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

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.

Headphones

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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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