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This budget earbud sounds (almost) too good to be true

The Final Audio Design E3000 in-ears sound like they cost more than double their very reasonable price.

Final E3000 in-ear headphones


It would be all too easy to overlook the Final Audio Design E3000 in-ear headphones, but that would be a mistake. The brand makes a lot of great headphones. It may not have the name recognition of Sennheiser or Beats, but if it keeps making headphones this good, it'll cross over to the big leagues soon. The E3000 is the best budget in-ear headphone I've heard in ages.

A few years ago I was impressed by Final's Sonorous III over-the-ear headphones, but all of the Final in-ears I've heard up to this point were rather thin sounding. The E3000 was a pleasant surprise. Its bass was full, and its midrange and treble balance were also very good. The E3000's stereo imaging is wide and still clearly focused, it's an unusually transparent-sounding headphone for just $55, £49 or AU$99.

Tech details are skimpy, the E3000 has mirror polished stainless steel ear pieces fitted with 6.4mm dynamic drivers, and impedance is rated at 16 ohms. The 1.2 meter cable lacks a mic or phone controls, and there's no strain relief where the skinny cable enters the ear-pieces to minimize stress or wear. That unfortunately increases the chances the cable will break or fail at some point in time. So it's reassuring to note the E3000 comes with a 2-year warranty, double the length of coverage you get with most in-ear headphones. The only accessory is a soft carry pouch.

The E3000 doesn't feel or look like a budget headphone, but to see if the beauty was more than skin deep, I put it to the test by comparing it against Monoprice's overachieving Triple XXX in-ear. That one was brighter and livelier, which I liked, but the E3000 was sweeter and more refined sounding. It was also a touch more forgiving of harsh, over-compressed material on the new Arcade Fire and National albums. Both headphones sounded very decent, the Triple XXX's bass had more kick and punch, the treble had more brilliance. The E3000 was smoother, but that's why it's easier to listen to for hours without fatigue. I recommend both headphones, but they are different and will appeal to different types of listeners. The Triple XXX is more rock and roll, the E3000 is more refined and smooth. The XXX's black plastic ear pieces are nowhere as sleek looking as the E3000's polished stainless steel ones, noise isolation abilities are similar, but the E3000 is a little more comfortable than the Triple XXX.

From this vantage point it's looking like the Final Audio Design E3000 is a strong candidate for budget price Audiophiliac Headphone of the Year, we'll see.