Fiio X3iii Pros&Cons
Good build quality
Good sound at this price-point
Cannot really be considered as much of an upgrade
Cannot keep up with the competition in terms of features / functionality
Fiio X3iii Specs
Output power: 160mW @ 32Ω
Output Impedance: ＜1.4Ω
Frequency response: 5 Hz~70 kHz (-3dB)
SNR: ≥112 dB
THD+N: ≤ 0.002% (1 kHz)
Crosstalk: ≥69 dB (1 kHz)
Formats supported: APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, MP3, OGG, DFF, DSF, DSD64, PCM up to 192kHz/32-bit
Display: 2.31-inch 320 x 240 (173ppi)
Fiio always does, at the very least, very decent packaging. It’s clear, by looking at the packaging of their other products, that they’ve settled on a consistent design and theme for how they package their products. It doesn’t feel like the packaging comes from a relatively small company like Fiio (small compared to the likes of Sony, etc), but rather professional and grown up. One thing I do wish they could settle is their naming convention. It seems that, officially, the latest iteration of the X3 is named the X3 Mark III. Their 3rd iteration of the X5, on the other hand, is called the X5 3rd gen, whereas the 2nd iteration of the X1 is sometimes either called the X1 2nd gen, or the X1ii. Essentially it all means the same thing, but it sucks when you’re trying to do search engine optimisation.
What’s in the box?
One thing you can pretty much always count on is that Fiio will include a very decent amount of accessories with their products. With the fiio x3iii we’re treated to a total of 2 cases (a pre-installed silicone case, as well as a pleather case), 2 additional screen protectors, a USB-cable for charging / data transfer, and a COAX adapter cable.
The pleather case seems like it offers an adequate amount of protection for the device, but this colour choice is a perhaps a bit too much red for our tastes. Some of their other cases are black in colour with red contrast stitching, but none of that can be found on the included case. In fact, there’s no stitching at all, it seems.
Design-wise Fiio have gone for a bit of a combo deal here. Whilst the layout of the fiio x3iii is practically identical to that of the X1ii, Fiio have designed the fiio x3iii to incorporate some of the sharper angles and stronger lines found on their x5iii and X7 models. This does give the X3iii a more modern and handsome look, rather than the more curvy and feminine look of the X1ii.
Whilst the top and right-hand side is left empty, the left-hand side of the device is where you’ll find the power, volume, multi-functional play/pause button, and micro-SD card slot.
The bottom houses the 3.5mm headphone/line out/COAX combo jack, micro-USB port, and 2.5mm balanced jack.
This is also an area where I really should commend Fiio, as their build quality on the X3iii is top-notch. On the vast majority of their previous devices, there has always been on or more blatantly obvious flaw that had somehow managed to slip under the radar of the QC department. But thankfully, this time, QC seem to have done a damn fine job of ensuring that customers receive a well-build, and well-inspected device.
As far as the UI is concerned, the fiio x3iii uses the same layout that Fiio has been using since the very first X5 iteration roughly 4 years ago. Sure, it has since then taken on a few different colour and/or “texture” changes, but really not a great deal has changed. In fact, the Shanling M2s actually uses the same fundamental layout too, but because it has been themed differently, it looks and feels more modern. In any case, if you’re familiar with Fiio’s other devices, you’ll feel right at home with the X3iii.
One thing to note is that, whilst Fiio went with the same “touch-wheel” control as they did on the X1ii, the one on the fiio x3iii does feel a bit better. It’s not as “jumpy” and unreliable as that on the X1ii. The sensitivity can also be changed within the settings.
Perhaps the most noticable change in terms of how you interact with the device is the addition of a multi-functional play/pause button. With this button you can enable 4 different “modes” for the button.
Mode 1: Allows the button to act as a play/pause button for a single press, double/triple press to skip to the next/previous track, or double/triple press and hold to fast forward/rewind. Mode 1 is arguably redundant, seeing as the centre and skip buttons on the face of the X3iii serves the same purpose.
Mode 2: A single press of the button selects the next EQ profile, a double press selects the previous EQ, and a single press and hold of the button turns the EQ off. Useful if you’re an EQ user how frequently uses the EQ function.
Mode 3: This is perhaps the most useful mode for the multi-functional button. A single press skips to the next playlist/folder, whereas a double press skips to the previous playlist/folder.
Mode 4: A single press switches to the next theme, a double press switches to the previous theme.
Another new addition to the design is that Fiio had previously incorporated some subtle “vinyl grooves” on the touch wheel of the X1ii, they’ve now extended this design element to the entire front black panel of the fiio x3iii.
In terms of sonic performance, thfiio x3iii is indeed a fine sounding device. This is one area which Fiio NEVER does terribly. It offers the listener plenty of energy, clarity, and resolution. Tonally it has a balanced signature, very much akin to that of the X1ii, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, seeing as Fiio took the same DAC chip found in the X1ii, and doubled it for the fiio x3iii. FiiO x3iii sounds perhaps a little more smooth and refined, less “digital” than the X1ii. But these differences are genuinely so small that it is entirely possible that this is a placebo effect. Perhaps this is even the perfect example to illustrate that more isn’t necessarily better, as the differences in sound may very well come from the difference in low-pass filter and amplifier used., rather than the use of 2 DAC chips instead of one.
But it is this extreme similarity to the X1ii which is perhaps the X3iii’s Achilles’ heel. Up to now we have seen how similar the X3iii is to the X1ii in terms of features and day to day usability, so the confirmation that the sonic performance is also extremely similar further validates the idea that the fiio x3iii doesn’t really bring anything significantly new or improved to the table other than the inclusion of a balanced output.
As much as we’d love to be able to give a concrete answer as to whether or not the balanced output does provide an upgraded sound experience, we unfortunately cannot do so. This is not due to any flaw of the device, but rather due to a lack of resources to effectively do so.
You see, in order to give you our most honest and objective opinion, we’d have to ensure that we’d be listening to the same device, same headphones, and exact same volume level. This would require the ability to change cables (which isn’t a 1-second task), and be able to measure the output of the headphones/iems to ensure that both scenarios are on a leveled playing field.
As such, we’d rather refrain from speculating about the sonic differences completely, as any speculation would be based on subjective opinion, rather than an objectively scientific comparison.
Something else we had noticed is that the X3iii does present a fair amount of hiss, especially one low-impedance high-sensitivity IEMs such as the Dunu DK-3001. The amount of hiss seemed comparable to what you’d get from the X1ii.
People who are familiar with my past reviews and/or comments on Head-Fi would very likely have noticed a pattern when it comes to my criticism of Fiio. But really, the trend is not my criticism, but the trend is rather that Fiio’s competitors are increasingly providing consumers with more feature-packed devices. Sure, in the higher-price brackets of the X5 3rd Gen and X7, Fiio is perhaps still the value king for now; but in the more budget-friendly sector it’s starting to seem like Fiio are genuinely struggling to keep up. Heck, it’s perhaps even at a point where we can say that they really can’t keep up anymore. Almost as though we’re genuinely left wondering if Fiio are even aware of their competition; because it certainly seems like they’re not really doing anything to keep up.
But on the other hand, this perspective is subjective, and will depend entirely on what a person wants/needs in a device. If you need a balanced output – well, in this price-range Fiio is really your only choice. But if you’re looking for a great screen, AptX ability, proper bidirectional Bluetooth capabilities, innovative features like Hibylink, USB-output, the ability to use higher than DSD64 files, Replay Gain, or even functioning gapless playback, then the X3iii simply will not be an option for you, unfortunately. Perhaps some of these features will be introduced with future software updates, but for now they do severely limit the outright value of the X3iii when compared to its competitors.
We’re left scratching our heads. Did Fiio create the X3iii simply for the sake of creating an upgrade over the 2nd Gen? But even if we compare it to the 2nd Gen, the X3iii can, to some extent, even be considered as a downgrade. It has less power and a higher output impedance than the 2nd Gen, and is also limited to DSD64, where as the 2nd Gen could do DSD128. So really, feature-wise, the X3iii can only be considered as an upgrade if we take into account its balanced output and addition of Bluetooth connectivity. Oh, and it has a COAX output too.
Design-wise the X3iii certainly is a step-up from the 2nd iteration of the X3, but if we consider the fact that its feature-set and day-to-day usage puts it awfully close to that of the X1ii, it would seem that Fiio really skimped-out on the X3iii.
As such, the device as a whole honestly feels more like a marginal evolution of the X1ii, rather than that of the X3 2nd Gen.
By no means is this to say that the X3iii is a bad device. Not even close.
It’s just that there are more options, better options out there when taking the entire device into account. The X3iii is more of a “lacking” device, rather than a flawed device, which leads to the problem that the X3iii doesn’t make a particularly convincing argument as to why anyone should upgrade from the X3 2nd Gen or X1ii. A missed-opportunity, then. What a shame.
The TECH MERIT rating system is designed to take as many aspects of the device into account as possible. As such, we have a basic rating, as well as a final rating. The basic rating rates the product purely as a high quality portable audio device, and is generally a good indicator of how it stacks up to its rivals in terms of standard features and specs. The final rating, however, grants bonus points for any extra features and specs that aren’t quite as common, and is a great way to judge the product as a complete package.
Look and feel: 8 / 10
Screen protector: YES
Protective case: YES
Quality control: 10 / 10
Seems durable: YES
Screen quality: 7 / 10
Intuitive interface: 8 / 10
Responsive interface: 6 / 10
Comfortable button layout: 8 /10
Internal storage: –
Accepts external storage: YES
Relative silence when inserting cables: 6 / 10
Sound stage: 7 / 10
Detail retrieval: 8 / 10
Sibilance: 8 / 10
Instrument separation: 8 / 10
Neutrality of sound signature: 9 / 10
Ability to EQ: YES
Plays lossless audio: YES
Plays 24-bit: YES
Hiss: 6 / 10
Small size: 8 / 10
Relatively low weight: 8 / 10
Battery life more than 8 hours: YES
Competitive price-point: –
Relative value: 7 / 10
Released the device with relatively bug-free software: 8 / 10
Is prompt with software updates: 7 / 10
Is active and prompt on forums/social-media: 8 / 10
Basic Rating: 7.7
Bass boost: –
Various digital filters: –
Allows 3rd party apps: –
Number of cables included: 2
Number of gain positions: 2
Fast charging: –
How premium the case feels: 6 /10
Premium look and feel of the device: 7 / 10
Number of digital connections: 1
Number of analogue connections: 2
Power adapter included: –
Balanced output: YES
Dual card slots: –
Touch screen: –
Dual DAC setup: YES
Premium DAC chip(s) used: –
Screen protectors included: 2
Use of metal and/or glass: YES
Plays DSD: YES
Plays 32-bit: YES
Ultra low power-saving mode: YES
Wireless connection quality: 6 / 10
Gapless playback: –
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