Review: FiiO BTR3 – one step forward, two steps back

The Fiio BTR3 is one of Fiio’s latest Bluetooth devices. Do we like it? Find out all about it now!

 

Disclaimer: FiiO supplied BTR3 for the purposes of this review. I paid nothing for it. It retails for 79$ and is driven by the AK4376A DAC and Qualcomm CR8675 Bluetooth receiver chip. You can find out all about it here: Portable High-Fidelity Bluetooth Amplifier-BTR3. 

Related reviews:

FiiO BTR1
Fiio uBTR
MyST 1866 Bluetooth DAC

Not sound

FiiO’s unrelenting production queue reminds me of nVidia in the late 90s, of which Tom’s Hardware asked: ‘are nVidia too fast for us?’ The difference is that FiiO are fighting a much larger, less proprietary rank of competing products and rivals. 3DfX may have quickly fallen to nVidia, but many companies in FiiO’s day are taking pages right out of the FiiO play book and creating fantastic wireless and other products. What FiiO generally do best, however, is consistently one-up their own products, and often in rapid succession. 

BTR3 is their latest hi-resolution bluetooth portable DAC. It supports nearly every bluetooth codec out there, LDAC apparently offering the best performance of the bunch (according to my own measurements and tests). 

In most ways, BTR3 appears to be better than its predecessors, the uBTR and BTR1. Part of that can be sussed after peeling it from its packaging. It’s heavier. It’s got a nice glowing logo. It’s got more dedicated buttons, and like uBTR, it’s a plastic face, which at least to me, alluded to better wireless connectivity. It also charges over USB C. It’s clip is thicker, sturdier, and skews less on its hinges than the BTR1 and even less than the uBTR. It’s got dual attenuation stages when connected to iOS (and I assume Android), making impossibly small volume steps a possibility. 

Regarding connectivity, my oft-repeated test revealed that it would keep signal out to nearly 60 metres- as long as you’re facing the transmitter and have no skin, fabric, or anything else in between. Unfortunately – and this is is the crux of this review -, the BTR3 loses connection at the slightest provocation. Backpack, torso, foot, hand, picnic table, hammer, glove, finger nail- any of that blocking the line-of-sight means the signal will cut in and out. Turning my back and putting BTR3 in my front pocket, I get a maximum of five metres before signal consistently cuts in and out. Even two metres away, signal cuts out if I walk around a corner. Worse still, I can’t move a metre when something – no matter how small – stands between my phone and the BTR3. What that meant in the last month is that at work, I didn’t use the BTR3 at all. Instead, I used the uBTR, and when it ran out of battery, the BTR1. 

To wit, the BTR3’s wireless signal catching capability sucks. 

Another problem – and one I neglected to mention in my BTR1/uBTR reviews – is the backward physical UI. The plus sign raises volume; contrariwise, a long press tracks to the previous song. The same is the case in reverse for the minus. Plus should never move backward and minus should never move forward. This also applies to the BTR1 and uBTR and will be appended to their reviews. Apologies for not bringing attention to it earlier. 

One step forward, two steps back. 

The mic button pauses with iOS. It is snappy and responsive and the mic quality is okay. 

The final UI problem involves the location of the headphone jack and its orientation to the clip. Assuming you clip BTR3 to your trouser pocket, the cable will poke down rather than up, pulling both the cable and the BTR3 at weird angles. It works fine when connected to a belt loop or backpack, but if you’re out in your jeans, you now have only one place to plug it without fear of BTR3 falling. Because it forces bending angles, it also puts more stress on earphone/headphone/line cables. FiiO should know this is a bad design. As it goes, BTR3 is the only unit in the series designed this way. BTR1 and uBTR pop the jack from the top with the clip pointing down. BTR3 isn’t a phone; a cable coming out of the bottom doesn’t make it easier to hold or fiddle. It also makes it harder to connect headphones when using it as a DAC or whilst charging. This is bad design. 

Fortunately, BTR3 gets great battery life. I’ve found it about on par with the uBTR, which means it will get though an entire day of work. The great proviso of course is that you’ll not get far from your desk – or even do much at your desk – without its signal cutting out. 

Sound and more after the jump:

Review: FiiO BTR3 – one step forward, two steps back
4 (80%) 1 vote

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

11 Comments

  • Reply October 25, 2018

    Nhan Du

    I have connection drop outs from time to time (usually in large crowds, I live in NYC) but I can use my BTR3 in my apartment through walls without issues. My primary devices are an Alienware laptop and a OnePlus 5T. Have you tested with any other devices besides an iPhone SE?

    • Reply October 25, 2018

      Nathan

      I’ve tested with four devices, each of which work great with the BTR1 and uBTR.

  • Reply October 25, 2018

    Frank

    I have the exact opposite experience with my BTR1 and BTR3. The BTR1 loses connection completely randomly, with or without anything between it and my phone, it also mutes itself if the volume is too low. I can’t walk 3 feet away from my phone without the BTR1 has a hiccup. My BTR3 is the polar opposite, the only time it has a hiccup is when I turn two corners in my apartment and walk into the kitchen when my phone is in my home office. I sometimes forget my phone is on my bed and walk around my 2000 sqft apartment going about my business without the BTR3 missing a beat, although my bedroom door is facing the living room, so that could be a factor. 4 of my coworkers all bought BTR3s and their experience is consistent with mine, perhaps you received a faulty unit?

  • Reply October 25, 2018

    Sp12er

    Hmm weird about those conmetio problem, I had none of that at all, in fact I’ve used mine to move from 2 different room, about 10m from my phone (left it charging), I even tried going down a floor of which it start cutting out when I walk a bit far way from the wall.
    This is actually my best experience of using Bluetooth connection on headphone. My portable speakers cant do this.

    I think it may just be your device only, can you ask Fiio to send a different, fresh in the box, FW updated one?

    I think you’d get much better experience then.

    • Reply October 26, 2018

      Nathan

      I’ll look into them sending me one that they hand pick or that is fresh and FW updated. Remember, I get 60 metres line of sight with no obstruction and up to 10 when I’m turned away from it.

      • Reply October 27, 2018

        Sp12er

        10m with obstruction sounds a lot better than what it seems to be based on what you wrote in the review.

        Just now I tried using mine, I put my phone down on a chair in a hospital (waiting room) then walk away a couple meters, all while covering the BTR3’s acrylic face with my wallet (thick, leather one with all the money and cards in it) also more than 6 rows of metal chair behind where I put my phone as “obstruction”.

        I manage to get around 10 meters before there’s a hint of a connection lost (1/2 second of pause, then resume) then cuts out only after I walk outside of the hall.

        Overall that’s at least good/better than average, and IMO more than workable enough workspace for untethered listening.

  • Reply October 25, 2018

    Andrew

    Just got mine today and it passes my “big belly” test. Clip on my shirt and phone in pocket so path straight through my hip/gut. Lesser BT adapters have failed this but I’m finding connectivity good as is the audio quality which I’d say is similar and as good as the Radstone ES100 over 3.5mm connection. That’s with it set to LDAC best 990kbps.

    Drives my 8 Ohm SE846’s without any background noise/hiss and has just enough power to drive my 150 Ohm Sen HD660S a couple steps below max (max is too loud).

    Maybe your have a faulty one ?

    • Reply October 26, 2018

      Nathan

      I’ve not ruled out that I have a faulty one, but according to the comments here, I have questions in only one place, and this is because, as I stated, I can get up to 60 metres line of sight, which is insanely good. Maybe there is a problem with antenna grounding, maybe, but the only way to check would be to have a second device.

      All things apart from that, and the poor positioning of the headphone output and clip alignment (and +/- and tracking UI), it is the best-sounding Bluetooth device I’ve ever used.

  • Reply October 25, 2018

    ANDRAS

    Generally I do like Headfonia’s review, but first time ever I do not like your review of the Fiio BTR3.
    I made a review in my blog and found the BTR3 as a stunning audiophile device. It is so damn good that I am using it as my audio player on the go together with a Vorzüge Pure II+ headphone amp. The wireless connection is not always perfect, but generally it works very well. You simply forgat to mention in your review, that this wonderous player delivers a performance for 70 USD which 5 years ago costed around 500 USD.
    I would like to congratulate to Fiio delivering the best mobile wireless audio player of 2018. I gave my award to the BTR3.

    • Reply October 26, 2018

      Nathan

      I didn’t forget to mention anything about audio quality in my review. I think you’ll find that section glowing and the measurements back that up. As for how a device in ‘current year’ performs vis-a-vis a device from five years ago… that is a mistake. Everything in the tech world performs or should perform better than something several generations removed in the past, no matter the price.

  • Reply November 8, 2018

    Peter Comissiong

    I agree with one of the comments about the Fiio Company developing the btr3. Right when I was about to order the Btr1 I saw the Btr3!! The product being so very small it is equally as useful as an awsome audio add-on including all popular codecs. My bluetooth experience has been better then your Nathan also I could go from my bedroom all the way to get the mail on the driveway and was surprised it was still playing music.

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