FiR Audio 5×5 (VxV) – Take 2

Source.

I have used the VxV with a number of different sources and I honestly think scale incredibly well, something I noticed with the FiR Audio M4 as well. So while I think these can be driven from a variety of sources, I do feel that they are well worth the extra investment of a good source.

-Dethonray Honey H1-

The Honey H1 is a very powerful, yet clean, portable DAC/amp with single ended and balanced headphone out. I really like it and think it performs very well for its price. The result with the VxV is a neutral/warmish sound with a relatively intimate presentation. The bass is on the looser side when compared to the other sources and the treble is toned down a little. It can give a slight perception of veil when compared to TOTL sources such as the LPGT, but at the same time it is a super enjoyable pairing.

-Lotoo PAW6000-

The PAW6000 is a more neutral source with a slight note articulation and that is instantly recognisable with the VxV. The presentation is again relatively intimate and the VxV get a touch more brightness in the treble that could actually feel a little sharp at times. Nothing fatiguing and for some people even desirable to get a bit more sparkle and perceived detail.

-Shanling M8-

The M8 is a neutral source with a hint of warmth and one of the most analogue sounding bass responses I know of. The pairing with the VxV is heavenly for anyone who likes that analogue type of bass. It gives the VxV both punch and texture while maintaining excellent control over the bass. I really enjoy this pairing and think the M8 compliments the VxV’s musicality perfectly.

-Lotoo PAW Gold Touch-

The LPGT is of course a true TOTL source that comes in three times the price of the VxV, yet I adore this pairing. The LPGT scales the VxV (and M4) incredibly well with a very spacious presentation, tons of air and great mid range tonality. The bass is impactful, yet very tightly controlled and detailed. It does not quite have the analogue quality of the M8, which I love, and yet I prefer to use the LPGT whenever I can for the overall presentation. Treble is incredible and extends well, as well as being superbly smooth.

Sound Presentation.

I think that we have come to a point in this hobby where IEMs under $1k are considered affordable in light of the $3k, $4k and even $6k behemoths that are floating around these days. Yet, only a few years ago this price point would have been the absolute Top Of The Line. So, what to make of the VxV? Affordable EDC or old fashioned TOTL IEMs? How about both? Relatively speaking affordable IEMs with a performance that a few years ago would have been absolute TOTL.

Perhaps I should explain it better because this still does not adequately explain my thoughts on the VxV. In terms of technical performance, they do very well for their price point, but much more importantly (to me personally anyway) is that the VxV sit in a category where I would list ironically few of the most expensive IEMs I have heard. The category of IEMs where, when I listen to them, I forget all about price, forget all about technicalities, forget all about this idiotic hobby that has kept me reviewing like an anal retentive and instead gets me enjoying music to the point where I could happily live with just the one pair of IEMs. Firry must be a pharmaceutical genius too because the VxV work like a the best laxative for uptight audiophiles. Just to illustrate how rare this is, there is only one other IEM-entry in this category for me, the CustomArt FIBAE Black, with the Sennheiser HD650 as the sole headphones (I have not heard many headphones though).

The VxV present music with clarity, excellent imaging and superb coherency. The sound feels perfectly balanced with musicality in mind. Starting with a very well controlled bass that is tight, but with texture and impact to make itself known whenever called for. It reminds me of the quality of the M4’s bass, which I still consider one of the best, if not the best quality bass I have heard. The VxV’s bass leans more towards fun while maintaining similar outstanding control. I still think the M4 has a better quality, but I do kinda prefer the bass of the VxV because I am a bass head at heart. It is not bass head territory, just such great quality and texture that it satisfies my inner bass head nonetheless. Mids are natural, accurate and super clear. Clarity is one of the key strengths of the VxV and it makes for a wonderfully enjoyable balance between impressive clarity while maintaining an easy-going, natural sounding character. A really good job on that! Vocals too are very, very good and as I write this, I am very curious to pit the VxV against the exceptional vocal quality of the Vision Ears VE5, so look out for that later on in this review. Treble is subdued sparkly. Nothing edgy or bright, but not so far rolled off that it makes the VxV sound dark or lacking sparkle. Cymbals sound natural without too much splashiness. I really love this sort of treble and it makes the VxV perfectly suitable for listening all day long without fatigue. Time to go and explore some new music (like I did in my review of the MMR Gáe Bolg).

Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

Straight in with the heavy metal and a real challenge in my opinion for the VxV. I have never been much into Slipknot, but haven’t given them a lot of time either. So sitting down with We Are Not Your Kind was truly exploring new territory for me and darn good territory at that! I actually found this album because a while ago someone asked me to test Unsainted with the FiR Audio M4. Much like Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia, which I discovered while working on my review of the MMR GáeBolg, We Are Not Your Kind has skyrocketed to one of my favourite albums.

Unsainted is a great track that shows off how well balanced and technically capable the VxV are. There is a mix between powerful drums and guitars that bring a ton of energy and the vocals of Corey Taylor that transitions between rough and raw on the one hand and more traditional on the other. Despite all the power in the track, those vocals rise above it with impressive clarity. The layers all separate perfectly and you can pick up an incredible amount of detail in music that could easily turn into a dark mess. The track Nero Forte shows just how much the VxV can punch with amazing drums and this track is a firm favourite of mine when during training my muscles start to fill up with lactic acid and I still want to push on. Drums have incredible impact, detail and texture, yet the VxV maintain incredible agility in it too. I feel it shows how articulate and well controlled the bass is, with just enough lift to give the VxV a musical character without making it dominant.

Gregory Porter – All Rise (Deluxe)

Oh boy, from one extreme to another, Gregory Porter was on my “to try” list for ages and I never got around to it, but what an amazing voice and superb songs. All Rise is an album I can listen to at any time of the day and instantly relax and enjoy. Try a song like Revival and tell me you can sit still for more than 2 seconds. The VxV show off superbly balanced and somewhat forward vocals with great clarity and density, and while I initially tried them with (my usual) female vocals, Gregory Porter’s vocals are just as good and presented with great accuracy and power. A punchy beat thanks to the tight bass adds rhythm that really suits the gospel-like song.

The VxV’s talent for acoustic music comes through well with the more jazz-style Merchants of Paradise. I feel the tonality is accurate, yet presented softly with a sweetness to instruments that makes them indulgently beautiful, giving the feeling of a more intimate, jazz-club setting. Sometimes that comes from a veil over the midrange, but not with the VxV that maintain beautiful clarity. Really enjoyable.

Rise Against – The Sufferer & The Witness

I am not quite sure how I got to Rise Against, but at some point I read somewhere that The Sufferer & The Witness was a well-produced album. True or not (I am not really one who can judge that accurately), I love good punk and this album does not disappoint.

The VxV can keep up with the pace easily and a track like Drones feels fast with great energy. Articulate drums accompanied by a nicely texture bass guitar and great, be it slightly (naturally) distorted vocals of Tim McIlrath, which I think actually suits punk really well. The track Bricks, has tremendous drums and feels like proper punk. Here you can notice that cymbals are natural sounding, but not too splashy. There is sparkle, but it is not pushed forward and that makes the VxV so easy going. You get the fun, but not the fatigue.

Tash Sultana – Terra Firma

A suggestion by Qobuz on the front page (awarded ‘Qobuzism’ in February 2021), Tash Sultana’s Terra Firma surprised me in a really good way. Tash is an amazing musician and their music combines a lot of different styles into something that is perfect to relax to. Greed has a lovely bass line to it, thick, heavy and textured, yet not pushed forward in any way. Much like the M4 the VxV seem to have a talent for positioning the bass perfectly so that the presence is well balanced and positioned. Their vocals too are once again clear and with good presence/density.

The opening guitar in Blame It On Society is great and almost like you are sitting next to Tash in a private session, while the mystical sparkle of Musk shows how the VxV can provide sparkle without getting into anything fatiguing. One of my favourite songs is Crop Circles, which I think shows how well the VxV separate the many details that are going on and yet at the same time work together in perfect coherence. That is a particular strength of the VxV: wonderful coherency that feels almost like listening to a high-end single dynamic driver IEM.

Astropilot – Soul Surfer (Remastered 2019)

A few years ago I came across a picture on Head-fi with someone showing their portable gear playing the album Flight 420 by Astronaut Ape. It started a love of this kind of music that I generally just describe as downtempo EDM, although it can be hard to define. So while exploring Qobuz I was keen to find more of it, which proved not so easy. Of Astronaut Ape I found only a single album and a few tracks and my favourite Carbon Based Lifeforms are all but absent from Qobuz, despite Interloper being a superb album and one of my absolute favourites. I ended up spending half a day finding new albums and ended up with Astropilot’s Soul Surfer, as one I really liked. Closer to Astronaut Ape than Carbon Based Lifeforms.

This music is in my opinion a bit different as it is more of an experience than just good music and so imaging is really important. What I personally like is a spacious and airy presentation with great imaging because the music is supposed to invoke a feeling of traveling through outer space. To feel what I mean and get the most powerful effect you need to lie down, close your eyes and just drift along with the sound. Entering Godmode is great for this. The VxV have the spacious and airy presentation, especially with a higher end source, where the soundscape is filled with a loads of detail, all presented clearly and moving around the space pulling your attention along. Thanks to the Atom module the feeling is open (very little occlusion effect) and it gives a great sense travelling through infinite space.  Superb album too, btw.

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Page 3 – Comparisons and Conclusions.

4 thoughts on “FiR Audio 5×5 (VxV) – Take 2

  1. Sorry for going off topic here, but I’m wondering what ever happened to the iBasso SR2 review you had in the works more than 6 months ago?

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    1. This 5×5 review is by Erik, he doesn’t have SR2. I (twister6) have SR2 but never got to it because I don’t know what to compare it to since I only review IEMs and DAPs. Animagus showed interest in these and he recently reviewed a few headphones already, so I will be shipping SR2 to him for review.

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  2. Hey mate would you be able to say how it compares to sony ier m9, how does timbre and tonality between the two and which one would do you prefer

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