Disclaimer: FiiO provided the M3 in this article free of charge. The M3 goes for around 50$USD. You can find out all about it here: M3 Digital Portable Music Player.
This iPod nano guy flipped out when he saw FiiO's first Facebook advert for the M3. It is my strong opinion that portable players should come in all sizes. Shirking high-quality, comfortably pocketable players for kludgy touch UIs, massive screens, and evaporating battery life is poor form. My readers know my better than I do.
I had request after request to take a look at the M3. My first night out with the M3 was 4 December at a drunk party organised by FitEar’s Suyama Keita and populated by two dozen anime and music geeks.
We lifted beautiful mugs of home-grown hefeweizen, nodded our heads to popular music from the 70s and 80s and got sloshed.
Two of the biggest portable audio geeks in the room sat near me. The M3 was a hit. That much at least I remember. Both geeks plugged in high-end earphones and micro SD cards and praised its full, powerful sound. We clinked glasses multiple times. That much I remember.
And, just now, after forgetting that I re-tested the M3 at its maximum volume of 60, I blasted my ears. Which is impressive as on my ears was (and is) Beyerdynamic’s fabulous new T1 V2 (check out Headfonia: Nathan for more). While I hesitate to call it powerful the same way I call the Astell&Kern AK380 or Onkyo DP-X1 powerful, the M3 gets loud. It tops out about a half decibel below the iPhone 6’s max volume, and therefore, should kick out slightly more voltage than an iPhone 4s. It also kicks out noise on par or slightly above that of an AK100. Subjectively, its sound is full and a bit meatier than an iPhone 4s.
And it is stabler under load than either one, though closely guarded by a firm 98dB ceiling, which both iPhone’s are capable of surpassing in benchmark. Still, within those bounds - and in spite of its hiss - in many metrics it shows the nano 7G (iPod nano 7G RMAA) who's boss. Under load, it keeps current levels high to both channels at all frequency bands. Jitter is low, and IMD errors are laughably small. So while it's not measurably capable of exceeding the bounds of 16-bit spec, it really performs well within those bounds.
(For reference, read: Advantages of 24-bit audio and hi-res players dissolve prior to and after hitting play)
A few notes on the M3’s UI: adjusting the M3’s volume is possible only through the playback screen. Which is a bugger. And while I’m not excited by its navigation system, it is easy to suss, if slaved to a button array cramped by a portrait-oriented screen that really wants to be touched.
In person, the M3 both feels and looks cheap. Sure, it’s 50$, but it’s not requisite to a 50$ price point to be cheap. Frayed panels, discoloured plastic, seams that alternately bulge or shrink, and more, mar an otherwise solid DAP. 50$ should mean a scaled-down feature set, not scaled-down attention to detail.
Still, I am enthusiastic. FiiO deserve to boast: at every iteration, their products improve. The first Fiio X3 was duff to use but sounded great. The second one fixes many of its problems and is built better to boot. Ditto almost every iterative FiiO release. Which leads me to say: I’m excited for the M3 MKII.
The following Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests were conducted through this equipment.
Source: FiiO M3
ADC: Lynx Studio HILO LT-TB
Computer: 2012 27" iMac
Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL - no load
SM2 - Earsonics SM2
ES7 - Audio Technica ES7
DT880 - Beyerdynamic DT880/600
24-bit all loads results @+0dBV
24-bit NL summary @+0dBV
To follow is full ohmage. For now - and with the exception of hiss - I'm impressed by how the M3 performs. If it was made better and hissed less, BAM! I really hope that the M series succeeds because I'm itching to see what FiiO cook up in the next iteration.