Fiio X3 Second Generation: It just got better. Again.

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.

box HFN Lieven round kader

 

DAP

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.

What’s New?

According to Fiio the main improvements of the new X3 are as follows:

  1. 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

Inside

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

Versatility

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.

Outside

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.

It continues on the next page

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

96 Comments

  • Reply March 26, 2015

    Berkhan Oğulcan Akçay

    Another great review Lieven. Nice to read. What I see from your review is that it is better than DX50, old X3, and X1. So looks like X3II+a good amp can be a price/performance king in mid-fi area 🙂

    • Reply March 26, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      THank you very much. I agree, but the X1 + amp is almost just as good and cheaper

    • Reply October 7, 2016

      Will

      Hi Lieven. Nice review! I currently have the fiio x1+e11k. Will the x3sg be a significant upgrade? Or should I look at x5 first gen/ dx90?

  • Reply March 26, 2015

    Ilias K

    Thanks for the detailed review. So…how would the old X3+E12 combo compare to X3SG? Would it make any sense to upgrade in this case? If not, what would you suggest as a “real” upgrade? A DX90?

    • Reply March 26, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Glad you like it.
      To me: X3 < X3+E12 < X3SG < X3+E12A < X3 SG+ E12A

      A real upgrade would indeed be an iBasso DX90 (+external amp if you need the power for full sized headphones) or a Cypherlabs stack

      • Reply July 13, 2015

        Ignatius Andi

        How about X3 SG + Cayin C5 compare with X3 SG + E12A?

        Thank you @headfonia_lieven

  • Reply March 26, 2015

    dalethorn

    Excellent review – it answered a lot of questions.

  • Reply March 26, 2015

    Anthony Kimball

    Another great review, thank you! It sounds to me like you would get even more bang-for-buck with an x1 lined out to a E12a (similar price, less portable). I am a 1gen X3 owner, and I debate whether to line out to a good amp (I’m kinda used to the UI, can live with it) or scrap it all for a new DAP. I guess the future upgrade path isn’t clear for me (what path in audio really is?).
    Thanks for giving me more food for thought…

    • Reply March 26, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you for reading. X1 + LO with a good amp is really nice. X3 SG + LO with good amp is even better

      • Reply March 26, 2015

        Anthony Kimball

        Got it…and the DX90 + LO is even better.
        I sense the pattern here…time to crunch the numbers…
        …unless the X7 is better still…

  • Reply March 26, 2015

    Nickjan Glas

    A great extensive and detailed review; very interesting read. I ll stick to my x1with LO amp, but good to read that more affordable good quality options are being produced and developped.

  • Reply March 27, 2015

    Noel Elnoel

    You talk about Fiio and Ibasso DAPs, but not do any comparison with Hidizs AP100? Hidizs AP100 have the same components of the new Fiio…

  • Reply March 27, 2015

    Dreamriser Kit

    Thank for a nice review. Before this I did wonder how good new X3 is compare to DX90. Your review gave me an answer.

  • Reply March 29, 2015

    garr

    Insightful review. Made a pre-order for this but am considering cancelling as you mentioned severe hissing with the Legend R. Could this be rectified with an LO or should I change to another DAP altogether? If so, what would be a good DAP to pair the legends with?

    many thanks in advance

    • Reply March 29, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Using a quiet external amp via the LO is the perfect solution. The most quiet DAP with the Legends is the iBasso DX90 (not even the $2500 AK24)

      • Reply March 29, 2015

        garr

        I’ve heard good things about the dx90 + legends pairing! Would I have to get an expensive Amp for LO with the X3? If so I might just consider going straight for the dx90 given its feature set

        • Reply March 29, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          You need a silent one. I’d say 3 to 400 USD. going for DX90 might be cheaper

  • Reply March 29, 2015

    Zaleski

    Sorry to lower the tone – but I’m wondering about MP3 playback. I still usually buy new music on vinyl or CD. My digital files are mostly rips of out of print rarities – most are MP3 at 320, and I may never find lossless up-grades.
    At the moment I’m using a Sansa Clip, which sounds pretty OK. But I’d love to find something that does more justice to my FLAC files and ideally also would sound better for MP3s. I’m considering the X3 ii or the iBasso DX50 or DX90. But I’ve read comments on-line suggesting that higher end DACs like these actually make MP3s sound worse than on the clip!
    Can anyone help with this? Would the Fiio or iBasso machines be a worthwhile step up for 320 MP3s too?
    Many thanks!

  • Reply April 3, 2015

    deva

    Thumbs up for the nice, detailed review, just one question though. The DX50 is almost of the same price. Apart from the touch screen, would you recomend the SG over DX50?

  • Reply April 7, 2015

    Gerard

    Hi, Lieven. I was just wondering if in your comparison between the X1 and the X3 did you use them with their Line Out? You mentioned that their difference is just subtle and I’d like to know if this is only when both are used as Line Out. Many thanks!

    • Reply April 7, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      it’s the case for both on the SE out as on the LO actually. If you plan on using the DAP always on the LO, yo’re just as good of with the X1

      • Reply April 8, 2015

        Gerard

        Thanks I really appreciate it. Very nice review btw! I’m actually just going to use the headphone out of the X1 and that is why I asked you. Now I’ll grab the X1!

        • Reply April 8, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Be aware of floor noise, especially with sensitive earphones

          • Reply April 8, 2015

            Gerard

            Okay. But I’m fairly new to these audio terms like sensitive earphones. I’ll be using the RE-400. Is it sensitive?

  • Reply April 7, 2015

    Burju

    Hi Lieven,

    I am confused now with so many options on DAP, DAC and DAC-Amp.
    I have asked almost similar questions on OPPO HA-2 article.

    What would be nice to pair for portable use with LCD-XC? (I know….the rolling eyes on using XC for portable but anyways)
    1. X3 2nd gen
    2. Oppo HA-2
    3. Herus dac + Alo Continental V2 (between DX90 and Herus as DAC only)
    4. Ibasso DX90 + Alo Continental V2 (I know DX90 is the most quiet of all)
    5. Chyperlabs Theorem

    Cheers
    Burju

    • Reply April 7, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Hiw would you gobfrom the dx90 to the Herus?

      I would advice a DAP together with an amp lile the Duet or Vorzuge or Cloud Nine or continental. Another option is the ipod and theorem. Awesome sound

      • Reply April 7, 2015

        Burju

        Lightning fast reply Lieven, cheers.
        Ok on SQ wise, love warm sound for jazz and blues, which one of these setup:
        1. IPhone 5s-Lightning to USB cable to Herus DAC- Continental V2-LCD XC
        2. DX90-LO-LCD XC
        3. DX90-Continental V2-LCD XC
        4. iPhone 5s – Theorem.
        5. Or more cow bell?……just kidding.:)

        SQ wise, point 4>3>2>1….is it?
        I would love to try out vorzuge amp with Herus or DX90, but your set up on Bakoon portable amp with Herus DAC is tempting too, but I will be patient to acquire that setup in the future, coz I promise disneyworld for the boys this year…:)

        More Cow Bell
        Burju

        • Reply April 8, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          DX90-Continental V2-LCD XC or iPhone 5s – Theorem (or IPhone 5s-Lightning to USB cable to Herus DAC- Continental V2-LCD XC)

          • Reply April 10, 2015

            Burju

            Thank you Lieven, I appreciate you.

  • Reply April 8, 2015

    deva

    One more thing… how the SQ of E17k (headphone out) and X3 SG compares? Which will be a better sounding equipment.

  • Reply April 9, 2015

    hubertm

    Which one has better sound in your opinion?
    Fiio x3II or Hidizs AP100

  • Reply April 11, 2015

    Kurt

    Hi! Thanks for a great review. It was very helpful for me.
    One question regarding the headphones. You wrote about Fidelio L1. I have Fidelio L2. Do you know if they sound with X3 SG similar to L1 or should I expect someting else? I wonder if the combination X3 SG + Fidelio L2 is good. Would you recommend that?
    Thanks in advance for help.

    • Reply April 15, 2015

      Paul Cookson

      Well I’ve got the L2s paired with the Fiio X1 and they sound perfect to me

      • Reply April 16, 2015

        willy vlyminck

        I can only agree, and on the road Senn IE80

        • Reply April 16, 2015

          Paul Cookson

          I use the RHA MA750i out and about. Again the X1 is great, so I’d hope the X3 SG is even better.

          • Reply April 23, 2015

            Rizki Fauzi

            great

            • Reply April 23, 2015

              Rizki Fauzi

              gret

      • Reply April 23, 2015

        Rizki Fauzi

        great

  • Reply April 11, 2015

    Hong

    For what reason do you recommend it over the DX50? I was thinking of pairing either X3 SG or DX50 with Westone W30. Any recommendations?

    • Reply April 12, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Pure sound quality

      • Reply June 22, 2015

        Christian Silva

        Hello, and how about the X3 SG with Westone UM PRO 30? Thanks in advance

  • Reply April 14, 2015

    Satish Bhat

    Is x3 2G better or Oppo HA2? Any idea

    • Reply April 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      They’re not really the same thing are they. Maybe Nathan has an idea

  • Reply April 17, 2015

    Carsten

    You should have disclosed what firmware version of the first Generation fiio x3 you were comparing the second generation model x3 to.
    Firmware version 3.0 for the “old” x3 is rather warm and bass-rich.
    Firmware version 3.34 beta for the “old” x3 has a cleaner, more modern sound.
    If you think I’m imagining – I had two “old” X3s at home for a couple of days with fw 3.0 (more bass) and at the time 3.2 (less bass, cleaner) installed – I could recognize what firmware it was from sound of the bass 9 times out of 10.
    Firmwares are available for download in the firmware threads on headfi.
    You should also state what firmware version was used in the test of the second generation x3.
    Thanks!

    • Reply April 17, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I have stated it for the SG.

      • Reply April 18, 2015

        Carsten

        OK. And when you compared it to the first gen X3, what fw version was the first gen X3 on? Thanks!

  • Reply April 18, 2015

    Andy Liang

    how does it perform paired with the sennheiser IE80s?

  • Reply April 22, 2015

    Aaron Goldberg

    How does this compare to the PONO for sound quality? I”ve heard the X5 and thought it was pretty good…Does this pair up well with Sennhieser momentums and the next AKG 7XX series (or Q701s)..thanks

  • Reply April 22, 2015

    Jeroen Wijnands

    Interesting read. I had the X3 mk1 for a week before returning it and found it a lot nicer when using it as a DAC than as a DAP.

  • Reply April 23, 2015

    Joel Lerner

    So your choice between Hidiz AP100 and FIIO X3-Would be? Sound quality wise is one better the other?

  • Reply May 5, 2015

    Yann

    What open headphone would you recommend to pair with the x3 SG (and to listen classical music) ? As I understand the headphone should not have an impedance of more than 150Ω

    • Reply May 5, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Something like the L2 or X2 by Philips. Especially the L2

      • Reply May 5, 2015

        Yann

        Ahh! The Philips L2 is actually my current headphone and the Fiio X3k is on its way. I am looking forward to testing the combo. Still I have an issue with the L2. The music quality is excellent but the design is semi-open and I would favour a pure open design. Any alternatives? Thanks

  • Reply May 8, 2015

    lahbairo

    How does it pair with Senn HD 595 for mostly classical, jazz and vocals? Would I get a substantial improvement worth all £130 from the E12A? What other headphones would pair well with the X3ii in the £100 – 150 price range (either open or closed but portable)?

  • Reply May 15, 2015

    Dhia Oshaish

    Is there an upcoming review of the Fiio x5 second generation?

    • Reply May 15, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Ofcourse 🙂

      • Reply May 15, 2015

        Dhia Oshaish

        Already excited to know how it compares to the DX90!
        I will be waiting for the review. Thank you!

  • Reply May 20, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Do you think the new x3 make a good match with the DT770 32ohm?

  • Reply June 18, 2015

    Rezaul Laskar

    Is this a review or a laundry list of the headphones and IEMs you own? Most impressive.

    • Reply June 19, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      The list is long. One of the perks of being in the review business for years

  • Reply June 22, 2015

    Bogdan Popa

    Great review.please tell me what to choose: fiio x3sg or x5 second hand same price. Also with dt880 250ohm 250ohm would any of these two work without amp?

    • Reply June 22, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Work yes, but I would recommend an amp with both models.

      • Reply June 25, 2015

        Bogdan Popa

        I will go for the x3 sg plus e12 setup. There is a promo package in my country at around 380$ . I tryed dt880 250 with e11k and found no difference over the standard DAP but e12 really lets them shine.

  • Reply June 28, 2015

    sulbh

    is this better than ipod classic 5.5 gen sound quality wise?Has anyone compared those two please tell because i want to upgrade soon.

  • Reply July 21, 2015

    Chris

    I currently use an X1 with an E12a stacked. Would an X3 by itself outperform this combo? Thanks in advanced.

    • Reply July 22, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I don’t think so, no

      • Reply July 22, 2015

        Chris

        Thanks for the speedy reply. What about the X5, then? Specifically the first gen model.

  • Reply September 16, 2015

    YOni

    Scroll wheel works horrible! After 3-4 months does not work properly at all, very bad performance.

  • Reply October 25, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    He400s its a good pairing with X3SG?

    • Reply October 25, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      If you like a warmer touch

      • Reply October 25, 2015

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        And if using an amplifier ? which recommend to improve the experience ?

        • Reply October 25, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          There are hundreds of options

        • Reply October 25, 2015

          dalethorn

          What components are you using now?

          • Reply October 26, 2015

            Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

            Only Fiio X3SG.

            • Reply October 26, 2015

              dalethorn

              The X3sg should power any of the medium priced headphones like the HE400s. I don’t know what your budget limit is, but I just ordered the new Beyer DT-1770 – the DT-770-32 was probably the most popular headphone ever on Headfonia, and I expect the DT-1770 is going to be spectacular.

              • Reply October 26, 2015

                Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

                So who is better pairing with X3SG? He400s or Dt770 32ohm?

                • Reply October 26, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  Nobody could answer on pairing, since both are equally competent, although the DT770-32 will probably play a little louder. Those 2 headphones also sound very different.

                • Reply October 26, 2015

                  Headfonia_L.

                  I prefer the DT770, the 400S might be a bit warm

  • Reply November 28, 2015

    dpg

    This looks great as a high quality DAP and on the fly DAC. I’m currently using a Sansa Clip+ with a couple of home made cmoys and my Grado sr225s and MX50s. Would this be a good upgrade/replacement? Would I still want to use the cmoys if I had this? How’s the sound signature with this and the grados?

  • Reply January 13, 2016

    Patrick.C

    Using it since summer last year and I must say I’m fine with it. The battery is good, even by only listening loseless music and the firmware improved many things, especially the responses of the wheel feels way better than at start. But still a good partner with my af180 and I like the current p/v ratio.

  • Reply February 24, 2016

    Ike

    I’m using the Sony F887 to listen to most FLAC songs and some loseless Apple files. However, i’m thinking to buy this Fiio X3 because i think it is better than F887 but it will cost me more than buying an Amp (E12A).

    Should i buy this X3 or buy the E12A for the already have Sony?

  • Reply September 1, 2016

    Julio

    X3SG + Picollo its better than X5ii??

  • Reply December 1, 2017

    Daniel

    Hi, I noticed that the Fiio X1 (1g) has a pretty warm sound … Is there a similar Dap with better soundstage and brighter, and the maximum price of the X3 2Gen?

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