Price (RRP): $729
Manufacturer: Final Audio
A confession: I approached the Final Audio B3 in-ear monitors (that is, earphones) with a sense of trepidation. Sometimes I find myself somewhat at odds with other hifi reviewers. Final Audio is usually well reviewed. It’s a high-end headphone and earphone brand out of Japan. What if I didn’t like these earphones? What if I considered them a complete waste of money? They are, after all, very far from cheap.
Final Audio B3 earphone features
Forget about Bluetooth. Forget about aptX HD or LDAC or whatnot. These are wired earphones, with 1.2 metres of cable. The cable is apparently replaceable. I initially thought that they seemed to use some of proprietary connection at the headphone end. I didn’t try to pull them out. But it turns out that they’re called MMCX connectors and are used fairly widely in certain industries.
The cables use silver-coated oxygen free copper as the conductors. The insulation is transparent so you can admire the silver of the outer shielding. The left and right channel cables are separate, and twisted together for most of their length. The 3.5mm stereo plug at the end is a 90-degree model and made of stainless steel. Of course the working part is gold-plated.
One can argue about the relative merits of Bluetooth codecs. But what can’t be denied is that at their very best, they’re simply trying to be as good as a bit of wire. The Final Audio B3 earphones have some very good wire.
At the ear end of the wires are the buds. These have stainless steel housings and are, consequently, significantly heavier than the usual buds I use and review. Most of those are plastic. Final Audio says the total earphone weight is 36 grams. Left and right are marked by tiny letters and black and red rings around their connectors.
Inside each earpiece are two balanced armature drivers, one for treble, one for bass/midrange. No crossover network is used.
Five sizes of silicon tips are provided. The earphones also come with a silicone carry case.
Comfortable listening with the Final Audio B3
I experimented with the tips and found a pair that fitted me well. Extremely well. I don’t know what trick Final Audio used, but somehow they sealed my ear canals, and remained perfectly sealed, better than just about any light-weight buds I’ve used.
Perhaps it was in part due to the short lengths of transparent cable guides included with the earphones. These two curved pieces of plastic have a groove along their length into which you press the cables near the earbud end. You then hook them over your ears. They take up the strain of the weight of the cable, leaving the earbuds comfortably in your ears without being tugged by gravity. Despite the angular look, they were extremely comfortable to wear.
Those plastic guides also serve the function of isolating the earphones from mechanical noise. Like the tin cans on the ends of the taut string in a child’s home-made “communicator”, earphones are pretty good at guiding noise right into one’s ears. The touch of a hand on a cable can overwhelm the music. But the Final Audio B3 earphones, properly used, kept this well under control.
Final Audio says that the impedance of these earphones is 19 ohms and their sensitivity is 102dB (which I assume to mean for 1mW of input). It does not specify frequency response. Instead it describes its design aims:
Sound design with consideration to the relationship between spatial impression and dynamic range of music as well as physical characteristics of earphones and headphones. High clarity over entire frequency range and beautiful high range sound enable to hear the delicate touch of a piano and guitar picking perfectly.
It seems to have focused above all on clarity of reproduction.
I’ve described these things above, but from the contents of the (very nice) packaging, it wasn’t entirely clear – or indeed, at all clear – why there were short curved lengths of transparent plasticky cable guides in with the buds. Since there weren’t any instructions in the box, I went searching and found the Final Audio site for these earphones and found a downloadable PDF manual. That let me set them up correctly.