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Fiio F9 Review – Making Waves

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Sound – 

Tonality –

The F9 is a clearly V-shaped earphone with a slight emphasis on treble over bass. That said, mid-bass is present, providing a solid foundation for the rest of the sound while mids are clear and extended but less forward. Lower treble is spiked creating a rather uneven high-frequency presentation though this can be altered via eQ and tip choice. Of note, I did prefer the red tips to the black ones, they were more balanced overall while the black tips murdered bass definition and sounded a little less natural within the mids and treble. Foams further smooth off the high-end though I personally prefer silicones during daily use for their convenience. I’m also not a fan of eQ since it can be hard to create a reliable experience among multiple sources. Thus, the F9 sits in-between the more V-shaped Kinera H3 and more balanced Pinnacle P2 in terms of tuning, it is a tone that possesses enough balance for the majority of genres and one that many listeners will be familiar with.

 

Bass –

Low frequencies are quite typical but mostly tasteful in tonality and the F9 has certainly proven to be one of the better technical performers I’ve heard around this price. Sub-bass is slightly elevated with good but not great extension, the F9 is on the looser side though impact is firm and rumble is easily discerned. They perform on a similar level to the Simgot EN700 Bass and Magaosi K3 Pro but fail to match the class-leading Kinera H3 and TFZ King in terms of overall extension and technical ability. This is followed by a modest mid-bass hump that grants the F9 with a fuller bass note but also a little bloat, and they are immediately less nuanced that the aforementioned H3 and the K3 HD as a result. Upper bass is more reserved but still well present and the F9 avoids bass spill or warming of its lower midrange as a result.

Bass texture and definition are both good though some details get buried beneath their mid-bass bloat. They also aren’t the tightest, most agile earphone around this price, easily outpaced by the competitors like the Pinnacle P2. During faster, more complex songs such as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland”, the F9 can get a little lost and bass notes are somewhat one-note when compared to the more linear, more balanced King and Mini 2. Even the H3, which possesses greater bass emphasis, achieves a higher level of technicality through greater bass control. The F9 is certainly not a bad performer, quite the opposite, but the quality of their bass doesn’t quite match its driving emphasis within the sound. Still, those looking for great extension and impact combined with good detailing will find a very agreeable experience with the F9.

 

Mids –

The first things that listeners will notice is the F9’s outstanding midrange clarity that grants vocals, both male and female, with a certain glossiness and extension. As a result, the F9 does not sound particularly natural and vocals do come off as a bit thin and oddly voiced but I can definitely see a lot of listeners enjoying this presentation; the F9 really flatters pop, acoustic and well compensates for the more veiled mastering of older albums. In terms of tone, the F9 is a brighter earphone with slightly recessed male vocals preceding rising emphasis into the upper mids and treble. However, male vocals still avoid a scooped sound and the F9’s midrange sounds pretty balanced in the majority of situations. As a result, the midrange of the F9 sounds more even than the H3 with similar overall linearity to the Pinnacle P2. My main complaint stems from a sizeable lower treble/upper midrange peak that can overly emphasise sibilance and saps smoothness from the midrange.  Vocals often sound a little strident and instruments can come off as raspy.

However, from a technical standpoint, the F9 does impress, augmenting its clarity with excellent resolution that is among the highest I’ve heard around this price and even above it. The F9’s enhanced treble though not natural or refined, does notably aid space and extension of elements. Female vocals and strings, in particular, sound airy, delicate and separated making the F9 a great choice for acoustic. Courtney Barnett’s “Small Poppies” was flattered with exquisitely clear vocals, crisp guitars and great separation between elements. Furthermore, layering is very defined and the F9 is still surprisingly natural given its style of tuning. So those coming from warmer earphones like the Simgot En700 Bass might require some acclimatization to the F9’s thinner, clearer tones, however, they do reward with a mostly balanced and very technical listen.

 

Highs –

The F9 has been getting a few criticisms regarding its aggressive, spiked treble response. And though everyone has differing levels tolerances, to my ears, highs aren’t harsh but they do get a bit overzealous. And this style of tuning certainly isn’t something we haven’t seen before, almost all Chi-Fi iems around this price have a bumpy treble response that either serves to heighten detail presentation or create the impression of air within a less extended response. It’s called compensation because on a superficial level, these iems sound similar to more technical models but lack the actual underlying technicality to present these elements in a natural fashion. The F9, thankfully doesn’t have to compensate for too much, its high-frequency response is nuanced, detailed and clear. Treble extension is very good but not absolute, the very highest details are still a little truncated though less so than competing models. Otherwise, middle treble is a little lifted while higher notes are a little smoother and more restrained to avoid outright harshness and fatigue.

And breaking that down a bit more reveals impressive underlying technicality. As aforementioned, lower treble is aggressive and notably accentuated though actual detail retrieval is good, roughly similar to models like the Pinnacle P2 and just below the H3 and K3 HD. That said, the F9 is very aggressive in its presentation, bringing every little nuance to the fore though without the forwardness of the King. This is augmented by very commendable resolution that grants treble elements with great clarity and immediacy. That said, texturing does suffer due to their thinner, spiked presentation that lacks the linearity to portray accurate instrument timbre. As a result, the F9 is a detailed, hyper clear earphone with nice air but also a somewhat artificial tone to instruments and the extent that this bothers the listeners will depend on preference and music taste.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

As a result of their airier, hyper-crisp treble response, the F9 produces a very nice soundstage presentation that is among the best I’ve heard around this price, especially through a balanced connection. Width is great, extending to the periphery of the head and depth is notably more immersive than competing models. This is especially noticeable with vocals that extend exceptionally well on the F9. Imaging is good but not outstanding, directional cues are accurate and clear and instruments are easily located. Centre image to vocals is a bit hazy and diffuse and most elements tend to become pushed to the side of the soundstage. Separation is excellent due to their defined transition between lows, mids and highs in addition to enhanced clarity and resolution.

 

Drivability –

The F9 is one of the easier to drive earphones I’ve tested with a 28ohm impedance and 106dB sensitivity. Users shouldn’t want for more volume even from smartphones or portable MP3 players and those with any sort of dedicated DAP will have no trouble driving the F9 to potential. Due to its cool resolving tone, the F9 finds particularly strong synergy with warmer, more laid-back sources. I found the Chord Mojo and Shozy Alien+ both to provide extra smoothness and refinement to the F9’s excited sound in addition to a little extra body all without sacrificing detailing. My HTC 10 also provided a fine pairing with plenty of volume and the F9 was not overly affected by output impedance in my testing. Of course, the F9 can also take advantage of a balanced output, from my X7 II w/AM3 module, I noticed slightly more separation and greater bass weight and control as opposed to the regular 3.5mm output. It’s also possible that the cable itself is contributing as on the F5 in addition to greater driving power from these outputs.

Next Page: Comparisons

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

17 Comments

  1. gaston on

    Hola Ryan,gracias por las revisiones tan buenas que hace,es un placer leerte.me gusta le Mini2 ( tengo un Hifiman RE400 muriendose por el cable,pero que me puede decir de los nuevos Ibasso it01,mismo precio,y el Brainwavz
    B400,un poco maas caro pero con 4 drivers,Gracias y un Saludo.

  2. Michael on

    Hello Ryan,

    I´ve been thinking of getting my hands onto the pair of Fiio F9. Up until now I´ve been using the V-Sonic GR07 but they seem to approaching its final days. So now it´s a toss-up whether to go the unbeaten path and grab the Fiio ones or opt for the tried and tested V-Sonics. What would you think or could you perhaps recommend me some other IEM somewhere in the vicinity of 150$ (200$ at the most)?

    Cheers,

    Mike

    • Anez on

      Hi Mike, I’ll buy you both, your loving wife Anezka

  3. Filip on

    Hello, Ryan,

    please could you make some compare between F9 and Oriveti Basic? Thank you a lot.

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi Filip,

      I enjoy both, they have excellent build and fit but the Oriveti isolates a bit more and is smaller. The Fiio is more V-shaped with considerably more clarity and more forward treble. The Oriveti is smoother and more laid-back but still sounds quite crisp, it has a warmer sound with more neutral body where the Fiio is clearer but thinner and raspier. Both are quite bassy, the Oriveti is more defined and visceral due to a sub-bass focus while the more mid-bassy Fiio has a little bloat and less extension. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Thanks,
      Ryan.

      • Filip on

        Thank you for answer. I used HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2 before they broke up. I temporarily bought the KZ ZS5, which sounded much more audially to me, but they are too big for my ear. That’s why I’m looking for headphones like KZS5 but with a smaller body and better made. I originally thought up to the limit of $ 100 (Fiio F9 and Oriveti Basic), but maybe I would raise the limit to $ 300. Here we are talking about Oriveti New Primacy, if they sound like KZ ZS5. What would you recommend a similar sound to KZ ZS5?

        Thank you very much Ryan.

  4. Joa on

    Hi Ryan, I’ve been reading your reviews on both magaosi k3 pro and hd.
    I’m wondering , does the magaosi even compare to the f9?
    Since its in the same price bracket, there wasn’t much comparison between both.

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi joa,

      I don’t think the K3 Pro stacks up to its updated counterparts, but the HD is very comparable to the F9. The HD is a little more mid-recessed but its treble isn’t as thin as the F9 and it’s more detailed as a result. Both are a little muddy within the bass but the HD has a more natural midrange due to its more even midrange/treble transition. Both are built well and fit comfortable but don’t isolate superbly. I would personally pick the HD if you don’t eQ, the F9 has potential but you can’t maximise it from every source so I can’t freely recommend it like the Magaosi.

      Cheers,
      Ryan.

  5. Shawn on

    Ryan,

    How would these Hold up in comparison to something like Dunu dn-2000?

    • Ryan Soo on

      I haven’t heard the DN-2000 for quite a while so I can’t provide direct comparison. I remember it performing on a higher level sonically though the F9 is definitely better in terms of ergonomics and comfort.

      • Shawn on

        Is there an IEM you would recommend that is in the sonic quality range that the DUNU is? The IEM market has become so crowded, which is not a bad thing since it drives competition, makes it incredibly difficult to pick one!

        It seems to me, while I may be wrong, the better sounding hybrids use knowles BA drivers but I’m interested to know your opinion.

        • Ryan Soo on

          There certainly are a lot of iems out there, many of which I haven’t heard!

          Regarding drivers, I try not to generalize performance to driver type though they are linked to an extent. To my knowledge Sonion and Knowles are the two main manufacturers, Knowles make the majority of audio related armatures, sometimes to spec for specific manufacturers while others employ off the shelf components. Some add some tuning on top, but a lot don’t.

          We’ve certainly made developments in recent years, unfortunately, a lot of these advances come with price hikes. The Dunu is still a fine sounding earphone, I don’t think any of the $100 in-ears outperform it on a technical level. I’m inclined to recommend the Magaosi K3 HD, it’s a bit muddy and resolution isn’t exquisite but it is easily the most detailed and balanced V-shaped earphones around this price. If you’re looking to spend a bit more, Dunu’s new DK-3001 is sonically exceptional and many users have had more luck with comfort than Pinky and I.

          I should not that I’ve thrown out these recommendations based on the fact that you enjoy the DN-2000. If you give me your preferences like Tom has below, I can be more specific. I don’t think you’ll find an “upgrade” around this price per say, but you may very well find an in-ear that better matches your subjective tonal preferences.

          Cheers,
          Ryan.

  6. Tom on

    Thanks for another great review Ryan.

    Any chance I could encourage to compile a $100 IEM shoot-out? It would be a great help to me, and others, who need help navigating the sudden explosion of competition at this price point.

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hey Tom,

      I could definitely make one but it would probably just be a compilation of all the reviews I’ve already written. Personally, I’m against a numerical ranking or scoring and I would prefer for people to find the model that best suits their personal needs and preferences. You’re more than welcome to contact me either here or PM on head-fi if you’re looking for suggestions.

      Cheers,
      Ryan.

      • Tom on

        Hi Ryan,

        That’s a very generous offer, thanks.

        My needs are a little complicated as I want something that can do double-duty as both my everyday walk-around DAP and Spotify (smartphone) commuting IEMs, yet also perform as a fairly balanced and somewhat analytical monitor for the mobile music production I do on iPad when on-the-go (Cubasis, BM3 etc).

        Ideally, I would be seeking..
        – Over ear fit (memory cables a plus here)
        – Good isolation
        – Neutral (or sightly curved) frequency response
        – Easy to drive
        – Good Durability (removable cables a plus)
        – Remote-enabled cable option would be a nice bonus

        I am currently using a cheap pair of Brainwavz B100 (single BA), which I feel really perform high above their $40 price, but I’ve been eyeing an upgrade for months now, considering many of the fine models you’ve been reviewing lately, such as the Pinnacle P1/P2, Hero2, Kinera, TFZ, Fiio, etc.

        Is there anything you could suggest that might help me?

        Many thanks
        Tom

        • Ryan Soo on

          No worries Tom,

          I honestly admit that I have no insight into music production but I’ll try to help you out as best I can. As far as tuning goes, there aren’t a whole bunch of models around this price that offer genuine neutrality. That’s a reason why I’m such a big fan of the Rose Mini 2, it is easily one of the most balanced, neutral earphones around this price besides the notorious RE-400 though the Rose is far better built. For reference, it is way more linear than even the Pinnacle P2, it’s almost neutral but a little warmer and slightly more laid-back which makes it nicely musical as well.

          It also has an over-ear fit, a very good removable cable and pre-moulded earguides (not memory wire). It’s easy enough to drive and sounds consistent from most sources. It has no remote, but since the cable is removable, you can just swap in a cheap 3rd party remote cable. The design takes some getting used to, if you have especially large ears it may not be the best choice, but it is fully sealed so isolation is great. I should just put in a disclaimer that this earphone is genuinely quite neutral, not balanced as some people throw out there about other earphones, it will probably be leaner and more mid-forward than expected.

          Cheers,
          Ryan.

          • Tom on

            Excellent. Many thanks for your helpful advice.

            I had already shortlisted the mini2 based on your impressive review (even though I misnamed it the hero2 in my first post, lol)

            It’s probably between the mini2 and pinnacle P2 in that case, and I’m edging towards the mini.

            Regards.
            T

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