The Fiio X3, like most of Fiio’s over $50 entries is just beautiful. A majority of the X3 is brushed aluminum with a great attention to detail. There is one piece of plastic that surrounds the main face of the device, but other than that pretty much everything is metal. From all my time with the device, a little over a month, I never had any issues with any of the connections on the X3. Everything feels very well constructed.
The connections on the X3 all seem to be placed in places that make sense, to me anyways. You have a headphone out jack, a coaxial digital output (with a provided cable), a hold switch so that you can lock the device so accidental button pushes won’t affect your listening, an auxiliary output and a micro-USB connection for charging and syncing files.
Interestingly, Fiio decided to go with a rather unorthodox configuration for the buttons that control the device. Rather than going with the standard “plus” shaped design with up/down/left/right controls, they went with a staggered button layout. I’m not sure why they did this, other than wanting to fit every button on two rows for aesthetic purposes maybe, but I wish they had gone with the more tried and true route. Well, they didn’t do that, so the important thing to note here is that everything works well, it just takes quite a bit of getting used to when trying to remember which button is the volume up or the fast forward, you get the point. It’s a minor complaint, but one worth noting.
Accessing functions on the device are mostly menu driven. The major exceptions to that are when listening to tracks. When you have music playing, the buttons on the front of the device do what you’d expect them to. You can turn the volume up and down with the right set of staggered buttons, you can go to a previous track by tapping the reverse button, go to the next track by tapping the forward button, or you can rewind/fast forward by holding their respective buttons. To get to the menus, you simply push the menu button (top left on the front of the device) and then you’ll have access to more than a few options. To Fiio’s credit, they did a good job in the menu system as far as putting the things you’d most want to fiddle with on the first screen and all the other, one time changes, are a little further down in sub menus. Depending on the functions you’re changing, you’ll either use the volume up/down buttons to modify the settings or you’ll go to a dedicated screen for changing the options. I’m not sure why they chose to do things differently in each situation but it’s not that difficult to work – just a little inconsistent.
One thing that I do appreciate with this is they have done small little things like a long hold on the menu button will take you to a subsection of the menu options that will allow you to quickly modify sound properties of what you’re currently listening to. I would recommend downloading the latest firmware and instructions that go along with it and read through them quickly. Because there is so much that can be done with this device, it would benefit you to do a quick read of the manual.
One last thing to note on the design – chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re interested in lossless audio. With that in mind, you’ll be happy to know that you can put up to a 64Gb micro sd card in the X3 which will give you a number of albums you can carry with you.
Listening Experience and Sound Quality
This is the section that probably everyone skipped to! First, it’s worth saying that this device will allow you to listen to most everything you can throw at it, most importantly, lossless formats such as FLAC, ALAC, APE, WAV, and WMA. You no longer have to convert everything between a multitude of formats to get your high quality sound! In addition to the lossless formats you also have the ability to play a number of compressed such as AAC, OGG, MP3 and MP2. Basically, you can take any of your audio from your iTunes library and port it straight over, or any of your existing MP3 library will easily come along for the ride. They’ve created a lovely device that lets you focus on listening rather than fiddling with your library.
Obviously they were serious about creating a device that supported a large range of formats, but if they can’t present the music in the best possible way, it really doesn’t mean all that much, right? Well, this is where the Fiio X3 really steps up. They’ve made a huge deal in their marketing brochures about the WOLFSON DAC that they’ve put into the X3 and for good reason. They’ve also made sure to point out that they have a high output amplifier included on a separate chip and the marriage of the two has turned out to be a phenomenal melding of components. The result is an incredibly clean, involving, detailed sound. I put a number of FLACs on the device as well as MP3’s and other formats and I walked away more than satisfied with the sound. I used a number of headphones with the device, including the Beyerdynamic DT990 250 ohm headphones and the music sounded alive. I was mostly impressed with the fact that the X3 is not only a media player that can handle all these lossless formats, but it can drive a high impedance set of headphones without a problem. Everything that I tried, from Josh Groban to Lorena McKennitt, from Timbaland to Phil Collins was incredibly satisfying. All the subtle details of the music were alive and present. The percussion, the sound that is typically mangled the most when compressing music sounded full and untarnished on the FLAC’s that I put on the device. As far as the sound is concerned, there was absolutely nothing to complain about – it is a beautiful listening experience.
The only thing to mention about listening to FLAC’s and other lossless formats is that understanding that those files are basically zipped up files, it stands to reason that the gapless playback isn’t 100% perfect. There are times where there’s a second or two pause in-between songs. I’m thinking they might address this even more with future firmware updates, but for now, expect that it may not be completely seamless.
This will be an easy review to wrap up. Here’s the bottom line – if you’re in the market for the best portable audio quality you can get your hands on and you don’t want to completely break the bank, you owe it to yourself to check out the Fiio X3. The ability to play 5 different lossless formats on top of having a wonderful DAC and amplifier is a combination that is simply amazing at it’s given MSRP. This is the best portable media player I’ve heard to date.
As per usual, excellent review! The unit looks very promising but I really appreciate you pointing out the issue with gapless playback. This is the very reason I no longer own any Sony digital players as they don’t handle the gapless playback at all (despite previously being the audio-quality kings). A serious issue to someone like me who listens to A LOT of dance music mixes and soundtracks that require playback with no gaps at all. Once Fiio fix this (perhaps in the X4?), they can have some of my money.
Thanks Greg! I’m actually hoping they fix it with a firmware update. They’ve already released a couple of firmware updates, and they’re supposedly working on another one that might turn this into a DAC for your computer as well, which would be fantastic. I’ll keep you posted here if I find out anything regarding the gapless playback.
I held on to my Sony player with the exact same hope. Almost 5 years later they still hadn’t fixed it with a software patch (despite several coming through) so I gave up. They STILL haven’t fixed it by the way. You may be waiting a while there Allen… but who knows? Maybe Fiio are different.
One can hope!
Hey Greg, check this out from Fiio’s Facebook page – they are definitely working on making gapless playback be all it can be:
“Improvements & added functions that would be included in the upcoming two firmware versions:
1. The asynchronous USB decoding function to 192K/24B file. So you can used X3 as a portable USB DAC for your PC/Laptop and Mac.
2. Artificially modify the suffix of M4A file into AAC, and display as MOV in the song information.
3. Optimize the playback issue of some certain music files.
4. Improve the gapless playback; lessen its limits according to the settings of ROCKBOX.
5. Battery icon displays as red warning in case of low battery.
6. Add the format function towards external TF card, aiming to fix the unreadable issue due to disk format incompatibility.”
FANTASTIC! I’ll keep you posted as anything changes!
Hey thanks! Very cool. Let’s hope they’re successful!