Crisp, bright audio performance matched with rich, full bass depth. Comfortable design. Dust- and sweat-resistant.
Some design quirks and flaws, like buggy audio cables and gesture touch controls that require more effort than usual. Average noise cancellation. Overpriced
- Bottom Line
The Fiil IICON noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones try to hang with the best in its category, but can't quite make it work.
The Fiil IICON is a noise-cancelling set of Bluetooth headphones with a name that defies our typically house style guidelines, but if we followed that rule, you'd think the IICON was called the Licon. So, you win on that front, Fiil. But on other fronts, $349 IICON is at an immediate disadvantage—it costs the same amount as the industry-leading Bose QuietComfort 35 II and more than the still-available (and still-excellent) Bose QuietComfort 35. And, well, the IICON can't really hang with the well established top guns of this category. Even if the audio performance is strong, the noise cancellation isn't good enough to warrant this top-tier price.
The IICON is made of black brushed aluminum alloy with metallic red highlights and red cables, with chunky circumaural (over the ear) earcups that conjure the Beats headphone aesthetic. The perplexing brand name Fiil is emblazoned in large letters on each earcup, but spelled with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters that makes it look like "FIII." This logo can also be optionally backlit with glowing white LEDs (or kept dark) through the free Fiil app. With an IP65 rating, the IICON is dust- and sweat-resistant, and can be wiped down for cleaning when needed. The earcups swivel to fit the contour of your head and are exceptionally well-padded with memory foam, along with the headband. It adds up to a secure fit that remains comfortable over long listening periods.
A single multifunction button on the outer panel of the right ear controls power, playback, call management, summoning Siri or another voice assistant, Bluetooth pairing, and even turning on and off the noise cancellation depending on the situation and how long you press it. We rarely see one button with so many functions, but there were no issues using it for all of the functions described, and it never misfired. Swipe-based controls on the outer panel of the right earcup enable volume adjustment and track navigation. The swipe gestures work as advertised, but they require dramatic motions from one end of the earcup to the other, which is not ideal. The left earcup holds a port for the included charging cable and the right holds a connection for the audio cables.
The IICON ships with a solid array of accessories, including a zip-up hardshell protective case houses the earphones, a micro USB-to-USB charging cable, and two included audio cables for wired listening.
One of the cables features an inline remote control intended for iOS devices, while the other cable's remote works with Android devices. Both are of the three-button variety, with a central multifunction button and dedicated volume buttons. The only real difference in performance is that the iOS multifunction button hangs up calls when held for two seconds, but merely mutes the call when tapped quickly. When you plug in the cable, any Bluetooth connection is immediately killed. Unplugging them restores the connection automatically, assuming the headphones are on. However, the noise cancellation circuitry can still be used with the cable in. The headphones can also be used unpowered and in passive mode when connected through one of the cables.
In practice, the cables were a little problematic. The one labeled iOS didn't work with an iPhone 6s—pressing the multifunction button did none of the things it was supposed to do. We assumed the cables were mislabeled, but the other cable had other issues with the iPhone 6s—the multifunction button worked just fine for playback and track navigation, but the volume buttons didn't work at all.
The mic offers mediocre intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we understood every word we recorded, but the audio was fuzzy and thin, like a less-than-ideal cell phone connection. This is pretty common with Bluetooth headphone mics.
The Fiil+ app is a free download that allows for added control over the various features of the IICON. The home screen gives you a detailed readout of how much battery life remains, both in standby and playback modes. You can control the auto-shutdown timer, with variables ranging from 15 minutes to 4 hours, or never. There's a rather limited EQ section with only three modes (Original, Bass, and Treble), all of which are set and cannot be adjusted (we recommend sticking with Original). A "3D Sound" effect that we really recommend leaving in Off mode is also included. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the app is the ANC (active noise cancellation) function, which you can switch between ANC on, ANC off, or Monitor mode, which allows you to hear your surroundings using the built-in ambient mics.
Fiil estimates the IICON's battery life to be roughly 33 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your noise cancelling usage.
The IICON, as mentioned, is priced the same as the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones we've tested, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. So it should at the very least have far-better-than-average noise cancellation circuitry. The noise cancellation does a decent job off dropping ambient noise levels, but it's not close to what Bose is capable of. There's perhaps a slight difference on overall bass response for audio playback between the two modes, but it's not overwhelming.
Like most decent-but-not-exceptional noise cancelling headphones, the IICON creates a slight high pitch hiss, akin to tape hiss. It's not unpleasant, it's faint, and you won't hear it over your music, but it's often a telltale sign of merely average NC circuitry. The easiest test is try to the noise cancellation in a very quiet room (even if it's not designed for that). The NC circuitry should never make an environment noisier, even the environment is a very quiet room, and that's what happens when you deploy the ANC in a room that has no hums or ambient challenges. That said, the IICON is capable of taking out decent swaths of AC unit hum and train sound, but it won't do much for office chatter, and there's also no way to adjust the NC parameters in the app, which could have taken its performance up a notch—much of the similarly priced competition has started to include in-app NC presets and adjustments. So, the IICON isn't a bad noise cancelling pair, but it's priced like the best, and isn't anywhere near the top tier.
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With ANC off and the EQ on "original," we checked out our testing suite. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the IICON delivers powerful deep low frequency response that will appeal to bass lovers. There's a solid balance of highs and lows here, as well, so that the deep bass response isn't an overwhelming force in the mix.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the IICON's overall sound signature. The drums on this track can sound overly thunderous on bass-forward headphones, but through the IICON, they deliver a full, round bass response that gives the drums a natural sense of depth. Callahan's baritone vocals get enough low-mid richness to convey their depth as well, and they also benefit from some highly sculpted high-mid presence. The end result is a sound signature that pushes the treble edge of the vocals and the guitar strums forward, making things exceptionally crisp, while complementing it all with a round, but not over-the-top, bass response.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the high-mid sculpting is once again on display. We hear quite a bit of the drum loop's sharp attack, which slices through the layers of the mix with more force than usual. The loop also gets plenty of bass depth, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with power. Again, the high-mids and highs sound almost slightly too present—the vinyl crackle typically relegated to the background is pushed forward to prominence here, and the vocals, while clear and crisp, can sometimes sound a little overly sibilant.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get plenty of bright presence in the higher register brass, strings, and vocals. Things would sound brittle were it not for some added bass depth, as well—so there's balance here, but this is not a sound for audiophiles looking for an accurate, flat-response listening experience.
One last note about the audio: starting a track adds in some audible high frequency hiss, not unlike the noise cancellation does, but perhaps more noticeable. When you pause a track, the hiss lingers for a moment before disappearing. Is it a dealbreaker? No, but it's not something we commonly hear in this price range.
If the Fiil IICON were, say, $150, maybe we'd be describing them as a steal—average noise cancellation would merely be an extra feature that doesn't define the product, and the audio performance would get some high marks. But $350 is a lot of money, and the noise cancellation here does not justify it, nor do the glitchy audio cables and the high frequency hiss. It's not a terrible product, but it's just too expensive for what it brings to the table. If you're looking for best-in-class noise cancellation, the aforementioned Bose QC35 II and still-available QC35 are your best bets. We've also recently enjoyed the Beats Studio3 Wireless and AKG N60 NC Wireless, neither of which tops Bose's noise cancellation performance, still offer a compelling audio experience and good-enough noise cancellation.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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