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Fiio FD3 Review

The FD5 Gets an Affordable Little Brother

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

We reviewed the Fiio FD5 earlier this year and loved its big bass and powerful, detailed sound that also worked for games due to its semi-open back design. We weren’t alone: the FD5 has been widely acclaimed but at $299, it was out of reach of many consumers. This month, Fiio released its successor, the Fiio FD3. It brings back much of what we loved about the FD5 — that great single dynamic driver sound and wide soundstage for music and gaming — starting at only $99.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $99 Standard (Amazon), $139 Pro Version (Amazon)
  • Driver: 12mm dynamic
  • Driver Coating: Diamond-like Carbon
  • Design Principle: Semi-Open Back
  • Front Acoustic Prism
  • Interchangeable Sound Tube (Bass or Treble)
  • Impedance: 32Ω
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz-40kHz
  • Sensitivity: [email protected]
  • IEM Material: Aluminum-Magnesium Alloy
  • Connection: MMCX
  • Cable: 
    • Standard FD3: 4-strand, 120-core high-purity single-crystal copper cable, single-ended 3.5mm termination
    • FD3 Pro: 8-strand 152-core silver-plated monocrystalline copper cable; interchangeable ends: 3.5mm single-ended, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm balanced

Fiio FD3 - Unboxing and Overview

The Fiio FD3 is a striking little earphone. Fiio has really been on a roll with creating unique designs for its IEMs (like the Dragonscale FH5s) and the FD3 is no different. While it features the same circular shape as the FD5, it leaves the polished aluminum design in exchange for marbled faceplates with bronze and silver-toned accents. Despite the differing look, each piece is milled from an aluminum-magnesium alloy, so it’s durable and robust. The FD5 was unmistakably aesthetic in its own right, but I prefer the more intricate design of the FD3. It’s uniquely beautiful. 

The Fiio FD3 is, in essence, a more affordable FD5 and that’s a very good thing. It features the same 12mm dynamic driver as the FD5 and the same 1.5 tesla magnetic flux, so you can count on this speaker moving a lot of air and delivering a powerful sound. On paper, it features the same 10-40,000Hz frequency response, as well as the same 16 ohm impedance and 109dB of sensitivity. Like the FD5, you’ll find that you can easily drive it using a smartphone but that it scales well with more power and higher tier gear — including higher output gaming PCs, interfaces, and desktop amp/dac setups like the Schiit Fulla

Big dynamic drivers like this can sometimes struggle with distortion. Being able to drop to low, powerful bass hit (important for both music and games) and then immediately jump into detailed high frequency noise is no small feat, but is an important capability for being able to hear all that your source has to offer. The answer is to apply metallic coatings to the driver itself, increasing its stiffness and speed. While the FD5 used a beryllium coating to accomplish this, the FD3 uses a diamond-like carbon diaphragm with carbon nanotubes along the rim. 

The FD3 adopts other elements from the FD5. In front of the driver is Fiio’s proprietary acoustic prism. Before reaching your ear, the sound passes through this filter, and enhances the diffusion between the soundwaves. Around the rear, below the MMCX connector, is a vented port to reduce pressure for the listener and enhance soundstage. I find the soundstage enhancement to be slightly less than the FD5 where the open-back was literally embedded into the face of the shell.

The Fiio FD3 is available in two versions. The standard FD3, which I have in for review, retails for $99 and includes a basic, 4-strand 3.5mm copper cable. The Pro version is the same earphone but includes an upgraded cable with interchangeable ends, similar to that of the FD5. This cable allows you to unscrew the 3.5mm termination and plug in your choice of 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced connectors. This upgrade raises the price to $139 but is good value as this type of cable alone routinely sells between $50-100. 

As usual for Fiio products, there’s a generous assortment of accessories included in the box. You have a solid, pelican style case, eight pairs of silicone ear tips and two pairs of memory foam for the best sound isolation. These tips are broken into bass, balanced, and vocal styles based on the diameter of the inner tube. Interestingly, the nozzles themselves can be swapped out to further tune the sound. Fiio includes bass and treble set that simply screw onto the housings. Like the tips, these enhance sound based on their diameter. All told, the enhancements offered by the nozzles and tips are subtle but when you pair bass with bass or treble with vocal, it does make for a noticeable enhancement. I also like that the diameter of the replacement nozzles is the same as the originals, so they’ll work with any of the included tips instead of the multi-flanged silicones on the FD5.

Fiio FD3 - Fit and Comfort

They may not look it, but the FD3s are a comfy earphone. Their circular shape at first looks like it might not sit well, but the inner contouring is exacting and I found them to nestle into my ear comfortably and securely, even over multiple hours of use. I didn’t experience any soreness or inner-ear irritation using these earphones.

Fiio FD3 - Listening Impressions

At only $99 to start, the FD3 is extremely impressive. The sound profile is quite close to the FD5. Bass is powerful and full, vocals and detailed and sultry, and there’s a nice level of detail in the highs. They aren’t exactly the same, but if you were looking for an FD5 without paying such a premium, this comes daringly close. A broader comparison is more apt, however, as this is one of the best single dynamic driver earphones I’ve heard at this price, period. As an all-in-one IEM that you can use with your smartphone on the go, plug into your laptop for music or games, or connected to your nice balanced amp, this IEM is up for the challenge.

Starting with low-end, this is where you would expect the FD3 to shine and it doesn’t disappoint. Dynamic drivers are great for bass and with just a little bit of volume, these earphones fill out beautifully. Even listening to softer tracks, like the start of The Light and the Glass by Coheed and Cambria, when the bass guitar comes in, the song has a width and presence that can sometimes be lacking. Add the kick drums in the pre-chorus and they literally seem to thump.

 

This also makes the headphone fun for gaming too. There’s a definite sense of impact and power behind explosions. I was also struck by the richness it offered soundtracks that would usually fade into the background. 

Vocals are lush and don’t tend into harshness, even for higher pitched singers. Vocals and dialogue pop right to the front of the mix, making them easier to hear. There’s enough detail here that you can clearly hear layered voices (which is more common than you might think in songs!) and harmonies that would otherwise blend together. 

Treble detail is also good, though falls back compared to nice balanced armature designs like the Fiio FH5s. Where that earphone could sometimes sound sharp when played too loud, the FD3 makes for an easier, more relaxed listen. Nothing fades away or decays unnaturally, however, which leads to a more natural sound signature. 

Changing tubes enhances this somewhat. As you can see in the frequency response graph above, the treble nozzles raise the response between 2-10kHz, which also encompasses some mid-level detail. To my ear, this didn’t result in harshness as the increase is fairly modest in practice. Still, for a more defined “u-shaped” tuning, these nozzles open the door to enhanced mid and high-frequency detail.

For gamers, the improved low-end response might be appealing but wouldn’t mean much if that’s all the FD3 offered. Even though they’re a great fit for the full-bodied while gaming, the bass doesn’t detract from the mids or highs. There is nothing muddy about these earphones and that low-end exists alongside the other details, not on top of them.

Finally, like the FD5, the soundstage here is impressive and outperforms closed-back IEMs for a more “out of the head” sound. The overall presentation is still more intimate than an open-back headset or even the FD5 proper, but the FD3 still presents a nice sense of space and separation between sounds. As I alluded to before, I believe the slight reduction in space is related to the position of the vents. They still bleed a bit more sound, and let more in, than true closed-back earphones but it’s very minor overall. I would have no issue wearing these in an office setting if there was any other surrounding noise.

Final Thoughts

The Fiio FD3 is an outstanding value and is a joy to listen to. Whether you’re going for the single-ended standard version or the interchangeable cable of the Pro version, it outperforms its price point soundly. If you’re in the market for a full-bodied, single dynamic driver IEM and don’t want to break the bank, this is an excellent choice for gaming and music alike.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.
 
9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Beautiful, marbled design
  • Customizable sound
  • Rich in detail with powerful, punchy bass
  • Affordable price
  • Semi-open back offers more soundstage than most IEMs (great for gaming)
Cons
  • Semi-open design allows more sound in and out
  • Soundstage is slightly smaller than FD5


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight