The M3 series of DAPs by FiiO have always held a special amount of reverence for their super-portability, compactness and affable sound. The first released model was the original M3 launched in 2016, followed by the M3K in 2018 and more recently, the M3 Pro in 2020. Each time, Fiio have awarded each model with incremental upgrades to keep the line-up modern and fresh.
Despite its size, the Fiio M3 Pro outputs hi-fi sound with a pro-grade ESS9218P DAC chip said to be free of noise and jitter. With a sleek and well-built design profile, it is clear to see that FiiO have made its presence known in the category of sub $100 DAPs.
Like the player itself, the M3 Pro comes in compact packaging with the outer box displaying a graphic of the player. Included within is the M3 Pro, a Type A to Type C USB cable & quick start guide. An optional casing would have been a nice addition given the fact that the M3 Pro employs glass exterior.
The Build & Design
FiiO already have a plethora of DAPs under their belt and yet it is refreshing to see that the M3 Pro hosts its own design philosophy even at entry-level. With a slim profile and lightweight design, the M3 Pro looks much more premium than its price tag suggests. The DAP adopts use of CNC-milled metal with a sheet of glass for the front and rear dimensions. The elongated chassis has a rather elegant form factor and the near bezel-less display really adds to a futuristic look. Already, FiiO earn top marks for aesthetics here.
On the left-hand side of the device, there are four round buttons with power on, volume up, play/pause/skip and volume down functionalities. The buttons feel robust and tactile to the touch with the right amount of resistance. Further to the bottom, there is a SD card slot with up to 2 TB of expandable storage.
The M3 Pro houses a 3.5 mm output for headphones/line-out and a USB-C slot at the bottom of the device for charging. On the rear, there is a glass panel display which bears the ‘Hi-Res’ logo and FiiO name.
The display of the M3 Pro is simply beautiful. It is commendable that FiiO have not skimped out on materials and screen display for a product of its price. Included is a 3.5-inch touchscreen with an 800 x 340 IPS panel and wide-viewing angles. The screen works well in bright environment and the above average color saturation makes it a pleasure to view.
The uncommon aspect ratio also makes it more suited for reading longer texts (a reason why FiiO have also marketed this little device as an e-reader).
The User Interface
On start-up, users are greeted with six main groups: ‘Categories’, ‘Now Playing’, ‘Browse Files’, ‘Recording’, ‘Settings’, ‘E-Book’, ‘Calculator’ & ‘Gallery’. Generally, the menu feels easy to navigate through with swipe right functioning as the ‘back’ feature and the ‘swipe down’ enabling access to the menu. Although there is simple one-handed accessibility, the touchscreen could be more responsive as I do feel a slight delay whenever the swipe functions are enacted.
The music player is well optimized to the aspect ratio and feels like a set of cards as the different albums are shuffled along. Users can select from seven different stock EQ presets and are able to ‘loop’, ‘shuffle’, ‘single play’ or play through folders.
Under the hood
The FiiO M3 Pro opts for an Ingenic X1000E processor to power the internals for a smooth speed with low power consumption. Unlike its elder siblings, the M3 Pro does not make use of a custom android OS and is devoid of WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.
Packed inside is an ESS ES9218P DAC chipset. It is interesting to see FiiO opting for this DAC model as there has been more of a shift towards AK chips of late. However, the lack of need for an op-amps keeps the internals signal pathway as short as possible and obviates the necessity for space.
Since the M3 Pro does not store internal ROM memory, users are expected to pair it with an external microSD card. The M3 Pro can support up to 2 TB of data and I have found the transfer process to be rather speedy and proficient.
The M3 Pro packs in a very capable 1000 mAH battery which is enough to provide around 15 hours of battery life. Coupled with the low power and highly efficient processor chip, the M3 Pro is set to last for a very long time. Charging time is equally impressive and the M3 Pro gets a top up in easily under 1 and a half hours.
Like the M3 before it, the M3 Pro produces a very agreeable tonality which works well across a subset of IEMs and headphones. It is not a reference tonality and does tend to gloss over micro-details. However, users are welcomed to a warm and smooth signature which is particularly forgiving to poorly mastered recordings and sibilant tracks. This also makes it a great pairing to treble-heavy and more strident sounding IEMs.
There is more of a mid-bass than sub-bass bias which helps work in warmth and weight in the lower midrange. The low-end is not the most authoritative or commanding but has an overall pleasant tonality. To this extent, the M3 Pro is very much like the original M3. The midrange is linear with overall good detailing and depth. Although vocals are more forward in the mix, there is a nice level of separation between notes. The treble continues this philosophy of a relaxed and yet affable signature. Highs are not the most extensive but do well in taming brighter and more piercing frequencies.
Imaging wise, the M3 Pro constructs a more intimate soundstage compared to the M11 Pro and M15. However, it fares well where layering and depth are concerned.
Full of utility, the M3 Pro also functions as a USB DAC and the Type-C port supports audio out. As an internal DAC, the DAP adopts a slightly different signature with more detail, leading transients and a lean towards a reference sound. Pairing wise, the M3 Pro is a chameleon and can uptake both high and low sensitivity transducers without hiss and lack of drive.
Overall, the FiiO M3 Pro is an enjoyable little DAP that ought not replace more audiophile-serious components but rather fill in a gap where an affordable offering is needed. The elegant design which mimics a miniature modern smartphone is a nice touch which highlights FiiO’s continual refinement process. Aesthetics aside, the M3 Pro is a capable player supporting USB DAC functionality and its own highly efficient, low power consuming processor. While there is no inclusion of streaming or Bluetooth, the ability to access 2 terabytes of tracks from a small device is a compelling feature. Some areas of improvement could be the incorporation of a search bar, a smoother UI experience and perhaps a home button for ease of use. With that said, FiiO have done well to keep price down to a minimal for what users get and the M3 Pro is a pure delight. For those wanting to get in on the sub $100 DAP market, the M3 Pro should be a no-brainer consideration.
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