Review: Fiio M3 – Ultra Portable Audio

Disclaimer: Fiio Sent us a free sample of their latest low budget DAP, the Fiio M3, for free. Fiio is also a site advertiser and the unit (which Paul has) doesn’t need to be returned.

INTRODUCTION

Being a hobbyist reviewer has exposed me to a lot of DAPs over the last few years, and I’m currently spoilt for choice with the DAPs I have on hand – owning the Fiio X1, X5, X3ii, and having access to review samples for the X5ii, L&P5, and L5 Pro.  I’ve used each of them (a lot) over the last few years – and up until now, the X3ii has been my main go to portable DAP for daily use.

I’ve been using Fiio audio equipment for close to four years now (amps, DACs, and DAPs), and have watched them evolve in that time from a fledgling audio company to a serious player in the personal audio world.  A couple of things have stayed constant in all of my time using Fiio products though – they’ve always strived to improve their performance (interacting with the community to get guidance along the way), and they’ve always aimed to release audio products that measure well, sound great, and offer real value for money.

I have to admit that this year the main DAP I was waiting for was their TOTL X7 – and because of this the impending release of the Fiio M3 almost slipped under the radar for me – until Lieven asked if I’d like to take one for a test drive.  I had a quick read of the specs, and was suitably curious.  At USD 55.00 retail, here was a truly portable option.  But would the price reflect the quality – or could this be a potential game changer for mainstream audio?

ABOUT FIIO

By now a lot of audio hobbyists will know about the Fiio Electronics Company.  If you don’t, here’s a very short summary.  Fiio was first founded in 2007.  Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned “audiophiles” as being low budget “toys”.  But Fiio has spent a lot of time with the audio enthusiast community, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt new ideas, and grow their product range.  They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X3 2nd Generation (X3ii), X5 2nd generation (X5ii), and just recently the X7.

Fiio’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.

PREAMBLE – ‘ABOUT ME’ (or a baseline for interpreting the review).

I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.

I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent.  I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.

My experience with DAPs in the past had been initially with some very cheap Sony offerings, then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, X1, X3ii, X5ii, X7 and the Luxury & Precision L&P5 and L5 Pro.

WHAT I GENERALLY LOOK FOR IN A PORTABLE DAP

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP.

  • Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
  • Good build quality
  • Portable – easy to carry and relatively lightweight.
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Easy to use interface
  • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping. However – due to the size of the M3 and the obvious intention to be used with highly portable cans or IEMs, I have foregone this requirement.
  • Value for money
  • Enough storage to hold either my favourite albums in redbook, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)

During the review I’ll refer back to this list and see how the Fiio M3 performed.

This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.

Click HERE or below to go the review on the next page

Review: Fiio M3 – Ultra Portable Audio
3.7 (74.74%) 95 votes

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Paul is a Kiwi from Down Under (New Zealand) and spends his time selling Lamb by day, and playing round with audio gear by night. He's a self confessed music junkie, with wide musical tastes and a penchant for female vocalists. He is not a golden eared listener, prefers to review armed with an SPL meter and objective measurements, and does his best to balance objectivity and subjectivity. Mostly though, he can be found with headphones on his head, and a smile on his face - lost in the moment.

    27 Comments

    • Reply January 12, 2016

      dalethorn

      Excellent review, written perfectly for this product. My recent experience with FiiO’s K1 amp shows that they make amazing tiny audio products.

      • Reply January 13, 2016

        Brooko

        Thanks Dale. I have the K1 with me too, and you are right – quite extraordinary the SQ which can be achieved with such a small footprint.

      • Reply February 1, 2016

        Miroslav Klima

        Dale, can you please share your experience with K1? I have Yamaha HPH MT220 (VERY happy with – thanx for you review) and looking for affordable DAC/amp. I know pros/cons of K1 (android issue) and I am eager to know your sonical experience. K1 price/performance ratio seems to me very good…

        • Reply February 1, 2016

          dalethorn

          I’m still using it. I just did a “reality check” comparing it to the FiiO E17k, using the iPhone 6s-plus and the new CCK adapter cable. While the K1 definitely improves the iPhone’s bass detail, and is marginally smoother elsewhere, the E17k has more impact and “air”. I don’t think most people would notice without a direct comparison, although if you really pay attention, you might get that sense after a long time listening. I think the K1 is worth buying and using, but to be honest, if you can spend more, I would.

          • Reply February 2, 2016

            Miroslav Klima

            thank you very much, I definitely can spend more, if it makes sense to me

      • Reply May 22, 2016

        Alex M

        I’m a bit confused. I have a player – iPod nano 7 / android phone (currently nexus 5x). Do I need another player like this one or should I buy an amp, like Fiio K1? Or should I buy Fiio M3 AND an amp? Does M3 serve as an amp?

        Reason to buy an amp for me – not to have more volume (with all my current headphones it is fine); it is rather to improve the clarity and overall listening experience.

        About me: I’m not planning to invest into “monitoring” headphones, however I’m starting to be not satisfied with mp3 quality (even 320) with relatively good over-ear headphones. So I’m looking for 2 things – portable solution “on the go”, preferably that will also work with a laptop. Great if it can be one device. And I’m not planning to ever move from 16bit. My ears told me that they prefer 16 over 24, since 24 bit “adds noise” that overweights the benefit of a “more spacious” sound.

        • Reply May 22, 2016

          dalethorn

          This could be something that takes time to figure out. At the start, if you could be OK with adding an amp to your phone or iPod, then you could buy something like the Oppo HA-2 (or similar), and be done with that part of your search. Because if you change devices, the Oppo would very likely work with whatever you switch to. But there are DAPs that outperform the Oppo that could give you great sound and all in one device, without the external amp. Myself, when I’m actually outdoors, I don’t need greater clarity than iPhone or iPod, because of outdoor noise levels. So I only have a concern for indoor listening.

    • Reply January 13, 2016

      Narbiyan Tedyanto

      Nice review as always. How you compare m3 vs x3 1st gen? In terms of portability and SQ.

      • Reply January 13, 2016

        ohm image

        They aren’t on the same page. The X3 first gen has a better output, capable of surpassing 16-bit in most metrics. The M3 both hisses more and can’t surpass 16-bit. But the M3 is WAY easier to use. Personally, if it hissed less, I’d be down for it over the X3 Gen 1.

      • Reply January 13, 2016

        Brooko

        Unfortunately the original X3 is one of the few Fiio DAPs I never had the pleasure of trying. In terms of portability though, the M3 is the smallest Digital Audio Player Fiio has released to date.

    • Reply January 13, 2016

      Oldandcurious

      I just got my M3 less than an hour ago. I have read that it is tiny, but not this tiny compared to my X3 1st gen., X3II and X1.

      Sound-wise, with my Ortofon EQ-5, I find it refreshingly clear and clean compared to the darker X3 1st gen. My subjective ears, old pair at 55 years of usage, take it to be closer to X3II’s sound signature than my X1 with the same music tracks I normally listen to.

      I had more than a few “toyish” looking and feeling DAPs through the years. Sandisk’s Clip+, Express, e130 and a couple of Creative players. The “heftier” ones were an iTouch 5th and a Fuze.

      For its sound quality, size and weight – the M3 is a good buy for those who simply like to carry a very light and “straight music player.”

    • Reply January 16, 2016

      sulbh

      How does it compare to sandisk sansa clip plus?

      • Reply January 17, 2016

        Brooko

        Sorry – I haven’t had a chance to try the Sansa.

      • Reply February 26, 2016

        Luciano

        The Fiio M3 are more clean, neutral to bright, and a bit more detailed and textured but all of this is just in comparison to the Sansa Clip+ Rockbox. A sansa have thick notes, with more body and with an effect producing a fine but fake-flat-soundstage, relativity wide and put in front, but not as deep, aired, with clear instrument separation and layered in comparison with M3, I think thats the way to produce a more realistic and coherent soundstage. Anyway, the Sansa are a very very good player, sounds very good, this are very tiny differences, so for the price, maybe take both if you can. Or go for the X1 (more prominent player in general) and keep the Sansa.

        I used a RE400 for this, neutrals and very well balanced iems.

        (Not native english, I apology if you can’t understand something what I wrote).

        Cheers.

    • Reply January 18, 2016

      Sam

      One thing I wish is perhaps connectivity to Portable DAC through the USB Micro Port. You forgot one feature that it is compatible with In-Line Wired Control from the headphone cable. Skip, Pause Play doesn’t need to reach your pocket. Very handy.

    • Reply January 18, 2016

      Gustavo

      Thanks for this excellent, detailed and well written review. It is very useful. I own a X1 and I’m so happy with it. I can’t believe that Fiio could make a tinier DAP. I’ve been trying to convince my friends to drop their cell phones to listen to music and the 100 dollars X1’s price tag seemed a extremely cheap option. And the M3 is such a great surprise. Those people who love music and their ears should buy this.
      Thanks again!

    • Reply February 8, 2016

      Ed Weisz

      Though they are on a different price bracket, how is the audio quality of M3 vs X5 II? I’m currently using Fidue A83 and looking for an upgrade for better/improved audio experience.
      Listening on the same music on my PC vs. my long time audio player (Rockbox-ed) Sansa Clip Zip. To me, my PC sounds warmer (which I like) while the Clip Zip is on the brighter side.

    • Reply March 17, 2016

      sulbh

      Which one would you recommend among fiio m3,fiio x1,xduoo x2,xduoo x3?

    • Reply April 18, 2016

      GIANFRANCO

      fiio m3 or Onn X5 ?

    • Reply April 19, 2016

      Francisco Urteaga

      I´m a runner. I see that portability is no issue, my worry is mainly that, with all the movement it might skip songs or freeze, would this be a problem?

      • Reply April 20, 2016

        dalethorn

        Not sure what you mean. There should not be any loose parts, unless the control on your headphone cord has an electrical short and causes those problems.

      • Reply October 12, 2016

        fadumpt

        The only MP3 players that you would have to worry about skipping or freezing are hard drive style players like the original iPod’s and iPod Classics with the huge amount of storage. Those should not be taken running or anything that involves bumps and shakes because not only will the music skip, you run the risk of destroying the drive inside.

    • Reply May 27, 2016

      Jack Thompson

      The only place i really get to listen to music these days is when im driving in my car. I had an old sony nzw-e354 which i plugged into an aux input on the car stereo. The sony recently died on me.. So would this be an affordable alternative?

      • Reply June 21, 2016

        Aníbal

        I think it should be an affordable alternative (I say that for what I’ve been reading these days). I do not own this device, but for such a price, maybe you should go on. Plus I want to give it a try (I’m just waiting to collect all the money).

    • Reply November 20, 2016

      Hessam

      Hello, sorry my English is not that good I guess, so I try to make it simple. Can I use something like AKG Q460 or Sennheiser HD239 with M3 or it’s better to use an earphone?!

    • Reply December 14, 2016

      MekkerGeit

      Hi Paul.
      You mentioned you got a 128gb SD card to work on the M3 despite the imposed 64gb limitation.
      I own the M3 is there anything specific I should do to get an SD of 128gig or beyond to work ?
      Format it in a certain way internally or on pc (FAT32, ExFAT, MTFS) ?

      Thanks in advance

    • Reply January 24, 2017

      aendu

      Thanks for the review. The file sorting thing and the drive-sort hint brought me to the Linux version, and an apt install fatsort later the play order was corrected. This was just the tiny bit of information I needed. For all those stumbling over my comment and using Linux: You’ll have to apply fsck.vfat first eventually before using fatsort.

      HTH, ändu

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