Review: Fiio M3 – Ultra Portable Audio

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 –

  1. 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).
  2. Top center is the up button for navigation in menus, and also for controlling volume while playing.
  3. Top right is the play, pause, select button
  4. Bottom left is the previous track (single push), or rew (press and hold) button
  5. Bottom center is the down button for navigation in menus, and also for controlling volume while playing.
  6. 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.

Equaliser Settings

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.

The Good

  • 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.

SOFTWARE UPDATES

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.

POWER OUTPUT

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.

INCLUDED EARBUDS

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

Review: Fiio M3 – Ultra Portable Audio
3.7 (74.74%) 95 vote[s]

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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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