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Fiio X3


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This gizmo has popped up like one of those after-the-rain mushrooms in other threads, so I'm doing the taxonomy thing and giving it a thread of its own. 


Three of us have one. We have each used it in different ways.


So here's my experience:


First off, my copy changed character in its first hours of operation, enough so that trying to figure out what was going on with it was frustrating. I think it's odd for electronics to "break in" much. If they change at all, they just seem to get "a little better." This thing sounded yucky and differently yucky every time I picked it up. I'd recommend a few days in the picnic cooler before listening.


Once I got it figured out, I concluded that it drives IEMs pretty well, but it drives headphones really badly, and not in the usual amp-can't-drive-these-headphones way. Usually, I would expect weak dynamics and maybe a roll-off at one end or the other, but from the Fiio, I got huge FR bumps at, oh, about 200 Hz and maybe 8 or 10 KHz and absolutely nothing beyond those points. The midrange was screwed up in ways that are hard to describe - flat, dimensionless, messed up harmonics, or maybe something else altogether. But it wasn't musical or nice. I tried every headphone I have that I would use with a portable. None were pleasant.


Line out to an amp was a completely different story. It's certainly not as convenient as a single box, but this way, it's musical - a pleasant FR curve (m-a-y-b-e a bit of brightness, but I'm something of a brightness hypochondriac) good to really good resolution across the band, great, really tight bass and a pleasant, if slightly rolled treble. It's way better than my iPod Classic, and I don't have to fuss with transcoding ALACs. It works for me.


The interface seems adequate to me. Battery life seems fine.


At our SoFla meet a couple weeks ago, we had this, the HiFIMan 801 and 901, and the AK 100 at hand. It was interesting. The AK 100, through a Pico Slim, showed a magnificent clear treble and loads of resolution. I've never liked the AK 100 amp-less. The Pico Slim made a big improvement. It didn't like the RSA Tomahawk as well, but it was still very good . The 901 was very PRaT-y and weighty. It was musical. It had great resolution. Didn't try it with an outboard amp because I didn't feel the need. The 801 was cut of the same cloth, but less of it. The 901 was my favorite of the four. The Fiio leaned in the 901/801 direction - musical, maybe a tad warmer than the  AK 100, but not quite as satisfying. The Fiio seemed to like the Ray amp better, but it was lovely with the Pico Slim, too. The interface of the AK 100 was in a class above. The 901's  was OK and better than the Fiio's. The Fiio's was perfectly adequate.


(Most of the listening was done with my, formerly Shelley's, formerly Miguel's, ETW-9s.)


John summed it up by saying he thought the Fiio/Pico Slim was "70 to 80%" of the AK 100/Pico Slim. At 25% of the cost. (20% of the cost of the 901). 


So there you have it. It was a rocky romance at first, but now I really like the thing, given that I don't use a portable enough to justify a kilobuck DAP.


Todd?, Jeffy?









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Well, slightly off-topic but could be relevant... I recently got an E12 and an E17 just to try them, and I was pleasantly surprised with both, especially with the E17. It's very sweet sounding and the attention to detail is quite surprising. It's really well made, has loads of connections and comes with everything you need – even screen protectors and Toslink to mini-Toslink adaptor. 


The E12 sounds harsher and somewhat less refined and the crossfeed is garbage, but the bass boost really isn't and it can drive anything. I'm very impressed!

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Good thoughts, Carl....I still haven't tried mine out with a lot of different phones.  Briefly plugged in the NAD's and a pair of A-T M50S's, and did get the sense indeed that the Ety's did better, but don't remember the frequency variations as much as you report.  A slight darker sound overall, but I wouldn't say to the extremes in mids and up that you experienced.  


I also used it with headphone out in my car (radio is cheap car radio with AUX in), and liked it a lot better than FM or my iPod plugged in.  One specific comparison I made: an ALAC rip of my Anna Calvi s/t CD, onto an iPod Classic 80G, and line out to radio.  Not recorded super well, but also have a 24/44.1 FLAC file of it.  Even on the POS car radio, the vocals were clearer from the Fio, as well as some of the percussion.


Where I am enjoying this thing the most, though, is using the hi-rez files via the digital out into a Neko D-100 Mk II DAC, then into my Lunchbox II or Schiit Vali amp (this amp is another good story).  I have been thoroughly enjoying this compact setup with Senn 600's pretty much nightly.....  I plan on taking the Fio with me when I visit a stereo store: a nice Black Cat digital cable I have with adapters makes this plug and play with any DAC having a BNC or coax input.


So it sounds like there's some similarity in experience, though maybe not to the levels of bad you heard.  I like the fact that this has very good sound and is completely portable, but can function like a home hi-rez transport as well.


BTW, still think the interface is not great at all, but as mentioned elsewhere it doesn't bother me the way I use it.....

Edited by skullguise
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So I took a couple days off work last and this week, and went up to a couple audio stores in NH.  Took my X3 with me, and did some listening through some mid-level phones.  Carl is right, there IS some frequency anomalies with the headphone out driving some full size cans.  The mid-bass was especially bloated on some.  Confirmed it by running line out through a headphone amp to the same phones.


In some cases, the sound seemed a bit more spacious; some of it could be the mid-bass pushing forward and making it seem like the mids were down in level; but I still heard some good detail, so it was interesting.....


The phones I tried:


  • KEF M500 - a little fat and soft sounding at times, but actually fairly musical
  • Paradigm H15 -  similar signature to the KEF, but not as bloated in the midbass overall on some songs
  • PSB M4U-1 - thought I'd like these more, given my like for the NAD's that were also designed with Mr. PSB's help.  But these were a little closed in sounding, light in the bass.  The mids were pretty good, though, and I enjoyed the female vocals I heard a fair bit.  When I switched line out from X3 to the headphone amp, the balance was better....
  • B&W P3 and P5 - these sounded pretty decent with the X3; the synergy was complimentary enough to make it pretty fun sounding, even if not truly accurate.  Still not as strong in the highs as I would have liked, but the midbass bloat wasn't bad for the most part
  • Grado SR-80 - a little sluggish sounding, the midbass bloat bothered me a bit more.  Just don't think the X3 could drive these well enough....seemed to have better air in the highs than some others, though

So there it is, FWIW.  I'll have to bring these into work and try them for a longer listen with the NAD's.  But ultimately, I'm liking them the best so far with the Etymotic IEM's.....


BTW, for anyone in the MA/NH area, Fidelis has moved from Derry NH to northern Nashua NH.  Off Rt 3 at (I think this is the right exit) Exit 6, Rt 101A.  Nicer spread, easy parking.....  The other place I went to is Audio-Video Therapy on Daniel Webster, right next to Best Buy.  Some of the guys there were from the old Ensemble store....good folks.

Edited by skullguise
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Guys, you should check out the iBasso DX50.  I find it a tad more open & refined than the FiiO X3.  Midbass is also less pronounced on the DX-50.  It is also a more neutral of the two DAPs.  The UI on the DX50 used to be a messed but it is sorted out now after numbers of firmware updates.  The initial launch was horrible with way under finished UI.  I had ton & ton of problems with it, but the current units are good and very stable.  Overall it is a solid improvement over the X3 and the UI is more intuitive.  

Edited by purk
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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 months later...

The X5 left me in mixed feelings. On one hand, I REALLY like how it sounds: it's not too warm and anemic like the AK100 and neither it's too dry and brittle like the Sony ZX1. It has a very even frequency response with no weirdness and plenty of punch. On the other hand, operating the damn thing is a major PITA. The four (unlabelled) buttons that surround the clickwheel are the very definition of intuitive. The clickwheel is also plain weird to use, for instance you cannot adjust the volume straight by turning it but you need to first press the volume rocker on the side (this thing has TWO ways to adjust volume). Build quality is surprisingly very solid but it's a shame to see it wasted with such a ridiculous UI.


Oh well, onwards to the next Chinese DAP FOTM!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I just grabbed an X5, because I can have it shipped to me overnight from the factory, and an exhausted man in an Amazon jumpsuit delivers it to my door after sunset.  It makes me feel like I rule the world.


This thing is awesome and horrible.  It weights 10 times as much as I would like it to weigh, likely because it uses its stupid billet aluminum case as a heatsink for whatever insanity they put inside.  Its UI is truly ghastly, and I've been assured it's a marked improvement from earlier iterations.  The click wheel feels like it would fall off it you turned it face-down, the buttons are incomprehensibly laid out (upper right is "back"?  a long press on upper left is "menu"?.) 


Sound is great, I think, but I also feel like people are talking out of their ass about DAPs in general.  I run my JH13s out of this on low gain, and they sound heavenly.  I tried running my HD800s on it, and it worked poorly.  Grados were pretty good.  None of them sound as good as they do out of my ECP Audio L2, so the compromise is inherent.  Once you know you're going to compromise, the question is by how much.  I am not equipped with a metric for it.  It's about a $4000 compromise, which makes it an easy decision.


I bought the thing because it holds dual TF cards and plays High Res and DSD files, which means I don't have to maintain separate libraries or curate overmuch when I'm loading music on to my player.  I have ~1 TB of music on my server, and it's frustrating to maintain multiple copies in itunes just to load up my phone with a single album.  Much easier to just dump 25% of it unaltered on the these cards and play.


More impressions later, after I've put a few hundred hours of listening through it.  Until then, I love the idea of it, but don't love the execution.

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Meanwhile, an update.... I've been trying the X3 with a Pico. 


First off, this PIco is one with the built-in DAC. The DAC in the Pico is way better than the one in the X3 (up to its sample rate limit, of course). My phone > Pico> NAD HP50s sounded marvelous.  It would be really nice to use the X3 as a digital source into the Pico or whatever amp/DAC suits my fancy. But alas, the X3 has only S/PDF out and the Pico and pretty much every other amp/DAC I know of has only USB in. 


That said - The Pico as an amp on the X3 is really interesting. The sound of the Pico is very different from the tubey-sounding Tomahawk. It's kind of like a really powerful modern solid state amp vs a vintage Conrad Johnson. Sound-wise the Pico is better at a lot of things, I think, but it's all a matter of taste, and taste varies (from day to day, sometimes). What's more concrete is that the Pico does a much better job of driving a variety of headphones.


Here, it gets a little strange. The NADs sounded (to me) great driven by the Pico, driven by its own DAC. But driven by the Pico, driven by the DAC (and line stage) in the X3 sounded blanched and amusical to me. ETW-9s on this combination were much better. RS-2s were much, much better. And - to my amazement - HD-650s are superb. Resolving, detailed, nuanced, colorful, well controlled bass - all that stuff. That's good, because I tend to use my portable in odd places around my house. So, I actually have a use for big, open-backed headphones on my portable. So, win.  The Pico seems to play to the strengths of the Shure HD840s, as well.


The odd results with the HP-50s are troubling. It was a 'headphone-sized' perceived difference between two DACs, all of which measure similarly-ish and generally just don't sound all that much different to me. They sound different in very important ways, but I've always had the notion that the 'amount' of difference was of a smaller order. I suspect that different recordings (huge delta 'amount') interact with gear in ways we underestimate. I used three albums (all artists whose names began with "B") to compare. Maybe artists with names beginning in "S" would drive a different conclusion.


Mileage varies: I gave my friend Jim a listen. He liked the X3 - Pico combination a lot. He proclaimed it better sound than his three-piece A&K and iBasso portable rig. Of my closed-back headphones, his favorite on the X3 rig was ........ yup... the NADs. He just loved that combination. So there.


I feel like there's a consensus forming that the Fiios are really interesting because they don't cost a fortune and they can sound engaging. But they can't drive headphones very well (Tyler's impression of the X5 suggests so, too).  The whole mixing and matching with amps thing makes great hobby fun, particularly if the individual pieces don't cost and arm and a leg. But geez, can't somebody just make a DAP with great sound on a reasonable selection of headphones, good storage capacity, good battery life, and the flippy album cover interface of my iPod? 


Good news is -  we can get all obsessive and frustrated over portables that can sound much more satisfying than a few years ago. Bad news is that they all still seem to suck in some way.

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  • 2 months later...

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