The last five years have transformed the audio industry — both for creators and consumers. For consumers, the rise of streaming services made a wider variety of music much more accessible, and wireless earbuds made it easier to listen on the go. The best wireless earbuds today deliver the same audio fidelity as their wired siblings from five years ago, and they include digital assistant integration and gesture controls.
But history is cyclical, and we're once again seeing a renewed interest in wired earbuds. With lossless music streaming going mainstream, a new generation of users are getting interested in wired audio, and a lot has changed on the hardware front as well. Chinese audio makers have turned the wired category on its side — there are dozens of Chinese brands making wired audio products focused on value, and Fiio has been at the forefront of that change for a while now.
Fiio is well-known for its portable DACs and Bluetooth receivers, and the brand's earbuds are also gaining momentum in this category. The FD3 launched a few months ago and are available for $100, hitting the sweet spot in terms of pricing. That's not the only thing going for them, however: they
Bottom line: If you're venturing back into the world of wired earbuds, the Fiio FD3 are an easy recommendation. They have a comfortable fit and a lightweight design, and the sound quality that you get here is leagues ahead of anything you'll find in the wireless category.
- Interesting design
- Neutral sound with terrific detail
- Great value
- Plenty of accessories included in the box
- Needs a DAC to unlock the full potential of sound
Fiio FD3: Price and availability
The Fiio FD3 made their debut earlier in the year, and the wired earbuds are available globally from major retailers. In the U.S., you can get your hands on the standard FD3 for $100. Fiio makes a Pro version of the FD3 called the FD3 Pro with an upgraded cable that costs $140.
Fiio FD3: What you'll love
Fiio positioned the FD3 as the affordable alternative to the $300 FD3, its high-end dynamic driver earbuds. The FD3 are a third of the cost but aim to deliver a similar quality of sound while retaining nice-to-have features like interchangeable sound tubes.
The $100 price point works in the favor of the FD3, as it allows the earbuds to go up not only against other wired earbuds, but also wireless earbuds from the likes of Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, Jabra, Sony, and others. The argument can be made that wired earbuds are aimed at a different userbase than their wireless counterparts, but what you miss out on convenience, you more than gain in sound quality.
With bold accents and a lightweight chassis, the FD3 stand out for their design.
The FD3 definitely delivers on the audio front. But before we get to that, let's talk about the design. The FD3 come in a package that includes a lot of accessories: you get a plastic storage case, detachable MMCX cables, eight pairs of silicone eartips — three for bass, three for vocal, and two for balanced — along with two foam eartips for balanced, and an additional set of sound tubes.
There's nothing subtle about the design of the FD3; with rose gold accents and marbled inlays with a 2.5D glass finish over each earbud, they are rather striking. The earbuds are made out of aluminum-magnesium alloy, and it gives them added rigidity while ensuring they're not too heavy.
The connectors plug in at the top of the earbud, and on the back, you'll find a vented port that assists in delivering a neutral sound while decreasing pressure on the ear. The semi-open construction allows some sound will filter in when you're not listening to music. You'll also find color-coded earbuds for left (blue) and right (red).
Although the design doesn't seem to be very ergonomic, the inner contour of the earbud ensures you get a secure fit that isn't uncomfortable even after extended usage. With each earbud coming in at under 7g, they're lightweight enough that your ears won't feel fatigued after extended listening sessions.
The FD3 feature MMCX cables that end in a 3.5mm connection, and the main difference between the standard and Pro model is the cable that's bundled in the box. The standard model has a 4-strand high-purity monocrystalline copper cable, with the Pro version offering an 8-strand silver-plated monocrystalline copper cable that's interchangeable with 3.5mm, 2.5mm, or the balanced 4.4mm.
As I said earlier, the FD3 share the same audio driver as the $300 FD5, and that allows them to deliver powerful sound that's above and beyond anything you'll find in the wireless earbud category. The FD3 feature a 12mm dynamic driver with a diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating that reduces distortion.
For $100 earbuds, the FD3 sound phenomenal.
You get a frequency response of 10Hz - 40,000Hz, sound isolation up to 27dB, and sensitivity of 111dB. With a low 32-ohm impedance, you'll be able to drive the FD3 with any source, but you'll ideally need a portable DAC to make the sound come alive. I used Shanling's new UP5 and Helm's terrific Bolt to test the FD3.
The FD3 have a neutral signature with a detailed bass and strong emhasis on highs. Sub-bass and mid-bass isn't overbearing, but you still get a satisfying low-end that's engaging and intense. Mid-range in general has excellent clarity, with vocals sounding bright and detailed, making the FD3 a great choice not just for music but also for movies and TV shows.
Treble is engertic and clearly defined, and that's particularly noticeable when you crank up the volume. The FD3 also has a wide soundstage thanks to the semi-open design, with wide spacing between instruments.
Fiio FD3: What needs work
There's very little wrong with the FD3. The whole idea behind wired earbuds is that they don't need much in the way of maintenance and are durable, and the build quality with the FD3 is robust enough that they should last a very long time. The cable with the standard version is also of an excellent quality.
One thing to note is that you will need a good portable DAC to use with the FD3 to fully unlock its audio fidelity. You can still just connect it directly to your phone, but you'll need to get a dongle anyway, so you may as well get something like the $100 Helm DAC instead to use with the FD3.
Fiio FD3: The competition
You'll find dozens of alternatives if you're in the market for wired earbuds under $100. Moondrop is making a name for itself in this segment, and the $79 Aria have a lot to offer. They include a 10mm driver that delivers a clear sound that's immensely versatile, and like the FD3, you get a striking design.
Fiio FD3: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if...
- You want terrific sound quality for $100
- You're looking for durability and a high-quality cable
- You need earbuds with a standout design
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You don't want to pick up a DAC
The Fiio FD3 are an easy recommendation in this category. They have a unique design that makes them stand out, and the sound quality is among the best you'll find for $100. The 12mm drivers produce a dynamic soundstage that's engaging and fun, and they hold up well for a lot of genres.
You get a lot for your money here, with the design itself sturdy enough to last several years. The cable is of quite high quality as well — even on the standard model — and you get all the accessories you need inside the package.
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