FiiO M3 Review
Thanks to FiiO for the sample.
First impressions: It’s been some time since I’ve had a FiiO product in. I see and can feel that the quality of the box itself seems to have improved. It’s a more professional feeling box, not that the box is all that important. It may make a small difference if you’re browsing in a store but I can’t say I see it likely to bump into FiiO products on the high street anytime soon. A shame that but it’s not like many places sell DAP’s on the high street anyway. Opening it up, there in the player itself. I’m instantly presented with mixed feelings. The player is super tiny and I cannot help but think, oooooooohhhh. However then I notice it’s flanked by white ear buds, white. I’m not pleased, I don’t mind that they come with buds although I’d rather they didn’t. I view DAP’s coming with earphones as a waste of money and especially given that anyone buying a FiiO product probably cares enough to not need or want them. If they do want them then just let them buy them, separately. Anyway with a black player as I have here if they must come with buds, they really ought to be black I think. I know it’s not important but it’s a pet peeve of mine.
Returning to the player itself I’m again just struck by how diminutive it is. I realise that its numerical dimensions indicate it’s small but I really hadn’t twigged just how small it is. The thing is freekin’ tiny in my hand, compared with other DAP’s I use the only thing that comes close is the ancient 1G Ipod Shuffle. It’s just so itty bitty!!!
Screen: Well it’s DAP, a Digital Audio Player so the screen is only to navigate music and maybe to tell you the name of what’s playing right? It does both those things just fine. The screen is perfectly adequate for its use case. What I mean by that is it’s kinda cheap and meh. I have no problem with that as its perfectly fine for what you’re doing with it, it’s not a video player or anything.
Battery Life: The spec sheet says 12 hours playback and that to me seemed plausible. It easily lasted through not just one days use but a few. Unsurprisingly the screen getting lit up shortens that life but nicely, when you track skip or volume adjust the screen doesn’t automatically light up. Yey!!! I like to control my audio player with it either in my hard or in my pocket, where I’m certainly not looking at it so no need to power up the screen and waste power.
UI: To date I’ve never come across a DAP from the Far East (excluding Sony) that was intuitive and a pleasure to use. The UI here is functional but its pictograph’s aren’t always obvious and scrolling off screen likewise isn’t obvious. I mean it’s not impossible and you get used to it but I’d suggest doing what I normally do. Set the thing to shuffle the whole SD card and just track skip your way through things.
In The Hand: Pictures don’t do it justice. Pics and the dimensions both told it me it was small but actually having it in my hard was a revelation. It’s so itty bitty tiny!!! The thing even comes with a lanyard whose length suggests it to wear round your neck. Oh did I mention it weighs almost nothing? The only thing though is I’d rather the front wasn’t so much screen but had the buttons more spaced out. They feel all a little squished down together at the bottom. Its corners are maybe a touch angular and sharp but being plastic they aren’t too bad. Most of all the thing is just so diminutive.
Controls: The buttons on the front, from a first glance they look like touch sensitive things don’t they? That’s what I thought but gods be praised, they aren’t. They are actually normal buttons you must depress to actuate, you cannot know how pleased by that I am. It means no accidently pressing the wrong things and means I can operate the thing tactilely in my pocket. Woo Hoo!!! Love real buttons on DAP’s. I change the volume and skip tracks all the time so real buttons are always welcome. Interestingly it also has a hardware button lock switch. You slide the lock and the buttons stop working, the idea being you lock it and cant accidently press stuff in your pocket.
One interesting control feature, by default the track skipping, it comes with a soft transition. When you hit skip, the current track dips quickly in volume to nothing and then quickly climbs back up with the next track. I found myself rather liking that, despite its making the process a little slower its was nice. It made for a very smooth transition.
Format Support: The spec sheet again is fairly comprehensive. You name it, it can play it it would seem, including APE which to date I’ve never seen anyone use but apparently its more popular in the Far East. The only slight caveat is that it can’t play the very highest bit rates. Its tops out at FLAC: 48 kHz/24 bit and WAV: 96 kHz/24 bit. That is technically a shame but in reality it doesn’t matter at all. People who buy a DAP at this price are not intending to throw 192kHz /24bit files at it anyway, are they? Otherwise it also supports MP3, WMA, OGG and M4A so pretty much about everything any reasonable person is ever likely to want to use.
Connections: Here there is nothing fancy. We have the ubiquitous 3.5mm hp output, the almost as common micro USB input (for charging and data transfer) and then lastly, the micro SD card slot. That’s it, it’s a short list but really what else would you want?
Volume: The dial goes up to 60, frankly I hate to think just how loud that must get, I got it as far as 40 before finding it getting uncomfortably loud. Sure if you maybe have some very quiet piece or you have hearing issues then you might make use of it…….. me though, god no. It’s capable of going stupidly loud.
Sound Quality: So let’s be clear that the M3 is a tiny itty bitty sliver of a thing. It’s not going to be rocking desktop amp power and it’s likewise not got the most complex and sophisticated innards either. So if you think you’re going to get, world class, uber high quality audio you may want to think again. The M3 is about being a convenient and crazy small DAP its intention is to take the battery strain off your phone and give you a bit of a bump in audio quality while it’s at it. That is just what it does too. Sure it’s a little soft, little warmed, a little bit of diffuse creaminess. Its somewhat the typical FiiO sound and its one common to Far East players. They all veer towards the warmer side of things, hey it’s just what’s popular in the Far East. While I might prefer a bit more dry and clinical in a DAP, warmth coming from my earphones instead, it is what it is.
Lows: They are nicely diffuse, a little softish perhaps as the power output on the little M3 struggles to drive the Oppo PM-3’s I’m playing with. It not bad but in the deepest lows it just runs out of puff. Swapping to the Finder X1’s and while the bass doesn’t need so much power they still are struggling at the deepest deaths. They also are a little reduced in potency, they haven’t the hearty kick that a more powerful player can offer. Swapping to more rich music that is very nicely complimented and playing with some very bass heavy earphones it’s a rather pleasant on the ear pairing.
Quantity wise, while the lowest reaches diminished there is an overall little bump to the bass. That hint softer, bigger, more full and wider. Something that would pair well with something warmly sumptuous like the Sony EX-500’s. They made for a great pairing.
Mids: Once more they are a slight bit creamy and smoothed. It makes for a nicely pleasant rendition on the ear. Particularly with the warm EX-500’s they are very smooth, level and melodic. They aren’t so great with a more airy presentation song wise. They just don’t want to push towards open, breathy, clarity so they sort of sound a little bit enclosed, a touch suffocated. As is ever with a warmed presentation the best vocally you find when playing back warm and creamy vocals. They are softly smooth, richly sumptuous and the just ooze round your ears. It’s a very pleasant style to relax to. If however you push them, towards say fast paced gym type music (a place where you may well want a cheap and tiny little DAP.) Then you get that Sony esq big warm bombastic sound. It’s not one I’m wild about but Sony Hi-Fi’s have long sold well and are well loved by the general public. It’s a big potent, powerful and weighty sound. It likes to just power on through everything.
Quantitatively they are a smidge behind the bass I think, just a faint tiny bit. They do come with a dollop of cream though, which is nice but not entirely for me all the time.
Highs: They are that faintly warmed, slightly smoothed out style that we have seen elsewhere. It’s an ever popular and easy on the ear playback style. It really does pair nicely with the Sony EX-500’s. Neither are wildly great at great at the treble end so both conspire to give a delicate little dusting of shimmer, keeping it all rather vague but it works. Neither are about vast detail retrieval and they both you might think, are pushing everything too much in the warm direction but like I say, it works. Neither are analytical tools.
Quantitatively they are a smidge reduced and a little tiny bit diffused.
Hiss: I cannot say I noticed any.
Accessories: You get a rather weird selection. The micro USB cable isn’t a surprise, the earbuds are a little bit of a surprise to me but the weird one is the neck lanyard. Not that I have any problems with it, I actually rather think it’s a nice, fun idea but it’s just not something you often see. Indeed I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a DAP come with one before. The earbuds though, I’m a little disappointed with. Now I get that FiiO may have a more “high street” presence in China and so it’s then a little bit more expected that a player should come with some earphones. However, I cannot imagine anyone in the west who is buying a FiiO device isn’t going to be using their own earphones. So to me including them is a just a waste of money.
Value: This is where FiiO traditionally shine and here is no exception. While the M3 isn’t the world’s most thrilling DAP its star quality is its price tag. The thing comes in at just US$55 on Amazon US, which is just £38 though the UK price I found was £50. (Slight grumble.) The fact is at its price, either price it’s a great value product. It’s not going to challenge proper high end DAP’s but it’s not meant to, its phone battery saver, it’s a gym companion, it’s a little gem.
Conclusion: So you may have noticed I’ve not been wild about its audio quality. It isnt anything particularly acoustically special. I can’t even say it’ll be definitively better than your phone either. Phones have been getting better and when I compare it to my Lumia 735 I actually prefer the colder, crisper presentation of the 735. I generally do prefer colder DAP’s it’s just what suits me better. So the M3 is being pitched at a more typical and mainstream user.
The Warmer and more smooth presentation it offers is generally exactly what a typical, normal phone using listener is after. They want big, smooth, expansive bass. They want that big weighty sound. They want something that weighs nothing. They want something that will got through a weeks’ worth of gym sessions. They want something that isn’t going to eat any precious phone battery life. The M3 does a grand little job of all those things.
So should you buy one? Well if you want a diminutive DAP for working out, or you just want something tiny to replace your phone for battery destroying commute listening then it’s a fab little thing. It’s so small and it weighs practically nothing. Throw the lanyard on it and hang it round your neck so even if you’re a girl with no pockets you can still use it unencumbered. Aside from the music playing you’ll instantly forget it’s there it weighs so little. It’s a highly functional little DAP with excellent battery life that would be perfect as a diminutive gym or a commute companion.