Fiio x3 (third generation) review: for those who care about audio quality

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Pros: Modern form factor, improved wheel, sonic performance, Bluetooth, general features, balanced mode (for those who value it), ease of use (UI)
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INTRODUCTIONMy favourite DAP, and the one I used most often for testing (up khổng lồ last year anyway) was FiiO X3 2nd generation (or X3ii). It was a perfect palm size, had a bevy of features, good nguồn output, was pretty responsive, & pretty much did everything for around 200 USD. In my opinion, there wasn't a DAP I'd seen that could touch it in the value for money stakes. Lượt thích most FiiO DAPs, it took a while for the firmware to mature – but once it did, what a winner. And for me, the X3ii is still as good now as it was then. Great SQ, and killer features including true gapless and trả lời gain, và this time the mechanical wheel was much improved over the earlier X1. So how do you improve on something which is an absolute winner? Today we put the FiiO X3 3rd generation (X3iii) through its paces – so lets find out if FiiO have succeeded (or at least continued the tradition).ABOUT FIIOBy now, most giaithuongtinhnguyen.vn members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary. FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned giaithuongtinhnguyen.vners as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, và continued khổng lồ listen to lớn their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their sản phẩm range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, và despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X7 & most of these DAPs are now into their 2nd or even 3rd generations.They've also developed new cables, desktop và portable amplifiers, DACs, ear-buds và earphones. FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, & most importantly sounding good.DISCLAIMERThe X3 3rd generation (from this point known as the X3iii) was provided khổng lồ me gratis as a nhận xét sample. I have made it clear to FiiO in the past that I did regard any hàng hóa they sent me as their sole property và available for return any time at their request. I have continued khổng lồ use a lot of their gear for follow up reviews, but also for everyday use. I had previously purchased a lot of FiiO products và inquired if I could purchase other đánh giá samples a while ago from FiiO (for personal use). They have insisted I keep any further sample products for for my own use. So I acknowledge now that the X3iii I have is supplied and gifted completely không lấy phí of any charge or obligation. I thank FiiO for their generosity.I have now had the X3iii for around 3 months. The retail price at time of reviews is ~ USD 200.PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.

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(or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 50 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to lớn my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (mostly now from the FiiO X5iii, X7ii và iPhone SE) to lớn my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, MS Pro & AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, & it has mainly been with my own personally owned IEMs - the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and LZ Big Dipper - as well as my 64Audio U10 sample (an earphone I may yet purchase at a future date). A full list of the gear I have owned (past và present) is listed in my giaithuongtinhnguyen.vn profile (note to lớn self - it does need updating).I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera và jazz, khổng lồ grunge và general rock. I listen to lớn a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie và alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, & suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not overly treble sensitive, & in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, & of course the T1 & DT880. I have a specific sensitivity lớn the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, và I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.I have extensively tested myself (ABX) & I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I bởi vì use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend khổng lồ be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables (unless it was volume or impedance related), và would rather kiểm tra myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, và at 50, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends lớn around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.
For the purposes of this review - I've used the X3iii predominantly solo and tested most of the functions I am able to. I have prior experience with entry màn chơi Sony's (very early models), then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod cảm ứng G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, FiiO X5, X1, X3ii, X5ii, X7, X1ii, X7ii, X3iii, iPhone SE, Cayin i5, & the L&P LP5, L5 Pro, and L3.This is a purely subjective reviews - my gear, my ears, và my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.WHAT I PERSONALLY LOOK FOR IN A DAP
I thought I’d các mục (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP at this level.Clean, neutral signature – but with body toàn thân (not thin)Good build qualityReasonable battery life – at least 8-10 hoursEasy to lớn use interfaceAble lớn drive both low impedance và (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.Value for moneyEnough storage to hold either my favourite albums in red-book, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)Gapless playbackReplay gain if availableReasonable EQBluetooth/Wireless if availableDAC if availableDid I get all of this with the X3iii, and more importantly was the X3iii an improvement on the X3ii? I guess I'm in two minds because its still a work in progress. Read on và you'll see why I say that.THE REVIEWPACKAGING and ACCESSORIESThe X3iii arrived in a fully printed black và white retail box measuring approx 110 x 165 x 53mm. The front has a full colour photo of the X3iii & the Sony “Hi-Res” logo. Inside the outer retail jacket is a rigid đen box và lid simply adorned with the word “FiiO”. Removing the lid gives us our first look at the X1ii. Under this is another compartment which is home to the accessories.
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The total accessory package includes:The FiiO X3iiiOne USB data & charging cableOne clear flexible plastic / polycarbonate type caseOne leatherette slip on caseQuick start guide and warrantyScreen protectors
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The accessories are reasonable chất lượng and both cases are a snug fit & protect nicely. With case fitted, the X3iii can be docked into both DK1 dock và also the K5 dock/amplifier.TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
(From FiiO's website), & I've included the X3ii specs, as well as the specs for the X5ii which is now very close in price.

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ModelX3 3rd GenX3 2nd GenX5 2nd Gen
Approx current price$200 USD$140 USD$250 USD
Dimensions~ 114 x 59 x 13 mm~ 97 x 58 x 16 mm~ 109 x 64 x 15 mm
Weight126 g135 g165 g
DSD SupportYes up khổng lồ DSD64Yes up to lớn DSD128Yes up khổng lồ DSD128
Lossless PCM SupportAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMAAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMAAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMA
Lossy SupportMP3, AAC, WMA, OGGMP3, AAC, WMA, OGGMP3, AAC, WMA, OGG
Use as external DACYesYesYes
Battery2350 mAh2600 mAh3300 mAh
Play time~10hr~11hr~10hr
DAC ChipPCM 5242 x 2CS4398PCM1792A
Main amp chipOPA1622OPA1612+LMH6643OPA1612 + BUF634
SocJZ4760BJZ4760BJZ4760B
SNR (H/O)≥112 dB (A-weighted)≥113 dB (A-weighted)≥117 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N (H/O)
Output to 16ohm120 mW SE, 110 mW Bal224 mW436 mW
Output lớn 32ohm160 mW SE, 190 mW Bal200 mW245 mW
Output lớn 300ohm15 mW SE, đôi mươi mW Bal24 mW27 mW
H/O Impedance
Line Out?Yes – combined with H/OYes – separate outputsYes – separate outputs
Digital Out?Yes – combined with H/OYes – combined with L/OYes – combined with L/O
Internal StorageNilNilNil
External StorageSingle sdxcSingle sdxcDual sdxc
Screen320x240 TFT320x240 TFT400x360 IPS
OSCustom FiiO (Linux)Custom FiiO Custom FiiO
WirelessBluetoothNoNo

Slightly larger footprint but more modern looking build + flatterLarger but colder screen (colour)Addition of BluetoothChange from mechanical to touch based wheelUpgrade to lớn internal componentsAddition of balanced outputLower power đầu ra on new modelBUILD and DESIGN
ExternalOne of the first things I noticed when setting my eyes on the X3iii was how much different the external kiến thiết was. It's much slimmer, but also longer & wider. The thinner toàn thân on the X3iii adds lớn the impression of overall sleekness và more contemporary design.
The front is made of tempered black glass & is dominated by the 320x240 TFT screen at the top, and the cảm biến wheel at the bottom. Around the cảm biến wheel are the usual 4 buttons. The buttons are tactile and have a nice feel & feedback to being clicked. The upper left button brings up a context menu that is dependent on the menu you are in. The upper right button is a back button, & puts you back up one hierarchal level. The bottom two buttons are forward, back / up, down / fast forward, rewind – depending on your application. The middle button is simply to lớn select (i.e. Kích hoạt button). Like the X3ii – if you want khổng lồ change volume – hold this button in (when screen is active) and the wheel volume control is activated.On the left hand side is the power on/off và below that the vol up / down rocker buttons. There is also a new programmable button below that, và you can assign this to playback control, cycle the EQ settings, next or previous folder jump, or changing the themes. Below this is the micro SDXC slot (which FiiO says will take up lớn 256 Gb cards). The buttons again give a really nice tactile response, and for my hand, are nicely located within easy reach. At the bottom is the combined tai nghe out / line-out jack (which now also does coax out also), the micro USB port for charging / data transfer, & the new 2.5mm balanced output. The micro USB port is compatible with both of FiiO's current docks – the K5 dock/amp and the DK1 dock.
Power tests with F9, Zen2 và RE2000And no issue with MS Pror & HD630VBBut struggled with the HD800S
The X3iii's công nghệ bluetooth không dây transmitter is much improved over the X1ii, but it still has some tốc độ issues with start-up. The Diva's headset controls all worked well, & I'd definitely use this pairing for out walking. The Diva was also pretty quick to connect again once the X3iii had stored it initially.Next kiểm tra – doing the same with the FiiO's BTR1 lanyard. This time another 10 seconds to lớn find the device & about 3 seconds lớn connect. Connection was again extremely good và the controls on the BTR1 worked perfectly. Operational range this time was a lot shorter (around 4-5m), but the connection was very solid, and using the BTR1 with the X3iii in my pocket was no issue. Checking again with the iPhone SE, and its operable range is around 8m with the BTR1, và the audio is rock solid within that range.So final thoughts on Bluetooth:Works well paired with gear which has reasonable BT receiversOverall not as strong as the công nghệ bluetooth connections with the iPhone SESlow connecting but relatively solid once connectedA definite improvement over the X1ii & a step in the right direction.UI & USABILITY
Anyone who's owned an X1, X3ii or X5ii will immediately recognise the UI. Its pretty functional & divided into 5 main areasSystem SettingsPlay SettingsBrowse Files (folder navigation)Category (tagged browsing)Now Playing
Rather than go through screen-shots of all the UI screens, its probably easier to cover the main features, usability/speed, what its missing, & any issues I think it has.Features
For the price, the X3iii actually packs in a lot. You have your normal settings lượt thích timers, sleep mode, the ability to lớn recognise in-line remotes in compatible head-sets (and the F9 IEM is a perfect match with the X3iii in this regard), language settings etc. There are some nifty additions though. The X3iii comes with 6 UI themes (and they aren't too bad IMO either). You can choose lớn display cover art, lyrics, and also change the on-screen font form size (great for those of us with older eyes), screen brightness, & key-lock settings.In the play settings, there is a 10 band equaliser – which works pretty well, và has presets for those who use them. There is line-out & coax functionality & the line-out can be set to lớn variable or fixed which is nice to have. You can toggle lớn play through folders, and there is a gapless function which works for FLAC but has a very small small micro-gap for aac256 files (its good enough for me).You can browse in thư mục mode, or by tagged library, và there is a rudimentary tìm kiếm function (first letter) which works surprisingly well if you just want to lớn skip khổng lồ a certain album or artist. Playlist functionality is pretty crude, but if you make them with an external app, they are pretty easy lớn manage (I use one for my demo tracks).Use as a DACThe X3iii also has the ability to lớn be used as a DAC or soundcard for your PC or laptop. I tried this on Windows 10, & after installing the drivers, the X3iii was recognised & easily configured. There was no issue with audio lag, và I was able to lớn both game và watch movies with no issues. I also tried with my Linux desktop, & on 2 Linux builds I couldn't get connections. This could well be the Linux set-ups, I really need khổng lồ go back to lớn Debian at some stage. Worth noting though – Linux may not be straight forward (YMMV). When I get more time, I'll bởi more testing.Balanced ModeI'm the wrong person khổng lồ be talking to in relation khổng lồ the benefits of balanced mode on a DAP. There are benefits in power output đầu ra (voltage and mW output) if implemented properly, & this can give benefits when driving full sized headphones which need it. A perfect example of this is the X7ii – that balanced mode is implemented well.But what about the X3iii – where the power output is actually lower. Well lets look at the numbers, and pay particular attention khổng lồ what is audible. The most common bits that people make claims on are that balanced is always cleaner, darker, more spacious, wider sound-stage ....…Lets look at cleaner first. SNR on SE is 112 dB & on balanced is 112 dB. No difference và both (at that level) are beyond what we can hear anyway. Both have THD measurements at 0.002% & 0.003% = beyond our hearing. You'll get a magnitude more distortion from your earphones. Now the important one - crosstalk (channel separation). SE is 69 dB and balanced is 97 dB. That must make a big difference - right?I'm going to lớn quote something I bookmarked a long time ago:
The FCC minimum channel separation/crosstalk spec for FM Stereo used to be 29.7dB...yes, that's right, 29.7. It had to vị with how the signal was generated and handled, but 30 - 40dB wasn't hard lớn achieve, and 50dB wasn't uncommon.The bulk of what is perceived as stereo separation happens above 20dB with decreasing detectable improvements above 30dB or so. It's almost impossible to lớn detect separation improvements above 40dB. Localization of a phantom image depends less on channel separation and much more on relative intensity and inter-aural time delay of the sound, và human hearing response at different angles.So....long answer...separation above 40dB doesn't improve sound quality, below 40dB it slowly degrades, the final separation is equal to lớn the device with the least separation in the system. Once degraded by a device, no device following it can restore separation.
As you can see, SE crosstalk at 69 dB và balanced at 97 dB actually means nothing - we can't hear it.So is the balanced out an improvement on X3iii? No (IMO) – it sounds exactly the same as the SE output when you volume match properly.Missing Features / Issues
The one feature I really miss is the lack of trả lời gain which was working perfectly on the X3ii. For a device like this, I used to love setting the player to lớn shuffle all songs & not having lớn worry about changing volume. With the X3iii sadly we are still waiting, & I'm not sure if its likely lớn be implemented any time soon.The other issue is speed related – both the UI & scanning. I have 6867 tracks all very uniform aac256 on my sdxc card in my X3ii. It scans the entire library in about 3 minutes 30 seconds. Not rocket fast, but OK for someone who doesn't often add new music. The same card on the X3iii takes 12 minutes and 28 seconds. Yep – its that slow! and the UI is a little sluggish (not quite as bad as the X1ii). It lags more than the X3ii, there is often a 1-2s delay between pressing play & music actually starting.Basically, if I was giving the X3iii a đứng top mark for more modern build and aesthetic thiết kế (compared to lớn X3ii), for the UI, usability, speed & even features, that score would be around 6/10 because in reality FiiO have gone backwards on the last generation. The issue isn't navigation either, as the X3iii is very simple lớn navigate. Its simply the lack of some features, & the slow speed.SOUND quality & COMPARISONSThe following is what I subjectively hear from the FiiO X3iii. Some of you may find this section a little limited, so I’ll give you some insight into the way I’ve changed my opinion on how to lớn describe the sound with any competently made DAC, DAP or amplifier. The problem with trying to lớn break the sonics down lớn bass, mids and treble is that DAP / DAC / amp is designed (or should be designed) to be essentially flat across the frequency spectrum. If it has enhanced bass, then isn’t it adding colouration that should come from the headphones or EQ or recording? Likewise, I won’t phản hồi a lot on sound-stage, as this is primarily a by-product of the actual recording, or the transducers you’re using.So how vày I go about describing it? Well my gear isn't great for measuring DAPs but judging by the correspondence from FiiO, & their own measurements, the X3iii is quite linear in its frequency response, apart from a small (0.3-0.4dB) drop in the sub bass from 60 hz down (graphs can be referenced here - http://www.fiio.net/en/products/72/parameters). What I will do is comment on overall tonality & resolution, và also expand further when comparing the X3iii khổng lồ both the X3ii & also the X5ii (which is now a comparable price).For the record – on most tracks, the volume on X3iii was adjusted lớn give me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – & can be viewed in this danh sách http://www.giaithuongtinhnguyen.vn/a/brookos-test-tracks.17556 When I tested side-by-side with other DAPs I used kiểm tra tones, and an SPL meter to volume match. I used the same track, và had the players phối up so I could rapid switch. Testing was performed with a pair of Brainwavz B400 IEMs which have a quite linear/neutral frequency response.X3iii General TonalityI had to kiểm tra first with a couple of DAPs I own to get a base-line for neutrality first. This included my iPhone SE, FiiO X7ii và original FiiO X5 – all of which are essentially neutral, with perhaps the faintest hint of warmth in the tonality. After going back & forth several times, khổng lồ my ears the X3iii has essentially a neutral tonality, perhaps the slightest hint of warmth, và is perhaps slightly cooler than the X3ii, và essentially closer lớn the overall signature of the X7ii.Resolution / Detail / ClarityClarity & resolution is very good for this DAP, but after swapping with some of the other “higher tier” DAPs, the one thing which stood out for me was a slightly more vivid colouration or forwardness in the upper-mids or lower treble which isn't present in the likes of the X7ii. Its very subtle, but becomes more noticeable with longer sessions swapping back and forth. What also stands out though is how good the X3iii is able lớn render both detail and clarity – at this price point it is very good. It misses nothing – from the different nuances of the cash registers in PF's “Money” to the clicks of Withers drumsticks in “Sultans of Swing”. If I didn't have the X7ii switching right now, I'd be even more impressed, but the X7ii is definitely at a higher level in detail retrieval.Soundstage / ImagingWhy is this section even here? The perception of sound-stage in a DAP is a result of the music you listen to (the recording) & the transducers you use. The DAP has virtually nothing to vày with it, as long as it has decent crosstalk measurements, và there is no DSP involved. I often laugh quietly khổng lồ myself when I read reviews claiming one DAP has more sound-stage than another. For the record, I volume matched the X3iii và X3ii, and tested my binaural tracks. Both sounded the same in terms of perceived soundstage depth or width.X3iii vs X3ii