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FiiO X3 Review

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 

FiiO X3 Review


Thanks to Advanced MP3 Player's (AMP3) for the loan.




First Impressions:  I note in the box there is a big red card that tells you to go update the firmware, then to go to head-fi.  So firmware duly updated to 2.05 and I think I may just skip the going to the head-fi page for the moment.  Though while I was on the FiiO website to get the new firmware I did cast an eye over the X3 page and noticed something.  The section detailing the internal DAC used.  It’s a WM8740, I’m sure you all know that means it’s a Wolfson but what was news to me is that Wolfson are based in England.  Shame on you FiiO for making such a school boy error.  Also in the box I note a card for HDtracks, the first I’ve seen a DAP that can playback high res files making an effort to direct people to place where you can find some.  And you get a discount too so bonus.  The X3 itself though is visually, erm well, no one’s going to mug you for it.  I can’t say I’m looking at the button arrangement and thinking this is going to be intuitive to use either.  The silicon case it arrived in too, it’s no looker but it should protect the thing from falls.


On to listening and I picked up the RE-600’s as they were on my desk.  The sound seems to be very fluid and a slight touch on the warm side.  I’d kinda expected warm as it’s a Wolfson inside but the 600 is warm so no snap judgements.  Feels very, very fluid. 




Screen:  Yeah it’s fine.  It’s in colour, it will display album art and it works.  However this is no Sony DAP screen.  I found its brightness was okay once I turned it up to max but it remains a screen that serves it purpose rather than one you long to look at.


Battery Life:  The spec says 10 hours, or with newer firmware more like 15.  That seems more apt to me.  In use I just got into the habit of sticking on charge after I used it but really if I wanted I could have probably gotten away with maybe every second or third day depending on use.


UI:  Hmm if there is one area the Far East has issues with its still making UI’s.  The button layout may look “trendy” being on a diagonal but it’s not instinctively intuitive to use.  You will get used to it easily enough but when you first pick it up you’ll have to think and randomly will press the wrong button.  Navigating menus too are odd.  Sometimes you select an option with the play/okay button and others you cycle through options with the volume up and down buttons.  Again you get used it but let’s just say Apple designers aren’t quaking in fear. 


N.B. you have to either manually tell the thing to update or set the “Update Lib” to auto to get it to fully recognise SD card changes.  Took me far too long to discover this and was only by asking in the forums.




In the Hand:  It feels quite nice.  It’s sturdily put together and seems reasonably good.  Like some other things I’m immediately thinking it’s very 80’s styling.  The corners are rounded but I would still not be inclined to put this in a pocket that also has my phone in it as I think the phone would lose that encounter.  I can’t say again I find the layout to be intuitive or fitting my thumb well.


Format Support:  Essentially it plays everything you can think of.  I do really mean everything too, even that most annoying of formats, ALAC.  Yes even Apples “were going to be awkward just because we can” format will work with the X3.  So that copy of things I keep in Itunes for use with the old Ipods will work with it, meaning I’d only need that one copy.  It will also do things like .ogg and .ape files which I’ve never actually seen anyone use.  Still, you’re more likely interested in the array of lossless formats.  FLAC, WMA, APE, WAV are all supported and in high res formats too, up to 192K/24bit for most. (see specs for exact details and I suspect they may change over time as firmware’s get updated)


Also, 64GB cards are supported




Connections:  The X3 is unlike most DAP’s is awash with sockets.  Okay so it’s obviously got a 3.5mm headphone out socket.  Standard fare so far, now on the bottom there is a micro USB socket, ostensibly for charging the thing but with the latest firmware it acts as a USB data in connection.  Also on the bottom is a 3.5mm line out socket.    Where things get more unusual is that on the top there is a digital coax out.  It’s got a 3.5mm jack socket so to got the coax connector there is an adapter in the box.  Personally I’d have preferred it were an optical over coax but it’s not like I’d personally ever use either.  Still it’s a really unusual addition and if you wanted to hook the X3 up to a proper amp and use it as your source you can.



Volume:  It goes to 60 I believe and even on low gain in never really pushed it out of the 20’s.  Its easily capable of going louder than I’m sure you would ever want.





Sound Quality:  This is going to be heart of things.  Acoustically the X3 follows what in my head I think of as the Chinese/Sony sound.  It’s going for that warm, smooth sound.  It’s not too far from the old traditional British HiFi sound too. Warm, rich mellow, a bit sedate etc etc.  quite unlike the more common American, crisper and harder.  In the speaker worlds anyway.  This DAP follows that warmer, richer softer, smoother sound lineage.  The first IEM I spent any time with it was the DN-1000 and I found them rather subdued.  Even the sprightly and crisp MA750i was tamed somewhat.  Not that either were unpleasant to hear, they both have smooth and sumptuously flowing mids.  The bass and highs though, well they didn’t have the spark and enthusiasm I’d have liked to see from those IEM’s.  Jumping then to the Senn IE8 and things rather change.  It’s a much more dramatic IEM with a very V shaped sound and to me it seems a much more lively pairing.  Actually the two make for a really very impressive pairing.


EQ’ing isn’t something I as a rule am a fan of, its pain reviewing things for one.  So I’m not going to go through each variation but go with sweepingly broad commentary.  Sooooo you get a slightly unusual EQ set up here in that its back to the old school bass and treble controls only.  You can bump either up or down in 10 notches in each direction.  If you have a look at the measurements at max the difference is pretty huge so you can really change things a lot!  10dB swings are simply massive.  So if you want to give it stupid huge bass then you can, I can’t say I was very drawn to, maybe a plus 2 or 3 for things like the RE-0 perhaps.  Any alterations were completely distortion free.


A really nice addition here is that you change the channel balance.  If you have some hearing damage as I know there are lots of people that do, you can alter the balance of the left and right channels to match up with your hearing.  Something you almost never see.




Lows:  Smooth and polite.  In its natural state the balance is a hint on the reticent side, it pairs well naturally with rather big and brash bassed things like the IE8 but otherwise it’s a touch maybe too polite.  It doesn’t love to do hard and punchy bass either, it’s not flabby but in aggressive tracks it doesn’t attack with the hardness it perhaps ought to.  Tonally its little warm and genteel.  The quantity in its natural state is a little bit light and reserved.  Of course you can adjust it all the way to stupid amounts if you like or reduce to almost nothing too. it’s a rather Sony like warm bass.


Mids:  This is really where it does its best.  It’s a somewhat mid centric DAP with that warm, smooth and liquidy ooziness that allow the best vocals to just flow.  Vocals all sound superb.  They really are first rate and if you’re a big fan of vocal heavy stuff thin this type of sound signature works just so very well.  It’s the same sort of thing Sony have done for years and I believe it it’s the primary reason that Wolfson has the reputation it does.  They have a signature sound and this is what you get here.  Warm and gorgeously sumptuous sounding music that just flows. 


Highs:  Super refined and smooth.  Rather like the mids they are all about the smooth and sumptuous flow of music.  Any abrasiveness or in your face detail junkies are probably not best served here.  The extension is rather good.  Tonally it’s a bit soft and genteel again, delicate and relaxed.  Of course you can really dial up the quantity levels too if you want but they will never really take on an edgy in your face hyper “clarity” that some like.  Of course if you’re using a very brittle and treble abundant IEM like the DBA-02 they do a good job of balancing.


Detail levels are very good if not always readily apparent.  The tonally warm nature of the X3 doesn’t hurl things at you in the way some other things might. 




DAC:  As of the last firmware update you can plug the X3 into a computer and use it a USB DAC.  So you’re basically getting a free DAC, so yey for that! 


Hiss:  Erm I can’t say I noticed any.


Accessories:  It comes with the aforementioned 3.5mm to coax adapter, a micro USB charging/data cable, a couple of screen protectors, a silicone case and an odd one.  It comes with a copy of “Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show” in 192K/24bit.


Value:  It’s a FiiO and everything they have ever done has been of the very highest value.  The sound quality you get for the financial outlay is arguably better than you will find anywhere else.  They X3 sounds superb and you get the DAC functionality on top, you just can’t argue with that kind of value. 




Conclusion:  Like many things form the Far East there are positives and negatives.  The negatives here being the button layout and the UI.  I know neither things are the end of the world but I liked neither.  The thing isn’t much of a looker either.  However for lots of people with an audiophile inclination these are not exactly that important.  The X3 is cheap and sounds great.


The Sound quality here is really aiming toward that rich, warm, smooth, Wolfson sound that is so popular in audiophile land.  It’s a very tube like sound.  It has plenty of detail and nuance.  It’s a sumptuous sound that I’ve oft seen referred to as a more “organic” sound.  that warm and almost tubey sound that is so fervently loved in some circles.  If that includes you then this DAP is a real winner acoustically. 




Then FiiO throw in a free DAC into to the mix is somewhat we have come to expect from FiiO when it comes to value.  It elevates things to level others will have a hard time matching.  You simply can’t imagine the likes of Sony doing something like that.  Sure the trade-off is the UI is a bit meh and the button layout I don’t like but they are things you can push past pretty quickly.  It’s a great warm sounding DAP that doubles as a DAC and it can play every format you can think of.  That it then cost what it does is the real clincher, for an audiophile DAP/DAC for £160, hell yeah, that is stunning value.

post #2 of 38
Thread Starter 

FiiO X3 Quick Review


Thanks to Advanced MP3 Player's (AMP3) for the loan.


Brief:  Crazy value DAC/DAP form FiiO.


Price: £159


Specifications:  Link there was so much info I’m linking rather than copying it all out here.


Accessories:  A micro USB cable for data and charging, a 3.5mm jack to coax adapter and a silicon moulded cover/case thingy.


Aesthetics:  Its alright.  I don’t love it, don’t hate it, I really don’t have any particular feelings toward its visuals other than general indifference.


Build:  Seems very solid.  Metal screws on the side holding it together.  Buttons all seem snugly fitted too and firm.


Power:  Has more volume headroom than I care to test.  Even in low gain with the HD600’s I didn’t hit 40 out of 60.  I’m not sure it generally loved driving the 600’s though as there weren’t being driven to their best.  IEM’s though all has more than enough power there to sound full driven.


Sound:  At its heart is a Wolfson chip driving things and so as you might expect it has the wonderfully smooth and rich sort of sound.  that tube like warm silky sumptuousness that cares to flow effortlessly around your ears.  Bass is a touch tame tonally, smooth and a hint genteel.  Highs likewise are delicate and shimmering in nature rather than hard and aggressive.  The EQ though allows you to dial up either the bass or treble a whopping 10dB!!!  That’s a huge bump, you can also dial them down the same too.  id be surprised if anyone used more than a few notches in either direction.  Doing so though never changed the tonal nature of the X3.  It never becomes a cold and aggressive beast acoustically, even when hugely boosted the bass is warm and enveloping and the highs retain that sweet and delicate, shimmering nature.  A good compliment for more hard and aggressive earphones perhaps or to enhance a warm and mellow sound?


Value:  It’s what FiiO does best.  For the money they offer more than what you get elsewhere.  Here it sound is superb for the money and then they enable DAC functionality.  I can’t even think of another DAP that can do that right now and that it’s a huge plus in my opinion.  If you are stuck using the headphone out of a laptop this then for you is an epic buy.


Pro’s:  Bargainlishous pricing.  Rich organic sound.


Con’s:  UI and button layout.   

post #3 of 38
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post #4 of 38

Thanks for the review Mark!

post #5 of 38
Good review. Your description of the players sound seems like an iPod Video 5G (or HiFiman HM601), although this player is higher quality than the 5G I suspect. The Wolfson WM8740 seems fairly neutral in my Nationite, perhaps its the output stage that gives the X3 its warm signature ? Would you say this player was more suited to Sennheiser IE8s or Sennheiser HD600 ?
post #6 of 38

Fantastic review.

post #7 of 38

Mark - comparison to the Studio V3 Anniversary?  Likes / dislikes between the two?

post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Sefelt103 View Post

Good review. Your description of the players sound seems like an iPod Video 5G (or HiFiman HM601), although this player is higher quality than the 5G I suspect. The Wolfson WM8740 seems fairly neutral in my Nationite, perhaps its the output stage that gives the X3 its warm signature ? Would you say this player was more suited to Sennheiser IE8s or Sennheiser HD600 ?


well yeah i thought rather 601 like too, same warming smooth sound.  as to which is better suited, for me id go IE8 than HD600 but its not se much about one being "better" but more to my tastes.


Originally Posted by Brooko View Post

Mark - comparison to the Studio V3 Anniversary?  Likes / dislikes between the two?


well they are very different. the studio is cooler, dryer, more aggressively dynamic.  since i tend to have a preference towards cooler and more neutral DAPs and then go with a warmer IEM the studio would likely be my choice.  but then many like a warmer, smoother DAP and then add in a crisper more aggressive IEM like the DBA-02 etc etc. 


otherwise the big differences are that the X3 has the DAC which is awesome functionality if you dont have a good DAC to use.  you cant also ignore the very substantial cost difference.  UI wise they are both as good as each other but the V3rd has more sensible button layout.  battery on the V3rd is truly epic and i like that but in reality doesnt actually matter so much as im in the habit of charging things after a day of use anyway.


tbh the two things are very different devices, price is a big one.  sound sig too means most people are going to prefer one style over another.  however given cost and functionality id say the x3 is better value and more of a generalist.  ie you can have it to be your DAC and DAP,  the pricier V3rd if you have a dedicated DAP and and equally pricey DAC.

post #9 of 38
Nice review my friend - 2 thumbs up!!!
post #10 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by tds101 View Post

Nice review my friend - 2 thumbs up!!!



post #11 of 38

Thank you for a very detailed and genuine review.

I have a question that I hope you can answer.

I'm completely new to the higher end of FLAC/MP3 players and have only just found out what a DAC is, courtesy of a friend lending me a spare to try out on my laptop, so this is rather alien territory to me.

My question is, in your opinion, does the FiiO X3 only really come into its own using high grade headphones (which I don't own), or will it sound fabulous with Panasonic RP-HTX7 (which I do own) or similar, sub £100 headphones?

I hope you can share some advice as I'm itching to buy an X3, but for me, it's still a lot of money.



post #12 of 38
Thread Starter 

hi there, it will sound better than using your laptop im sure.  it will squeeze more out of your Panasonics but im pretty user the panasonics wont get the most out of the X3.


it would of course give you great platform base for when you upgrade the headphones or IEM's you use.

post #13 of 38

Cheers for the quick reply mate, that's pretty much the answer I was hoping for. I'm going to check over my finances then hopefully take the plunge!

post #14 of 38

Is there any control over crossfeed in the EQ?

post #15 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by balor1eye View Post

Is there any control over crossfeed in the EQ?



not that i can see, no.

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