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Article Index
FiiO X3 portable digital audio player
page 2
page 3
page 4 Sound Quality
page 5 Conclusion
page 6 Measured Performance
All Pages

    Charge time is quoted as around 9 hours from a PC but I charged our review sample initially from a higher current iPhone charger and it took barely 5 hours, re-charging then being a matter of topping up at barely an hour or so. I managed 11hrs replay time with the X3 set to repeat, its screen unused. The case can be unscrewed so the battery may be accessible, but I did not try this. The case is metal and both build quality and finish are good; I had no gripes here.

    Interestingly, this player will work whilst charging, so it can be used as a stationary domestic player with external power supply. Charge time is inevitably lengthened, but it does mean the player isn’t limited in playing time by its state of battery charge, although FiiO warn that doing this may give the X3 “slight fever”. Turn down volume to reduce this fever, they advise! Mine didn’t need to be hospitalised, I’m glad to say.
    The X3 will play high-resolution digital audio right up to 24/192 spec. in basic WAV format, meaning uncompressed; it doesn’t baulk at the data rate (9Mbps). Music is stored on 8GB of internal Flash memory that can be augmented by a single microSD card up to 64GB capacity. With hi-res music files reaching 200MB or more, the internal memory will hold just 40 tracks – not so much, but probably enough for a daily commute. That makes an additional 32GB (£25) or 64GB (£50) card obligatory – reckon on adding one to the X3’s cost. Obviously, if you have a lot of compressed MP3, AAC etc, or even FLAC CD rips, the internal memory will hold a lot more tracks and possibly be enough.
    In addition to WAV, the player handles FLAC up to 24/192 – the two formats I use. APE, ALAC, WMA, MP3, OGG and even grotty old MP2 are played. FiiO don’t mention AIFF,  Apple’s equivalent to WAV, a totally uncompressed PCM format, so I loaded AIFF and it did not play, being flagged as an ‘unsupported file format’. The solution to this is to convert to WAV or FLAC using the free XLD programme for Mac, or dBpoweramp for PC.
    An important and distinguishing feature of any high-resolution player is that its analogue output amplifiers don’t stifle sound quality. Measurement showed that at 3V through the headphone socket (high gain) the X3 has 50% more output than most CD players, and ten times more output than most portables. It has far better dynamic range than either as a result, so FiiO don’t scrimp in this area and measurement showed the X3 offers 10dB more dynamic range than CD. Not bad for a player costing just £150.
    I was interested to see FiiO identify the DAC chip as a Wolfson WM8740, the same as that “put into use for the top level CD player Saturn which is manufactured by the hi-fi brand Rega”. They go on to point out that iRiver use this chip in their Astell&Kern players, as do Sony in their PHA-1. I’m impressed that such a good part should be used in the X3 and measurement confirmed excellent results from it, through the all-important analogue output amplifiers. The output amplifier is an Analogue Devices AD8397 able to swing large output at high frequencies.
    There is a Line output through a 3.5mm jack that delivers a fixed 1.7V maximum, unaffected by volume control or gain setting, designed to feed a hi-fi amplifier.
    The X3 can also be set to act as a USB DAC and worked perfectly with a MacBook Pro in this fashion.
    In addition to these two analogue outputs the X3 has a digital output. I’m finding that as good as high-quality portables may be in terms of DAC and output amplifier, sound quality through an external hi-fi DAC is often appreciably better. I got quite a shock at how much better music from the iBasso DX50 sounded through headphones plugged into an Audiolab Q-DAC, digitally connected, than the player’s own headphone amp. – and that was the case with the X3 too. Not surprising perhaps when you consider the Q-DAC offers another 11dB dynamic range, or 121dB in all, when playing 24bit files. This massive range is why you get those dark silences from good 24bit recordings, as well as a lovely, silky-smooth sound free of coarseness.



 

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