This comparison was done between universal demo of m5 CIEM and the selection of various other hybrids, volume matched in every comparison using LPGT as my source.
FIR Audio m5 vs 64 Audio Trio – Very similar soundstage expansion in width, with Trio having a little more depth where I hear vocals being positioned further away while m5 has vocals closer, creating a more intimate feeling. Bass sounds very similar, nearly spot on. Mids is where I hear the biggest difference where Trio has a more neutral lower mids with a little more transparent upper mids while m5 has more body in lower mids and smoother more organic upper mids. Treble is similar as well, in both cases with a good definition and control, perhaps with a little more crunch in Trio.
FIR Audio m5 vs 64 Audio N8 – Very similar soundstage width here as well, while N8 staging extends a little further out, making it more holographic. When it comes to bass, N8 sub-/mid-bass is a little more elevated in quantity, but very similar quality with m5; N8 bass is just lifted more. Lower mids in both are similar as well, with a fuller body, and upper mids are a little smoother and more pulled back in m5, while a little forward and a bit more transparent in N8. Treble is nearly identical in both.
FIR Audio m5 vs Campfire Audio Solaris – Similar wide soundstage expansion, and closer staging depth, with Solaris extending just a little bit further out of your head. With bass, Solaris is faster and tighter, while m5 is smoother and more relaxed, with its bass being less aggressive and more analog. Also, m5 has deeper sub-bass while Solaris mid-bass has more punch. Lower mids are more neutral in Solaris, maybe even a little south of neutral in comparison, while m5 has fuller body, being north of neutral. Upper mids are brighter, more forward, and more revealing in Solaris, while smoother and more natural in m5. Treble varies as well, with m5 being more natural and controlled, while Solaris sounds brighter, crisper, and with more airiness, which results in m5 being less fatigue during extended listening.
FIR Audio m5 vs Empire Ears Legend X – Very similar soundstage width, though LX spreads a touch wider, and also LX has more out of your head depth in sound. With LX being a certified basshead IEM, bass impact here is a bit overwhelming for my personal taste, so low end is definitely more elevated in comparison to m5. Lower mids are very similar, having full body. Upper mids have a lot of similarities as well, just with m5 being a little smoother, pulled a little back, and having more body. Both have a well defined treble, but m5 is smoother while LX has more crunch and a bigger 12k peak.
FIR Audio m5 vs Ultimate Ears UE Live – soundstage is as wide and with a similar depth, though m5 brings you a little closer to the stage. Bass has a lot of similarities, more of an analog dynamic driver quality, but Live has it a little more elevated. Lower mids are a touch more neutral in Live, while have a fuller body in m5. Both have a smooth lush upper mids, with Live being a little thicker in comparison to m5. Treble is where I hear the biggest difference, with m5 being more natural while Live having a peak around 8k which is a bit overwhelming, giving its (Live) sound more sibilance. m5 has a more natural treble definition in comparison to Live.
I don’t know yet the spec of m5, with regard to impedance and sensitivity, but they were very efficient and easy to drive from any portable source I tried it with.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch – wide soundstage expansion; a little v-shaped signature with a smooth tonality; nice punchy bass with a deep sub-bass rumble; fuller body lower mids, soulful fuller body smooth upper mids with a more intimate presentation; well defined non-fatigue treble with less crunch and moderate airiness.
A&K SP1000 SS – wide soundstage expansion; a little v-shaped signature with a smooth tonality; bass has a little more punch and a little more sub-bass rumble here (in comparison to LPGT); mids also a little more laid back and smoother, pulled back a little more; well defined non-fatigue treble, similar to LPGT.
Sony WM1Z – wide soundstage expansion with a little more out of your head spacing (noticeable in vocals being pushed a little further out); signature is more on a borderline of slightly v-shaped and balanced; bass has a strong punch here and also sounds tighter and faster; mids have fuller natural body, still smooth and natural; treble has a good definition and sounds detailed and non-fatigue.
Hiby R6 – wide soundstage expansion; the signature here is closer to being balanced with a little more revealing tonality; bass is faster and tighter, I can clearly hear a faster attack and shorter decay; lower mids still have a full body but upper mids are a little brighter and more revealing now, still smooth and natural, just not as laid back, with a little more forward presentation; treble is well defined and non-fatigue and has more crunch and a little more airiness. Keep in mind, R6 has 10 ohm output impedance.
Shanling M0 – wide soundstage expansion, but a touch less in width when compared to other daps, though has a little more soundstage depth; signature is very close to being balanced, and the sound has more transparency; bass has a nice punch and a very good sub-bass rumble; mids are surprisingly not as laid back, still natural in tonality, but have more transparency and better retrieval of details and more forward presentation; treble is well defined, non-fatigue, and has just a little more crunch. I like this pair up!
Samsung Galaxy S9 – soundstage is still expanded, but a little less in width, with the same more intimate closer to the stage depth; sound signature is a little v-shaped, with a smooth natural tonality; bass has a nice sub-bass extension and mid-bass punch; lower mids have a fuller body and upper mids are smooth, natural, slightly laid back; treble is well defined and non-fatigue.
Overall, the tuning and the sound signature of m5 doesn’t really require a super high-end micro-detailed DAP because they are tuned for a smoother fuller body more natural tonality. And thanks to its built-in ESTAT transformer, you don’t need extra power or high voltage to drive ES tweeter. But if you want to push the sound closer to audiophile performance, 3kHz bump (about 3dB) does help, and m5 responds very well to EQ adjustment.
After testing universal demo of m5, I want to say it’s a very impressive debut for a newcomer. But in reality, Bogdan and his crew been around the block and have over 10 years of experience in this field. Among 4 new FIR Audio models with different driver configurations, my focus was on m5 flagship, and it packs a lot of goodies. Perhaps a hybrid design with DD low, BA mids/highs, and ES treble is no longer a groundbreaking combination since a number of other manufacturers using the same Sonion dual ESTAT treble driver with a built-in transformer. But here we have a single ES tweeter, fully tubeless CIEM design, and a controlled leak valve. Also, FIRCON connector is a unique addition, though I have a feeling it will be appreciated more by performing musicians rather than cable-rolling audiophiles.
To be honest, this was supposed to be just a short “first listen” impression, but I really got into these IEMs once I started listening, expanding into a full review. It caught my attention not only because of what’s under the hood, but also because I enjoyed its coherent tuning and natural fatigue free tonality. I mentioned many times already, this is universal demo of CIEM and I’m describing the sound of what I have received for review, the same tuning that was featured at the recent CanJam SGP. There could be a minor variation in CIEM production version or Universal one with a metal shell (in a near future). But I think it’s safe to assume that FIR Audio house sound tuning of m5 will probably remain similar. And if there are any changes, I will come back and update my review to reflect that.