FiiO is an audio brand established in 2007 that manufactured dozens of portable audio players, amplifiers earphones, and accessories. Like many China start-ups, they worked hard and produced a good track record of products which helped them grow globally. The EH3 NC is their first over-ear headphones as well as their first active noise cancelling model. With a retail price of S$329, the EH3 would have been a formidable product against the incumbents, if only they had gotten one thing right.
Unboxing and Operations
The EH3 NC is designed for the frequent traveller and regular commuter in mind. It easily folds to reduce storage footprint, and comes with a 50-hour battery life that keeps you company continuously for over 2 full days. Its 5-LED battery indicator keeps you informed of the remaining battery life. Another unique design element is the use of 2.5D glass panel with carbon fibre texture, and a pleather-wrapped headband to elevate the premium look and feel. They are not as compact as most other ANC headphones, but they feel comfortable on the head and can fold down to a manageable size for transport.
Pairing is an ease using NFC, which most smartphones should come with. The EH3 NC can initiate NFC pairing without even turning the headphones on, just place the smartphone or DAP on the right earcup. For manual pairing, turn off the headphones, then press-hold the power button for 3 seconds.
With their experience in wireless audio codec implementation, it comes no surprise that the EH3 NC is packed with them. In fact, it supports all the major Bluetooth codecs – SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, and LDAC. Additionally, it also supports USB digital audio when plugging the USB-C cable directly to the computer (power has to be turned on to operate). It also supports direct 3.5mm passive audio (power not required). With all these technical capabilities, the headphones earned its certifications of Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio Wireless logos embossed on the headphones.
The button placements are a little awkward to reach: the power button and the ANC switch are located towards the front of the right earcup, which requires me to twist the hand for my thumb to reach them and operate. Perhaps it would be better to position them on the left earcup, but I reckon it is easier to build all the components in a single earcup. The volume buttons are well-placed, but to control the track changes, I had to operate the opposite way. Hence, the same button to increase volume in single tap is to go back to previous track when held.
Using the FiiO Music smartphone app, you can personalise a few things on the headphones, like selecting which codecs to enable, LED behaviour, auto power off timing, applying EQ. The app itself is a full-fledged audio player, and to access the headphone settings, go to “Bluetooth Device Control” menu.
Audio Quality and ANC
Inside the EH3 NC is a high-end ADI noise-cancelling DSP chip powering a 2-way, 4-microphone array in a feed-forward hybrid active noise-cancelling design. The noise-cancelling is not as aggressive as the industry-leading Bose and Sony models, but is sufficient to remove the daily environmental noise from traffic, appliances, and more importantly, airplane cabin noise and public transport. A good thing is that the user would not feel excessive ear pressure which in some cases could cause nausea to some people.
As an ANC headphones, the primary judge for the audio quality would be in the ANC mode. For the EH3 NC, this mode offers the poorest audio tuning among the modes. The upper-bass to midrange is excessive which obscured the treble clarity, resulting in a somewhat dark mix.
Turn ANC off, and the EH3 NC shows why FiiO is one of the more popular audio brands from China. The EH3 NC delivers well-balanced details from natural tight bass to clear treble that sits comfortably in the mix. Even for tracks with fierce highs, there is no fatiguing harshness as the sibilance is subtly eased off. This is not warm-sounding nor neutral, but retains the clarity and the right amount of bass delivered but not pushy, thanks to a wide small-room staging.
With power on, the sound is tighter, more compact, overall more forward. With power off and playing over 3.5mm analog cable, the sound is more relaxed, more dynamic, less compressed, better room imaging and cohesive instrumental positioning. With USB-C digital audio, the sound is slightly improved with more resolution and instrumental details.
To learn what songs I use to review my headphones, go to this page.
Compare with Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC
The closest ANC headphones to EH3 NC would be the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC. Both have similar connectivity options – powered, passive, and USB digital audio, and can be folded. Both also has a long list of supported wireless audio codecs, but EH3 NC has aptX HD and LDAC which Lagoon ANC does not.
Between the two, there isn’t a straight-up winner: in ANC mode, the Lagoon ANC sounds better. In non-ANC mode, the EH3 NC sounds better. In general, the EH3 NC is a better overall headphones: lower price, more comfortable earpads, better bass presence, fuller midrange. The EH3 NC offers better vocal clarity, while the Lagoon ANC is tuned to be more neutral (except ANC mode) with details across the board.
For ANC feature, both are on par, though I felt that the Lagoon ANC has more tendency to leak sound if you wear glasses as EH3 NC ear pads are thicker. Having said everything, if you need a better-sound headphones in ANC mode, then Lagoon ANC is the one to get, as it really sounds better in this mode. EH3 NC is a great-sounding headphones, but only when ANC is off, so you can’t enjoy them as much in public places.
FiiO’s first over-ear headphones delivers great audio quality and offers all-rounder specs and generous connectivity options. I truly enjoy the audio tuning on most of the connectivity modes, except ANC On, which is such a shame, because that is what want out of a noise-cancelling headphones. If you need good audio with ANC, then EH3 NC is disappointing. If you want a comfortable pair of headphones with balanced sound – right amount of bass, treble and musical details – then this is satisfying.
Retailing at S$329, the FiiO EH3 NC is distributed by Eng Siang and available at AV One and many good audio and electronic outlets.