PROS: Near neutral well balanced tuning, high level of clarity-details, good imaging, fast attack, nuanced texture, good transparency, non agressive hyper-realist tonality, construction, design, packaging, price
CONS: slightly boomy yet non weighty bass, bit thin timbre, coldish tonality, sharp but not sparkly treble, not wide open vocal, though good imaging is a bit compressed-intimate, not very musical (subjective)
SOUND VALUE: 8/10
FIIO doesn’t need more presentation as theve been around for more than 10 years and have an immense audio products catalog that includes everything but audiophile quantum stickers. Since years, they collaborate with Knowles balanced armature too, so they can precisly custom every drivers they imagine. Far are the days where FIIO didn’t know how to tune, FH serie being widely acclaim for this very reason, let’s see if the FIIO FH3 can pass the test of time or will be a hate-love Hybrid like the older FH1 which at the time was selling around the same price.
CONSTRUCTION, as always with FIIO, is excellent. The beautifully crafted housing promises durability due to its thick metal composition. The whole package is, again as always, very impressive too. And oh, the cable! I love it. Soooooo thick and sturdy, with this high-end industrial look and yes, good pairing in terms of sound, no need to upgrade it and thats a relief!
TONALITY is L shape with some extra treble bite, brightish a bit cold but not really aggressive, if it wasn’t for boosted bass the FH3 would be near flat neutral. It’s a bassy lean analytical sounding IEM, and it’s quite unique in that regard, attack isn’t boosted and avoid shoutyness we could find with some hybrid or multi-BA earphones.
So, apart for badass bass, it doesnt have a weighty DYNAMIC, attack lack a bit of snap even if speedy, upper treble seem a bit faster and crisper than rest of the spectrum leading to some rare uneven highs balance. Bass is quite nice but doesnt fully match the timbre of other BA drivers making it sometimes a bit out of balance or distracting. As well, it isn’t well-articulated and a bit (gently) boomy.
Talking about TIMBRE, the balanced armature has this slight metallic sheen to it that makes it a bit clinical sounding, staying hyper-realist and accurate but not as natural as what a Dynamic driver could give. So, yes, a bit thin too, making vocal lacking body density, open presence and welcome lushness. Still, timbre is realist enough, well-textured yet with a nice transparency to it.
TECHNICALLY the FH3 is very competent, rich in details and sound layers, precise yet constraint in imaging, fast in attack apart the bass part so you can feel its snappy speed better with instrumental or bass less-lights music tracks, listening right now to fast jazz composed of violin, trumpet, bass light percussions and it sound accurate, with great instrument placement within limited space, i can clearly look around the holographic acoustic, spoting the trumpet that have dryish timbre and at its left the violin with full nuanced timbre, though I get a bit distract by more metallic percussion which seem crisper cleaner bit more trebly in rendering, still, damn its thigh and clear! (Track : Yves Robert-L’air d’y toucher). SO no doubt : IMAGING is good and can go great with crisp music that doesnt have sub bass emphasis.
So indeed, from mids to highs the attack is very speedy, with good edge but some lack of decay and sparkle thus making percussions more ‘’ringy’’ than sparkly.
Overall BALANCE is well done, but a hint too boosted in bass department which can bloom its great clarity potential. As well, upper highs can be sometime too emphased and while it permit to extract micro-details more easily, the very details can be distracting too. In fact, if i go back some years ago i will praise this type of analytical treble, but my ears perhaps become snobbish about this type of magical WOW effect trick.
I ask ALOT to IEM due to my very diversify music library, and i can say FH3 is very versatile even if 20% of my music will go boomy which is due to mid-sub bass boost that can shadow the kick drum presence and impact as if it was thinked for electronic drum.
VS FIIO FH7 (500$)
The FH7 have verry similar tonal balance but thicker more natural timbre as well as more open and holographic sound. The bass is weightier, warmer and less resonant and dry than FH3. Clarity seem crisper with FH3, offering a less layered but more crisper imaging. Bass is biggst different, FH7 having thicker more extended and flexible bass, as well, lower mids are more present and give extra body to mids and vocal which are thinner a bit brighter-colder with FH3. Treble is a bit more airy, but less lean and balanced than FH7. Apart bass which is better with FH7, the rest is very similar in technicalities and overall tonality, making the FH3 a better value.
VS IKKO OH10 (180$)
OH10 is brighter, more U to W shape and less clean due to slight bass impact bloom. Imaging is inferior, lacking clean separation of FH3. Bass have more texture, boom and body but is less linear and well separated too. Upper highs seem roll off and doesnt deliver as much micro details and brilliance. Mid are a bit more lively, textured and bright but not as well articulated, especially in busy track. Soundstage is a bit wider-taller-deeper. While i prefer the energic bassy sound of OH10, i can’t stop telling myself they are inferior to FH3 both tonaly and technically, but superior in fun factor I guess.
FIIO have evolve tremendously with the time, and their tuning experience show up their result with a confident tonal balance approach where neutrality meet slight bass boost for extra musicality pleasure. The level of technical prowess we got for such a price is quite impressive, delivering high level of clarity, clean precise imaging, fast yet snappy attack and a refined near reference neutral sound that wasn’t imaginable at this price 5 years ago. Thanks to the very capable Knowles BA they use, the timbre, while a bit cold, is far from artificial or harsh like we can find with most sub-150$ Hybrid IEM even today. Thinking about it, the FH3 make it even harder to justify paying 500$ for the FH7 and underline that when we climb the IEM price ladder, its sometime just to find our very subjective tonality target because technically speaking they are 90% on par.
PS: I wanna thanks FIIO for sending me this review sample some time ago in the midst of this annoying pandemic. FIIO is another company connected to audio community that accepts an unbiased, critical point of view so they can always improve, and the time has shown they sure evolve impressively in the last years with their IEM lineup refinement.