FINAL AUDIO F3100 REVIEW: An aging Balanced Armature IEM that still impress with it’s technicalities

FINAL AUDIO F3100 RETRO REVIEW

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SOUND: 8/10
CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN: 8/10
PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES: 9/10
VALUE: 8/10

THE PLUS: Clear neutral sound, Sharply Detailed sound, Good imaging, Smooth timbre, Fast attack, Ultra small, sturdy cable, generous accessories, the best value in F serie
THE SO-SO: Bass can create distortion at high volume, upper treble lack sparkle, cold tonality isn’t for everyone, not very versatile sound signature, non-detachable cable that can make microphonic

FINAL AUDIO is a well know and respected Japanese earphones company that does not need a further presentation as it has been around for near 10 years.

They are mostly known for their budget-friendly E series, but FINAL AUDIO fans know that all their earphones have something special to share about a specific sound target quest.

With the F series, they try to render a more direct and vivid sound experience and push the boundaries of single full-range balanced armature drivers capacity.

I have already reviewed the F4100 mid-tier model, and it really impresses me for its high clarity and extremely fast and snappy attack. Still, I find it quite pricey at 280$ and cannot really suggest it to budget-minded audiophiles due to this as well as a not so versatile sound signature.

Today I will review the 2 times cheaper entry model, which is a single BA too, sound very similar to the F4100 and cost 130$ due to non-detachable cable design.

As it makes 4 years the F series was launch, the competition with single BA iem have sure become rougher. Let’s see if it can be worthy of our attention in 2020.

The F3100 can be bought for 130$ from Final Audio Amazon STORE.

SPECS:

Product code: FI-F3BAL
Housing: Black alumite finished aluminum
Driver: Balanced armature
Connector: none
Cable: Black OFC
Sensitivity: 106dB
Impedance: 42Ω
Weight: 10g
Cord length: 1.2m

PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES

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UNBOXING is really similar to TOTL E series earphones: minimalist in the boxing and maximalist in accessories. This time we have a uniquely made protective case for F3100, which can be open from both side for an ultimate secure fit that protects cable unwanted permanent bending. Yes, Final Audio designer is very perfectionist about details, but it means that this cable can loose is perfect shapen if folded improperly. We have too numerous pairs of silicone tips, one pair of memory foam tips and plastic ring to permit the ear-tips to stay in place when you decide to insert deeply the F3100. As well, we have dusts filters, which acts as sounds filters too if you want to smoothen treble.

CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN

CONSTRUCTION is miniature art, supremely simple with an industrial character to it . These are invincible looking housing, make of solid metal and so small their no risk it breaks whatever how hard you hit them. The choice of this unique cable is great idea, its very very thin cable that is perhaps kevlar reinforced cause it looks very durable too. Still, it’s not detachable, but to be honest, it’s not a problem as I never change the cable of F4100 which has detachable MMCX design. The only drawback of fixed cable is the microphonic that ir rather high, wearing cable over-ear do minimalize the microphonic. Housing is made of alloy and has holes in front without a separate nozzle, its directly pierced in housing. This worries me a little about what we do if wax gets stick in there, but for the moment I do not have encounter problems with that and Final Audio include dusts filter to avoid any issue. All in all, this is well-made and thought craftmanship only Final Audio would think to create. It is as audacious than humble.

DESIGN is easy to judge by appearance: supreme comfort as if you have nothing in ears, well, if you wear it the standard way. If you insert it super deep, you would be able to sleep with those without issue, but the in-ear pressure will be present and bothersome for some. Due to completely sealed design without any venting hole, the F3100 might be look little but offer way above average isolation similar to the best metal noise-canceling earplug you can find. Sound leakage is extremely minimal if nonexistent too.

DRIVEABILITY isn’t the easiest at 42ohm of impedance but the 106db sensitivity does help to make them possible being well amped with good powerful DAP like the Ibasso DX90. A portable amp is still suggested for less powerful DAP and one thing sure it will not sound right out of most phone. While they aren’t as hard to drive as the E5000, F4100 will sound too dry and less vivid and punchy without enough amping.

ISOLATION AND INSERTION:

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The F3100 are so small that they can be wear either with normal insertion or a very deep one. More you will insert it deeper, more it will block noise to the point of becoming a musical earplug. This makes the F3100 extremely efficient in terms of passive noise cancelation. As well, there absolutely ZERO sound leakage.
For the sound, well, if I find the F3100 already bass light and forwards sounding without deep insertion, I must admit deep insertion sound even more bright, forward and bass light.

SOUND

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The overall sound is what I would call neutral with extra energy in mids and upper treble and a high level of clarity and transparency. The F3100 avoids to sound analytical due to upper highs roll-off, but it did dig a lot of details and have a smoothed brightness to its tonality. This is vivid, yet not as aggressive as the F4100, but it has the same bass limitation that is weak in the sub-bass region, though still talented for a single BA.

SOUNDSTAGE has a great deepness to it, and its wider than taller, making spatiality very airy and strangely vast for such minuscule earphones.

IMAGING is sharp and precise, especially from 1khz to 8khz where the definition of every instrument is crisper and has more space in separation. It’s more impressive with music that does not have a high amount of different instruments, like rock, chamber classical or instrumental music in general.

TONALITY is bright and realist, the balance is okay though the lower region isn’t on the same level than the rest of the audio spectrum, affecting the lower register instrument as well as kick and bass tone.

TIMBRE is transparent, slightly dry and smooth.

CLARITY is excellent. Sharp, revealing, slightly cold in its presentation as it’s free of any thickness or bass warmth.

BASS is notably rolled off compared to the rest of the spectrum, and it struggles to offer any slam or rumble. Thin and dry is the sub-region and fast and punchy is the mid bass. Sub bassline has a boxy feel to it and while they are well articulated at low volume, it does sound artificial and lacks natural extension. At high volume, playing a track like ”Peaks far afield” from AMETSUB show lower register limitation, the big sub-bass just can’t be delivered so it creates distortion and the whole sound became unbalanced and unstable, making it impossible to listen. Mid-bass is better, it’s very thigh and has energic impact that will suit rock music nicely as well as indie, folk and some jazz. The bass might not have lot of body, but it has a detailed texture which makes it suitable for slap bass. Cello sounds more like a violin even if it has great resolution and attack. Yep, the bass response do affect negatively overall tonality at high volume with sub bass heavy music.

MID RANGE is extremely clear and accurate, vivid and lively with a high level of transparency and a nice edge to the definition. It’s slightly bright but upper mids do not create sibilance and just add extra bite to attack. Vocal presentation is centered and intimate with crisp clarity and high level of details, so you do hear some lips movement or other micro-details but in a realist way, not an artificial overly analytical way. Timbre is rather thin, but not dull due to nuanced texture it has, This balance between grain and transparency is very well done. In a track like ”Another lover” from LITTLE DRAGON, the vocal isn’t affected by bass line which this time is nicely reproduced, the female singer is in the middle, with excellent clarity but not a very wide presence, it’s intimate and lively, with a hint of brightness that adds bite to upper mids.  I particularly enjoy violin with the F3100 as it can render fast attack with easy wich permit high level of accuracy with complex melody line. These really excel with acoustic music like folk and classical.

TREBLE is sharp and ultra snappy, it injects extra excitement to complex percussions and digs a good amount of details. It’s thigh, not very sparkly and resonant, with hint of dryness and crunchiness. The fastest hit-hat is delivered with impressive accuracy and timing. Due to upper highs slight roll-off, the highs lack a bit of edge for extra crispness and in that regards remind me planar earphones sound projection, as it’s not as airy in impact as dynamic drivers highs. An instrument like clavichord is rendered in a very energic way, with realist tonality but a hint of dryness and thinness with timbre, lacking a bit of natural resonance after note impact but keeping an extremely clear and articulate presentation that permit to make intelligible even the fastest melody motif that Scarlatti or Bach could think off. The acoustic guitar has the same treatment, being extremely clear with good brilliance but lacking a bit of body.

COMPARISONS

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VS FINAL AUDIO F4100 (280$)

I would say the biggest difference between those 2 is the detachable cable, and to be honest, I never change cable with F4100 so it’s not a big upgrade in that regard as the cable is the same apart from mmcx connection. Sure, the sound is slightly different with the F4100, it’s sharper, more detailed and slightly improved in technicalities but not in tonal balance.
SOUNDSTAGE is deeper with the F4100 and IMAGING is sharper, especially in the treble region where percussion tends to be extracted with higher resolution. The BASS is about the same, but perhaps, even more, roll-off in extension than F3100 which have warmer tonality. MID RANGE is slightly thicker with F3100 as well as smoother, the F4100 having more upper mids bite it tend to push forward female vocal and give higher clarity. TREBLE is where these differ a lot, the F4100 is more aggressive and analytical, it pushes forwards percussions and has a faster attack that can be either fantastic or disturbing, so overall frequency range is more balanced with the F3100 but less revealing too.

If you wanna go from crisp to ultra-crisp sound, choose the F4100, but if you prefer balanced sound and price value, go for the F3100.

VS AKOUSTYX r-210 (140$) :
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The F3100 is a single balanced armature, not a Knowles like the R-210, and surely a little smaller due to its smaller housing. Still, its a very capable and fast single BA with a different flavor than the Knowles house sound.
SOUNDSTAGE is slightly wider with the R-210, while the F3100 wins with more deepness. The IMAGING is sharper and more precise with F3100 even if slightly more intimate in the presentation. BASS dig deeper with the R-210, its weightier and more punchy too, tough the dryish mid-bass of F3100 tend to be faster and more controlled. MID RANGE is clearer and flatters with the F3100, as well its more transparent and detailed than warmer, thicker R-210 that have more peaky upper mids to compensate the slightly recessed vocal. Timbre being more transparent and sharp, its thinner too but has better overall attack which give impressive accuracy compared to less clinical sounding R-210. TREBLE is sharper and more sparkly with the F3100, it sure have more emphasized extension and nice snappy attack compared to more natural and balanced treble of R-210 that stay online with the rest of the frequencies response.
All in all, R-210 is warmer, more bassy and natural sounding while the F3100 win in technicalities, clarity and attack.

VS IBASSO IT01 (100$)

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Well, this is an interesting comparison, the F3100 being a single Balanced armature while IT01 has a big dynamic driver, we can expect a big difference in the bass department.

SOUNDSTAGE of both is similar, not particularly wide but still with an around your head feel, the F3100 has more deepness due to better clarity.

BASS is without a doubt better with the IT01, its thicker and more impactful but most of all it dig way deeper than rolled off bass of F3100, still, mid-bass is faster and brighter but can make distortion in sub-bass region, wich the IT01 deal beautifully with great thickness to it. Yep, dynamic driver are factual better to deal with whole frequency range than a single balanced armature, even if its excellent one.

MID RANGE in another hand is more detailed and brighter with the F3100, which makes for a very realist rendering compared to warmer IT01. Still, timbre is a little thin with F3100 and the extra thickness of vocal can be very pleasant with the IT01, but when it comes to instrumental music the F3100 offer a more revealing and accurate presentation where every instrument is ultra-clear and energic, here, the IT01 sound slow and a little clumsy and subpar in term of overall clarity.

TREBLE is more extended with the F3100, but both earphones aren’t particularly sparkly in highs and have thigh decay to it. The texture is more detailed and forwarded with the F3100. While IT01 has a smooth polished thick timbre that gives more weight to piano note or cello body, the F3100 will extract every bit of definition of guitar strings, violin or harpsichord, making it very interesting for the instrumental and classical music lover.

Here, the F3100 feels more like a niche audiophile earphones with a more neutral slightly mid centric sound signature that is less versatile than more permissive warm sounding IT01.

VS FINAL AUDIO E4000 (140$)

The E4000 might be the best value of the whole Final Audio earphones line-up. It’s a very versatile and perfectly balanced earphone with detachable cable and metal housing. Indeed it’s way more versatile with music genre than brighter and thinner sounding F3100. SOUNDSTAGE is slightly taller and wider with E4000 but has notably less deep, though IMAGING is sharper with F3100, it do not have as much transparent layering than E4000. BASS is biggest difference with those too, the E4000 without being a particularly bassy IEM do have a better extension, control and bass quantity and quality, it’s weightier and fuller in body and never distort but sure tend to slightly warm lower-mid-range more than dryer bass light F3100. MID RANGE is thicker, fuller and more natural than F3100, which is more energic and forward with brighter grainier tonality. TREBLE is more detailed and controlled with the F3100, the attack is way faster and snappier but overall tonality is less full and natural, as well, even if the highs are more relaxed with E4000 and warmed by lower harmonic, it has more post-attack decay and resonance which add to the overall musical richness.
All in all, the E4000 win in all technical department apart from attack speed and spatial depth, it have a more refined,  balanced and natural musicality.

CONCLUSION

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Even by today standard, the FINAL AUDIO F3100 is still very impressive in term of technicalities and offer a neutral accurate sound that will please serious audiophile. This isn’t Fun sounding IEM due to lack of bass body and impact as well as overall bright tonality. I think mature audiophiles that mostly listen to bass light music like classical, folk, indie, or rock will find the high level of clarity of F3100 very impressive.

FINAL AUDIO knows how to tune earphones, even with the inherent limitation of single balanced armature, they achieve to deliver a vivid realist sound experience with a great balance from low to high, the bass is good at a normal volume, only issue is with sub-bass extension. If you search a mid-centric IEM with snappy treble and highly accurate and crisp sound, the F3100 is surely the best value of whole F serie as it is even better balanced than the pricier F4100.

 

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