Review of FiiO X3 2nd gen DAP w/lots of pics!!!Accessories


  1. twister6

    twister6 Guides Guide

    This is a Review of FiiO X3 II (2nd gen) DAP. http://www.fiio.net/en/products/39 and also available on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Generation-Resolution-Player-Titanium-NEWEST/dp/B00VR5JHVK/?tag=vectron00-20

    As a diehard fan of FiiO audio products, I feel a little embarrassed how the original X3 II announcement flew under my radar. Can't believe I almost missed it considering I used to count days before X5 and X1 releases, knowing in depth specs of those new gen FiiO DAPs that followed up their popular X3 – the original FiiO DAP that started it all. I guess it’s very easy to get overwhelmed in today’s “DAP” market with so many new releases and announcements where unfortunately some companies pay more attention to sound quality rather than design ergonomics or the other way around with fancy looks to compensate for performance shortcomings. Also, a trend of using popular brand name chipsets for marketing hype can stir you the wrong way if you don’t consider a fact that without experience of a proper architecture design, schematic capture, and layout tricks – not even the best and the most popular DAC going to make your DAP sound good.

    I became a fan of FiiO not because I get a chance to review a lot of their products, but because I see they really know what they are doing, they have a clear plan of how to do it, they deliver on their promises, and they have a great support. But going back to my "confession" intro, perhaps I was under an impression that FiiO already covered entry level DAP market with their budget X1 ($99) and upper mid-fi market with X5 ($349), while the upcoming X7 ($TBD) should make a serious dent in TOTL hi-fi market. So where would X3 II fit in? For starters, it can still fit in very comfortably in a pocket of your pants (lol!!!), and it got a few tricks under its supercharged X1-hood to go head-to-head with some of the more expensive DAPs. So let’s take a closer look at what I found after testing this new release from FiiO and comparing it against their other DAPs.

    Starting with packaging, I do appreciate FiiOs attention to details with a sturdy carton "gift" box inside of a packaging sleeve which comes handy for storage of DAP and accessories. It definitely enhances your unboxing experience and adds to a premium feel of the product versus cheap plastic throwaway packaging. I do have to note that considering this is an early review unit, it still has X3K label on the cover though moving forward it will be changed to either X3 or X3 2nd gen. X3K was an early reference, similar to updated designs of E10k and E11k where "k" suffix was added to distinguish a new model. Moving forward, the model number should stay the name, only new generation reference will be used to indicate updated version. Also, on the back of the packaging sleeve/box you still have a comprehensive listing of main functionality and spec summary.

    Unboxing.

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    With a cover off, sitting in a protective foam cutout you will find X3 with a very familiar “face” of X1 DAP dressed in a silicone black skin. In addition to this skin and already attached screen protector, as part of the included accessories you will also find additional replacement screen protectors, a charging power/data usb to micro usb cable (quality thick cable to handle 2A charging), Coax digital patch cable, personalized skin stickers (3 sets with wood finish, carbon fiber, and USA flag?!?), warranty card, a quick start guide, and X3 II quick reference card. Obviously, personalized stickers are for scratch protection, though I would prefer to carry X3 II naked without any stickers covering its slick titanium finish aluminum alloy body (front to back). As a matter of fact, in comparison to X1 where the back was plastic, X3 II is all metal including a thicker metal back cover where thickness of the unit is the main physical exterior difference between X1 and X3 II. Another interesting detail I noticed was a transparent film used on the back of the DAP - comes handy to protect back of X3 II from scratches without covering its smooth back, just wish they would include a spare set.

    At the same time, for a piece of mind, silicone skin does a good job protecting from both scratches and minor drops, not to mention of being an excellent lint magnet lol!!! Also, I was pleased to see FiiO guys finally added a small pinhole in silicone skin at the front bottom of the case to show power led. Other open ports in this silicone case are micro-usb at the bottom, and 3.5mm HO at the top, with LO/Coax port cover with a rubber flap to keep dust away. Obviously there is a cutout for navigation wheel, while 4 control buttons and volume up/down and power are covered/sealed with a raised shape imprint. As a bonus, X3 II will have add on accessories with HS12 stack up kit (the same as X1), LC-FX3221 leather case (crafted to access all the buttons without flipping a cover), and C03 clear plastic cover case - all to be purchased separately. If I get a hold of these accessories, I will update my review with additional pictures.

    Accessories.

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    For anybody familiar with X1 footprint, physical exterior design of X3 II will be nearly identical with an exception of a slightly thicker body – only 2mm difference. Other than that, you will be greeted with a familiar layout of 2” TFT screen (with a decent contrast and 320x240 resolution) and a mechanical scroll wheel with a large round button in the middle and 4 small round buttons in the corners. Furthermore, you have 3 buttons on the left side where a Power button is leveled with a body of the housing (to prevent accidental power up/down) and a slightly raised volume up/down with a small dimple on volume up which you can id just by sliding a finger across it. Buttons have a nice tactile response, and there is no rattling or shaking. Right above the volume/up, there is a Reset pinhole, something fortunately I didn't have to use during my testing. Micro-usb port is at the bottom, along with a pair of pentalobe screws located toward the corners. MicroSD card (X3 II supports up to 128GB) is at the bottom corner of the right size, and at the top you have a dedicated Headphone Out (HO) 3.5mm port and a shared Line Out (LO) and Digital Coax Out port.

    I have been enjoying FiiO’s mechanical scrolling wheel since the day I got X5. After awhile of using it, I did find some little issues, but to this day it’s still my favorite navigation control. I’m sure FiiO got a lot of feedback from their users, and with every new release I see the wheel being updated with further improvements. Keeping in mind my X5 was the original production unit and X1/X3 were early preproduction review samples, here is how I would rate evolution of this navigation wheel:

    X5 - mushy, a bit loose, no feedback, and feels plastic to the touch.
    X1 - a little tighter control, some click-feedback, and still feels plastic and slippery to the touch (a wheel "friction" sticker would definitely benefit in here).
    X3 - rubbery finish with a nice grip, wheel feedback with a noticeable click, a better scrolling control.

    Design details.

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    Last edited: Apr 13, 2015
    #1
  2. twister6

    twister6 Guides Guide

    After turning X3 II on, you are greeted with a fast boot up sequence. I'm always pleased to see how with every new release FiiO firmware feels more stable and polished. This is definitely not your typical beta software release, and actually feels mature and solid. Obviously, FiiO didn't start it from scratch but rather found a way to port X1 firmware and GUI as a basis for X3 II. But still, X3 II boot up and shut down time was faster than X1 and X5. Another really cool and very useful feature FiiO added in X3 II is a new power management referred to as "deep hibernation". Even so X3 II comes with a very capable 2600 mAh battery which I was able to verity lasting anywhere from 10hrs to 11+ hrs (depending on audio source files and listening volume level), you still get a deep sleep mode with idling to conserve battery drain down to less than 5mA of current draw. And with a click of a Power button it wakes up instantaneously "on" again!

    Besides a fast boot up, you also will be happy to know that FiiO continued with a same new GUI introduced in X1 - a cleaner interface in comparison to X5. Staying consistent with their original interface, you have a status-notification bar at the top with a volume level, gain setting, menu selection, flash card presence, and battery status. The only thing that would have been good to see in there is EQ indicator to know if it's off or on with a preset. In the main screen section, you are presented with 5 menu choices, scrolled in a circular motion. With a help of a scrolling wheel it's a simple operation which is comfortable for either left or right hand navigation with turning a wheel to simulate scrolling, pressing middle button for Enter/Select/Play/Pause/OK, upper left for Shortcuts key, upper right for Back/Main Menu with hold down, lower left for up/prev/rewind, and lower right for down/next/fast forward. Also, holding down the middle button gets you into Volume change so you don't even need to push dedicated volume up/down buttons. Another fantastic feature is a support of headphones with in-line remote to Play/Pause and double/triple click to skip tracks - a fantastic feature to remotely control X3 II (the same as X1) hidden in your pocket or while exercising.

    So, back to the GUI and menu selection. Starting with Now Playing you will see a list with all of your songs, displayed by what appears just a file name. Category sorts songs in a more organized sub-categories of All Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, Favorites (which you can tag individually), and Playlists. Browse Files gets you to select MicoSD card folder or OTG folder (confirmed to be working like a charm, reading files from usb otg microSD card reader and usb otg thumbstick). Also, I like a folder view since I have albums in separate folders while misc songs are below it in a separate list. Moving on to Play Setting, you get a nearly identical to X1 menu selection with Play Mode (with different repeat and playback mode options), Resume Mode, Gapless Playback, Max Volume and Default Volume, Fixed Volume, Gain (L/H), 10-band EQ with a number of quality presets and custom setting option, Balance (L/R), and Play Through Folders option. The last Main Menu selection is System Setting, also with a similar selection of choices like you can find in X1 and X5. Those include Media Library Update (Manual/Auto), Key-lock setting (key function setting when screen is off), Screen timeout, Brightness setting, Idle poweroff, Idle poweroff time, Sleep mode, Sleep timer, Multifunctional output (Line Out vs Coax Out), USB mode (storage vs DAC), Theme selection (among 6 color choices), Support in-line headphone control (enable/disable), File Name display (by file name or title), About X3 (with info about microSD card capacity, number of songs, and firmware version, as well as full Quick Start Guide), Language selection, Storage formatting (helps to format Fat32), and Factory reset.

    Graphic User Interface (GUI)

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    I personally think that ergonomics of hardware interface and layout of GUI is very important in DAP design. You can have the best sounding DAP in the world, but if its operation is awkward and uncomfortable - it will take away from the enjoyment of the product. At the same time, sound performance is still very important. When I reviewed X1 and compared it to X5, I was impressed with a scaled down design for under $100, and always commented “for the price, it sounds great” where the sound improvement came when paired up with an external amp. But there was always a big gap with a clear separation in sound quality and features/functionality between X1 and X5. With introduction of X3 II, FiiO is bringing this gap closer.

    X1/X3/X5

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    First of all, starting with fundamentals, FiiO used a better DAC and amplification stage similar to X5. Before anybody calls me a hypocrite considering I always preach about treating a DAP like a black box where I don’t care about its chipset, I’m only bringing this up for a relative comparison of improvement and considering I have other DAPs that use the same Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC. As a matter of fact, Hidizs AP100 uses the same DAC and it was an interesting comparison to find X3 II vs AP100 having a similar sound sig tonality where X3 sound was a little tighter and punchier while AP100 was a little more airy and wider and slightly more transparent, perhaps due to a different amplifier section. As a step up to utilize quality of this new DAC, X3 II also added USB DAC functionality similar to X5, where you have a simple plug’n’play connection to your laptop/PC to turn X3 II into an external audio card. As a bonus, due to a native DSD support/decoding, you can play high res DSD files after you install corresponding drivers and plug for your audio player (Windows).

    And speaking of audio formats, X3 II is a true hi-res DAP supporting everything under the sun, from lossy compression MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG to lossless formats of DSD (DSD64 and DSD128), APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, and Apple up to 192kHz/24bit. I was especially impressed with native handling of DSD files decoded in hardware, something X5 supports through internal conversion to PCM only. But ironically, you do need a considerable amount of space for DSD files where X3 II only supports a single 128GB microSD card, while X5 supports 2 cards. Still, not a show stopper considering X3 II was upgraded with USB OTG support where you can attach external drive to expand your storage capacity – very convenient using some of the latest usb otg mini thumb drivers or usb otg microSD card readers.

    USB DAC and USB OTG.

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    So how does it actually sound? Figuring out sound signature of DAP is a bit tricky since you’re judging it through a sound signature of headphones, and as a result need to reference the sound to other sources or be very intimately familiar with a sound sig of your headphones from a flat source. To my ears X3 II has a full body balanced sound with a touch of warmth and a bit of enhancement toward the low end. The sound is detailed and smooth, background is relatively black, and soundstage is above average. I don’t have any high impedance cans or super sensitive IEMs, but I can reassure you that level of hiss with some of the sensitive IEMs in my collection was on the same level as X5. In comparison to X3 II, X1 is warmer and darker and bassier, clear but not with the same level of detail retrieval, and with a sound being a bit more congested and not as wide. Looking at X5, in comparison it’s thinner and brighter, more revealing and open/airy, and with a wider soundstage.

    Some might consider X3 II sound to fit right in the middle of X1 and X5 sound sigs. I personally do consider X3 II to be a noticeable improvement over X1, but with X5 it almost felt like a sidegrade, though still being a notch below. It is not on the same revealing level as X5, but at the same time I found it to have a much better synergy with some of my brighter/analytical headphones to smooth out the harsh top. As an opposite, my darker/bassier headphones sound better with X5 to “clean up” a sound. So for example, A83 was a better pair up with X3 II while UM Pro 50 was a better match for X5. But you are not limited to being tied up to HO output, and with added flexibility of LO, you always have an option to try different external amps. For the purpose of this test, I used E11k and E12A amps, keeping it all in FiiO family! Here are some of the observations I found comparing X3 II against X1 and X5 with different combinations of amps. To keep the write up cleaner, I will refer to X3 II as “X3”, and obviously I’m referring to HO output of DAP when used without an external amp. Also, testing was done using ATH-MSR7 headphones.

    X3 vs X3+E11k - I prefer HO of X3 vs X3+E11k since E11k affects soundstage a bit and makes sound a little bit darker.

    X3 vs X3+E12A - adding E12A improves soundstage a bit, makes sound wider, slightly better retrieval of details, a little better separation/layering, definitely an improvement.

    X3 vs X1+E11k - X1/E11k combo is brighter and more transparent in comparison to X1 by itself, but still sound is a little warmer and with more sub-bass rumble comparing to X3. The tonality of X1 gets cleaned up, but its warm characteristics is still amplified. In comparison, X3 still sounds more neutral, transparent, and more detailed, not by a huge margin, but noticeable enough.

    X3 vs X1+E12A - X1/E12A combo takes it to a whole new level with improved detailed sound, closer to a neutral level with just a little bit of low end boost inherited from original X1 sig. With an exception of that "bass boost", X1+E12A pair up closed a gap with X3, bringing it almost to the same level.

    X5 vs X3+E12A - X5 sound is more neutral and transparent in comparison to X3/E12A, also it's a little thinner with less body, while X3/E12A is a touch warmer, with a faster mid-bass attack, and overall having a more energetic sound.

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    While test and comparison between X1/X3/X5 and different amp combinations is valuable, my next test round was using three different pairs of IEMs directly from HO of X1/X3/X5 to compare the sound. For this test I choose to use Fidue A83 3-way hybrid since it has a great low end reproduction and bright top end, UM Pro 50 5-way BA with silver litz cable since it’s my darkest signature IEMs with a smooth sound and excellent bass, and Havi B3 Pro 1 which is neutral warm dual-driver known to be power hungry.

    A83 testing (stock silver/plated cable).

    X1: warm and smooth sound, not as much low-end definition, upper mids/treble are less revealing, soundstage is just average.
    X3: brighter sound with better layering/separation, punchier bass with more details, more clarity and details in mids/treble which still remains smooth, wider staging.
    X5: more revealing, vivid/open/airy sound, punchy detailed bass, upper mids/treble are more analytical/revealing, pushing it to a borderline harsh. Treble is crispier, with a little better extension. Soundstage is a bit more 3D.

    UM Pro 50 (w/Pure Silver Whiplash Litz cable).

    X1: warm dull sound, bass is too rounded (slow attack), lower mids are a bit thick, upper mids are too warm and overly smooth, treble doesn't sound too extended. Soundstage is narrow.
    X3: still warm sound, but more detailed. More definition and punch in the bass, better separation with lower mids, upper mids brighter and clearer. Better treble extension, but not as much sparkle, still smooth. Soundstage has more depth.
    X5: still warm sound but improved transparency and retrieval of details. Bass punch is slightly improved, separation with lower mids is still good, upper mids are still clear and brighter, treble has more sparkle and improved extension. Soundstage is wider and deeper.

    B3 Pro 1 (v# signifies volume where X1 doesn’t have Gain selection, so volume dial is lower).

    X1: (v55) warm and bassy, bass is textured and with a slower attack, good separate from lower mids, clear upper mids, nice smooth treble with a good extension, soundstage has an average width.
    X3: (v77) warm and bassy, bass has more crunch and a faster punch, more transparency and better layering and separation, mids are more detailed and brighter, treble has a better extension and more crunch. Soundstage is wider.
    X5: (v75) more neutral with enhanced bass, bass has a deeper texture and more details, better separation from lower mids. Mids are smooth and detailed, not too bright. Treble is brighter and has more extension. Soundstage is open, and with more width and depth.

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    Overall, I think X3 II was definitely a big surprise for me. I know that FiiOs product line is partitioned with X1<X3<X5<X7 in order of design and sound improvement, and I was expecting X3 II to fit right in the middle between X1 and X5, but in reality found it to be closer to X5. With some bright/revealing headphones I felt a synergy with X3 II to be even better than with X5. Without a single doubt in my mind, I would say that X3 II is easily worth a double of X1 pricing due to an additional improvements of a new DAC and amp section, USB DAC support, native DSD playback, dedicated LO port, USB OTG support, 10 band EQ (vs 7 band in X1), selectable L/H gain, and very useful Deep Sleep mode. X1 is still a great DAP if you are on a budget of $100 or planning to pair it up with a good external portable amp. But in my honest opinion if you are deciding between X1 and X3 II or thinking about upgrading X1, I would strongly recommend looking into X3 II. Sure, X5 is another step up, but if you are looking for a truly portable high quality DAP with an innovative scroll wheel control, great battery life, support of every audio file format under the sun (including native DSD decoding), possibility to use it as USB DAC, and being able to control it with in-line remote of your headphones – X3 II will be hard to beat in $200 price range.
    Mikestony likes this.
  3. NZtechfreak

    NZtechfreak Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the detailed write up. Are you able to use it as a USB DAC with Android devices via OTG?
  4. twister6

    twister6 Guides Guide

    Sorry, doesn't work as USB DAC, but would have been awesome if it could :) I will ask FiiO if it's possible. In theory, you don't need any extra power since X3 II already powered up internally from its own battery, and USB DAC features works with laptop as well.

    I'm still stock on my Note 4 with Android 4.4.4, but perhaps with Lollipop where they implemented usb dac driver something might change? For now I tried it with USB Audio Pro app and it didn't recognized X3.
  5. jmorganmartin

    jmorganmartin New Member

    Please let us know if you hear back from them. This would be an amazing feature.

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