So, is the FiiO Q3 better than its predecessor? Should you do the jump and go for it?
Short answer, yes… If you want to pair it with big cans on the go. Going from the AKM4452 to the AK4462 doesn’t sound that big of a difference, even head-to-head. It’s slightly more refined, less grainy in the upper range but, honestly, it’s not massively different.
Sure, lows are deeper, stronger, impactful and it’s always surprising to “feel” the rumble coming from a headphone. But, it doesn’t feel “vastly” different than before. The sound signature remained unchanged and there’s no real surprise. That said, the FiiO Q1 MKII was very good already, and if I were to do the Q3 by myself, I’d have done the same.
There are small improvements here and there: smoother mids, better bass control, and a fairly wider soundstage. Layering is definitely better though and 3D effects seemed more natural, even more with the FA9. No distortion whatsoever, even when you max out the volume to drive high-end headphones.
And this is where the Q3 outshines the old one: it’s immensely more powerful than before. Sure, the Q1 could drive my LCD-X, but the Q3 is able to do so almost effortlessly. Going through the 2.5 and 4.4mm outputs will immediately give you a surge of power, even in low gain.
Thankfully, distortion was never an issue, and picky headphones always exploited the wide dynamic range to delivers the best of them. The good mix between the Q5s and the latest M11Pro, even if not as good, yet.
Like the EarMen Eagle we previously reviewed, one of the best combos I heard was Q3 + Meze 99 Classics. Commanding bass and wide soundstage make that duo one of the best, affordable, solution you can get at the moment.
I tried the Empyrean too, even if this was overkill. It sounds good and the Q3 had no issue reaching out surprisingly high volumes, but it didn’t feel as refined as the Q5S. Still, 99% of the time, I’m sure that the Q3 will be more than enough for everyone.
Highs: clean hit. The FiiO achieves a good job there, with a good amount of air. Trebles are fast and avoid the old upper-mid boost, often found on mid-tier DAC. Paired with the FiiO FA9, it sounds exquisite and you might be able to discover unheard details in your songs..
Mids: great layering and good spaciousness. The mids blend perfectly with the rest of the spectrum. The soundstage is excellent even at high volume, or with high-demanding headphones. The THX AMP really makes a difference compared to the prior model and everything sounds sharp and effortless.
Lows: deep and powerful. As usual, FiiO really nailed the bass section and there is no shallow echo nor dragging sensation. You can confidently listen at high volume, to never encounter muddy lows, whatever the song.
iFi HIP-DAC: by far, the most popular DAC on the market since it came out. Head to head, the Q3 and Hip-DAC are pretty close in terms of sound quality. The iFi is warmer, where the FiiO feels more articulated. Each model gives enough headroom with a big can, to justify the size. I prefer the FiiO as the sheer size of the iFi feels like a drawback for me, but both are great devices!
NuPrime Hi-mDAC: one of my favorite devices or the moment. Smaller form factor, different chip but same audio prowess, all thanks to a new Cirrus-logic chipset. I really like the square-design and paired with my Onkyo, the synergy is a tad above the Q3. But, with my LCD-X, the FiiO was much more confident… once connected through the balanced output. Otherwise, both DAC were roughly the same.$
EarMen Eagle: as small as the NuPrime, the Eagle feels equally impressive once you’ve plugged it into your IEM. It cannot touch the Q3 in raw power, but the Sabre Chip seems to retrieve even more details. A great choice if you just need a single-ended DAC/AMP, otherwise, go for the FiiO.
Unsurprisingly, the FiiO Q3 is excellent in almost every regard. It kept everything we liked on the Q1 Mark II, and pushed things even further. It sounds even more spacious, packs enough power to drive my good old planars, and whatever the source, I was able to connect the DAC hassle-free.
If you own a Q1 Mark II, this time I can confidently advise you to up your game and get the new Q3. Sound-wise, the difference isn’t massive, but if you take into account all the various ergonomics improvements, the scale really weighs towards the new Q3.