Disclaimer: Fiio is a site advertiser and we got a free review sample out of the pre prod batch. The Fiio X3 Second Generation was sent to us several weeks ago already, but Fiio asked us to wait till mid-March for publishing the review. Be warned. Long review ahead.
The DAP (Digital Audio Player) market is getting flooded with new DAPs from all over the world and they are getting more and more expensive. Even Sony got back in the game and while I haven’t heard them yet, it’s great to see Sony back after having dominated the portable audio market in the past century. It is refreshing to see that Fiio is offering High Resolution players at different price ranges. They now have the “old” X3, the X5, the $99 X1 and this brand new X3 update. Fiio is also working on a new TOTL X7 DAP but the release date has not been set yet.
The last few months Fiio has been renewing or updating their existing line of products. We have had the new E10K, E11K and even the E17K. Fiio however decided to break with the “K” trend for the new X3. At CES it was still called X3K but then it changed to X3ii to end up with the official “X3 Second Generation”. The packaging still says X3K as this was a very early version. When you fire up the new DAP, the welcome screen just says X3. Quite confusing and I’ll try making things as easy as possible in this review by calling it “Second Generation” or “SG” in short.
The new X3 Second Generation costs you $199 and that’s impressive. It gives you a lot of possibilities and its price/quality ratio is going through the roof. Fiio does it again, and how. The unit we have is a pre-production version so there’s a possibility some last minute changes will be made to the final product. Firmware version for the review is FW0.18 Beta.
According to Fiio the main improvements of the new X3 are as follows:
- All-new exterior design, full metal body for a complete upgrade in aesthetics
2. All-new sound tuning: more refined and balanced than ever
3. All-new UI design and classic scroll wheel control
4. All-new digital audio architecture, utilizing dual crystal oscillators for even less jitter
5. All-new features: hardware DSD decoding, in-line remote support, 10-band EQ, custom playlists
6. All-new power management features: including deep-sleep mode for instant-on usage without battery drain
7. All-new coulomb meter to show detailed battery info
The original X3 used a Wolfson WM8740 chip and the op-amp was the AD8397. The new X3 SG has been completely redesigned. It’s even completely different from their last DAP, the X1. This overview says it all:
The X3 SG now does Native DSD and supports up to 192kHz/24bit. It also has dual oscillators to run 44.1kHz and 48kHz. Power wise the new SG X3 puts out ＞224 mW (16 Ω/THD+N＜1%). The first X3 >540mW. At 32Ω the old one did >270mW, the new one 200mW. At 300Ω the old one did >30mW and the new one >24mW. Purely looking at the numbers the original X3 has more power but numbers aren’t everything of course. The original X3 also was developed for a headphone impedance range of 16-300Ω while the SG is now best between 16 and 150Ω. All this naturally means the the X3 SG sounds quite different from the original one…
Where the first X3’s battery was a 3000 mAh, the new one “only” has a 2600mAh battery inside. It takes between 3 to 8 hours to charge depending on how you charge it and it will give you around 10 to 11 hours of musical pleasure in return. While the charging time isn’t the best, I’ve been really impressed with how long the new X3 holds and I never ran out of battery unexpected. Well done.
The X3 SG of course has a digital volume control with 120 steps. High and low gain settings are 8.6dB & 2.6dB. There also is an output relay that’s preventing on/off transients and you can actually here it click. Readers interested in more technical stuff can take a look at the overview Fiio published here: http://www.fiio.net/en/products/39/comparisons
First of all, the X3 SG is a High Resolution audio player. It plays DSD (drivers to install in Windows) APE, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, AAC, OGG, MP3, MP2. It now also supports playlists like .M3U/M3u8. Like the X1, the new SG doesn’t come with internal memory but it accepts micro SD cards up to 128GB. Some people don’t like the fact the X1 and X3 SG don’t come with internal memory. I agree it’s kind of weird but then again, 8GB internal memory doesn’t store that much songs anyway and don’t forget the price of these units is only $99 and $199.
The X3 Second Generation is a fully equipped portable player with an internal DAC and headphone amplifier. Besides that you can also use it as a DAC only, for use with your laptop in example. You can also use it as a source and DAC unit and use the Line Out to a desktop or portable amplifier. And if that isn’t enough you can also use it just as a source and pass the digital signal via coax to another DAC you have. All that for $199 USD.
It has to be said that the headphone out and Line Out can’t be used at the same time. Some people like units that allow this as this keeps them from unplugging cables when the unit is used in a desktop setup. As soon as a cable is inserted in the 3.5mm Line Out socket, the headphone out stops working. That of course is a safety issue. Other DAP makers often ask for a confirmation to switch to LO but this isn’t the case with the X3 SG.
The original X3, which was released somewhere back in May/June of 2013, looks completely different. While it was OK to work with after a few FirmWare updates, the user interface and button layout weren’t the best. Build quality was quite alright as well at that time and the original X3 did feel like it could stand a lot. At the same time the new X3 SG is more refined and the finishing details are better. The original DAP came in black only, the Second generation unit comes in a Titanium color, or gun metal-ish if you prefer. And it feels oh so nice with the round edges.
The new X3 now more or less has the same look and feel as the X5 and the X1. Especially the X1 is closest in looks, the SG is just a bit heavier and thicker (and has a different color). Quite a number of people were fooled by thinking it was the X1 when I posted the first pictures of the new X3. I do still find the build quality of the iBasso DX50/90 DAPs to be on a higher level.
A quick look at the X3 SG shows us the volume buttons and power button are on the left. Top Side has a 3.5mm headphone out on the left and 3.5mm Line Out – that also is the Coax Out – on the right. On the right side of the unit you’ll find the Micro SD slot that accepts cards up to 128GB. On the bottom there’s only a Micro USB connection for charging, DAC input and for docking in the future with some upcoming Fiio products. On the front you will find 4 buttons, a scroll wheel and a select button in the middle of the scroll wheel. While the button lay-out do is somewhat pocket friendly, I do think it could have been even better but more on this in the UI part. Last but not least on the front is a mini LED that will glow blue when in use, red when charging and green when fully charged. A fully charged unit working as DAC will show a green LED.
The screen on the SG is the same as used on the X1: 2”, 320 x 240 and no touch screen. Once you’re used to the AK screens, it’s tough going back to the screen quality of the Fiio’s, but for $199, there’s no complaining. The SG weighs only 135gr. and measures 96,7 x 57,7 x 16,1 mm. The X3 SG still has a very small foot print. I love the form factor of the DX90 and the SG is even smaller. It’s pocket friendly, that’s for sure.
All in all I very much like the SG X3’s design and its feel. The X1 was already very nice but the X3 just has a more qualitative finish & look and with the full aluminum frame and added weight, it doesn’t feel like a plastic toy. The DX series from iBasso feel even better, and the DX50 is only $39.95 more though.
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