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HomeGADGETSPOCKET GADGETSFiiO FW3 review: Plastic, not quite fantastic

FiiO FW3 review: Plastic, not quite fantastic

FiiO has long made a name for itself in hi-fi circles for its well-priced high-res portable music players – but its wider range of portable audio kit and headphones arguably hasn’t yet built up the same legacy, outside of China at least.

Enter the FiiO FW3, a pair of sub-$100/?100 true wireless earbuds with lofty claims about clarity and sound quality – claims we have the inclination to hear out, considering the brand’s background. However, in a price bracket that now boasts loads of competition, do they deliver? Here’s my full review.

Fiio FW3 1

Fiio FW3
$80 $100 Save $20

FiiO has got our attention with these value-driven earbuds – it hasn’t nailed every element, but there’s enough here to suggest that subsequent efforts could well tick a lot of boxes.

Pros

  • Nicely balanced sound
  • Solid battery life
  • Lightweight
Cons

  • Feel a little cheap
  • Not the most powerful
  • No noise cancellation

  • Weighs 6g per earbud
  • Available in silver or white

There’s no getting around it – FiiO has gone with a pretty out-there look for the FW3. The case is utterly unremarkable, a clamshell of silver plastic with some LEDs for charging indicators, but the buds themselves are another story.

They’re plastic, just like the case, but with a scalloped, vented outer face that is certainly eye-catching, albeit in a potentially divisive way.

As demonstrated by the Nothing Ear series, an earbud that looks different can be a breath of fresh air, but where Nothing’s see-through design looks cool, this looks a little janky.

Fiio FW3 3

It also contributes to a shape that makes the FW3’s individual buds a little unwieldy and chunky, although they’re still comfortable to wear once you select the right earbud tip from a wide assortment packaged with them.

This comfort is largely down to the fact that each earbud is seriously light at 6g, and I found them fine to wear for a few hours at a time, which means they pass muster for most uses I can imagine.

Each earbud has two tiny buttons on its top edge, one with a raised dot so you can tell them apart, and these controls work decently (although they’re not the most instantaneous).

Fiio FW3 5

They’re easy enough to press without putting pressure on your ear, making them a solid alternative to touch controls that can often be unpredictable on competing options at this price.

Their charging case is also really light, and while that makes the FW3 a straightforward set of earbuds to carry around, there is a reliance on plastic that leaves them feeling pretty budget – not quite flimsy, but heading some way in that direction.

Sound quality

  • 10mm drivers
  • Supports LHDC/aptX Adaptive Hi-Res Bluetooth

FiiO’s whole game is to offer sound quality that belies the sub-$100 price of the FW3 and, in fairness, it manages that to a degree with these earbuds.

There’s an impressive array of supported codecs, including LDAC, LHDC and AptX/AptX Adaptive, as well as AAC and SBC – plus they’re also Snapdragon Sound certified, for great sound and low latency. All of this means that if you throw the right files at them from the right devices, they can immediately punch above their weight on responsiveness and detail, with support for 24-bit/96kHz playback.

Fiio FW3 6-1

Slipping them in to cruise through some playlists, it’s immediately apparent that you do indeed get a nice and delicate presentation that doesn’t go heavy on any one frequency.

They’re very balanced, and for lighter music (think indie and folk) this makes for a really pleasant listening experience that doesn’t try anything silly with bass levels. The flipside to that delicacy is that EDM and harder rock do miss out on low-end response, pretty noticeably to my ears.

Don’t get that twisted too much – they still reach low enough that you’ll be able to pick out plenty of low-end details, but there’s no oomph – whether you call that vibration or rumble, you won’t get it here.

Fiio FW3 4

The midrange is solid enough to deliver vocals with focus and insight, and there’s no distortion with high frequencies either, so you get a clear and comfortable listen across the board.

Their balanced approach means FiiO’s audiophile branding is lived up to, in a way. You can appreciate songs really nicely with the FW3, but they’re not necessarily earbuds to transport you totally and emotionally into a track – particularly those that might require some extra wallop in the low end to do so.

There’s not much customisation in FiiO’s basic app to help that either, but one interesting twist is offered up by the fact that you can adjust the limit on the buds’ volume manually – if you like to pump up the volume beyond what’s recommended, you can get there (just don’t tell your doctor, eh?).

Battery life and features

  • 7 hours on a charge, two more charges in case
  • No ANC

As you’d hope for earbuds that don’t pack in a bunch of bells and whistles, or indeed extra features, the FW3 offer very solid battery life at seven hours before they need to go back in the case.

Fiio FW3 7

With two more charges in the case, that equips you for quite a long time before you have to plug it back in, and makes them solid daily drivers for those who use their earbuds a bunch.

On the topic of features, there is no active or adaptive noise cancelling of any sort in the FW3, so if you’re hoping to listen on a train or plane you might find they’re not the ideal pick.

I’m forgiving of this because the sound profile the earbuds offer is interesting enough to make up for it, but it’s also the case that sub-$100 earbuds are increasingly finding ways to offer ANC without major price hikes, so it’ll be interesting to see what FiiO does down the line on that front.

Fiio FW3 8

ANC can often compromise an audiophile’s appreciation of a track, but it’s also a major usability offering these days – something the Sony WF-C700N offer at the same price. Still, I found that the earbuds had moderate passive isolation once I got the right eartip fitted, so it depends how important noise cancellation is to you as to whether this will be a deal breaker.

Verdict

The FW3 feels like what they are – one of FiiO’s very first sets of wireless earbuds, at a price that’s very hard to nail on the first attempt. There are some creditable details here, not the least of which is an audiophile-tuned sound signature that is detail-oriented and nicely balanced. I was left longing for a bit more power, though, and the build quality and design aren’t quite slam dunks either.

 

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