As soon as I started listening to the FF3, I was convinced these belonged in a special category I have with only a handful of gear in it. This category is essentially my “best of…”, but then a best of for enjoyment. Gear I never tire of listening to and that always brings a smile to my face. It doesn’t require a specific signature or technical performance, rather it is about the pure joy of music. The venerable Sennheiser HD650 is one of those that I have in this category. I always seem to enjoy the music so much more when I listen with the HD650. I forget about nit-picking over details and over-analyzing everything, instead I simply drift away in the music. The FF3 have that same effect on me, which actually makes reviewing them that much harder because I keep forgetting I am supposed to analyze the sound.
At the core of the FF3 is a signature that is fun, musical and versatile. It is a “safe” tuning that I think everyone will enjoy. Of course, there is the option to play around with the different foams that are supplied to tweak the sound a little for extra warmth or brightness, but personally I think the “balanced” foams are the sweet spot.
I usually don’t pay much attention to claims in the specifications such as “bass enhancing acoustic flute design”, but from the EM5 I remember that FiiO is able to get excellent bass performance from a pair of earbuds. With the FF3 the acoustic flute designs once again seems to be more than empty marketing hype because the bass is very good on these. It is a well-controlled bass that has physicality, texture and detail at a level that really surprised me. There is presence to (for instance) a bass guitar without harming the overall balance. It feels like FiiO have been very effective at using this bass as a foundation for the signature, which is what gives the FF3 that thoroughly enjoyable character. The mids that follow are clear and surprisingly airy with good separation and positional information. Give the FF3 a good source and they do seem to scale quite well in this regard. The soundstage is quite large and holographic. It is not a flat stage stretching out in front of you, instead you genuinely feel immersed in the music. The treble is polite and inoffensive, yet has enough presence and extension to avoid the FF3 sounding dark and rolled off. In my opinion the treble balances really well to create that always enjoyable tuning that make the FF3 so easy to love.
Resolution and detail are really good. I can’t compare to many other earbuds, so I have to be a little careful in my statements, but I am certainly surprised. In my experience earbuds tend to struggle in this area, depending also on how the fit works for any given person, yet the FF3 seem to render a lot of detail and texture even when they move around a little bit (i.e. with a less optimal fit). It just always sounds good.
-Astrotec Lyra Collection-
The Lyra Collection are a staple in my head-fi diet and the most used gear in my inventory. I use them on a daily basis, and have done so for over four years now. They are considerably more expensive than the FF3 at $299, and their intensive use means the FF3 have one heck of a mountain to climb to come out on top, but let’s see.
In terms of build quality, the Lyra Collection have a much lighter design. The shell is constructed with a very light-weight aluminum and the cable is made up of eight very thin wires (four copper, four silver-plated copper). Although they have stood up to years of intensive use, which is a testament to their build quality, I still find the cable to feel somewhat fragile. Obviously, it is not, otherwise it would have broken by now, so the Lyra Collection have a deceptively light and strong build quality. The FF3 on the other hand have more weight to them thanks to the heavier stainless-steel shells and sturdier cable. It inspires more confidence, although I have obviously not been able to subject the FF3 to a similar level of use to test if that also results in a higher durability. A big advantage of the FF3 is of course the interchangeable plug, allowing use with both single-ended and balanced sources.
A comparison of the differences in fit between these is interesting. For my ears the Lyra Collection have always been problematic. They won’t sit in place by themselves. The FF3 have a much better design in that regard, for my ears at least, and will stay in place reasonably well. This means the FF3 give me the best of that characteristic earbud experience. However, the Lyra Collection came with an ace up their sleeve, ear hooks. I use them with small “shark fin”-like ear hooks that secure them in place perfectly. It is the sort of accessory that I was missing with FiiO’s EM5, which did not stay in my ears securely at all, otherwise those would have long since replace the Lyra Collection as my daily users. The FF3 don’t really need them, which is great, but it would still have been nice to at least have the option. That said, in terms of accessories the FF3 come with a much larger supply of foams and that is an essential advantage because intensive use means the foams will wear quickly.
In terms of sound, it is not really a comparison, the FF3 easily outperform the considerably more expensive Lyra Collection. When l compared the two back-to-back the Lyra Collection come out as especially fuzzy, veiled and rolled off. The stage is much smaller and a lot of detail seems to get lost in what I used to associate with the physical limitation of the earbud form factor. The FF3 prove my misconception and it is a testament to the outstanding sound quality of the FF3 that they have rendered my sound comparison here so short.
At the risk of sounding like a complete shill, I think FiiO have hit a homerun with the FF3. The FF3 are so easy to love and the price feels like a sweet spot where they can be considered premium earbuds, yet remain within a price range where they are accessible for many people.
The tuning is tremendously enjoyable with a good balance and surprisingly good technical performance, especially in detail and resolution. The FF3’s bass is excellent with great physicality, texture and detail, it is complimented by clear and airy mids, and a wonderfully easy going treble that extends well.
Build quality feels premium with the added advantage of an interchangeable plug for use with both 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single ended sources. They are easy to drive and will scale with higher end sources. Ergonomics are very dependent on individual ear shape, but it feels like FiiO have improved on previous designs to create a more secure fitting shape.
In short, the FiiO FF3 are highly recommended.