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:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

20 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.

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Arthur H

    I agree that the phone socket being on the opposite side is a bad design choice. I primarily use wireless when I’m working out, and both having loops that can snag and not being able to put the device inside the pocket and the clip outside without bending the cable hard are showstoppers.
    This could have been solved by having a rotating clip, like some phones had back in the pre-smartphone days.

  • Reply December 29, 2018

    charlyarg

    I’ll be using the BTR3 with my Moto G5+ phone. The phone all the time in my handbag, during the commute. I shouldn’t have hiccups with such closeness right? A thing you didn’t mention in your review is the USB dac function. While primarily I’d use it for the phone, I LOVE extra capabilities (and I switch stuff continuously so a second application is great). Did you get around to test that ability? One more question. Anybody could compare the quality to a wired solution like the K1? Thanks!

  • Reply January 23, 2019

    Dave

    The connectivity loss would also depend on audio codec in use. Most user having good connectivity may not be using LDAC (HWA/LHDC) option so the drops may not be as severe.

  • Reply February 21, 2019

    cr0ft

    I disagree on the track forward and back thing. It is much much easier to quickly find the volume down part of the volume rocker by feel alone. And in 99% of cases you want to skip to the next track, not go back. It takes a day or two to get used to it and after that it’s all good. I can put my finger on the volume down part of the button in a fraction of a second by just grabbing the unit and sliding my hand up until I feel that ridge, boom.

    Having to try to feel where the volume up rocker is, and figuring out if you’re about to push that or the multifunction button, takes appreciably longer. Sure, half a second here nor there, but multiply that with several times a day, 365 days a year – I think Fiio did the right thing.

    As for connectivity, I haven’t had any issues, even with LDAC, but then I very rarely separate the phone and the BTR3 by more than a meter. Most likely stepping down to AptX would improve things, as LDAC probably requires a cleaner connection to do 990k.

  • Reply July 3, 2019

    nnnnnate

    I picked up a BTR3 last weekend off amazon and have been using it with low end IEM’s to do yard work and not have my wires get caught on stuff. I’ve used the included neck lanyard for the BTR3 between my undershirt and t-shirt while storing my phone pants pocket. It seems like the BT will work well for a bit then it’ll start cutting out very frequently. I’m not sure what the issue is but looked online after experiencing that to see if its just my unit.

    Maybe the BTR3 is flipping around so the face is towards my chest which muffles the signal. My phone is a Pixel 2 XL. I have a whole mess of yard work to get done and NEED tunes or pods so hopefully I can figure it out so I don’t have to return it.

  • Reply September 16, 2019

    dave

    the volume down to go to the next track does seem a bit weird but maybe they were thinking more about how a play que works on screen, usually going down is the next track and up is the previous so it matches the buttons that way

  • Reply October 19, 2019

    chris

    I currently own a BTR3 on firmware v1.2 .The phone i intially paired with it was a Huawei Mate 10 and i used the LDAC codec (on best effort bitrate) .If i walked more than 5ft..stuttering.If i put it in my pocket stuttering .It was pretty much unusable if it wasn’t hanging around your neck.I switched my phone to Oneplus 7 pro and now i can walk the entire length of my gym about 50 ft or so with 3 machines in the line of sight and not miss a beat.In summary the bluetooth transmitter in your phone will make all the difference in your experience.

  • Reply October 30, 2019

    Joost

    You state it has audio rolloff, is that in the form of a low pass filter?

    I am debating getting this to pair with my audioquest nightowl, but the treble is already quite rolled off, so this might not be the best match then!

  • Reply November 24, 2019

    Slee

    I’m probably a rarity, but I highly prefer the location of the charge and headphone jacks. I primarily use it for handsfree and streaming in my car and I’m able to route the wires easier when they are coming from the bottom.

    Ain’t different use cases crazy?!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.