The FiiO FT3 are over-ear, circumaural headphones with intriguing specifications. They are equipped with 350-ohm dynamic drivers with 60 mm diameter diamond-like diaphragms and a monocrystalline copper modular cable. The new headphones are designed to provide clear sound with deep bass.
Some time ago, I described the great SV023 from Sivga, i.e. high-resistance headphones with an open design, which delighted me in virtually every aspect, from workmanship, through ergonomics to sound. It’s hard not to get the impression that the title FT3 directly responds to the SV023 model. FiiO also opted for open chambers but used larger drivers (60 mm vs 50 mm) with even higher impedance (350 ohms vs 300 ohms).
The manufacturer also boasts diaphragms with DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon), a modular monocrystalline copper cable from the valued Furukawa brand, and two types of earmuffs in the set. As if that were not enough, FiiO FT3 is cheaper than Sivga SV023 because they were priced at EURO 380 compared to EURO 450. I had nothing else to do but check what the new FT3 could do and compare them with, among others, Sivga SV023 and HiFiMAN Sundara.
- modular cable with a band (approx. 300 cm);
- 3.5mm and 4.4mm plugs;
- XLR adapter > 4.4mm;
- adapter 6.35mm > 3.5mm;
- alternative hybrid earmuffs;
- headphone bag;
- manual user instructions.
The equipment is rich, and the accessories are of high quality. For example, the stiffened case has a solid, masked zipper and a comfortable handle. Inside, you will also find a cable tie and a detachable organizer for accessories. We can fit in it both 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm plugs, as well as dedicated adapters, i.e. 6.35 mm and XLR 4-pin. The manufacturer has also added alternative earmuffs that are hybrid and perforated as opposed to the velour ones that are pre-installed on the headphones.
It is worth knowing that the cable is limited, and more precisely, the conductor from Furukawa because its production was discontinued in 2013. At that time, FiiO bought the remaining assortment. The wire stock should be enough to produce 5,000 pieces of headphones; later, the Japanese monocrystalline copper will be replaced with another.
The FiiO FT3 is both impressive and questionable at the same time. Let’s start with the pluses, i.e. the impressive build quality, because anodized and massive aluminum dominates, from which both the headphone housings and the headband are made. The “velour” used in the earmuffs and the headband also does not disappoint, and nothing bad can be accused of the leather-like elements that trim the top of the headband and the headband rails. The whole thing has also been perfectly fitted and screwed in critical points.
The design, however, is specific. I have no objections to the subdued colors or the shape of the headphones because the housings are round, and the headband with a suspended headband is also an absolute classic. The effect is spoiled by grilles resembling shurikens, aluminum rims, or circular saw blades, i.e., they look aggressive and rather “gaming” than audiophiles or music lovers. Not everyone will probably agree with me, but I think the matte black and minimalist HiFiMAN Sundara or the wooden and elegant Sivga SV023 look better.
In addition to the aforementioned blades, on the headphone housings, you can also see the FiiO logo on a circularly grooved background and standard 3.5 mm jacks, next to which small channel markings are engraved. They are absent, however, on the thin meshes inside the donut earmuffs, which have been sewn at the edges and filled with an elastic sponge. It is also worth looking at the transducers, which have been ergonomically tilted and secured with rosette enclosures.
The thick, long, and flexible cable steals the show. It is secured with a smooth braid to the touch, through which you can feel the twisted veins. Metal elements, i.e. 3.5 mm plugs and a large splitter, which have been effectively milled, also draw attention. The same applies to the modular plug with a twisted jacket and the FiiO in-ear headphones. Inside is a four-pin connector and a small guide for threaded cartridges from the set.
The sling-shaped fork allows you to move the earcups vertically and sideways, but the range of movement is limited – it is impossible to fold the headphones flat or turn them outwards. Interestingly, springs automatically straighten the shells in the up-down plane (horizontal axis). The headband resembles the one from the Sivga SV023, but it was suspended on a string and padded with a thin layer of sponge instead of a series of “cushions.” The metal rails of the headband are covered with artificial leather, welded, and stitched at the edges.
Ergonomics and use
I have no major reasons to complain about ergonomics. On my head, the headphones hold securely, the headband does not crush the contact of the jaws, and the headband easily surrounds the head and does not crush its tip. In my opinion, the band’s tension is optimal – the size does not get out of adjustment, and the shells do not move on the head, so the size adjustment mechanism is maintenance-free. As a result, the FT3 is one of the most comfortable headphones; I could use them for long hours without feeling uncomfortable.
However, this does not mean that the comfort is perfect. First, the FT3 is quite heavy because 391 grams is already the area of planar headphones. For comparison, the Sivga SV023 weighs 318 grams and is better balanced because, in the case of the FT3, the headband is more massive than the shells. In addition, the FT3 ear cups are not extensive – their inner diameter is about 5.5 cm so that the auricles can come into contact with the pads. The Sivga SV023 ear cups are larger, measuring about 5 cm by 6.5 cm inside, and they are angular, i.e. thicker at the back.
In practice, both headphones are comfortable, but in the end, the Sivga SV023 comes out ahead, in my strictly subjective opinion. Wider, deeper, hybrid ear cups and lower and better-distributed mass support them. On the other hand, the headband pressure in the FT3 is less, which can be significant for people with larger skulls, wearing glasses, or sensitive to pressure.
The cable is heavy, flowing, and drapes well. It’s great that the manufacturer used universal 3.5 mm plugs, just like HiFiMAN, and a big plus is the mentioned modular cartridges and adapters, especially the 4-pin XLR adapter, which the Sivga SV023 does not have. However, the length of the FT3 cable may be a problem because it is three meters long. For comparison, the SV023 cable measures 2 meters so that it can be more practical daily. In addition, competitive Sivga also offers balance straight from the box and adapters for small and large jacks.
The advantage of the FT3 over the SV023 is the additional earmuffs, which are easy to replace because they are mounted on solid latches. Initially, I had a problem with it, but it turned out that you should detach the earmuffs by stretching them from the outside, not from the inside. Otherwise, the latches stubbornly stick. Clipping the ear cups in is also easy, as there are two centering pins on them, and the latches click in with a satisfying click. In addition, the pads adhere perfectly to the edges of the shells because they are glued with a layer of foam.
- construction: open, circumaural
- drivers: dynamic 60 mm
- frequency response: 7Hz-40kHz
- sensitivity: 105 dB
- impedance: 350 ohms
- headband pressure: 4N
- cable: monocrystalline copper, 2x 3.5 mm > 3.5 mm/4.4 mm + 6.35 mm and XLR adapters (approx. 300 cm)
- weight: 391g
In the tests of in-ear headphones, I chose the best tips, which I later used in listening sessions. I planned to do the same with the FT3, but this time things are more complicated because both types of ear cups significantly change the sound signature. Let’s start describing the listening session with the velour pads pre-installed on the headphones, which will be the basis for describing the hybrid pads.
FiiO FT3 – sound with velour earmuffs
Futuristic design and large drivers suggested that the sound would be spectacular and the bass would be strongly boosted, while the FiiO FT3 oscillates around balance. Although in the factory configuration, you can hear some accents in the band’s extremes, it is far from typical consumer tuning. The sound signature is tonally neutral, neither warm nor cold, and the FT3s sound fast, precise, and clear. The headphones also boast a large sound stage, so the potential of the open design was used. I would briefly describe the sound of the FT3 with Velor pads as a marriage of analytics and musicality.
The bass is saturated, deep, and decently linear. The FiiO FT3 achieves sub-bass frequencies, but the emphasis is on the mid-bass range. The lows have a nice attack; they are fast and free but do not hit with extreme force, which is typical of many open headphones. In the low tones, there is also no lack of control or saturation, and the bass does not go uninvited, so fans of a balanced sound should be satisfied. On the other hand, those looking for an extremely large dose of bass may feel unsatisfied because the FT3 are certainly not bass headphones. I am in the first group, so I appreciate the overall balance and colorfulness of the low tones. I was not impressed with the texture of the bass – it is not a fused mass but rather has a soft, coherent, and smoothed character. I wouldn’t describe the bass of the FT3 as hard, contoured, or heavily outlined. Nevertheless, at this price, the level is still satisfactory.
The midrange is not pushed out but has a neutral character – you can hear both the timbre and saturation of the lower subrange, as well as the hardness and clarity of the upper one. Thanks to this, the FT3 works with different types of voice, wind, guitar, percussion instruments, and strings. In the midrange, you can hear more information; the sound is still smooth and pleasant but more differentiated and detailed. I did not miss details in the snare drums, acoustic guitars, or trumpets; the vocalists’ voices were also satisfying with their timbre. I was pleased with the control and precision of the midrange, which did not feel veiled, muted, or dimmed. I would not describe the midrange as sharp or aggressive, but a lot will depend on the synergy because the headphones have certain requirements from the equipment or music production.
The highs are clear, expressive, and extended. The treble illuminates the others, gives the headphones a direct character, and conveys much information. The treble has not been cut off, so the vocals, as do the strings and guitar solos, sound as they should. It is also a pleasure to follow the cymbals, varied and metallic but not yet sharp. The treble’s overall resolution is impressive, and the sound feels extremely clean and precise, which is probably largely due to the high-impedance dynamic drivers. However, you should know that the treble is relatively strong; the FiiO FT3 is not dimmed. I wouldn’t call the headphones sharp, but again, a lot will depend on the timing of the equipment and music and personal preferences.
The soundstage is also an asset of the FT3 model. The space is large and well-proportioned, the channels are well-separated, and the instrument display is three-dimensional. In my opinion, however, the stage is not ellipsoidal but spherical because there is as much going on in width as in-depth or height. The foreground is close, but further layers can also be heard – distant backing vocals or background melodic lines. Interestingly, the headphones immerse the listener in the music and do not drive the instruments into the center of the skull because those located in the center resound slightly in front of the face. So there is something “loudspeaker” in the FT3 space. The effect is also enhanced by a strong separation of instruments and a lot of aeration because there are large distances between the instruments, and the background is clean.
FiiO FT3 – sound with hybrid earmuffs
Hybrid and perforated ear pads, i.e. the “leather and velour” ones, clearly change the sound, directing them to strictly analytical tracks. The sound signature changes from slightly “smiling” (underlined frequency range extremes) to flat. The bass decreases, and it becomes tight and punctual – more information can be heard. Hence, the texture of the instruments is more differentiated, but at the expense of impact and richness, because the lower registers take the form of sketchy ones. Thus, the midrange, well-outlined, precise, and direct, comes first. On the other hand, the effect on the treble is the smallest, but these seem to be more embedded in the midrange; they sound more natural. Interestingly, the stage with the alternative ear cups seemed wider to me; it became more ellipsoidal at the expense of depth.
I’m not exaggerating; the sound change is so big that the FT3 are 2-in-1 headphones – velour earmuffs will provide a more musical sound with deeper tones, and the hybrid ones will be analytical and flat. Which is better? It’s hard to decide. Initially, I decided that I preferred velour pads because they still provide a fairly balanced sound that is musical and relatively versatile. However, the more I used the hybrid pads, the more I liked the tight and nuanced bass, tight mids, and overall clarity worthy of studio headphones. So replaceable ear pads are a useful tuning tool in this case.
FiiO FT3 – comparisons with Sivga SV023, HiFiMAN Sundara and other headphones
FiiO FT3 and Sivga SV023 are more united than divided. The sound is so similar that in a blind test, I would consider that both models have a common manufacturer. However, if we listen closely, it will turn out that the Sivga SV023 pushes the foreground further, which intensifies the soundstage. The competitor’s character is also somewhere between the FT3 with velour and hybrid earmuffs – the SV023 still sounds musical but has a closer midrange and a more differentiated bass. In both models, you can also hear a pleasant smoothness, there is no shortage of colors, and the treble is extended and precise.
The choice is not easy. I like a little more bass in the FT3, but the low tones of the SV023 are more varied, which the FiiO headphones have some problems with, at least with the velour ear cups. The Sivga headphones sound more natural due to the closer midrange and harder-defined bands. With them, the sound of the FT3 seems slightly softened, a bit too smooth. Both models are also characterized by an extended, expressive, and resolving treble, which is more accessible in the FT3. If I had to ignore the price difference and focus only on the sound, I would choose the Sivg SV023. Nevertheless, FiiO FT3 offers a similar level so that the price or ergonomic and functional issues may decide the choice.
The HiFiMAN Sundar generates a much smaller soundstage, sounds harder, and does not have such a balanced treble. It is also possible to notice a slightly shifted midrange and a calmer bass compared to the FT3 with velour pads. The treble is more balanced in the FiiO FT3, but the Sundar has less soprano, so they sound a little softer and are easier to pick up. Again, there is no big difference, but I qualitatively prefer the FT3 and the Sivga SV023. On the other hand, Sundara costs around EURO 350, so theoretically, they are the most profitable. You must remember that they are modestly equipped and lack a balanced cable in the set, and the unsymmetrical one does not impress with its quality.
I also reached for the open and dynamic but much more expensive Meze Audio 109 PRO. The FiiO FT3, like the Sivga SV023, can compete with them, despite the huge price difference. Interestingly, the Meze 109 PRO signature is closer to the FiiO FT3 (with velour pads) than the Sivga SV023 because some accents are in the band’s extremes. However, the Meze 109 PRO pushes the foreground further, which enhances the stage, and also conveys more information in the low tones and treble. So you can hear that the Romanian manufacturer’s headphones are of higher quality. Still, the 109 PRO requires an additional Euro 515 compared to the FiiO FT3 and do not have a balanced cable in the set. Also, not every replacement will fit due to the deeply embedded 3.5mm jacks in the 109 PRO ear cups.
FiiO FT3 – synergy
Headphones require adequately efficient hardware and some synergy but are not extremely demanding. The topic should be treated as common sense – we are talking about 350-ohm headphones, so you need more than a basic player or smartphone if you have one with a headphone output. The efficiency is still relatively high (105 dB), so you will do without the power plant. The sound is also neutral-bright, so brightening the headphones is not a good idea. It is better to bet on a bass, warm or balanced source depending on your needs.
I checked the headphones with various devices, both stationary and mobile. The FiiO K9 Pro ESS matched very well, but the treble was relatively strong, so the softer FiiO Q7 fared a little better. I was impressed with the level of the HiFiMAN EF400, but it is also a clear-sounding DAC/AMP, so the repertoire had to be properly mastered. Otherwise, the high tones could cut the ears a little. I would rather aim for equipment sounding in the style of AKM or Burr-Brown than ESS Technology, including the stereotypical understanding of the signatures of the picks of individual manufacturers.
The FiiO FT3 is a solid product. The headphones pamper with the quality of workmanship and equipment, satisfy with ergonomics and impress with functionality – a detachable, strong, and modular cable will not limit the user. Rather, no one will want to replace it because silver-plated OCC copper from Furukawa was used. The pluses also include two types of earmuffs that allow you to retune the headphones. Spatial, clear, and musical-analytical sound is the icing on the cake.
It’s a pity that the cable is not shorter – I think a two-meter section would be enough for various applications. However, the earmuffs could be roomier. In addition, the bass is not very differentiated when the velour pads are worn on the headphones. The design also doesn’t convince me, but that’s a secondary issue.
FiiO FT3 cost Euro 375, and I think they are worth it. I enjoyed testing them and comparing them with the Sivga SV023. Both models of headphones deserve a recommendation – I recommend the FT3 to those who want to tune the headphones with pads, and the SV023 is a good choice for fans of classic design who do not care about experimenting with earmuffs. A better quality-price ratio characterizes FiiO headphones, but the Sivga SV023 offers slightly better ergonomics and sounds more natural, so it may be worth paying extra. I would choose the SV023 for several reasons, but I would also be happy with the FT3.
+ solid workmanship
+ rich equipment
+ High-quality factory cable
+ Modular plugs and adapters
+ high ergonomics
+ Two types of earmuffs included
+ Musical and analytical sound
+ Large, three-dimensional soundstage
– the length of the cable can be a disadvantage
– not very capacious ear pads
– average bass differentiation with velour ear pads
– controversial design