In-ear monitors (IEM) are the perfect travel companion. These tiny little ear-phones are meant to be nestled snugly in your ears while they transport you to a world of audio nirvana. Well, that's the theory anyway. It's not easy to make good IEMs. Many manufacturers end up making devices that sound too tinny, too harsh or too bass heavy. Finding that right balance of performance is hard. With the Fiio Ex1 2nd Gen, Fiio is hoping to hit the right notes.
Build and design 7.5/10
When it comes to build quality, the set is rather well-built. The earpiece shells are made of metal and feel nice. The cable is also covered in some kind of stiff material that feels like plastic, but the stiffness means that it doesn't tangle so easily. It does get tangled, but less often than, say, Apple's EarPods.
The one complaint I have is with the mic unit. While the housing itself is solid and the buttons clicky and responsive, the buttons themselves are a bit loose in the housing and they wobble.
Objectively, the build quality is decent, but I've seen sets from the likes of Sony and Martin Logan that are better built. However, this is not a complaint. The 2nd gen EX1 is quite sturdy and I'm confident that it'll survive for quite some time.
In what is a very thoughtful touch, the EX1 comes with a hard plastic case and the widest assortment of eartips that I've seen bundled with any IEM in the market so far. Before you start listening to music, ensure that you've found the right ear tips. I found that your ears start aching after a while if you're not using the right size ear tips.
Audio performance was a pleasant surprise. There's some strong bass and mids to be found here. Thankfully, none of it is overpowering, though personally, I would have liked just a little bit more thump. Bass and mid-heavy tracks like Rob Zombie's Dragula and the Doom OST sounded great. Fleetwood Mac's The Chain also sounded amazing on the set. The details in tracks are represented very well, even in heavy ones, though I do think the set is a tad lacking when it comes to setting a good soundstage. The soundstage, particularly in movies felt a little cramped. Vocals too were not as spectacular as I'm used to hearing. Now my reference set was the stellar Audio Technica M50x paired with an AudioQuest DragonFly DAC, so the bar is set reasonably high, so don't take these comments as being too harsh.
All isn't perfect and I found that the noise isolation wasn't particularly good. I tried a number of different ear tips, but none of them had any marked effect on isolation. It's possible that the fit for my ears wasn't very good, but I have tried other sets that offered far better noise isolation.
The audio also leaks out, so if you're thinking of using this set in a quiet environment like a library or even an aircraft cabin, be prepared to tone down the volume considerably.
The mic on the device picked up audio really well nobody I spoke to had any complaints about hearing my voice.
The bottom line is just this, at Rs 4,299, this set is a really good option.
Verdict and price in India
The Fiio EX1 2nd Gen is an excellent package at a reasonable price. I can't really think of an alternative in this price range, though I would suggest you give the Sony XBA series or the Klispsch S4 a shot if you're looking for heavier bass.
Unfortunately, I haven't tried the first generation EX1, so I can't comment on the differences between the two models. That said, the EX1 is, on its own, a great pair of IEMs. If you buy it, you certainly won't regret the decision.
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