UI (USER INTERFACE) / USABILITY
Please note that this is with the released firmware 1.5.
I’ll start by saying that those who are very OCD about having firmware that meets their every need – the M3 is not for you. It has its quirks (and they are many), so let’s look at what it offers, and where it falls down.
On boot-up you are presented with a welcome screen, and then straight into a now playing screen. Boot-up takes around 10-12 seconds.
The button layout consists of 6 buttons –
- Top left is the menu button. Long push for the settings menu, and short push for the play related menus. It is also a back-button, for going back one step (menus, folders etc).
- Top center is the up button for navigation in menus, and also for controlling volume while playing.
- Top right is the play, pause, select button
- Bottom left is the previous track (single push), or rew (press and hold) button
- Bottom center is the down button for navigation in menus, and also for controlling volume while playing.
- Bottom right is the next track (single push), or ffw (press and hold) button
The buttons have straightforward surface markings, and one of the neat things is that these glow red briefly when pushed – which makes navigation in low light really simple.
The Settings Menu accesses:
- Play mode – repeat once, repeat all, shuffle and play through normally
- Add to favourites menu or the two playlist menus
- Access the Equaliser
- Access information on the track being played – including kbps and sample rate
- Delete current track
- Access extended settings
The extended settings menu includes entries for:
- Setting resume mode (on or off)
- Turning fade in/out on or off.
- Setting maximum volume (useful if purchased for children)
- Setting default volume (last used or custom)
- Balance control 10 dB left or right
- Preferred display (album or lyrics)
- Language (10 options)
- Update media library – auto or manual
- Screen timeout and brightness controls
- Idle power off and sleep timer
- Player information
- Format internal memory
- Format external storage
- Restore factory defects
- Auto upgrade
The play menu (short push of the menu button from now playing) includes entries for:
- Access favourites menu or the two playlist menus
- Song menu (tagged library)
- Artist menu (tagged library)
- Album menu (tagged library)
- Folder menu – which allows choice between internal and external memory, and doubles as simple folder playing. In folder play mode, the M3 will automatically select the next folder once current folder has ended (play through folders) – brilliant!
Now playing screen
The top menu bar shows (left to right) volume, EQ status, SD card, whether player is playing or paused, play mode selected, and battery status. This top-bar is always shown from every menu.
Album art is shown if available.
Below the album art is a track progress bar, time taken, total track time, track name (uses the file name rather than tagged name), current track number, album name, and total track number.
There are 6 presets, off, and a custom option. Choosing any preset or custom automatically lowers the volume by 6dB to avoid clipping. The custom folder has +6 dB to -6 dB over 5 bands (62 Hz, 250 Hz, 1 kHz, 6 kHz and 16 kHz. It seems to be Ok for very rudimentary tweaks, and I’ve used for a tweak to bass or bump in the treble, and it is pretty handy to have. The presets are presets – none that I would use, but others may find them useful.
- Navigation is simple
- In folder mode, there is no track limit
- In folder mode, with a well organised folder structure, navigation is relatively quick
- Pressing and holding the up or down button scrolls (albums etc)
- It is relatively easy to find your way around, quite easy to learn.
- In tagged browsing, when selecting artist, next choice is album, then track – the way it should be.
The Not So Good
- Tagged libraries seem to be limited to maximum 4000 files. After that they simply aren’t recognised. Again folder browsing is the simple work-around for this. The 4000 file limit seems to be a limitation of the SoC (Clip Sport has same SoC and same limit).
- Internal and external storage are treated as completely separate – both tagged and folder browsing
- To change between the two, you actually have to select and start playing a song – before you can access the menu functions for that part of the library
- Menus are not exactly intuitive with items that should be in a play menu found in settings menu, and many not having a clear order.
- In tagged browsing, sorting is done based on file name rather than track name.
- Gapless apparently is supposed to work if using cue sheets. I don’t use them – so gapless is off the table for me.
- Favourites and playlists are “add one track at a time”, I can’t seem to change order, and I see no way to delete a song from the playlist. The only way to edit them so far seems to be deleting the .pl files, and starting again.
- The player does not recognise m3u playlists (it would have been really handy if you could build a playlist manually, upload it, and use it – like you do on the other X series players).
- Folder browsing works perfectly, but often folders or albums will appear out of order. This can be fixed using a Windows utility called Drive-Sort.
During my testing of the M3 I tried the formats Fiio say are supported. For lossless, I tried APE, FLAC and WAV, and had no issues with playing or most tags. WAV and FLAC both displayed album art, for some reason APE did not. With the lossless, all lossy files showed tagged support, but only the MP3 and aac256 files showed album art. All played OK though.
I had read (from another forum) that the M3 potentially had issues with distortion at loud volumes – so to test this I used the 320 ohm Zen V2, turned volume up to max, and didn’t put them fully in my ears. I couldn’t discern any major audible distortion. YMMV.
Pretty easy to do. Download the file from Fiio’s site, extract and copy the M3.hex file to the root directory of the M3, and then access the settings menu, and select auto upgrade. Easy.
Fiio publishes the output power as 50 mW into a 16 ohm load, or 30 mW into a 32 ohm load, with no separate gain boost switch. Output impedance is a very low 0.4 ohm. So it sounds pretty low, and it was clearly designed for an ultraportable set-up (IEMs / earbuds) – but what does that mean as far as what the M3 can successfully drive?
The following is completely subjective – but I did use a calibrated SPL meter to get comparative peak dB readings using Dire Straits track Sultans of Swing. The earbuds are a bit louder due to their open nature.
- Fiios included earbuds – volume 20 – ave ~ 81 dB – peak 91.7 dB
- VE Zen (320 ohm, 108 dB SPL) – volume 29 – ave ~ 80 dB – peak 90.2 dB
- Trinity Delta (16 ohm, 110 dB SPL) – volume 20 – ave ~ 74dB – peak 84.3 dB
- Dunu DN2000J (8 ohm, 102 dB SPL) – volume 17 – ave ~ 73 dB – peak 82.6 dB
- Adel U6 (22 ohm, 115db SPL) = volume 17 – ave ~ 72 dB – peak 81.2 dB
- AKG K553 (32 ohm, 114 dB SPL) = volume 25 – ave ~ 75 dB – peak 82.4 dB
*these sounded quite a bit brighter than they normally do + measurements are not as accurate as with IEMs.
- HD600 (300 ohm, 97 dB SPL) = volume 35 – ave ~ 73 dB – peak 81.4 dB
* again these sounded brighter than normal + measurements are not as accurate as with IEMs
Of everything that I tried, the two full sized headphones sounded thin and overly peaky – clearly being under-driven. Everything else sounded pretty good to my imperfect ears. And the volume tops out at 60 – so a bit of room left in all of the above cases.
Fiio has chosen to include a set of earbuds which is a nice touch – especially at this price point. I know most people in this community will probably flip these into a drawer, but the actually aren’t too bad. I found the fit pretty difficult to get right until I added some foam covers, and this also helped bass response. Tonality is pretty good and they sound similar in many ways to VE’s Monk earbuds (I’ve graphed them so you can see – both with foam covers intact). The Fiio buds also come with a single button control unit (+ microphone) on the left hand earpiece cord – which will play/pause, and go forward or back one track.
Sonics and a lot more on the last page after the click here or below