Final Audio Design Sonorous III review: Japanese headphones with an understated design and sweet tonal response

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The Good Final Audio Design's Sonorous III's dynamic driver will refresh your appreciation for high-resolution audio files, but its low-impedance spec makes it sound great with streaming audio files on your phone too. The plush synthetic leather covering the headband and ear cups has the right amount of comfort relative to the headphone's heavyweight stature, and the Y-style cable locks into the cups on both sides for additional durability.

The Bad The headphones are heavier than the average over-ear set and lack a case for protected storage.

The Bottom Line The Final Audio Design Sonorous III exceeded our expectations for comfort and audio quality and serve as an excellent introduction to the brand at an affordable cost.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

You probably haven't heard about Final Audio Design headphones before now unless you've considered dropping $5,000 on its flagship headphone, the Sonorous X. It's the company's most popular headphone with the audio elite, and it gets its price tag from parts composed of titanium, aluminum and gold-leaf trim. I haven't heard it myself yet, but the company positions it at the "zenith" of personal audio.

But if you don't have 5K to spend, the company has introduced the Sonorous III, a budget alternative around-the-ear headphone that carries a similar "house sound" with slightly less premium parts for $399 (UK pricing unavailable, you can find it online in Australia for AU$549).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Price aside, I actually prefer the subtle design of the Sonorous III's matte plastic finish to the X's bright gold and reflective stainless steel materials. The ABS on the earcup connections doesn't flex at all and the stainless-steel rails where you adjust the size add a sense of toughness to the headset. The earcups themselves are hinged on a small circular piece that allows them to twist vertically and horizontally so they don't clamp down too tightly around your head.

Another thing the company got right is the weight to comfort ratio of the headband and earcups. With a lot of headphones, you'll notice that the ear cups are too heavy and you can feel the headband pressing down; if they're too light, you get the feeling that the materials are cheaply made and won't survive long-term wear and tear.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the Sonorous III, the thick synthetic leather that wraps across the top of the headband has a balance of elasticity and depth that makes the earcups feel like they're floating on your head. I've worn them all day at work without taking many breaks and I haven't felt my ears get hot once.

The headphones include a detachable Y-cable with dual entry points on the left and right that lock with a 90-degree turn. That also means you can't replace the cable with a generic one if it breaks, but it does feel like it'll hold up to a lot of abuse. It's about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and terminates in a straight plug with additional stainless-steel housing around the end to make it even stronger.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm a little disappointed that Final Audio Design doesn't include a protective case for the headphones, especially considering the low-impedance spec (16 ohms) would indicate that the company wants listeners to use them at home with a receiver and with a smart phone. On top of that, the IIIs don't fold down like the Oppo PM-3, a competing headphone for the same price. You get a 3.5mm adapter in the box for home stereos, but considering the price, I also expected to get second cable with an in-line remote and microphone for making calls -- they keep it simple with just the one.

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