FiiO FF1

FiiO is one of the few manufacturers, who still care about wired earbuds. But how do their most affordable model stacks against in-ear competition? Is $20 FF1 worth your time?

Introduction to the FiiO FF1 review

 

When FiiO proposed that I review the FF1 I agreed immediately. People who knew were looking at me weirdly. Super cheap earbud in a world of IEMs? In 2024? They have no shame! – people said. And yet, here we are.

The FF1 has its review at Ear-Fidelity. You might ask why? I’ll admit, we usually go for the middle shelf and up. Also, earbuds are a minuscule part of the headphone market. On the other hand… The list of reasons why would you want something like this is actually pretty reasonable. Let’s start with something which happens more often than you would expect.

Some people don’t tolerate the seal and feeling of IEMs in their ear canals. Often it’s a matter of finding the right tips, but sometimes it just doesn’t work at all. Earbuds are still small in-earphones but they don’t cause this issue. Also, they don’t isolate the outside fully. In workshops and factories, you don’t want to be fully isolated for safety and cooperation reasons. Same with sports like cycling or running. Those are valid reasons and I’m happy to see that some companies still consider it worth their attention.

This is when the FF1 enters the scene. It’s a very affordable pair, at around $20. Perfect price for a “work” pair of buds. It’s available in black and silver. It opens up FiiO’s line of earbuds, with its older brothers FF3 and FF5. They feature better chassis and drivers, but I thought that because of the price, the FF1 was the most interesting one to me. The rest, you’ll find down below, so let’s not waste any time and see how an earbud holds up in 2024. 

Packaging of the tested FiiO FF1

The FF1 come in a nice little box. The colours are pistachio and white, that are separated by an iridescent bar running through the front. It’s something you can easily expect to find in a PC hardware store. I really think that FiiO is going for a PC enthusiast vibe and I’m pretty sure it works well for them. Same with the M15S packaging.

Of course, here it’s much simpler. Inside you’ll find earphones, a simple USB-C dongle and a couple of different tips. We get old-school, full foam tips, foam with an open middle, silicone with an open middle and silicone: open with stabilizers for sport/movement.

While it may not be anything crazy like Andromeda Emerald Sea’s box-turn-into-stand, please consider it’s 20 bucks. For that money, we usually talk just dongles, and simple ones at that. It is highly impressive that they managed to provide all of that for just $20. Most of us will spend that on a couple of cold ones with the boys. Wouldn’t even be enough for a decent dinner for two. Mighty impressive FiiO!

Build Quality, Tech, and Comfort

Everything is made out of plastic obviously, but it’s fine. Didn’t have any problems with its quality. Each earpiece has metal mesh covering the open parts, as it is an open-back earphone. There also is a port on the top, which helps to extend the bass. The heart of each earpiece is a 14,2mm beryllium-plated PU dynamic driver. FiiO states distortion under 0,2% for 150Hz – 20kHz @ 94dB which is respectable for this budget. Sensitivity is at a healthy 104dB/mW @ 1kHz and a reasonable 45Ohm impedance.

The cable is swapable, which is kinda crazy, to be honest. It’s a 2 pin but with a straight finish with no ear hooks like with IEMs. The cable features a remote with volume up/down buttons and a middle button for accepting calls and pausing. For the most part, it is even braided. Earpieces are extremely light at 3,2g and they are very low profile. Even FiiO recommends them for sleeping/lying down. 

The included dongle is a very simple adapter, looking a lot like the Apple dongle and others like that. It is recognised as a USB audio device by smartphones, DAP (FiiO M15S) and my PC. How did they do that at this price? I don’t know. Guess there is a Chinese engineer who sold his soul to the devil. Fear not smartphone batteries! It draws so little current my simple meter wasn’t even able to pick that up. It showed 0 Amps. 

How does the reviewed FiiO FF1 sound?

For starters, I’d like to note that I was pleasantly surprised by the FiiO FF1. I was basing my expectations on my memories of earbuds years before when MP3 players were the hottest thing. On one hand, the world has obviously moved on. On the other, the reviewed earbuds deliver a much cleaner and more detailed sound than I have heard from this type. Not a Nobel prize-worthy discovery, I know, but it was more than anticipated. So, how does the FiiO FF1 sound like? 

 The general feeling reminds me of loudspeakers. No seal between the ear and earbuds and the open construction of those creates a feeling that I don’t immediately recognise as headphones. Only, that it is inside your head. It has a V-shaped tuning, which is a safe bet for consumer-focused products. My experience supports that wholly.

The amount of detail and accuracy falls behind IEMs used in comparisons. Also, the bass roll-off is much sharper and earlier, than in IEMs due to the lack of seal between us and the sound source. In regards to its asking price and technology used, I think the FF1 does a great job. It offers attractive tuning, with punchy mid-bass balanced by raised treble. The weakest link is the midrange, which is a bit dry. There is not much going on in terms of sound staging, besides in some instances – sound reaching slightly outside my ears.

The last thing I want to talk about is the included USB type C dongle. I was surprised it is an actual DAC/AMP. And for the FF1 it is perfectly adequate. Sure, it doesn’t sound as good as my other sources, but its price-to-performance ratio is insane. It might be worth grabbing the FF1 just for it alone. It has a pretty flat, neutral sound to it. A decent resolution, and decent sound staging. I like it! Coming back to the FF1, more about it down below.

Bass

Starting from the bottom, the aforementioned roll-off hits hard. According to FiiO’s graph, it starts going down under 100Hz. There is an ample supply of punchy mid-bass to compensate. It really shows on Post Malone’s – Motley Crew, where it hits you, but then lacks the energy behind the punch. The bass is pretty slow and tends to play on one note, blending sounds together. Macro dynamics are pretty good though. Using full foams tends to make the bloat even more prevalent while not adding much in terms of subbass. So unless you are a total bass head I advise open tips. 

Midrange

Is unimpressive. It is getting bass spilt over it, muffling the detail. It lacks body when the bass bloat ends. It is the thing that actually bothers me the most in FF1. Usually DDs trade resolution for tone, but here I lack both. On Velvet Underground’s chill song Sunday Morning Around the middle of the song, there is a reverb added to the vocals. Sometimes I felt it was hard to pick up when it kicked in. Also, the vocals sounded pretty flat, and dry. The foam tips added some colour to the midrange, but I don’t think it was worth the trade-offs. 

Treble

Well, it is a V shape, but actually, I feel like it is more like an M shape, as the top end is rolled off. The lower and middle treble are here to be a spice that compliments the bass. Like eating something fatty, you want either a spicy or sour taste to cut through the richness. Look at me, a Gordon Ramsay wannabe… For treble I listened to Frank Zappa and his Peaches En Regalia. The cymbals in the beginning were surprisingly nice and crisp but lacked openness and extension. Further into the recording, all the different bells had the tendency to fall into graininess. 

Soundstaging

The best soundstage I was able to get from FF1 is the Sigur Rós Blodberg. In this song, with a good source, the sound started reaching outside of my head. In most cases, the soundstage is limited by ears. Hope you have protruding ears! There is no depth, and the width is limited. In this case, I don’t feel much difference compared to old earbuds from my youth.

Comparisons

Moondrop Quarks DSP

I have chosen the Quarks DSP as it is also a $20 USB type C compatible headphone. The difference is, it’s an IEM using a 6mm driver. The tuning (very Harman-like) is controlled by a simple DSP/DAC in the USB connector. It is kinda crazy if you think about it. The Quarks DSP offers better passive isolation (duh).

In terms of build quality FiiO beats it mercilessly. Moondrop’s product is using a lot of crappy feeling plastic. Also, and it is a personal thing, I despise transparent plastic in IEMs.

As per sound quality, it strikes back at the FF1. The Quarks DSP has a Harman tuning which is a universal one and should suit most people. It is much more even and balanced than FF1’s. In short, the FF1 has better macro dynamics, while Quarks DSP is better at detail and sound staging.

Bass on the Quarks is not as prominent as with review’s subject, but it goes lower and has better technicalities. It’s faster, with more resolution and less quantity and pump. The midrange on Quarks is smoother and more natural. I like it more, there is no denying it’s better. The thing that FF1 does better is macro dynamics. The treble is nicer on the Quarks. Smoother, and more natural.

To end things, the soundstage was wider on Quarks. Still not much in terms of positional accuracy or depth. In short, Quarks DSP has a nicer and more balanced sound, while FF1 is on the wilder, bassier side of life.

Letshuoer DZ4

Awarded our Best Budget IEM of 2023. It uses a single dynamic driver in a semi-open shell. So you can say it has a lot in common with the FF1.

Well, there is no other way to put this, every dollar spent on DZ4 pays off. Everything is better. Bass is similar in amount as in FF1 with open tips but goes lower and has better technicalities. It gives the slam, that Post Malone needs, even though it is not the most bass that has IEM.

The biggest winner is midrange, as Letshuoer’s champion delivers dynamics and, a natural tone. The treble is smoother and more extended as expected. Sound staging… Well, there is sound staging in the DZ4. It is a completely unfair comparison as the difference in price is 4 times, or a bit more even. If you have budget issues it would be wise to wait and get DZ4 if possible.

FiiO FF1 Review – Summary

It was a surprisingly hard review to write. On one hand, I’m impressed with the overall value proposition. For $20 you get earbuds and a USB type C dongle from a reputable manufacturer, not some crappy airport earbuds. Colour me impressed FiiO!

Sound-wise the FF1 has a lot of shortcomings that stem from its extremely affordable price and the fact it is an earbud. For pure music enjoyment, IEMs win and FiiO has a ton of them, not even counting other companies. If you need earbuds for reasons listed earlier, or your own, the FF1 is a bargain. Its sound is a popular and liked V shape pushing bass and treble. With foam tips, it will become very bass-heavy if that’s your thing. Please note the sub-bass roll-off due to a lack of seal.

It is an extremely comfortable, light and low-profile construction that will do great for those who want to use it for a long time, or while laying down. The lack of a seal gives you extra environmental awareness, which might be a selling point for this type of headphones. The FF1 is a nice, affordable earbud. 

Big thanks to FiiO for providing the FF1 for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.