DISCLAIMER: FiR Audio and Project Perfection provided me with the VxV in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with these companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank FiR Audio and Project Perfection for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.
FiR Audio is a company based in the U.S., who – over just the past couple years – have rapidly gone from in-ear accessory vendor to producing some of the most high-end monitors in the industry today. We covered their M in-ears last year and found each to have its own niche. Though, what they all had in common were exceptional build quality, superb technical performance – the M4 and M5, especially – and FiR’s clear, nicely-balanced house sound. Unfortunately, they also shared asking prices exceeding $1000. But, that changes today. After a long, cheeky and creative marketing campaign, FiR Audio launched the VxV (or 5×5): A five-driver hybrid with all of FiR’s tech, a smooth, versatile, airy sound and an MSRP of $999.
FiR Audio VxV
- Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers and one dynamic driver
- Impedance: 16Ω @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: N/A
- Key feature(s) (if any): Direct Bore drivers, Tactile Bass technology, ATOM pressure release system
- Available form factor(s): Universal aluminium IEMs
- Price: $999
- Website: www.firaudio.com
Packaging and Accessories
The VxV’s packaging is perhaps its least-inspiring aspect, to be honest. It’s an extremely minimalistic cardboard box with a VxV graphic printed on top. Lifting the lid open, its insides aren’t lined with foam either. So, it’s clear that the M line-up’s fantastic packaging wasn’t feasible or replicable at the VxV’s sub-$1000 price mark. Still, though, for an IEM that only just clears that line, it’d be nice to see a hair more finesse or pizzazz. Perhaps, the M series’ packaging, but on a smaller scale.
Inside the box, you’ll find the VxV and its accessories held in FiR Audio’s leather case; the same one that comes with their M3. And, beneath it, you’ll find a simple warranty card and three stickers featuring FiR’s lagomorphic mascot: Firry. While packaging stickers with earphones isn’t a novel idea, I do appreciate the effort Project Perfection went through to design the graphics, rather than just settling with the typical company logo or product name. There’s actual personality to these stickers, and it ties perfectly into the VxV’s marketing campaign as well; a cool, rewarding easter egg for fans of the brand.
The case is a well-made, black, leather case with an almost-skin-like texture to it. It’s finished with stitching all around the outside and FiR’s symbol engraved on top. I think it’s a nice accessory to offer at this price bracket. My one concern is the same one I expressed on my M series review, which is the lack of a locking mechanism. This case opens by simply pulling the lid off; holding purely by friction. It grips really securely at this moment, and I can’t get it to budge even after violently shaking it. Only time and use will tell whether that stays in the long-term. Otherwise, though, again, it’s very nicely-made.
Inside the case, you’ll find an identical layout to what was shown on my M line-up review. The bottom half is occupied by foam with cut-outs made to hold the VxV’s cleaning tool and its assortment of tips. This IEM’s tip selection are as follows:
3 x single-flange silicone tips – small, medium, large
1 x bi-flange silicone tips – large
1 x foam tips – large
As I said on the aforementioned review, I’m a huge fan of this system, as it allows you to carry all of these accessories at once. The foam prevents them from moving as well. And, unlike the M3, M4 and M5, the VxV doesn’t come pre-attached with another set of foam tips, so you won’t have the spacing or sizing problem I described on that review. Again, though, I must note the absence of a microfibre cloth and a cable tie (apart from a plain, factory twist tie) here. Even at an MSRP of $999, I’d want to find those extras present. But, ultimately, FiR have provided the basics, and in a clever layout as well.
Build and Wearing Comfort
Despite the price drop, I’m elated to see that FiR Audio and Project Perfection haven’t lessened this in-ear’s build quality one bit. Their VxV features the same aluminium chassis as the M3, M4 and M5; robust, dense, yet light at the same time. And, the same care has gone into the finishing as well. The entire shell sports a uniform, anodised finish, and it meets its faceplate with a flawless join. Again, like the M UIEMs, these shells are impeccably smooth from socket to nozzle, which, might I add, is ridged to keep tips in place too. It is this unibody look that makes FiR’s in-ears feel as premium as they do.
Aesthetically, the VxV has certainly taken on more of a prototypical look; not as refined or lavish-looking as the M3, M4 or M5. But, it’s more of an intentional design choice, because, again, the finishing on this in-ear is as top-class as ever. Both sides have been engraved with clever industrial details: The coordinates to FiR’s HQ on the left, and this VxV’s production specs on the right, including its driver config and which prototype iteration finally went to market. To my eyes, they were engraved with even better precision than the M IEMs. Then, you have the DuPont faceplates – again, prototypical in style – with gloss-black inlays and FiR and Firry logos in white. Of course, aesthetics are extremely subjective. Some may prefer a more refined, colourful look. But, again, it’s been done with cleanliness and precision, and this is all that matters to me.
Like the M in-ears before it, I find the VxV a very comfortable in-ear to wear. Again, FiR Audio and Project Perfection have come up with a very light, very compact design that sits almost-vanishingly in the ear. Its upside-down-teardrop shape’s a perfect match for my concha, and it’s remained secure whether I’m stationary, moving or head-banging wildly. If I could add anything, though, like the M in-ears, I wish there was a bit more of lip towards the top of the shell, so it can grip onto the concha more. But, that aside, FIR’s VxV have truly been sized and weighted to be a breeze to wear; very near flawless.
For its connection system, the VxV’s been equipped with MMCX connectors. As I explained on my M series coverage, this was a decision made based on consumer feedback. It’s a standard that’s easy to get cables for, which may not yet be the case for FiR’s very own RCX standard. Then, again, FiR and Project Perfection’s socket of choice ranks among the best I’ve used in balancing security and ease-of-swapping. Then, underneath the sockets, you’ll find two ports on the VxV: One for its ATOM module, and one for its dynamic driver. Lastly, we mustn’t forget the bore’s wax filter, which shields the in-ear’s internals. You don’t get spares with the VxV, though, so you’ll have to contact FiR to get them replaced if it’s ever needed.
The VxV also comes with an SPC cable called the Specimen 25. It sports a coaxial make-up, so you’ll have half the amount of wires you typically would with a stock cable. As a result, you’ll get a more compact, more lightweight product. And, the cable’s tiny Y-split complements that further. But, it’s not bereft of flair either; sporting a metallic finish and an engraved Firry logo. Its matching, ring-like chin slider comes with impressive grip as well. Then, lastly, that design is matched on its 2.5mm plug. I personally would’ve liked to see adapters included here, or even a swap system like DITA’s Awesome Plug. But, I guess it wasn’t feasible. Still, it’s a stellar cable that easily surpasses that of the M in-ears in quality and personality.
Direct Bore Drivers
As lots of you probably know, all of FiR’s in-ears have entirely tubeless driver arrays, which they claim results in the most natural reproduction of sound. It’s a concept most synonymous with Mr. Belonozhko’s previous company, 64 Audio, and one that he’s brought to his brand-new designs here. An interesting twist Bogdan’s introduced with FiR’s rendition of the tech is the use of a foam-like material packed inside the IEM shell to tune the tubeless drivers. It’s clearly not visible here on their metal-shelled universals, so you’ll have to look for one of their clear-shelled customs to see what that’ll look like.
Now, compared to the M series’ tubeless set-up, FiR have actually added another component to their VxV, and it’s called the Sound Reactor. It’s basically a 3D-printed enclosure that the low and mid drivers fire into, and it shapes their outputs acoustically. The fact that it’s 3D-printed also makes assembly easier and more consistent. Then, because of that Sound Reactor, FiR have also been able to place the VxV’s ATOM filter right beside the woofer. They claim a 30-40% increase in relieving extra pressure from the dynamic driver, which fans of pressure-relief technology will surely be pleased to hear.
Tactile Bass Technology
Tactile Bass is yet another spin on FiR’s tubeless-driver tech; this time applied to their VxV’s 6mm dynamic woofer. Unlike the M IEMs’ implementation of Tactile Bass, this diaphragm doesn’t radiate freely throughout the entire shell. Rather, it’ll fire into that Sound Reactor enclosure. But, it ultimately still outputs into a tubeless enclosure, so you should still hear a ton of the same benefits. Like the M in-ears, it’s tech that adds verve to the lows, which we’ll discuss in the Sound section.
ATOM Pressure-Release System
FiR’s ATOM pressure-relief system is something you may be familiar with if you’ve had any experience with ADEL or apex-equipped IEMs. Like those technologies, what ATOM does is absorb pressure built-up within the ear canal and vent it out to alleviate listening fatigue. FiR also claim their technology aids these in-ears sonically by delivering a wider soundstage. Now, the main difference between ATOM and ADEL or apex is the size of the module. FiR’s ATOM modules are a fraction of the size. And, they’re comprised of different relief methods too. Rather than ADEL’s membranes or apex‘s foam, ATOM utilises surgical-grade tubing to relieve pressure. That tubing’s sub-millimetre diameter is what lets ATOM be as compact as it is. This VxV comes with a module that delivers 20dB of isolation and – unlike those in FiR’s CIEMs – is not swappable.