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FiiO X3 Mark III Portable High Resolution Music Player

Rating:
3.5/5,
  1. Brooko
    FiiO X3iii - A step forward and step back
    Written by Brooko
    Published Oct 14, 2017
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Modern form factor, improved wheel, sonic performance, Bluetooth, general features, balanced mode (for those who value it), ease of use (UI)
    Cons - Very slow scanning, laggy UI, missing replay gain
    [​IMG]
    Picture are default 1200 x 800 resolution - click (photos in tables) to view larger images.

    INTRODUCTION

    My favourite DAP, and the one I used most often for testing (up to last year anyway) was FiiO X3 2nd generation (or X3ii). It was a perfect palm size, had a bevy of features, good power output, was pretty responsive, and 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. Like 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 replay gain, and 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 FIIO

    By now, most Head-Fi 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 Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and 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 and most of these DAPs are now into their 2nd or even 3rd generations.

    They've also developed new cables, desktop and portable amplifiers, DACs, ear-buds and earphones. FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.


    DISCLAIMER

    The X3 3rd generation (from this point known as the X3iii) was provided to me gratis as a review sample. I have made it clear to FiiO in the past that I did regard any product they sent me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request. I have continued to use a lot of their gear for follow up reviews, but also for everyday use. I had previously purchased a lot of FiiO products and inquired if I could purchase other review 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 free 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 review is ~ USD 200.


    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (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 my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (mostly now from the FiiO X5iii, X7ii and iPhone SE) to 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 and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and 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 and present) is listed in my Head-Fi profile (note to self - it does need updating).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and 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, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not overly treble sensitive, and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and 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) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do 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 to 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), and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 50, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to 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 level Sony's (very early models), then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, FiiO X5, X1, X3ii, X5ii, X7, X1ii, X7ii, X3iii, iPhone SE, Cayin i5, and the L&P LP5, L5 Pro, and L3.

    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and 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 list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP at this level.
    • Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
    • Good build quality
    • Reasonable battery life – at least 8-10 hours
    • Easy to use interface
    • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.
    • Value for money
    • Enough 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 playback
    • Replay gain if available
    • Reasonable EQ
    • Bluetooth/Wireless if available
    • DAC if available
    Did 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 and you'll see why I say that.


    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

    The X3iii arrived in a fully printed black and white retail box measuring approx 110 x 165 x 53mm. The front has a full colour photo of the X3iii and the Sony “Hi-Res” logo. Inside the outer retail jacket is a rigid black box and 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.

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    Retail boxInner boxFull accessory package

    The total accessory package includes:
    • The FiiO X3iii
    • One USB data and charging cable
    • One clear flexible plastic / polycarbonate type case
    • One leatherette slip on case
    • Quick start guide and warranty
    • Screen protectors
    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    Cables, manuals and protectorsRed leatherette caseClear silicone case

    The accessories are reasonable quality and both cases are a snug fit and protect nicely. With case fitted, the X3iii can be docked into both DK1 dock and also the K5 dock/amplifier.

    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    (From FiiO's website), and I've included the X3ii specs, as well as the specs for the X5ii which is now very close in price.
    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 to DSD64Yes up to DSD128Yes up to 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)<0.002% (32Ω/1kHz)<0.001% (32Ω/1kHz)<0.001% (32Ω/1kHz)
    Output to 16ohm120 mW SE, 110 mW Bal224 mW436 mW
    Output to 32ohm160 mW SE, 190 mW Bal200 mW245 mW
    Output to 300ohm15 mW SE, 20 mW Bal24 mW27 mW
    H/O Impedance<1.4Ω SE, <1.2Ω Bal<0.2Ω<0.2Ω
    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


    CHANGES FROM X3ii

    The main differences between the X3iii and X3ii are:
    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    X3iii vs X3iiX3iii larger but thinnerX3iii screen larger and colder

    • Slightly larger footprint but more modern looking build + flatter
    • Larger but colder screen (colour)
    • Addition of Bluetooth
    • Change from mechanical to touch based wheel
    • Upgrade to internal components
    • Addition of balanced output
    • Lower power output on new model

    BUILD AND DESIGN

    External
    One of the first things I noticed when setting my eyes on the X3iii was how much different the external design was. It's much slimmer, but also longer and wider. The thinner body on the X3iii adds to the impression of overall sleekness and more contemporary design.


    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Left sideRight side

    The front is made of tempered black glass and is dominated by the 320x240 TFT screen at the top, and the touch wheel at the bottom. Around the touch wheel are the usual 4 buttons. The buttons are tactile and have a nice feel and 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, and 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 select (i.e. action button). Like the X3ii – if you want to 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 and below that the vol up / down rocker buttons. There is also a new programmable button below that, and 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 to 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 headphone out / line-out jack (which now also does coax out also), the micro USB port for charging / data transfer, and 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.


    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Bottom / inputsRear cover

    The actual X3iii casing is an aluminum alloy which is beautifully finished, smooth and slightly angular, but also providing an excellent fit in the hand. One slightly weird thing is that the rear panel has a small section right up the top which is slightly different. I'm not sure if this is just the review units or part of the design.

    The new touch wheel is easy to use, and has reasonable sensitivity allowing easy movement and selection, but avoiding overshoot. FiiO has added a feature where you can control the overall sensitivity, and this is brilliant for adjusting the wheel to your own personal tolerances. The wheel is a marked improvement over the mechanical wheel on my X3ii, but falls a little short of the fine control available on Apple's Classic.

    The screen is slightly larger than the screen on the X3ii, but the resolution is the same. Where the X3ii's screen is quite warm (has an orangish hue), the X3iii's screen colour is a lot cooler (blueish tinge). Depending on the album cover, this can sometimes give more contrast, and sometimes less (very dependent on what you're viewing). Both are relatively clear, and easy to read – but both also suffer in direct sunlight.

    If I was judging the X3iii based on build impressions alone – its certainly looks more modern than the original X3ii, and the changes with the wheel are pretty good.


    Internal
    Internally the X3iii has some variation of the chipsets used in the original X3ii, with the SoC the same (both JZ4760B), but the DAC being a change (PCM5242x2 vs CS4398). The LPF and OP amp used are also different (OPA1622 and OPA 2140 vs OPA1612+LMH6643 and OPA1642). In terms of measurements, the specs (refer the table I made above) are so close as to be indistinguishable (distortion, crosstalk, SNR etc), but the older X3ii's specs are slightly superior. The X3iii has lower peak to peak voltage (single ended) but higher current output. The X3ii is noticeably more powerful than its newer sibling in real world tests. The other major difference was the inclusion of Bluetooth in the X3iii (which we'll cover shortly).


    Battery
    The X3iii is powered by a 2350 mAh Li-polymer battery which provides approximately 10 hours use in ideal conditions with an average load (like the F9), and Bluetooth disengaged. In my tests this was achievable using IEMs with the screen mostly off (with just the occasional checks to see how the battery was faring), and the DAP set to play continuously. This was somewhat similar to the X3ii's battery performance (10-11 hours). Charging was slightly quicker with the newer X3iii using a 5V 2.1a battery pack – just over 3 hours with the X3iii vs approx 4 hours with the X3ii. You can also play and charge at the same time if using a battery pack like this. Both have a deep sleep mode, whereby you can put them to sleep with inactivity, and it “sips” at the battery at a much lower rate, and can be almost instantly awakened (relatively anyway).


    POWER OUTPUT
    FiiO's output specs and recommendations show that they recommend use of 16ohm to 150ohm headphones – and the outputs are respectively:
    120 mW at 16ohm (single-ended) and 110 mW at 16ohm (balanced)
    160 mW at 32ohm (single-ended) and 190 mW at 32ohm (balanced)
    15 mW at 300ohm (single-ended) and 20 mW at 300ohm (balanced)

    These are a little less than the X3ii's output – but what does this mean in the real world? With FiiO's 28 ohm 106 dB/mW F9, I was able to get to my normal listening level of 65-75 dB at around 50-55/120 volume on low gain. At 120/120 on low gain, this was pushed to the 100 dB level (again low gain). 65-70/120 was enough to drive VE's 320 ohm Zen ear-buds to adequate volume (although they did seem to improve adding the A5 amp). And even HiFiman's 60 ohm 103 dB/mW RE2000 was reasonably well driven at 55/100.


    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Power tests with F9, Zen2 and RE2000And no issue with MS Pror and HD630VBBut struggled with the HD800S

    I did try the X3iii with my HD800S, and while you could get it loud enough at 80/120, the bass sounded anemic – and realistically adding additional amplification was needed for harder to drive loads. With the HD630VB there was no problem with amplification (50-55/120 was perfect), and the great thing was that the headset controls all worked perfectly (nice). Lastly was the Alessandro MS Pro, and again around 55/120 was perfect for my listening preferences. So for most IEMs, ear-buds and portable headphones, the X3iii should be enough by itself.

    BLUETOOTH PERFORMANCE
    The X3iii comes with both Bluetooth 4.1, and is capable of two way transmission – so you could attach the X3iii to a portable speaker, and also a hand-held controller (like the RM1) and use the remote to control the X3iii, and the X3iii to feed the Bluetooth speaker. So how did the Bluetooth perform in real life? For this test, I used FiiO's BTR1 Bluetooth lanyard and also my pair of Fiil Diva portables.

    First step – turning Bluetooth on – and a 10 second wait between the time the Bluetooth switch is toggled, and the menu returns to say its ready. Better than the X1ii but not good enough in today's modern wireless world. Another 10 seconds to search and find the Diva, but pairing was very quick. The connection with the Diva at close range (ie in a pocket) was very good, really solid and a marked improvement over the X1ii. When I got into high traffic areas the connection was still very good. Next test was leaving the X3iii on the desk and walking away from it. I managed 12m before getting drop-outs. Comparatively, with my iPhone SE, the Diva finds and connects within a couple of seconds, has an operable range of around 10-12 meters (rock solid), and is also very stable in high electronic traffic areas.


    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Bluetooth with the FiiL DivaAnd with the new FiiO BTR + Brainwavz B400s

    The X3iii's Bluetooth transmitter is much improved over the X1ii, but it still has some speed issues with start-up. The Diva's headset controls all worked well, and 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 test – doing the same with the FiiO's BTR1 lanyard. This time another 10 seconds to find the device and about 3 seconds to connect. Connection was again extremely good and 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, and the audio is rock solid within that range.

    So final thoughts on Bluetooth:

    • Works well paired with gear which has reasonable BT receivers
    • Overall not as strong as the Bluetooth connections with the iPhone SE
    • Slow connecting but relatively solid once connected
    • A definite improvement over the X1ii and a step in the right direction.

    UI AND USABILITY
    Anyone who's owned an X1, X3ii or X5ii will immediately recognise the UI. Its pretty functional and divided into 5 main areas
    • System Settings
    • Play Settings
    • Browse Files (folder navigation)
    • Category (tagged browsing)
    • Now Playing

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Main menuSystem settingsMusic settings
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    EqualiserTagged browsingNow playing screen

    Rather than go through screen-shots of all the UI screens, its probably easier to cover the main features, usability/speed, what its missing, and any issues I think it has.

    Features
    For the price, the X3iii actually packs in a lot. You have your normal settings like timers, sleep mode, the ability to 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 to display cover art, lyrics, and also change the on-screen font size (great for those of us with older eyes), screen brightness, and key-lock settings.

    In the play settings, there is a 10 band equaliser – which works pretty well, and has presets for those who use them. There is line-out and coax functionality and the line-out can be set to variable or fixed which is nice to have. You can toggle to 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 folder mode, or by tagged library, and there is a rudimentary search function (first letter) which works surprisingly well if you just want to skip to a certain album or artist. Playlist functionality is pretty crude, but if you make them with an external app, they are pretty easy to manage (I use one for my test tracks).


    Use as a DAC
    The X3iii also has the ability to be used as a DAC or soundcard for your PC or laptop. I tried this on Windows 10, and after installing the drivers, the X3iii was recognised and easily configured. There was no issue with audio lag, and I was able to both game and watch movies with no issues. I also tried with my Linux desktop, and on 2 Linux builds I couldn't get connections. This could well be the Linux set-ups, I really need to go back to Debian at some stage. Worth noting though – Linux may not be straight forward (YMMV). When I get more time, I'll do more testing.


    Balanced Mode
    I'm the wrong person to be talking to in relation to the benefits of balanced mode on a DAP. There are benefits in power output (voltage and mW output) if implemented properly, and 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 to 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 and on balanced is 112 dB. No difference and both (at that level) are beyond what we can hear anyway. Both have THD measurements at 0.002% and 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 quote something I bookmarked a long time ago:

    As you can see, SE crosstalk at 69 dB and 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 replay gain which was working perfectly on the X3ii. For a device like this, I used to love setting the player to shuffle all songs and not having to worry about changing volume. With the X3iii sadly we are still waiting, and I'm not sure if its likely to be implemented any time soon.

    The other issue is speed related – both the UI and 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 and music actually starting.

    Basically, if I was giving the X3iii a top mark for more modern build and aesthetic design (compared to X3ii), for the UI, usability, speed and 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 to navigate. Its simply the lack of some features, and the slow speed.


    SOUND QUALITY & COMPARISONS

    The 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 describe the sound with any competently made DAC, DAP or amplifier. The problem with trying to break the sonics down to 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 comment a lot on sound-stage, as this is primarily a by-product of the actual recording, or the transducers you’re using.

    So how do I go about describing it? Well my gear isn't great for measuring DAPs but judging by the correspondence from FiiO, and 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 and resolution, and also expand further when comparing the X3iii to both the X3ii and also the X5ii (which is now a comparable price).

    For the record – on most tracks, the volume on X3iii was adjusted to give me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.17556 When I tested side-by-side with other DAPs I used test tones, and an SPL meter to volume match. I used the same track, and had the players set 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 Tonality
    I had to check first with a couple of DAPs I own to get a base-line for neutrality first. This included my iPhone SE, FiiO X7ii and original FiiO X5 – all of which are essentially neutral, with perhaps the faintest hint of warmth in the tonality. After going back and forth several times, to my ears the X3iii has essentially a neutral tonality, perhaps the slightest hint of warmth, and is perhaps slightly cooler than the X3ii, and essentially closer to the overall signature of the X7ii.


    Resolution / Detail / Clarity
    Clarity and 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 to 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 / Imaging
    Why is this section even here? The perception of sound-stage in a DAP is a result of the music you listen to (the recording) and the transducers you use. The DAP has virtually nothing to do with it, as long as it has decent crosstalk measurements, and there is no DSP involved. I often laugh quietly to myself when I read reviews claiming one DAP has more sound-stage than another. For the record, I volume matched the X3iii and X3ii, and tested my binaural tracks. Both sounded the same in terms of perceived soundstage depth or width.


    X3iii vs X3ii

    [​IMG]
    This will be pretty quick. In terms of form factor and overall build quality, the new X3iii is a step up for a more modern design, both in terms of how it feels, looks, and especially how the navigation wheel operates.

    In terms of sound – they are virtually identical (slight difference in overall warmth/tonality) – I could happily live with either.

    In terms of features, the X3iii adds Bluetooth, and this time it is well implemented in terms of stability. The X3iii also handles IEM's with on-control cables very well. But it gives up replay-gain (which I really miss), and it is also less powerful than the 2nd generation.

    So now we come to speed and usability, and I'm afraid this is where the X3iii simply isn't an improvement – its actually a regression. The newer X3iii is simply slower, laggy, and at times extremely frustrating.

    Overall – is it an improvement? I have to actually say no, and especially when the X3ii is so much cheaper now. The X3iii looks and feels better, has reasonably well implemented Bluetooth, and the navigation is an improvement – but the speed issue detracts from what could have otherwise been an overall improvement.


    X3iii vs X5ii

    [​IMG]
    The X5ii was a great value DAP in FiiO's line-up, and with the introduction of their newer Android based DAPs, you can now get one brand new for not much more than the price of an X3iii – which makes this a very valid comparison.

    Physically the X3iii is a little slimmer, a little narrower, and slightly longer than the X5ii – so you could say they are similar overall size. The X3iii does look more modern, and the wheel is an improvement over the mechanical wheel on the X5ii. In terms of hardware though, the X3iii gives up a lot of power, and the ability to have a larger collection (the X5ii has dual sdxc slots). You do gain the Bluetooth functionality and also the balanced output.

    In terms of sound, they both have extremely similar tonality and I think I'd struggle to tell the two apart in a blind test. For speed and usability, the X5ii is the better implemented DAP, and also has the properly implemented replay gain. I guess this one comes down to what your overall use is. If Bluetooth and/or balanced operation is important to you, then the choice is simple. If you use neither, I'd probably suggest that you'll get more features and better user experience from the X5ii.


    X3iii vs Cayin N3

    [​IMG]
    The Cayin N3 is the new “darling” DAP from Cayin and is really making waves for its features and its sound quality – especially at this price point. The N3 is smaller physically, and both it and the X3iii are very well built. In terms of power (again referring to the specs), the N3 has slightly lower power output, but its near enough to be in the same ballpark (130 mW vs 160 mW into 32 ohms). The N3 has an AK4490EN DAC under the hood, so this gives it the ability to play all the formats the X3iii can cover, as well as DSD up to DSD256. The N3 also has Bluetooth, and it has about the same stability as the X3iii. Battery life (per specs) is around 12hr for the N3 vs 10hr for the X3iii.

    The N3 is a lot faster – loading the library, scrolling, and general speed of use. Both units sound very good for the money (although I would say the N3 is the slightest bit smoother/flatter and the X3iii is the tiniest bit more vibrant/edgy), and general SQ is again good to above average for the price point with both DAPs. The UI is slightly easier to navigate with the X3iii's wheel, but I'm sure given time I'd get used to the N3's button layout.

    Which leaves us again with features – and you could argue that the N3 has slightly more features for a lower price (slightly better implemented gapless, and has working replay-gain). At this stage the N3 looks to be the better overall buy.


    VALUE

    So how do I see the overall value of the X3iii? This is really a tough one, as if you look in isolation, FiiO have created a device that sounds really nice, and has some nice features. It just handles pretty poorly (slow). I guess I'm on the fence with this one – paired with the F9, its nice and light, easy to use (on cable controls), and if I just hit shuffle its a pretty good experience. But as soon as you go to delve deeper into the UI, things start to slow up and the lag gets noticed. For the features you're getting your moneys worth. For the lag though – it takes a lot of the gloss off the price. What doesn't help is the better options that are out there for similar money.

    FIIO X3iii – SUMMARY

    My thanks to FiiO for their support with my questions, for supplying the review sample, and for including me in their review rounds.

    The X3iii is a very well presented DAP with good build which looks great and feels really nice in the hand. It has a pretty decent feature-set overall, which includes EQ, tagged and folder browsing, gapless (almost perfect) and even a search function. It has enough power for most portable headphones, and decent (although not stellar) battery life.

    FiiO has added Bluetooth this time round, as well as a balanced output. The Bluetooth is well implemented (can be a bit slow though), and while I personally don't see much use in the balanced output, others may see things slightly differently.

    Its major failing is in its overall speed – both in scanning (simply dreadful) and generally laggy UI.

    If you don't mind the laggy behaviour, and simply want a very good sounding DAP for ~ USD200, then the X3iii fits the bill because it really sounds quite nice. But again – if that's what you're looking for, there are some better options out there. My recommendation would be to look at the Cayin N3, or older model FiiO X3ii or X5ii. Each are IMO simply a far better value proposition.

    Its hard rating this one, because its actually a pretty good DAP. But the overall speed can't be overlooked, and I do think there are better options out there. Overall 3.5 stars from me. Fix the speed and introduce replay-gain, and you're heading closer to 5.


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    X3iii balanced with the B400Great for Blues with the MS Pro
    1. hieple193
      Did firmware update inscrease the speed and other problems?
      hieple193, Dec 21, 2018