Touch screen. There. I said it. You probably didn’t expect it but I’m not a fan of touch screens in general. I don’t like typing on the screen of my tablet and Android phone but a DAP without touch screen isn’t always easy to work with. The first X3 had a vertical screen and the UI certainly wasn’t the best. Sure, it did improve after each FW update but navigating through all the menus wasn’t the easiest of things.
With the introduction of the scroll wheel all that changed. The navigation menu is more or less the same as the X1 they released earlier. The big difference is in the scroll wheel: it feels much better when scrolling and it reacts in a more correct way. When I go back to the X1 now it feels like a plastic toy. The X3 SG’s scroll wheel, while it is a lot better now, still isn’t perfect though and one click on the wheel doesn’t necessarily mean your selection bar on your screen will move up or down one position as well.
The main menu, accessed by the top right button – has five options: System Settings – Play Settings – Browse Files – Category and Now Playing. Each selection, besides the last one I mentioned has sub menus. There’s also a quick menu which you can go into when listening to music by pressing the top left key on the front of the DAP. Navigation is pretty straight forward and simple yet navigating through a list of hundreds of artists from A to Z can take a while. To me that’s one of the down sides of this DAP. Of course I could make artist folders on my SD card ranging from A to D and E to H and so on, but that way too time consuming for me as I use shuffle play most of the time anyway. DAPs like Astell&Kern and iBasso solved it differently: they either have a search function, a fast scroll navigation and most of all a touch screen where you can directly go to the letter “S” in example. That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of the iBasso DAPs. They’re so easy to work with.
I have used the X3 SG as my daily DAP ever since it arrived and yet I keep mistaken the scroll wheel as a volume dial. Quite annoying but the solution is easy. As soon as hold the select button down for a second or so, it will go transform from a navigation tool to a volume button. If I were Fiio I’d automatically make the scroll wheel a volume dial as soon as the player is locked (by pushing the power button or when it automatically goes to lock mode (user set)).
The User Interface of the X3 SG is pretty darn good; I just think it could have been even better with the addition of a touch screen and some extra tweaks. That probably would have made its price go up though. The X3 Second Generation is pretty pocket friendly. It’s light, small in size and you can easily feel what side button your finger is on. The volume buttons, once the player is in lock mode, also become the “next” and “back” buttons to navigate through your play list. Something else I like on the SG is that music, just like on my iPod, stops playing when you disconnect your headphone.
The X3 Second Generation also has a 10 band EQ available for those who are in to EQ’ing. Personally I’m not and I haven’t touched the EQ at all. There’s also a 5800 track limit for tagged libraries so it seems.
In general the UI is reasonably fast and responsive. When you quickly switch songs with artwork it doesn’t always manage to keep up but overall it performs very well, I’d put it on the same level as my DX90. My AK240 has more problems with quick DSD navigation than the X3 SG has. That’s a big compliment for the ten times cheaper X3. The similar X1 has hung up on me once; the new X3 hasn’t at all.
First of all the X3 Second Generation is a DAP for on the go, and a good one for that. I’ll go in to a detailed comparison with the first X3 in the next topic but I never was a big fan of the original X3. This new one is better in every way.
You get a good sound stage and detail retrieval and it sounds so much more musical than before. Timbre and dynamics are fairly good, certainly for a $200 player but they aren’t the best on the market either (see later). Overall the sound signature is on the warmer side of neutral with a smooth delivery, yet not as much as the X1 is doing this. I’d say it’s somewhere in between warm and neutral. Bass definition is quite good. While bass has more than enough body it isn’t the most detailed though.
One of the strengths of the new X3 is that it’s great as a unit in its totality. Sound wise I would say its strongest point is how it does its mids, a huge different with the original X3. It was hard for me to get any joy from listening to the first generation X3 but now the mids are a lot richer sounding with a good amount of air. They’re not as good yet as the mids of the E12A amplifier but it’s going in that direction.
Treble is good as well even if it is on the softer side. It isn’t the most extended or detailed treble and it won’t shock anyone when you’re listening to your favorite tunes. Some people will of course prefer more crispy highs.
As you can see I quite like how it sounds as a complete unit, especially with IEMs and easy to drive headphones. I however have found myself using the X3 SG more as a DAC only at the office. While the amplification part certainly has its merits, I personally do think the DAC part is of a higher quality. The amp part positively surprised me power wise but when using the Line Out to in example the Picollo, E12A or Beyerdynamic A20 amplifier, my head- and earphones all sounded so much better. Like with the X1, I find the Line Out of the new X3 to be pretty darn good and I really enjoyed using it. Is it as good as the double DX90 DAC or Herus DAC? Honestly no, it is not, but it’s the cheapest and price/quality wise it’s on top of the list. An extra problem I have is the hiss the headphone out is producing with my sensitive monitors, but more on that in a bit.
As a DAC only with my laptop, the SG sometimes had issues where there were drop-outs but I didn’t experience that all the time. It’s been a long time since I had that happen with my laptop and I can’t think of a reason why it’s not liking the new X3 as much as the other USB DACs.
Even more on sound after the click!