FiiO Q3 THX Balanced DAC/Amplifier

General Information

Featuring:
1. THX AAA amplifier: low distortion and high power for excellent sound
2. AKM's next generation AK4462 DAC
3. XMOS XUF208 decoding: supports up to 768K/32B and native DSD512
4. 3 mainstream headphone outputs: 2.5mm/3.5mm/4.4mm jacks
5. Analog potentiometer volume knob: quickly adjust volume with great accuracy
6. 1800mAH battery with 10 hours or more usage time connected via USB.

Latest reviews

guitwo

New Head-Fier
An upgrade to the Q1 mk2 but with important downsides
Pros: Digital volume control
Plenty of power for mobile use (IEMs)
Battery and Charge On/ Off Switch
Usb C
2.4mm and 4.4mm balanced connections
Cons: Higher background noise than Q1 mk2
Gain button instead of a switch
No way to know which filter is currently applied
No way to use it as amplifier with 3.5mm output
No line out
Bass gain is more refined but still too much
This is my first review so please let me know if I should do anything differently.

q3.jpeg


Intro
I bought the Fiio Q3 in order to replace my old and loved Q1 mk2, which I was using almost every day. It arrived yesterday and I stayed the night testing it with multiple IEMs and my Hifiman HE-4XX.

I'll be honest and right away tell you I'm a little disappointed!
Everything was going great with my tests, I started from the bottom and tested it with the Moondrop Quarks, Tanchjim Tanya, Hifiman HE-4XX and it worked flawlessly with all of them, with plenty of definition and power, even to drive the 4XX to hurtful levels.

The problem started when I tested it with my Fiio FH3 during the night, when everything else was quiet. As soon as I turned it on and connected the IEM I was able to hear the white noise in the background. It has very low amplitude but it's there and you can hear it, to my disappointment.
Even with the Q1 mk2 the noise was lower, almost unnoticeable, but with the Q3 I don't even had to look for it, it was right there.

Pros
Well, ok, now that I've shared my disappointment, let me tell you about the good things:
  • It has digital volume control, just like the Q1 mk2, which is a must have for me. In this case, there's a potentiometer but the analog audio signal doesn't pass through it, it's encoded to digital and then the digital value is used to control the output volume. This ensures there's no channel unbalance, which is a common thing when the signal passes through a potentiometer, specially with low volumes
  • It has slightly more power than the Q1 mk2, noticeable when I use it with the 4XX.
  • Distortion in high volumes feels lower than with the Q1, but it could be placebo as I don't have the equipment to measure this
  • USB C was an important upgrade over the Q1 mk2
  • It has more options for balanced output, having a 2.2mm and a 4.4mm pentacom connectors, in addition to the 3.5mm unbalanced one
  • Also, the switch to toggle charging on/ off is very welcome, as you can control if the host device will charge the Q3, so you can avoid draining a phone's battery, for example
Cons
And the bad things:
  • The gain switch is not a switch anymore, it's a button, so there's no way to tell the current gain (high or low) unless you directly look at the button, which has an indicating green led
  • The same gain button works to change the low pass filters, but there's no way at all to tell which filter is currently being used (not even by looking at the button, there's no filter indication)
  • I don't plan to use it as a standalone amplifier, but for people that do, there's no way to use the 3.5mm output as it it's used for imputing the analog signal to be amplified. That way, you can only use balanced outputs. With the Q1 mk2 we had a dedicated 3.5mm line out/ input, which was replaced by the 4.4mm pentacom in the Q3
  • Also, with the addition of the 4.4mm output, there's no line out anymore
  • The bass gain was stupid in the Q1 mk2, not in a matter of being an exaggerated gain, but it feels like the low-shelf starts at 500Hz, because a lot of frequencies are amplified instead of just the bass. With the Q3, I feel it's a little bit more refined but still exaggerated to my taste. If I had to guess, I'd say the low-shelf now begins at 400Hz... It might sound good with certain IEMs and it's definitely good with the 4XX, but it screws up with the FH3's amazing region between ~500Hz down to the mid bass (mid bass is where the low-shelf was supposed to begin IMHO)

Conclusion
That being said, I'd only recommend the Q3 if you're not planning to use it with sensitive IEMs or use it as a 3.5mm to 3.5mm amplifier.
For those IEMs, I strongly recommend either Samsung's or Apple's dongle, witch have silent background and enough power.

Other than that, it has plenty of power and definition to drive other not so sensitive IEMs and certain headphones.
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Frisker76
Frisker76
Great review
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Headphones and Coffee

Previously known as Wretched Stare
The detailed choice
Pros: superb sound quality , form factor, USB-C fast charging, very efficient, excellent build quality.
Cons: Less power than the xDuoo and ifi options, a separate USB-C for charging would have been better than a switch.
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My Thanks to https://apos.audio/ for the unit
The Fiio Q3 is a upgrade to the very popular Q1 mkII DAC amplifier, featuring a much more efficient chip set and better support for Higher Resolution files.
Build quality is solid and it looks and feels premium. The box contains and pouch for traveling, three cables 3.5 dual ended , USB-C dual ended and a C-to lightning for Apple products also some protective silicone pads and rubber bands.

Power:
While just finishing my Hip-Dac review before taking the Q3 into testing but the Fiio didn't disappoint with most things in fact it worked much cleaner with IEMs even my Higher impedance headphones worked to a decent point but don't expect miracles its a portable after all and they all don't have the XP5's amazing power. The Q3 seems well suited to low Ohm cans and IEMs even sensitive ones.

Sound:

Bass: The Bass is clear and has a slight lift but nothing too overwhelming to be honest its well done and the boost digs down deep but quite tastefully but does color the mids if used.
Mids: The Midrange presents very clear and detailed , vocals had a good presentation with no sibilance even on boarder line IEMs.
Treble: Honestly seems neutral and very detailed without added boost or harshness, it mirrored the source well.

Soundstage: was naturally open but average and perhaps a little more intimate than other THX amplifiers I have. The imaging is better than average with detail and accuracy to spare.

Conclusion:
The Q3 is a well built portable DAC/ Amp well suited for IEMs and low impedance headphones, it may not be the most powerful of the bunch but it is the best for sensitive IEMs and is the more clear and detailed choice of the top 3 out right now. Battery life is great coming in at 7-8 hours depending on running balanced or not and the 3.5 is both input and output giving this the added benefit of bypassing the DAC.


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giantjohn
giantjohn
Great take. Thanks for this review.

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Evolution
Pros: - Excellent sound
- Analogue potentiometer
- Digital filters
- Charge button
- Usb C
- Fast charging
- Build quality
- 4.4mm , 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs
Cons: - Not the most powerful
- Filter selection without led indicator
- No battery level led indicator
- No bluetooth
Preface

The Q3 was kindly provided by FiiO and is still under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

Q3 is the latest battery powered portable dac/amp offering from FiiO.
It seats just above the entry level Q1 mkii and before the flagship Q5S retailing at about 150$/160€.

You can get it from FiiO.eu
IMG_20201117_180719.jpg


Physical and layout

The resemblance to the Q1 mkii is obvious as are the dimensions with the Q3 measuring 105x59x12.5mm with a weight of 110g.
Sandblasted aluminum is used throughout with built quality and finish being top notch as is the design with the rounded curves and minimal lines making for a beautiful little device that fits securely inside our palm.
IMG_20201117_223245.jpg

FiiO has cleverly added inside the Q3 an extra nickel - copper shield plus highly efficient radio frequency absorbers to completely shield the unit from electromagnetic interference.

The Q3 is equipped with 4.4mm/2.5mm balanced outputs plus a single ended 3.5mm one for easy connection with all kinds of portable headphones and iems without the need of extra adapters.
IMG_20201119_215213.jpg

One of the best features of FiiO's Q line is the use of an analogue potentiometer volume knob that is very much to our liking.
It acts also as the on/off switch and it is combined with ADC curve reconstruction to help improve with low volume channel imbalance.
An RGB indicator next to the volume knob informs us about the sampling rate with three different colours plus whether the battery is charging or it is low and needs to be recharged.
Unfortunately battery level indication is not supported.

At the other end of the device there is the data/charging usb type C port plus three extra buttons.
The one is the bass boost switch that is hardware based and offers a +6dB level increase.
The next one is a multifunction button that when it is short pressed switches between low and high gain and when it is double taped cycles between sharp and slow roll off filters.
A green light goes on for high gain but there is no visible indication to distinguish between the two filters.
Last but not least there is the long awaited and missing from the Q1 mkii charge on/off switch that is very helpful when we do not want the Q3 to drain the battery of the connected device it's being connected to.
A 1800mAh battery supporting quick charge is used to sufficiently power the Q3.
IMG_20201119_215605.jpg


Technical characteristics

Internally the Q3 is completely renovated with all components and circuit arrangement being brand new.
The dac chip used is AKM's new efficient AK4462 with decoding support up to 768kHz/32bit PCM and DSD512.
The dac is used in balanced mode providing symmetrical signal to the low pass filter and then it is amplified by two THX AAA 28 op amps for low distortion and high power balanced output.
The usb receiver is XMOS XUF208 the same used at the flagship Q5S supported by dual crystal oscillators.
The rated power output of the Q3 is higher than the Q1 mkii with 160mW/32Ω and 300mW/32Ω from the balanced out.

The Q3 can act as a line in amplifier with a short gimmick because it's line in port is shared with the 3.5mm headphone out so in that mode we can only use the balanced outputs to listen to music.
The Q3 in contrast to the Q1 mkii does not feature a dedicated line out that bypasses the amplification stage.

The Q3 is fully compatible with iOS and Android devices plus windows PC and it can also be used with Sony walkman players with an adapter cable that is sold separately.

Accessories

As we are now accustomed with FiiO we get an extra large accessory pack.
Included in the box are a dual usb type C head cable , long usb type C data cable , short lighting to usb type C cable , 3.5mm line cable , long and short binding straps*2 , non slip protective mat and a storage bag.
IMG_20201014_213324.jpg


Testing

We have connected the Q3 with various Android devices and a laptop without any apparent issues and we didn't experience any serious electromagnetic interference except one - two times.

In order to test sound quality and driving power plus noise floor we have used various headphones and iems like Sennheiser HD660S , Hifiman Sundara and FiiO FH3 among others.
IMG_20201119_215109_1.jpg

Noise floor is low enough to be used with normal sensitivity iems and power while it is not lacking isn't sufficient enough for power hungry headphones.
The Q3 from the balanced only output can drive low Z / normal sensitivity headphones plus some higher Z that are efficient enough.
As a real life example we have listened to low level recorded classical music with our Sennheiser HD660S loud enough and without clipping with the volume knob set at about 80% of it's available rotation.
Battery duration is about eight hours with high resolution material running headphones from the balanced out at louder volume levels.
IMG_20201119_214816.jpg


Sound impressions

Overall sound profile is natural and pleasant with an even tonal balance and good extension just rolling off at the extremities of both ends.
Truth to be told one must pay extra attention to notice and let's not forget that the Q3 isn't targeted for critical listening.
So in most cases while on the go or at the office even relaxing at home we have listened to a lot of music of various genres without missing a lot.

The Q3 is full bodied reaching low enough with good impact and layering while offering adequate levels of resolution and detail without compromising a lot.
Midrange is very engaging and higher frequencies are portrayed with a softer tone without rough edges.

The new THX AAA is a marvel helping a lot with great dynamics and fast transient response.
It is very clear and can portray a naturally structured and spacious stage that can do justice to most headphones and iems used.

The single ended output of the Q3 is good enough but rather underpowered and in order to unlock the full potential of it we must use the balanced output.
Not only it offers greater headroom but it also takes advantage of the fully balanced circuit that sounds better with greater technical performance.

Bass boost and filters

The hardware based bass boost is well implemented offering about +6dB of amplification without clouding very much the mid bass or overlapping the other frequencies.
Nice to have for bass lovers or to help lower quality mp3 or YouTube material sound better.
Regarding the two filter settings they mostly affect higher frequencies with the one sounding more firm and well defined and the other more rounded and soft.
Differences are very minimal and due to the lack of a visible indication we can't tell which filter is being used.
Anyway even as such it is good to have in order to tweak the sound a little bit.

Versus the Q1 mark ii

The overall sound signature of the two devices regarding tonality and feeling is quite similar.
Where they mostly differ is in the way the sound is presented from an amping point of view due to the totally different amplifier circuits.
In that regard the Q3 can sound more dynamic , slamming harder and with increased clarity.
Headstage is presented with more air and width plus added separation.
All in all a much improved presentation plus the extra driving power.
IMG_20201117_182150.jpg

Other than that the Q3 supports fast charging through a modern usb C interface and we get the charge on/off button plus the two filters and extended battery duration.
So at the end in our opinion the only case to choose the Q1mkii over the Q3 is for it's lower price or if we need a dedicated line out.
The Q3 is an evolved version of the original Q1 mark ii well worth the slightly higher asking price.
IMG_20201117_182207.jpg


Final thoughts

FiiO's new Q3 has to face strong competition in an already crowded market.
But it really stands out offering great sound combined with a plethora of outputs plus some very useful functions and great build quality at a very competitive price.
So if you are searching for a budget portable battery powered dac/amp in order to improve your mobile sound experience and you crave for an analogue potentiometer then the Q3 is an obvious excellent choice very highly recommended.
Pair it with a great budget iem like FiiO FH3 and be lost in a remarkable musical journey without breaking the bank.

The test playlist - http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2020.
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Ichos
Ichos
No not at all.
This is for iems and easy headphones.
Sundara need power.
I will post my Sundara review later today or tomorrow.
DeTinux
DeTinux
Very nice review!
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much!

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