||AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC and LHDC
||2 x AK4377A
||20 – 20 kHz (aptX connection), 20 – 40 kHz (LDAC connection)
|Single Ended Output
||50 mW @ 16 Ohm & 25 mW @ 32 Ohm
||78 mW @ 16 Ohm & 40 mW @ 32 Ohm
||USB Type C
||58 x 25 x 11 mm (exclusive of back clip)
||23.5 g (incl. battery)
PRICE R1 890.00
IMPORTED BY CPlan Audio 083 212-4599
There’s a plethora of brand names in the audio world, but there are very few that I won’t recognise – having worked in the industry for over two decades – if someone mentions it. Chinese brand FiiO, however, was one I didn’t recognise when I was first introduced to it a few years back. The name may be unfamiliar to many, but few won’t recognise OPPO – the company from which a number of senior staff and tech experts left to start FiiO in 2007. The company’s extensive product range has since gone on to win several awards, including EISA, Reddot, IF Design Awards and more.
My first introduction to the brand was the BTR1, a Bluetooth amplifier with decoding capability up to 384 kHz/32 bit audio. In those times, I had been blessed by the birth of a healthy daughter, but her arrival meant limited sleeping schedules and most importantly…the need for quiet when she was asleep!
Accordingly, my only option for listening to music was with headphones, and even though the quality of Sennheisers is beyond question, I always felt that something was missing from the experience. Admittedly, with a good few thousand Rand at my disposal (William? About that raise I asked for?), a high quality DAP might well have solved the issue. Alas, all I had was my trusty Smartphone, Spotify, and a selection of favourite music that included MP3, FLAC, WMA and WAV codecs.
The difference the BTR1 made to my listening stints was as obvious as night and day. The most obvious difference was the increase in volume – but volume by itself doesn’t in any way necessarily equate to an equal increase in quality – sometimes it’s the exact opposite. But the BTR1, pretty much the size of my thumb, did a great job, and set me out on a journey to see if there really could be further improvements.
So I’ve jumped a stage here, because the BTR3K is the updated version of the original BTR3. It’s a small, high-resolution Bluetooth device, a tad bit bigger than the BTR1, that features two AK4377A DAC chips, one for the 3.5 mm TRS and one for the 2.5 mm balanced TRSS output. The AK4377A is a compact DAC with a built-in headphone amplifier and some nice specs for the tech heads such as 107 dB THD+N and signal to noise ratio of 122 dB. It also sports Qualcomm’s CSR8675 BT 5.0 SoC, which supports lossless Bluetooth codecs such as LDAC and aptX HD.
If you don’t want to go the wireless route, then the BTR3K can also be used also as a USB DAC with your PC, Tablet or Smartphone. It’s simply plug in and play with some help from the FiiO App, and supports sampling rates up to 48 kHz/16 bit.
Visually, it’s sleek and unassuming, gloss black with no signage visible save for the Hi-Res wireless logo on its back. But turn it on and the FiiO logo lights up. And this is where it becomes interesting, because the BTR3K supports almost any Bluetooth audio codec, such as AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX LL (Low Latency), aptX HD and LDAC. And since these devices have no displays to show you what’s playing, what is does instead is change the colour of the FiiO logo accordingly. So for example, AAC files show a Cyan colour, aptX/aptX LL is purple, and so on. No matter what mix of codecs you have in your playlist, so long as the BTR supports it, it will run its way through the list, switching as and when necessary.
Seeing as many, if not most users, are using the FiiO to connect to and listen to music from their Smartphones, another feature of the BTR3K is to allow you take calls. It comes with an omnidirectional microphone as well as Qualcomm’s 8th generation cVc noise cancellation technology that suppresses background noises and allows your call to be as clear as possible.
One other thing I have to make mention of is the FiiO Control App. This is the best App of its kind that I have used. Software for the the various FiiO products are pre-installed, so you turn yours on, choose the applicable device from the list in the App, and you’re up and running. It allows you to customise general functions such as Charging on-off, RGB indicator light on-off, in-vehicle mode, DAC work mode, change the audio settings, equalizer and other functions of your FiiO Bluetooth device, as well as change settings such as digital filter and channel balance.
Pairing is quick and effortless, and the unit will automatically detect what kind of headphones you are using and adjust its output accordingly. Volume on the unit is independent to the Smartphone’s volume, so you can adjust both to get a level that suits you best.
To be honest the biggest surprise I had during the review was with an old pair of Sony headphones that I’d bought based on a recommendation due to their value for money. I’ve always enjoyed my bass, but these turned out to be so difficult to use with anything other than my then NAD AV receiver, that I rarely used them.
On portable players the bass was overbearing and you’d max out the volume on the player just to get a remotely decent listening level. Not wanting my listening times to be limited to using the NAD, I packed the headphones away and had almost forgotten about them until I decided to try them out during this review.
Volume was markedly improved, but in a controlled way – so not brash, shrill or with borderline distortion. The music was full and rich, but most importantly the Sony’s penchant for too much bass had been dealt with, bringing it under control and making it a pleasant listening experience – pretty much as I remembered them performing with the old NAD.
However, the Sony headphones of course couldn’t compete with my usual listening companions, the Sennheiser HD200s, even if I admit having had some difficulty initially in getting used to their slightly more clinical sound. With the somewhat dodgy bass-infatuation of my youth, it took some growing up on my part to appreciate how bass should sound, complementing the music instead of dominating it. But since I’ve been a convert, it’s been a great journey!
A particularly good track that delivers on all fronts is Pink Floyd’s High Hopes, from their album ‘The Division Bell’. Acoustic guitars, drums, vocals and more, all coming together in a powerful ballad that lesser systems might well struggle to deliver – not so here. A stunning performance that made me listen several times, each time finding something else that seemed to stand out for me.
Other tracks I used for the review were Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight, Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again, Dario G Voices, Tove Lo’s Habits (Stay High), Sarah McLachlan’s Adia and others, all chosen because of either a certain instrumental or vocal aspect…or just because they generally sound so darn good to me. I tried the equalizer from the Control App, which gave some interesting results, but to be honest I preferred to listen with it off.
Those who own DACs or have used them will be converts already, no point in me trying to sway their opinion. But if you haven’t yet tried one, hand on my heart, these versatile little FiiOs have made my listening sessions so incredibly more pleasant and are well worth the money – particularly if like me if your music is stored on a cellphone or laptop. An investment well worth looking at.