Today we look at the FiiO EH3 NC over ear headphone, available for $179USD.
Note: This is part of our ‘First Look Sunday’ series, where we give our first impressions of new gear in the queue.
To date, the wireless noise-cancelling headphone market has been firmly dominated by the industry ‘big hitters’: Sony with their WH-1000XM3, Bose’s QuietComfort series (and newer 700), Sennheiser’s MOMENTUM range, and of course – Beats by Dre. These brands have set stiff sales and consumer-acceptance benchmarks thanks to aggressive marketing, and ever-improving technology + user experience.
Chinese manufacturer Fiio ought to be no stranger to Headfonia readers, being an established industry player when it comes to their (generally excellent) range of affordable audiophile IEMs, Bluetooth receivers, and DAPs. So it’s super interesting to see Fiio enter the category with their new full-sized wireless EH3 NC, which is packed with a similar list of features to their noise-cancelling competition, but at a price that aggressively undercuts the rest of the field ($179 USD at the time of writing).
In addition to having Bluetooth 5.0 capability using Qualcomm’s decoding CSR8675 chip, readers will be interested to note that the EH3 NC is also compatible with higher-fidelity codecs such as aptx HD/LL, LDAC and LDHC in addition to the standard lossy SBC/AAC formats. Unlike more expensive competitors, the EH3 NC does forgo touch/gesture controls for standard buttons for controlling volume/playback as well as power, pairing, and switching noise-cancellation on and off. NFC pairing can be enabled by tapping a compatible device to the right earcup, which did work right away with my Samsung smartphone). Fiio does provide a companion ‘Fiio Music’ app, which can be used on your device to control local music playback, EQ settings, and more.
Form-wise, the foldable EH3 NC’s are clearly intended for travel and portability. The first thing you notice when you take them out of their fairly nice clam shell case is how light they are. The all-plastic construction certainly feels less substantial than their established counterparts, but the over-ear EH3’s are proving to be super-comfortable so far. The protein leather ear pads are nice and plush, and also user-removable. Also of note for travelers: battery life is claimed to 50 hours, with 1000 hours of standby charge. Design-wise, the EH3 NC does look fairly smart in a minimalist kind of way, but the faux carbon fibre design on the plastic ear cups and fake chrome on the headband joints are a little cheap looking (in addition to being fingerprint magnets!).
The EH3 NC has been tuned for what so far sounds like a fairly standard ‘consumer-friendly’ signature with a fullish and warm mid-bass emphasis, non-aggressive treble, and acceptable levels of detail. Switching-on noise-cancelling (which, according to Fiio attenuates noise by 30+/-5 dB) there is some audible hiss, and nearby conversations and background noise are still fairly audible. In terms of efficacy, the EH3 NC’s noise-cancellation scores a ‘fair’ rating thus far, but I’ll be giving the EH3 NC the acid-test on some upcoming air and train travel. Having NC switched-on also changes the EH3 NC’s frequency response, and does create some noticeable mid-bass bleed and an elevation in the mid-range that gives it a slight ‘honkiness’.
I’m actually finding that I’m getting best audio quality so far using the EH3 passively via the supplied 3.5mm cable with an external amp, and it’s also performing well when connected to a source in USB DAC mode – the EH3 is both charged and able to receive data via the supplied USB-C cable.
So is the Fiio EH3 NC a genuine contender in the big leagues, or simply a budget alternative? Keep an eye out for our full review where we’ll comprehensively cover the EH3 NC’s user experience, features and sound quality, in addition to putting it head-to-head against key competitors. Watch this space.