The train click-click-clicks through my Gravol-induced coma, trumping the Kitchen Aid mixer on my brain. 18.900¥, 40$ CAD over what I’d pay in Vancouver. Shit. There has to be a break somewhere. “When this place pours, it rains for days!” raps Classified from the burning Fiio X3 in my trousers. I suck in the sweaty Tokyo air, cough, and track ahead- Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” pops up.
I nod, this time not with the Gravol. Maybe we could slum it with the Oster.
THD+N < 0.004%@1KHz
SNR > 108 dB (A-Weight ）
Frequency Response 10Hz~20KHz（+/-0.2)
Dynamic range > 103dB
Crosstalk > 90 dB @10KΩ @1KHz
Line output Level > 1.7 Vrms
Output Power 1> 540 mW@16Ω
Output Impedance <0.3Ω
Output Power2 > 270 mW@32Ω
Crosstalk >75 dB@1KHz
Output Power3 > 30 mW@300Ω
THD+N < 0.005%@1KHz
Frequency Response 10Hz~20KHz（+/-0.2)
MAX output voltage > 8 Vp-p
SNR > 105 dB (AUX IN)
MAX output current > 250 mA
USB 5V/500mA recommend:USB 5V >1.5A
Battery Capacity 3000 mAH
Battery Life >10 Hours
Storage 8 GB
Fiio X3: ~200$-300$
Disclosure: In the end, I went with the Kitchen Aid mixer. I want something to perform well, to last- and to look good in my kitchen. That’s probably a pretty good look my approach to reviewing audio devices.
The X3 has the looks, and it seems to be made well. For most intents and purposes, Fiio offer Kitchen Aid performance at Oster prices.
There are a number of catches, however...
What they have done right: buttons in lieu of a douchey touchscreen, metal instead of plastic, standard ins and outs, is done well. Touch screens require good programming and layout knowledge - both items are Ancient Greek to audiophile companies.
But even hardware nubs require art and planning.
The X3‘s controls are combo buttons. They are splayed across a front panel lined with nothing but combo buttons. The options are: play/pause/off/on, up/down/track forward/backward, and quick menu/bookmark/up-one-level. The full count is six buttons- and not one with a singular purpose. I get the idea that Fiio were more interested in designing a layout rather than adhering to good interface guidelines.
The short of it: simple operations like setting the volume and changing tracks require the player to be navigated to corresponding screens. We haven’t even touched the skewed button layout.
I understand why Fiio did it. It looks cool in product photos/renderings. Yay! But form should follow function. Up/down functions work a lot better in a vertical layout. Ditto left/right functions work better in a horizontal layout. The non-standard diagonal control scheme requires memorisation- and cursing.
If you can slant your thinking to fit the X3, you will find that functionally, it works pretty well. EQ settings are accessed quickly. Ditto bookmark functionality. Ditto drag and drop, digital output, etc. and so on. But after months of using the X3 I’m baffled that Fiio didn’t even at least raise relief patterns on the buttons to help categorise their use. Even Apple, who insist on naked, buttonless designs, have added dedicated volume controls to every mainstream iDevice they make.
As for battery life, the X3 fulfils its spec. Consistently I am able to get 8-10 hours of life with mixed use.
NOTE: if you aren’t used to sound control schemes, the X3 will feel right at home. Your biggest WTF moment will be reading this review- as in, “WTF is he on! This thing rocks!” If you are used to ergonomic designs, using the X3 will require a towel to catch WTF spittle.
Despite playing back the most important file types, and sporting solid outputs, great sound quality, and so on, the X3 is a no-frills device. Its price pales in comparison to comparable HiFiman, Astell&Kern, iBasso products. It is cheaper even than a hi-end iPod. Part of its economic pricing has to do with the meagre allotment of 8GB onboard memory. To many audiophiles, space is limited only by their growing catalogue of micro SD cards. Users coming from players with more space may squish their brows. SD card integration is well-managed by the X3.
Apart from haptic concerns, the X3 is designed well.
Its shape is simple. Its looks are clean. Had Fiio employed a more traditional plus controller and discrete volume control, the X3 would be even sleeker.
ohmage and porridge: build quality and finish
Fiio's no-nonsense approach to audio circuitry applies to every aspect of their design. The X3 is a relatively solid machine. Its brushed metal back is hard to scratch and its two-plate design is simple and strong.
The back case will flex under pressure, and when twisted, deform more than a comparable iPod will. But the overall design is strong enough to survive the rigours of mobile use. Fiio saved money by inking, not laser etching their control fonts.
Ports are well anchored in the body. Both coax and headphone outs wear o-rings that keep the surrounding chassis from scratching. Strangely, the line out lacks does without one. There is no plastic insulator between the o-ring and the body.
The screen is bright enough for outside use, but its colour is poor. Everything is cast in blue. Again, most audiophiles probably won’t take issue with this. An audio player is for audio, right? Damned be anything else.
Here, Fiio make up for most of the X3‘s design gaffes. This sub-300$ player sounds damn good. It probably comes from Fiio’s long history of making headphone amplifiers and DACs. The parts they chose and the implementation of them into an audio circuit, are spot on.
Fiio’s tenure as an amp maker learned them a thing or two. Headphones run like a dream. No matter how many drivers your earphone packs, no matter how large their diaphragms, the X3 will run them with exquisite attention. Very few headphones will need more power than what is available through the X3 at high gain.
At full volume and high gain, the X3 kept clean signals at the following decibel values:
- Beyerdynamic DT800/600: 92-96dB with peaks up to 100dB
- Hifiman HE-500: 98dB with peaks up to 100dB
- Grado PS-500: 92-96dB with peaks up to 98dB
Only the Grado headphone commonly exhibited distortion at high volumes. In order to sustain clean signal, the X3‘s volume had to be backed off to about 93/100. All three headphones could sustain averaged 90dB signals with peaks of up to 98 decibels while exhibiting zero distortion. At the same volume levels, resolution levels remained nearly identical to unloaded signals.
In other words: if you don’t need hearing aids, the X3 doesn’t need an amp.
The Earsonics SM2 stressed the X3 only minimally. The combo was able to hit 100+dB without error, however compression of the dynamic range began after sustained 105-110dB loads. Of course, no one should listen to those levels, ever. That is, unless you’re Jonesing for a new Phonak hearing aid.
The X3 is perfectly balanced. At first blush it might sound ‘dark’. It isn’t. It renders a flat, full-figured signal. Low/high balance at the frequency and stereo levels is exemplary. Ditto distortion.
This conclusion goes for both 16 and 24 bit files.
Regarding stereo crosstalk: The X3 outperforms most if not all players I’ve heard. By the book. But it may be too wide for headphone/earphone use. It can be overwhelming/disorienting. The X3 would benefit from a good crossfeed option in order to sound more natural.
The X3’s digital volume pot is perfectly accurate, left to right, at both low and high volume levels. This is great news for sensitive IEM users who will likely keep volumes low. Both max and default volume values can be set from the Player Settings page.
The X3 also allows you to dial in left/right tracking values. This is helpful if one ear is more sensitive than another, or if your headphones/earphones err to one.
Users of extremely sensitive IEMs may notice the X3’s background noise. It isn’t as bad as a Sony Walkman, and certainly not even close to an AMP3, but it outputs 2-3x the amount of noise as a current-gen iPod nano and more than that vs. an iPhone 5. At volume levels of 15 and higher, the X3’s background noise shouldn’t bother even sensitive IEM users. Less than 12, however, is a slightly different story.
NOTE: at Head-Fi I’ve earned the name ‘hiss king’. I am irked by hiss levels that others are not. Even well-respected reviewers. Those afflicted with the same ear are few, but vocal. The above paragraph is written for them.
Bass vs. Mids: ohmage
The X3 plays an even hand. Neither frequency gets more love than the other. Mids, of course, are far easier for the ear to interpret. Detail in both bands is very high and distortion is low. Moot to how the ear hears bass is its slightly lower dynamic range.
Bass enhancement is handled well but is genre-dependent. Fat, duffy bass has a high distortion threshold. Natural bass levels can be tuned quite far. Even setting the X3’s bass adjuster high renders clean lows that never foul up the mids.
Setting bass to a level of 8-10 can cause bass to ‘round off’. But bass will rarely, if ever, distort.
Bass vs. Highs: ohmage
Highs retain edge and force at every volume range. From about 2K, an unloaded X3 exhibits very little audible loss of stereo separation but enough to set it below the iBasso DX100. But only barely...
In general, balance between lows and highs is very good. No matter how big the bass, or how trilly the treble, lows and highs maintain great balance and detail at all safe listening levels.
Vs. Low impedance: ohmage
Very few if any earphones out there should stump the X3’s amp section. It is most comfortable with earphones that average >8Ω under load, but is more than capable even below that.
The X3 packs a lot of output power. If you are primarily an earphone user, using the max volume function is a good idea.
Vs. High impedance: ohmage
While it lacks a 6,3mm headphone jack, the X3 is more than capable of driving most voltage-hungry headphones out there. It won’t be able to hit sustained levels of 110dB with Grado headphones, or Audio Technica’s EARSUIT series, but sustaining those levels aren’t important anyway- again, unless you are on the Jones for hearing loss and its accompanying gear.
I am extremely impressed.
- responsiveness: The X3 is worlds faster than the DX100 is, but hardly as responsive as the maligned iPod nano.
- gapless: I’ve found this to be hit and miss. If you want your tracks to be fully gapless, rip albums into FLAC and use cue sheets.
- ID3 handling: Again, hit and miss. If you want your albums to play in perfect order, or even show up at all, first create folders, then drag and drop into them. Blind dropping from iTunes or other players will create some anomalies. At worst, albums/artists won’t even show up.
I’m not a slummy. I don’t dish out dosh on things I don’t use for work, but when I do dish, I tend to stay away from fake Tupperware. I abhor compromise. I like copycats even less. But while Oster may have lost to Kitchen Aid at home, I would feel perfectly at home carrying the X3 around instead of a DX100. Sound quality, output power, balance: it has all the stuff an on-the-go audiophile of any pedigree would need. Where it irks: true gapless playback and 100% silent background, are moot to most people.
And that is why I let them pass.
This review was written about two months after first receiving the X3. I was supposed to take only a month. If you hear nothing more out of me, Oyaide have probably...
What bothered me early on was the control layout and its reliance on dual-function buttons. It still bothers me. An audiophile gets used to gapless issues and a bit of fuzz in the background. But consumers who tend to buy they best of what they can afford, tend to be used to good design. Today, the control layout that bothered me early on, bothers me still. What’s that? You couldn’t hear me? Let me just turn the volume dow... wait... wrong menu... sorry. Just give me a moment longer-
-there, I got it!
I was saying that I tend to invest in good, ergonomic design. The X3 offers everything else. Price notwithstanding, Fiio could have designed this player better. Where you put your money, and how that sits with you months down the line, is very personal. Design quirks aside, I believe that Fiio did a good job. But I’m less excited about good than I am about excellent.
If you want a second opinion, check out these fine reads: