Fiio X3 8GB Digital Music Player
Price: Roughly £159.00
~ An Elliot Holmes Preview ~
• The Fiio X3 is fantastic player to considering if you’ve no need for video or other features as all it does is play music – and brilliantly so.
• The interface is text-based, minimal and extremely easy to navigate with clearly labelled buttons.
• The supported formats are very generous so lovers of lossless will not be disappointed. The X3 will also support original master copy tracks at 192K/24Bit; although it can be quite hard to find these tracks for download due to the limited catalogue.
• There appears to be some very slight background hiss during quieter moments in songs; although this could be due to the volume level I was running the player at or even my earphones themselves.
• While Fiio claim that the 10 hour battery life, with MP3 files, gives “super long playback time” it’s not really very generous in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention that lossless files will chew through the battery charge even quicker than MP3.
• The body of the player, due to the materials used, is very prone to finger prints and gets slippery after a while.
Many of you will know of Fiio already, thanks to the popularity of their headphone amplifiers and USB DACs, and without a doubt they make some great products which really help you get the most out of your music. Now they’re dipping their toe in to the MP3 player pond with the Fiio X3 and it looks (well, sounds) like they’re on to another winner.
Looking ever so slightly like a Fiio E07 – in fact I’d wager the princely sum of 2p that the case of the player is actually an E07 with different holes machined for the buttons – the X3 is well sized, lightweight and very portable. Moreover, while the design is less than ground breaking (or even really that interesting) the X3 does look quite nice in the flesh and perhaps sometimes it’s better to stick to a basic design, as opposed to something new and a bit unique, if it means that the usability is at a high level.
Since I’m muttering about design choices I will say that while the button layout is very good, with functions clearly labelled, and the screen sized decently enough to see everything clearly the materials used to make the X3 are a bit frustrating. The X3 is made to look metal but unless I’m greatly mistaken the only bit of the case which is actually metal is the plate where the buttons are located – the rest of the player feels like plastic and is designed to look like metal. While this isn’t a huge issue really, and in all honestly the X3 does look nice with the brushed metal effect, it does mean that the player becomes slippery quite quickly and is prone to finger printing.
Let’s forget about the design and building materials for a moment though and focus on what really matters – sound. In this respect the Fiio X3 has plenty in its favour.
Fiio decided that it would be best to avoid simply relying on the DAC function of the player’s main controller chip and instead have opted for a professional Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip. This was a brilliant move by Fiio as not only are Wolfson known for their awesome chips but this appears to be the same exact chip which is used in the Astell & Kern AK100 and while the AK100 does have some other nifty tricks up its sleeve for your listening pleasure you really do have to question the massive difference in price.
The fact that they have effectively priced themselves in to the mid-level range of audio devices, among the likes of Cowon, they could potentially stand to do quite well as there is a definite market for people who want high quality sound and Fiio are demonstrating very clearly how this is possible without astronomical costs being involved.
However, Fiio don’t just stop at popping in a high quality DAC (“Non, non, non ma petite cherie”) they’ve also clearly been listening to what people want and expect from a high quality player. For instance, the X3 has gapless playback as standard, supports 192KHz/24Bit master copy class files, memory expansion (up to 64GB with a TF card no less) plus a dedicated line output socked and coaxial digital out as well. All very handy features for lovers of high quality audio and, when it comes to HIFI connection, have long been missing from more mainstream players.
And what else? Oh yes! There’s also support for CUE playing by selection, 60 levels of digital volume, ‘Breakpoint Memory’ (the X3 will start playing directly from the point the player was turned off), the ability to act as analog signal source to boost premium headphones when connected to dedicated headphone amplifiers like the Fiio E12…basically it’s pretty much what you’d call ‘fully featured’.
Really the only downsides I can come up with for the Fiio X3 is the slippery body (*gasp*), the fairly middling battery life – there’s a note on the Fiio website saying that this might possibly be improved with future firmware updates so we’ll see – and an ever so slight background hiss during quieter moments in songs; although this could potentially have been something to do with the volume I was driving my earphones at.
Sure, it’s hard to deny that there are a few players out there, like the top-of-the-line Astell & Kern AK120, which will have a decent chance of sounding better than the X3 – then again those players cost obscene amounts of money so it’s not really a fair comparison.
The best way of looking at the Fiio X3 is that it is priced extremely well and you get a huge array of features and high quality components for your money. Yes, you can go and drop over a grand on something like the AK120 but considering that there probably won’t be a huge difference to your ears (fingers crossed I’ve not opened that particular floodgate there…) and if you give the Fiio X3 a decent go you should find that it pleasantly surprises you.
P.S. While it’s not a full version on the X3 it does apparently run Android so it might be quite interesting if anyone manages to get apps up and running; although unless you know what you’re doing please, please, please don’t fiddle around with this. I’m literally just mentioning this in passing as I found the potential interesting and thought others might to.