When switching sample rates, the L3 in some cases makes a quick clicking sound but it’s not annoying or loud so that it bothers you during playback, it’s just noticeable. For the rest this L3 DAP is dead silent and there no hiss, hum or anything during playback, not even with the most sensitive of my monitors during late night listening when it’s extremely quiet. The displays the same dark and black background as the L5PRO does.
The L5PRO has full bodied bass and mids and the overall sound quality of the L5PRO is incredibly good so we all expected a lot from the “little” L3. I’m very happy to report that the sound quality is no different with the L3. It simply sounds superb with the right mix of body, detail and musicality. The L3 is clean and clear and has a good resolution overall. The treble section might be a little less bodied than the bass and mid-section are. From bass to highs I’d call this a pretty linear sounding DAP though. The L3 doesn’t emphasize bass, mids or treble but it displays it smooth and effortlessly with a hint to the lusher and warmer side without losing any of the detail and without going too far away from a neutral delivery. Compared to higher end players like the AK380, the L3 misses out on depth, width and layering but there’s no shame or surprise in that. More comparisons later on.
I’m a big fan of balanced outputs when they are implemented correctly and that certainly is the case in the L&P L3. Like most brands nowadays L&P decided to utilize the 2.5mm jack Astell&Kern made popular and I feel this type of TRRS connector should be the standard for all balanced outputs. On my nightstand I now have a box full of adapters going from 2.5mm balanced to Kobiconn to 4-pin XLR and back. Back in the days where RSA was big and ALO and CypherLabs were still partnered-up, the Kobiconn connector was THE connector to use for balanced connectors, nowadays we hardly ever see these connectors anymore in portable audio (which I like) but it does mean you’ll have to work with adapters if you want to use your “old” gear. Luckily there are lots of good and cheap cable builders on e-Bay that can make you these adaptors.
Why do I like well-done balanced outputs that much? Simply because they make most of your head- and earphones sound better. You get a more spacious sound with better separation, depth and layering. The downside is you sometimes have to give up a little bit of bass body.
The level of detail and resolution of the L3 are very good and this is so for the treble, mids and bass. Maybe the treble and bass section could have been more extended and detailed but in the price range the L3 is in, it doesn’t get any better. In fact it easily outperforms most DAPs in this price region and leaves them far behind. The bass section of the L3 is good and it has enough detail and precision but bass doesn’t go all the way down to end with a rumble. Bass however always has a good punch, is fast and sounds tight without losing any clarity. In balanced mode bass body slightly drops but for me there is still more then plenty and I prefer the better separation, detail and layering you get with the balanced output. Same story goes on the other side for what the treble is concerned, there’s enough clarity, dynamics and liveliness for everyone to enjoy the treble section. Both bass and treble in this price range are very good and very enjoyable in combination with the really good mids.
The mids, just like in the L5PRO, are the L3’s brag-zone. From the L5PRO review: “The mids section is very detailed, musical and smooth at the same time without ever losing clarity and detail. The L5PRO is a fast player and the mids make this very noticeable. It also are the mids that sound most analog and tight. Again, layering is there but is lacking a little but the extremely good voices make up for that in a weird kind of way.” I actually feel the L3 nailed the mids part even better and the layering, detail timbre and depth are more present in the L3, and especially when using the balanced output.
The L&P L5PRO sounds great and the L3 sound just as good but there are some small differences. The L5PRO has more detail and sounds more spacious and extended than the L3, but the L3 has great layering and shows the mids in a little smoother way where the vocals are more one with the rest of the mids, especially in balanced mode. When switching back to the L5PRO coming from the L3 in SE mode, the first thing you notice is how the mids have more detail with better separation and layering. Both are great sounding and the differences aren’t huge at all.
The Cayin N5 in unbalanced mode has a more body then the L3 has. Depending on the head/earphone used the N5 does make more noise than the silent L3. Voices are little clearer and more to the front. The L3 sounds a little more relaxed and balance and separation is better. In balanced mode my CIEMs pick up a reasonable amount of noise from the Cayin while it is completely silent on the L3. The N5 still has more body in bass and mids and sound more compact but more musical with more energetic treble. The L3 compared to the N5 is a little dryer sounding but it has more detail with a more neutral approach and it’s dead silent, happy ears.
Fiio’s X7 AM3 with the balanced output is in a higher price class than the L3. With the Edition-S , bass goes deeper and has more detail with better layering. The sound has more air with better depth, width and separation and the level of detail is higher as well. Treble goes further and sounds livelier. With a custom monitor however the X7/AM3 combo picks up a lot of noise however and I can’t find any joy in listening to this module. In balanced mode my monitors pick up even more noise from the X7 and it’s almost as bad as with the N5. If you can see/hear past the noise issue then you’ll find more detail, better layering, more air, etc. But for me there’s too much noise to enjoy the balanced output or the AM3 module for that matter. Could it be Fiio developed the AM3 balanced module with a 3.5 and 2.5mm balanced output for full sized headphones? I’m waiting for Fiio’s feedback…
iBasso’s DX80 to me is a DAP with a fairly concentrated sound compared to the other DAPs, although the latest FW release improved the sound quality. The DX80 puts musicality first and bass goes deeper with better layering, not only in the bass section. Voices might be a little more forward sounding on the DX80 but the level of detail is higher. I had to use the Hifiman Edition-S to test this as the DX80 still is incredibly noisy with (sensitive) inears. I still don’t get how on earth they put a player with this much noise on the market, incredible. Back to the DX90 (rockboxed that is).
The very expensive but marvelous AK380 is almost dead silent with all of my monitors. The AK still performs best looking at clarity, detail, separation, layering, depth, width…you name it. The AK380 simply is really good but it’s in league of its own, price wise that is. For those who just want to use the L&P L3 as a data carrier can hook it up to the Chord Electronics Mojo or Hugo in example. In my case this with the Hugo and my sensitive monitors also causes it to hiss but it isn’t really audible when music is playing. Mojo is more silent but still lets some noise come through, when music is playing it is only audible on very silent passages. This just to show that the L3, noise-wise, is as good as it gets. Chapeau, Luxury & Precision.
The new Cayin i5 is on its way to Europe as I type, I wished it had a balanced output and I expressed that to Cayin but in the end they simply couldn’t do it in the actual design. A pitty.
The L3 sound wise is a great player: it has the perfect mix between detail, clarity and musicality, it is dead silent in the 3.5 and in balanced mode and it doesn’t break the bank at all. Sound wise you’re not going to get a better sound at this price, even though there still is margin for improvement. At the same time this DAP can easily challenge several of the DAPs in the $799 category and the best part is it is dead silent. And then there’s the gorgeous design and the leather case. Yes, I love it.
Looking at the user interface and the firmware it’s a whole other story. We’ve been waiting for months for new firmware updates for both the L5PRO as the L3, but L&P isn’t really the most proactive or update focused company. That unfortunately is a conclusion I have to make after having reviewed two of their DAPs. Luxury & Precision have absolutely nailed it sound wise, now they just have to get the updates released sooner and work out the latest bugs in the software. And L&P, please finally implement swiping on all your players. Your sound might be one of the best on the market but if you don’t get your act together very soon, I’m afraid you’re going to lose a lot of both existing and future customers. I’m afraid it has started already. I myself can live with its shortcomings but DAPs nowadays should be close to perfect, it’s what we’re all used to. The L&P L3 goes for only $399 USD.
I love using the L3 on my way to work in balanced mode, just shuffling from one song to the next. I love its sound and I myself don’t really have an issue with using a very basic user interface. Sound goes first for me, and that’s why I still love L&P.
The question is, do you?