Final Audio ZE3000
“Pristine audio at a low price compensates for their many missing features.”
- Unique design
- Comfortable, secure fit
- Excellent sound quality
- IPX4 water resistance
- Good battery life
- Good codec support
- No active noise cancellation
- No transparency mode
- No wear sensors
- No wireless charging
Kyudo. It’s a centuries-old Japanese form of archery that requires a singular, intense focus. From the clothing worn to the exact technique for drawing and releasing the bow, everything about the martial art is designed to put the archer into an almost zen-like state, letting them forget everything but the objective of striking the target with a high degree of precision.
It’s an apt metaphor for Final Audio’s approach to its $149. The boutique Japanese audio company has made a conscious decision to walk away from nearly every feature you will find on other earbuds, choosing instead to focus on just one aspect — audio quality. Is it a worthwhile trade-off? Let’s check them out.
Right from the get-go, you can tell that the ZE3000 are unlike other wireless earbuds. Final Audio has chosen a resin plastic with what it calls a “Shibo” finish. Shibo, in Japanese, means “a wrinkle on the surface of paper or leather,” according to the company, and if you’ve ever handled a Nikon or Canon camera, you’ve probably already felt a Shibo finish — its distinct subtle texture improves grip without making the surface rough or unpleasant to hold.
That Shibo finish is used for both the earbuds and the charging case, where it serves two different purposes: It makes the case easier to hold, and it gives the earbuds a more secure fit (more on that later).
The next thing you notice is the shape of the earbuds themselves. They’re angular, with sharp corners and seams that remind me of origami. When compared to the completely smooth and rounded shape of Apple’s AirPods, the ZE3000 do not look comfortable at all, at least from the exterior. But looks can be deceiving.
I am now a believer: It’s possible for earbuds to be comfortable and secure and minimize fatigue.
One benefit to their sharp shape is that they’re very easy to grasp; there’s no fumbling to remove them from the charging case. The lid snaps open and closed with precision, and the internal magnets are just strong enough to keep the earbuds in their charging sockets. You get the sense that even this was a deliberate choice by Final’s designers.
The ZE3000 come in either white or black, and the earbuds are rated IPX4 for water resistance, so they should have no problem dealing with a bit of rain or a sweaty workout.
The conventional wisdom when it comes to getting a comfortable, secure fit with wireless earbuds is that an ergonomic shape that conforms to the inside of your ear is the way to go. That feels very intuitive, and when companies like Jabra, Sony, Technics, or have taken this approach, there’s no doubt that it works. But Final Audio says that it’s possible to get a comfortable and secure fit without producing the fatigue that accompanies the “full-ears” feeling — something that tends to happen with these other brands.
To solve this problem, the ZE3000 are shaped in such a way that they only have three points of contact with your ear, leaving the rest of your skin untouched. I was skeptical right up until I popped the earbuds in. After three hours of continuous use, I am now a believer: It’s possible for earbuds to be comfortable and secure and minimize fatigue, and the ZE3000 are the proof.
But here’s a pro tip for the uninitiated. You will be tempted to cram the ZE3000 as deep into your ears as they can go. Don’t do that. Not only will they feel less comfortable, but it will also adversely affect sound quality — two things I learned the hard way.
Instead, to get the fit that Final intends, make use of the generous supply of silicone ear tips. You get five sizes to choose from (including the pre-installed large size), so most folks should be able to find a combo that suits their ear shape. Without an app that has a fit-test feature, you’ll have to play around a bit, but you’ll know when it’s right — you’ll insert the earbuds with only gentle pressure, and though it won’t feel like they’re fully inserted, they won’t budge on their own and the sound will be rich and full, with plenty of bass.
The outer surface of the ZE3000 is divided into two planes — a longer, wider one that angles in toward your ear, and a shorter, narrower one that sits parallel to the side of your head. It’s this smaller surface that houses the earbud touch controls.
The ZE3000 are easily the best-sounding wireless earbuds you can get for $149.
I was initially concerned that — because of the small area — I’d have trouble using these controls accurately, but I had no problems at all. The surfaces are very sensitive and almost always register taps correctly. When they do, you get a short tone as confirmation, which is really helpful. On the downside, without a companion app, there’s no way to customize how they work. But on the upside, since the ZE3000 offer such a limited set of features, it’s easy to control everything — play/pause, track skip forward/back, volume up/down, call answer/end/reject, and activate a voice assistant — are all supported with a variety of single, double, triple, and tap-and-hold combinations.
The ZE3000 support Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Adaptive as your codec choices. The earbuds enter pairing mode as soon as you open the charging case lid, and though they don’t work with Google Fast Pair, it’s easy enough to use the standard Bluetooth menus in both Android and iOS to get them connected. If you disconnect them from the same menu, the earbuds will automatically return to pairing mode, making it just as simple to pair a new device. The only thing that would make it better would be Bluetooth Multipoint, for simultaneous device connections, but sadly, Final’s focus on simplicity has left this feature off of the table for now.
When fit correctly, I think the ZE3000 are easily the best-sounding wireless earbuds you can get for $149. In fact, if you want something that sounds noticeably better, you’re looking at spending a lot more, like $259 for the Astell&Kern AK UW100, $278 for Sony’s WF-1000XM4, or $300 for the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. And even then, you may prefer the way the ZE3000 sound., $299 for the
It comes down to clarity and detail. The ZE3000 excel at both, providing a vivid and energetic sound signature that is both full and balanced. There’s excellent separation between frequencies and the all-important midranges come through with precision. Some might describe their EQ as flat or neutral — both considered ideal from an audiophile perspective — but I’ve always found truly flat EQ a little cold, which my brain interprets as a lack of emotion. The ZE3000 manage to inject a much-needed warmth, making them a joy to listen to, across a wide range of genres.
If you have access to lossless or hi-res audio, the ZE3000 are an affordable choice for getting the most from your music.
Bass response is fast and precise, but also carefully constrained. If you like big, commanding levels of low-end, you may find them a little timid. For the bass-inclined listener, the similarly priced Soundcore’s Liberty 3 Pro. Once again, the overriding philosophy here is accuracy: Instruments and vocals are placed with a high degree of precision, letting you zero in on all the little subtleties, something that can be truly appreciated on tracks like Miles Davis’ classic So What.will be more satisfying, though they can’t quite match the ZE3000’s incredible clarity. Final Audio also takes a similarly conservative approach to the ZE3000’s soundstage, which is generous, but not super-wide like you’ll find on
But the ZE3000’s clarity and precision isn’t just for jazz and classical. A song like Bbno$’s Edamame shows that these earbuds are more than capable when it comes to getting your heart thumping, while Adele’s Oh My God and Easy On Me envelop you in her distinctive vocals. If you have a streaming subscription from Apple Music, Amazon Music, or Tidal that includes lossless or hi-res audio, the ZE3000 are an affordable choice for getting the most from your music.
Having the ability to tweak their EQ via a companion app would be nice, but I’m not sure I’d change much, if anything, about the way these earbuds sound.
I mentioned fit at the top of this section because the ZE3000 — more than any other wireless earbud that I’ve tested — need to fit just so. Push them in too deep, or twist them too far in one direction or another and you can almost lose the low frequencies entirely. On more than one occasion, I had to fine-tune their position to find that sweet spot.
Final Audio is very aware of this peculiarity and says as much on its product page: “Since the sound quality changes greatly depending on the mounting position, move the earbuds three-dimensionally one by one while playing music, and adjust them to the position where you can hear the most. Once you experience it, you can easily align them from the second time.” I couldn’t agree more.
The ZE3000’s mics do an admirable job of picking up the full range of your voice. Not that I would ever recommend recording a podcast via a set of wireless earbuds, but if you needed to, I think you’d be impressed by how good your voice sounds.
However, that’s under ideal circumstances: Indoors, without any competing sounds. When conditions are less than ideal, like walking outside near traffic or when it’s a bit windy, the ZE3000 struggle to maintain that high level of quality. Your voice will still sound very natural, but your callers will be aware of all of those other sounds too, which will be distracting.
There’s also no side-tone or transparency mode, so your voice will sound a bit muffled to you as well.
Final Audio claims the ZE3000 will get seven hours on a single charge and that’s more or less what you’ll get — perhaps a bit more if you keep the volume set to 50% or lower. Unfortunately, there’s no quick charge feature so if you find yourself out of juice, be prepared to spend 1.5 hours to charge them fully. Thankfully, the case stores four full recharges, bringing your total time away from a power source to 35 hours.
In short, just about everything. In Final Audio’s drive to deliver top-notch sound, it has forgone almost every single feature I can think of, including: Active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode, customizable controls, customizable EQ, wear sensors for auto-pause, wireless charging, a companion app, find my earbuds, an ear tip fit-test, Bluetooth multipoint, and fast charging. You may not find all of these features on other $150 earbuds, but you can certainly get most of them. The question is, given how great the ZE3000 sound, will you care?
The Final Audio ZE3000 produce the best sound quality you can get for under $200 and they do it with undeniable style. But if you’re a fan of extra features, you may want to look elsewhere.
Is there a better alternative?
Theare the same price as the ZE3000 and sound great, with a deeper, more authoritative bass response. They also sport transparency mode, Bluetooth multipoint, find my earbuds, and EQ adjustments via their companion app. The AZ40 can’t quite match the ZE3000’s stunning clarity, but if you want a few more bells and whistles, they’re an excellent alternative.
How long will they last?
Between their tough, resin exterior and IPX4 rating, I expect the ZE3000 to last many years. As with all wireless earbuds, repeated charging will reduce their batteries’ capacity, but at a starting point of seven hours, they’ll still be quite usable even when that capacity drops by 50%. Final Audio backs them with a one-year warranty.
Should you buy them?
Yes. If you value sound quality above all other considerations, the Final Audio ZE3000 set a new bar for what you can expect in a set of $150 wireless earbuds.