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The FiiO EH3 NC offers an affordable alternative for wireless headphones with reasonable ANC capability. But is it worth your purchase?
The FiiO EH3 NC is a wireless headphone with Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) capabilities. For the uninitiated, ANC headphones have microphone/s that actively listens for low-frequency ambient sounds. It will then generate a soundwave that is phase-inverted by 180 degree to cancel out that ambient sound.
This over-ear closed-back headphone is competing in the same market that is dominated by Bose and Sony.
To stand out from the competition, FiiO priced the EH3 NC in the $100+ bracket range. In comparison, the NC 700 and WH1000XM3 are priced at a much higher $300+ price point.
Other than a competitive price point, how does EH3 NC fare in terms of its performance and what other “tricks” does the EH3 NC has in its sleeve?
Let’s find out.
- Good build quality
- NFC Pairing
- Stable Bluetooth connection
- Reasonable ANC ability
- Great sub-bass reproduction
- Warm sound signature
- Availability of USB-DAC for audio connection
- Wide support of audio codecs
- Screechiness in the upper treble
- Slightly tight clamping force reduces comfort and long-term wearability
- Ambient sounds are being leaked into the headphones via the thick ear pads
- Hard-case cover
- A USB-A to USB-C cable
- A 3.5mm to 3.5mm connector
The design of the hard-case cover is similar to the Bose and Sony ones. It is designed to keep the foldable headphones snugly in place. It has a pouch at the back to store stuff but I’m not sure that I feel that it is safe enough to do so. I prefer the pouch to be sewn inside the case.
Build Quality and Aesthetic
- Good build quality (No creaking, smooth swivel and folding)
- The aesthetic is a tad passe
The build quality is reasonable for its $100+ price bracket. It doesn’t creak when bend. It feels sturdy when held and has a nice weight to it. It’s not too heavy at the same time. The main body frame is made from smooth matte plastic.
Nothing screams luxurious and rightfully so at this price point.
Apart from the matte body frame, you will find glossy features on the headphones which I’m not a big fan of. (Fingerprint magnets).
The faceplates have a glossy carbon fiber look which is a sightly passe in my opinion.
On the silver chrome hinge of the headbands, there is a ‘FiiO” label on the right and ‘Hi-Res” label on the left.
Mimicking Bose and Sony’s portability features, the hinges are foldable and the ear cups can swivel 90 degrees and lay flat on my shoulder. FiiO did well to make sure the ear cups swivel smoothly and without any obstruction.
- Plush and airy ear pads
- The headband cushion the top of my head nicely
- Clamping force is noticeable after a period of time
The EH3 NC has plush leather earcups and a thick headband that cushion the top of my head nicely. The ear cup is large enough to encompass my whole ear.
The clamping force was pretty ok initially. But I can slowly feel the pressure building up as I wore the headphones after around 15mins.
The pressure isn’t like some death clamp but it is definitely noticeable. Luckily, the nice cushy ear pads helped out a lot. The ear pads also don’t build up heat which is a bonus for me.
Overall, I’m pleased with the comfort of the ear pads and headband. I will have to deduct comfort points for the clamping force. I found myself rarely using them for more than 1 hour at a time. People with smaller head might find that this is not a problem for them.
The FiiO EH3 NC is a pretty sensitive headphone and it gets loud without much gain adjustment.
With Spotify at 100% level:
- Ok: System loudness (20%)
- Loud: System loudness (25%)
The sub-bass reproduction of the EH3 NC is impressive. The rumbles in the sub-bass region are noticeable in songs like Intro by Yoshi Horikawa (0:25 – 0:50) and Why So Serious by Han Zimmer (3:25 – 4:05).
But if you want to immerse in sub-bass heaven, you should listen to Limit to Your Love by James Blake (0:50 – 1:23).
With stronger sub-bass, I would expect the bass to be slightly over-emphasized or bloated. But surprisingly it isn’t. In songs like Save The World by Swedish House Mafia, the bass remain tight without muddying the mids.
The bass has some amount of impact. It isn’t thumping by any means but it’s there enough to bring energy into songs with heavy bass-line like House-work by Jax Jones.
The bass extension doesn’t sound as deep-reaching as I like it to be and didn’t impress me in songs like Leave Me by Taska Black.
There is no audible coloration on the vocals. Female vocals don’t sound shouty and screechy at higher pitch. The upper mids sounded more recessed than the lower mids.
The lower and mid-treble performs fine for me But at the upper treble is where the trouble starts to brew. I can hear sibilance and the music sounded metallic and screechy at 2:20 – 2:50 of Rude By Daniel Jang.
I will say that the width of the soundstage is below average. I’m disappointed with this as I expected much better with over-ear headphones.
Active Noise Cancellation
When we talk about Active Noise Cancellation, the Gold standard might now very well be Sony WH1000XM3 but if it is anywhere near what Bose offers, it is already in the elite class. So is the EH3 NC part of this class?
Cabin Pressure Effect
The cabin pressure effect is a common occurrence for wearers of active noise cancellation headphones. It feels like your ears are stuck, just like how you will experience it in the cabin when the airplane is taking off. Most people get used to the effect quickly but there are others that hate it.
Not all ANC headphones have the same amount of cabin pressure effect. For me, the Bose headphones have a slightly stronger cabin pressure effect than Sony.
As for the EH3 NC, it just has a slight cabin pressure effect and definitely not as strong as the Bose QC35. Once activated, stable low-frequency sound like air-conditioning gets filtered out almost immediately.
I can still hear most of the sounds like door knocks and the office chatters but it does reduce the low droning ambient sound. Nothing unexpected here. But I hear a key difference once I compared it with the Bose QC35.
Comparing it with Bose QC35
Even without activating the ANC, the Bose QC35 already passively filter out more ambient sound than the EH3 NC. It could be due to the EH3 NC having thicker and airier earpads which allow more sounds to escape in.
With ANC activated, the Bose QC35 still edge out the EH3 NC ability in canceling steady ambient sound. The environment becomes a tad quieter with the QC35, having a stronger “cone of silence” effect.
The mic quality is ok-ish. The voice pickup is decent but it still picks up significant amount of background noise. I used it for a few conference calls in a quiet room and it worked fine. They were able to hear my voice without any difficulty.
Ease of Pairing
The FiiO EH3 NC has a very smooth pairing process. You can either pair it with NFC or normal Bluetooth pairing process. I tried both and there were no issues. Pairing took less than 5 seconds to be successful.
On the right ear cup, there are 5 light indicators to reflect different statuses.
The battery status shows good amount of granularity: 5%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and lastly 100%.
Charging status is intuitive to see. All 5 light indicators will flash when it is currently charging. They will stop flashing and remain lit when it is fully charged.
The EH3 NC can show you the current audio codec that Bluetooth connection is utilizing.
Starting from the left:
- 1st flashing indicator: SBC
- 2nd: AAC
- 3rd: aptX / aptX LL
- 4th: aptX HD
- 5th: LDAC
Just like the light indicators, the controls are all found on the right ear cup.
The controls for playback and volume is quite intuitive. There are dedicated buttons for volume controls. The volume controls also double up as “Previous” and “Forward” for playback when you long-press it.
In between the volume button, you have the multi-functional button which you simply pressed once to play and another time to pause. Its secondary function includes picking up and rejecting phone calls too.
The buttons have indents and grooves that make it easy for you to navigate without looking at it.
Toggle ANC mode
You can easily switch the ANC on and off by just toggling the onboard ANC switch on the right ear cup.
There are three types of connections that you can use to connect the EH3 NC to the audio source.
- Bluetooth wireless
- USB DAC (Port found on the left ear cup)
- 3.5mm (Port found on the right ear cup)
Using the USB cable provided, the headphones automatically switch to USB-DAC mode when the USB is connected. The USB-DAC mode is something that the Sony WH1000XM3 and Bose NC 700 doesn’t have.
The EH3 NC supports my favorite feature: multi-point connection. It can simultaneously connect to two devices. I can have a conference call on my desktop but if a phone call comes in, I can still take it while wearing the headphones.
After two weeks of usage, the connection had been great so far. No breakups or jittering. I work in an environment where there are many devices with interfering signals so I’m rather pleased with the performance.
- Driver: 45mm Dynamic Driver with titanium-plated diaphragm
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 98 dB
- Weight: 293g
- Bluetooth Version: 5.0
- Bluetooth SoC: Qualcomm CSR8675
- Battery: 50 hours (without ANC), 30hrs (with ANC)
- Codec Supported: SBC, AAC, aptX LL, aptX HD, LDAC
At $199, the FiiO EH3 NC brings us a pair of wireless headphones with good build quality, solid sub-bass, a warm sound signature to boot and most importantly, a reasonably capable ANC. It also has features that other high-end wireless headphones might not have such as NFC pairing, USB-DAC mode etc.
It does come with its downside of a slightly tight clamping force. The thick airy ear pads also let in sound which is disappointing for a ANC headphones. The upper treble needs some EQ-ing to reduce the screechiness.
You can purchase the FiiO EH3 NC at Aliexpress.