The FiiO EH3 NC is the company’s debut active noise canceling closed-back wireless headphones with LDAC and aptX-HD capability. They retail for the price of $199.99.
With the focus of the global consumer market shifting inexorably towards a wireless future, it’s with hardly any surprise that FiiO has weighed-into the hyper-competitive wireless/noise-cancelling category with their brand-new EH3 NC headphones. FiiO has their work cut out for them, firstly because the EH3 NC is actually their first-ever attempt at a pair of full-sized headphones. They’re facing some firmly established and well-regarded “big hitters” including Bose’s $399 700, Sony’s $349 WH-1000XM3, and Sennheiser’s $399 Momentum 3, to name but a few at the higher end of the category.
Design And Packaging
Inside of the box, you receive a charging cable and a standard 3.5mm portable length cable. Beyond that, FiiO has included protein leather pads, which ended up of a higher standard than I originally thought they would be.
Usually, at this price point, I am used to a harder, more firm tactility to the ear-pad experience. I am happy to report that the comfortable leather experience is a highlight of the headphone and that I can wear the headphone for many hours without any fatigue.
FiiO has opted for a glass exterior earcup central region, which is protecting a carbon fiber design below it. I am not sure how to feel about that. While interested and pleasing to the eye, I fear tossing this in a bag and ruining that quality entirely.
I am sure this ear-cup design is perfectly durable enough to not crack or damage easily, so take that as a subjective gripe and not something that will certainly happen. Beyond that, the headband caliper pressure is fantastic and does not feel like a vice grip on my noggin’.
I am able to use this headphone for extended gaming and streaming sessions since I do stream on Mixer. The headphone tends to get warm after about an hour, but that is A-typical for closed-back leather ear-cup designs. No points will be taken off for that in the slightest.
Looking at the technical interface on the EH3 NC’s, the only feature on the left-hand ear cup is the USB-C charging/data port. The business side of things is on the right-hand ear cup which houses a range of physical buttons; the FiiO doesn’t have any touch or gesture controls. Your right-hand is used to manage the power button, the ANC on-off switch, and three multi-function buttons which are used to control volume up/down, play-pause, call answering/rejection, and Bluetooth pairing.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with gesture controls which I generally find imprecise and clumsy (I might be saying more about myself than headphone design in general here…), so I appreciate the use of physical, tactile buttons on the EH3 NC; they work. However, the volume increments are simply too big for single presses; my happy listening level happens to sit somewhere between two levels that I have to choose between, which is a little frustrating. I understand that a firmware update is available to help remedy this, but I’m not a Windows user so I can’t report on how this improves things.
The other minor quirk about the buttons is the stacking of the track forward/backwards functionality on the volume buttons. Somewhat counter-intuitively, you need to press the volume ‘down’ button for 2 x seconds to go forward a track, and vice versa. It took me a couple of attempts to figure out just what was going on here. The central button between the volume buttons pauses both audio and video tracks during playback, as well as answering voice calls. Mash it down for another 5 seconds, and it puts the EH3 NC into pairing mode.
FiiO drops in a noise-canceling “high-end ADI DSP chip”, which, in basic terms, means that a signal is emitted that will counter exterior noise around you that is picked up by the headphone’s microphone.
Active Noise Cancelation + a solid closed back over the ear design = a very nice NC (noise cancellation for short) experience overall. True, you won’t get a Bose level or even Sony W-series prowess in that category of the listening experience, but you will get a great overall performer that will dim down a suitable volume of the world around you.
On a passenger plane, you likely won’t be bothered by the low-end hum of the engine and that seems to be what most NC enabled devices aim for in terms of isolation. That is fantastic if you are frequent traveler, be that on a bus or a plane in the air, that low-end incessant droning on of engine noise will be dramatically reduced.
Conversations, in general, will be dimmed. However, as with most NC devices, it’s the treble end that needs work and someone to really find a way to counter the top end of the spectrum.
It is quite remarkable that I can drown out the heavy and loud bus engine and road noise, but I can still hear my cat gently meowing on the other side of my bedroom with NC enabled. This isn’t a flaw of the EH3 NC, but a flaw of active NC in general. I hope soon we will find a way to get fantastic passive earplug level dimming inside of an active NC system.
Naturally, a good Bluetooth headphone pairs nicely with it, such as this EH3 NC, of course. I find the pairing to be extremely enjoyable for usage with Youtube and podcasts, where I can go about my day in the living room and or bedroom, clean, cook and enjoy the discussions of the day.
This FiiO EH3 NC gets about 25ft away from the source before I hear any wisp of a cutout. Also, it seems a match for about 4 plaster walls between it and the source in that same distance, which is an excellent feat of connectivity.
For media, Youtube, Gaming and general TV usage, this is a fantastic option. As tech advances over time, we can see how well Aptx has come along and how well it responds to the current market of products out there. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is my phone, TV, or my laptop.
The connection tests remain the same and signal strength is a solid pro with this model. If you are looking for a sub $200 generalist, this is a fantastic option, especially so for casual gamers who enjoy single-player campaigns.
FiiO’s Music App
Fiio’s companion music player/device control app, ‘Fiio Music’ can be downloaded via the Android Play Store for playback of local files, device management, and more. It’s a pretty well put-together app and does allow for a relatively intuitive playback experience when surfing through files and folders.
The app does allow for some customization of the EH3, including the ability to select between Bluetooth codecs, tweakable sound via a five-band EQ, power management, and switching-off the battery indicators. It’s nice that FiiO provides this app, however, there are far better third party music playback apps out there such as USB Audio Player Pro and Poweramp for Android. Aside from a cursory test, I found no real reason to use FiiO Music other than to switch-off the battery lights.
And for the most important question of all; how does the EH3 NC sound? Well, generally pretty good with ANC off, and generally poor with ANC switched-on. The difference is stark. So for that reason, I kept ANC on the EH3 NC’s firmly switched ‘off’ apart from air travel. Sound quality (unless described otherwise) will be described using Bluetooth, streaming lossless sources via LDAC.
The EH3 NC has an airy and open sound, with a slight mid-bass emphasis and decently extended treble. While it’s not as outwardly warm as other consumer-friendly headphones, the EH3 NC is by no means bright, but it also isn’t exactly the last word in transparency. Vocals are slightly pushed-back into the mix on Beck’s ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’ and the upper octave has a slight veil across it, meaning the guitars don’t sound like they’re ‘right there’ like they will on a more revealing set of headphones.
The Lemonhead’s cover of ‘Round Here’ also reveals the EH3 NC to have a more gentle approach to delivering acoustic and vocal detail. Overall, this tuning makes for a pleasantly non-aggressive voicing that leaves some room for excitement and nuance, while never venturing into fatiguing territory.
As I mentioned early on, I use these for my gaming and streaming sessions as I do stream on the Mixer platform five nights a week. I have been using the FiiO EH3 NC’s for several weeks now and absolutely love the immersive and clear sound that I get from them. There’s a good deal of bass but not too over powering that things sound really good.
FiiO should be commended for delivering the EH3 NC they have at the price they’ve been able to. Ultimately, they’ve delivered a pretty competent pair of general-purpose wireless headphones that just so happen to have noise-cancelling and other multimedia connectivity/features as a very sharp price. It seems that FiiO has a way to go to get their noise cancellation quality and effectiveness up-to-par with the competition, but hopefully there’s a firmware-deliverable DSP tweak that’s able to lessen the effect that the EH3 NC’s ANC has on its frequency response, as for music listening it’s not great right now. Build quality will likely only improve from here on in, but for the sub-$200 price-tag there are certainly no complaints. Let’s see how they hold up to a few more months of commuting.
The fact that FiiO has also ensured that the EH3 NC is compatible with a range of modern Bluetooth codecs means that it will be relevant long into the future, meaning that an already good value purchase will be even better value down the track. Plus, you can simply plug them into a source via USB for bit-perfect playback, and you have yourself a pretty good pair of wired headphones at a pinch should you choose to power them passively.