Fiio M3 is an incredibly affordable and decent sounding hd music player with support for lossless audio formats. Fiio has a reputation for making some good audio equipment for very low price, as is highlighted by this product.
Fiio started their hi res audio player range a few years ago with the X1, X3, and then went on to make X5 and X7 product line-ups. While the X series of hi res audio players are focussed on providing a great sound quality and premium aluminium build, the M3 is targeted at the casual music listener who appreciates quality audio but is not ready to invest a significant amount of money. So let us see, at less than $80 (discounts often take it to less than $60), what this small music player has to offer.
Packaging and included accessories
In order to keep the cost low, Fiio has kept the packaging simple, unlike its X series products. The product comes in a simple cardboard box, with all the contents held in place by a clear plastic tray. Included along with the Fiio M3 is a USB to micro USB cable for charging and file transfers, some documentation, a lanyard and some screen protectors. There is no power adapter included, though any computer USB port or phone charger would provide enough power to charge this device.
Design and physical appearances
The Fiio M3 hd audio player is quite small and light. It has a boxy shape, and along with its size, resembles a matchbox. It has plastic construction, which keeps its weight quite low at just 40 grams. You can easily slip it into your pocket with some other stuff and not worry about it. It has a 2 inch 240×320 non-touch display. On the left side, it has a power button and on the right side, it has a lock slider to prevent accidental pressing of any buttons when in the pocket. It has all the backlit media and volume control buttons under the screen. On the bottom, there is a micro USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro SD card slot. It has 8GB of internal storage and supports 64GB micro SD card.
The Fiio M3 comes included with a basic earphone. The earphone is just about fine but does not do the audio player any justice. The sound is not bad, but the fit and sound isolation are. So we recommend pairing the Fiio M3 with a better quality earphone or headphone. It can support headphones with a maximum impedance of 100 Ω, which should allow you to use a wide range of quality headphones that you cannot use with your mobile phone.
The audio player uses Cirrus Logic CS42L51 DAC and amp combo. It produces a pretty good sound, and pretty close to a neutral sound signature with a flat frequency response curve. When compared to some clinically accurate source, you might find the M3 to produce a slightly warm and smooth sound. Whether you like it or not is subjective, some may prefer a coloured sound, while some may prefer the absolutely clear and accurate sound.
Nonetheless, it produces a good enough sound to compete well with its intended competition. It sounds better than the iPod and quite a few other players in its price range. Especially when comparing to mobile phones, most people would notice an upgrade when switching to this layer. But unfortunately, mobile phone manufacturers are stepping up their audio game and achieving comparable sound quality, with examples such as LG G5 which have options for higher quality DACs.
Interface and usability
While the Fiio M3 does well in the sound quality department, its interface is its Achilles heel. The 2-inch non-touch display is not great, but good enough and readable with 10 levels of adjustable brightness. You single press the power button to go the songs list, equaliser and some settings, and long press to go to the extended menu with much more settings. The menu has only icons with no text description indication as to what is what. Other than the obvious ones, to figure out the other ones you will need to refer the manual.
For organising the songs, the Fiio indexes all the songs but it may be better to use a folder based system. It often skips some songs belonging to some artists, and ignores track numbers. The playback is in the order in which the files are discovered on the file system by the audio player during indexing. The internal storage and external micro SD card storage are separately indexed and you have to navigate the songs on them separately. You do not require any special utilities to transfer files, you can simply copy them to the SD card or connect the player via USB to a computer and transfer files.
The media and volume controls are tiny and their placement on the front is not as convenient as side buttons on some hi res audio players. You will often press the wrong button when you are trying to operate it without necessarily looking at it. Side buttons are easier to identify just by feeling them.
With that said, once you get past the hassle of organising your media and getting the right settings dialled in, operating the device is easy. The media playback controls are pretty simple and the device automatically gets the album art from the files and displays it on the screen during playback.
The device has a 550 mAh battery and due to the low power Cirrus Logic DAC and amp combo, it can last up to 24 hrs. It supports playback of FLAC, WAV and APE formats for lossless and MP3, WMA, OGG and M4A lossy audio formats with a maximum resolution of 96 kHz, 24 bits.
√ Low cost
√ Good sound
√ Very compact and light
⊙ Interface and software is disappointing
⊙Included earphone is mediocre
The Fiio M3 is a very low priced hi res audio player that occupies a unique spot in the market. While it does offer quite good quality sound, some mobile phones are approaching its sound quality and making it harder to justify its purchase, and the clunky interface does not help the M3 either. But on the other hand, it is quite good if you are not satisfied with the audio output on your phone, or need to keep a separate music player and preserve your phone’s battery for other functions. The low cost is a significant factor in making such a use case more and more appealing.