FiR Audio VxV (Five x Five) In-Ear Monitor Review




FiR Audio is a relatively new company that has deep roots in the personal audio world. FiR was founded by Bogdan Belonozhko in 2018, when he left his family's 64 Audio brand to start his own company. 

The FiR lineup started with accessories and now has several IEMs in their portfolio with the M2, M3, M4 and M5 lines. This newest model, called the VxV or Five x Five is a new universal hybrid IEM featuring a single dynamic driver and four balanced armatures per side.

The VxV is priced at $1000 USD and was provided on loan to me from AudioTier's owner "Barra" and FiR Audio as part of a special loaner tour.



Unboxing


This unit came to me unopened, so I was happy to get to try it as a brand new product. The box is a simple and small white box with a bright orange sticker with the branding and product designation on it. The VxV has a rabbit theme going on with it; much like many of the FiR audio products.

The bunny logo and characters are present on the various packaging, stickers, case, cable, and the IEM faceplates. I find it quite fun and refreshing and is a nice change up from some of the other visuals on other products in this audio world, much of which is drab and boring.

The included case is a round leather case with the logo engraved on the top. It's a nice and simple design that I've seen used in other products recently, and I think its one of the more usable and visually appealing cases available. 

The cable is a very nice and usable silver-colored copper cable with connectors with the FiR VxV branding on it. The connectors are metal and terminate in mmcx jacks to each IEM. The cable terminates in 2.5mm which is probably my least favorite choice, and one that is quickly going out of style. I would have preferred if this unit came with either the standard 3.5mm or the newer pentaconn 4.4mm balanced connector which is growing in popularity and use in portable and desktop audio.

Besides that little quirk, I really like this cable. Its got a great mix of usability, light-weight, style and quality to it that works well. 



The shell design is reminiscent of a 64 Audio product from the rounded triangular shape, the metal housing, the embossed logo, and the medium-length nozzle. While it's not exactly the same, there are a lot of similarities visually and its feel and materials. For me, this is a really good thing because it is comfortable to wear and I didn't have any issues with various tip choices available in my drawer.

The faceplate features a VxV Bunny logo on one side and the FiR bunny ears logo on the other. Around faceplate is a plastic bezel in a white-ish tone that makes the black design really pop out. It's a simple yet very effective look.



Sound Impressions

My first impressions of the VxV when I got them was a mix of: warm and slightly dark, a little hazy in the mid-range, and a bit of extra treble energy around 6-7KHz, with some pronounced and somewhat shrilly acoustic strings. This was after listening to it for about 30 minutes to a variety of test tracks ranging from Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", Alison Krauss' "Gravity", Tingvall Trio's "Movie" and Of Monsters and Men's "Empire." 

My initial impressions for the most part seemed to equate a little bit to how it measured as well. The graph below shows the quick measurements I took on my IEC-60711 style coupler. For the majority of my listening session, I used the Lotoo PAW 6000 digital audio player on its own, or strapped to my PC playing Roon. In addition, I also played with a Meizu USB-C dongle-style DAC/Amp attached to my Samsung Galaxy S21 using Roon software.


Although my first reactions were a little lukewarm at best, I did continue to listen to this IEM for several more days and dozens of hours while working away during the daytime, or laying on the couch or in bed with them on. My initial hesitations with this IEM weren't fully quelled, but I did get a better understanding of what I was listening to and can appreciate some of the things this product brings to the table, although it isn't one that I particular lean towards as a preference in tonality and sound signature.

The general tonal balance is a geared towards a warm, and intimate soundstage, but one that I also feel has a little bit of interesting depth imaging in the mid-range. What I mean here is that I am used to hearing female vocals more forward, but with the VxV, they sound more in the middle of the stage instead of in the front of it. This isn't necessarily the case with most deeper voiced male vocals though, as they still appear in the front.

The haziness I mention is part of this, or at least how I describe it. I'm used to hearing a clean, clear, and intricate sound in this upper mid-range area where vocals, strings, and horns live in but they do come off with a bit of a curtain veil sound to them; meaning I hear them slightly suffocated and losing a bit of their normal clarity. It's not a deal breaking thing, but its different. It does make for a tamer and more relaxed listen, but does come off a little lacking in resolution. 




There are some shades of the Campfire IO tuning in this regard, however, this one does not sound outright bad to me. I think this is in part due to the generally smoother and laid back flow that this IEM as whole brings.

Speaking of which, attacks do sound a little rounded off, though not as blunted as I originally heard on my first go around. As I listened to the VxV more throughout the week, the warm, slower, and smoother sound in the low end became a little more enjoyable, as it was relaxing to end the night with this type of sound.

Upon listening to some more pop tracks, like Phoenix's "1901", I found the kick bass hits pretty well, and this is a actually a pretty punchy IEM. The vocals on this track do sound a little thin at times, and generally distant from the front image.

The upper end does bring some problems for me, as it can be a somewhat bright at times. Once you listen to this enough, it can be predictable, as the most of the high end emphasis starts around 6 KHz and beyond. At first, it was a little jolting because I'll be listening to something that I find rather warm and even dark and hazy, and then a string will resonate with a pitch that strikes my ears with a lot more spice than I was expecting.

Yes, it's a little spicy up top, and this shows itself more so on acoustical tracks than glistened pop songs for me, and surprisingly sibilance wasn't an issue here. This IEM does seem to work much better for pop, rock, and that type of music, more so than the standard audiophile fare of jazz, classical, and acoustical music.



Comparison of Note

For those of you wondering how this compares to other IEMs in its price class, I would say it is different. The most obvious comparisons probably come in the shape of the Campfire Andromeda, the Sony IER-M9, and perhaps the Unique Melody MEST, as these are all priced within reach of each other and feature a slightly warm-tilting signature. 

Of these, I only have the MEST on-hand, so take some of these comparisons with a grain of salt as they do come from auditory memory. 

With the MEST, I do find the resolution and clarity a bit improved over the VxV. The VxV, however, is smoother across the board, and has quite a bit different interpretation of the mid-range. Like the MEST, I do find the VxV and it share a similar bright spot around the lower treble range, however the both do not cause drastic fatiguing or sibilance. The MEST in its custom form, does not exhibit this behavior. In this case, I would take the MEST for female vocals, acoustic music, and electronic, while the VxV probably has the upper hand for pop and rock music.

The original Andromeda is probably closest to the tuning of the VxV with its warm low end, and its recessed upper-midrange and treble sparkle. The VxV is a little more balanced overall, but is a softer listen than the Andromeda, which is a little more exacting and lacks some natural dynamics, which I think the VxV is just a little more organic in nature.

The Sony IER-M9 has a warmish tuning, but I do find its overall sound signature much more appealing and preferred for my tastes than the VxV. The IER-M9 has more upper midrange presence, while its lower mid-range is more filled in. The VxV has a more excitable treble region though, and a little bit more punchier bass section. For general non-fatiguing listening, the M9 is a tough one to beat, and I think the VxV has just a little extra treble energy that may cause some listening fatigue to some.

Wrap-Up


The FiR VxV isn't exactly my preferential target, nor is one I'd probably consider buying personally, but it is something that I did end up getting a little more familiar with and started to see some of its nuances and little things that I can see someone enjoying.

It has a generally safe tuning, however with a midrange that some may really enjoy and some may really dislike. It's not the best for expressing female vocals and strings, but it does present them more softly and with a different presentation. 

The overall package included here is simple yet very nice and I love all the accessories that come with it for their own little reasons. While this isn't the tuning choice for me, I am looking forward to hearing what else FiR has to offer in the future.


Comments

  1. Excellent review, my initial impressions are similar, I find myself cranking the volume trying to “hear through” the midrange haze.

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