Competitors & Family
Comparison was done with the exact same recordings and songs in FLAC.
Detail, sound stage and dynamics are a little better in the X3 SG when comparing it to its little brother, the X1. The X1 has a more full bodied sound, is slightly warmer and has some more focus on the lows. I could describe the X1 as the more fun sounding one and the X3 SG as the more detailed one. In the mids section, the X1 is missing the detail, precision and air the X3 SG has, that’s the biggest difference. Probably caused by the difference in DAC chip/implementation. I read somewhere someone couldn’t hear a difference between both players and I can see why that is as it’s not a night and day difference at all. The (slight) difference is there though. When listening to the remastered “Nevermind” album from Nirvana in FLAC, the differences were very subtle. Listening to the FLAC version of Robert Plant & Allison Krauss’s “Raising Sands” on the other hand, made the difference a lot more audible. Same goes for Yello’s “Touch Yello”. The X3 SG just has the better detail, precision and dynamics, especially in the mids. The difference in sound however is only subtle and that proves the X1 at only $99 USD is an incredible DAP.
Sound wise the old X3 has a lighter and thinner sound with less body and smoothness in the mids. The Second Generation X3 is warmer and more musical sounding where I find the old X3 to be more analytical with a somewhat more dry presentation. The SG also portrays more detail, timbre and better depth. To me the new X3 is quite a big step up from the first X3, not only form and usability wise, but especially sound wise. The new UI of course is ten times better and the SG is a pleasure to work with compared to the first X3.
The iBasso DX90 is still the better DAP: sound and usability wise. With the DX90 you get a full bodied and a more detailed sound, especially in the mids. Overall a higher micro detail level with more feeling and timbre making it even more dynamic and musical than the X3 SG is. Bass body might be a bit bigger though. The DX90 is the most silent of the DAPs in my collection and the extra sensitive Earwerkz Legend R almost doesn’t hiss with this player. iBasso still has a better UI than the new X3in my opinion and with the touch screen, its usability just is better. I’ve been listening to the new X3 daily for a few weeks now and while I was very happy with it, my ears, when I went back to the DX90, couldn’t deny the DX90 is still a level up (in everything). The New X3 however got a whole lot closer to the DX90, and don’t forget it is only half its price. That’s really impressive from Fiio.
The AK120ii and AK240 cost seven to over ten times as much as the X3 SG and comparing them wouldn’t be fair. These players are made for different target groups. Let me just say that Fiio still has a long way to go.
I’m very hiss sensitive and the Fiio DAPs are not really the most silent DAPs on the market. I already reported that the X1 was pretty noisy with my collection of monitors, and with the SG it’s the same. The new X3 does a lot better but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the headphone out. That doesn’t mean your own in-ears or monitors will have the same behavior as mine and the last info I got from Fiio is that this pre-production unit has more hiss than the final consumer units will have. We’ll see.
With the Cosmic Ears CE4P there is a slight hiss but it isn’t audible when music is playing. The 1964Ears V6S with an Effect Audio Thor cable sounds excellent on the X3 SG: great bass, mids a bit more in the back and well extended treble. There’s almost no hiss here. With the silicone CustomArt Harmony 8 Pro there is no audible hiss and you get great sound from the H8P. The mids are a bit more in the back compared to the Legend R, another 8 driver monitor. The German Rhines Stage 5 doesn’t hiss at all but there may be a bit too much bass and thick slow mids to enjoy it on this X3. The S5 needs a brighter source in my opinion.
So far so good but when I connected the Cosmic Ears CE6E I immediately got a lot of hiss and at the low volume I listen to it was audible all the time. It got even worse when I connected the Earwerkz Legend R: there was so much hiss and crackling that it’s plain simply unusable with the X3 SG. The Legend R is so sensitive it even hisses on the DX90.
The brand new Inear StageDiver 4 only hisses very little. Clear sound, more extended highs but the mids are worrying me. More on the SD4 in a few weeks as I only just received it.
Basically, the X3 SG drives all inears without issue. Some inears/monitors will hiss and others will not. Some people don’t care about a little hiss, and others just don’t hear it but to me it’s a big issue. As a result I as good as always use an external amp when using one of the Fiio DAPs. I do think they should have tried making it more silent, even when it maybe is just for a minority op people.
With full sized and over ear headphones I didn’t experience any hiss. The Philips Fidelio X2 is easy to drive and gets more than enough power on low gain. You get good bass body and great mids with soft treble. A smooth and warm combination giving a sometimes slower and relaxed sound, but that’s how we know the X2. The Fidelio L1 has a faster and tighter sound with good treble and more clarity than the X2. On the X3 SG there is less bass body but the L2 has a more linear sound. The voices/mids are somewhat more forward sounding but both Fidelio’s work great with Fiio’s latest.
One of my first headphones was the Audio-Technica ATH-M50: On the X3 SG it delivers fast/tight/good bass, slightly forward mids, and good treble. It’s been a while since I listened to the M50 but it’s still a very good sounding and balanced headphone that’s easy driveable by the X3 SG.
Of the on ear headphones I tried the Beyerdynamic T51P was a good match with the new X3: great bass yet a tad looser. What I noticed most were the big sound stage and the very good vocals. The Vmoda XS wasn’t the best headphone with the SG, it just sounded off for some reason. The famous Koss PortaPro sounds great on everything and it was no difference here. This could be a killer budget setup.
In the harder to drive category, the first headphone I tried was the Hifiman HE-400i : I didn’t expect the 400i to sound this good. It’s even driveable on low gain and you get good bass, great mids and the typical Hifiman treble. I do prefer using an external amplifier for some extra body in the mids, but it isn’t necessary. The Beyerdynamic T90 is not the best match for the 16 to 150Ω X3 SG. Using the X3 SG, the superb T90 has very little bass and an even thinner sound. Clearly the 250Ohm Tesla is no match for the X3 SG. The weird thing is that the 300Ω Sennheiser HD650 performs reasonably well on the SG in the high gain setting. There’s good bass and the HD650 delivers a fairly musical sound. The HD650 however does sound a lot better when using an appropriate amplifier. The popular LCD-2, while performing better than the T90, is no suitable headphone for the SG either. There’s no surprise here, I don’t think anyone expected it to work well with this DAP.
In conclusion I could say that all normal headphones will work just fine with the new X3. The more power hungry or higher impedance headphones however will need some extra help.
Fiio listens to their customers and what the market is asking. They keep getting better, always delivering top quality at very acceptable prices.
The X3 Second Generation will be available for $199 and what you get in return is a lot. Is it a giant killer? No it isn’t really but the quality it delivers for the price is impressive. Accessory-wise you get a USB-cable, a short digital out to coax cable, some screen protectors, a set of funny stickers, a warranty card and a quick start guide. All that delivered in a nice black box.
Sound wise, the X1 and X3 SG aren’t that far apart but the SG is a huge difference and improvement over the original X3. A lot of actual X3 owners might not like reading this but that’s how it is. Maybe it’s time to upgrade 😉
The X3 SG might not be the ideal DAP for sensitive IEMs and hard to drive headphones, even if it pleasantly surprised me with the HD650. The Line Out of the SG however is silent and good. I’d recommend using an external amp for all power hungry headphones and your sensitive monitors. And like I said, the hiss should be less of an issue in the production version according to Fiio.
The iBasso DX90 clearly still is my favorite affordable DAP as it is still ahead of the new X3 in a lot of ways. That being said, the SG certainly got a lot closer to the DX90 and if you don’t care for touch screens I’d even recommend it over the DX50.
I’m not sure when the Production X3 SG will hit the market, from what I understand there’s some delay in production because of the X1 and X5 but I suppose it will be somewhere in April. Sorry for this rather long review but Fiio’s new DAP simply deserved a very close look.