In a day and age where (nearly all) modern smartphone makers have decided to forego the headphone jack and bundle their latest models with an included set of ‘True Wireless’ earbuds (or IEMS = In-Ear Monitors, if you prefer), listeners have more than come around to the idea of Bluetooth connectivity as a far-from-compromised way to enjoy their music on the go - especially when you factor convenience into the equation.
I’m still very much a fan of the fidelity (and tethered security!) of a wired pair of IEMs - especially when paired with an excellent mobile device. But daily mask-wearing and commuting can easily lead to a tangled mess of cables which does tend to take the buzz out of enjoying your favourite album. Throw in the need to connect to the odd phone call or video conference on the go, and all of a sudden True Wireless IEMs have quickly made a more common appearance in my daily phone/wallet/keys/music routine before I leave the house.
Japan’s Final Audio are makers of some of the finest-crafted, and finest sounding full-size headphones and IEMs in the business - their D8000 planar headphones and single dynamic-driver wired IEMs are rightly benchmarks in their respective categories as far as this reviewer is concerned. But, the forces of consumer demand being what they are, Final has decided to release their first in-house True Wireless earbud (if we exclude their collaboration with Evangelion, the EVA2020), the brand new ZE3000, available online or in-store at Addicted To Audio for $249.95. The ZE3000 is designed to be an affordable and high-performance True Wireless earbud, providing wired-like levels of performance that are expected by audiophiles, in an attractive and streamlined design.
‘3000’ is an important number in the Final IEM line-up, with Final borrowing the numeric suffix from their legendary E3000 wired IEM, which has won no less than ten consecutive gold medals at Japan’s largest audio awards, the VGP. Final set-out to not only emulate but surpass the sonic performance of the E3000 when developing the new ZE3000, so that ought to give a good indication of the audio standards they’ve set for themselves here.
So what do we have on-hand with Final’s first (proper) foray into the True Wireless Earbud realm? The most important part of any headphone is the driver, and Final has equipped the ZE3000 with a new “f-core for wireless” 6mm dynamic driver which they’ve developed from scratch to achieve ultra-low distortion. Rather than aiming for the more “showy” accentuated sound that you’d expect from your run-of-the-mill consumer-grade True Wireless IEM, Final has aimed for a more balanced, less fatiguing sound by relying less on software EQ and letting a better-performing, lower distortion driver shine.
This driver has been paired with a specially-designed acoustic chamber, which they call the “f-LINK Dampening System”. Whereas standard Wireless IEMs have fairly cramped internal space to house the necessary onboard electronics (and to achieve waterproof ratings), the architecture of the ZE3000 has been designed to allow sufficient space within the shell of each Earbud to optimise the sound pressure to achieve a sound which they describe as being closer to a full-sized headphone, all the while maintaining a sealed enclosure which boasts an IPX4 water resistance rating.
ZE3000 key specifications:
- 6mm "f-Core for Wireless" Dynamic driver for Wireless to Realize Ultra-Low Distortion
- f-LINK Damping System to Optimize Internal Pressure of the Acoustic Chamber
- Latest Bluetooth Ver 5.2
- AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX Adaptive Codec Support
- Convenient Touch Media Control
- IPX4 Water Resistance
- Minimal Oppression Design for Custom-Like Fit
- 7 Hours of Playback per Earbuds Full Charge, Maximum 35 hours with Charging Case
- IPX4 Water-Resistant
The ZE3000 arrives in a nice hinged white display box, which includes the following included items:
- The 2 x ZE3000 earbuds themselves
- Storage/charging case
- 5 x pairs of "TYPE E Truly Wireless Exclusive Edition" silicone ear tips
- User manual
- USB-C charging cord
Design & fit
The ZE3000 is available in either black or white finish, with the earbuds and charging case each finished in a matching “Shibo” finish - a unique matte coating named after an old Japanese word to describe the wrinkled finish of paper or leather. The ZE3000 is made from a premium-feeling, lightweight plastic that is nice to the touch and also avoids smudges and fingerprints on their unique outer design, which is a tasteful mix of curves and flat edges. The shape of the earbuds looks slightly unconventional, yet slides easily into the concave shape of my outer ears for a flush, comfortable fit.
There aren’t any ‘buttons’ to speak of on the shells of the ZE3000, the outermost flat surface house touch-sensitive panels. A series of single, double, or triple-tap gestures on each earbud provides control over music playback, volume, phone calls, and your smartphone’s friendly AI assistant of choice. It’s a fairly intuitive system and extremely responsive to the simplest ‘tap’, and I was able to get used to it in no time at all.
Final’s own silicone ear tips are among the best in the business, and the ‘stock’ tips fitted to the ZE3000 were a Goldilocks-like fit for me right out of the box. They kept them securely in my ears, even while running and doing various forms of exercise, all the while doing a pretty good job of passive noise attenuation. I’ll note here that the ZE3000 does not feature active noise cancellation, and is designed more as a ‘purist’ audio-first design. I’ve had mixed experience with True Wireless IEMs that feature ANC, finding that they either change the sound, work poorly, or a mix of both. I can vouch that the passive attenuation of the ZE3000 is more than up to blocking most noises that the outside world will throw at you, so I was happy to let them concentrate on “doing their thing” and playing back music without any extra battery or processing power going into masking outside noise.
The ZE3000’s companion storage/charging case is quite the svelte little number, being able to slide into the coin pocket of a pair of jeans. It houses a 300 mAh battery, capable of charging your pair of ZE3000 multiple times when on the go. The Earbuds themselves have up to 7 hours playback before requiring a recharge, and the battery capacity of the case gives the listener the ability to use the ZE3000 for up to 35 hours before requiring you to plug them in again for a recharge. The storage case also features an LED which flashes red, yellow and green to display the remaining battery charge (0-10%, 11-99%, 100% respectively)
The ZE3000 is capable of pairing with most of the important Bluetooth codecs including AAC (noteworthy for Apple users), SBC, as well as the higher-res aptX and aptX Adaptive formats, being good news if you have access to higher-resolution music via your device, and lower latency when watching video or gaming.
Paring the ZE3000 is a breeze - they’re searchable by your device from the moment you first open the case and and pop them in your ears. My Pixel 6 recognised them immediately and informed me that they were ready to start streaming via the aptX codec. Connectivity is strong - after a week of extensive use I haven’t so much as had a single drop-out or stutter with my phone in my pocket or bag while out and about, and I’m also to get a solid connection no matter where I am in my apartment with my phone left on its wireless charging dock.
The ZE3000 also features a ‘friendly’ Female assistant voice (with a slight British accent!) that informs you when power is switching on/off, and when pairing.
Phone call volume and intelligibility on the ZE3000 is excellent, and I haven’t had a single case of “can you please say that again?” during a phone conversation or over Google Meet while using the ZE3000 as a paired device, indicating that the inbuilt microphone on each ear shell is clear, and strong.
Listening with the ZE3000
Having paired the ZE3000 with my Pixel 6 and settled them into a comfortable, snug fit in each ear it was time to start feeding them with some high-res music streamed via Qobuz. I was keen to find out if the team at Final have indeed managed to translate some of the same magic from their wired headphones and IEMs into the first Final True Wireless IEM bearing their logo.
The first impression the ZE3000 gave me after a few bars of Kaleo’s ‘No Good’ was that they have an extremely balanced, silky presentation that neatly balances nuance and detail with an inherent smoothness. They can most certainly ‘rock out’ when called for (with the right music, of course) and has a great sense of dynamic ‘fun’, but there’s none of the obvious mid-bass emphasis and overemphasised shimmer that IEMs (especially around this pricepoint) try and spoon-feed to ‘wow’ the listener when first listening.
Switching over to some electronic music in the form of Leftfield’s ‘Universal Everything’, the ZE3000 impressed me with its restrained and yet satisfying bass. The ZE3000 can dig deep, has good articulation when it comes to rendering low-end notes, yet doesn’t overwhelm with a muddy ‘whump’ that can tend to overshadow the details in the mid-range in less balanced IEMs.
Michael Kiwanuka’s vocals were both clear and front-of-stage in his track ‘Solid Ground', with a good sense of lifelike texture. The ZE3000 works equally well when it comes to female vocals, being able to convey all the emotion and intimacy of ‘Naked’, by Ella Mai. The ZE3000’s midrange continued to impress and revealed a slight lift in the presence region when listening to the acoustic guitar, piano, and Ryan Adam’s own voice in his track ‘Lucky Now’ - it’s lifelike, and yet enjoyably so.
The ZE3000 is without question the kind of IEM that you can spend album after album listening to, without the faintest hint of fatigue or things getting too sharp or ‘tizzy’. It has a well-extended and detailed treble with plenty of sparkle and insight - the finger snaps and synth notes in Tame Impala’s ‘The Moment’ are delivered by the ZE3000 in a snappy, precise kinda way that never grates nor gets tiring. The rest of this record, ‘Currents’ is brilliantly recorded, and it showed off the ability of the ZE3000 to cast a believable sense of space and ‘head-stage’ - it’s not overly vast, but certainly generous for a sealed IEM and helps immerse you into Kevin Parker’s surreal, psychedelic sound-scape.
True Wireless IEMs are a dime-a-dozen these days, but for the most part, they seem to be pitched for their features and smartphone integration first-and-foremost, with audiophile sound-appeal much further down the list (if mentioned at all). It’s great to see a manufacturer with the audiophile credentials of Final Audio ‘snipping the cord’ and putting a new contender into the market that focuses on sound quality above all else, and one which features innovative design when it comes to the engineering inside, as well as with its sharp, and yet understated looks.
The remarkable thing about the ZE3000 is not only that they offer a balanced, insightful listen that sets them apart from the consumer electronic brands that dominate the market, but the fact that they’ve been launched at such a sharp price point. Any music fan who’s been curious about ‘going wireless’ can do so without hesitation with the ZE3000 - they truly make a compelling case for leaving the cord behind.