the ATOM module.
Internally, the 5×5 inherits some trickle-down tech from FiR Audio’s M Series, including the Sound Reactor and Tactile Bass technologies. You can find more information about those on the FiR Audio website.
Noise isolation is good for this type of shell, making 5×5 perfectly suitable for normal everyday environments such as commuting, shopping or being out and about in general. Just as well, since the Five x Five is touted as being an every day carry item!
The included cable is an SPC (Silver Plated Copper) cable. It has an aluminium Y-split, chin slider and a straight 2.5mm plug. The MMCX connector housings are transparent plastic and the pre-formed ear guides are soft and flexible.
Handling is excellent, as the cable is lightweight and supple. It drapes well, sits well and has minimal microphonics. Not only is it comfortable but it also feels durable which is, of course, exactly what you want for EDC.
One of the benefits that you often (but not always) get with high-end IEMs is scalability. I find the FiR Audio 5×5 sounds great with any pairing but scales really well with a better source. I’ve added some quick notes on the main sources I tested the VxV with here.
Soundaware M2Pro – has an exquisite, rich, analogue sound and it sounds delightful with the 5×5. The soundstage is expansive. The tone is neutral and the bass notes are fast and controlled. Midrange is slightly forward. Precise, extended treble.
iFi Audio Micro iDSD Signature – It (Micro iDSD Signature) is a versatile DAC/amp with a sound that belies its small footprint. Full-bodied with slightly thicker bass notes. Great midrange resolution. Wide soundstage with excellent treble extension.
Feliks Audio Echo – Thicker bass with slightly more impact. Warmer midrange and greater soundstage depth. Slightly softened and rounded treble notes but still crisp and highly detailed. Even though 5×5 is a sensitive (16Ω) IEM I don’t hear any background noise or hiss. This was one of my favourite pairings for the 5×5.
The Five x Five has a balanced tonality with an upper-midrange peak and subtle lifts in the bass and upper treble. It’s a mix of warmth and clarity, body and air that creates a rather unique tuning. Detail retrieval is above average, a result of 5×5’s resolving ability, fairly linear frequency response and a dip in the lower treble with slightly more emphasis on the upper treble.
The 5×5 utilizes FiR Audio’s “Tactile Bass” technology that essentially straps the dynamic driver to the shell and then uses the actual chassis as a sort of resonance chamber. This creates a bass response that is still balanced with the mids and treble but feels more physical and authoritative.
It can be heard (or felt) on tracks like Sysyphe’s “Dub Spell”. Here you feel the physical vibrations from the bass but the actual bass tones are reasonably light in quantity. This leaves the midrange free to breathe without suffering from bass bleed but the bass still feels big and powerful. It’s a tight, fast bass that scales according to each recording and always seems to find the right level of impact.
The mids are a tasteful blend of forwardness and clarity. Male vocals and lower midrange instruments are full-bodied, natural and warm yet nicely separated from the bass. Female vocals are vibrant and slightly forward, electric guitars have some grungy bite and snare drums sound clean without being sharp.
Listening to “Red Forest” by If These Trees Could Talk, the guitars sit above the bass in the mix and are easy to isolate thanks to the high level of instrument separation and resolution in 5×5’s midrange. They sound vigorous and lively without ever sounding glaringly bright or strident.
The FiR Audio 5×5 has a crisp treble that sparkles with natural energy. It’s precise and lively but devoid of harsh peaks. It’s a treble that’s exciting without being fatiguing, which for my ears is a welcome change. The treble gives percussion instruments a nice clean leading edge as well as providing ample clarity to the overall presentation.
Albums like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are a real treat to listen to with the VxV. You can hear all the subtle details in each song yet I’m able to listen to the entire album without feeling treble fatigue.
The soundstage has above-average dimensions, going quite wide and deep. Instrument placement is precise and the 5×5 paints a holographic image, immersing you in the music. Layering is excellent, as is the instrument separation: this IEM definitely has the technical chops to impress regardless of price.
Meze Rai Penta ($1099)
The Meze Rai Penta is another hybrid 5-driver IEM with a 1DD+4BA configuration. The Rai Penta has a warmer tonality with a more laid back presentation. Rai Penta has more bass emphasis with a fair amount of warmth from the bass carrying over into the midrange.
The mids are thicker and have less clarity than the 5×5 but have a certain organic, natural charm. Both earphones have excellent midrange resolution but the 5×5 has better detail retrieval and a more spacious sound.
Penta’s treble is softer and laid back compared to the 5×5 which has more treble energy and precision. The 5×5 has a more expansive soundstage with added width and larger dimensions. The Rai Penta is all about kicking back and relaxing without compromising on resolution while the 5×5 is more vivid and energetic.
Sennheiser IE800S ($999)
The Sennheiser IE800S is a single dynamic driver earphone. Compared to the 5×5, the IE800S has a warmer, thicker tonality with a strong emphasis on vocals. IE800S has more sub-bass quantity but is lighter in the mid-bass region.
Midrange instruments are more recessed than the 5×5 but the Sennheiser’s vocals reproduction is some of the best I’ve heard in this semi-top-tier price range. It doesn’t have the same level of clarity as the 5×5 which has a brighter tonality and better detail retrieval.
The IE800S highs are buttery smooth with a dip in the lower treble and a large 10kHz peak. In comparison, 5×5’s treble peaks earlier at 8kHz but has a similar level of extension. As a result of this upper treble extension, both IEMs have an airy presentation but the 5×5 is starker and more precise. Soundstage is narrower and more intimate on IE800S but it has great depth and strong imaging.
The FiR Audio 5×5 is an in-ear monitor that for my ears does pretty much everything right. Sure, it doesn’t come cheap but compared to flagships carrying the TOTL moniker (including FiR’s own M series), it’s a lot more accessible in terms of price.
With its charming themed presentation, stellar build quality, mature yet exciting tuning and technical strengths, the Five X Five sets itself apart from the competition. I think it might be the best gateway TOTL earphone money can buy right now. The 5×5 gets my solid recommendation and a spot on my best IEMs list.