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Fiio FH3 Review – Coup

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.

Tonality –

Fiio are a company that never cease to surprise, and you never really know where they’ll take each model. It is interesting to me that a rich and full-bodied sound is often associated with the high-end with many lower tier models actually providing a more balanced sound. The FH3 exemplifies this, sounding more linear and balanced to my ears than the pricier FH5, in exchange for sounding generally less grand and richly bodied. Still, a hearty bass response with strong deep-bass presence ensures this will never be mistaken for a lean, anaemic presentation.

A well-considered upper-bass as opposed to the usual lower-midrange dip and nicely tuned midrange provides a dynamic and engaging sound without overly skewing vocal body and timbre. The upper-midrange and treble are more even than the FH5, most competitors in fact, so it sounds open and natural.  With a dark background, the FH3 may not provide the most energetic top-end, but an organised and composed presentation with defined layers. As always, I didn’t find the tuning tips to offer huge tuning potential and did prefer the stock tips by a large margin. My comments below will be with the reference tips installed.

Bass –

The low-end is moderately enhanced and is the most present frequency range in the FH3’s sound, however, not by an excessive degree to my ears. Sub-bass holds precedence before sloping gradually downwards into a recessed upper-bass. This is a fairly standard bass tuning design to offer depth and fullness without too much tonal colouration. And indeed, this is the case. Bass extends very deeply, with palpable pressure alongside quite a heavy slam and thick rumble at the very bottom; enabled by virtue of its hybrid design with low-pass filter. Mid-bass isn’t too warm and, similarly, bass notes aren’t especially tubby or rounded. Rather, the note presentation is bold, concise and well-weighted.

Personally, I feel a more balance sub-bass would have benefit a natural timbre, however, the FH3 remains a dynamic and engaging experience. This is aided by good driver quality, especially considering the price. Attack is quite concise and decay slightly on the quicker side too. Sub-bass never comes across as muddy despite its emphasis as driver control is well above average producing well-defined notes with good separation. This isn’t the most neutral or detailed bass of course, and many BA models do provide a more discerning mid-bass especially. However, it is a clean sound; emphasis is well-considered and unobtrusive to detail retrieval and midrange timbre, making the FH3 a strong performer so long as you prefer this kind of weightier tuning.

Mids –

The midrange has been a contentious point for a lot of earphones, especially those with bass emphasis. It is such a delicate balance between upholding a clean tone, ample vocal body and maintaining clarity and openness. Though not linear, the FH3 delivers an outstanding experience here and, to my ears, a very desirable collection of qualities. The tone is highly clean and definition is strong as a result. There’s no chestiness or veil at play due to the clean upper-bass that aids separation and prevents bass spill. As emphasis quickly picks back up into the lower-midrange, continuing to 2.5kHz, vocals have a natural voicing, accurate positioning and never lack body, despite the absence of bolstered bass warmth. The FH3’s vocals sounds a touch smoother and more powerful than neutral, with increased vocal size and density, albeit they appear balanced in context of its similarly enlarged bass.

As I suspected when looking at the FR, that the FH3’s vocal body isn’t simply provided by the lower-midrange but also by the small dip around 3-4kHz. The lower-treble is also a touch laid-back, but is impressively even in its tuning. This tuning ensures that vocals aren’t too forward nor strained, sharp or thin. And yet, a good level of openness and vocal extension remains as there are no sharp dips or drops in addition to an accurate articulation. In turn, sibilance is minimised and vocals delivery is both clean and coherent. The FH3 has a highly pleasing vocal timbre and a well-balanced midrange presentation. It isn’t as warm and rich as the FH5 but strikes stronger balance and openness in return.

Highs –

Comparing the FH3 to the FH5, I was very surprised to find that the FH3 is actually a little more detailed than its pricier sibling and I can see many springing for the cheaper option. Was Fiio intending to cannibalise their sales with this? I think not, the FH3 isn’t only cheaper, it is also much newer and there is merit to the FH5’s grander sound that I will touch on in the dedicated comparisons. But coming back to the FH3, I find the performance defined by its impressively linear lower-treble and subsequent middle-treble dip. Accordingly, the FH3 provides a layered and well-contrasted presentation with a focused foreground and defined background behind. The foreground is very well-detailed too. It’s a touch smooth, the 5kHz region is very slightly forward while the 6k region has been slightly smoothed off to compensate.

Instrument delivery is on the organic side in turn, remaining crisp but with more emphasis on body and texture over percussion and sharp attack. Better fine detail retrieval can be had, albeit at the cost of a sharper and less natural presentation, as always, it’s a trade-off. Cymbals especially reward with their shimmer and accurate decay while high-hats at the very top don’t pierce with their attack, but resonate naturally with an inviting glimmer, something you don’t see frequently at this price range. This isn’t the sparkliest or most extended presentation so don’t expect huge micro-detail retrieval. However, to my ears, the FH3’s top-end sounds well-balanced and upholds an impressively accurate instrument timbre that is equally impressive.

Soundstage –

Similar to the FH5, the FH3 doesn’t provide the largest soundstage and it doesn’t provide the depth that model was capable of either. Still, there’s ample room and no congestion, aided by the clean tone and mostly accurate note size throughout. Both width and depth stretch to the periphery of the head, forming a well-rounded presentation. Imaging is quite sharp too, with a very strong centre image and accurate localisation due to linear and well-detailed lower-treble. This means no small details are left out or overshadowed by neighbouring frequencies, especially noticeable in songs like Yosi Horikawa’s “Bubbles”. It isn’t holographic in the slightest as there’s minimal sparkle and reduced air, but generally strong separation, even in the bass, and defined layers.

Driveability –

The FH3 provides a 24ohm impedance and 114dB sensitivity making it an efficient earphone. It was even as efficient as some all-BA models I have on hand. In turn, it is not too difficult to drive to high volumes and, at the same time, not overly sensitive to source noise and output impedance, more on this below.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Comparing between the 10-ohm Hiby R6 and the 1-ohm Shanling M2x with an in-line switcher revealed impressive resistance to higher output impedance sources. There were clear differences, bass was less present on the Hiby, in turn, vocals weren’t quite as full-bodied and powerful. The top-end was also brighter. However, the experience was still very listenable and upheld good balance regardless. The FH3 will perform well with output impedances in the single digits.

Driving Power

Switching between the THX 789 and Shanling M2X, both with 1-ohm output impedance provided changes almost as substantial as those between the Hiby and Shanling. From the more powerful desktop source, bass was appreciably more extended and sub-bass notably more present. The rest of the sound was not too different. Subjectively, a portable source may even provide a slightly more balanced sound in this regard, I found the reduced sub-bass on the Shanling giving the mid-bass a bit more room to breathe, enabling higher bass definition and separation. A more powerful source will provide a deeper, more dynamic sound while lesser powerful sources will provide a cleaner albeit thinner sound with driver control being strong regardless.

Suggested Pair-ups

The most interesting pairings were definitely the lower output power ones. Those valuing a big, deep and dynamic bass will certainly want to listen from a more powerful DAP or employ an external amplifier. For those wanting the most balanced sound, a slightly less powerful DAP will suffice. Smartphone listeners or those using entry-level BT receivers will have no issue with the FH3 as it plays well even from slightly higher output impedances and the slightly higher impedance makes it a little more hiss resistant than most too. I also found that, due to its tuning, the FH3 plays well with a wide range of source tonalities, never sounding too warm or too aggressive, it is a versatile pairing and a good all-rounder.

Comparisons –

Moondrop Starfield ($109): The infamous Starfield is a more linear and balanced earphone yet while the FH3 is a bit more W-shaped but similarly natural in its voicing. The FH3 has a deeper reaching and generally higher quality bass. The Starfield is more balanced and even, but the FH3 has a similarly clean tone and much higher definition, being more detailed despite being more emphasised. The midrange voicing is actually quite similar too. The FH3 has a slightly cleaner tone and higher definition and clarity. The Starfield is a bit more linear once again, it isn’t as vivid or resolving but objectively is a bit more balanced and accurate. The treble presentation is also reasonably similar, the FH3 being a touch more laid-back. That said, it has a cleaner transient response and is simply more detailed. The Starfield is just a touch more even, but the FH3 does a great job here too. The FH3 has better extension but similar soundstage dimensions, though higher separation can make it appear more spacious.

Final E4000 ($140): The E4000 is a fuller and warmer earphone maximising coherence at the cost of cleanliness. Its bass has similarly strong extension and has a more natural expression with a slight mid-bass bias. That said, bass is more prominent on the Final, making it a fuller and warmer sounding earphone. The FH3 is cleaner and more defined with greater sub-bass kick. The midrange is naturally voiced on both. The E4000 is quite a bit warmer while the FH3 is cleaner and clearer. The E4000 is more laid-back here, its treble is also smoother but with a touch more fine detail retrieval, boasting similarly sharp note attack. The FH3 has more treble presence alongside a generally crisper expression. That said, the E4000 provides a larger soundstage in all axis and is more layered. The FH3 has a huge leg up on separation, it simply sounds a lot cleaner.

Shozy CP ($165): The CP is a slightly more balanced and linear earphone. Its bass doesn’t extend nearly as well, but offers a more linear expression. It is cleaner and quicker with more mid-bass definition and separation. The FH3 has a lot more sub-bass and a more dynamic bass with thicker notes in general. The CP has a similarly natural voicing, being just a little fuller and warmer. It is more vocal forward in context of its reduced bass emphasis. The CP has a little more upper-midrange extension and similarly accurate articulation. The treble is slightly crisper on the CP but also not quite as linear. In turn, the FH3 provides more instrument body, detail retrieval and texture here. Neither extend especially well, the FH3 appears to have greater headroom. The CP has a slightly wider soundstage and slightly sharper imaging, while the FH3 sports better separation.   

BQEYZ Spring 2 ($169): The Spring 2 also provides a W-shaped sound with a slightly more powerful voicing. Its bass is also moderately elevated, fuller through the mid-bass but also more linear in the sub-bass granting it a more natural timbre. The FH3 has a harder hitting sub-bass, higher definition and slightly higher driver control while the Spring 2 sounds a little more accurate and consistent between tracks, it is no slouch here either. The midrange voicing is more natural on the FH3 and its midrange is cleaner and more defined. The Spring 2 has a fuller and warmer midrange, though it also has better upper-midrange extension to balance. The Spring 2 has a slightly more forward vocal range too alongside a sharper treble. The treble has similar quantity but better fine detail retrieval and extension, even some sparkle. Meanwhile, the FH3 has a more linear tuning, delivering more texture and instrument body. The Spring 2 has a larger soundstage and more holographic imaging while the FH3 has slightly better separation.

Fiio FH5 ($279): The FH5 provides a warmer, smoother and fuller sound. Its bass is just as deep reaching but even fuller and noticeably warmer, mostly in the mid and upper-bass. The FH3 is cleaner and has a sharper note delivery, it is more defined where the FH5 is a little woollier. The FH5 has a fuller and smoother midrange. It is notably warmer but also more powerful in its voicing. Both have a good vocal timbre, the FH5 sounds more truncated and sculpted while the FH3 strikes a better balance and a much cleaner tone with higher definition. The treble is more balanced on the FH3 and more linear too, granting it better detail retrieval. The FH3 has a smoother and more laid-back top-end. It has less foreground detail presence but a touch more background detail retrieval. The FH5 has a larger soundstage, especially being deeper. The FH3 has sharper imaging and better separation.

Verdict –

It’s so easy to discount flaws and sit in awe at any above average characteristics when an earphone is positioned at such an accessible price point. Still, money is money, what may appear little for the veteran audiophile may be a large expenditure for the aspiring newbie. It goes without saying that, despite going in with this mindset, the FH3 exceeded my expectations. It performs very admirably, so much so that I would personally recommend it over the higher priced FH5. It is surely one of the best all-rounders in its price class, offering great genre versatility with its w-shaped sound that, nonetheless, upholds a very natural midrange timbre. The quality of the sound is good throughout too, and this is aided by the mature and smoothly transitioning tuning. Similarly, the build quality, ergonomics and isolation perform at high levels that wouldn’t leave many buyers wanting. So long as you temper your expectations of its technical ability and take into account the narrower soundstage and notable sub-bass bias, the FH3 is an excellent in-ear that represents very strong value.

The FH3 is available from HiFiGO (International) for $149 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Fiio or HiFiGO and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

Track List – 

Bob Segar – Night Moves

brb. – relationshit

Crush – Digital Lover

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Kansas – Audio-Visions

Mac DeMarco – 2

MAMAMOO – reality in BLACK

MGMT – Congratulations

Radiohead – Pablo Honey

Rich Brian – 1999

Seal – Seal

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Stephen Speaks – No More Doubt

TAEYON – Purpose

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan Soo

Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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