The FiiO EH3 NC is the Chinese manufacturer’s debuting pair of Over-Ear Noise-Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones. FiiO is a familiar name to Porta-Fi readers, many of whom are owners of FiiO DAPs, In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) as well as their range of Bluetooth devices.
It seemed like only yesterday that Bose was the kingpin in the noise-cancelling headphones category. The past year has witnessed many brands entering a hyper-competitive category driven by the advancement of technologies, particularly in the area of wireless, addressing the increasing trend of smartphones without the 3.5mm audio jack.
Design and Build
A project overseen by FiiO’s CEO, James Chung, the FiiO EH3 NC is the company’s first attempt at full-sized Over-Ear headphones. Having witnessed the early prototypes of the headphones during my visits to FiiO, the FiiO EH3 NC is a project which is more than 2 years in development.
While most of us would agree that sound quality is perhaps the most critical aspect when it comes to audio gear. When we look at a pair of full-sized Over-Ear headphones, sound quality takes a backseat if it is not comfortable enough for prolonged usage. The FiiO EH3 NC being the company’s debuting full-sized Over-Ear headphones, presents a challenge that many would neglect; Comfort and Fit.
The FiiO EH3 NC sports a pair of protein leather ear pads on the over-ear cups, which allows one to centre the cups over the ears without fully-extending the headband. The oval-shaped ear cups and ear pads are of sufficient depth and are right-sized to provide a full and comfortable seal around the ears, which is essential to achieve the sound isolation critical for sound quality from the headphones. The design also offers sufficient leeway, allowing one to slide the protein leather headband forward or backward across the top of the head to locate a sweet spot that provides the best comfort. It would be interesting to share that a significant amount of development budget was spent on the development of the headband on the FiiO EH3 NC. Right out of the box, the FiiO EH3 NC does feel a bit stiff; however, headbands do require a bit of time to be “broken in.” The headphones deliver a reasonable amount of clamping force throughout all the contact points made by the ear pads, and at the end of the review process, the FiiO EH3 NC is “broken in” and is no longer stiff to touch.
The headphones feature a hinged design that allows the ear cups to perform lateral and vertical rotations, allowing it to be compact for storage in the case for travel purposes. This type of design is commonly used in ANC headphones due to its popularity as travel headphones particular for flights and is also the most comfortable amongst the compact designs. The use of chrome on the hinges as well as 2.5D glass over carbon fibre texture on the ear cups are distinctive, no doubt, but I would prefer the lack of a fingerprint magnet as well as a lighter pair of headphones.
Talking about weight, the FiiO EH3 NC weighs in at 295 grams, 41 grams heavier than the Bose 700, and 40 grams more substantial than the Sony WH-1000XM3. While efforts have been made to facilitate the comfort and fit of the headphones, it could certainly lose the weight of the 2.5D glass over carbon fibre texture on the two ear cups as I experienced fatigue around the neck area after an hour of usage, this can be attributed to the weight.
Equipped with Qualcomm’s CSR8675 premium tier Bluetooth SoC, the FiiO EH3 NC is Bluetooth 5.0 compliant and supports AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL, LDAC, and SBC Bluetooth Codecs. While the CSR8675 is a premium tier offering from Qualcomm, it does have an issue due to bandwidth limitations, as such LDAC on devices using CSR8675 can only support LDAC with transmission rates of up to 660 kps (normal mode) and FiiO EH3 NC is no exception. Connectivity is stellar with no audible breakages until about 8 metres distance from the source (without walls). The headphones also support NFC allowing single-touch connection with NFC compatible devices.
The NC in FiiO EH3 NC stands for Noise Cancellation. FiiO employs a hybrid Active-Noise Cancelling (ANC) design incorporating both feed-forward and feedback ANC using a four-microphone array with the ADAU1777 Audio Codec from Analog Devices acting as the ANC controller on the FiiO EH3 NC. The Hybrid ANC design suppresses noise over a more extensive frequency range, is less sensitive to alignment issues due to user wear, and has to ability to adapt and correct errors.
Coupled with a fitting closed-back over-ear design, the FiiO EH3 NC provides an impressive Noise Cancelling performance. Sure, it is not on par with neither the Bose 700 nor the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it does its job of getting rid of annoying exterior noises. The FiiO EH3 NC adequately handled the distracting street noise, monotonous humming on trains, engine noise on planes, or the whirring sound from ventilation systems.
Control-wise, the FiiO EH3 NC does not feature any touch controls, which is the new trend for ANC headphones and earbuds. Instead, everything is controlled via an on-off switch for ANC as well as the four physical buttons on the right ear cup, which comprises of a Bluetooth on/off button and a set of three buttons with a multifunction button in the middle. The multifunction button facilitates play/pause/pairing mode (press and hold for 3 seconds), answer a call/reject a call (press and hold for 2 seconds) and end a call (press and hold for 2 seconds) when in a call as well as activate your smartphone’s voice assistant (double press). The button to the left of multifunction button control volume up/next track (press and hold) and the button to the right of multifunction button controls volume down/previous track (press and hold). A 3.5 mm single-ended audio jack completes the layout on the right ear cup. On the left ear cup is a single USB-C port, which can be used for charging and audio output via USB, allowing the headphones to act as a USB-DAC when connected to a PC.
Battery life is a claimed 50 hours from a single charge with ANC off and 30 hours with ANC on. Interestingly, as FiiO implemented an independent on/off switch for ANC, one could use the FiiO EH3 NC independently with ANC on with no audio playback, the battery life in this mode is a claimed 62 hours. In practice, it is not too far off with the headphones registering an average of 48 hours and 14 mins with ANC off and an average of 27 hours and 43 mins with ANC on. The FiiO EH3 NC also features Quick Charge, where one will get up to 3 hours worth of battery life after just 10 mins of charge.
On the 13th of April 2020, FiiO released a new companion app, FiiO Control, which allows users to access the device settings of their FiiO Bluetooth devices directly. Currently, devices supported by the FiiO Control app includes BTR3, BTR3K, BTR5, EH3 NC, LC BT2, Q5, and Q5s. Previously embedded in the company’s FiiO Music App, it has been cumbersome for users to have to go into the settings menu in the FiiO Music App to access their FiiO Bluetooth device settings. For the FiiO EH3 NC, the app provides an overview of the headphones, which include the current Bluetooth Codec selected and the battery status. The app also allows one to enable or disable the Codec and Battery indicators found on the right ear cup of the headphones, set the idle power-off timing, enable/disable charging, select preferred Bluetooth Codec, toggle through equaliser (EQ) presets and even customise a 10-band EQ setting. If you need a quick reference guide, there is also a concise version in the app.
In the box, one would find a pair of FiiO EH3 NC headphones, a storage case, a 3.5 mm auxiliary male-to-male audio cable, a USB-A to USB-C cable, a quick start guide, and a warranty card.