The L3 with its aluminum-magnesium alloy body doesn’t feel as solid as the L5PRO and the material used for the L5PRO is just of a higher quality. The casing’s color also is more light grey, making it match perfectly with the Chord hugo. The finishing touches of the L5PRO are better as well but the L3, while still looking very nice, just feels a bit cheaper. It’s pretty logic as well as its price is under $400 USD.
The back cover in this DAP is some sort of carbon fiber and while it is very nice it doesn’t ooze the same style as the wooden back of the L5PRO. The carbon fiber for that matter also isn’t of the same quality as we can find in the AK380 and Cayin N5. Another difference with the L5PRO is that the buttons this time aren’t engraved and the functionality of the buttons now is lasered / printed on the aluminum body. The buttons also feel less sturdy.
Before I got the production version I first received a prototype that looked the same but it had a different FW and different internals. The prototype has been returned in the meantime but I did keep the beautiful leather case. As a result I now have brown and blue colored case and I switch between them all the time. Of all the leather DAP cases I have, the L&P leather cases are the prettiest and I even prefer them over the Astell&Kern cases. Both cases have sections cut out to get the best possible contact with the buttons.
Lay-out wise the L3 hasn’t changed vs the L5PRO. On the top left we still have three buttons of which the two on the left can be set by the user. The third button is the lock screen button (short push or long push). Right next to that we find the same style volume wheel. The L5PRO’s volume wheel is smoother and more silent to turn. With the L3’s wheel you feel and hear the different clicks but it doesn’t impact the volume setting at all. On the right side of the player we still have the play/pause, forward and rewind buttons. The MicroSD card slot now is on the right side of the player as the space on the bottom was no longer available. On the bottom of the player you from right to left now find the USB-connector (it’s a USB-DAC as well), the LO/SPDIF out, the 2.5mm balanced and the 3.5mm single ended output. There’s nothing to be found on the left side of the player. On the front the Luxury&Precision name now is missing.
User Interface & Firmware
This is where it starts to get tricky. The L&P players weren’t built upon an existing Android platform but everything is developed in-house. The L5PRO player sounded great but has, and still has, a lot of issues. That’s also the exact reason why the L5PRO review was titled “Sound First”.
You would think that L&P would have listened to their customers before launching their new DAP but for several reasons this hasn’t really happened. To be honest, they did listen to some of my feedback but a whole lot of people are still disappointed. In my case L&P reduced the gain setting of the L3 as the prototype in balanced mode at volume “0” was still too loud during night time listening. I’m very grateful they took that into account and the gain setting on the production version now is perfect.
While some FW upgrades were released for the L5PRO a whole lot of functions that everyone considers as basic functions still aren’t available. L&P keeps saying they’re coming (like the swiping in example) but because of the main developer being sick and other priorities going first we still haven’t seen any development in those areas. Months ago the L3 was launched with firmware 22.214.171.124 and there hasn’t been any update since. I’ve been using the L3 for months now and I was waiting for a new FW to show up for doing this review but I simply can’t wait any longer.
Some of the issues the L3 is still coping with are the lack of swiping, playlist generation, file type support, the lack of a user settable EQ and the 6000(? Unconfirmed) file limit. On the other hand the issue I had with the L5PRO scanning the media library is all gone now. Something I also don’t like is that during shuffle play, the player doesn’t remember the previously played song. A lot of players have that “problem” but even more just keep the playlist in their memory so that if you accidentally skip a song, you can just go back to it without any hassle.
Anyway, swiping should come to the L3 very soon and we all look forward to that. For the rest the User Interface of the new L3 is almost exactly the same as the L5PRO’s UI. Using the L3 goes fast and it’s very easy to use and to find things, but there’s no swiping and browsing to an artist starting with the letter “M” can result in having to push the next button an awful lot of times. And yes, that is annoying.
It’s clear that L&P still needs to do a lot of work on the UI if they want to keep up with the other DAPs on the market. But they also need to get the basic things sorted out for the users because I’ve seen more and more L3 DAPs popping up on second hand sites an Head-Fi’s For Sale forum. We know by now that sound goes first for L&P, but for a lot of audiophiles, that just isn’t enough (blame Apple and AK)?
So the L&P L3 is made specifically for IEMs and unlike its big brother it isn’t really developed to handle harder to drive headphones. The advantage of that is that the volume setting in Single Ended and balanced mode is very precise and you have a lot of headroom to play with. My listening volume, depending on the earphone or headphone used and the quality of the recording, is between 0 and 30 (60 is max). The L3 doesn’t only power the normal IEMs but it manages to power very sensitive monitors in a silent way and it at the same time has no issues with headphones such as the Hifiman Edition-S, DT770AE or the HE-400S. The prototype I sent back had a lot more gain but I’m glad L&P went the softer way.