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.
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?
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.
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