Review: Fiio M3 – Ultra Portable Audio

THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

The Fiio M3 arrived in a smart red and white printed retail box.  The box measures approximately 100 x 150 x 22mm. On the front is a picture of the M3 together with a pair of white earbuds.  On the rear are details (in English and Chinese) of the specifications and features.

Opening the box reveals a clear plastic tray housing a pair of white earbuds, the M3 itself, and a data / charging cable.  Underneath the tray is a black cardboard envelope containing a quick start guide, lanyard (for wearing the M3 attached around your neck), a warranty card, and two screen protectors (it also comes with a screen protector already in place).

The entire package is practical, covering everything you need to get up and running straight away with the player.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

The table below lists most of the relevant specifications.  I have (as a comparison) also listed specifications from Fiio’s other budget DAP – the X1.

Fiio M3Fiio X1
Approx cost USD 55.00USD 100.00
Dimensions~ 74 x 40 x 9mm~ 97 x 58 x 14mm
Weight40g106g
Lossless support (up to)APE 48/16, FLAC 48/24, WAV 96/24APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, ALAC, AIFF
Lossy supportMP3, WMA, OGG, M4A (excl raw .aac)MP3, AAC, OGG, WMA
Highest resolution96 kHz, 24 bits192 kHz, 24 bits
Use as external DAC?NoNo
Battery550 mAh1700 mAh
Play time~ 24 hours (screen off with 32 ohm hp)~ 12 hours(screen off with 32 ohm hp)
Recharge time< 2.5 hours< 4 hours (DC5V, 2A)
DAC chip usedCS42L51PCM5142
Main amp chipIntegrated with DACISL28291
S/N (H/O)≥95 dB (A-Weight)110 dB (A-Weight)
THD+N (H/O)<0.008% (1 kHz)<0.003% (1 kHz)
Crosstalk>70 dB (1 kHz)>70 dB (1 kHz)
Output into 16 ohm>50 mW (THD+N<1%)>100 mW (THD+N<1%)
Output into 32 ohm>30 mW (THD+N<1%)>65 mW (THD+N<1%)
Max output voltage>2.8 Vp-p>4.2 Vp-p
Max output current>70 mA>130 mA
H/O impedance<0.4 Ω(32Ω)<2.0 Ω(32Ω)
Line OutNoYes, shared with headphone-out
Internal storage8 GbNone
External storage1 x Micro sdxc up to 64Gb (see review)1 x Micro sdxc up to 128Gb
Screen2.0’ TFT, 240 x 320 resolution2.0’ TFT, 240 x 320 resolution
Shell / CasingMoulded plastic unibodyAluminium alloy

 

Features not mentioned above include:

  • Resume playback from last position on power-on
  • Support for CUE sheets
  • Gapless playback (to be realized in coming firmware update – according to pre-release documentation)
  • L/R balance (10 dB)
  • Sleep / Idle standby
  • Adjustable EQ – 5 band (X1 is 7 band)
  • Fade-in / Fade-out (between tracks)

BUILD / DESIGN

The M3 is tiny – and I mean really small.  In fact most IEM cases would be large enough for the M3 to fit comfortably inside.  In fact, in terms of metric volume, the M3 is roughly 1/3 the size of Fiios other budget DAP the X1. The outer casing is a unibody design – injection moulded plastic – in two tone ivory (front and sides) and light grey (back panel).  Fiio (in their release notes) state that the actual production releases are to have a whiter front and darker back – but I really like the colouring on the pre-production review sample.

On the left hand side is a single power / screen on/off button.  Below this is the connecting point for the neck lanyard. On the right hand side is a sliding keylock button.  On the bottom (left to right) is a micro USB data / charging port, a 3.5mm headphone-out, and a micro-sd slot.

The front panel is almost all taken up with the 240 x 320 pixel screen, and below that a dual row of physical control buttons which light up when pressed, but fade out when not in use. The buttons on the review sample all give good tactile response (although sometimes it is quite easy to push the wrong button), the 3.5mm port is firm, and the micro-sd slot is smooth to use, and at the same time recesses the card perfectly.

The screen can be adjusted from a brightness level of 1 to 10, but unfortunately even at the very bright setting the M3 is practically unreadable in direct sunlight. Shading, or moving into a shaded area is often the only way to navigate when outside.

As far as external storage goes, I’m primarily using a Kingston 64Gb class 10micro SDXC, and have had no issues with it (I formatted it in the player before use). I also tried my 128Gb Sandisk, and although Fiio says it is not supported, there were no issues reading that either.

So initial impressions on build is positive, and the M3 is the true epitome of portability – just 40g, and easily able to fit in any pocket.  Tick my requirements for build and portability. The screen could be better – but we’re talking about a $55 DAP here.

DESIGN – INTERNALS

Although you can’t see them, it is probably a good idea to mention the internal electronics. The DAC used is a Cirrus Logic CS42L51, and one of the key features of this chip is that it operates from a single, 1.8 V power supply for low power consumption, yet delivers plenty of output power, 46 mW, into stereo 16 ohm headphones for a great listening experience. This highly integrated 24-bit, 96 kHz stereo codec is based on a multibit Delta-Sigma architecture which allows infinite sample rate adjustment between 4 kHz and 100 kHz.

Accompany the low power chipset with the 550 mAh battery, and you have a player that can (and does) play for up to 24 hr (display off) depending on volume used, file format, and headphones used. I’m comfortably getting 3-4 days between charges, with 6-8 hours use per day, and the best thing is that recharge time is generally 2-2.5 hours. So a big tick on my battery life requirement mentioned earlier.

The SoC used is an Actions ATJ2129 – which is a MIPS32 processor core with 5 stage pipeline, 163k SRAM and 88K Mask ROM. This does mean that Rockbox is not possible, and unfortunately it also means some limitations in things like maximum number of tracks scannable for the tagged library. But Fiio also says that by using this SoC and design combo, they can make the entire device fully modular, so any services not being used can be shut down to conserve battery.

It continues on Page 3 after the click HERE or below

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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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