Fiio have recently accrued a lot of attention in the audio community with the release of their recent flagship DAP, the Fiio X7. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Fiio M3 was soon to follow with a simple and elegant philosophy.
The M3 utilises a very small footprint and like the K1 was designed with the intentions of being ultra-portable. The design strays from the conventional Fiio line of DAPs but is currently the most affordable at the modest price of $55.
Fiio’s M3 comes in a white and red packaged box with a plastic insert inside resting the M3s. Also accompanying the M3 is a set of earphones along with Fiio’s manuals, screen protectors, USB cables and lanyards. Overall, the design is utilitarian and does the job. Perhaps Fiio could have opted for more of a minimalist approach with regards to the front of the box but that is just nit-picking. At this price point, the packaging bears resemblance to Fiio’s simple and understated philosophies.
The Build & Design
The Fiio M3 is constructed from a moulded plastic unibody which, as mentioned, is rather different from the metal components of Fiio’s more expensive digital audio players. While not necessarily displeasing, Fiio could have employed metal to create a more refined and premium looking device. Nevertheless, plastic components do help to keep the device at a rather light weight of 40g.
The left hand side houses the power button which switches the device on and off. On the bottom is the 3.5 mm headphone jack. On the right, there is a lock slide button. Track-related buttons such as play/pause, skip/forward and the volume keys are located on the front of the device beneath the 240 x 320 pixel 2” screen. The screen is not conducive to touch and thus the option to navigate around the device can be found in the form of button also on the front of the device below the screen.
The User Interface
The user interface is simple but not without its flaws. Tagged libraries for example seem to be limited to a maximum of 4000 files and while navigation is not an issue in itself, folder and albums may not necessarily appear in the right order. Still, the interface is useable but Fiio need to update the firmware to get rid of the small bugs to make the experience as smooth as possible.
Also a hassle was getting the language setting from Chinese to English which did take a bit of fiddling around at first. Though, with that said, the instructions can be found on Fiio’s website. Overcoming small hurdles like this and tailoring the M3 to your personal requirements helps to customise and streamline the experience.
Fiio M3 utilises a Cirrus Logic CS42L51 chip which samples at 24 bit and 94 kHz with a multibit delta-sigma architecture. This discrete DAC has a very low power consumption but high performance which is one of huge strengths of the device. Coupled with the 550 mAh battery, the M3 can run for 24 hours which is a remarkable feat in and of itself. I was not able to fully test the length of charge but I did get quite a number of days on a single charge alone which is a great testament to the low power device.
From the outset, the Fiio M3 does a sterling job in conveying an easy going sound that is both pleasurable and fatigue-free. It is by no means a reference sounding set, nor does it boast absolutely great levels of transparency and resolution. However what it does offer, is an agreeably smooth experience that is very forgiving. For example, the M3 manages to attenuate the excess energy in strident-prone IEMs making them easier to listen for longer periods of time.
With that said though, there is some noticeable background noise when the device is paired with more sensitive IEMs and headphones. Thus akin to the Fiio K1, this may indeed detract attention from the purest of audiophile listeners. However, the Fiio M3 was not really targeted for this market but rather the mass-market for its conveniently pleasing sound. The DAP is able to power moderate impedance devices to sufficient levels with the HE-400S and Fostex TH500RP headphones being an example of this.
Next to the Sansa Clip+, the M3 beats the former in sounding better detailed while being more organic and dynamically engaging. While the two share a similar soundstage, the M3 for me is the preferred choice owing to its slightly warmer and more musical signature.
In comparison to the playback of the Samsung Galaxy S5, the M3 again offers better detailing and a warmer tuned signature with a slight boost in its mid-bass. The M3 edges the S5 in the width dimension of soundstage. However, the M3 does suffer from more hiss with sensitive IEMs compared to the S5 with it being able to drive higher impedance devices.
A rather unfair comparison would be the X7 which is Fiio’s flagship digital audio player. Perhaps it makes a good addition seeing as we are now comparing the two ends of the spectrum of what Fiio have to offer. Immediately, the X7 is much more resolving, transparent and 3D-sounding which leaves the M3 less well-equipped with its not as competent technical abilities. With that said though, the M3 does become preferable in certain occasions. For example, the Cirrus Logic CS42L51 chip that the M3 employs is more smooth and forgivable than the X7’s ESS Sabre ES9018S. With IEMs like the Rock-it Sounds R-50, for example, the M3 has been shown to synergise incredibly well offering a rich, smooth and yet detailed experience.
Overall, the Fiio M3 is a decent contender in the world of budget-fi DAPs and accessory devices. It still has some work to do with its UI which may be an obstacle to someone considering buying the device. My few gripes with the interface include the way that folders are sometimes not organised correctly and the cumbersome way of getting into the device’s setting. Putting all this aside though, the M3’s sound is great and I am impressed at it what it does for its price. The engagingly warm and smooth signature really make the M3 a good companion along with its small footprint and prolonged battery life. For those reasons alone, the M3 is hard to dismiss and indeed a recommended option for those looking for good sound on a tight budget.
Fiio M3 Digital Audio Player
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