Coming in with a genuinely bizarre name for today’s review is The Fragrant Zither No.3. otherwise known as the TFZ No.3. These are yet another IEM from the never-ending stream of Chi-Fi products hitting the market in 2019. It is a big diameter dynamic driver earphone using an 11.4mm diaphragm with dual magnets and coils. TFZ seem pretty excited on this IEM, and it is breaking from the trend of Chinese earphone manufacturers trying to cram as many BA drivers into an IEM as possible.
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is nice on the No.3. Its a high-quality cardboard box with that will be able to take a beating in transit. The styling is clean and straightforward, almost like if Ikea did headphones. White and black color scheme and plenty of information pertaining to the contents on the back.
Open the top, and the earphones are well presented and as usual set in foam. The cable and all the accessories are tucked away under the top layer.
The accessories are pretty unimpressive. You get a few different tips in small medium and large sizes. One set has a wide-bore and short length and the other smaller diameter bore and longer length. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a decent seal with either, so the majority of this review was carried out with Final Audio E-Series and Spinfits although other some tips were also briefly tested.
You get a small drawstring pouch to store them in; it's pretty poor quality an I wouldn’t use it and instead throw it in a Pelican 1010 if traveling.
Oh, and there is also a small shirt clip.
Aesthetics & Build Quality
These are an excellent looking set of earphones. A beautiful crystal clear transparent acrylic shell lets you see all the intricacies on the outside and having the silver faceplate set inside the housing also gives a unique look to them. I dare say they are one of the best looking earphones out of China this year and the overall clean look is accentuated by the rather attractive cable that they have included with the TFZ No.3.
The cable is unique and breaks away from the growing movement towards braided models. Its got a thick rubber coating around two strands of silver wire, and it feels very premium in hand. I also think this will be a cable that holds up very well over time because of the excellent quality materials.
However, it's not all good with the cable because it retains too much memory for my liking although it is very good at resisting tangling when the earphones aren’t in use or stored correctly.
The other problem is that stupid connector. More specifically, with the non-recessed 2 pin connectors. KZ do this, and I would be quite happy to see it’s designed fall off the face of the earth.
I would have liked to have seen the No.3 come with an MMCX because it's just so much easier to find aftermarket cables with that connector. Yes, I know there are many 2 pin cables on the market as well but not in this style.
Because the connector sticks out from the housing, this means you need a sheath running over the top of the connection point. Without this, corrosion from sweat and exposure can creep in. I had this problem on lots of CIEM’s in the past, which is why I will only use MMCX or if needs must recessed 2 pins.
But if KZ does the same thing will their aftermarket cables not fit the TFZ? Unfortunately not because the sheath size on the Zithers is far larger and the KZ cable doesn't fit over the plug.
Build quality of the earphones themselves is pretty nice but putting the faceplate inside the acrylics makes them feel less robust than IEM’s like the KZ ZS10 Pro and CCA whose outer metal faceplate ads some rigidity to the body of the earphones. In practice, though they are still pretty sturdy and the use of metal for the nozzles and grill is a very welcome addition.
Back to the aesthetics and I think they are cool looking with those big drivers on view and the color scheme looks so good. I'm a big fan of the styling here.
Comfort and Isolation
No complains here at all as the No.3 is a very comfortable earphone thanks to its smooth finish and ergonomically friendly design. It will be a touch too big for those with small ears but not impossible to live with. Insertion depth is at a medium provided you have the housing flush with the outer ear.
Isolation wise, with the Final e-series, installed they isolate very well and block out a substantial amount of environmental noise and will be more than suitable for traveling.
Straight up these are going to be for a specific type of person. Bassheads.
These have a lot of sub-bass going on. Bass, in general, was the overall theme of the TFZ No.3 and in some cases, this worked wonderfully, but at other times, with the wrong genre’s, I felt like it just swamped everything else that was going on.
They are an aggressive and in your face sound with slightly sharp upper mids and brightish treble. The mids are pretty decent. They crisp and clear and lean to the dry side without warmth. They do get overran by the low end, not because of a bleed from the low end to the midrange as is often the case it's just the low-end rumble distracting from the rest of the sound. There is a distinct sharpness somewhere in the upper midrange that at times was getting close to uncomfortable but very dependent on the source or track that was playing.
The Highs are good crisp and clear. They are also very in your face but drop off somewhere at the top end. The highs are not sibilant and hold up well against the low end, unlike the mids.
I consider myself a part-time Basshead, I moved to Japan and worked in Tokyo’s EDM and Industrial club scene in the mid-2000’s and about 50% of the music I have on my playlists is from these genres. I also was raised on classical, jazz, and rock. So I pretty much always have two earphones in rotation and change them out depending on what I am listening to at the time — one for the EDM and another for everything else. Up until the Solaris arrived a few months ago my main setup was the Andromeda and IMR Acoustics R1 (Original and not Zenith) this satisfied both of my listening needs.
Now here is the dilemma with the TFZ No.3. I don’t rate them as all rounders, but they are great if say 80-90% of the music you listen to requires sub bass. If you exclusively listen to rap, Rnb, EDM etc then these are a good shout, and to some extent, they do well with certain types of Metal. For Classic rock, Rock, Classical, Jazz, Indie and even some kinds of pop the low end is just too prominent that the music doesn’t sound right. You get the feeling that there is not meant to be so much emphasis on the low in lots of situations.
Now, conversely if I look at it with my basshead hat on then, these things are absolute bangers, and the only thing I don’t like is the very closed presentation (I will talk soundstage in the next section.) The bass gives an ethereal rumble, and it hits hard, deep and reverberates exceptionally well. 2 Feet Quick Doodles, Chaos Royales Anna Supernova remix, are two favorites and they both sound incredible here.
The upper bass frequencies aren’t all that detailed, but it still does a decent enough job and it's swift and responsive when things get a little crazy really though it's all about the sub bass.
The soundstage is closed and the whole presentation is very much in your head and your face. Again this works well for some tracks and causes issues with others where I prefer more spacing such as live recordings.
There are two scenarios I can see the TFZ No.3 being worth a purchase. The first is if you listen to a lot of heavy bass music and are a fan of the sub-bass the earphones offer. The second is if, like me, you run two sets of earphones in your setup. I’m just thinking if you had grabbed the Tin Hifi P1 for $170 and these for $109 you would be pretty damm close to a perfect world setup, one that pushes significantly above its pay grade.
While the No.3 might not be the perfect all-rounders, they are exceptional for what they do at this price. I will be adding them to the top 3 of my best basshead earphones list later this week and will continue to add comparisons to other models as we go forward.