FiiO EM3 Open Earbud Earphones with In-Line Microphone (Black)

Type35

100+ Head-Fier
Fiio sent me the retail version of the EM3 to review a while ago. I’ve had these earbuds for over a year so I am quite familiar with the way they sound. They retail for $10.

Setup for this review:
Source: HP laptop running on battery and with wireless LAN turned off.
Media player: Foobar 2000 with full RAM buffering running in native ASIO mode.
DAC: LH Labs Geek Out 450 with 15dB to 18dB digital attenuation and FRM filter (Frequency Response Mode is a linear phase slow roll-off filter).
Headphones: Fiio EM3, Apple earbuds and earpods, Edifier H180, VE Monk, Blox BE3.

EM3 fit and finish:
Overall packaging is excellent. There is a unique code to verify that the earbuds are genuine. Three pairs of full foam earpads are also included. The connector is an L-shaped jack and there is a one-button microphone / remote (which I never used). The shell has the shape of a rocket exhaust nozzle. I am not a big fan of this design option: it’s not uncomfortable but the earbuds do not fit as snuggly as they would with something like a standard Sennheiser shell.

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EM3 sound signature:
With full foams, bass is overly boosted and boomy, vocals are muffled, soundstage is very distant and tiny. Why on earth is Fiio including foam earpads in the packaging? Many people will put them on without afterthoughts and will be robbed of the sound potential of the EM3. If you intend to use foams, stick with Apple earbuds.

Without foams, tonal balance and clarity improve quite markedly. Highs can show some trace of sibilance. Bass is now snappy but lacks some weight (not a good match for EDM or rap lovers). Bass and treble extensions are nothing to write home about. Soundstage stays stuck between the ears (no outsized outward projection). Vocals seem a little bit recessed. The overall sound signature can be described as clean and neutral.

With donut foams, one could hope that this is the miracle solution that lands on middle ground between full foams and no foams but this is unfortunately not the case. The results with donut foams are much closer to full foams than without foams so the sound takes a turn for the worse. Since donut foams are not as sturdy as full foams they are also more likely to fall and get lost. This configuration is not recommended either.

I tried an easy mod to see if I could improve the sound of the EM3. With vents taped over and without foams, the soundstage increases dramatically but the treble gets boosted and vocals are pushed forward. The resulting sound is very fatiguing. With vents taped and full foams, bass is further increased but vocals are again pushed forward. The sealed enclosure gives a certain “boxy” coloration to the sound. The overall tonal balance becomes unnatural. In a nutshell, no luck on finding a quick fix.

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Comparison of EM3 without foams to other earbuds:
Apple earbuds without foams and earpods:
This one is straightforward: except for build quality, the EM3 are simply better earbuds than the Apple ones.

Edifier H180 with full foams:
In many ways, the H180 sounds like what the EM3 with foams should have been: a fun v-shaped sound signature. The bass is elevated and a bit boomy but it gives more body to the sound. Treble is not overly refined but it's by no means harsh either. It is not as boosted as the bass and gives the impression of clarity. The form factor of the earbuds is extremely comfortable and fit snuggly against the ear concha. Edifier packaging, fit and finish is on par with Fiio. Price is also equivalent.

VE Monk with full foams:
This comparison is for the original Monk (now discontinued), not the current Monk+. The Monk is more mid-centric than the Monk+. Compared to the EM3, the soundstage is wider and vocals are more natural. There is a bit more clarity. Bass and treble are more extended. The cable seems sturdier and the use of standard Sennheiser shells makes the Monk more comfortable to wear. At the same price as the EM3, the VE Monk (and Monk+ for that matter) is the better buy.

Blox BE3 with full foams:
This is not exactly a fair comparison since the Blox costs about four times what the EM3 goes for. It is also a rather artisanal product with very limited distribution. However, I wanted to include it in the review to understand what the next level in quality brings to the table. The overall sound signature is relatively similar but clarity is improved and details become more readily apparent. You also get an easier sense of flow in the music, everything sounds less forced and more natural. These earbuds are a little more dynamic and better controlled.

Fiio EM3 review takeaway:
Were it not for the VE Monk, the EM3 would have been a perfectly acceptable product at its $10 price point. A much better option is looking into Fiio IEMs line-up which delivers excellent sound and really good value (much better than what Xiaomi / 1More has to offer at comparable price points, but that’s a story for another review).

audiophilefan

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Mic button, fatigue-free sound, great soundstage, durable, affordable
Cons: lacks bass slam, treble could use more detail
BACKGROUND
 
I needed a pair of mobile headphones. I wanted to use something while walking to the transport station or while commuting. I needed something that are not very isolating so I’m still aware of my surroundings. I value safety more than sound in this case. I also needed something with at a mic button so I can take in calls while listening (this pauses the music of course). With these considerations, an earbud fits the bill. And among the budget earbuds, the Fiio EM3 may be the best choice at the time of this review. I owned the X1, A3 (E11k), and the E12 prior to this purchase and I can say that I’m a fan of the quality and value of their products. Let’s get to the review then.
 
 
PACKAGING
 
The EM3 comes in a decent package given its price. What you get:
 
  1. The earbuds
  2. 3 pairs of full foam covers (total of 6)
  3. A warranty certificate
  4. The box can be used as storage if you want. The item is pretty secure inside.
 
For the price point, the packaging looks well thought off, which is very good.
 
 
BUILD QUALITY, DESIGN, AND COMFORT
 
Build quality is above average, at least compared to original earbuds from Samsung or Apple. The wires are thicker overall and strain reliefs are present. The wire, as Fiio indicates, is tension-protected. I presume it can take a beating but I can’t confirm that since I’m always careful with my gear. The L-shaped jack is a welcome addition too.
 
Isolation is below average, which is good for my uses. I believe that it’s always good to be aware of your surroundings to avoid accidents (e.g. hear a car honk when crossing the street, etc.). If complete isolation is important to you, this is something you need to consider.
 
The mic works well and can also be used for pausing and playing music. Play and pause functions are not very reactive and you need to press a little bit harder and longer than usual, which could be a design demerit.
 
Comfort is excellent. The earbuds are on the smaller side but the shell themselves are very evenly smoothed out that you won’t feel any pain wearing them for hours. For larger ears, they sit in more securely with the full foams but for small to average ears, wearing them naked will be ok.
 
 
SOUND
 
Burn-in: 50 hours (can’t detect much difference in the sound so they may not need too much burn-in)
 
 
SET-UP USED:
 
  1. Lenovo K4 Note Smartphone (with Wolfson 8281 Audio Hub)
  2. Dolby Atmos engaged (gives a more accurate perception of soundstage)
  3. Stellio music player EQ is off
 
 
LOWS
 
I believe this is where it lacks the most. Bass is there but it’s barely there. The expectation is it should be able to provide some slam with rock and other faster music genres but it doesn’t really. The bass is a bit slow. To its merit though, this is highly “EQable”. And it will also benefit with an amp that has a bass boost. I imagine it would sound nice with those.
 
 
MIDS
 
Mids have decent clarity and smoothness. It’s not forward, nor it’s recessed. If anything, I believe it’s flat or not boosted, which is good.
 
NOTE: Using the full foams can muffle or suppress the mids quite considerably. If you can find donut foams for these, they might benefit from those more. To their merit though, the foams included are very durable and you can stretch them confidently when putting them on.
 
 
HIGHS
 
Same quality as the mids, I believe they’re not boosted. They’re just right. They sound natural but not very detailed. A little bit more detail and extension would’ve been nice.
 
 
SOUNDSTAGE
 
This is where the EM3 really shines. Separation is better than any earbud I have tried. And the soundstage is really wide. It’s an out-of-the-head experience similar to open-back, full-size headphones. Because of this soundstage, these earbuds are really good for movies too. The Dolby Atmos technology really shines with these.
 
 
OVERALL PRESENTATION
 
I can say that the EM3 is tuned more for the masses than it’s tuned for audiophile. As a result, you get a sound that is easily likeable by a lot of people, but may be less engaging for listeners who has more experience with other gear. On the other hand, it’s a fatigue-free sound that you can enjoy music with tirelessly for long hours. They’re very easy to drive but might benefit from bass boost from portable amps.
 
 
CONCLUSION
 
The EM3 is a very good value given it’s added mic feature and a likeable sound overall. Highly recommended for someone looking for a fatigue-free, reliable daily driver.
 
Happy listening every one! :)

Joeng Zeon

New Head-Fier
Pros: Clear and enjoyable sound, good sound stage and separation, nice bass, comfortable fit
Cons: Loose fit
I love the openness and light weight of earbuds, unfortunately those earbuds I tried such as OMX95, MX375, were lack of bass and musicality. Then I found Fiio EM3 is under $10 and got good review, so I got it a shot.
 
Look
EM3 is cheap, but they don't look cheap, better than MX375. Easy going design, no logo from beginning to end. Cable quality is as good as Sennheiser CX300. No problem to plug them in those devices with thick cases. I can tell the L and R easily even in the dark, thanks to its in-line remote on the left.
It has a vent in the back, on each side of buds. Once I cover the vents, the sound change into less bass, and the sound image goes strange. Same situation as I cover the open back of my HD700.
 
Sound quality
Momentum 2 is my usual headphone. When I switched to EM3, I didn't feel a big drop. EM3 deliver quite open sound with musicality. Wide sound stage and very good bass response. Very satisfied.Curiosity drove me to buy VE Monk+ as well. Monk+ sounded full in mids, gave me a bassy feeling in the beginning, and yet I found the taste of bass were different. Monk+ tended to show the upper bass, and EM3 would show more lower bass. It got benefit from that when I played the soundtrack of movie <Lucy> and <Sherlock Holmes>. Monk+ also sound narrower, most of energy concentrate around mid range, some times when the vocal came in, I was hard to move my attention to instruments.
(Comparison above used each own provided foam cover.)
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vapman
vapman
can you compare to monk+? :)

crabdog

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Airy, warm sound, low price, microphone, inline remote, comfort
Cons: Recessed highs, low noise isolation
Introduction:
Most people reading this need no introduction to FiiO as a company. They have firmly established themselves in the audio market with their DAPs, DACs and amplifiers that are top quality at affordable prices.
 
Website: http://www.fiio.net/fiio
http://www.fiio.net/en/products/52
 
Originally made for the FiiO M3 portable DAP, the EM3 is a budget oriented earbud that comes with an inline remote and microphone. Designed primarily for use with low powered DAPs and smartphones I was curious to see how it compared to the venerable VE Monk. Let’s see how it fares.
 
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Driver
14.8mm dynamic
Sensitivity
109db
Impedance
47 Ohms
Frequency Range
20Hz-20KHz
Cable
120cm
Plug
3.5mm gold-plated (L-shaped)
 
Disclaimer:
The FiiO EM3 was sent free of charge for the purpose of this review. I’d like to thank Sunny and FiiO for the chance to test these earbuds.
 

 
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Packaging, build and accessories:
 
The EM3 comes in a slim, compact, white box. On the front is a picture of the earbuds along with the FiiO slogan “Born For Music and Happy”. On the back you will find specifications and some QR codes which will take you to the website and Facebook pages.
 
Inside the box you’ll find the earbuds, 3 pairs of foam covers and an instruction booklet.
 
As for the earbuds themselves, they’re a glossy black plastic that feels fairly durable and of higher quality than you might expect from something of this price. They look like most typical earbuds but from certain angles remind me of something you might see in a science fiction movie – like alien stingray-shaped spacecraft. However, they’re fairly low-key as appearance goes, from a distance they look like most other earbuds.
 
There are strain reliefs attached to the bottom of the earbud’s stem, leading to the cable which is feels durable and doesn’t tangle too easily. On the left side is the inline single button remote and microphone. Using the microphone with my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 the quality is good with voice coming through loud and clear.
Just below the microphone is a hard rubberized Y-splitter and at the end of the cable there’s an L-shaped 3.5mm plug that also has a good strain relief.
 

 
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Fit, comfort and isolation:
I find the EM3 to be very comfortable as many earbuds are. They’re just the right size for my ears and with the included foam covers stay in place really well without ever feeling like they will fall out. The stems on the bottom of the earbud make it very easy to adjust the position when putting them in your ears.
 
Being an earbud the sound isolation is almost non-existent. This can be a problem if you’re in a noisy area or in transit but at the same time it’s this aspect that makes earbuds sound so airy in their presentation and gives them a large soundstage.
 
Sound:
The sound of the EM3 is V-shaped, warm and non-fatiguing. While not the cleanest of sounds it’s perfectly suited to long listening sessions.The bass on these is well done, having some weight behind it but remaining controlled and in good proportion to the other frequencies. It’s a little on the woolly side but never gets out of control. Mid-bass is perhaps a little too forward and can sometimes dominate the music and muddy the midrange. The midrange is warm and inviting in the EM3, though at times it struggles with the slightly bloated mid-bass. There is a good amount of detail present here and I find these well suited to rock music and electric guitar.The treble plays a very passive role on the EM3, being slightly too recessed for my preference. Extension is decent but I would like the highs to be more forward to add some liveliness and sparkle and also to help balance out the exaggerated mid-bass.
 
Comparison:
EM3 vs VE Monk.
Well you all saw this coming I’m sure. The VE Monks have stormed the globe with their low price and great sound. With the EM3 FiiO is targeting the same demographic so a head to head was inevitable.
The Monk doesn’t have a microphone which might be a major factor for people deciding between the two. I find the Monk to be more forward in the mids and having a bit more clarity but the EM3 carries a stronger bass. The VE Monk sounds a bit more natural but the two have many similarities. The EM3 comes in a nice retail box compared to the Monk’s plastic bag which would in my opinion make them better suited as a gift and it also has the advantage of the inline microphone which is an important aspect for smartphone users. They both offer excellent value and it most likely would come down to personal preference and features (remote/microphone).
 
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Conclusion:
The FiiO EM3 is an excellent value earbud that should be an upgrade over most of the ones that come bundled with smartphones. It has a great microphone which is a big advantage for many in its target demographic along with a warm and inviting sound. As always, price is a significant factor in my review scores and the EM3 comes in at a budget friendly $10-20 range. If you like the comfort and airiness of earbuds and like to have a microphone handy when using your smartphone then these are a great companion to have.
Pros: Sound quality, tonal balance, value, comfort, included microphone and on-cable control, good build for the price
Cons: L/R markings hard to see, included foams slip off
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For larger views of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images

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INTRODUCTION

If you'd asked me my thoughts on ear-buds a few years ago – I would probably have turned up my nose a little, and my thoughts would have been cast back to the cheap buds you'd get with your MP3 player. Even when Apple started with their first ear-buds, they were lacking bass and nothing to really write home about. All that changed when I was introduced to Venture Electronics ear-bud range (Monk, Asura and Zen), and I learned just how good a properly tuned ear-bud could be. So when Sunny from FiiO reached out to me and asked if I'd take their EM3 ear-bud for a test-run, I was interested to see what they'd managed to create and also how it compared with the VE Monk and Monk Plus – which to me are now the gold standards for budget ear-buds.

ABOUT FiiO
By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary. FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X3 2nd Gen (X3ii), X5 2nd Gen (X5ii), M3 and X7. They also have a full range of amplifiers, DAC/amps, cables and now with the EM3 they have entered the ear-bud market.

FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.

DISCLAIMER
The EM3 was provided to me gratis as a review sample. I have made it clear to FiiO in the past that I did regard any product they sent me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request. I will continue to use the EM3 for follow up reviews and my own personal use. This is one of their items I would definitely buy from FiiO but they have insisted any future review models are mine to keep (they will not accept payment). So I acknowledge now that the EM3 I have is supplied and gifted completely free of any charge or obligation. I thank FiiO for their generosity. I own and have paid for the E7, E9, E11, E11K, X1, and X5 in the past. 

 
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. 

I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays).
I’ve used the EM3 from a variety of sources, but for main body of this review, I’ve used it primarily with my FiiO X3ii combined with the E11K amp, my iPhone and the tiny FiiO M3. In the time I have spent with the EM3, I have noticed no change in the overall sonic presentation – except for when I have changed variables such as covers.

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The EM3 came in a smart little white printed retail box measuring 45 x 145 x 21mm. The box has a picture of the EM3 on the front, and specifications and QR codes (auto links to their various social media and web portals. There is also an authenticity sticker.

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Front of the retail FiiO EM3 box
Rear of the retail box
 

Opening the box reveals a slide-out inner tray which contains the manual + warranty, EM3 ear-buds, and a small box with three sets of black foam covers. A translucent frosted cover keeps everything nicely contained.

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Interior of retail box and contents
Accessories

So a very minimal accessory package (which is OK considering the price), and the foams (and spares) is a welcome addition at this price point.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
(From FiiO)

Type
Open dynamic ear-bud
Driver
14.8 mm dynamic
Frequency Range
20 Hz – 20 Khz
Impedance
47 ohm
Sensitivity
109dB (1mW)
Plug
3.5mm gold plated, right angled jack
Cable
1.2m, TPE outer coat, ofc copper
Weight
Approx 14g with single full foam covers
IEM Shell
Polycarbonate / hard plastic

BUILD QUALITY / DESIGN
The EM3 departs from the generic style of flatter ear-buds, and almost looks like a crossover between traditional styles and Apple's ear-pods. The face looks very much like a more traditional flat face, but from there the acoustic chamber extends to a more conical shape, and then to a more traditional arm extension to the cable. The front face measures approx 16mm and is fully covered in a mesh screen to protect the drivers. The housing is conical and measures 16mm deep. The cable exit/arm measures 20mm brining the overall length of the shall to approximately 30mm. The shell is a black glossy hard polycarbonate plastic and feels reasonably sturdy. There is a very small (and difficult to see) L/R marking on the arm, above what looks to be a second bass port (the first is on the conical housing).

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Front face and mesh
From the rear
 
At the cable exit, there is good rubber strain relief. The cable is reasonable thickness, and at first glance looks a bit flimsy, but looks can be very deceiving. FiiO has sheathed the ofc copper cable in a very low noise TPE cover, and this adds high tensile strength and durability. It is quite satiny, and not prone to tangling.

 
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Cable exits
Side view
 

Approx 11cm from the cable exit on the left hand side is a single button remote and microphone. This unit hangs just under my jaw (so ideal height for the mic). The on cable controls work perfectly with my iPhone 5S, allowing play/pause (one push), next track (two pushes), and previous track (three pushes). A single long push also activates Siri which is really handy. I also tried them with my wife's Galaxy, and everything worked perfectly except for the previous track (3 pushes) – it simply advanced the track and either paused or played (depending what was active). With the FiiO M3 and X1, the buttons also worked perfectly.

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Single push button on-cable control
Microphone port
 
The microphone is crystal clear for calls, as is the audio, and the M3 has become my default for use my iPhone 5S. I always have it in my work briefcase, and if I know I'm expecting a call it is my first choice of headset.

 
Below this (about mid-chest) is a generic rubber y-split. It has no strain relief, but none is probably needed, as this section of the cable usually hangs unencumbered, and the TPE sheathing should be pretty protective anyway. The cable terminates at a 4 pole gold plated right angled jack with very good strain relief.

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Jack
Y-split
 
My only critique would be the hard to spot L/R markings (which is somewhat mitigated by the control always being on the left side)

 
FIT / COMFORT
Since I've been testing the various ear-buds from Venture Electronics, I’ve been using ear-buds a lot more than I used to. The fit on the FiiO was a little harder to get used to because of the deeper housing, but after a little practise it became easier. Naked does seem to fit extremely well, although I sometimes have to adjust the angle to get a more consistent sound. I did try the included black foams, but I soon found that because of the shape of the housing, when removing the ear-piece I would often leave the cover in my outer ear (annoying).

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Included black foams
Tin foams from the Monk Plus or VE Expansion Pack
 
I've played around with fit a lot since I've had them – and while I really enjoy the sound of the EM3 without covers, ultimately a thin cover does help consistent fit. The trade-off is a warmer sound (which some will probably prefer anyway). You could also use fins from the new VE expansion pack, and I would recommend anyone with a FiiO EM3 who wants to experiment with cover combinations to give this pack a try - there are plenty of options.

 
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VE Expansion Pack
A multitude of different options for getting the right fit, comfort and sound
 
Basically the fins sit over the housing, with the fin part angled upward and forward. The ear-bud body sits normally in the concha cavum (tucked inside the tragus and anti tragus), and the fin lies alongside the anti helix and basically locks against the concha cymba. This drastically aids stability and consistency, and if you are careful, allows you to angle the EM3 perfectly to meet your individual preference. It also allows a slightly better seal (by widening the body) which also affects bass response.

 
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The VE rings fitted
Foams go over the top - perfect!
 
My preference at the moment is using the VE rings (to keep the foams on), an using the very thin VE foams over the top. As far as isolation goes – it is an ear-bud – so any isolation is minimal.

 
FREQUENCY GRAPHS
The one thing I've learnt over time is that everyone has very different preferences, very different physiology, and very different experiences with different covers. This makes it really difficult as a reviewer as all I can relate is my own experience. The issue remains of how to show differences between the cover options, but also remain consistent.

So I jury-rigged a simply but reasonable effective attachment mechanism whereby I could couple the ear-bud to the Veritas coupler consistently and with the same pressure each time (in this case enough to hold in place but no more). What I've been trying to do is emulate the fit of the ear-bud. with and without covers.

The graphs below are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. I must stress that they aren’t calibrated to IEC measurement standards, but the raw data I’m getting has been very consistent, and is actually not too far away from the raw data measured by other systems except for above 4-5 kHz where it shows significantly lower than measurements performed on a properly calibrated rig. So when reading the graphs, don’t take them as gospel – or at least remember that the area above 4-5 kHz will be significantly higher in actuality. It is my aim to get this system calibrated at some stage in the future.

EM3nocover.pngEM3hookandcover.png
EM3 with no cover - thin foams have similar response - note channel matching
Using ear-hooks and EM3 black covers (too much warmth)
 
Further in the review I’ve added comparisons to the VE Monk and Monk Plus as well as comparative measurements. One thing to take into account with all graphs in the review is that they will give very different reading dependent on the degree of seal you achieve. So use them as a comparative guide for discussion – but individual fit and experience will vary.

 
What I’m hearing (no covers or thin foams fitted):

  1. Slightly warm and smooth signature – with decent bass response.
  2. ​Bass overall is more mid-bass centric than sub-bass oriented, but there is enough sub bass to give a very gentle rumble if you get a good enough seal.
  3. Mid-range is reasonably well balanced (for both male and female vocals), and there is enough of a lift in the presence area to give female vocals life and sweetness.
  4. Treble is a little subdued, but there is a peak in the lower treble at around 7 kHz which does give cymbals and hi-hats some shimmer and decay.
  5. Overall warm, a little smooth, but with enough detail to make them enjoyable.
  6. Note that most of the above was with the very thin red and blue covers from the Monk Plus – without any covers at all I get a little more treble, and a little less bass.
     
I also tried them with a pair of ear-hooks and the default black covers. The first thing I noticed was an increase in bass, and also a little less in both the mid-range and lower treble. For my preferences, I don't really like any more bass, or less upper end – they just end up sounding a mid overly warm and veiled. So for me, any thicker foams than the VE new Monk Plus red and blue thin foams are to be avoided.

Another point to note is the extremely good channel matching (shown in the graph). Any small variations could also be the seating on the Veritas coupler (really hard to get consistent with ear-buds).

The best way to get to an ideal for your own personal preferences is to simply experiment. Get an expansion pack from VE (Venture Electronics) and try each cover by itself or in combination with other covers. It costs next to nothing and is quite an interesting exercise.

I've also included graphs for the EM3 vs both Monk and Monk Plus below. I'll talk more about them in the comparison sections. Each have their strengths and each can change dramatically with different covers and hooks. The irony here is that really speaking the graphs are going to be meaningless except as a very rough indicator. This is mainly because it is the combination of cover and your own physiology which work together to create a semi-seal. And this can dramatically affect the entire response curve.

EM3vsMonk1.pngEM3vsMonk2.png
EM3 vs Monk original
EM3 vs Monk Plus
 
POWER REQUIREMENTS

 
The EM3 are 47 ohms, and with their sensitivity of 109 dB they can easily be driven well out of most portable devices without the need for any further amplification. Saying that though, I have enjoyed the EM3 immensely with the FiiO X1 or X3ii paired with FiiO's own E17K (or the IMS HVA).

EM320.jpg

To give you an idea in order to achieve an average listening SPL of 65-70 dB at the ear (plenty of volume for me)
  1. FiiO X1 – 30-32/100 low gain, no replay gain or EQ.
  2. FiiO X3ii – 41-43/120 low gain, no replay gain or EQ.
  3. iPhone 5S – approx. 7/16 (45%) clicks of volume.
  4. FiiO M3 (tiny $55 DAP) – 18-20/60 volume.
     
I used a calibrated SPL meter – but just an average reading on the same piece of music each time (a weighted). As you can see – all the devices had ample volume left on the pot.

When I tried amping with E17K and HVA – there was a slight change of tonality with the HVA but I noticed no increase in overall dynamics – naturally YMMV.

EQUALISATION
After a while getting used to the EM3, I've found no real need to EQ (using the Monk Plus foams). I did want to try lowering the mid-bass and seeing what that would do, so I used the X7 and AM3 module and simply dropped at 62 and 250 Hz by about 2 dB and the slider at 125 Hz by around 3 dB. They were only minor changes, but to me I actually preferred the original signature. All I can conclude from this is that frequency response from the coupler is probably giving me a better seal than what my ears are providing – and what I'm hearing is a little closer to neutral than the graph would suggest.

SOUND QUALITY
The following is what I hear from the EM3. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). For my testing I used the FiiO X3ii + E17K, no EQ, low gain, and a volume at around 20/60 on the E17K giving me an SPL ranging from about 65-75 dB (a weighted) at the ear. I used the Monk Plus thin foam covers because they suit my ears the best.
EM321.jpg

Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and most can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
 
Overall Detail / Clarity
Tracks used: Gaucho, Sultans of Swing

  1. Reasonable balance with slightly heightened mid-bass and a little accentuation in the upper mid-range
  2. Good detail retrieval, and I didn't find the mid-bass too problematic
  3. Cymbals have good presence and decay – they aren't highlighted though
  4. Guitar can be slightly sharp with the upper-mid boost
  5. Resolution is good without being a detail monster (micro details are still present)
     
Sound-stage & Imaging (+ Sibilance)
Tracks used: Tundra, Dante’s Prayer, Let it Rain

  1. Nicely open sounding
  2. Good sense of width and projection is out of head
  3. Sense of depth is a little limited
  4. Imaging is good and overall separation of instruments is much better than the low cost would indicate
  5. Immersion is good (applause section of Dante's Prayer) with impression that crowd is either side of you – but a little lacking in depth though
  6. Sibilance is revealed in “Let It Rain” - but not magnified (surprising for me as normally a peak around 7kHz can trigger some heightened sibilance). The overall holographic nature of the track “Let it Rain” is very well portrayed though – really enjoyable.
     
Bass Quality and Quantity
Tracks used: Bleeding Muddy Water, Royals

  1. Mid-bass has very good impact for an ear-bud.
  2. Bass slam is just a little flat and not really boomy at all. No signs of bleed. Into the mid-range.
  3. Good projection of bass timbre and texture (Mark's vocals in “Muddy Waters”). Mark's vocals have great overall presentation, and I really enjoyed the dark and broody nature of this blues track on the EM3.
  4. Enough sub-bass for rumble to be audible, but slightly subdued (“Royals”)
  5. Again good separation between mid-bass thump and vocals (“Royals”). Ella's vocals are very clear and slightly euphonic. Love this tuning with this track.
 
Female Vocals
Tracks used : Aventine, Strong, For You, Human, The Bad In Each Other, Howl, Safer, Light as a Feather, Don’t Wake me Up, Ship To Wreck.

  1. Excellent transition from lower-mids to upper-mids. Aventine was brilliant and this is often a hard track to get right.
  2. Euphonic presentation with good air and a touch of sweetness to female vocals
  3. Beautiful contrast between vocals and lower pitch of instruments like cello (Aventine)
  4. No signs of stridency, and played all my female vocalists exceptionally well. In a quiet setting I would have no issues listening to the EM3 for hours with my favourite female artists.
  5. Really good contrast with rock tracks (Feist, FaTM) with a bit of bass slam.

Male Vocals
Track used: Away From the Sun, Art for Art’s Sake, Broken Wings, Hotel California, Keith Don’t Go, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.

  1. Again a lot of really good dynamic slam from the bass, and nice contrast with a slightly sharp upper mid-range (providing good presence with lead guitar and with brass instruments)
  2. Male vocals have plenty of body – maybe not as much presence as female vocalists – but not really lacking.
  3. Older rock tracks like 10CC's Art for Art's Sake were exceptional – clear, dynamic, and detailed
  4. Brilliant with acoustic rock too – Hotel California was spacious, clear and the live version was a joy to listen to. I'm enjoying male vocals with the EM3 – good timbre and tone.
  5. Pearl Jam was brilliant – the EM3 portrayed Vedder well. Excellent texture and tonality. Good clarity on cymbals too which are quite prominent with this track.

Other Genres

  1. the EM3 seems to handle all forms of rock really well, and particularly Alt Rock (Floyd and Porcupine Tree). I think its the combination of tonal balance and clarity.
  2. Really enjoyable with both Blues and Jazz and again I'm struck by the overall balance. The mid-bass could effectively come down the smallest of notches to make it perfect – but there is great detail overall. Sax is really smooth (Portico Quartet), and I'm loving the contrast with double bass and cymbals
  3. Quite good with both Hip-hop and Electronic, and very enjoyable with trance (its not visceral though). Could probably use just a little more impact with these genres, but doesn't sound too thin or anaemic. Lighter electronic (the Flashbulb) was incredibly good.
  4. Pop was good – Adele live at the Albert Hall was pretty epic, and although the mid-range was accentuated a bit, it wasn't overly strident or shouty. Indie was really good. I thought it might come across as a bit bright, but I ended up really enjoying both Band of Horses and Wildlight.
  5. Classical was really good with the EM3 and I really would recommend them. Enough space (width) to really captivate for larger orchestral pieces (a little more depth would have been the icing on the cake). Brilliant with solo cello (Zoe Keating) and thoroughly enjoyed Opera with them also (Netrebko/Garanca). Tonally very easy to listen to while conveying instruments with enough realism to allow you to get lost in the music.
 
COMPARISONS
The obvious questions here will be how the EM3 compares to VE's original Monk and Monk Plus (with all 3 sitting nicely in the budget segment). I also added a small section on the Apple Ear-pods, and also FiiO's own earphone which they included with the M3 DAP.

For the comparisons, all were driven out of the FiiO X11 with E17K. I used the same tracks, and volume matched as well as I could with an SPL meter (difficult due to the shape). These views are incredibly subjective – your own experience may draw different conclusions

EM3 vs Monk Original
EM325.jpg

The original Monk was priced at around USD 5.00, so they are in a similar value segment. If you bought the extension pack with the Monk, you would get copious accessories for a matched price (around USD 10.00) – so on accessories the Monk + Expansion pack wins easily. My advice is to buy a VE expansion pack if you intend to buy the EM3. Both are built well. The Monk's generic housing and sturdier cable do feel a little more robust though. The EM3 has the remote and mic – which for my use cannot be understated. With fit, I do find the slightly flatter generic body of the Monk to fit a little better – although both ultimately are pretty comfortable.
For the sonic comparison I am using the Monk with full foams, and the EM3 with the light VE foams (both are my own preferences). Both have a similar overall signature in this comparison with a slightly warm full bass, and forward mid-range. The biggest difference is that the Monk actually has more mid-bass and slightly shaper mid-range. It is also more forward sounding – the EM3 just sounds a little more spacious in this configuration. The EM3 is a little flatter and a little brighter sounding overall (less bass emphasis) – and this gives the feeling of a slightly more balanced sound. The funny thing about going back and forth with these two is that it depends on which on you are used to. If you listen to the EM3 for a while and switch to the Monk it does sound overly warm. If you do the opposite, the EM3 sounds overly bright. Both sound pretty balanced when listening to them individually (after your ears adjust).

EM3 vs Monk Plus
EM324.jpg

I won't repeat the comparison on build, fit, accessories etc – as it is essentially the same as the original Monk. Monk Plus does have the translucent housing and is tuned differently to the original Monk. But in most other things they are essentially identical.
 
Sonically I prefer the Monk Plus with do-nut foams so that is what I sued in the comparison. Again the Monk Plus is warmer and fuller on the bass (particularly mid-bass) although it does lose a little to the better sub-bass extension of the EM3. Monk Plus is also more etched and vivid in the upper mid-range (even more so than the original Monk) and I find it can be a little peaky as times – something I don't find with either the Monk original of EM3. The Monk Plus is a little more V shaped where the EM3 is flatter. Both sound pretty good – and again it is a matter of acclimatising to their individual signatures.

Note On EM3 in comparison to VE range

If I was to choose on my own particular preferences – I'd actually probably lean toward EM3 > Monk Original > Monk Plus. Start moving up the chain though with the VE offerings (Asura & Zen) and the EM3 soon gets left behind (not really a fair comparison). What is interesting is that the EM3 with thin foams sounds very similar tonally to the VE Zen 2. It just doesn't have the Zen 2's resolution and depth of stage.

EM326.jpg

 
EM3 vs Apple Ear-pods
EM323.jpg

 
The Ear-pods from Apple have been my go to for phone calls for the last 2-3 years. In that time I've gone through a couple of pairs (cables eventually failed), but in the time I've had them and for the use they've had, they have been pretty good value. I've used them for music too – and IMO they are undeserving of the bad rap they get. I wear them with Earksinz and foams over the top, and they are comfortable, well balanced and pretty good for purpose. They have the advantage of having controls on cable which I do miss on the EM3. In terms of build quality I'd rate them about even – though I do hope that FiiO's long term cable quality is better than Apple's. In terms of sound the Ear-pods have decent bass response but it is a looser and boomier. The EM3 is smoother and more well balanced (the Ear-pods can get a bit strident and peaky comparatively). The EM3 represent far better value for me overall (cheaper and better sonically).

EM3 vs Included FiiO buds from the M3
EM322.jpg

This is an interesting one. Build quality is practically identical, and the only difference I can see is in the colour -and the fact that while the on cable button works, the microphone doesn't. Sonically (both with light foams from VE) they sound pretty much the same to me. The sense of balance seems the same anyway. If anything the EM3 might be very slightly smoother, and the M3 buds could be a shade brighter – but I'm not sure if that is fit or cover variation, or me imagining things. One thing is for sure – if you like the buds from the M3 – then the EM3 will add a working microphone. And this makes (for me) all the difference for day to day use with my iPhone 5S.

FiiO EM3 – SUMMARY

The EM3 at $10.00 represents extremely good value for money in my opinion. It appears to have a good quality build (only time will tell), is comfortable to wear, and fits me pretty well (with appropriate foam covers). Its a little short on accessory options compared to the VE range – but VE is probably an anomaly here and sets the bar higher than most other manufacturers for cover options. To get the most out of the EM3 I recommend also buying a VE expansion pack. It is worth it.

Sonically the EM3 has a slightly warm low end, and slightly bright upper mid-range, but funnily enough it is less V shaped than the VE Monks and for me (with VE thin foams) is really nicely balanced across the frequency range. The biggest compliment I can give its sonic signature is that it is actually pretty close to what I hear from the VE Zen 2. It just doesn't have the Zen's resolution or sound-stage width and depth.

For me the real strength of the EM3 (aside from value and sonic ability) is the inclusion of the on cable control and microphone. I've been on the hunt for a replacement for my Ear-pods and the EM3 fills that gap nicely (and cheaper to boot).

Ultimately personal preference is going to dictate what each individual will like, and choice of covers and anatomy will play a big part. For my preferences I'd rate the EM3 as being equal to both Monk and Monk Plus in ability – and I actually prefer it to both.

Like the Monk and Monk Plus, it is difficult to know how to score these. They are not perfect, so its hard to justify 5/5 – but then I look at the price, and ask myself again how I could give any other score for something which provides so much sonic ability for so little value. But to be fair, I'm going to give a 4.5 - simply because to get the best out of them I do need to go to alternate cover options, and also because with the shape – having covers slip off is not an infrequent occurrence.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks to Sunny from FiiO for giving me the chance to hear these. I'm suitably impressed, and I've also been surprised how much I use and will continue to use these. You can make a couple of improvements on them though – and I'd be prepared to pay a little more if they were implemented.

  1. Either add a rubberised section around the face so that covers will stay on, or maybe even a lip.
  2. Look at including a few different foam cover types
  3. Volume controls if you come out with a premium EM3 would make these almost perfectly
 
So are these just about my ultimate smart-phone ear-buds? Yes they go very, very close. The ultimate for me though would still be the VE Zen2 with on-cable microphone and controls. Until then though the EM3 is a worthy budget substitute.
EM328.jpg
Willber
Willber
Excellent and comprehensive review - thanks.
earfonia
earfonia
Nice and comprehensive! 
I agree to this:
"The irony here is that really speaking the graphs are going to be meaningless except as a very rough indicator. This is mainly because it is the combination of cover and your own physiology which work together to create a semi-seal. And this can dramatically affect the entire response curve."
goodyfresh
goodyfresh
Another great review, Paul! :)

Zelda

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: SQ for the price; very enjoyable presentation; comfort
REVIEW - Fiio EM3
 
em33.jpg
 
 
Fiio is not a company that needs any introduction. Known for its wide and affordable large Amp and DAC line, and well regarded since the release of the first DAP model, the X3 a couple of years ago. Recently the first and low budget oriented earphone, EM3, was released, and it'd be covered in this review.
 
em31.jpg
 
 
 
Specifications:
 
Driver: Dynamic 14.8mm
Freq. range: 20-20000Hz
Sensitivity: 109dB
Impedance: 47Ohm
Weight: 13.6g
Cable: 1.2m 
Plug: 3.5mm, CTIA standard
 
Price: U$D 15 (MSRP); $10 from Amazon US.
 
Website:
 
www.fiio.net
www.fiio.net/en/products/52 (EM3's page)
 
em32.jpg
 
 
Accessories:
 
3 pairs of foam pads
 
 
Build & Design:
 
For the low price the Fiio EM3 is fairly solid, nothing outstanding but feels solid enough for daily use. The shells are all-plastic and well shaped and the angled plug is well relieved. The cable is not too springy, though it carries a strong memory effect and lacks a chin slider (but even if it had, it'd be limited by the mic/control).
As for the microphone use, it worked fairly well and loud from a Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus.
 
em34.jpg
 
 
Fit & Comfort:
 
The EM3 shape is quite ergonomic, doesn't have an angle shape, but it is very easy to fit and stays in place, especially with the foam pads on. Well suited for medium to small ear size, though larger ears might find them a bit small. The mic/control is well placed so it doesn't tend to get in the way while moving/walking around.
 
em35.jpg
 
 
Sound:
 
The Fiio EM3 presents an easy-going and fairly well-balanced signature for an entry earbud. It has a friendly slight v-shaped sound that matches its price tag, and not just as a very good replacement or upgrade over any stock earphone included on many portable players or mobile phones, but rather as very good sounding earbud itself.
 
The bass of the EM3 is very easy to like, it is fairly well weighted and full in body and remains under control without any overemphasizing the mid-bass frequencies. The low end of the EM3 is a bit thicker than the old Ubiquo ES703 but maintains a soft character when compared to higher priced sets such as the VE Asura. The EM3 is a bit more extended and has a smaller mid-bass hump than the VE Monk, resulting in a thinner bass presentation. Depth is a very positive trait and layering is above average. Overall it is a fairly present and yet relaxed bass response with a nice 'fun' factor.
 
The midrange of the EM3 is warm and a bit distant as the usual v-shaped response. Despite the limited mid-bass intensity the midrange is still full and well rounded from low to upper regions. Bass bleed is minimal. While vocals quality and texture can't match the full and sweeter ES903 with its more midrange focus, it's better and more competent than the ES703, and less dry than the Monk. There's still some amount of grain at the upper mids, which make the EM3 somehow uneven and less realistic. The clarity and resolution are very good, but the EM3 is not very forward when presenting micro details. It's better suited for pop, rock or metal genres than classical or jazz recordings.
 
At the top end there is a fair amount of treble energy but nothing harsh or aggressive at moderate volumes. The treble is sparkly and lively enough but limited in extension, though nothing wrong for a budget oriented and more laid back earphone. On the whole, it is still more focused towards the low end with surprisingly overall detail is good. Soundstage width is decent, and the v-shaped signature tends to give a more spacious impression. Being slightly less dark than the Monk, the EM3 also seems to have more air and manages to sound less closed.
 
EM3 vs. VE Monk:
 
The most obvious question that anyone should be asking is, how the low priced Fiio EM3 fairs against a favorite bang-for-back as the VE Monk. Well, they have both the Pros and Cons but compare pretty well to each other. The Monk is noticeably better built with a tougher shell and thicker, though less behaved yet tangle-free, cable. On the hand, the EM3 wins in terms of comfort and fit, and it also includes a control for mobile devices. Lastly, in SQ score they very similar but different in signature and presentation. The EM3 is sounds more v-shaped with a deeper sub-bass and softer mid-bass. Mids are sound more distant but carry a bit more sparkle on the treble, with slightly more extension. The Monk is more mid-bass and midrange focused with more laid back highs, but still sounds bigger and more forward next to the EM3. Also, the EM3 might sound a bit more spacious, but the Monk is more natural. In the end, it's a matter of taste, but for their low price they're more than worth their little money.
Personally, while I could prefer the VE option, I still find the EM3 compares well to the (once owned) old Yuin PK3 and a total upgrade over the Sennheiser MX471/581.
 
 
Conclusion & Value:
 
All-in-all, Fiio's first earbud try is a good contender and all-rounder option in pretty every aspect. Build is fine and it is very comfortable. And most importantly, the sound is very enjoyable and of very good quality making it a great value earphone.
 
Many thanks to Fiio for the review unit.

ezekiel77

Reviewer at Headphonesty
Pros: Balanced tuning, full luscious mids, good treble, wide soundstage, comfort, outstanding value.
Cons: Foams muffle sound drastically, bass quantity, uninspiring design, tangly cables.
Introduction
Of course you’ve heard of FiiO. Nearly every audiophile I know who works their way up the chain has owned or heard a FiiO product before. They are the cherry-poppers of head-fi, luring you into giddy audio goodness with promises of “value for money” and “price-performance ratio”. I had my cellphone, and then my cherry was popped with the X3. Good DAP, fond memories… you never forget your first one. Now FiiO is branching out to new terrain with the EM3 earbuds, with a jaw-dropping price tag. The EM3 was provided as a sample to me in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Sunny of FiiO for the opportunity.

Equipment Used:
Astell & Kern AK100ii
Chord Mojo
FiiO EM3
KZ ED3c “The Acme”
KZ ED9
 
Albums Listened:
Amber Rubarth – Scribbled Folk Symphonies
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Jacky Cheung – Black and White
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
 
 

 
 

Packaging and Accessories
Straightforward and simple. FiiO EM3 comes in an attractive little rectangular white box. Slide it out to reveal the earbuds, 3 pairs of foam covers and a manual. Bare bones, but on par with $10 KZ earphones (also a box with some tips). Would have preferred a case or even a small pouch, but alright I’ll get my own. Pfft.

Design, Build Quality and Cables
“You can have any colour as long as it's black.” They have a low-profile, understated elegance about them. Matte and glossy plastic make up most of the earpieces, easily the best-looking part of the buds. The Y-split, microphone and jack look generic, with no signs of FiiO branding anywhere. Not one to show off to your friends then. The cables tangle easily, and the thinner cables above the Y-split kinks after some use. Not sure how it will affect longevity, but build quality does not inspire confidence. Positives? Unlike Apple earbuds, they won’t turn grey after prolonged use.

Fit, Isolation and Comfort
These are my first earbuds since throwing away the Apple ones nearly 5 years ago. Wearing the EM3 for the first time my mind raced like Doge. Much comfort. So lightweight. Very like. Wow. No wonder an earbud revival has been going on. These feel like nothing in your ears and I can go about my housework while wearing them. Unless you are an actress in a shampoo commercial, they will stay put in your ears. Isolation is not an issue with earbuds because there isn’t any. But marks won’t be deducted of course, same way you can’t ask a cat to bark. Meowarf.

 
IMG_20160520_183819.jpg


Overall Signature
The EM3 has a neutral and balanced signature. The overall presentation is forward, with a wide soundstage but very little depth. The mids have a slight lift for more tonal body and luscious vocals. The lower treble is also boosted for clarity and excitement. Positioned as an all-rounder, for long pleasurable sessions. That’s what she said. The following impressions are made with the foam covers off. Absolutely leave the foam covers in the box. EM3 works best au naturel. When worn nude the mids are nice and centre, treble is light and airy, and well, the bass, uh, does its job. With the foamies, everything is muffled and the sound is sluggish and boring, a literal veil across the audio spectrum. Our opinions might differ depending on foams on/off but to me foams on was unlistenable.

Bass
Going in I knew the bass couldn’t go toe-to-toe with IEMs. Earbuds are fundamentally different after all. But I was surprised to hear a good quantity of bass for earbuds (the only point of reference I had were Apple earbuds after all). Quick and smooth, they have good detail and layering, but definitely not for bassheads. The bass slam is heard but not felt at all, and decay seems rushed. Not too fun, but in return, no bass bleed. In Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder”, the bass sounds flatter compared to the dynamism and immersion I was used to. I can even say the bass takes a backseat compared to the mids and treble. Subbass is soft and gentle, you feel it just a bit, like Antman’s role in the Avengers. Doesn’t make a true impact, but at least you can tell if he’s gone.

Mids
Well-done mids are gorgeous. In ballads, acoustically-driven tracks or anything with vocal emphasis, they shine. Upper and lower mids are smooth and emotive, with a natural timbre. Vocals male and female are sublime. Jacky Cheung, a veteran balladeer from Hong Kong (whose fanbase consists mostly of 30-something Asian dudes like me) sounded so real he gave me manly, mustachioed chills. Amber Rubarth sounds rich and welcoming. Pianos, violins and guitars sound full and luscious. Details lack ever-so-slightly in service of smoothness however, but the tuning in the mids itself is already worth the price of admission. Like a softened photograph, charmingly inoffensive but calming and soothing. Well done, mids are gorgeous!

Treble
FiiO could have gone for a safe, all-too-accessible tuning and smoothed out their treble so everyone would go home happy with an inoffensive sound. But us sparkle-seekers, we have needs too, and I’m glad FiiO didn’t ignore us. This all-rounder has quite the treble! Thanks to its thin notes, clarity and articulation of individual notes are very good. The thin notes also lend airiness into the sound, but can contrast with the full mids sometimes. There is quite some sparkle and shimmer, which can get tizzy and hot, but only rarely. The treble brings some urgency and excitement, Fleetwood Mac’s “Secondhand News” sounded very sprightly. The tuning is likeable, but will turn some treble-sensitive listeners off, you do have the foams to augment the sound though. I wouldn’t, but you already know that.

Soundstage and Imaging
Earbuds have a wide soundstage built-in. Me likey. Largely aided by the prominent treble, the soundstage is left-to-right spacious, think GR07 wide and you’re not far off. The forwardness of the signature means the sound is in-your-head, par for the course in budget-fi. Notes vary from the thinner bass and treble versus the fuller mids. This might take some getting used to, but the good news is the EM3 rarely sounds congested or slow. Imaging is decidedly 2D, with good space and definition in instruments from left to right, and that’s it. No depth nor height to speak of to my ears. All in all satisfyingly wide, but no miracles.
 
 
IMG_20160523_084730.jpg
 

Comparisons (aka the ultrabudget-fi shootout):
KZ ED3c “The Acme”
The Acme is, to me, the perfect execution of $10 earphones. A small soundstage, but the tonality, balance and tuning is spot-on. Bass has tons more quantity than the EM3, boosted to super fun (too fun?) levels, and the subbass rumble really makes its presence felt. There’s quite some bass bleed to the mids, but it’s much too addictive for me to defend it. The mids are forward too, and despite the bass bleed carves out a prominent sound of its own. Notes are slightly thinner and not as euphonic as the magical mids of the EM3, but I would never call the Acme “V-shaped”. On its own it’s pretty good, but the EM3 really showed how much better budget-fi mids can be. The treble is thicker but harsher than the EM3. Decay is slower, so the hotness can get out of line sometimes. The boomy bass takes some weight off the treble, and it’s a balancing act which succeeds for the most part. For soundstage, the Acme is no match for the airy and wide EM3. The fullness of the Acme’s entire spectrum congests things. Overall though, both are well-balanced IEMs and I’m happy with either. EM3 is obviously more proficient with mids and soundstage, but the Acme’s bass, balance and fun factor shows them a thing or two.

KZ ED9 (Gold nozzle)
For comparison, ED9 takes the Acme sound and attempts to make it airier. The result is a lift in the mids and lower treble, a decrease in the midbass hump, thinner notation overall for a more spacious presentation. It largely succeeds but a few sacrifices were evident. Against both the EM3 and Acme, ED9 sounds like the over-caffeinated one. Very exciting but with a hot treble that’s too fatiguing for long sessions. EM3’s treble sounds subdued next to it. The ED9 mids suffer the most, sounding unnatural because of the emphasis in the upper mids. They tend to sound hollowed out and lacking body, not a match for either the EM3 or Acme by a long shot. The bass though, strikes a perfect balance between the flat EM3 and aggressive ED3c and comes out on top. No bass bleed to speak of. The separation and imaging is the best of the bunch due to the thin notes and fairly wide stage. The stage size is nearly as wide as the EM3 and slightly deeper. Think of the ED9 gold nozzle as the middle road between Acme’s tonality and EM3’s airiness, but the mids do take a big knock.

These are my impressions for the mini ultrabudget-fi shootout. They cost less than $15 apiece so all offer tremendous value. The ED9 even comes with tunable nozzles for two distinct signatures! My mind boggles at how that was accomplished.

Bass: ED9 > ED3c > EM3
Mids: EM3 > ED3c > ED9
Treble: ED3c = EM3 > ED9
Soundstage: EM3 = ED9 > ED3c
Separation/imaging: ED9 > EM3 >ED3c
Balance/tuning: ED3C > EM3 > ED9
Overall: EM3 > ED3c = ED9
 
 
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Conclusion
The earbud revolution is ongoing, arguably kickstarted by the $5 VE Monk, followed by a host of challengers, pretenders and usurpers. I’m glad to have tried the EM3 for perspective, to be able to see how far they have come along since the days of stock Apple earbuds. The EM3 is a wonderful pair of earbuds with fantastic mids, good treble, and a wide stage. For my taste if the bass quantity is increased slightly they’d be perfect. But there’s no doubting that for the astonishing price tag they are well, well worth your money. Aw heck, get all three pairs from the shootout, with spares too! The <$15 segment has never been more varied or exciting, and the EM3 is one of the ultrabudget earbuds you should give more than a second look.
Wokei
Wokei
good review bro...enjoy it
egosumlux
egosumlux
Very nice review Kudos my friend!!!
ezekiel77
ezekiel77
Thanks dudes.

jules64

New Head-Fier
Pros: Comfortable, clear sound
Cons: Poor mic, loose fitting, foams make muddy, no discernible bass for classical
While these are good, they are not much better than many others available out there. I tried and returned, the lack of bass was just to annoying. Not enough sub-bass for classical without amping. Honestly, I retried my Philips SHE2005s and found them as good across the spectrum of ranges and sound, and the bass noticeably superior. Also warm without being muddy.I wear the the Philips with no foam and they fit well, the EM3 was loose fitting. Yes slightly louder thanks to the 47 Ohm rating, but overall not a reason to keep. So I don't get the hype on these. They are good, just not good enough.

Niyologist

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Deep and Punchy Bass. Smooth, Clear and Full Bodied Sound. Wide and Airy Soundstage. Nice Comfort. Excellent Build Quality. Great In-line Remote/Mic.
Cons: Shallow Stage Depth. Veiled Midrange. Below Average Noise Isolation.
INTRODUCTION
 
Over a month ago, I became curious about the Fiio EM3 because of the great feedback it was getting. So there was a review sign up for the EM3 and I decided to get involved to give my feedback on the Fiio EM3. Thank you Sunny from Fiio for making it possible me to obtain the review unit for my feedback. 
 
Once I got the Fiio EM3, I used my Xuelin 770C w/the Topping NX2 amp to audition it for a few hours. Then I memorized the initial sound quality. Afterward I had the Fiio EM3 burn in for over 50 hours through my PC. The Fiio EM3 sounded a bit claustrophobic at first. Then it really opened up after 50 hours. The bass was very dominant too, but then it settled down quite a bit. Making the rest of the frequency sound clearer. I will get into that more soon, but first I need to talk about the build quality. 
 
ABOUT FIIO: 
 
For over nine years. Fiio has provided great customer service and excellent audio items at an affordable price. Their most quality items mostly come from their line of DAPs, Amps and DACs. Recently they have dabbled in the line of IEMs and Ear buds. Their latest Ear bud is the Fiio EM3. 
 
 
 
DESIGN/BUILD QUALITY 
 
I must admit. Pretty impressive. I have owned a few earbuds in the past. The JVC Gummies, Sony MDR Earbuds and Sansa Fuze Earbuds. Their sturdiness pales in-comparison to the EM3. The cables are thicker and the strain reliefs are thick and more flexible. So basically I'm not concerned about using them on a daily basis. The Fiio EM3 also has an In-Line Remote and Mic on the left cord above the Y-Split cables. Due to that placement, it will be very easily to know which is the left side or the right side. The earbuds also have a L or R marking engraved on the bottom of each earbud. The a distinct bump on the left side and right side of the earbuds that's placed just below the L and R engraved markings. The earbuds are arched at a 100 degree angle for maximum comfort and better fit. The jack is a 3.5mm Gold Plated Stereo Jack and the cable is made out of TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) for enhanced durability. 
 
FIIO EM3 ON THE AURAL LIFE EARPHONE STAND
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LEFT EAR BUD
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RIGHT EAR BUD
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IN-LINE REMOTE AND MIC W/GOLD PLATED 3.5MM STEREO JACK 
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FIIO EM3 PACKAGING 
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FIIO EM3 MANUAL
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FIIO EM3 ACCESSORIES
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NOISE ISOLATION
 
Obviously not that great. The EM3 are earbuds, so they do not block out external sound away from your ear canals. So do not push the volume too high for the EM3. The SPL is at Rock Concert Levels (109 dB). Speaking of which.
 
SPECIFICATION
 
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The Fiio EM3 has a large 14.8mm Dynamic Driver. Comes with extra foam ear pads and along with a very responsive In-line remote and mic. I used the In-line remote on the ASUS ZenFone 2 with Poweramp and it came in handy. I pressed it three times for previous track. Two times for next track and one time for pause or play. The mic is very good as well. I pressed the button once for beginning or ending a call and my voice was heard pretty well through the mic. The impedance is 47 ohms. For my ASUS ZenFone 2, that really wasn't much of an issue. It was still able to drive it. Although at times I desired more volume, so I used my Topping NX2 for better results. Otherwise the ASUS ZenFone 2 has a sufficient amount of power for the EM3.  
 
COMFORT
 
The comfort is excellent. Just as good as the Titan 1 and it sits firmly against my ear canal. Sometimes I don't even notice that it's there. Thanks to the foam ear pads. 
 
SET-UP USED
 
Initial: Xuelin 770C>Topping NX2>Fiio EM3
Afterward 50 hours of burn in: Xuelin 770C or ASUS ZenFone 2 w/Poweramp>Topping NX2>Fiio EM3 NO EQUALIZER USED.
 
SOUND QUALITY: 
 
Bass: It has very good extension. The bass can often go deep in the sub bass region and doesn't sound muddled or distorted in anyway. The impact is strong with music that requires strong bass slam. Otherwise it's controlled and has a good amount of rumble. 
 
Mids: The mids are clear, but most of the time it sounds like there's a layer of fog in front of the vocals and instruments. The details in the mids didn't take too much damage from the veiled mids. Whenever I listen to The Rippingtons, I can hear the natural tone of the guitars and saxophones very well. Towards the upper mids, there is no sibilance to be found. It's mostly like due to the warm nature of the airiness and the relaxed demeanor of the midrange.
 
Treble: This region is fairly smooth and extended. Like the mids, it's not peaky nor is it sibilant. It also sounds a bit dull, but it gets the job done. The rendering of detail is rather nice. Not overly impressive though. It's just above the $20 price tag. 
 
SOUNDSTAGE
It's quite wide and large. The airiness makes the EM3 feel roomy and the movement of airflow can be quite dynamic. The depth is quite limited though. Making the sound presentation 2D-ish (2.5D) and intimate.  
 
ACCURACY
Due to the slightly thick warmth of the sound and the shallow stage depth. The accuracy is good, but not mind blowing. Fast paced music is sluggish with transitioning at different positions throughout the stage. Otherwise it's acceptable. 
 
CONCLUSION:
Once again Fiio proved that you can get premium quality for an affordable price. The EM3's nature of smooth and full bodied sound can be complimented well both my 770C and ZenFone 2. The comfort is quite good, yet the noise isolation can be troublesome in noisy environments. The stage depth is very close and upfront and the mids are veiled. Besides all of that, the Fiio EM3 is quite the budget tier performer and should not disappoint for bassheads. Those that are into heavy treble or demand for better noise isolation may not enjoy this. Otherwise for $15, it's hard to complain with what the Fiio EM3 is capable of. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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seanwee
seanwee
Nice writeup!!!
Niyologist
Niyologist
Thanks seanwee. I really enjoyed using the Fiio EM3.

twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: slim comfortable design, neutral signature with a smooth warm tonality, in-line remote/mic, budget price.
Cons: intermittent driver flex (could be just my pair), lack of isolation (typical for earbuds).

I would like to Thank FiiO for providing me with a review sample in exchange for my honest opinion.
 
Manufacturer link: http://fiio.net/en/products/52, also available on Amazon.
 
* click on pictures to expand

 
I've never been a fan of earbuds for two simple reasons - most of them don't fit me well and many I tried have a sub-par sound quality.  There is nothing I can do about the fit (it's my ear anatomy), and as a result of the fit - the sound quality is often compromised due to lack of seal.  Thus I try to stay away from earbuds all together, but recently made an exception when I discovered VE Monk and Zen.  Those restored my faith in earbuds sound quality, though don't have the most ideal design, just like majority of other common earbuds.
 
When FiiO announced EM3, right away I had a deja vu moment since I recently reviewed their M3 budget audio player which came bundled with a pair of an identically looking earbuds, down to in-line remote/mic, though in a white color.  Before I received my review pair of EM3, I revisited M3 earbuds just to refresh my mind, and was pleased to reconfirm their comfortable fit.  Now I just had to wait for EM3 to arrive so I can hear how they sound.
 
Unboxing and accessories.
 
Consistent with all of their releases, regardless if it's a flagship or an entry level, these sub $15 budget earbuds arrived in a nice sturdy packaging box with a clear picture of EM3 on the cover and a detailed spec on the back.  I'm sure without the box or maybe using clamshell sealed plastic packaging, price could have been easily under $10, but FiiO likes to keep a consistent image across their product line without cutting the corners.
 
With a top cover off, unboxing continuous with a nice presentation of EM3 under a frosted cover and a small accessories box with 3 pairs of foam ear sleeves, the only included accessory.  I didn't expect anything more or less considering budget price, and as a matter of fact I personally would have been OK with just a plain plastic packaging to bring down the price even lower for a more shocking price/performance ratio.  Just my personal opinion.
 
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Design.
 
Starting with a headphone gold-plated jack, I'm glad they decided to implement L-shaped type.  It's so much easier to deal with, especially when you have a smartphone or a DAP with a headphone jack at the bottom, meaning less wire bending.  The housing of the jack has a nice rubbery grip and a decent strain relief.  The cable is thin but strong, with a nice rubbery shielding.  Y-split is small and rubbery as well, but lacks strain relief.
 
The left side of the cable after the split has in-line remote with a mic.  It's universal with just a single multi-function button, making it independent of Android and iOS different volume control implementation.  Here you have a standard single click Play/Pause which also controls picking up the phone call, double click to skip to the next track and triple click to go back to the previous track.  I verified it with both my Note 4 and my kids iPod touch, and everything works as expected though triple-click worked more consistently with iPod rather than Note 4.  Play/pause is also compatible with video playback apps, including YT, as well as FiiO DAPs which support it.
 
Going up to earpieces, you have a traditional plastic neck/tube which blends into the shell and usually functions as a handle to assist in insertion/removal of earbuds due to their small earpiece.  You will also find a small rubbery strain relief in there, and each side is marked with corresponding L/R designator.  This marking is very hard to see since it's stamped into the black plastic, rather than painted, and even the right side ID bump is hardly noticeable when you touch it for blind id.  In this case I'm just using in-line remote as a designator since it's located on the left side.  Perhaps making ID bump more noticeable would be a good idea.
 
The shell design actually looks pretty cool with some sexy slim lines, definitely not like standard earbuds.  I see there is a pinhole on the inner side and another vent on the top of the shell.  FiiO calls these earbuds "open", and these vents should be contributing to both low end control and soundstage expansion.  One thing I also assumed is that vents should take care of driver flex.  Unlike some other earbuds with a plastic driver cover, here you have a metal mesh.  Metal mesh by itself is more prone to flex, and coincidentally after awhile I started to notice an intermittent driver flex in my right earpiece.  Sometime I have to push it into my ear a few times until I hear the pop which fixes the channel imbalance due to flex.  Coincidentally, I still have an old pair of original iPod touch earbuds that have the same metal mesh cover and they have a similar driver flex which causes intermittent imbalance.
 
Last, but not least, is a very important part of the design - the fit.  Here, I happy to say that EM3 is just perfect!!!  I wasn't born with ears intended for a traditional earbuds fit, but the slim design of EM3 fits them like a glove.  There is no need for any foam sleeves or sports fins - the fit was comfortable and it stayed secure in my ears.
 
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The fit.
 
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Sound analysis.
 
As I mentioned before, I'm a bit skeptical about earbuds sound quality, and part of it has to do with a poor fit where I can't get a good seal and end up with a lack of bass.  With EM3 slim design, this is no longer a problem because they go deeper into my ears and form an acceptable seal with ear canal.  I found no need to use foam sleeves, and as a matter of fact they muffle the sound.  Also, I did put these earbuds through about 50hrs of burn in to exercise its dynamic drivers.
 
After the burn in, I hear a warm, thicker sound, with a good amount of sub-bass rumble and a nice mid-bass impact.  Not the most articulate bass, definitely on a looser side, but I was happy to hear a bass coming out of earbuds!  Lower mids have fuller body which along with more bass makes sound a little more congested but not muddy, and upper mids are clear and smooth, making vocals sound natural and very pleasant.  Treble is clear and well defined, though not crisp, lacking some airiness, and not as extended.
 
Soundstage is above the average in width and only average in depth and height, making sound presentation more intimate.  But overall sound is open and wide, just keep in mind they have next to nothing isolation and a little bit of sound leakage - typical for earbuds.  While some might consider it as negative, this is one of the benefits of earbuds where you can hear music while still being aware of your surrounding.
 
I was a bit worried about EM3 spec and their 47 ohm impedance, and I did notice it required a few extra clicks of volume in comparison to other IEMs, but it wasn't too bad and I had plenty of volume adjustment headroom with my Note 4.  Obviously, no issues with any of the DAPs.  In terms of pair up, EM3 sound signature has better synergy with neutral and brighter sources, while my "darker" laptop output made sound a bit more congested.
 
Comparison to other earbuds.
 
I don't have too many earbuds for comparison, but very fond of VE Monk and Zen, where it obviously makes more sense to compare with a budget Monk.  Also, I still have an old iPod earbuds, and I thought to add FiiO's M3 earbuds for comparison would make sense as well.
 
In comparison, FiiO earbuds included w/M3 sound warmer, have narrower (in width) soundstage, a touch less treble, but otherwise they are very similar, including an identical design with in-line remote, just in white.  Also, due to impedance difference, M3 requires lower volume setting in comparison to EM3 when playing from the same source.
 
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In comparison, Monk sound is more transparent, cleaner, has less sub-bass (due to seal because of a slightly large shell) but still a fast punchy mid-bass without any spillage into lower mids, lower mids are leaner, upper mids are as smooth and more detailed with natural delivery of vocals, treble is clear with a little more sparkle, a little better definition, and slightly more airiness. Soundstage is as wide, but also taller and deeper than EM3.
 
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In comparison, Apple iPod earphones soundstage is narrower, bass is not as tight, sound is not as detailed, and overall I hear it being more congested.  EM3 really steps it up in a comparison, opening up the soundstage, having more punch in the bass, better retrieval of details in mids, and more definition in treble.  I can't compare new earpods because they don't fit me well.
 
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Conclusion.
 
I'm definitely warming up to earbuds, but only consider them for convenience rather than long term use.  I still prefer IEMs due to their better seal, more secure fit, and higher res sound.  But earbuds are very convenient when you are in a situation where you want to listen to music or to pick up a call and need to be aware of your surrounding environment.  Having a good sound quality is just a bonus, and when you factor in a budget price, now you are also talking about price/performance ratio where FiiO EM3 definitely scores high!  I do have to be honest, $5 VE Monk Plus is still hard to beat, especially in sound quality, but EM3 offers a damn good alternative with an addition of in-line remote/mic and a slimmer more comfortable design.  As a matter of fact, I would recommend to get both!
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RedJohn456

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Comfortable (Suitable for people with smaller ears), Durable, commute friendly cable design, amazing microphone, enjoyable sound that is non fatiguing
Cons: No cable slider, no shirt clip included, lacking accessories, leaks sound at higher volumes
FiiO EM3
Comfort is King
 ​
 ​
Disclaimer
The EM3 was a review unit provided in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion. I have tried my best to record my thoughts and impressions on how I found the EM3 to sound. These thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone and I reserve the right to change my opinion as time goes on. These are my personal findings and should be taken as such, and as always YMMV. 
 
 
Introduction
This is my review of the EM3 earbuds from fan favourites, FiiO.
 
As a company, FiiO has amassed a legion of loyal fans around the world, and not undeservedly so. From their humble beginnings, FiiO has always maintained one principle, to give you the best bang for your dollar/euro/crayons/yen, and this is clearly reflected in their product line up. And I truly mean that in the best way possible.
 
One thing I have always admired about FiiO is their willingness to engage with fans (Facebook, Head-fi etc) and actually listen to what people really want, which is rarer than one might think! 
 
And now they are entering the earbud market with the introduction of the EM3. I think we all remember the stock earbuds that have come bundled with our phones over the years. I certainly do, and it wasn’t all that long ago when stock apple earbuds were all that I had in the way of headphones, and I suspect that a vast majority of people fall into this category as well. FiiO has set out with the intention of creating something that will be a clear upgrade to stock earbuds, and address this segment of the market. So have they succeeded in their endeavour?
 
 ​
About me
Before I get into the nitty gritty of things, I want to provide a little background information in the hopes that it can help put my views in perspective and provide some context for the content of this review.
 
Music has always been a huge part of my life, whether it was performing music on stage with my band or more recently, involving myself in this masochistic wonderful hobby of ours.  I have always enjoyed listening to music but I haven’t always paid attention to the quality of headphones because I was perfectly content with included cellphone earphones or cheap earbuds from department stores.  Ignorance is bliss right? This however all changed when I came across head-fi one day, and that’s when things started to go downhill (for my wallet that is :p). It is all too easy to underestimate how large an impact a good pair of headphones can have in the enjoyment of your favorite songs.
 
After getting my first pair of good headphones, I had felt as if an entirely new world has opened up to me musically and I found myself rediscovering music that I have listened to for many years.
 
When it comes to musical taste, I can’t say that I have any specific genre that is my absolute favorite, as I like a little bit of everything. But if I had to be specify, I would say that I love mainstream and Pop music and I consider myself to be an average joe in that regard. That is the approach I will be taking in reviewing gear, for people like me who aren’t all that technical and are not audiophiles in the classical sense.
 
I mostly stream music from the Internet using services such as Spotify and Youtube and like millions of other people, my laptop and cellphone serves as my main media players.
 
 
So with that out of the way, lets get on with the review!
 
 
 

There are not that many high-quality earbuds on the market, never mind one that is so cheap and comes with a mic and remote. Hopefully we’ve found a little unfilled niche in the market?”  - FiiO ​

 ​
 
Build quality, Design and Accessories
Not surprisingly, FiiO’s presentation game is on point; Whether you are buying a $20 item or a $200 product from them, you can always expect a classy presentation and well thought out packaging. Taking out the innards you are greeted by a nice frosted paneling, removing which reveals the earbuds and a small compartment housing 3 sets of full cover foams. I do wish that FiiO included doughnut foams as well.
 
From a hardware perspective, the EM3 has a rather handsome design, utilizing a more futuristic looking design instead of the tried and true stock earbud shells. Fear not kiddies, these are not your daddy’s earbuds!
 
The EM3 shell size is on the smaller side compared to something like the Venture Electronics Monk Plus. Consequently the EM3 is quite comfortable to use for long stretches at a time, especially when using the full foam covers. In fact, after a few minutes you will forget they are there. 
 
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What is it like to use on a daily basis? 
I should first note that the EM3 is quite easy to drive with portable devices such as cellphones and laptops. While it did sound better with better sources and amping, given its intended use it would defeat to be using an amp for it on the go.
 
I thought that the cable was rather well done, especially since FiiO is positioning the EM3 as a replacement for stock phone earbuds. The EM3 cable is soft, supple and easy to roll up into a bundle without having the wires tangle in my pocket, all the while retaining great build quality.  When running to catch the bus or train, it was all too easy to stuff it into a pocket and then take it out again on the bus without having the wires putting up a fight (I am looking at you apple EarPods grrr). The EM3 overall has a sturdy physical build that will surely stand up to the rigours of daily life, both in and out of home. 
 
I feel the EM3 is worth the price of admission for the microphone alone, I was truly impressed by how well it performed. For everything from Skype calls to long distance phone calls, people often commented how clear my voice sounded and how easily the mic picked up details. I would also like to point out that the EM3 mic is quite a bit better than the apple ear pods mic. The EM3 mic is more sensitive, has better clarity and is better suited for calls outside since it is more sensitive. In fact I always find myself reaching for the EM3 whenever I have to take a call. 
 
These earbuds do leak sound, which becomes noticeable at higher volumes (which I of course had to find out the hard way). I was listening to my favourite Britney Spears and Taylor Swift tracks while enjoying a cup of coffee at starbucks when I noticed people at a nearby table giving me weird looks and staring. 
 
Turns out they were enjoying my music too! My mother did always tell me that sharing is caring. Anyways being the alpha male I am, I proceeded to stare down a soccer mom and someone who I presumed to be her mother, until they were forced to divert their eyes down at their own drinks (clearly in awe of me flaunting my alpha prowess). As they should. I then of course continued to enjoy my Caramel Macchiato, Venti, Skim, Extra Shot, Extra-Hot, Extra-Whip, Sugar-Free. But I digress. Point being If you like to listen to music at loud volumes, don’t use these in libraries or similar settings.
 
Isolation wise, the EM3 performs about as well you would expect, meaning they isolate like earbuds, meaning they don’t isolate that well. But for someone like me who wants to maintain awareness while walking outside, earbuds are perfect in that regard.
 
 
How do they sound?
For many people sound quality is very important, if not the most important quality they look for in a headphone, whether the cost is $30 or $300.
 
Sources used
Macbook Pro 
iPhone 5S
BlackBerry Z30
 
I will be mainly commenting on how the EM3 sounds using the included full cover foams, as most customers are likely to do the same, so please keep that in mind as you read my findings.
 
I would overall describe the EM3 as a v-shaped smooth sounding earbud with a warm and full midrange that still manages to be engaging and non fatiguing.
 
Treble extension is average with no noticeable roll off, retaining just enough detail to make cymbals and high hat crashes sound interesting without being strident. I didn’t come across any harshness nor any sibilance while listening with it to wide variety of music on my phone and laptop. I would characterize the treble as smooth and easy to listen to for hours on end (with the full foam), which combined with how comfortable it is to use, makes it perfect for keeping it on while working or studying for long stretches at a time. Depending on which type of foam cover you are using, you can try "foam-rolling" to tailor the sound to your tastes. If the sound with the stock foam covers is too dull or not to your liking, consider the thin full foam covers found in the Venture Electronics Monk Expansion Pack. The sound is decidedly more energetic with this combination and might be more suited for Top 40 music.
 
The EM3 sounds “big” for lack of a better word. The soundstage sounds spacious and diffuse (foam gives a better seal), wider than it is tall with a shallow sense of depth.  Instrument separation and layering was average, but enjoyable nonetheless. When it came to more complicated or intricate music tracks, things tended to get smeared and jumbled together.
 
The EM3 midrange is my favourite, sounding warm, full, dry and engaging. Distortion guitars sound sublime and I find myself listening to a lot of hard rock and metal music as a result. I find the midrange resolution to be more impressive than its treble, decently detailed and not in your face. 
 
Before listening to the EM3 for the first time I had assumed that FiiO would have gone for a bass heavy signature with lots of bloat. It was anything but! While the bass is emphasized (definitely helps when out and about), it is not bloomy nor bloated. The bass could use a bit more kick and impact in my opinion. It however still manages to rumble and is emphasized in a way that is rather tasteful. Kudos to FiiO for not going overboard with bass. There definitely was some bass leakage into the lower midrange, but it all added to thick and fun sound.
 
 ​
How does it compare?
 
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EM3 vs Apple Earpod
To start off with, the EM3 has a better feeling and a more manageable cable that doesn’t tangle easily. The Apple EarPod cable tangled almost each and every time I stored them in my bag or pockets. Apple fairies at work perhaps? :p  Not a fun thing to deal with when you just want to pull it out of your pocket quickly for a call outside.
 
Microphone wise, as I touched upon earlier, the EM3 mic is noticeably better: Better clarity and more sensitive at picking up sounds. The EM3 has quickly become my go to earbuds for phone calls, making my EarPods obsolete. 
 
I am not a fan of the EarPods and how they sit in the ear. The EM3, with its smaller than usual shell size, is noticeably more comfortable when used with a full cover foam.
 
Compared to the apple EarPods, EM3 sounds more detailed and spacious sounding. The EM3 has better treble extension and resolution with better instrument separation and layering. When it comes to the low end, the EM3 has arguably better quality bass, especially when it comes to punch and impact. 
 
And all of this at less than half the price of what a fresh pair of apple ear pod costs!
 
 
 
 
 
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EM3 vs VE Monk Plus
The EM3 has a thinner and easier to manage cable. The Monk Plus has a thicker but sturdier cable that is also not prone to tangling and a cable cinch/slider as an added bonus.
 
I should also mention that the Monk Plus is a bit harder to drive than the EM3 and it has no mic. The Monk Plus shell is also larger than the EM3, so it might be an issue for people with smaller ears. Again its manageable if using a full foam cover. Sonically speaking, the Monk Plus has better resolution all throughout the range, a bigger and more defined soundstage and noticeably better instrument separation and layering. The Monk Plus also has better clarity and imaging, along with a bass that rumbles more, has more of a punch and is also tighter.
 
Again, the Monk Plus does have a bigger shell and no microphone (as of writing this review) so the EM3 does have its advantages which appeal to people. 
 
For people with smaller ears the EM3 might be a much better match. As they say, comfort is king, and for many people comfort trumps sound. The EM3 is also readily available from traditional retail stores and popular online sites such as amazon.
 
 
 
 
 
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Bottom line
 
The EM3 is FiiO’s first earbud release, designed to be an upgrade for common stock earbuds that come bundled with cellphones. And to that end, FiiO has put out a great product. I would pick the EM3 over my pair of EarPods anyway of the week and twice on Sundays.
 
It has an enjoyable v-shaped sound that is  easy to listen to for hours on end. Sure it might not have the treble extension that your neighbours pet llama might enjoy, nor is it a detail monster, but for what it has set out to do it has done well.
 
The Em3 is an astonishingly comfortable earbud , sporting a microphone that has fantastic clarity, and great sensitivity making it a delight to use for phone and skype calls. The EM3 comes equipped with a soft and supple cable that is not prone to tangling, allowing it to be easily bundled up and stuffed into pockets with minimal fuss. All of this and more make the EM3 very easy to live with and use on a daily basis, making it a fantastic and affordable option for those looking to graduate from their EarPods or other stock earbuds. The EM3 truly is more than the sum of its parts.
 
A great first effort from FiiO and I am truly excited to see what they have in store for future releases.
 
Thank you for sticking with me thus far and not falling asleep! Ymmv as we all have different preferences and ear anatomy, but I hope I have helped get across what the EM3 offers and whether it would be right for you. The only way to figure out whats best for you is to ultimately hear it for yourself! 
 
I do still have a lot to learn so I welcome any and all feedback! 
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Happy listening  
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HiFiChris
HiFiChris
Thanks, Tamal, nice and informative review.
 
It seems like the Monk + (that I have ordered some weeks ago as well, by the way) does everything that I dislike about the EM3 better. I hope it arrives soon, along with the MrZ Tomahawk earbuds I bought as well.
peter123
peter123
Great work Tamal!
areek
areek
Nicely pointed out a few things, great job bro. The thing I found different on my experiance is that I found minimal sound leakage with it. Perhaps because I generally listen at a lower volume (60-70% vol on my 1+1, 40% on my E12)

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Pros: Great Bass, Great mids, Clear sound, Natural Tonality, Smooth but present treble, Good soundstage, Nice price
Cons: Comfort is as good as buds go, Treble is smooth with some roll off
Introduction
 
As of my late work has pushed me to have to work at many hours at once on writing Visual Novels, I began asking myself if there is a buds solution that sounds great and costs very little. I then heard that Fiio is releasing EM3, their own version of buds.
 
I understood that EM3 was also given for people buying a M3 player. 
 
I signed up and received a pair to review, this is a free item, I will try to compare it to other buds. I am very biased when writing, I have very peculiar tastes, and I generally loathe anything under 300$. Let's see how EM3 stands it's ground against such a listener. 
 
Let's begin with how it is packaged
 
IMAG0101.jpg
 
They come in a very nice looking cardboard package. As you can see, the design actually looks very nice.
 
Looks like a professionally packaged product. 
 
IMAG0102.jpg
 
 
IMAG0103.jpg
 
IMAG0104.jpg
 
 
 
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I apologize for this, but I am not really able to take a photo of how they look when worn. 
 
 
I will try to split the sound review in a few parts:
 
[Disclaimer: I have been using EM3 for a period of an hour before writing the review, to get used to the sound, and reset the mental barrier after wearing other IEMs / headphones. Your experience might differ]
 
[For testing I have used metal (all kinds), rap, pop, electronica, post hardcore, vocaloid, J-pop, soundtracks from anime shows]
 
Bass
 
It depends a lot with what you do compare them. I can just say, that knowing their price I was actually caught by surprise on how it sounds. Bass is deep and goes pretty low, about 50Hz, after which they have a slight rolloff (even if they did not have a roll off, the lack of rubber plugs with the ear would make sub bass not be very audible). What I could say about it that is bad is that it does not have enough speed, they create a natural decaying bass, not an overly fast one. Bass degree, considering price and type of product is about 9/10. It could had been slightly better, but at the price paid, I sincerely think they nailed the bass right. On metal tracks, I appreciate that bass was not bloated neither inaudible. It was there when called for. I was spoiled by too much sub bass of other headphones / IEMs and for rap music bass comes as a bit lacking the sub bass slam. Compared to similar priced products, bass is there, and is really good quality, and really does not distort at all. 
 
Bass short description : Enough bass, but clearly not bloated, natural decay, not intruding on mids. A good quantity and quality. 
 
Mids
 
Mids sound great! Natural, voices come as natural, female voices come sweet, and have good tonality. Guitars riffs sound exactly as they should, they have enough presence, mids are not pushed back, but are rather forward. Compared to bass and treble, they come as forward mids. Levels of details are great, really good compared to what you can usually get for 15$, or free buds received with smartphones. I mean, EM3 comes as really clear and detailed when compared to these.I liked the fact that guitars sound really good, and male voices seem a bit warmer than usually. But tonality is about right on spot. For metal and rap, voices and guitars come right where they need to. Male screamo sounds a bit warmer than it should, but it is nitpicking, because similar priced items are nowhere close. EM3 manages to not distort at all, even at pretty high volumes. I would give mids a 9/10.
 
Mids in short : Forward mids, non distorted, tonality on spot, leaning a bit towards warm, very clear. 
 
Treble
 
Here my peculiar tastes come into place, you can skip this one. 
 
Treble is not exactly rolled off, because it gets up to 12KHz, and clear enough, but in quantity it is much less than I want with my music. 
 
Let's be fair though : compared to similar priced buds products, EM3 manages to actually have a smooth good treble. It does not miss on it, and you can hear treble, but it is clearly a smooth one. I like the fact that it is there. No other similar priced product managed to make treble this good. It is me who has peculiar tastes. I give treble 8/10.
 
Treble in short : Smooth, but present, detailed, does not distort at all, no hiss, no harshness, no sibilance. 
 
Soundstage and stereo imaging
 
Well. They not only beat everything in their price range, they beat products much more expensive in soundstage. I know that it is a part of the open design, and it is a reason why sub bass was sacrificed for, but it is really worth it. You can actually hear sounds coming from more than 2 points. Also stereo imaging is great. Really wide soundstage, with average depth, and good separation. I expected much less, and was very surprised on this. I give soundstage a 9/10
 
Comfort
 
Well... I don't want to do this after how good they actually sound... With my ears, I don't get them to stay in ears. I don't get any buds to stay in my ears. It is my own problem, my brother can keep them in ears for hours at once, and so is able to any other person who tired them. But I got something that stops me from having them stay put. I think the shape of my ears does not accept buds in general. Well, I cannot say, they are the same as any other buds I tried in this aspect. As for me, I mainly hold them in my ears with my hands, or had a loose fit for most of the listening. This did not affect the sound very much though, as they are buds and already open, so I was able to write the review without them falling off all the time. It is something about my ears in particular, and if you can use buds, you should have no problems with them at all. 
 
I trusted my brother to tell me how they are comfort wise, and he said they are the same comfort as any other buds he tried, but really do sound better in all aspects. 
 
 
Build Quality
 
I read users testing their endurance to abuse, but I did no such thing. I think that they look very solid, cable looks well made. I tested the mic remote, and it does work, voices come off clear, but nothing very special here, they simply work. Because we have been using a phone conversation to test it, the best I can describe how well this works is: Microphone and remote works, voices were clear enough to make out the conversation. But call quality varies by phone to phone, reception, background noise, and many other factors, so I am unable to say more. It gets its job done. 
 
I hope you enjoyed the little review, and this was my opinion with my ears, everyone has different hearing. I can say that I am not disappointed, I am used to 700$ IEMs, and EM3 does a good job against it's competitors, and is a bud with enjoyable sound. They are worth their asking price, and really are a good quality inexpensive set of buds. 
 
I thank Fiio for providing me the review sample, and I thank AVstore for helping me with receiving the demo unit! 
 
If you are looking for a good inexpensive pair of buds, I totally recommend them! 
sofastreamer
sofastreamer
did you use the foams?
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Nope, I did not use the foams. Seemed the sound is a bit clearer without the foam. 

areek

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Forward and clear mids, great soundstage, inline mic, good amount of bass, Good build quality (looks can deceive though), Excellent value for money
Cons: Highs lag behind, Too full bodied sound, Bass not well controlled, Supplied foams ruin the experiance, needed a clip to hold in in place
INTRODUCTION
Hello again guys, I am Areek Nibras, a junior Head-fier and a recently graduated physician from Bangladesh, currently doing post-graduation training in Internal medicine. Today I will be reviewing the new budget earbuds released by Fiio called the Fiio EM3. Now, Fiio is a chinese brand who previously used to specialize in making budget amps/daps/dacs, but now they have been working hard to spread to all branches of audio equipments. Their 1st IEM, the Fiio EX1 was essentially a rebrand of the Dunu's Titan 1 iems, which was as good as the original with almost half the price.That is a product that I loved and is still my favorite sub 100$ IEM till now. But now, Fiio has again come up to meet the demands of those who love music but can't spend loads of money to buy pricier head gear. The Fiio EM3 earbuds retail for just 14.99$ with free shipping on amazon. It has a 14.8mm dynamic driver, an inline mic so that it can be used with a phone, and terminates in a 3.5mm jack. Soon after Fiio released the earbuds, I came to know of the Review recruitment going on and applied instantly. Soon enough, I was approached by Sunny from @FiiO and then got it shipped to my place within 15 days via china post. I must thank him and the entire Fiio team for giving me this oppertunity to review such a new and fresh product like this.
 
I tested the iems in both my pc and portable setup and my phone, tried out music, movies and gaming with these. For the 1st 10 days after getting these, I had travelled to Mumbai and Kashmir in India with my parents. The Fiio EM3 was with me the entire time and had at least about 30 hours of playtime during flights and bus travels. Then after coming back, I tried some crtitical listening in my room, as well as took these out during my local bus rides.....at least 20 more hours. I'll try to describe my overall thoughts in this review. 
 
DISCLAIMER
I have received the Fiio EM3 as a free unit after applying for the review recruitment arranged by Fiio. I am in no way affiliated with Fiio other than being owners of other Fiio products like the Fiio X1 DAP, Fiio E12 amp and the Fiio EX1 iems. I, like the other participants were given this review unit for free in exchange for my honest review regarding the EX1. The review I post is just my opinion regarding the product and it was not influenced by any means from Fiio or anyone else. 
 
APPEARANCE, BUILD, ACCESSORIES, FIT & COMFORT:
The Fiio EM3 comes in a White 5.7 x 1.8 x 0.8 inches slender paper box wrapped with a thin transparent polythene layer, no fuss here as it is a budget bud. On the back, some specifications regarding the earbuds are written in English and chinese. Upon opening it, there is a single tray like compartment where the earbuds lie under a transparant plastic shield. At the bottom there is a smaller box that contains 3x pair of foam sleeves for better placement and comfort. 
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The earbuds are fairly simple and mod looking, the housings look big but actually is fit for regular ear sizes. There are L & R marks inscribed on the buds for identification, there is also a small dot on the right earbud to help visually impaired people. There's a silver colored mesh that sits in front of the diaphragms. The buds are connected by a very thin cable that looks really scary (but holds off stress quite well).
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The cable connected to the left earbud has an in-line mic about 5 inches below, perfect distance to attend to phone calls. The mic has a single button for receiving calls and doing other phone functions. Worked well with my android music player settings. 
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The right and left ear cables fuse together at a Y-splitter made of plastic. Below that is a thicker cable leading upto the L-shaped 3.5mm gold plated audio jack. 
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Now, Fiio only supplies 3 pairs of foam sleeves for the earbuds, which I thought provided better comfort and fit but are detrimental to the sound in a way that those were of no use to me. Some users have been able to make holes in the middle of those sleeves to make some kind of doughnut shaped cushions, but I did not do it. Instead, I did my reviewing without the sleeves entirely. 
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One more thing I would have liked fiio to add is a clip that would help fix these to users apparel. The earbuds sometimes have a hard time staying in place as they are quite big. The added foams help them to stay in place, but ruin the sound. As this is meant to be regularly used, I would really love to see a clip in later revisions of the product.
 
The buds need some proper positioning to sound as good as they should. The following photo shows the best sounding fit for my ears. Slightly angled, not straight down.
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The earbuds are quite comfortable to wear without the sleeves. I wore these for 3-4hr long sessions, felt only a slight discomfort on removal, the foams do improve comfort.
 
Appearance- 4/5
Build- 3.5/5
Accessories- 2/5
Fit- 3.5/5
Comfort- 4/5

 
NOW THE SOUND
For the last 7 years I have been strictly sticking to IEMs and did not use a single earbud during that time. So when I got these, I did not know what to expect, so it was kind of a mystery box for me. When I 1st put these on I was quite surprised as these almost sounded like a solid pair of on ear cans rather than being an earbud. The more I listened to it, the more I started liking it. I did not find any significant changes to the sound during this listening period. And after 15 days, I must say that these are quite the bang for buck on a price tag of below 20$ worldwide, but these do come with a few drawbacks, all of these I'll be discussing below.
 
Gears used- 
PC > JDS labs Odac+O2 > Fiio EM3 ( 2.5x gain, 10 o' clock position)
Fiio X1 > Fiio E12 > Fiio EM3 (low gain, 10 o' clock position)
Oneplus One > Fiio EM3 (70% vol, AudioFX disabled)
 
Lows- 
After I put it on for the 1st time, tried out some bass heavy tracks like Say it right(Nelly Furtado), Low (Florida feat T-Pain), some dubstep, Lindsay Stirling tracks, all I felt was...Meh! Then as I did some positional adjustments, specially after getting the proper fit, my thoughts changed quite a bit. The bass felt present, Quite impactful and clean. These reminded me quite a bit about the old monoprice 8320 iems I had a few years back. Although I did feel the bass was not tonally accurate, sounding slightly different than I am used to getting from my cans. Also, the bass was not very well controlled IMO. Songs like Say it Right and Boom Clap (Charlie XCX) made the bass kind of distorted, especially when it went too low. There was some mid bass presence which was expected as these are meant to be fun sounding. However in very few tracks, the bass bled into the mids and overpowered the mids. But on most tracks bass was on point and perfectly complimenting the rest of the frequency spectrum, specially in more balanced tracks. Overall, I would rate the bass 7/10.
 
Mids- 
The Fiio EM3's offer clear, agressive mids which do take the front seat. And by aggressive, I mean 'in your face' type. All the mid tones are crisp and clear. The vocals sound like they are sitting in the middle of a stage with instruments surrouding it, rather than just coming upfront and taking the lead. I loved that as it gave the vocals a bigger sense of space. Singers like Ed sheeran, Norah Jones, Hannah Trigwell sound airy and lifelike. In most of the tracks, the other instruments mostly compliment the vocals being just as prominant as the voice. The mids do lack some of the micro-detail, but that's coming from 300$ pair of cans lol. There is not a hint of sibilance present, all sound so smooth and rounded like velvet. But sometimes, the full bodied sound felt a bit too much for the ears, taking a small break helped then. OVerall, I would give these a big 8.5/10 for mids. 
 
P.S.- The stock foam sleeves completely eat up all the goodness of the mids and make the sound muddy and shallow. DO NOT USE THEM WITHOUT MAKING A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE, or get 
some doughnuts from elsewhere.
 
Highs-
The higher frequency presentation of the EM3s just are not on par with the brilliant mids and impactful bass. The highs are recessed and can only be heard, but not enjoyed. There is no sparkle up top, which would have made these a perfect allrounder earbud. Although, this might be a blessing to those who can't tolerate harshness, I do feel the need of some high presence. I can give them 5/10 for highs.  

Isolation and leakage- 
Being an Open earbud, the isolation is almost non-existant. I can clearly hear what's happening around me, who's talking about what in the room or the car. I had no problem participating in group chitchats during our bus rides in Kashmir. However, these still sound quite detailed inspite of the poor isolation. Even when there were loud chatting, traffic noises going on, I could clearly concentrate on the music that was playing, thanks to it's aggressive nature. And these do not leak much sound, even people sitting beside you won't be listen to what you are listening if you don't play it very loud. This kind of feature fits my needs exactly and  I can easily suggest these to those who move around a lot in public transports, but need to be aware of their surroundings as well as their music. 
 
Phone calls-
I made several phone calls using these, audio was clear and perfectly audible. The people from the other end also had no problems while listening to what I said, so that means that the microphone is also a good one. But I do not prefer using earbuds/iems with my phone and will stick to using it without one.

Conclusion- 
The Fiio EM3 is an excellent entry level earbud, which will now be my go to earbuds for commuting and casual listening. I even let a friend of mine try this out and he liked the sound so much that he's already planning to get a pair. It provides excellent value for the small price to be paid for it, and has a sound signature that a lot of people will love. I do wish that Fiio will make some changes to the accessories (and tuning maybe, a newer revision perhaps :p), then it would be a killer earbud. However, I do know that there are a couple of compititors at this price range, most hyped one being the VE Monk+, which could really give these a run for the money. But I am yet to listen to the Monk+ so I can not do a direct comparison right now, also the Monk+ doesn't come with a mic, so Fiio has an edge over the mobile users. So, I can safely suggest a pair to anyone who is looking to try out a cheap but fun sounding earbud with prominant mids, impactful bass and full bodied sound & be pretty sure that they will fall in love with it and make these their go-to earbuds in no time. 9.5/10 Value for money. :D 
jules64
jules64
While these are good, they are not much better than many others available out there. I tried and returned, the lack of bass was just to annoying. Not enough sub-bass for classical without amping. Honestly, I retried my Philips SHE2005s and found them as good across the spectrum of ranges and sound, and the bass noticeably superior. Also warm without being muddy.I wear the the Philips with no foam and they fit well, the EM3 was loose fitting. Yes slightly louder thanks to the 47 Ohm rating, but overall not a reason to keep. So I don't get the hype on these. They are good, just not good enough.

Feilong4

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Doesn't break the bank, Easy-going sound, Great fit (for my ears)
Cons: Vocals sound a bit off, Easy-going sound (for some), no isolation (is a given with earbuds)
Intro:
 
I'm not all too technical about sound (which explains only the bass/mid/treble; I still need to add my thoughts on soundstage though). It's pretty much whether I like a product or I don't. Pictures may come.
 
I listen to a little bit of everything but more so in Pop, J-Rock/J-Pop, Electronic, and Hip-Hop.
 
This time around, I do like this product.
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Build/Design:
 
Decent. But of course nothing spectacular. Plastic housings seem sturdy enough and cable although thin doesn't seem like they will break on you. They have a bit of cable noise though.
The cable is long enough for my needs (since I'm really short). Taller people may find the cable to be a lot shorter than what they would like.
Really like the right angle jack, it has a nice strain relief though the strain relief on the earpieces leaves a little bit to be desired. At least there IS some sort of relief to the earpieces.
 
As for design, meh. Looks like any other earbud. I like the mic though I don't use it unfortunately. It works for playing and pausing my music though which is nice (Android phone).
_________________________________________________________________
 
Fit:
 
Excellent! They fit my ears extremely well having not fallen out even once even with lots of head movement. They are very comfortable with and without the foams.
_________________________________________________________________
 
Isolation:
 
FORGET ABOUT IT. Not faulted because earbuds offer no isolation as is.

Sound:
 
Very good. I've tried the Venture Electronics' offerings and will have brief comparisons of them at a later time (when I'm not lazy). They seem to be ever-so-slightly mid focused although that doesn't mean they sound nasal or very congested. Vocals don't necessarily sound very realistic though but that's kind of nitpicking at this price.
The bass is there but of course will never become fatiguing nor will really satisfy you, but it's not non-existent. Very bass light. A good seal does give you a bit of thump so be sure to get a good seal.
The treble is fairly laid back. Great for long listening, but music doesn't sound really engaging nor does it give it the feeling that it sounds big.
All in all, they sound ever-so-slightly warm with a slight focus on the mids.
_________________________________________________________________
 
Conclusion:
 
I think it's a great first offering and really like how they really stay in your ears even with lots of head movement. Sound does leave just a little bit to be desired but then again you're paying like 10 bucks.
 
Sources: Sony Xperia Z3V
 
Also, please do leave feedback on how I can improve on my reviews. Telling me that I suck isn't helping me improve 8C

ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: $10, TEN DOLLARS! Sound belying a much more expensive bud, warm full sound
Cons: cable above "Y" is thin, hard to keep in ear, not much else
Pros: $10…TEN DOLLARS, inline mic, 14.8mm driver, smaller size bud
 
Cons: Thin cable, forward mids, trouble staying in my ears, $10…TEN DOLLARS
 
Introduction: The Head-Fi website is a place for many good things related to headphones, amplifiers, Digital Audio Players (DAPS), along with many more items. Manufacturers will often promote their new items on the site, and many of the experienced reviewers will get pre-production or first-run items. This is a good thing. A “trickle-down” effect of this is that other items from those same manufacturers will be opened up to “mini contests," lottery-type giveaways or a semi-interview process. This is also a good thing. While providing many more subscribers the opportunity to review their products, companies are smartly calling on people with a shared passion for quality music products.
 
 
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Initial package, before opening
 
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Back of package, complete with QR codes
 
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With full foams-very good sound with these
 
 
It is through this route, that I was lucky enough to be chosen to review Fiio’s new EM-3 earbuds. Sunny, the Fiio contact was nothing but pleasant to work with via messaging, and a true professional who represents Fiio well. Providing quality customer/reviewer service is a good thing to have in a business that can be built further by word of mouth, or word of paper. It is beneficial in this regard, and just plain good business. I anxiously answered the required questions, put up onto the Head-Fi site another review so that Sunny could read my work, and waited. I was thankful, excited and honored to be chosen for this review product.
 
 
Disclaimer:
I have no affiliation with Fiio, other than the conversations related to the ordering of this review product, the EM-3. I do own several Fiio products ranging from the X3ii, to the A3, and E6 amps. I like them very much. My review will be an honest assessment of the EM-3, as I believe constructive criticism is as much a part of a good product review and will help the company not only address potential downsides of their product, but will also give the company an idea of the upsides of their product as well.
 
Biography:
I lost my Klipsch s4ii's....I was despondent. I had no good headphones as a result. Through a search of the Internet, I was led to Head-Fi, and my "reentry" into the personal-portable music world began. Through much reading and research, I was led first to the MEElectronic (now MEE Audio) m6 Pro's. I followed those with the excellent Dunu Titan 1's (excellent fresh sound). I then jumped on the VE Monk train (excellent little wonders they are!), followed by the intriguing RHA ma750's (which up until my review of the MEE Audio Pinnacle P1’s were my favorites, and are still quite good). After conversations with Sunny, the product was delivered via DHL…and I anxiously awaited their arrival.
 
Through no error of Fiio, I was unable to retrieve the EM’s on a Friday, as I was unaware (actually forgot…) that DHL would need to have a customer signature to finish delivery. I was highly disappointed, because I had the weekend planned for the review process. Oh well, I worked on another pair I am in the process of reviewing. In the mean time, I kept reading & researching, delving deeper into the Head-Fi world, leading to the findings which will be reviewed here and with the other phones in my possession...in due time...including the above mentioned product which I used over the weekend of wait.
 
I am no sound expert. I like good music, and appreciate excellent products as well as excellent valued products, such as the EM-3’s. My listening style varies from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Lyle Lovett, to Dave Matthews, to Bob Marley to Magic Slim & the Teardrops, to Coldplay, to Adele, and everything in between. As a result of too much loud rock and roll as a kid with $ and a car stereo of envy I now have hearing loss, mostly in the upper end. Anything sibilant or overly bright can and does bother me. That said, I am also a Wildlife Biologist/Earth Science teacher who studied songbirds in a different life...This allows me the ability to pick out a sound which should not be in that environment or is new to that environment...such as hearing a songbird on our surveys which had not been heard yet on our routes. I prided myself in that ability to pick out the sounds of what was not there upon our initial arrival. I like to think that this will help with my reviews, but I cannot guarantee it. I am post 50, but love good music and good sound quality. All opinions are mine and mine alone. I may reference others fine reviews, but only to draw a point of comparison. I do not own any sound testing equipment, nor am I a Sound Engineer. I am simply going off of my own interpretations and listenings. I do love going over the analytics of graphs and tone diagrams, etc, but my own seat-of-the-pants interpretations are what I have. YMMV.
 
 
 
Review
 
Packaging:
 
Almost shy, unassuming packaging greeted me when I opened the well packed ePacket from China. It was well protected. A simple black and white package with the ear buds prominently displayed on the front greets the new owner. Simple packaging matches the $10 price. Nothing fancy, just minimal packaging. I like it.
 
IMG_1533.jpg
Simple black and white packaging, highlight the Fiio EM-3.
 
 
 
 
 
Opening the package you are met with a “smoked-glass” like cover over the wrapped cord and buds. Again, simple but I like it. One of the previous reviewers mentioned that this gave the Fiio’s a hidden upscale look. I cannot disagree.
 
 
IMG_1531.jpg
Smoked cover adds allure!
 
 
IMG_1532.jpg
The Em-3’s appeared well made, and after close inspection, they are very well made.
 
 
IMG_1534.jpg
L-plug, a welcome part, which fits through Smartphone cases.
 
 
 
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Full foam, again with thin cord, above "Y" splitter
 
 
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Three sets of full foam covers are included.
 
 

 
Fiio’s motto: “Born For Music & Happy” a nice motto.
 
 
 
 
Technical Specs:
 
 
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A large 14.8mm driver coupled with fairly high impedence (47ohms) and high sensitivity (109dB), mean that this pair is easy to drive with the average Smartphone. Volume was no trouble for the pair and my iPhone 6+. Wearing cargo pants or shorts, the cable is too short for me. Placed in regular pockets, I had no problem, though.
 
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Interior of the bud, itself
 
 
Commentary:
 
Design/Build:
 
The EM-3 harkens back to a simpler time, when buds shaped like these were included in most early Smartphones. A Slight mimic of the old Apple earbuds, they do share a similar shape. That is the only similarity, thankfully. I would call then elegantly simple. Reinforced housing areas help where the cable comes out, and where the cable goes into the L-jack. Not overly huge, but well appreciated protection. As stated in my CONS, the cables are thin, but they are strong. They tend to tangle more so than other buds I have owned, but with careful wrapping, this can be handled. I’m not sure how well this pair would handle being shoved in a pocket repeatedly, but if the “abuse” @Wiljen put his pair through (excellent review: http://www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-em3-open-earbud-earphones-with-in-line-microphone-black/reviews/15696) in the washing machine and drier (they still worked!) is any indication, there should be no worries with the cable or connections.
 
For a $10 earbud, these are built very well. Fit and finish is top quality, something we have come to expect from pretty much all of our earphones, and these deliver. No loose seams, no mismatched screen covers, just evenly matched and well built.
 
IMG_1573.jpg
Smaller sized bud, which fits my ear better
 
 
Features:
 
The only accessories included are three sets of foam covers. Nothing earth shattering, but quite stark in comparison to other similarly priced buds or IEM’s. At this price point, this is the norm. Again, no qualms from me.
 
Use:
 
The EM’s are meant for on-the-go use from mowing, to running, to listening in the evenings. My use will be of similar character, though I doubt I would use these for mowing or running…I simply cannot get ear buds to stayin my ears. Some might say Earhooks would solve this problem, but I am of the opinion, that if the purchased bud is inexpensive, it is almost a disservice to spend more money on them. The whole reason they are inexpensive is that the focus is on the sound, not the accessories. Many in the Head-Fi community do not have the problem I do, with buds, they fit perfectly fine, or are willing to pay a bit more for accessories that help with the fit. I am not one of those that will do that.
 
 
The Sound
 
Sources:
 
During burn in, I used the Fiio’s mainly through my iPhone 6+, playing music all night, then a good solid 16 hours of pink noise. I also played these through my excellent Fiio X3ii, and A3 amp. Kind of a Fiio tri-fecta, if you will. Also used with my iPhone was the small Fiio E6 amp. A nice little amp which, can give your Smartphone that little bit of “oomph” if needed.
 
Music chosen:
 
Long Black Veil-Johnny Cash
Every Street-Dire Straits
Oya Mamacita-Los Lonely Boys
Don’t Drink the Water-Dave Matthews Band
Cold Shot-Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Scientist­-Coldplay
Clocks-Coldplay
Adventure of A Lifetime-Coldplay
Set Fire to the Rain-Adele
He Won’t Go-Adele
Lazarus-David Bowie
Senorita-Los Lonely Boys
 
*Many Others!*
 
 
Initial:
 
My first impression was that it is hard to believe this cost $10…but it was a tempered “believe”…I often garner a first impression which can taint further judgment of my phones. My relationship with the excellent MEE Audio Pinnacle P1’s is a case in point. I REALLY did not like them upon my initial several hours. But, after approximately 50+ hours, they are simply fantastic, and I won’t give them up.
 
The EM-3’s on the other hand had a much happier beginning. I liked them right out of the box, but tempered with a slightly veiled sound. Let’s be honest. When most people (please don’t take this as elitism) purchase headphones, they are looking for affordable eadbud/IEM’s which they can just plug and play. Burning in the latest/greatest product is not on their mind. They simply want sound. I am happy to report, that the EM’s would pass this test. A decent full sound, which was not too forward, not too overpowering was had with my initial hours listenings. I was happy.
 
 
Overall:
 
I am enjoying the Fiio’s with full foam covers as I write this. I very rarely use full foam covers. I feel that the covers temper the sound too much for my personal taste. I am also happy to report, that using the foam cover allows the bud to stay in my ear much better. The highs are brought down a level, but do not cover them. Listening to Adele’s wonderful Set Fire to the Rain is quite nice. Her voice carries through the foam nicely, much like looking through a fine satin sheet at a wonderfully backlit scene. You very much enjoy the unencumbered view, but looking through the veiled/satin scene is simply serene. The EM-3 just does not disappoint when it comes to the sound. Bass is solid and tight, mids are where they should be to me, a support of the overall sound. Treble is present, making its note heard, but not overly so…just a hint of “look at me” comes from the highs, and the bass/mids do not mind. A thoroughly satisfying sound from an economical earbud.
 
IMG_1574.jpg
 
 
Bass:
 
This is by no means a basshead bud, but it does not shy away from bass. This would be the equivalent of a Mazda Miata showing up on a fine canyon road to engross itself in the twists and curves. Certainly not the fastest, but enough to earn the respect of others present and put a smile on your face. Bass is there, with a roll off just shy of deep bass, but certainly present. Enough bass to satisfy the casual user looking for a Samsung/Apple replacement bud. Tight enough for the seasoned audio aficionado.
 
Mids:
 
As stated above, the mids are definitely present, but not overbearing. Too often (in my short review history…) the mid sound is pushed very far forward and the main part of the headphone. I’m not sure if the respective manufacturers are pushing this as a selling point of their buds, or it is a sound consumers demand/like; but I am very satisfied with the slightly recessed mids of the Fiio's. That said, on Coldplay’s very dance-worthy Adventure Of A Lifetime, the mids take center stage. They do so, because the musician WANTED them to. Besides DEEP bass, it is the mids that take center stage in a dance room. The Fiio’s do not disappoint, providing just what the musicians want. Bass is there, but mids take the front in this song. A solid sound, which is not overpowering. Another song which highlights the mids is the powerful Oye Mamacita song from Los Lonely Boys. If any group can bring out the limitations of a headphone, I would put Los Lonely right up there. From their varied guitar licks, to the piercing vocals, they run almost the full gamut of a testers dream. I am happy to report, that even with the full foam, the 3’s do not disappoint. Good solid sound.
 
Treble:
 
From my limited experience, the treble of inexpensive headphones is the easiest to screw up, either sounding way to bright and sibilant, or lacking completely. The included Samsung is a case of the former, and the current Apple buds the latter. The 3’s best both by being just right. Not bright, certainly not sibilant, but announcing their presence with that aforementioned slight “look at me” sound. Never too bright (and my ears are sensitive to that), Fiio has managed to get this just right. I will not say perfect, but quite good, regardless of the price. Cymbal clash is where it should be; either at the front if the song asks, or as support to the vocals. Not once did I experience sibilance. A worthy sound from the highs, especially with sensitive ears.
 
Soundstage/Separation:
 
I like a wide soundstage. As stated in my other reviews, my home system has a sound stage the size of New York to Boston (almost…), and I like it this way. Good separation of instruments, gives my aging ears the ability to hear and separate instruments, hearing all, which are present. If the recording jumbles all sounds together, then that is what the Fiio’s present. Not the fault of the headphones. While the soundstage is wide, it is not Dunu Titan 1 or Pinnacle P1 wide. I had no expectation of that going in, so I was pleasantly surprised with what I did find. A nice fairly wide sound which can be enjoyed. Especially when you can envision by the sound where the instruments are on stage such as with Los Lonely Boy’s live Senorita from Colorado Springs. The drums are behind the acoustic guitars as support and they should be. Intimate, yet wide enough to enhance your sound to imagine that you were there. I won’t say front row, but I have always found those seats overpriced anyway! A good seat well within the imagination of all present. That is how I would describe the EM’s.
 
 
Isolation:
 
This is one of the few down sides of the EM-3’s, I would say. While these are in no way meant to be completely isolated, the sound leakage means that using them at higher volume would hinder your friends in a quiet environment. Also the outside sound can be heard. This means you must turn the volume up to counteract that…a cycle which might be repeated. These would work for commuting, and active sports where you would like to hear the outside world for safety’s sake, but a definite hindrance in quiet settings.
 
Presentation:
 
For $10, these are quite good. Expect for complicated music. This is the biggest falling down of the buds. With complicated music, the sound can get lost, and distracted. This is also my main reason for downgrading these overall. This reminds me of the Bill Nye episode of Electrons in one of his Weather videos…the Electrons are all jumping around in the elevator, as he explainsthe concept of lightning and when the door opens, they scatter every which way….This is what happens when the Fiio’s are asked to accommodate complex music. This does not happen often, and it is not a deal breaker, but it does happen.
 
Comparisons:
 
The natural competitors are the supplied earbuds of Smartphones, along with the $5 VE Monk. I fell for the Monk train, and am quite smitten with them, even though I cannot get a good fit due to their size.
 
 
Fiio EM-3 vs Samsung supplied:
 
The Fiio is the clear winner here…no contest. While the supplied Samsung’s are a decent headphone (my daughter really likes hers which is OK with me, they are not nearly as complete as the Fiio. Overly-bright is how I would describe the Samsung’s. Not that bad, but certainly not in the same class as the Fiio’s. That bright sound overshadows all other sound, to the point where almost all you hear is the highs. Soundstage is narrow, mids are non-existent, and bass is on the light side. Just a cheap throw in for those that want immediate sound.  The Samsung’s do not fit my ear well, either.
 
Fiio EM-3 vs Apple supplied:
 
Again, a pretty clear winner here. The only part where the Apple’s trump the Fiio’s is the deep bass, but at the cost of sound. As overly bright as the Samsung treble was, that is how overbearing the bass is with the Apple’s. Where the Fiio manages to make the bass part of the overall sound, the Apple's shout BASS, BASS, BASS, at the expense of everything else. To me, if they toned down the bass, this would not be that bad of a sound. But it is just too much to bear. Fit is better than the Fiio’s, and less fatiguing over time, but the sound is just not up to the par of the EM’s.
 
 
IMG_1572.jpg
 
 
Fiio EM-3 vs VE Monk
 
And now the one you all turned in for…as did I when I found out that I was lucky enough to review the EM’s. At half the priceof the Fiio, the Monks really are a bargain, which should be experienced by all who would listen. My daughter really likes her pair, while my son and his girlfriend enjoy them, too. I really think that “gift-giving” should be on the business card, which is included with the Monks. You can read for yourself the excellent, LENGTHY thread dedicated to them on the Head-Fi website (http://www.head-fi.org/t/783669/venture-electronics-ve-monk-a-5-earbud-that-seriously-deserves-a-place-here).
 
Listening to Adele’s wonderfully sensuous He Won’t Go, I am hard pressed, VERY hard pressed to choose between these bargains. While the Monk’s provide slightly more detail, the Fiio’s are a very full, warm sounding bud. The Monks do provide more detail, though. Listen to the above song through both and you will immediately notice the tambourine present with the Monk at the beginning of the song. You overlook that instrument through the Fiio’s. I had to listen three times to make sure, but the Monk clearly brings out the subtle support instruments better than the EM-3’s, but that is counteracted by a slightly less warm sound. The Fiio’s fit my musical taste better, with that warm sound. The Monks are a more open (but not warm) sound to me, and this is truly astonishing. To think that I am debating the finer merits of a $10 bud versus a $5 bud, and having a REALLY hard time, just belies how the industry (and the smaller companies) are trying to provide the maximum sound/$ ratio. I for one am truly happy that this is happening. Both of these would compete and DO compete at prices closer to $50. Respectively 10x and 5x their prices…wow.  Those few of you reading this (my hope is it is quite a few!), will probably want me to make a decision here…and I will not. To close this comparison, I will explain in the conclusion…
 
The Fiio’s do fit my ear better, which is huge to me. Comfort is better, due to the smaller size.
 
Sound ratings:
 
Samsung supplied: 6/10-too much treble brings this down significantly.
Apple supplied: 6.5/10—BASS, BASS, BASS brings this down, with better fit.
VE Monk: 8/10-$5…FIVE FRIGGIN’ DOLLARS!!! And sound of IEM’s costing 10x their price.
Fiio EM-3: 8/10…TEN FRIGGIN’ DOLLARS!!! Sound matching the Monks, and buds which cost 5x their price solidify this bud.
 
 
Conclusion:
 
Coming into this review, I thought long about what I wanted to test, and how to test the buds listed. Taking a part from @Brooko, I withheld final judgment until I burned all pairs in. A total of about 16 hours of pink noise, coupled with 50+ hours of music, allowed me (in my mind) to limit my time with them (so I could not judge any of them prematurely) and thus limit painting my judgments either way. All this meant is that I had to put up with my Pinnacle P1’s…oh…darn…
 
That Fiio is only onto their second in-house bud is a testament to their dedication to the music which we all listen. Running their own version of the excellent Titan 1 (EX-1), allowed them street cred, which garnered more listeners. Many on Head-Fi purchased the EX-1, knowing it was a cooperative effort, and cost less than the Titan’s (which I dearly love). Smart business acumen, while affording time to develop their own buds. And I will say that the EM-3 is definitely something to consider when making the choice to replace the included Smartphone buds. Many reviewers state that they will purchase these as stocking stuffers. I would add that throwing these along with a pair of Monks into anyone’s stocking would bring gleeful child-like delight to those lucky enough to receive them. These are good earbuds…REALLY good. As mentioned on the Head-Fi thread, I let one of my peers listen. She immediately hit an online store to purchase a pair herself…after less than a minute. I have also given her a pair of Monks, which she like too.
 
I keep mentioning the Monks, not as a disservice to Fiio, but as a compliment to both respective companies. A natural inclination I have learned in my short time back into the head listening arena, is that companies WANT to be compared to the standard bearers, they WANT to know how their product racks up against the latest flavor (which is damn good btw), and consider it a compliment to be mentioned with those said products. That Fiio has made this product for $10, simply means they take their business and sound seriously and genuinely care what we purchase, and why. Good customer relations is almost a foregone era, and I find this refreshing to be thought of as a long-term customer, who can help spread their message. With all of this gibberish writing said, if I had to choose, between the two, I lean towards the Fiio’s. The mix of even warm sound, quality build and especially fit makes this the SLIGHT winner to me. Buy yourself a pair, listen to it, enjoy it for what it is…a $10 earbud which makes you want to enjoy your music more and an entry past the stock earbud/cheap quality dime store junk which too many people purchase. Good stuff, Fiio. My compliments to the Chef.
Brooko
Brooko
Brilliant review - well laid out, and well thought out. The EM3 definitely punch well above their weight.  If you got a set of fins with your Monks - try them with the EM3 (for keeping them in your ears).  I'll post pics when I eventually get my review finished.
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Thank you Brooko, that means a lot to me! I have five Monk + coming and another with the expansion pack. I will try all three with the hooks. Thank you again!

B9Scrambler

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Comfort - Value - Solid bass
Cons: Sound muddy with included foams - Thin cable above y-split
Greetings Head-fi!
 
Today we are going to be taking a look at the new EM3 from the good people at FiiO!
 
The EM3 is an earbud, just like those basic earphones that usually come included with your average audio device. Unlike those cheapo freebies it seems FiiO actually put some effort into the development of the EM3. As a result you have a solid, mass-market earbud that's actually worth putting down your hard-earned cash on.
 
Disclaimer:
 
The EM3 was provided in exchange for a fair and impartial review. The comments and thoughts within this review are my opinions and not representative of FiiO or any other physical or spiritual entity on this or any other plain of existence. I am not receiving any monetary or residual compensation for this review. Instead, I get the pleasure of listening to a cool piece of kit and sharing my experiences with you, the reader.
 
A little about me:
 
As with many who include this section, I'm not claiming to be an audiophile with golden ears. I don't base my opinions on numbers or graphs, though I have to admit that those things are always nice to have around. I still like to think of myself as fairly new to this hobby; green you might say. My gear is basic and my musical tastes somewhat funneled or biased towards EDM, hip hop, classic rock, and various combinations of the three. For the most part I am a very low volume listener (at least compared to my friends, family, and colleagues), only cranking the volume for that special song now and then. I tend to gravitate towards products that many consider bright, though I prefer the term "energetic". In the end, I just love music, earphones, and writing about them.
 

 
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Packaging, Accessories, and Features:
 
The EM3 is a budget-minded product, ringing in at less than 20 USD 'round the word. The packing and accessories reflect this low-cost approach, which I appreciate. Unfortunately, Customs or Canada Post were just as excited to check these out as I was and took the opportunity to open the packaging before they were delivered. As a result my images (and unboxing video) fail to reflect the raw opening experience. Sorry about that, mates.
 
Packing for this wonderful little earbud is an elongated, rectangular box measuring in at 14.5 cm x 4.5 cm x 2 cm. Printed on the box are some attractive soundwaves rippling behind an image of the buds, with a scratch n' sniff (sans sniff) sticker used to check authenticity, on the side. Open it up to a pull-out tray containing the EM3 itself, an instruction booklet, and another, smaller box holding three pairs of spare foams.
 
All-in-all this presentation is clean, basic, and a little nicer than what you would expect for something in this price range. It's nice enough for someone like myself who keeps packaging for display purposes (though I have a box full of empty boxes in my closet...), but not so nice that you would feel bad tossing it out.
 
Build Quality, Features, and Comfort:
 
The EM3 is a well-built earphone. It doesn't feel as if FiiO used low quality plastics or a sub-par cable. Neither does it feel like they broke the bank. Let's start with a look at the housings.
 
Personally, I find this to be a fairly attractive little earbud. There isn't anything particularly unique about the design, though the swooping rear edge of the housing looks nice and is helpful when installing and removing the bud from your ears since the tip of your finger slots in nicely. I would prefer if the vent was shifted down and into the swoop so it wouldn't be covered by foams, since as-is you need to be careful not to cover it. Doing so can affect the sound greatly, and not necessarily in a good way. This driver needs to breath.
 
The EM3 features an inline mic with a single button remote. As with everything else, it is made from substantial feeling plastic. The button feels good in hand and has just the right amount of resistance preventing unwanted or accidental presses. It worked well skipping back and forth through tracks on my HTC One M8, and with answering and ending calls.
 
While I only took a few calls with the EM3, I noticed an odd little quirk that was easy to replicate. The mic would pick up wind noise quite easily, but it could only be heard by me. My callers said I was loud and clear, hearing none of the interference. I'm curious if anyone else has run into this oddity. Since it doesn't affect those on the other line, I would say that this is something to highlight, but not be concerned about.
 
The light weight and clean smooth design of the EM3 meant it sat comfortably in my outer ear. There are no sharp edges or odd angles to work around. A huge plus, and one that many may overlook, is they sound pretty much the same no matter how they sit in your ear. I have a feeling this will make them very versatile for a variety of ear types. Big ups to FiiO here!
 

 
IMAG0355.jpg     IMAG0357.jpg     IMAG0358.jpg
 

 
Sound and Comparisons:
 
FiiO called the EM3 the top-bang-for-your-buck earbud on the market. Venture Electronics makes a very similar claim with the Monk, and I have a pair of those earbuds on hand to compare the EM3 with. Since the EM3 made a good showing in the previous categories, let's see how it tackles sound quality, arguably the most important metric.
 
*Please note that I found the EM3 very stuffy and muddy when using the included foams. I was not a huge fan of them in this orientation. Naked, they clean up nicely offering up good detail and clarity while maintaining some acceptably tight, punchy bass. That said, with donut-shaped foams they really shine, maintaining the clarity of going foamless with the sub-bass performance of the stock foams. All further testing and comparisons was done using donuts, ironically enough, from the Monks.*
 
One of the first things that captured my attention when first hearing the EM3 was their bass. Prior to hearing the Venture Electronics Monk, there wasn't another bud I had heard with such prominent bass. The EM3's presentation is forward, thick, quite warm, and actually manages to dip it's toes into the sub-bass frequencies before rolling off, pulling out, and getting too wet. They offer up a quantity of bass that should please most consumers, even those demanding big bass. I listen to a lot of EDM, and these perform admirably with my favorite tracks. There is a bit too much midbass for my personal preferences, occasionally making them sound bloated, but it's nothing a touch of equalization can't address.
 
Mids are often an area where earbuds shine. For the most part, the EM3 is no exception. The only qualm I have here is that the overly prominent midbass often peeks it's head up over the fence to interfere and sap some energy, especially from vocals. In general their mids are forward, cleanly done, and pleasing to the ear.
 
Treble on the EM3 offers up some good energy without ever sounding strident or simblant. They lack the sparkle of some other products I've heard in this price range and as a result come across a tad dull at times, but it's not distracting or unacceptable. I'm a little picky when it comes to treble presentation, generally shying away from the splashy, uncontrolled, and recessed. The EM3 meets all my needs here.
 
Soundstage was another aspect of the EM3 that put a smile on my face. I found them to sound wide open and with good separation. Stereo transitions and instrument placement are also well done, especially for something budget-minded like these are.
 
The EM3 overall offers up a cohesive sound that runs a bit thick in the upper-bass, lower-mids. For critical listening this isn't adequate, BUT, these are meant to be used when out and about. Take that into consideration when using the EM3 in their expected element, and this no longer becomes an issue. This is a similar experience that I had with the Ausdom M05, a set of over-ear Bluetooth headphones. The stock tuning wasn't the best for listening in a quiet environment, but take them outside and things balance out nicely.
 

 
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Some select comparisons:
 
Venture Electronics Monk (w/ Sennheiser MX470 foams) vs. EM3
 
The Monk has been taking Head-fi by storm, and rightfully so. They cost around 5 USD and carry the title of "Best Bang for Your Buck". Heck, they're shipped with a VE business card that states it front and centre. To top it off, they sound stellar and are worth way more than their meager asking price.
 
This is the EM3's most dangerous competition and while I think the Monk is the better sounding of the two, the EM3 may just have the advantage. When it comes to sound, the Monk is more balanced, detailed, spacious sounding, and has tighter, snappier bass with better texture. The EM3 sounds v-shaped in comparison, and a little rough around the edges. The Monk is shockingly smooth and refined. While I found it's treble to be less prominent than the EM3's, it sounds more natural.
 
The EM3 doesn't lay down without a fight, however. They nearly match the Monk in soundstage presentation, will appeal more to those that want quantity in their bass, and well, just look at them. The Monk's housing is from a bygone era, straight out of the 90s. The EM3 looks modern and sleek and is much more comfortable to wear, at least to my ear. The kicker is that the EM3 offers an inline mic, something sorely missing at least as an option when ordering the Monk.
 
These are products intended to be used on the move, and in many cases straight out of a mobile phone. Taking this into account the EM3 offers a more comprehensive experience. Oh yeah, the EM3 is also much easier to drive from a basic source. 1/2 volume out of my HTC One M8 is equivalent to about 1/3 volume on the EM3. I listen at such a low volume that this doesn't really matter to me, but it may affect those that listen at louder volumes.
 
When would I take the Monk over the EM3? The Monks are a technically more proficient earbud and as a result are more pleasant for general music listening when in the comfort of your home. Leave the house, and the Monks are set aside.
 
Philips SHS3200 (w/ Sennheiser MX470 foams) vs. EM3
 
Yup. I'm comparing the EM3 to the age old SHS3200. "Why?" you might be asking. The SHS3200 is an earbud that I've owned at one point or another pretty consistently over the last 15 years. I've always enjoyed the combination of comfort, build quality, and solid audio performance they've offered to buyers for years and years at a price hovering around 10 USD. Their design has aged very well in my opinion, and of the three earphones I find them to be the best looking and quite comfortable, though I suspect the massive housings will probably cause hotspots in those with smaller outer ears.
 
The EM3 feels like the more bass heavy of the two due to it's much more notable mid-bass presence, but the SHS3200's big 15mm drivers offer up some sub-bass depth that the EM3 lacks. They aren't as warm as the FiiO, especially in the mids. Treble presentation is pretty similar between the two, making it tough to decide which offers up better performance here. Where the EM3 and SHS3200 part ways is in soundstage. The Philips sounds more like an iem with a notably more confined stage. They just lack the spaciousness and depth of the EM3 and can come across congested.
 
When would I take the SHS3200 over the EM3? Well, they're a sports earbud and the earhooks keep them in place quite well. During activity they are much more secure than the EM3. Other than that, the EM3 is hands down the one I would pick up and take with me. Sorry old chum, but you're outclassed nowadays.
 

 
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Recommendations for improvements:
 
What could FiiO do to improve upon the EM3? I would love to see some donut foams included, or at the very least full foams that are less dense. The cable is great, but a little thin above the y-split. The SHS3200 uses the same gauge of cable above the y-split and is similarly relieved going into the housing, where they almost always end up failing. Finally, I would love to see the vent on the back of the housing moved to a location where it is not impeded when using foams.
 
Summary:
 
The EM3 surprised me with their bass-heavy signature, spacious sound, and versatility. They look good, feel good, and are priced well for the overall performance on hand. The Monks are still the bang-for-your-buck champs, but they make some sacrifices to get there; ancient housing, no inline mic, few accessories. I will note that some of this, especially accessories, is addressed by the new Monk +, though the price jumps considerably if you want more than the basic package. The EM3 on the other hand sounds almost as good while being something that should be easier to purchase, plus it brings to the table an inline mic.
 
FiiO has brought to market a great earbud, and one that should help to further dispel any thoughts that earbuds are obsolete. Earbuds are amazing, and this is a great entry level offering. I hope FiiO follows these up with something focused more on providing an even better audio experience.
 
Thank you FiiO for giving me the opportunity to review these. I hope you enjoyed my review, and for those that buy them, enjoy the EM3!
 
- B9Scrambler
 
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 
Sources: HTC One M8, Topping NX1, Plantronics Rig USB Amp out of an Asus G73J gaming laptop
 
Some test tracks:
 
Aesop Rock - Cook It Up
Gorillaz - All Alone
Gorillaz - Empire Ants ft. Little Dragon
Between the Buried and Me - Three of a Perfect Pair (King Crimson cover)
King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black
Gramatik - Bluestep (Album Version)
Skindred - Death to all Spies
Steely Dan - Haitian Divorce
Supertramp - Rudy
Haywyre - Sculpted
Radiohead - Jigsaw Falling Into Place
 
I also listened to long EDM mixes by SubSil3nt Podcast and Going Quantum Podcast on a daily basis.
B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
Thanks man! I sure hope they are. Earbuds rock. 
jules64
jules64
While these are good, they are not much better than many others available out there. I tried and returned, the lack of bass was just to annoying. Not enough sub-bass for classical without amping. Honestly, I retried my Philips SHE2005s and found them as good across the spectrum of ranges and sound, and the bass noticeably superior. Also warm without being muddy.I wear the the Philips with no foam and they fit well, the EM3 was loose fitting. Yes slightly louder thanks to the 47 Ohm rating, but overall not a reason to keep. So I don't get the hype on these. They are good, just not good enough.
B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
These are far from bass-lite earbuds (would be fairly bass heavy for an iem, imo). I think the Monk is the better sounding budget bud, but the EM3 is still excellent for the price. Plus, the inline mic works exceptionally well. But, they're not for everyone. That's why we've got options! Woo :D

chompchomps

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Punchy bass, Mid centric, $10 price, Stealth look, Good Strain reliefs
Cons: Might be too dark for some, and slightly fatiguing

Intro
 
 
First and foremost, I would like to thank Fiio for this review unit from a reviewer application on Head-Fi where they were looking for 20 reviewers! Luckily for me, snagged a spot and received a review unit in exchange for my honest opinion and review of these earbuds.
 
Probably the most popular earbuds in the market are the Apple EarPods, where most non audio enthusiast users just use them for everyday use. Users who seek to upgrade from that pair of EarPods would normally seek to purchase In-Ear Monitors(IEMs), not Earbuds. Why? Probably from classical conditioning that IEMs will give better sound and when tested with a bassy track, the reaction would be “Whoa, this **** is good. BUY”. Interest for earbuds seemed to have dipped over the years with the rise of IEMs and people love them for the bass extension, noise isolating properties. With the general public being more aware of hearing safety, many IEM companies market their IEMs with good seal, providing good noise isolation and thus reducing the volume of music played while commuting, to shut off the droning noises of our surroundings, resulting in the decrease in popularity of earbuds.
 
However, some people still love the airy sound, the fuss free fit when they put on the earbuds.. and a more natural representation of music. Similar to open headphones with a airy, spacious sounding sound signature. In recent times, the company Venture Electronics came up with the ‘Monks’, a $5 pair of earbuds which swept the audio community off their feet and love was in the air for earbuds. Then came the EM3’s, Fiios answer to the Monks (In my opinion). With a $10 price tag, the company is set to target the budget user, who also demand quality music from the equipment they purchase. Would you buy it? Lets see in the review below.
 
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Packaging, Build Quality
 
 
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These Earbuds are made from a single dynamic 14.8mm driver with a weight of 13.6g and a normal cable length of 120cm. On the cable of the left side of the earbuds, there is a mic unit, with a single button to control the play/pause. I would not delve into the specifications as they would be stated on the packaging and on the official website.
 
These come in a small paper box packaging, which features the earphones on the front cover. Nothing to shout about here and within the box contains the earbuds, a quick start pamphlet and 3 pairs of black foam covers. Everything is neatly packed and organized, a real pleasure to slowly take them out bit by bit.
 
The earbuds themselves are completely black, giving off a bit of the batman vibes. The finishing is not completely matt or glossy though, with a mix of both all round. It is matt finishing until the Y splitter. Following which, the mic unit is glossy and almost the entire earbud unit is matt black except the top part which features a glossy finish. They sport a vertical bass port along the shaft of the earbud, with another opening towards the top of the earbud, which looks like another bass port too. Overall, the Earbud unit looks and feels solid and svelte, with a slim shaft and a nice strain relief at the end of the unit. There are also strain reliefs at the both ends of the mic unit, which is a nice touch and adds to the durability of this product.
 
The EM3’s terminates to a L plug, with a flexible and robust looking strain relief. Certainly feels like it could last awhile with proper care
 
If I could suggest any improvement, would be the inclusion of a chin slider to keep it more s secure for those who might want to do some activities in it.
 
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Sound Impressions
 
Source: Apple Ipod Touch 4G 64GB
 
Songs:
1.     童话- 光良 (FLAC)
2.     小幸運 – Hebe Tian (FLAC)
3.     LIKE I WOULD – ZAYN (320 CBR)
 
 
 
These earbuds with the foam pads, fit really comfortable in my ear, the fit is really secure too. A few other Head-fiers have reported pushing on the top of the earbuds to get a better seal and better fit, but for some reason, these just sit snugly and have no major sonic difference or difference in comfort however I adjust them.
 
When playing 童话by 光良, the mids seem to be forward sounding, warm and smooth. There is still detail in the voice and I like the soundstage I'm hearing, decent width, can’t distinguish height and depth though. While listening to the popular 小幸運 by Hebe Tian, the opening instruments and strings on the guitar sound sweet, and has a nice energy to it. The female voice sounds good, but they sometimes sound a tad too warm and smooth, and it doesn’t sound that crisp, I think I can describe it more towards the darker side. Let’s go on to one of my favorite tracks recently, LIKE I WOULD by Zayn, it is these kind of tracks that the EM3 excel in, a nice low end that makes the song enjoyable, albeit on a earbud. The forwardness of the mids and the slightly dark signature of the earbuds gives the song more groove and that’s the way I enjoy it.
 
 
Comparisons
 
VE Monks
 
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Straight up, these muds are more comfortable than the VE monks. I wore both with the foam pads and I believe the Monks have a slightly wider diameter, thus pushing against the ear, making It slightly more uncomfortable. I found the Monks to have a bigger soundstage and it has a slightly airier feel to the music coming out from it. It also sounds more laid back, not as mid centric as the EM3’s. Bass wise I would say the EM3 trumps it, giving the songs I listen to more oomph into it. The monks are also less dark, and sounds slightly clearer and more spacious overall.
 
Hardware wise, the monks lack strain reliefs on the earbud unit and does not have a mic. It also terminates into a straight plug and it seems that the cables on the monks are thicker, a more industrial/OEM feel to it. The monks also lack a chin slider..Design wise, the EM3 also trumps the monks, with a slimmer profile, and subtler branding (or no branding). If it matters, the EM3s are slightly harder to drive compared to the monks, but difference is very minor.
 
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Conclusion
 
Overall I would say that these are great buds’ for the price, a definite upgrade from the EarPods you have been hearing. One might just wanna try these out to open their world up on earbuds, if you (like me) have given up on earbuds awhile back. Honestly, I still prefer the sound of IEMs due to the natural basshead in me, but I would really like to throw these in the bag on some days while doing my revision at the library, with less ambient noise. For those interested, these can be had for $10 on amazon.

aiaosu

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Warm, non-fatiguing sound with good sub-bass and strong mids.
Cons: Dark sound with rolled off treble.
Disclaimer: 
I received these earbuds from Fiio in exchange for a fair review which I intend on giving. 
 
Introduction:
I have to admit, until not too long ago, I despised earbuds.  Why?  Whenever I heard earbuds, they were the kind that were packaged with an inexpensive electronic item of some sort.  I seemed to find them at the bottom of drawers around the house and, every so often, I would try them.  I really had little respect for earbuds and did not like the way they seemed to just loosely lay inside your ear. 
 
What changed?  Well, having a 13 year-old daughter that hates IEM’s or anything inside her ear canal, she continued to defy me by using horribly cheap earbuds.  I would see her lying in her room with a set of no-name earbuds attached to her MP3 player.  When she would go to sleep, I even checked the sound to see if I was missing something—I wasn’t.
 
Anyways, the poor sound was really bothering me, so I ordered a used, inexpensive pair of Yuin PK3’s.  These seemed to be a significant upgrade as were the Apple earbuds we found lying around.  Shortly after the PK3’s arrived, one of the ears went out and I was frustrated with the build quality (and still am, it seems to be a common complaint). 
 
I have since purchased used earbuds in a group that have opened my eyes to the possibility of how good earbuds can actually be.  I have yet to try high-end earbuds, but I have tried some good sounding earbuds.  These earbuds are the Blox BE3 and the Baldoor E100—and now, the Fiio EM3.
 
Purpose:
My purpose in this review is to focus on reviewing the Fiio EM3’s, primarily in the sound.  For $9.99, I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on accessories and want to keep that section brief.  After reviewing the sound of the EM3’s, I then want to compare the EM3’s to several other pairs of earbuds I have on hand.  I will focus on listing from greatest to least in various sound categories and will comment on any areas that stand out.  My hope is that people will get a good feel for the sound of the Fiio EM3’s, which are a fantastic value for the performance to cost ratio.  I also hope people will understand how other pairs stack up against each other in different areas to better help people choose an earbud they might like. 
 
All comparisons will be at the end of this review, under the “Comparison” section.
 
Packaging:
I have to admit, I really don’t care much about packaging, especially for an earbud that has an MSRP of $9.99.  I often get headphones used or open-box as I’m more concerned about sound than anything.  I can say that the small, thin box (about the length of a pen) is easy to open and looks professional.  The clear window showing the earbuds has a frosted look that is more appealing, but overall it’s pretty basic.  It looks like something that hangs from the pegs from a large box store, much like I see Skullcandy or Sony doing.  This seems to be a great idea if Fiio is aiming at a younger, more mainstream demographic.  I can say that I would much rather grab a set of Fiio EM3’s off the rack than the other choices I often see in the same price range (not that I’ve ever seen Fiio at a box store).
 
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Accessories:
In terms of accessories, you don’t get much.  Inside the small box you will find a manual and a small box containing three pairs of foam covers inside a small, Ziploc bag.  The foam covers are standard and no doughnut style covers are included.  Due to the warmer and darker sound of these earbuds, having doughnuts might help as I can’t imagine they would add considerable cost on Fiio’s end and may brighten up the sound.  Also, there is no case included which would have been nice considering the cord tends to curl up and get tangled.
 
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Design/Build Quality:
According to Fiio, the EM3’s have 14.8mm diameter dynamic drivers with a 47ohm impedance designed to sound the same regardless of source.  I definitely found this to be true as I tried the EM3’s with my Fiio X3 (1st Gen.), LG G3, and Ipad 2.  The EM3’s are tuned for popular music and are said to produce powerful bass. 
 
Fiio also claims that they tested the fit of the earbuds with numerous artificial and real ears for long-term comfort and fit.  They are easy to find a good fit but I did need to have the felt covers on to really hear the bass.  Also, I found the metal mesh covering the driver to be uncomfortable after awhile if I didn’t use a foam cover.  Just a side note on the metal mesh: it seems to be very similar looking to the metal mesh design on the Awei ES10.  I don’t know if Awei had anything to do with Fiio on this project, but I thought it worth mentioning.  The black high-gloss plastic blends with a duller finish black plastic that seems to be of high-quality and I don’t have any concern for these falling apart or the earbuds pulling apart, exposing the driver.  The strain reliefs seem to be decent and the stems are fairly long, so I would imagine the connection to last (but I have no way to confirm this right now). 
 
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There is also a one-button inline remote that is compatible with Android and iPhones and various series of clicks produce various functions to include next track, previous track, play/pause, call answer, and end call.  The strain reliefs going in and out of the inline mic concern me some as they really don’t tighten around the thin cord and the cord moves around considerable as it enters and exits the mic.  Since I have had numerous issues with mic/cord issues over the years, I might be concerned about long-term reliability.   The inline remote seemed well placed near the mouth and my wife received calls that were clear, even on a windy day.  One of the problems I’ve had with inline remotes are mics that lie lower on the cord and rest on my shoulder.  This has caused microphonics and static and can be difficult to hear.  I had no problem with this on the Fiio EM3’s.
 
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As for the cord, Fiio has a picture of hands pulling the cord apart and Fiio claims the cord has high-elasticity and high tensile strength.  I don’t think I’ll try pulling on the cords like Fiio did, but I do like the feel of the cord.  Below the Y-split, the cord has a nice, solid feel without being sticky.  There does seem to be some memory but nothing too bad.  Above the Y-split, the cords are thinner but feel solid and well made.  I have seen some cords above the Y-split that are very thin and give me concern about reliability—these do not.  In addition, I listened to these while moving around on a windy day and did not notice much in the way of microphonics, which was surprising. 
 
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There is a 3.5mm gold-plated L-shaped jack that has a flexible strain relief that seems to be very well made.  I played with the jack connection at the strain relief and it moved freely and did seem effective in removing stress from the jack and cable connection.  This is a nice design as I found the Yuin jack poorly made and it seems to be a common source of failure (in other brands/designs as well).  Overall, the jack seems to be made for the long haul.
 
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Sound (with standard foam covers):
I would describe the sound of the Fiio EM3 as warm and dark with a boost in the lower region and laid back treble.  The mids are clear and enjoyable and seem to stand out despite the tuning towards popular music.  The detail level is mediocre and tends towards a “one-note” feel across the spectrum.  Before I move on to each area of the sound, I would like to mention that I am nitpicking a $9.99 earbud.  Overall, I felt these are excellent in terms of price to performance ratio.
 
Bass:
The sub-bass extends well and is present on most music I listened to, which was surprising for an earbud.  I have found it difficult to find an earbud with much in the way of sub-bass.  The sub-bass region seems to have more “slam” or “punch” compared to the mid-bass and seems boosted in comparison to the mid-bass.
 
The mid-bass region, which I have found many manufacturers to boost for popular tuning, actually seems more neutral than the sub-bass.  That being said, the mid-bass is still very present but doesn’t have the same “slam” as the sub-bass.  In my opinion, if the mid-bass was boosted more, the overall sound would sound muddier and would interfere with the clarity of the mids.  The mid-bass is still present enough that it gives the EM3’s a warm presentation that leans toward a darker sound.  I also noticed the bass lines in blues and rock had good quality and was very enjoyable.  Overall, I would say the mid-bass had more quality and the sub-bass more quantity.
 
Mids:
The presentation of the EM3’s mids are very enjoyable to me.  They have a warm presentation with nice detail and smooth vocals.  I enjoy the sound of electric guitars with these but would prefer more in the upper-mids and treble for rock music.  The EM3’s are still very enjoyable for about every type of music you could listen too, though.  I would say that the lower-mids are more of a positive than upper-mids.  Male voices had good detail and were very smooth whereas female voices were a little too rolled off for my taste.  It just seemed that there was less detail and crispness in the upper-mids.  I can say that these are not going to be too “hot” for anyone and will generally be very enjoyable for most people.
 
Treble: 
I can hear details in the mids but they seem boring to me.  There isn’t a crispness and they seemed tuned to be smooth and inoffensive.  The mids seem to stand out more than the treble and may be an indication of the mids overpowering the treble.  If you are sensitive to treble, these earbuds will be a good match as I really didn’t get any sibilance and found them to be very smooth and lack any shimmer in cymbals and brighter sounds.  I personally prefer a little more crispness in the treble, but overall the treble is well done, especially for a $10 earbud.  In fact, considering the price, these are pretty remarkable.
 
Soundstage:
I found the soundstage to be good but less than others I’ve heard.  The instrument separation is good but falls behind some other sets like the Blox BE3 in my opinion.  With songs panning from left to right or songs that lend towards soundstage, these are going to be middle to upper pack (at least out of the earbuds I have).  Maybe more treble presence would increase the soundstage. 
 
Sound (no cover): 
Forthcoming
 
Sound (donuts):
Forthcoming
 
Comparisons:
This section will compare the Fiio EM3, Blox BE3, Baldoor E100, Awei ES10, Sansa earbuds (came with Sansa Clip Zip), and Apple earbuds.  Initially, I will have the EM3, BE3, and E100 and will add the others later.  Once the Yuin PK3 cord is repaired, I will also include that one.  In addition, I will try to do comparison using felt pads, donuts, and no pads.  This section will be simple as it will be greatest to least with a few key observations.
 
W/Felt Pads:
  1. Sub-bass:                         EM3 > BE3 > E100
  2. Mid-bass:                         E100 > EM3 > BE3
  3. Bass Quality:                    BE3 = E100 > EM3
 
  1. Lower mids:                      BE3 > EM3 > E100
  2. Upper mids:                      BE3 > E100 > EM3
  3. Mids Quality:                    BE3 > EM3 > E100
 
  1. Treble                               BE3 = E100 > EM3
  1. Just a side note, the treble is very different between the BE3 and E100.  The E100 is much brighter and boosted whereas the BE3 is smoother but very clear.  They seem equal but in different ways to me.
  1. Treble Quality:                  BE3 > E100 > EM3
  2. Sparkle:                           E100 > BE3 > EM3
 
  1. Soundstage                      BE3 > EM3 = E100
  2. Separation:                       BE3 > EM3 = E100
  3. Detail:                              BE3 > E100 > EM3
  4. Comfort/Fit:                      EM3 > BE3 > E100
 
As you can see, I am quite impressed with the Blox BE3’s in comparison to the other earbuds.  The BE3’s have a very musical and immersive sound that I really enjoyed.  One thing to consider is that the BE3 costs about $35, the E100 $20, and the EM3 $9.99.  I can’t say that the BE3 is three times better than the EM3, it’s just smoother and more detailed with a larger soundstage.  As for the E100, I prefer the EM3 to the E100 due to the E100’s brightness.  The E100 seems like every area of its’ sound has been boosted, especially in the upper regions, which seems to boost detail but seemed unnatural at times.  In fact, there were some times that the E100 sounded strange, which my daughter described as “digital sounding”. 
 
W/ Donuts:
Forthcoming
 
No Pads:
Forthcoming

Wiljen

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Good detail a very listenable sound signature.
Cons: Rolled off bass and treble (somewhat expected on an earbud that doesn’t seal). Needs donut foams as foams cause some muddying of sound.
Disclaimer –     These were provided to me by Fiio in exchange for my honest review.
 
Others have introduced Fiio and gone through a lot of the background so I’m going to dive right in.   I’m a music lover, an engineer by trade (not a sound guy) and a hobbyist.  I make no claim to have a golden ear, nor do I pretend to know anything.  I took on this review with the idea that these headphones are being marketed at a price point that puts them in the category of “replace and improve the earphones that came with my phone”.   These are not high-end, even with an MSRP of $49.99 they would be in the budget section and at $10 they certainly fall into the ultra-budget category.  As such, I did all my testing using an I-phone 6s+ and an HTC M9
 
Packaging – The box is very plain and does little to tell the user what to expect.  It certainly doesn’t help “Sell” the product as if seen on the rack at the big box store I’m not sure someone would know it was earbuds made by Fiio without taking some time to do so.  When opening the box, it does have a nice slide-out tray that makes accessing the contents and re-use of the box more practical.
 
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Build – Plain black plastic housing and rubber coated cable.   The cable is nicer than most in that it doesn’t seem to want to kink and tangle, nor does it feel tacky to the touch. It would be nice if donut foams were provided and if the left and right were more clearly marked as they are on the stem of bud itself and are simply a raised letter on the plastic.  In direct light the glare obscures the lettering entirely. Cable to connector and earbud fit is good with no gaps or puckers.  The inline mic is fitted nicely and not bulky but again the button on it is completely unmarked and is the same color as the housing so if it weren’t for a tactile click when pressed people might not know it was there at all.   As promised, I will run these through the washer and dryer in a jeans pocket on Friday.  Problem is, I like these so I had to order a 2nd set from Amazon tonight.
 
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Sound – First off, my impressions are sans foams since I saw no reason to muddy the sound with them. Also, after listening briefly straight out of the box, I put the buds on a 24 hour burn-in with pink noise.  These buds definitely need burn-in time so don’t judge them until they are truly broken in.
 
Bass – Good bass depth and extension but quantity is a bit lacking.  The bass quantity can be corrected with bass boost or EQ but is deficient when used without EQ adjustment.
 
Mids – This is the heart and soul of the EM3.  These have one of the best mids of any iem, earphone, or headphone I own.  This includes Grado, Sennheiser, and Fostex models.  Mids are full, well stated, and clean.  
 
Highs – Treble is a bit rolled-off but well behaved with no sibilance.  This is a balancing act and it would be easy to fault them for this but the alternative is a forward aggressive treble that makes long listening sessions painful.   I do feel cymbals resonated well and were reasonably accurately reproduced which is hard at any level but beyond expectation at the $10 level.
 
Comparisons –
 
Vs Apple Buds (I-phone 6s+) Build quality of the EM3 is better with the cable on the I-buds being terrible.  Sound is more open but thinner on the I-bud.  The EM3 has a smaller soundstage but a much fuller sound.  The I-buds are much thinner sounding in the mids and highs.  
 
Vs HTC Buds (M9) Build quality of the EM3 is way better.  The HTC with its flat cable just looks cheap in comparison.   The HTC has a very V-shaped profile with harsh treble and a lot of sibilance in female vocals.  The EM3 is much more balanced and easily more listenable.
 
Vs VE Monk Build quality is a tie with both being solid designs.  The monk is harder to drive than the EM3 usually requiring about 8% more volume to achieve equal listening level.  For that extra input power, the monk does deliver a slightly larger soundstage than the EM3.  The monk does have more fatiguing treble than the EM3 and the EM3 is a better all-around bud when considering more aggressive genres in the mix.
 
Wrap Up –
            Would I buy this product to replace what came with my phone?  Yes.
           
            Would I buy this product to upgrade from the earphones that came with my phone? Yes.
           
            Would I recommend these to others looking for an inexpensive, non-fatiguing bud? Yes.
           
            Are they perfect?  They are closer than they deserve to be for a $10 earbud.
           
            Is Fiio going to have trouble keeping up with demand? Probably

HiFiChris

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: really decent bass extension for earbuds, no peaks or valleys
Cons: coloured (esp. lower) mids, bass and fundamental bloom into the lower mids, don't expect much air in the upper frequencies, bass could be a bit faster
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Preamble:

Earbuds – well, I actually like earbuds. Many inexpensive DAPs and most smartphones come with included earbuds, and sometimes they aren’t even too bad at all. For the average non-audiophile consumer, earbuds even have benefits over in-ears because of the lack of having to fiddle with the right eartip size, which is mandatory to get a good sound and seal with in-ears.
Earbuds don’t isolate. This can be both positive as well as negative – positive in the way that one will hear their entire environment, but negative in the way that if there is too much environmental noise, it will mask the music (which leads many people to increasing the volume and using their earbuds to molest the people around them with their music, but I have also seen people that pumped up their in-ears’ volume so high that the music could be heard even a few meters away (it doesn’t only destroy their hearing within no time but also molests everyone around)).
I like using the inexpensive but quite decent Apple EarPods for running; but also occasionally at home for relaxation, I plug in earbuds for listening to music, though to less critical tracks.

FiiO doesn’t require greater introduction anymore, as the Chinese audio company has really expanded especially in the past few years. And now, they are offering their third headphone in their product portfolio – the first was the EX1 (“earphone for X1”, a rather inexpensive killer-combo below $200 when used with the X1), an OEM collaboration with DUNU; the second were the white earbuds that came included with their low-budget DAP M3. Headphone number three is the EM3 (can you guess what the name stands for?
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), which is basically identical to M3’s stock earbuds, but sports a black colour scheme, angled jack as well as higher impedance and is no OEM product but FiiO’s own creation. To address many people, FiiO has set a very low MSRP – worldwide, the EM3 is supposed to retail for less than $20 and has an MSRP of $9.99.

On Head-Fi, FiiO have started an announcement thread where they were looking for 20 reviewers for their newly introduced EM3 earbuds. I applied and was selected – thank you, FiiO! Subsequently, I received the earbuds free of charged for an honest, unbiased test, which however has no influence on my opinion – generally, all of my reviews mirror my own, honest opinion on a product without any bias.


Technical Specifications:

http://fiio.net/en/products/52
Worldwide Price: < $20; MSRP is $9.99
Drivers: dynamic, 14.8 mm
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Impedance: 47 Ohms
Sensitivity: 109 dB
Weight: 13.6 g
Cable Length: 120 cm


Delivery Content:

With such an inexpensive product, there is not too much to expect in terms of packaging and accessories, but the EM3 is a pleasant surprise. The retail packaging is relatively small as well as elongated and shows a product picture on its front. The EM3 logo is quite cleverly designed and also displays “EM3” when horizontally mirrored.
On the right side, one can find the FiiO-typical authenticity check scratch query; the cleanly designed back displays the technical specifications as well as QR codes that lead to FiiO’s web and social media sites.
 

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Opening the matte, uncoated cardboard packaging, one can pull out the container with the earbuds like a drawer. Taking off the semi-transparent plastic lid, one will find the earbuds, a quick-start guide plus a small cardboard box that contains a plastic bag with three pairs of foam covers.
 

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Although the EM3 is an inexpensive product, one can see that the unboxing experience is well-made and that the designers had something in mind when creating the product.


Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

“Stealth mode” – nothing on the earbuds gives a hint that they are from FiiO, solely small side markers in form of classical L & R letters are present.
The cable that is a basic model could be slightly more flexible, but appears very sturdy. The 3.5 mm connector is angled, appears very sturdy and has got excellent strain relief that is also present directly at the earbuds. Unfortunately, the y-split has no strain relief.
About at the height of my neck is the built-in single-button remote control with a microphone. It is easy to operate and has got a pleasant pressure point.
The earbuds are quite simply designed and have got a metal mesh in front of the driver that looks like the one used for the old Apple earbuds.

“Form follows Function” is the name of the game.
 

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Comfort, Isolation:

Just like with all headphones, the comfort of these earbuds will vary individually from person to person. In my ears, the EM3 earbuds sit quite securely and relatively comfortably, although Apple’s EarPods and the Pai Audio earbuds are even slightly more comfortable for me.
Fit is good and the earbuds sit securely enough so that I can even do a handstand.
Microphonics (cable noise) are rather average, but can be eluded by regularly inserting the earphones and then guiding the cable around the ears.

Isolation is logically about nothing, as earbuds are not supposed to block out exterior noise because of their design.


Sound:

For listening, I used my FiiO X3, iBasso DX90 as well as the DX80 and AGPTek C05.
Just in case, although I don’t really ship the burn-in theory for headphones, I played 50 hours of white noise through the earbuds before first casual listening started.

Tonality:

Without Foam Covers:

With earbuds, the tonal balance can vary quite starkly in dependence to how well the earphones seal the ear canals. With the EM3, this effect can be heard as well: inserting the earphones deeper so that they firmly seal my ear canals, the sound is very bassy, dark and with mids that are way too much on the dark, coloured side (the lower mids are very thick). Loosening the seal a little so that the EM3 still sit securely in my ears but not as deeply fitting/strongly sealing, bass quantity becomes a bit lesser (but is still obviously on the emphasised side), the treble gains some level (but is still on the undeniably recessed side) and the mids sound somewhat less coloured, while still maintaining their dark and warm character. So without an EQ, there is no way to get flat, natural mids or some upper range sparkle.

Listening to sine and noise signals, tonality can be described like this: between 50 Hz and 1.2 kHz, a bass hump can be found that adds fullness and body to the sound and fattens the lower mids. The bass is really strong for earbud levels (speaking about around 12 dB wouldn’t be unrealistic), and something very positive about it is that even around 50 Hz, there is still a good amount of bass, so extension to the bottom is really good, however the real sub-bass below 40 Hz will surely not reach sealed in-ears’ levels at all. That’s quite a remarkable bass performance for earbuds, especially as the bass doesn’t roll off too quickly above 100 Hz but rather quite evenly.
Above 1 kHz, everything is audibly in the background (except for very even level enhancements at 3, 5.7 and 10 kHz in my ears that are however still clearly below the ground line), which adds darkness and relaxation to the sound. Above 12 kHz, level is rolling off.
Noteworthy is that there are no narrow peaks or dips, however the tuning lacks some naturalness, being more on the thick and somewhat muffled side.

Who knows me should be aware of that I don’t really judge bass and treble quantity of a headphone (as long as it isn’t overdone, annoying and doesn’t affect naturalness), as this is simply just a matter of personal preference. However, the midrange plays a role for my tonal and percentual evaluation and shouldn’t show too much shifting to the dark or bright side. And here is where the EM3 loses some points, as vocals and instruments in the centre frequency band are audibly shifted to the fuller, darker side. A somewhat lower starting emphasis of the root without too much spillage into the lower mids along with more upper midrange presence would result in the fullness, bass level and impact to remain along with the dark treble, however the tonal balance in the mids would be more correct and realistic. For a more balanced sound with better midrange naturalness plus more neutral lows and highs, I would apply an EQ curve with similarities to an f(x)=sin⁡((x/4)+1/2)→Df={-14,…+10} mathematic function.

Friends of a warm, dark, bassy sound and really thick lower mids could really like the EM3. EM3’s tonality reminds me of an even bassier, warmer plus darker Koss Porta Pro.

With Foam Covers:
Midbass and upper bass slightly loose presence in my ears as soon as the foam covers are installed, which makes the bass and root sound more even. Unfortunately, so I have to say, the use of the foamies has some disadvantages as well, so the treble becomes even darker, along with even darker sounding mids. Just as expected, the overall sound presentation is also getting a bit foggier.
Therefore, all of the ensuing evaluation of sound quality was done without the foam covers.

Resolution:

For the price, the overall level of details is quite solid – neither the “super big bang for the buck” nor “too disappointing”. Over the entire frequency range, there is a certain veil, which is however not too bothering, and the EM3 earbuds sound overall cleaner and with less audible distortion than my BlackBerry WS-430 that I bought for around €18, which is already a good sign.
The bass is actually quite well controlled, but appears a bit matte plus dull and could be faster (here, a bit more control with less rumble at the same bass impact level wouldn’t be too bad). Bass quality is relatively solid and I cannot hear any distortion; in addition the bass body is pleasant, however not as well defined as the much more DUNU Alpha 1’s (which however faces the problem of only sounding well when seal and fit are good).
Vocals are not the most refined and the upper frequencies could sound a bit more differentiated, but overall, what the EM3 delivers is quite solid, especially for such an inexpensive earbud with remote control and a retail packaging.

Although the sound isn’t the most detailed, fastest or most natural, it can indeed be pleasant and appealing and lacks any annoying attributes but delivers good fatigue-free sound.
However, in case of doubt, I would rather stick to an in-ear in that price range (e.g. the KZ HDS1 or ATE, Xiaomi Piston Colorful Starter Edition), as long as one can handle silicone tips and and isn’t primarily looking for an earbud’s advantages.
For around $10, one shouldn’t moan about the performance too much though.

Soundstage:

The offered spatial room is quite round, open and appears large, with a good balance between width, depth and height. Razor-sharp instrument placement or a portrayal of emptiness between single instruments shouldn’t be expected though, but that was quite predictable at an international price below $20.

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In Comparison with other Earbuds:
 

IMG_1255.jpg


BlackBerry WS-430 (bought myself for ~ €18):
EM3’s cable is better by a large amount and has got the more effective strain relief.
The BlackBerry earbuds are the comparatively most neutral ones out of the four compared earphones, however also the ones with the least bass extension (comparable to the old Apple earbuds).
WS-430’s mids sound more correct, with just a very slight hint of warmness.
W-430’s bass is more arid and cleaner, but in the other frequency bands, the FiiO is the one that sounds slightly more detailed, although that is somewhat held back by the fundamental bloom.
WS-430’s soundstage is slightly narrower but deeper and has the more precise instrument placement.

Pai Audio 3.14 Flat (bought myself for $20):
The Pai’s cable is better (more flexible).
The FiiO is audibly more bass-centric (upper bass, fundamental range) and also overall darker and warmer sounding. Comparing the Pai with the FiiO, the first sounds brighter and more natural, although the 3.14 Flat already is a more dark than neutral sounding earbud in the treble.
In my review of the Pai, I already criticised that its mids sound a bit dark to appear natural, wherefore it kind of reminds me of a Koss Porta Pro with better balance. The EM3 sounds quite a bit bassier, with the even darker mids and the more muffled treble.
As for the bass, the Pai’s shows less emphasis and therefore appears cleaner and more arid, with the more natural body, however in terms of bass control, both are about comparable. Midrange resolution is pretty much identical with both in-ears, but EM3’s treble sounds slightly more differentiated despite being darker. 3.14 Flat’s soundstage is somewhat wider and less deep than EM3’s, but more precise, with the better layering and instrument placement.

Apple EarPods (bought myself for ~ €28):
The EarPods sound more v-shaped (upper bass, lower root and lower treble emphasis), but have less bass quantity.
The EarPods’ mids are tonally better made, however also a bit artificially sounding with brighter voices (slightly metallic and a bit brighter than neutral). The EarPods’ mids sound more distanced, while EM3’s sound more direct and intimate. In the treble, the EarPods show a slightly metallic character as well, something the EM3 totally lacks – it sounds more even, but also more muffled and way less airy.
EM3’s bass emphasis is stronger and has got the somewhat better extension, but the EarPods’ is better controlled, faster and shows the more realistically appearing body. EarPods’ soundstage is slightly wider with identical depth, and instrument placement and separation are superior to the EM3’s.


Conclusion:

The FiiO EM3 are solid and especially inexpensive (the MSRP is set at $9.99, with an international price below $20) beginners’ earbuds with a smooth, dark, bassy, impactful, rumbling and fatigue-free sound signature with a bass extension that is really good for “just earbuds”. They show some good attributes, but could use more refinement here and there, especially in the midrange. Though, FiiO has always heard to their customers’ needs and for an entry-level product, the EM3 fits right in.
What I’d appreciate would be if they could take some of the criticism into account and to create a more higher-end earbud with better overall refinement and a somewhat more realistic midrange.

61% or 3 out of 5 stars with a recommendation to audio beginners and the people who like a smooth, bassy and rumbling sound with warm, thick (lower) mids.
My suggestion would be to tame the upper fundamental tone/lower mids and raise the level in the upper midrange to create a flat and natural, realistically appearing midrange presentation – the bass slam and treble smoothness would remain but the centre frequency band would be more accurate.
leobigfield
leobigfield
Chris, i would really love to hear your comments on the monks!
HiFiChris
HiFiChris
@leobigfield
 
Maybe it's time for me to order them, given the hype they received. If I owned them, I would've surely included them in the comparison. 
ryanjsoo
ryanjsoo
Great sound description! I feel that even in the $10 price range, the EM3`s are not the best sounding earbud, but the build is so much better than others and at $10 USD, where is the profit? Perhaps 3 stars is too harsh and overly sound weighted, but I wouldn`t give them higher than 4. Still, very good review Chris.
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