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Fiio X3 24 bit/192K Digital Audio Player review

Fiio X3 24 bit digital audio player

Manufacturer: Fiio
Model: X3
Price: $199.99 on Amazon

Fiio has been around for quite some time, starting with a low cost, entry level amp, the E3.  It became a hot seller, especially with the limited digital audio player (DAP) choices available at the time, and followed-up by the vastly superior E5.  The next several years marked significant growth for Fiio, which has since released many amp and DAC/amps, and finally their first DAPs, the X3.  Neil Young’s Pono player has garnered much attention lately, but the X3 has had 24 bit 192 KHz sample rate playback for quite some time, and HD Tracks already remasters high quality tracks.  Recently Fiio released a higher-end DAP, the X5.

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES

The X3 comes in a clean and simple small white box that gives a sense of quality, with text in English and Chinese.  The X3 comes with 2 screen protectors, a white translucent silicone case, a USB mini cable, a 3.5mm to coax adapter cable, an instruction booklet, and 2 cards that list some additional information.  The internal memory comes with 26 24/192 tracks and the user manual in PDF format.

INTERFACE & USE

The Fiio X3 is a relatively small, moderately priced player that has excellent usability combined with very good sound quality.  The interface lacks a touch screen like many of the current players, but that doesn’t detract from the usability once you get used to the offset button configuration.  Track skip and volume are not aligned vertically, which required some mental adjustment and extra thought when using the X3 among my other sources, but if the X3 was my only source I am sure I would adjust quickly.

The Menu/Back button performs many functions, and a press and hold when on the track screen brings up a menu that allows tracks to be added or removed from the favorites playlist or deleted.  When in DAC mode, plugging the X3 into a computer starts the DAC functionality while charging, and pressing and holding the Menu/Back button will switch to standalone playback mode.  When being used as a DAC, pressing the Play/Pause button will mute/unmute the music.

Fiio X3 setup screen

Fiio X3 setup screen

The initial firmware had some issues, but the installed firmware, version 2.1, is very stable with added functionality, including asynchronous DAC functionality.  The DAC function does require a special driver for the PC, but works natively on a MAC.  Switching between DAC functionality and file access requires adjusting the settings, which takes several button presses to get to the correct menu item and change it unlike the AK120, but they are different classes of players.

The X3 functionality is impressive and Fiio got it right, with just about every feature you could want, including display and playback upon turn-on.  The auto-off feature will keep the player from dying if you disconnect a headphone or pause a track and forget to turn it off, or want to be lazy.  While the internal memory isn’t all that large, the microSD slot accepts up to 128GB cards for ample storage, and the asynchronous DAC turns any computer into a music source for larger libraries.

Headphones are protected by a delay switch, so audio isn’t instantaneous when plugging a headphone in.  Set to resume where the track left off, I could get interrupted and then go back to the specific time in the song I was listening to, even if the player turned itself off to conserve power.  The control display when connected as a USB DAC is a nice feature with controls for volume, bass, treble, gain, and balance as well as a display of the bit and sample rates.  Overall, the Fiio X3 interface is excellent that was great to use daily use, and the small size travels well.

FUNCTIONALITY & FEATURE SUMMARY

-          Portable media playback
-          USB 2.0 micro-USB interface
-          Up to 24 bit 196 KHz sample rate media playback
- Asynchronous USB DAC functionality with PCs and Macs
-          Hardware bass and treble adjustment
-          Outputs: Headphone, line, coax digital
-          Up to 128 GB microSD card
-          8GB of built-in memory
-          Gapless playback
-          High/low gain
-          Playback stops on headphone disconnect
-          Remember track/position/volume on startup
-          Sleep timer
-          USB charging
-          Delayed sound output on headphone insertion
-          CPU: JZ4760; DAC chip: WM8740; AMP chip: AD8397

MEDIA PLAYBACK

Fiio X3 24 bit high resolution playbackThe X3 played all of my tracks flawlessly as a stand-alone player with no issues, including high bitrate tracks and tracks that have given other players issues.  The X3 supports .cue playlists and an internal favorites system, but not other playlists that I am used to creating in Winamp.  However, finding tracks in the various folders is quite easy, but searching through all tracks can be cumbersome when there are a lot.  When switching from DAC playback to standalone playback, the track position information was lost, requiring me to select the track to play again.

With an asynchronous USB interface that which requires a driver for PCs but is native for Macs, the performance was excellent and superior to standalone playback.  Playback as a DAC was cleaner and clearer with better imaging and instrument separation.  I had no issues with any track via various output plugins in both Media Monkey and Winamp, and the native playback on a Mac with iTunes sounded great.  The volume was a bit louder from the DAC vs. playback of the same track through internal memory.

 

SOUND

The X3 matches well with pretty much every headphone I paired with it, performing close to the similarly priced iBasso DX50, especially when used as a DAC.  The bass response is very good and well controlled leading to a clean sound throughout the frequency spectrum.  Spatial qualities are good, but the DX50 has a more laid-back presentation that has a bit more depth and width, although the differences aren’t huge.  The smooth notes of the X3 are detailed, but don’t have quite the resolution of the DX50, which has a quicker, more analytical note on average.

Compared with the Hisoundaudio Nova 3, the X3 almost always sounds better with the headphone pairings I have tried. When pairing the X3 with various amps to power IEMs and CIEMs, only the higher priced amps outperformed the headphone out.  Portable headphones performed similarly to IEMs, but desktop headphones improved more from being connected to amps.

The more expensive DAPs I have heard, including the AK120, 901, and DX100 perform at higher levels than the X3, which is to be expected due to the price differences.  There were times where the X3 performance was close to the AK120, as the AK120 had a relatively large variation from headphone to headphone, but the 901 and DX100 always had at least minimal improvements in comparison with the X3.

My iPhone and Clip+ couldn’t keep up with the X3 in sound quality, and while they both have good functionality, the X3 was as easy to use, if not easier in many respects.  Sonically, the X3 has a larger presentation space with more detail, better bass response, and more control of the drivers.  The iPhone and Clip+ can be limiting to higher-end gear, and while the X3 does limit performance of higher performing headphones, the differences between higher-end players is much less than from the lower-end sources.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

General Specifications
Body Material: Aluminum
Headphone out: 3.5mm
Headphone Impedance Range: 16~300Ω
Display Screen: 2.4 inch 320X240 TFT
Volume control type: Digital with 60 steps
Dimensions: 55 X 109 X 16 (mm)
Weight: 122 g
Bass Boost: -10 dB~+10 dB
Treble: -10 dB~+10 dB
Right/left channel adjustment: 5 dB
Gain selection: 0/6 dB
USB DAC: Supports 192K/24B

Performance Parameters for Line Output
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

Performance Parameter for Headphone out
Output Power:  > 540 mW@16Ω; > 270 mW@32Ω; > 30 mW@300Ω
Output Impedance: <0.3Ω
Crosstalk: >75 dB@1KHz
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

Power and Battery Specifications
Power: USB 5V/500mA (recommend: USB 5V 1.5A)
Battery Capacity: 3000 mAH
Charge display: red light indicates charging, green light turns on after fully charged
Battery Life: >12 Hours
Charging Time: < 4

Audio Formats Supported
Lossless: APE  (Fast): 192K/24B; APE (Normal): 96K/24B; APE (High): 96K/24B; FLAC: 192K/24B; WAV: 192K/24B; WMA 9.1 LOSSLESS: 96K/24B; Apple Lossless: 192K/24B
Compressed formats: MP2, MP3, AAC, ALAC, WMA, OGG

Fiio X3 playback formats

PAIRING

ProGuard Custom Fleximonitors 2: The X3 has a bit more spacious sound than the Nova, but is also more mid-forward.  Bass presence is close, with the Nova having slightly less bass presence. The presentation is clearer than the DX50 for a better overall sound.  6/10

EarSonics S-EM6 Crystal Edition: The Fiio X3 is similar in presentation to the Nova-N3, and performance isn’t too far off between the two.  The X3 does have slightly better dynamics and a slightly more presentation depth, but the differences are small. 5.5/10

Audio Earz AUD-8X: The X3 is closest to the Clip+ presentation, but is a bit brighter while still retaining bass quantity and punch.  Spatially, it is slightly larger than the iPhone, RoCoo, Nova, and Clip+, and while closer, it doesn’t have the spatial presentation of the DX50.  There is no hiss with the 8X. 6/10

EarSonics SM64: The X3 has a similar spatial presentation to the Nova, but with better imaging and layering within the soundstage.  The sound is a bit darker and not as clear even though the overall presentation is better.  Dynamics are very good, but detail levels and resolution aren’t at the level of the DX50, leading to less of a sense of “ambiance.” 5.5/10

Custom Art Music One: The X3 exerts good control of the Music One for tight, well defined bass and a cleaner sound across the spectrum than the Clip+.  Reverberant bass comes across as more prominent from the Clip+ since the control isn’t as good, and the driver keeps moving where the X3 keeps the presentation cleaner.  The X3 is slightly smoother than the DX50, but less revealing and with less bass.  Bass quality between the X3 and DX50 is similar.  6/10

Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3: The X3 pairs well with the Stage 3 and offers a sound that is a bit less bright than the Nova 3, iPhone 5, and Clip+ with added smoothness.  Bass is more prominent and well controlled, on par with the Nova 3.  The X3 presents with a larger space and more air.  Imaging is very good and the presentation has a cohesion to it that adds to the musicality.  The treble region doesn’t lack for detail but is smoother than the Nova 3 and the DX50, making for an overall better listening experience.  7/10

ProGuard P2+1: The X3 is a bit warmer than the Nova 3 and iPhone, but with better clarity and a presentation that has better instrument separation, which results in conveying more detail.  Bass is also more powerful and the overall presentation is smoother and more refined. 7/10

Use as a DAC paired with the ProGuard P2+1 and multiple amps:

Neco V2: The Neco V2 is a bit less dynamic and isn’t quite as smooth as the X3 headphone output. 5/10

Just Audio uHA-120: The uHA-120 is a bit more open sounding than the X3 headphone output, but not by much.  The differences are minimal.  7/10

Shonuyn 306a: The 306a has an overall good sound with the P2+1, but the bass isn’t all that strong and there is a slight hiss.  The midrange is pushed a bit forward, and the overall sound signature isn’t as dynamic as the X3 headphone out. 5/10

Sunrise Dolphin: The Dolphin is more spacious and open sounding with more powerful bass than the Shonyun 306a, and a slight bass advantage over the X3 headphone out.  The X3 headphone out is a bit more forward, but also slightly cleaner overall.  6/10

Headstage Arrow 12HE 4G: The 4G is a bit more laid-back and spacious in comparison with the X3, but quality is similar.  Deep bass isn’t quite as prominent, and details aren’t quite as articulate.  6/10

Leckerton UHA-6S MKII: The 6S MKII is smoother and a bit more spacious than the X3 headphone output, but the differences aren’t large. 7.5/10

Ortofon MHd-Q7: The Q7 has a thinner sound with the P2+1 than the X3 headphone out and the other amps tested, giving more clarity but not necessarily better sound quality.  There is an audible hiss between tracks and in quite parts of tracks. 6.5/10

Tube Amp TA-1: The TA-1 kicks the bass of the P2+1 up a notch and the treble has a bit more extension and air, but the rest of the spectrum is quite similar in presentation and quality.  7/10

ADL Cruise: The Cruise presents with a clear and dynamic presentation that is slightly thinner than the average amp.  Overall quality is just a tick better than the X3 headphone output, and there is a slight hiss between tracks. 6.5/10

Lear FSM-02 V2: The FSM-02 V2 is more laid-back and spacious than the X3 headphone output.  Notes are slightly smoother, but don’t lack any detail in comparison.  The overall quality is only slightly better than that of the X3 headphone output. 7.5/10

ADL X1: The X1 presents with a larger space than the X3 headphone out, and about on par with the FSM-02 V2, however the bass is less prominent.  Overall the sound quality is similar to the X3 and the FSM. 7.5/10

Portaphile 627: The 627 presents with more space in all directions, and is the only amp tested to improve imaging noticeably with the P2+1.  The result is a better overall sound than the other amps, and similar in presentation to the DX100 headphone output. 9/10

Fiio X3 - stock photo

SUMMARY

The X3 is a high-end full-feature player done right, with the ability to play high-res files from internal memory or as an asynchronous DAC.  Sound quality is a good step up from phones and lower-end players and the ability to play high-resolution files up to 24 bit, 192 KHz allows users to enjoy higher quality tracks.  The feature set is full with plenty of playback options and an easy to use interface.  People waiting for Pono can grab the Fiio X3, buy some HD Tracks music, and enjoy higher bit rates and better masters now!  I commend Fiio the overall features, function, usability, and real-world practicality of the X3.

Pros:
-          Excellent combination of function, usability, and sound quality
-          Small size is excellent for use anywhere

Cons:
-          Sound quality of standalone playback isn’t quite as good as DAC use

About average_joe

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

4 comments


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  1. thanks you so much for this detailed and well written piece.

    I have a question regarding X3′s DAC mode and I’m pretty sure you will have a good answer.

    I wonder about whether I should plug the headphones into the headphone output (yes I know it seems obvious) or the line out.
    Because in DAC mode changing the volume on the computer respectively changes the volume on the X3.

    Using Line out I can only regulate the volume via the computer

    Using Headphone out I have two volume regulating devices. The computer and X3

    So I wonder which option is the best in terms of sound quality?
    I know I should hear something if there would be a substantial change…but I don’t

    So I hope you could give me some advise?
    Many thanks already

    • Typically line output ports are impedance matched to drive higher impedance inputs, not headphones. Depending on the impedance characteristics of the connected headphones and the output circuit, there can be a loss of dynamics or a roll off at one end of the frequency spectrum. Unless the manual states the line out is also a headphone out, I would stick with the appropriate output. It is easy to set the computer volume to maximum and control the volume on the device.

  2. how good is this compared to clip+
    i am thinking of upgrading to fiio X5 or this,is it worth the upgrade?i have vsd1s and fidue a63

    • The X3 is a fairly significant jump from the Clip+ in spaciousness and level of detail, and there should be a noticeable improvement. I have not yet heard the X5, but with those IEMs, I would think the improvement over the X3 isn’t going to be huge, and the money would be better spent on the X3 + a better IEM or even a CIEM IMO.

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