Pros: Cost of the device, universal sound and EQ, features
Cons: UI, Usability, formating problems.
FiiO has been a very popular brand in affordable headphone audio accessories for the past few years. Their line out docks, amplifiers, DAC’s, and plenty of other gadgets have redefined what you can get for your money. FiiO has now launched their first DAP, the X3. This player has been in the works for many years now. It was plagued when it started and went on hiatus until 2012 when it was brought back to life. Now in 2013, The X3 is finally here, and many think it will redefine what a $200 DAP can do. It packs physical and software features that fans want at a good price. I wish to thank FiiO for this review sample, now let’s take a look at this audacious unit.
The FiiO X3 was designed before the E17, so its build is a bit dated in terms of how it looks compared to FiiO’s new sleek and stealthy units. But for the most part, it still retains a lot of FiiO’s qualities. Where it keeps the metal back and combination of plastics and metals. The back of the X3 looks like something current, while the front shows its dated approach. It looks like the back-plate that keeps the current design was added in just for that purpose. The metal on the sides leading up to the backplate is different from the backplate itself. From the sides up, there is a bezel circling the unit. This bezel is plastic, and finally we get to the flat top of the device. Where the top portion is the plastic covering the screen, and the bottom is the (current gen) metal design. Within the metal are 6 buttons and ‘skidding’ strips with plastic bases for the volume and movement keys.
Now that the design of the X3 is out of the way, let’s move on to the bad qualities of it first. The actual quality of the material used on the X3 is a bit disappointing compared to what is used on other FiiO devices, but is a granted. Whereas the E12 and E07K feature pretty hunky metals on them, the X3’s back and side plates feel very thin. Squeezing it a bit hard on the sides and back shows a slight flex of the metal. There is also a notable squeak noise when pressing the unit down showing the looser tolerances in the device. The bezel is also easily chipped and damaged. A slight scuff put a notable but very small chip in it. So be wary of dropping it, although the loose tolerances, and body may protect it. It will come out looking uglier than before.
These are a bit disheartening, but are also understandable. The X3 is a DAP with a big battery, amplifier, DAC and all these parts in it. It has to be light enough so users don’t complain about it being a brick while still being heavy enough. The cost of the battery, materials used in it, and R&D put a probable big cost on the X3. So using airplane grade lightweight metal is also going to be out of the question when this thing has a recommended retail of $199.
Ok, I hope you are still with me, so let’s move onto the goods. This device is still a FiiO device of course. The plastic is pretty durable and isn’t malleable or very bendable. The screen plastics keep it from getting scratches easily whilst the bezel makes it look great without additional use of metal. The utilitarian side design using simple screws around the X3 allow it to be DIY’d in case of battery problems or for any adventurous onlookers out there. If it’s easy and it works, then its good is a fine motto to use. Although the side metal is of lower quality than the rest, it offers enough resistance to pushing, scratching, and any other problems that its really a non issue for most unless they plan on doing a drop test. And lastly, the front and back’s parallel ‘current gen’ FiiO stealthy and sleek metals are still as good as they are on the others. Hard, smooth and sexy is really the word to use. They offer a great feel as you hold it, and don’t have any real issues. The buttons are also quite nice, and much more tactile than I would have thought. There are physical buttons beneath it actually to provide for a better reaction and feel to it.
Overall, the build quality of the X3, fits the device. It’s lightweight and of enough quality for a dap of this price. It allows for maneuverability and portability without being hunkered down by a paper weight and without raising costs. The lower tolerances inside it do make for some squeaks if you press it which is a shame.
The FiiO X3 comes with a few accessories for you to use it. It comes with 2 screen protectors, a white case, USB transfer and power cable, Coaxial adapter, and the manuals it gives you. There is no 3.5mm interconnect cable this time around, but in my opinion, its expected that if you have an external amp you wish to use with the X3, you would already have the cable yourself.
The only real fancy accessory is the Coaxial adapter. Basically, one end is a female Digital Coaxial(S/PDIF) plug while the other is a 3.5mm one. The 3.5mm end plugs into the Coaxial Output port on the X3, and the other end receives a regular Digital Coaxial(S/PDIF) cable. This allows your X3 to be the source, and to allow another unit to work as the DAC and then amp.
FiiO’s current policy on accessory replacements is that they are free. However there is the cost of shipping which is a flat $5 as they are sending it directly international. This was posted on FB and on HF, and is a program they can end at any time. As of this writing, their program is still in place.
As of the writing of this, the SD card support is up to 64GB Micro SDXC with FAT32 formating, there is only one slot. This works quite well actually, there are no problems with recognizing it. Class 4 and above is recommended by me.
Even the lowest class can at max, read or write at 2MB/s. The usual MP3 is about 10MB whilst the lossless FLAC is about 35MB and the WAV at 50MB.
But of course maximum read or write is generally not achieved with these cards. Class 2 is meant for SD Video recording. Not to mention latency and other things with class 2 differences possibility.
For those doing FLAC's. Class 4 at the least is what seems to be the option to use
SD Cards are also a bit of luck of the draw with latency and data buffering(how quick it can start up and start moving data) so keep that in mind.
I personally use a 32GB Micro SDHC Class 10 card because its the same price as the other classes
Formating the SD Card: For 64GB Micro SDXC cards, it is recommended to format to FAT32. I have not used it, but SD Formatter 4.0 seems to work and do what needs to be done. 32GB's and other cards are also recommended for FAT32 formating. This should fix most problems with X3 not recognizing your micro SD card. 128GB Micro SDXC is not yet confirmed to work or if it will work. If it keeps the same number of pins as the current SDXC cards, it should work. But that is not a definite.
This section will be split into software usability (UI) and physical usability. For the software usability section which will be first, there will be 2 section splits. The first section will give you an overview of how the X3 does things, and the second will be on a opinion basis of what I think/interpret the usability of it. Please note, that it will be very helpful if you watch my How-To-Use video above. This will allow you to follow along and get what I am saying better. It is a long video, but will fill you in on it.
First off, I will just give you the overview of the X3. The FiiO X3’s UI is not ultra good looking, but current updates have made it much more appealing to the eye. The first menu includes the settings, EQ access, Browse Files option, Category Options, Favorites, and the Playing option which includes all the folder options. From that layer, I find what are two types of file finding styles in the X3. Automatic and Manual organization.
Automatic Organization is where the X3 takes the id3 (Artist, album, song title, name etc) tag of the song and uses that to auto sort your songs into the play all, artists, genres and albums folders. The X3 basically takes command and does things for you, and sorts stuff. For more info, please watch the video.
Manual Organization is accessed from the front menu, and by going to ‘Browse Files’. Here, you access your files as you would access your hard drives on a computer. The songs appear as they do from your computer. From here, you can organize your songs how you want. If you like to make custom playlists, or have folders and subfolders in specific ways. You can put and organize folders and files on your computer. They will show up exactly the same way when you access the Browse Files selection. Here, folders will be the names you gave them, and organization is done yourself. I have a custom organization on my SD card, so I frequently use this to quickly find the stuff I want. However keep in mind, that all the songs on your browse files folders are the same ones found in Auto. Auto just takes all the songs from the Browse Files sections(your SD card and internal storage) and auto sorts them. For more info, please watch the video.
Actual Usability thoughts now. So what do I personally think of the X3’s UI usability as of FW 1.2? It’s ok but not perfect. As long as all your ID3 tags are done correctly, the UI’s usability is actually quite good. You go into albums or artists and bam, your stuff is exactly where you want it to be. But that’s not always going to be easy now is it? As of 1.2, ALAC/AAC have problems with their id3 tags showing up. Meaning all your .m4a songs will be stuffed into the Unknown Album and Unknown Artist folders. But this should get fixed in a release soon. Next there is the problem for scrolling. The X3 does support press and hold for its volume and movement keys. But imagine having a lot of albums or artists which many of you do. I don’t have that many, and its already a pain to move from the very top(by default) to somewhere in the middle. You can go backwards and start from the bottom, but this doesn’t really help the problem out that much. Most touch devices today allow you a side bar to quickly move to a letter and bam, you reach it near instantly.
Now, is that it? Well no, the X3 does something very convenient for Asian users. And that is list by Track Title and not name. This means that if your id3 tags are set in such a way(and the mass majority are), the moment you reach an artist or album folder. All the internal songs will have their track numbers. So the first track will still be first, but will now have the number 1 next to it. This doesn’t sound like a problem right? It isn’t until you have multiple albums under the same artist in the ‘Categories’ folder. Now you see the problem? You will now have alternations of albums. If you have two albums under the same artist, you will have two track number ones at the top(the first tracks of the two numbers) and then they go down alternating the same way. This of course is great for Asian songs that don’t use romanticization. But not for you if you are reading my review(which is in English if you haven’t realized it yet). (The solution to organizing Artist categories section by Album has been posted by me. Click this hyperlink)This also makes the Play All category impossible to use. Imagine the first song from every single one of the albums you have on your X3 being the first thing you see, followed by all the number two’s and so on. I would prefer an alphabetical play all, but thinking back on it, this wouldn’t help either as there is no scrolling, finding a song out of thousands by constantly scrolling would be extremely irritating. As of right now, the play all function is practically useless.
Moving on, the X3’s system usability besides songs is quite good actually, the player and system settings contain just what you think they contain, and there are shortcuts to adding songs to favorites, viewing their info, and quick access to the EQ controls by pressing and holding the Bookmarks/Back key while in a song. Lack of volume control unless you are in the song as of right now is pretty disappointing though. The volume key also maps to increasing or decreasing other options without entering a sub menu(watch the how to video if you are confused), but it does this for so few things that I think it should still be remapped.
Mr.Panda, Mr.Panda, but what about loading times? Well currently there is still a slight delay when loading some songs, but for the most part, its reaction is fast enough for it not to be a problem for me. Replaying some songs manually can sometimes cut off the first second of the song, but of course, this should be fixed with firmware updates.
But overall, if your id3 tags are correct, the X3’s software usability is quite workable. You can either manually make and use those playlists or count on the X3’s Categories of genre’s, albums, and artists to keep you afloat. Even the mixing due to the track title usage isn’t that big of a deal as you already know what song you want already. The X3 is a deadly device if your id3 tags are a mess though, so use this as an opportunity to clean up your library.
Physical Usability: The X3 is of good size, and reaching the buttons and controls is a non issue(unless you are a chipmunk). The volume and movement keys have a indented plastic guide underneath them. Add this into muscle memory, and after the first week of using the X3, I had no problems finding the buttons I want, but before that, expect frustration. I kept miss-hitting keys for the first week, and especially the first day. This is normal of any new device of course. The hold key keeps things nice and off while on the go, and nothing really protrudes annoyingly. The device is light to hold and offers enough build to be cool. But of course, its not always daisies and roses. The brightness is a problem outside. Even using the winter theme and maximum brightness(which offers the best outside usage) the X3 is still hard to see while outside in use. It’s not impossible but be prepared. If the X3 is sitting in your pocket while walking, the top headphone jack makes it so that you have to put the X3 into your pocket so that it’s actually backwards then how you would normally hold it. This of course is with many devices nowadays but it should be noted. Lastly, is that the micro SD input depth is not fully flush with the outside case meaning that a small bit of the SD card sticks out. It’s about a mm if not less of it sticking out, but this could make it so that you can push it by accident making your card drop out.
Overall, the physical usage of the X3 was not a problem for me while I used it. It was quite nice to use and worked with my everyday routine while walking my dog.
10-12 hours is about what I am getting. This is of course not exact, full brightness is used as well. If there is huge interest in getting an exact number, I may do a full day test. But for now, what is on paper is pretty accurate. FiiO recommends using a power bank on the go.
This drives the AKG Q701’s with no problems(high gain), and can drive even my more sensitive IEM’s without problems as well due to the 60 steps of volume control and using low gain.
Line out and Coaxial Out:
Both work very well. Line out and heapdhone out can actually work and output at the exact same time, this allowed me to do the A/B testing below. However, Coaxial out does have priority over the both of them if the plug is inputted there. I did not detect any sonic problems when testing this feature out.
The FiiO X3 was used in conjunction with my Project-H unit, FiiO HS2, FiiO E12, Miu Audio MRB. And plugged into AKG Q701 and RHA SA950i for the purpose of this review.
The high frequency response of the X3 is for the most part smooth, but is a bit more subdued than normal. The high ranges aren’t as bright and have a bit less shine to them. This is a favorable quality on the go, but as this is an audiophile DAP, its up to the user to decide if they like it or not. As there is less of a shine, this allows for more on the go comfort and lack of fatigue while listening.
The mids are a bit more thin on the X3, they have good detail, but the more strainy/whiny sound they produce is less than desirable. This can add a bit of fatigue to the user, but the amount they are off by is not much. They have a slight upper mid spike of brightness at the very top of the range, but below that, the spike isn’t really there, and features a bit more subduing in the mid range.
The vocals on the X3 are a bit more elevated than normal, this allows the singers to appear more out there. The instruments then take a backwards role with the X3 rather than them both being balanced. This to me is quite favorable as it makes your favorite singers more in the center than compared to the instruments.
The FiiO X3 features a prominent bass region, especially the mid bass which is bumped up a bit. With bassy songs and already bassy headphones, I’ve felt a need to EQ down the bass a bit at some times(a rare for me). But of course, the slight bump in mid bass prominence isn’t to be taken as an overly big one, its just a sonic feature of the X3. The extension of the X3 has no visible problems.
These use the FiiO X3’s line out so that the DAC remains the same while only the amp sections changes.
FiiO E12 - FiiO X3
First of all, the FiiO E12 boasts better transparency in the sense that it sounds more natural than the X3. This is in part due to the mid subduing the X3 does to the instruments. This allows for the E12’s mid range to come off as more forward and apparent than the X3’s. The background of the E12 is also much better than the X3’s. The background of the E12 is much more cleaner. I mean by this that there is more noise and closeness of instruments in the ‘background’ with the X3 than the E12. The E12’s also offer a vocal range that is brought back down, this makes it sound colder(although not the same as neutral), and cleaner than the X3 which makes the vocals more musical. There is also more boom in the bass of the X3 than the E12. Pretty expectable results in my opinion.
FiiO E07K Andes -FiiO X3
The FiiO X3 is the clear winner here, the Vocals in the Andes are about the same with the elevation but are much warmer and actually have a slight less detail and resolution. The warm coloration of the Andes is also even more so than the X3. The entire range of frequencies is also more separate on the X3, where the Andes is more compressed together. The X3 is not only a more neutral amp, but also a more transparent one.
The FiiO X3 is a winner in my book. It's sound is still bassy and warm like one would expect from FiiO, but its not exactly a slouch either. It may have those qualities, but it is on the upper scale in how it reproduces sound by being quite accurate sounding. The UI is actually in working condition and will work with your life very well, granted your id3 tags are done correctly and in place. It is lightweight, and has the features that audiophiles have been asking for, for a while now. The Micro SD capabilities work very well in terms of me being able to manually organize my folders, and internal storage of 8GB's is quite nice for a starters DAP. I would have liked a better build, but this is a dated design and needs to be lightweight. At $199, its a very good new DAP to the market.
Where can I buy it?:
FiiO's site has a where to buy section, use that to locate your dealer and purchase from them.
Power: DC5V,2A /USB Port
FR Responce: 20Hz-20KHz
THD: <.005% (PO) / <.005% (Line Out) /
Output Power: >250mW @ 32 ohms / <16mW @ 300 ohms
Battery Charge Time: 2A Adapter =4 hours / USB port =8 hours
Battery life: 10 hours at default settings
Power Supply: Built in Li-ion battery
Internal Memory: 8GB
Expandable Storage: up to 64GB Micro SDXC Fat32
Weight: 122g (battery included)
Comments, constructive criticisms, appreciation, etc are welcome.