FiR Audio 5×5: Be very, very quiet…we are listening to a rabbit…
Pros: Affordable flagship
Vocals are superb
Treble is well thought out
Cons: Makes some in their lineup irrelevant?
Build to some may seem “cheap”
FiR Audio 5×5 ($999): Be very, very quiet…we are listening to a rabbit…
Intro: Having already had the pleasure of the whole M2-M5 lineup, I eagerly signed up for the 5×5 from FiR Audio run through Barra. I already have a favorite picked out from the M-series, and all are quite good. The 5×5 is oriented a bit south of the M3 and a bit north of the M2 pricewise. Using a combination total of the M2/M3 driver count (2+3=5…), the 5×5 has four BA’s and a single DD. I must say from the off, I was jawslacked. To think that one of their “budget models” could sound so darn good made me think this would be a perfect comparison to the Empire Ears Hero I just picked up (after listening to the Hero and Odin). I will state that I pretty much had buyer’s remorse after listening to the 5×5. But after that “new toyness” fell away, I was able to discern between the two.
Up front, the 5×5 is a fabulous sounding unit, and should warrant SERIOUS consideration for those who might be in the market for a high-end IEM. One could also make the case for this being it. Think of the Subaru WRX STi against much more expensive competition. Sure, those others may be faster, or have a higher top speed. But you would dare never take those other off-road like you would the STi. Marketed as a “carry all day,” such as Alex mentioned in his excellent review, the 5×5 certainly is that all-road STi of IEM’s.
I again thank FiR Audio for sending their wares out on tour. This is a really cool unit. I also thank Barra for the faith in this hard of hearing bearded fool for the opportunity to listen to something this cool.
- 1x Dynamic Driver
- 2x Mid-driver Balanced Armature
- 1x High-driver Balanced Armature
- 1x Ultra-high Driver Balanced Armature
- MMCX connectors
- 2.5mm TRRS balanced connector
- Chassis: Hybrid 6000 aluminum and DuPont ® engineering plastic.
- 16 ohm
In the Box:
4 sets silicon tips
Cool Bunny stickers
Fir Audio M3 ($1199)
Empire Ears Hero ($1349)
Campfire Audio Atlas $1200
Campfire Audio Ara ($1299)
Moondrop S8 ($699)
Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Much has already been written about the unboxing, replete with cute bunny stickers and photos. Yes, I know it’s a trend, and my wife’s favorite animal is a rabbit; but other have done it, so I shall leave it to them.
The package is small, which helps to keep waste products out of our waste stream, or fewer materials in the recycling stream. It is a win-win, and I much prefer when people recycle the materials. Inside you have a smaller leather case, but not as small as the metal cases found with Unique Melody or Empire Ears models. I like the larger size, and especially once I opened it up.
Inside there is a soft-cell foam insert, which houses the tip selection, so you always have extras with you. A nice touch, and if you choose to take the insert out, you can include a small DAP such as the Shanling M0 or something of the sort in the bottom. I do see this occurring more and appreciate a slightly larger case, which also can house a small DAP or dongle. Many of late that I have had can still fit comfortably in my pocket whether it be cargo or regular pants. The 5×5 is no exception. Nicely done.
You also get three different stickers (I really, REALLY want to keep these from the tour…) as well as the owner’s manual. Nothing earth shattering, and Fir makes its mark on the sound of the unit, not the accessories. Minimal, but functional.
Fir Audio is protective, nay guarded regarding their technology, much like Ferrari is with their specs. I don’t blame either as those specs tell only part of the story. One does not purchase a Ferrari because it has 50+ bhp on a Lamborghini or goes 0.3 sec faster to 150 than a McLaren. The same holds here. One should not purchase an IEM for its number of drivers or number of crossovers. Or SNR or THD either. It should be fit and sound.
But anyway, the 5×5 is indeed five drivers per side of 1-DD and 4-BA’s. I for one still appreciate a good, solid dynamic driver since my two favorites are the EE Legend X and EE Hero. DD’s done right. Period. And as you would expect, the DD handles the lows, with each BA handling the notes progressively higher. Two for mid, one for highs, and one for ultra-highs. Tuned properly it is, providing me personally with a solid foundation and a slightly rolled treble. Or maybe I am just hard of hearing enough that this is what I hear. Nonetheless, the 5×5 is done up proper.
Just one listen was all I needed to be convinced that all of this techy stuff works. And works well.
Starting with the ever-present bunny-badge, the 5×5 is a “normal” shaped IEM, on the smaller size from its competitors. The nozzle is angled more so than other makes and this counteracts the smaller size a bit as the 5×5 does not fit as flush as one would think due to its diminutive size. I never had an issue with Comply’s or the included silicons. The silicon tips worked better for me, which does tend to go against my normal listening tips of foam.
The thinner than normal wire hangs well over-ear with a long sheath with which to guide and hold in place. I am taken back a bit since it is a plain old 2-wire set up. But the wrap and sheath are such that you need not worry. 64Audio is known (or was) for simplicity of wire configurations and the Fir covers that nicely. With a definitive plasticky feel to it, it does seem a bit under-level, but I do not mind for it is built of such quality as to not matter.
The faceplate of the shell is ringed by what should be for all intents and purposes a plastic you would find in a glow-in-the-dark item. Looking identical to what you would find in a product that does in fact glow at night, Fir did not take this opportunity to produce something that while looking somewhat odd, would be a definitive fashion statement. Making them changeable one could cover the rainbow spectrum of neon quite easily. That would be cool. No matter, the look is simplistic, but elegant.
The shell itself is of a powder coated aluminum look, and does not draw fingerprints, which is much appreciated. Right at the top, where the MMCX jack lies are two “rubber” inserts, one of which seems to have a vent hole, the other doesn’t. this could also be where the screws are inserted to hold the MMCX jack from the inside as well. Other than that, there are no vent holes to be had. The shape of the shell is flat on the inside, which promotes a lower profile fit within your ear. The teardrop shape is welcomed by me, as are the flush rounded edges all-around. While the faceplate does not seem to fit flush (one can clearly see the seam), I could run my fingers over the “joint” and not feel a thing. What trickery is this? While it might look a bit “cheap,” I assure you it is not, and because of the powder coating, does not yield fingerprints, like those of more expensive ilk.
Using the stock included tips, fit is almost flush, providing excellent seal as well. My MBP is of that ill-gotten age some years ago of the “flat” keys, which sound hideous as you type. My wife and daughter put up with that while I hacked out my master’s thesis. Now though, it is annoying to me as well. But never you mind with the included silicon tips, silent it is without being overly isolating like a sci-fi thriller in space.
Taken as a whole, the 5×5 is a clean, functional unit that looks svelte and a bit different. Yes, the rabbit draws front and center, but the nice shape adds to the appeal, from the flat back to the teardrop shape (or is that rabbit poo?). The cable lays nicely, without microphonics, the fit is very, very good and the ear guide while a bit tall due to the MMCX jack and angled shape holds the unit in place. A thoughtfully laid out unit, that does not offend me in the least.
From the get-go with the M-series quartet I lauded the bass response of all. Tight, fast and deep, the Fir models produced bass on par with the best. So much so that I almost considered adding the M4 or replacing one of my current models with the M3/M4. Moving to the 5×5, I do love the dynamic driver aspect of this model. To me like noted above, I really don’t give a hoot what size the driver is, but rather what it sounds like. Lately, the newest flavor of the month is 13mm dd’s. Pushing the size of the shells themselves, we may see the beginnings of a “driver size” war, instead of that silly driver number war we had some time ago. Done properly, multi-driver units can and do sound phenomenal. But done for the sake of numbers is like saying “mine is better.” Beauty and sound are in the eye of the beholder.
And I behold the 5×5 currently, and love the bass treatment of the DD. Not quite as speedy or taut as the M4/M5 (but not meant to be), the 5×5 imparts a feeling upon it, which cannot be quantified. You understand that what matters is how it sounds, not the size. The sub bass hits with authority, even if not as taut as the more vaunted models. This is still quite fine down low, and there is no bleed into the mids. Not disjointed mind-you, but not overwhelming in coverage. Laying down that line, which acts to prop the whole of the song up, the bass, which is present holds its own against models, which actually profess to be bass monsters. Going back to back with my EE Hero, it is close. The Hero reaches deeper, but the 5×5 hits with a bit more authority. But not the in your face of something such as the EE Legend X (nothing really does…). Occasionally I did get some bloom, but I attribute that to the fact that the decay isn’t speedy like some of the Far Eastern ilk. I really like this treatment from the emotive aspect and that engaging feel you get from it.
Moving up, the male vocal treatment of the mids comes across as vibrant and full. Rich, but not thick; Robert Plant on Bones Of Saints comes across showing his age of 72 (holy buckets!!!) with the respect he deserves. You know he is older, but that “thickness” comes across with a rich tonality and depth deserving of his history in our music world. Guitar work can seem a bit behind the scene in the mids, but this I do believe is done on purpose to show support for the vocals. Combining with that wonderful low end, the instruments come at you from various angles giving the sense of surround sound. Not holographic, but surrounding, enveloping sound. Case in point, on Billie Elish’s Therefore I Am just oozes with soul and feeling. Pop, but a slap in the face to pop, her vocals are gritty, developed and have a raw paucity to them, which plays ever so well in the 5×5. That bass line bleeds into both ears with thump and the sound of an excellent sub-woofer in your ears. You automatically turn the volume up here because that lusciousness of her voice pulls you in.
Moving up top, the treble comes across clean, and a bit tamed, but not rolled. Almost by design, Fir tuned the uppers to allow the end user an increase in volume without drawing attention to the treble, but still providing a full spectrum of sparkle. Following the previous song with lovely, the duet with Khalid is sensuous but never tiring. A presence of upper note comes across with a thicker than normal lilt to it, which to me is sublime in presentation, even if a bit raw when running against the M4/M5/EE Odin-types of flagships. This draws me in even better than the other for it does not press down upon my sensory exuberance. This tone and clarity coming from the nether regions provides the near-perfect complement to the rest.
Moving into how the overall sound presents itself across the soundstage, her bad guy song rings throughout my ears with a cross between Lady Gaga and well, Billie Eilish. Envelopingly wide and deep, the height matches nearly as well, presenting amongst the biggest soundstages I have hears of recent memory. Sometimes this is a bad thing. But not here. Not today. Simply sumptuous in presentation, there is a concert going on inside my ears, and I’m the guest of honor. Fantastic presentation, and with distinct enough layering to give the depth real push like that extra weighty blanket in winter. You know it is heavy but sleep oh so well on that -20F night as a result.
Separation is aided by the 4 BA’s working in concert together through the highly tuned shell, which is tubeless as well. Known for that in the higher models, which is said to reduce acoustic anomalies wrought from vibration, the 5×5 does in fact use that technology for the benefit of keeping all the instruments happy. I would call it good but not great. But at this price going against much more expensive wares, which have better separation that would be like me comparing something very good to something that is excellent. Due to the fun nature of the sound emanating from the 5×5, very good is indeed great here. Sometimes fun overrides technical capabilities.
Fir Audio 5×5 ($999) v Fir Audio M3 ($1199):
I used the term “trickledown” and “BMW M3” against the M5 & M6 when comparing to the big brothers. Truth be told, the M5 of the BMW genre is my favorite (which makes that the M4 of Fir fame), but the M3 (the Fir & BMW) sets the tone from the others and is quite good. One could very, very easily be quite content with the M3 and call it good. Well, the 5×5 lowers that aspect (but not expectations) even further. If I could happily cruise along with the M3, then the 5×5 would indeed make me just as happy. Not quite the clarity of detailed aspect of the M3, but that fun factor is hard to pass, plus with the $200 savings, you could get an excellent Eletech or Satin cable as an extra giving you a variety of sound embellishments.
The M3 is one I would happily own, but the 5×5 redefines the price of enjoyment when talking about higher-end IEM’s here.
Fir Audio 5×5 ($999) v Empire Ears Hero ($1349):
As part of the Hero/Odin tour, I immediately (of course) jumped on the Odin for it is the flagship. But after a week, threw on the Hero. My senses tingled as a result from that sensuous bass presentation. Calling it a Legend X-lite is an insult, since it utilizes the newer W9+ drivers. Fabulous treatment down low, but not forgotten up top; I was so taken aback, I found a Founder’s Edition used on HeadFi and purchased it immediately. While I do not regret it, I heard the 5×5 after and almost regretted the purchase. Almost.
I think the Hero is brighter up top, with a bit less smoothing sound, but better clarity. Sometimes song-dependent, the sound can be biting up top as mentioned by many, but the sound is oh so good across the spectrum, that I can live with those minor times. The bass is to die for here, much like the Legend X. Going brand new, I would be hard pressed between the two, and could very well have come away with the 5×5, but when a used Hero cost what the new 5×5 is, I am happy with the Hero. The 5×5 presents a more fun sound, but not at the expense of any one quality over the Hero. I do love the way details come across clean and nearly-crisp in the Hero, and that along with the bass treatment make it my current favorite listen in IEM’s. Garnering the lion’s share of my listening off-review, the Hero is a phenomenal example of the next gen Empire Ears.
Fir Audio 5×5 ($999) v Campfire Audio Atlas ($1200):
Known for its massive bass treatment, the Atlas is now offered at a discounted price due to the newer models. With that discount price, it lies squarely in the 5×5 range and if you desire bass first and foremost, then it should still be considered, even if it is an “older” model. At the time, the Atlas was known as the king, or near-king of bass response in the near-upper price range, rivaling the Legend X. Hits against it were that due to the massive quantities of bass the rest suffered. Not known for its detailed response, or overall clarity, the Atlas suffered from the critics. I for one liked it just the way it was, though. Mids were (and are) pushed a bit forward to accommodate the excessive bass, and the only thing that suffered to me was the upper end. Sounding a bit stuffy, the critics thought it cost too much for what you get. I say balderdash.
Discounted in the same price category, if you want an extremely easy to use unit with huge amounts of bass and female vocals, which are sublime in presentation, but having that slightly muddling top end, the Atlas can be quite fun for lively genre, taming that upper end, which may be strident in other models. I still kick back occasionally and just listen to the Atlas for fun. A cleansing of the palette to me. Listening to Big Head Todd’s live version of Bittersweet from last June, the sound is just sumptuous and one I thoroughly enjoy, even if musically the Atlas falls behind the 5×5.
Fir Audio 5×5 ($999) v Campfire Audio Ara ($1299):
The new “middle ground” of the top three in the CFA 2020 line, the Ara presents a thoroughly sweet sound, and is the favorite of one of the reviewers I respect the very most. I fully understand why he prefers the Ara over the Andro or Solaris 2020 for it provides a sweet amount of details and solid bass if not up to the actual amount of the 5×5. The truth is, that I would be hard pressed to choose any of the 2020 CFA models or the 5×5 over the other for they are all excellent. I will say that if I did, it would be the Solaris 2020, and that I may indeed choose the 5×5 over it. All are good to very good, but the 5×5 may be great due to the price variant factor.
Fir Audio 5×5 ($999) v Moondrop S8 ($699):
A recent addition, I threw this one in due to reviewer mode and I wanted to see how the Moondrop hype fares against a higher model. Truth be told, I have heard the Kanas Pro, Blessing 2 and this S8. All have extremely high consideration on my chart of recommendations, and it is easy to see why Moondrop has such a devoted following. A certain company seems to be gobbling up (or making their own) wares and the Moondrop stays true to its own, even if available in said “other place.” I really appreciate the way Moondrop is making sound that varies but is true to their sound characteristics of quality mids and vocals with sparkle up top and a subtle bass rumble below. If there is a flaw to me, it would be the Moondrop’s are so much harder to drive than the others listed here.
On Bittersweet through the Khardas Tone2 I have to rotate the volume knob a full ¾ of a turn higher to achieve the same rough (seat of my ears…) volume. With more of a mid-push than the 5×5 as well, this can varnish over some flaws. Taken by itself, the S8 is quite good, but it is competing against the big guns here.
Finishing with Bittersweet again, I marvel at the treatment of sound afforded the 5×5. After reading the reviews I was not quite sure what to expect other that it would be really good, and this was more hope after the excellent quartet of the M-series. I was not disappointed. The 5×5 is indeed not only a treat at this price, but something nie-on exceptional. It seems that Bogdan & Co seem bent on upheaving the apple cart of high-end IEM’s with the M2/M3 and now the 5×5. This may not be for everyone, what with its bass response, but I do think everyone should give it a listen. Had I heard the 5×5 before the other flagships of late; I could very well have ended up with one in possession. To me it is that good. FiR Audio do it again, and I am glad I was along for the ride.
I thank @Barra and @Firaudio for sending the wares. All I have encountered have been so good, that they should immediately vault into the conversation for TOTL flagships against all comers.
Cheers, and enjoy your listening.