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Xiaomi Piston 3

Xiaomi Piston 3 In-Ear Earphones Review

Xiaomi Piston 3

Brief: Third generation of Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi’s hit in-ear

MSRP: 99 RMB (approx. $16) (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $16 from; $15 from
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 98 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.1′ I-plug w/mic & 3-button Android remote
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes); plastic box doubles as storage case with integrated cable wrap
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The Piston 3 uses more plastic in its construction than the Piston 2 but still feels very solid and boasts various small usability improvements such as easier-to-see L/R markings and lower driver flex. The cable is similar to that of the older model – rubbery above the y-split and sheathed in nylon below to provide some resistance to tangling. The new remote is nice-looking but the narrow buttons are actually bit harder to use without looking compared to the previous version’s
Isolation (2.5/5) – Isolation is average thanks to the shallow fit of the earphones
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Audible, but not bothersome when music is playing
Comfort (4.5/5) – The Piston 3 is a large step forward in ergonomics over the older model, moving to a compact angled-nozzle design with strain reliefs that fully clear the outer ear, leading to a very comfortable fit

Sound (8.2/10) – The Xiaomi Piston 2 quickly became one of my favorite budget in-ears thanks to its ability to deliver good clarity, soundstaging, and overall refinement despite its plentiful bass. Combined with an extensive feature set (especially for Android users) and a very low price, this made the previous-gen Piston an unbeatable value.

The jump in sound quality from the original Piston to the Piston 2 was sizable – the first-gen model was bassier and had significantly poorer fidelity. Though the gap in overall sound quality between the 2nd and 3rd-gen Pistons is not as great, the new model maintains the trend toward a more balanced, less consumer-oriented sound. You will notice that aside from the Piston 2, the sets I compare the Piston 3 with are mostly in the $50-100 range – a fact that is itself a testament to the performance of the Xiaomi in-ears.

The bass of the Piston 3, while less enhanced than that of the Piston 2, remains quite punchy. Mid-bass impact is slightly lower than with some of the other not-quite-reference-flat earphones such as the VSonic VSD3S and Ostry KC06, but enhanced compared to flatter-sounding sets like the HiFiMan RE-400 and Etymotic MC5. Bass depth is pretty good as well, though sub-bass reach and presence lag a bit behind the VSD3S and VSonic’s higher-end GR07.

Like the previous model, the 3rd-gen Piston is tuned for a v-shaped sound. However, thanks to the tighter, less bloated bass, its mids are clearer despite not being very forward. With that said, they are still somewhat recessed and a touch muffled compared to higher-end, less v-shaped sets such as the KC06, RE-400, and GR07.

The Piston 3 picks up presence in the upper midrange and lower treble, giving it a cooler tone. It is a little less bright than the KC06, but more so than the RE-400, which tends to be very smooth and laid-back. Harshness and sibilance are generally not a problem – the Piston 3 is not as forgiving as the warmer-sounding models that preceded it, but it’s not as sibilant as any of the popular VSonic earphones, either.

The spaciousness of the Piston 2 is also preserved, though the lower bass quantity and cleaner, brighter sound of the Piston 3 makes its capable and precise presentation less surprising.

Mini Comparisons

Xiaomi Piston 2 ($20)

The Piston 3 offers a more balanced, less consumer-oriented sound than the model it supersedes. Its bass is significantly less enhanced and much tighter. In comparison, the bass of the Piston 2 is deeper and has more rumble and slam, but also sounds boomier. Cleaner bass with almost no bloat is actually the Piston 3’s biggest asset, though with the loss of bass quantity it also sacrifices some of the Piston 2’s appeal to the average listener.

On the whole, the sound of the Piston 3 is less colored than that of the older model. The upper midrange and treble are smoother. Clarity is better due to the tighter, less bloated bass, though it is still limited by the not-too-forward midrange positioning. The Piston 3 is also less sensitive than the older model, which fits with its less consumer-oriented sound because a non-audiophile listener is more prone to put value in both emphasized bass and the ability reach higher volumes more easily.

Technically, the Piston 3 is the better earphone – it is clearer, tighter, and more neutral. The Piston 2 is warmer and boasts bass that is deeper and more powerful which, admittedly, also helps it sound very dynamic and delivers a “wow” factor. As a result, it’s hard to call the Piston 3 a straight upgrade from the Piston 2 – it’s a more Hi-Fi earphone for sure, but I will still be recommending the Piston 2 in many situations and for certain genres. There are parallels here to the DUNU DN-1000 / DN-2000 situation, albeit with a greater magnitude of difference. There, the older DN-1000 model also provides a bassier sound and in many cases remains recommendable over the more expensive DN-2000.

Zipbuds PRO ($35)

The Zipbuds PRO are a surprisingly capable consumer-class earphone with a v-shaped sound profile. The main thing they do well is balance high bass quantity and good overall clarity. Indeed, the Piston 3 has significantly less bass but doesn’t gain any clarity over the Zipbuds. Its bass is tighter, however, and its highs are less bright and more smooth, making the Zipbuds appear overly harsh in comparison. On the whole, the Piston 3 is the more balanced and accurate-sounding earphone.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear ($50)

The Flux In-Ear is the closest match I could find for the Piston 3 when balancing sound quality and sound signature. The SteelSeries unit is warmer and has smoother treble and a slightly wider presentation. It’s more sensitive, too. The Piston 3 is a bit more v-shaped and has a cooler, brighter tonal character. It sounds thinner, but also a little clearer. It’s hard to say one outperforms the other, but that in itself is a big win for the Xiaomi – only two years ago the Flux was one of the absolute best in-ears one could get for $50. Now, the Piston 3 offers the same level of performance – albeit with a slightly brighter tonal tilt – for 1/3 of that, with better build quality and a 3-button remote to boot.

Havi B3 Pro I ($60)

The dual-driver B3 Pro I is notable for having an even less consumer-friendly sound signature than the Piston 3, with lower bass impact and much lower sensitivity. The overall sound of the B3 is more balanced compared to the v-shaped Piston 3. The Piston is bassier, but the low end of the B3 is tighter and cleaner. The midrange of the Havi is clearer and more prominent while its upper midrange and treble are a bit more forgiving. The presentation is a bit more well-rounded on the B3 as well. Especially for those in search of balanced sound, the Havi is better than the Piston 3, but its low sensitivity and lack of bass enhancement limit its appeal in the mainstream.

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear ($100)

The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear is one the few earphones with 3-button Android remotes on the market besides the Piston line. It is also fairly similar to the Piston in how it fits in the ear, albeit with a slimmer profile and longer nozzles providing slightly better noise isolation. In terms of sound, the Momentum has a more colored, arguably more “fun” tuning than the Piston 3 but isn’t too far ahead in technical ability.

Both earphones have sound signatures on the v-shaped side of “flat” but the Momentum In-Ear unit offers up a warmer tone with better bass. Its bass delivers more depth and resolution while also making the Piston 3 seem a touch boomier in comparison. The mids of the Sennheiser unit are slightly clearer but it is a little more prone to sibilance and less forgiving on the whole. The Momentum’s presentation is slightly wider and more spacious.

The Headphone List Recommended EarphoneValue (10/10) – The latest evolution of Xiaomi’s venerable Piston line once again succeeds in delivering outstanding sound quality with a solid construction and 3-button Android remote, all at a very low price. The biggest improvement this time around is in ergonomics – the new model is significantly more comfortable and unobtrusive than the previous Pistons.

Xiaomi has come a very long way since the original piston in terms of fidelity, too – while not a direct upgrade from the Piston 2 due to how different the tuning of the two earphones is, the Piston 3 provides a clearer, tighter, more balanced audio experience for those willing to trade away some of the previous model’s warmth and bass power. Going forward I can see myself recommending either of the two Piston variants, depending on the situation.

Pros: Very comfortable fit; fantastic sound quality for the price; 3-button Android remote
Cons: Remote is a bit less user-friendly than previous generation; mediocre noise isolation



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Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.


186 Responses

  1. Hi ljokerl, have you tried the new Samsung – AKG earphones that ship with the Galaxy S8? I felt that it’s quality is on par with the Piston 3, Piston 5, Re-400 though having it’s own signature.
    Can you please review it?

  2. Thanks for the input!
    Tried ZS5 and found it okay-ish for the hype and price. Ended up found used vsd3s and piston 3 at good price, scooped it in no time.
    Thanks btw.

  3. I see that this comment is old, but for anyone wondering, the KZ ZS3 seems to be a very good contestant. I sadly never got to try the Piston 3 or 2 any other Xiaomi IEM, but I’ve tried the Rock Zircons and the KZ ZS3 which both are supposed to be close in sq, and the ZS3 are the best.

    ZS3 has a V shaped but slightly warm sound, has boomy sound that never (imo) gets too much, and as far as I can tell, quite detailed mids and good soundstage. Seperation isn’t bad either. They’re amazing for movies and gaming. Highs can at times be a bit sibilant, but it’s not as bad as other IEMs this price.

    Big bonuspoints are replaceable cables, cheap attachable bluetoothdongle (that sounds ok, especially considering the price, better than my school laptop and lasts 4 hours ish) and over-ear cabledesign that is perfect for work-out sessions.

  4. I have this pair and love it. But sadly it shows mild problem and already discontinued. Do you have any recommendation for budget iems that have similar sound with xiaomi piston 3? I try not to spend more than $100 on new pair. Thanks in advance.

  5. I don’t know you have rated piston 3 so high.Sound is very tinny and unnatural.Sounstage is very narrow my VE monk sounds much better even though they are cheaper.

  6. One thing that I believe MH1C has over the Piston is treble extension. Piston has the V shape, but it seems like it quickly drops off…

  7. Hello Joker !
    Thanks for your awesome works such a great guide you made here
    Do you plan to review the new Mi Capsule Air in a near future ?

  8. Hey, ljokerl!

    Thanks for the reply earlier. I’m about an hour into the Xiaomi Hybrids. I can already tell the bass is its defining aspect. I’m hoping burn-in will improve the performance even more. Will try to get the Piston 2 and 3 so I can tell apart their sound signatures. I’m not really an audiophile, but what are the common sound signatures (V, flat, etc.) and what types of music will they work best with?

  9. Yes, I have concluded that I still like the Piston 3 better than the Hybrids but ultimately they fill different needs. The Piston 3 has better overall fidelity with its tighter, less emphasized bass and more neutral tone. It is a little more refined and nuanced, whereas the Hybrid is much less subtle.

    The Piston 3 is a better earphone for someone who wants to maximize sound quality per dollar and get the closest to a high-end set. The Hybrid is best for someone who wants an inexpensive enhanced-bass earphone without giving up too much in the way of clarity, detail, etc.

  10. Thanks for the reply! Is there a better choice under $50 based on my requirements (Sub bass, details and sound stage)?

  11. I’d probably go for the Hybrid – it’s hard to recommend the Piston 3 when bass is a priority (any type of bass) – that’s just not its forte. While I don’t really think the Hybrid sounds better overall, it does have a more robust low end including deep bass.

  12. ‘@ljokerl, I posted this in your thread at Headfi, I am doing it here again hoping you will see it. I am looking for a cheap pair of earphones for casual use, my priorities are good sub bass (can do with minimal mid bass), decent detail retrieval and soundstage. I know it is nearly impossible to get them all in a pair of cheap earphones, but between the Piston 3s and Xiaomi Hybrids which one do you think is a better choice?

  13. As far as I know 1MORE was responsible for the design of previous Piston earphones as well, and they do have their own models. Their triple-driver hybrid is actually quite good. And their Crystal model is closely related to the Piston 2.

  14. I couldn’t resist picking up a set of Hybrids as my beater earphones (from the LA warehouse of gearbest) , and on the Mi box they also have a logo for 1More Design with the url listed in the non-English instruction booklet. They appear to be in San Diego and are affiliated with Xiaomi according to the WSJ. They have a reissue of the Piston classic in some new colors, though I have not ordered from them. I was looking into the Piston 2 before I picked up the Hybrids but noticed they were sold out everywhere as well, so it caught my attention. Interestingly, they also have some other earphones based on the mainstream Xiaomi designs.

  15. Don’t think I’ve tried that particular Superlux so I couldn’t tell you if the Piston 2 or any of the others will sound smoother. Piston 2 is indeed pretty high-energy and not harsh, but I don’t know where to get a genuine one these days – the sellers I used to recommend are out of stock. Figured you might have had a source for it already if you were asking about it.

    In this case the Soundmagic E10 may be the safer choice – much better than potentially getting a counterfeit Piston 2. It’s a little more accurate, but not to the extent of potentially being boring.

  16. Thank you for your advice. I own Superlux HD-681B, which to me sometimes have lack of energy in synthesizers and lower tones and in few songs harsh trebles. Although 681B have quite impressive separation and sound stage so instrumental music sounds great.

    That being said I’d indeed prefer more energetic and a bit bassier option this time with relatively clean trebles. So I guess Piston 2 would be good option or do you know another alternative worth considering ?

    PS: Can you recommend any reliable seller of original Piston 2 ?

    All best
    and thank you

  17. Sorry, I don’t have those two IEMs. I would probably stay away from VSonic products and the RHA S500 (the only sub-$50 RHA) if you’re worried about piercing treble. The Soundmagic E30 can be a little dull for music like this and the Piston 3 – a little analytical. I recommend the Piston 2 if you’d rather have a little more bass of the Soundmagic E10 if you’d rather have a little more balance and smoothness, but either would be a solid buy.

  18. First of all I really like this site, many thanks you for your effort. I am not sure which sound signature I should choose to fit my music since it´s very various, there’s a lot of synths, hard beats, guitars but also softer instrumentals and vocals – few examples:
    My budget is $50 and I really don’t know which one will be the most fun in my case, all I know is I don’t like piercing sibilance and muddy bass. I’ve come across Sony MDR-EX450 and Marshall Mode. How do they compare to Pistons 2/3/Hybrid, Soundmagic E10/30, Vsonic or RHA? What would you suggest me?

  19. Its pretty tough to compare cans to IEMs in sound signature – there’s some innate differences in sound that are hard to account for. If I had to pick something I’d probably go with a balanced/mildly v-shaped set with good clarity – for example the Beyer DT770/250 (or DT880/600 if you prefer a bit more balanced).

  20. Hi Joker!
    Some over-ear (open or closed, anyway) headphones with a similar sound of Philips SHE3580 / Xiaomi Piston 3?
    Thanks a lot!

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