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FiiO's $25 headphone gets it right between the ears

The Audiophiliac listens to a budget FiiO headphone, and it's pretty good!

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

I review a lot of high-end, expensive audio on this blog, but I take pride in covering truly affordable products as well.

Take today's subject, the $25/£30 FiiO F3 in-ear headphones. FiiO makes terrific affordable high-resolution portable music players, but I've also been charmed by its in-ear headphones, like the EX1. At $60 it's one of the best sounding headphones for the money I've ever heard.

The F3 costs less than half as much, but it's still pretty good. FiiO engineers went for a high-tech, super lightweight graphene 11 mm driver, with a copper-clad aluminum voice coil for the F3. Instead of a cheap inline plastic mic/control the F3's is made from aluminum, and it's compatible with iOS and Android devices. Impedance is rated at 40 ohms. The F3 is available in three colors: red, blue and black. I wore the F3 in the noisy NYC subway and it did a decent enough job blocking the din.

Sufjan Stevens live, but intimate new one, "Carrie & Lowell Live" was making all the right moves over the F3. The sense of being there at the concert was perfectly preserved, and Stevens' breathy vocals were downright gorgeous. The F3 nearly knocked me over with Russian electronica band Nocow's "Ledyanoy" album. Bass punch and definition were pretty awesome, and jazzy hip-hop from Too Many Zooz' "Subway Gawdz" album had tremendous impact. This little headphone's low-end was a source of continuing entertainment for me.

Bluesman John Lee Hooker and jazz legend Miles Davis collaborated on "The Hot Spot" film soundtrack album and their meandering jams really came alive over the F3. Davis' trumpet cuts through and punctuates Hooker's gritty blues guitar riffs with sharp precision. The F3 really shined on this music, I had no complaints, I just sat there reveling in the sounds, taking it all in.

Violinist Sasha Matson's "Tight Lines" album lacked the transparency and natural midrange I got from FiiO's more refined EX1 in-ear, but budget headphones typically lose ground on classical music. The F3's treble isn't all that clear, and a hint of grit creeps in at times. Yup, it's a budget-priced headphone after all. And if you listen to a lot of heavily compressed pop music the F3's treble peak might grow tiresome, I'm just sayin'.

Or maybe I'm just being a finicky audiophile, but for the most part the FiiO F3 is easy to listen to and well worth the asking price.