Review: Onkyo ES-FC300 on-ear headphones
Onkyo sure knows a thing or two about music, and in its FC300 headphones, it’s not just flaunting what it knows, it’s also trying to show that it has some style, too.
Designed for those who like comfy pads, the Onkyo ES-FC300 offers up a change from the regular neodymium you’ve probably come to expect out of audio makers.
Instead of neodymium drivers, Onkyo has embraced titanium, with 40mm drivers that can work with a range of audio formats and spectrums, all the way up to the high-res audio range that 24-bit audio relies on.
The drivers sit inside aluminium housing, with sub chambers added to increase bass response.
At the ear level, you’ll find leatherette pads in place which are supra-aural (sitting on the ear) for most people, except those with very small ears which may get by with calling the headphones circumaural (around the ears).
The leatherette isn’t just on the ear pads, though, with more of it found on the head band, providing comfort for the rest of your skull.
Onkyo’s FC300 cans connect to the cable by way of an MMCX connector, which appears as a small pin and is different from the standard 3.5mm and even less-standard 2.5mm connector that many headphones use.
No remote or microphone is included on the cable.
We’ve seen our fair share of Onkyo products in the past, but generally they’ve just been speakers, sound bars or amplifiers. In the ES-FC300, though, Onkyo is trying its hand at making a modern headphone.
To make this happen, the company has grabbed titanium drivers and paired them with an aluminium casing, cold to the touch, with a sub-chamber found on the inside which we’re told accentuates some of the bass reflex.
That’s a feature we need to try out, which will come shortly. First, though, let’s take a look at the headphones, which in our review unit, offers up a simple white look, with white pads, white cans, white headband, and — yup, you guessed it — a white cable. It’s simple, and if black is beige in the world of headphones, it’s nice to see that shade’s polar opposite sitting around here, even if the design is a touch plain.
The cups rotate in one direction, making the ES-FC300 headphones capable of being packed flat, pressed against something else in a backpack, such as a laptop, but don’t expect to fold these cans down like you can with compact and foldable headphones.
Comfort-wise, we’re relatively happy, as the plush white on-ear leatherette pads provide something nice and plushy for our ears to sit against, even if the arms on the back make the cable come down just behind the bottom of your ears. You’ll get used to it quickly, and when you’re ready, you can get stuck into listening.
As usual, we grabbed our mobile of choice for the sound test, using our trusty playlist of tracks which you can see yourself, and overall, the effort provided from Onkyo’s on-ear headphones wasn’t bad at all.
Starting with electronica, we found a heavy hit of bass in our deep electric flaunting track that is Mooro’s “M66R6,” with solid punches from the drivers that feel as if your ear drums are shaking alongside, while The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub” thunders past with strong bass noticeable over the solid mids and highs.
In the field of rock, the bass doesn’t pound out of the headphones in the same way, providing a solid thump, but taking a backseat to the mids and highs, which spring out above everything else, evident in Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” and Muse’s “Supremacy,” two rock tracks where you expect the bass to pound hard on.
Hard blues has this problem too, evident in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Voodoo Child,” while The Rolling Stones classic “Gimme Shelter” is bright and bubbly, but lacks any real oomph from the drums. Outside of the lack of heavy bass, the music is clear and detailed, though our headphones had to be turned up to around 75 percent of the volume of our test device.
Modern music is often hard limited at louder volumes, so with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” our volume could return to 50 percent and the strength of the bass returned with it, rumbling our ear drums and providing rounded tones reminiscent of a large instrument being thumbed on each note.
Detail was evident here too, as it was on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which had a reasonable balance of lows, mids, and highs, with the same level of balance occurring on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Songs with heavier bass in the mastering had, of course, a heavier emphasis of bass, noted on Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” and Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” which both exhibited warm bottom tones underneath the vocals operating the mids.
Softer musical styles like jazz weren’t as prominent in the bass, but provided plenty of detail in the instruments, with obvious differences between the horns, bass, and drums in Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” while Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” had just enough oomph in the bottom end of the instruments and a softness in the highs to make it easy for anyone to listen in.
The precision in the mids and highs is also evident in classical, where Freddy Kampf’s version of Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu” and Nigel Kennedy’s take on Satie’s “Gymnopedies No. 1” were both delicate in the upper range, ringing out as if someone were playing in a small room just for you, the listener.
For our money, that’s a pretty solid recreation for instrument-based music, and a slightly heavier punch out for tracks that are engineered to be bigger than what your ears can normally accommodate, and that’s a good thing.
What isn’t good about the Onkyo is the cable, which is both unorthodox and lacking in features for the mobile friendly world we live in.
Over on the whole issue of an unorthodox cable, you’ll find the Onkyo flat ribbon cable snaps into the headphones, which is good, because it not only holds its connection well, but can be replaced when you need it.
Where this backfires is that the port it uses is similar to the Soundpatch plug used on the AudioFly headphones, but isn’t the same. In fact, we had to do some research to find out what it was.
As a result of being different to that cable, and different again to the standard 3.5mm headset jack — different also to the less standard 2.5mm jacks used in some headphones — you may have trouble replacing the cable if or rather when it begins to die.
We’re told the port relies on a European standard called MMCX, which is great in knowing that it’s a standard overseas, but useless if you’re trying to find them locally, because a Google search or two later, we gave up ever expecting to find these locally. Granted, the internet makes it possible to get things from more locations, but if you can’t just head on down to an electronic store to find a replacement cable of some sort, it makes headphones more of a hassle.
Most headphones with interchangeable or replaceable cables are reliant on the good and trusty 3.5mm jack connector, the same port these MMCX ports execute in, so we’re not really sure why Onkyo didn’t just go with these standard and make it easier for the consumer.
There’s also no remote on the cable and no microphone, nor is there a secondary cable included in the box, so not only will you have no way of answering calls through the cord of the headphones on your phone, you also will have to find Onkyo’s special cable when the cable does eventually die.
Onkyo’s FC300 aren’t remotely compact either. Sure, the ear-cups rotate, and you can keep them somewhat flat if you need to, but you’ll need a decent amount of space if you want to keep them with you.
If you listen to a lot of electronic or bass heavy music, these are a great option to go with, providing plenty of hit in the right tracks, and a little less in everything else. The word bright certainly comes to mind, with solid mids and highs for most music, with decent accompanying lows, even if they’re not as strong.
But if that doesn’t bother you, we’d don a pair and see if they work for your ears, as the $229 price point makes them worth checking out.