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Onkyo ES-FC300 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £149
inc VAT

Onkyo’s long years of experience in audio shine through with great sound quality for the price, although the proprietary cable is annoying

Onkyo is best known for AV receivers, but has just moved into making high-end headphones. The Onkyo ES-FC300 headphones cost less than the ES-HF300s, released at the same time, but the only difference between the two is the cable. The HF300s cost £30 more and have an “audiophile grade” cable with a thick copper core, as opposed to FC300s’ flat, tangle resistant cable.

The headphones are otherwise identical: same titanium drivers, same design and construction, same form and fit. Neither type of cable has any player controls or microphone built in, although Onkyo informs us that an iPhone compatible cable will be available later in the year.

The cable plugs into both cans separately, which negates the need to run cabling across the headband, but does make for a slightly more complicated cable run. It’s also worth noting that the cable connects to the headphones via proprietary connectors, so if you were thinking about buying the ES-FC300s and slapping in your own high-end headphone cable, think again.

Onkyo ES-FC300 proprietary cable

The headphones use an unusual proprietary cable

You can buy Onkyo’s copper-cored cable and plug it into your ES-FC300s, essentially turning them into a pair of ES-HF300s. However, a replacement cable costs £50 compared to £30 for the standard ES-FC300 cable, so if you really want the ES-HF300 headphones, you’ll save money by buying them in the first place rather than upgrading later.

The ES-FC300s are available in white, black or violet. They certainly look the part, especially if you lean towards the Beats Audio street style. The cans are completely round, giving the headphones an attractive, uniform look. The headband is wide and very solidly constructed, with a reassuring click accompanying every user adjustment. The cans also swivel so that they can lie flat in their soft carrying pouch.

The Onkyo ES-FC300s have a circumaural design, which means that the ear cups should completely surround your ears. This proved to be the case in our tests and there was no unwanted pressure on our ears, even when listening for extended periods. The padding on the ear cups is also very soft, making for a comfortable experience – the ES-FC300s are certainly far more comfortable than Focal’s Spirit One headphones, but not quite up to the standard of the superb Sony MDR-1Rs.

There’s almost no sound leakage from the ES-FC300s, even when you have the volume cranked up high. This is a key advantage of a closed back headphone design, but it’s not a factor that can always be taken for granted. There’s also little ambient sound intrusion when you’re listening at lower volumes. Of course you’ll never get the kind of open, wide soundstage that you’ll enjoy with a great pair of open back headphones, but Onkyo has designed these cans to be used both at home and out on the road, so sound insulation is obviously an important factor.

Onkyo ES-FC300 earpiece

A closed-driver design minimises sound leakage

The sound from the ES-FC300s is quite impressive, particularly when compared to similarly priced rivals. We hooked the headphones up to an Arcam rPac asynchronous USB DAC/headphone amp and threw a wide range of music at them.

What really surprised us was how well these headphones handle rock music, which regularly trips up otherwise excellent headphones. Firing up Audioslave’s self-titled debut album, we were expecting the slightly muted affair that we’re often presented with when testing headphones, but the Onkyos turned in a stellar performance. The whole album sounded great, but Gasoline was particularly impressive with the strong, heavy bass line thumping through the mix, while Chris Cornell’s vocals and the guitars have an urgent presence, without ever sounding harsh or forced.

After the performance with Audioslave we cued up some Stone Temple Pilots, a bit of Soundgarden, a sprinkling of Nirvana and even some Faith No More – each and every album and track sounded superb. If you’ve struggled to find a good set of closed back cans for rock (and we have), you should definitely audition a pair of these.

But Onkyo hasn’t created a one trick pony; the ES-FC300s turned in a solid performance regardless of what we threw at them. Changing tack completely we turned to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and were surprised at how well the ES-FC300s handled the subtle pianos and woodwinds in the early movements, before showing how well they can convey loud and urgent orchestration.

Bringing the tempo down even further, we switched to Zero 7’s Simple Things. The ES-FC300s still put in a fine performance, but while In The Waiting Line sounded hauntingly brilliant and impressively cohesive, it lacked some of the subtle delicacy that we’ve heard conveyed by other, admittedly more expensive, headphones.

R&B is very well taken care of, with smooth, impactful bass that never overpowers the rest of the mix. Charles Wright’s classic Express Yourself is rendered with all the soul and tempo that’s synonymous with the track, while the NWA incarnation of the same song delivers all the thumping bass and impact that you’d want.

The Onkyo ES-FC300s cost £149 and a quick look around the web shows that most retailers are charging exactly that. They’re cheaper than Sony’s similarly designed MDR-R1 cans, but they can’t quite match the Sonys in terms of overall comfort, usability and sound quality. However, given their price and the fact that the ES-FC300s provide a bit more bass punch and a sterling performance when it comes to rock music, there are plenty of good reasons to choose Onkyo.




Typeover-ear headphones
Active noise-cancellingno
Power sourcenone
Frequency response10-27,000Hz
Impedence32 ohms
Plug type3.5mm stereo jack plug
Inline volumeNo
Cable length1.20m
Extrassoft carrying pouch

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