This is an in-depth review with comparisons of the new FiiO FF3 which is a pair of 14.2mm dynamic driver earbuds with interchangeable jacks. It is priced at $99.99.
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Hanging style earbuds are so hit and miss, aren’t they? And I am not just saying that for kicks and giggles. Hanging style buds are a dime a dozen and either really niche and specifically expensive, or absolute trash gas station quality that you still end up paying $12.99+ tax for. Nobody wants to overpay, right? I certainly don’t.
FiiO has released a few hanging-style buds in recent times, which includes the FiiO EM5, which I reviewed back in 2020. The market is changing and evolving, like a nice shiny perfect IV Pokémon that you didn’t expect would ever show up.
And as an earbud man myself, a guy who feels totally alone in the modern era who prefers earbuds of this style to all other headphones, I can appreciate the attempt by FiiO to go back to the golden era of hanging style buds and at least attempt to push better tech into the industry.
The FF3 is a 14.2mm “drum” style design that operates on the basis of excellent low-end pressure and depth. I can attest to that, but more on that point later.
For now, they call it a Bass Flute design. Legitimately, I don’t care what they call it, it works and sounds good. And again…me saying this…the earbud snob of the audiophile-verse!
FiiO has utilized a plate dome made of Beryllium and a PU gasket diaphragm. I’ve never owned any buds of this style with that implementation type.
Most Beryllium designs offer a great bass experience, similar to the RBH and Focal designs. So too, this FiiO bud which has a great depth factor and moves a lot of air in that small chamber. You can feel it.
Many people dislike the hanging style, I understand that. I love it. I am waiting for the day that inner earbuds are not needed anymore and we can get that custom sound with a hanger like this.
I prefer this style, and I understand if others do not. I like the freedom, I like not having something wedged in my ear, and I like the natural unclogged sound that good hanging style buds can offer. There is just something very different about them vs a standard inner-ear type that I prefer much, much more.
Beyond the styling, the exterior is quite stellar. In my opinion, these are the best-looking earbuds that I’ve come across in a long while. The stainless-steel design looks and feels strong in the hand and in the ear. I dislike the plastic designs such as the older FH3 which was 3-D printed and very light or fragile compared to this FF3.
This is how earbuds should be made. Specifically, look at the strain relief area where the cable enters the stem of the bud itself. That is a caring design, it doesn’t fray or move in the slightest, it seems very well protected and that is what I want to see more of. You have a choice between black and silver colors too.
Comfort & Isolation
I consider these buds among the most comfortable and stable in my inventory. Some buds are too big, some are oddly small or angular in a negative way. These are slightly dome-shaped and hold well in my ear, while the exterior cup housings are just the right size, not too big, not too small.
I recall the days of the MX980 from Sennheiser, which had massive housings that almost didn’t fit into my ear. I also recall the days of the Yuin PK1s, which were too small and loose fitting for me to even talk or take a short walk without them falling out of my ear. I don’t have this problem with the FF3.
The slightly bulged frontal mesh area just below the foam pads not being totally flat is what is helping with stability. A flat design tends to slip, whereas a slightly arched styling seems to fit much more snugly.
I can go for extended walks and ride as a passenger on bumpy roads and not need to adjust the FF3 and that alone is worth its weight in gold to me.
The FiiO FF3 comes with standard foamies but a lot of people prefer the donut-shaped foamies instead of the flat ones. I am not one of those people, I’ve found that those foamies missing the center portion are overly sharp and lacking bass depth, which is what this earbud is all about.
So, to me, applying the donut-style pads is the wrong choice and similar to buying a bass-heavy headphone intended for bass but then tossing on replacement pads that remove the bass. Just don’t do it!
Stick to the stock pads, they feel fine. I bought a colored set online, red and blues, I hoped they would arrive before this review but they were delayed it seems. Sorry about that. For now, I will stick with the all-black edition.
The cable is very well thought out and has no microphonics issues. The cable is a smooth typing that glides across my shirt or jacket without sticking or rubbing.
High purity silver coated copper cable, and not all silver, means the designer knows what they were doing. I am not a fan of all silver cables for headphones designed for bass depth.
Say what you will, but in my experience, copper interior yields better bass, while silver yields more purity in the treble. If you are buying this FF3, you aren’t out for treble, grab the EM5 instead from a few years or, or even the Astrotec Lyra Nature that I reviewed previously.
The cable lead feels highly durable and thick. I like that. It feels very stable and doesn’t jiggle or feel pliable to me.
Overall, the entire cable experience is lovely and I am so happy to see it lacks a mic. I do not want a mic on this type of headphone, personal preference there, so again, big thank you to FiiO for getting this right from the get-go.
Packaging and Accessories
The box is fairly standard cardboard, with a cutout section inside that contains the headphones and a simple clear box. Otherwise, basic packaging for the foamies.
Sometimes, less is more…if this were any other earbud, I would expect nothing else included. But in this case, they give you a Bass set of foams, a Crisp one intended for more treble, and a Balanced set.
I vastly prefer the bass versions because they seem to enhance the bass kick factor. Also included is a 4.4mm balanced adapter, as well as a standard 3.5mm. Removing the adapter heads proved to be a serious pain in my butt. But once it was off, it was nothing but sunshine and rainbows.
Plentiful, deep, and moving a lot of air for being so small. This is a solid bass earbud and nothing else currently in my inventory can even remotely compare. It is almost like the other earbuds don’t have any bass when I side by side them with this FiiO FF3.
The low-end depth is excellent, of course not inner ear level, but for a hanging style, this is a good number of bass that feels a step down from the Yincrow X6, which sadly no longer exists in my world, (it broke and I had to toss it).
EQ and Bass Boosting matter with this model, drop in a +5dB and watch the bass experience churn into a deeper-reaching experience. More power did equate to better results, much smoother in balanced mode, or with a 3.5mm adapter and a potent amount of portable voltage.
So, grab a powerful amp or music player and you will max out the capabilities of this FF3’s low end with more buttery smoothness in the bass, and more depth in reach potential.
The FF3 is not a very forward-sounding model, but it is still well within the middle ground effect, not too distant, not recessed sounding for the vocal experience. I am able to toggle some EQ switches and obtain a more pronounced forward feel. This earbud is highly reactive to your source and amplifier tonality, I love it.
As far as fidelity goes, this does not feel as pure as the EM5 or the Lyra, both sounded more razor ship and clinical in midrange tone. This FF3 sounds thicker, weightier, and more vividly colored and thickened.
If you want a neutral or accurate tone, this is not the model you should opt for. It is the one you should grab if you want a wonderfully musical feel still with plentiful and justifiable amounts of fidelity for $99. Yes, this model feels like it is worth more than $99, no doubt. It is just that the other models I mentioned feel more clinical and less colored, less vivid.
The top side of the FF3 is polite, reserved, and safe sounding. It does not react as much as the midrange or the bass does to alteration and no level of voltage changed how treble happy tracks felt or sounded during my testing.
It is what I call refined, and chill, relaxing even. The focus of the model is certainly the low end, so it makes sense that the top side is not piercing and clinically neutral, or metallic feeling.
I enjoy being able to have a totally fatigue-free experience no matter how long I end up using these earbuds. The lower treble and the upper midrange are both mellow and slow to react, this is a highly musical sound compared to the hyper-pure feeling EM5 from FiiO.
We can also cycle over to the NiceHCK EBX21, which sounds extremely cold and icy compared to this very warm FF3. The fidelity factor is justified again for $99 and I don’t have any other $99 tier model that sounds this clean.
Overall, the treble experience is enjoyable and I have yet to consider it harsh on my ear, even well amped and with plenty of power running through it, I don’t hear much of a change from weak amping to excessive amping.
Staging and dynamics are moderate at best and vastly outclassed by the older EM5 model from FiiO, which boasted a massive soundstage for this style of an earbud.
Despite that, what is available here on the FF3 is still coherent and well set up. Think Beyerdynamic T1 vs HD800 from Sennheiser, with the T1 being the FF3 and the HD800 being the FiiO EM5.
The differences are night and day, while not as deep-reaching or wide or tall as the EM5, the FF3 feels more realistically formed in density factor and air between the instruments.
Basically, the EM5 feels a bit overly stretched and not as coherently formed as the FF3. The overall sizing factor is just good on the FF3, not great. If you want truly massive imaging, there are other models I’d recommend.
At 45Ω, the FF3 is just a bit hungry for power and is better suited with the balanced option, as previously mentioned. I have found that plenty of voltage, nearing 1W of power, results in a much smoother and deep-reaching appeal in this headphone.
Yes, the unbalanced mode feels fine too, but if you really want that extra depth factor and musicality, the more power you put in, the more it will react up to a point. 1W on the CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 is a massive amount for an earbud, but nothing compared to my home desktop rigs that put out 6W and up.
The earbuds don’t react to a voltage that high, you don’t need that much, that’s insane. 0.5W is a starting point, if your DAP doesn’t have it, consider getting an exterior portable amplifier or a DAP that does have a higher wattage output factor.
Testing results showed that standard 3.5mm output with below 0.5W of power resulted in less smoothness factor to an audible degree.
Thankfully, I just picked up a TempoTec V6, I don’t want to get too into that but it does have a balanced high output option for the exact type of plug included with the FF3.
So, it is a match made in heaven but even with this V6 in hand, the sound is audibly smoother when I use the FF3 with the M8 V2 or a home desktop setup.
Power hungry to max out the potential of this earbud, but not to get enjoyable sound. My phone output and the old xDuoo X3 II put out enough to really enjoy this, so don’t let that stop you unless you want the very best of it. This earbud scales up.
Consider a warm, bass-boosted amplifier and not a clinical one. While my old XRK amp is my favorite, it lacks the output power to do justice to the FF3, so I cannot use it.
I can use the very neutral M8 V2 though because it has high output power, but it is very clinical sounding. And even with the clinical tone, you can feel the buttery smoothness factor increase between them.
Astrotec Lyra Nature Limited Edition
The Lyra Nature is priced at $399 yet I grab this FF3 as my new primary portable earbud. Why? The musicality factor is off the chart on this FiiO FF3 while the Lyra is more neutral, not so much clinical, but rather colorless while the FF3 is warm and vivid, velvet-like in comparison.
The fidelity factor on the Lyra is audibly superior in the treble regions and the purity factor of the bass, but the FF3 is more fun and enjoyable while being a step behind in fidelity at a quarter of the price.
At $299, the EM5 is 3x the price and offers a much more clinical and accurate tone. Where the FF3 is warm and fun, the EM5 is accurate and “Hifi’ers” in every way.
The purity factor is razor-like on the EM5 but more rounded on the FF3. The imaging factor on the EM5 is also significantly better, but it has a problem of feeling stretched. The FF3 sounds very coherent and well-formed.
At $219, the EBX21 is the most reserved of the lot, the middle ground of the select comparisons whereas the FF3 from FiiO is a hard left field into the warmth factor.
The EBX21 is very bass light, almost too bass light, the FF3 is bass heavy and prominently impactful. The staging factor depth of field for the EBX21 is much better than the FF3 and even better than the FiiO EM5.
However, again, if you like the coherency factor, the FF3 is the wiser choice and the EBX21 is the better choice for raw sizing and expansiveness.
FiiO proves over and over that they can do the expensive game and the budget game, and likely end up with the success for each tier.
In this case, the $99 FF3 is a win for me and hits everything on the list that I need and prefer as a musicality buff. I like bass, others may not. I like chill treble but with some interesting sparkle, this has just that. I like coherency and not an overly stretched sound in my portable game, the FF3 is perfect in that regard.
This is my new go-to portable earbud. FiiO nailed this for those who are like me and prefer a slightly thicker and weightier sound to their music enjoyment experiences.
FiiO FF3 Technical Specifications
- Impedance: 45Ω
- Frequency response range: 20Hz-20kHz
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Max input power: 100mW
- Termination plugs: 3.5mm/4.4mm
- Cable length: 120cm approximately
- Weight: 31g