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

Sound

BTR3 supports basically every codec out there. There are a few performance-related differences between them, but overall, as long as it receives signal, the BTR3 amazes. It also works as a USB DAC, and sounds great in that role. Measurements linked were made in SBC, AAC, and LDAC modes. As you can see from the screenie below and the information in the linked article, BTR3 is pushing the bounds of portable audio. There are dedicated audio players that measure worse. There are dedicated audio players that output less voltage. Damn good. 

I really wish that BTR3 bested the BTR1 in every non-audio respect. If only it had the latter‘s connection quality. Both return near-black backgrounds, though BTR3 hisses even less than an iPhone SE through Campfire Audio’s super-sensitive Comet earphones, making it the least hissy Bluetooth DAC/headphone amp I’ve yet tried, if not one of the least hissy devices in the audio mass market. FiiO nailed it. 

BTR3 bests uBTR in every unloaded audio metric, and even the amazing BTR1 in most measures, including less than a third of its IMD and noise. Not bad. Not bad at all. Under load, some of that is reversed; Note that in all modes I’ve tested, it shows a bit of high-frequency roll off. Honestly, if you hear it, you might like it. When done right, lowpass filters sound great. And honestly, BTR3’s lowpass filter is genius. 

One thing I really dig is how well the BTR3 portrays stereo gradations. At first I thought it was too central, but the more I listened the more I realised that it was that stereo bands are detailed and allowed to fade to the sides rather than present a wall of equal pressure sound. This style makes for a deep, nuanced sound stage whose lateral cues are delicate and fine. 

This is particularly the case in the bass, where stereo and frequency detail are spot on. Both return absolutely flat signals, but fine gradations, speed of decay and attack, and delicate turns into the mids make the bass deep, reflexive, and open. It’s the best, most open, and nuanced bass rendition I’ve heard in a wireless device, ever. 

It holds signal under load almost perfectly, with just a small uptick in IMD in certain situations. And, it outputs marginally power than an iPhone SE, which is just a few dB from the likes of a DP-S1. The BTR3 is powerful. It has great resolution. It utilises the best array of wireless codecs out there, and each is indicated by a change in the FiiO logo colour. 

Overall, it is suited the the exact same headphones your iPhone SE/6 is, and to a lesser extent, your DP-S1 is. That is, it is as powerful as the iPhone, and in most areas measures better. Its measurements trail those of the DP-S1 but not by much. And while not as powerful as the DAP, it is powerful. It gets way too loud for my Ultrasone Edition 8 and puts out enough power to make the HD600 sound good, if not great. 

But the less expensive and hissier uBTR has better wireless connection than it, and because it is cheaper and plastic, I feel better throwing it around. Sure, it can’t hold a candle to either the BTR1 or BTR3 as regards audio performance, but it nails convenience. Between the BTR1 and BTR3, I will chose the BTR1 every time. No, it doesn’t sound as good. No it doesn’t support the same amazing array of codecs. But it stays connected better, is nearly as good sounding, and is less expensive. 

End words

While I’ve been and am fast becoming even more unreasonable a cheerleader for FiiO’s growing BTR series, I’m not a fan of the BTR3. Sure, it nails the basics: signal quality, noise floor, loaded and unloaded signal quality, and now APTx/LDAC support. Sure, it has great battery life, and is built well. But let’s be clear, its Bluetooth signal catching quality is poor. If it were as good as the BTR1’s I’d recommend it hands-down. Because it is worse than that, and therefore way worse than the uBTR, and in practice only as good as a MyST 1866 Bluetooth DAC from 2012, I can’t recommend it for anything but close range wireless.

But there’s always the Fiio BTR1, that’s my favorite.

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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.

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?!

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