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Fiio X3 ii / 2nd gen

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The Basics

I was getting fed up with about 15Gb of usuable storage for playing music on my phone, so I figured it was time for something with a lot more capacity.

I duly toddled off to Amazon and bought

Fiio X3 2nd gen or 'ii' £159

As has been noted, it appears that the UK distributor undercuts their own RRP thus making it difficult for anyone to compete.

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SanDisk Class 10 128GB micro SD card £57.99

Annoyingly these bad boys have come down to £39.99 in the few weeks since I bought.

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What's in the box?

Some cables, and some, errr, WTF?, really? Some kind of cheesy plastic sticker 'skins' intended for plastering over the case. You can have stars & stripes, or your Mum's kitchen wood effect melamine circa 1976. Just put these straight in the bin.

The actual device comes wrapped in a further rubber skin which is of better quality but I can't stand these kind of things so that got the bum's rush as well.

Plugging In

Plug in the micro SD card. This slots into a hole in the side of the device, with no cover - appears to be asking to fall out and/or get smashed, but this hasn't happened so far.

I just formatted the card without question using the Fiio itself (rather than plugging it into a PC etc.). I understand that cards need to be formatted as FAT 32 and it's debatable what format cards ship with, so I didn't mess about with seeing if it already worked.

Plug the Fiio into your PC with a micro USB -> USB cable, and it appears as an SMB / mass storage protocol device, and you can just dump music on it. Later on in the game you can change the Fiio's USB behaviour and make it appear as a DAC, but sensibly it behaves as storage by default.

Getting music on

I use MediaMonkey for this.

I configured the external device (which appears on a PC as 'X3') to copy mp3 files as-is, transcode FLAC to mp3 320kbps, and copy album art as 'folder.jpg' in the same folder.

I organised the music as

Music/{Album Artist}/{Album}/{Track Number} {Track Title}{Format}

so you end up with

Music/Billy And The Boingers/Debut Album/01 Loud Noise.mp3

This was a mistake. I'll go into exactly why this was a mistake later.

After this it's just a case of telling MediaMonkey to sync albums to the Fiio.

Turn It On

The front screen of the Fiio is a bit of a train wreck. To western eyes the first thing you look at it is the top left. There's a little speaker icon with a number '50' by it. OK, that's the volume. Next comes 'G=L'. After some googling it appears that this means that Gain = Low - there is a variable gain setting of Low or High, depending on the load your headphones present. Does this really, really need to take pride of place in the interface?

Control is with a fairly positive click wheel.

The top-level menu gives options of

  • Now Playing
  • Category
  • Browse Files
  • Play Settings
  • System Settings

Drilling into 'Category' I see

  • All Songs
  • Album
  • Artist
  • Genre
  • Favourites
  • Playlists

That's right, the easiest option to get to is to play every single freaking track on the device, all 5800 of them, in order.

I've actually managed to hit this twice now accidentally. The whole device gets a bit sluggish with 5800 tracks in the queue.

Going into 'Artist' the first thing I see is '2 Bad Mice' and '2 Body's'. At this point I realised I'd bought the wrong thing. Yes, '2 Bad Mice' is indeed the name of an artist on a Renaissance mix album mixed by Sasha & John Digweed.

But the 'Album Artist' for this album is set to 'Sasha & John Digweed'. I don't want to see every single poxy one-track-wonder on mix albums, I want to browse by the Album Artist tag. The Fiio has precisely no capability of doing this.

Sonos can browse by Album Artist and hide contributing artists, Google Play Music can do it. They are both market leaders in their respective fields. But the Fiio only knows about the Artist tag. If I had realised or though about this before buying I simply wouldn't have bought the Fiio.

See here for a tutorial about the Album Artist tag.

OK, all is not lost, I can just browse the file system under 'Browse Files'

I'm presented with

  • TF Card
  • OTG

after some googling it looks like 'TF Card' means 'TransFlash card'. No, I hadn't heard the term either.

Clicking on OTG I get 'No music found!'. Well why did you show it to me then, you muppet? Shades of Douglas Adams 'do not press this button again'. I later found out that it stands for 'On The Go'; I'll go into more detail below.

Under 'TF Card' I get

  • MediaMonkey
  • Music

MediaMonkey is just MediaMonkey metadata from the sync process. I get 'No music found!' under that too. Jesus.

So I have to step over MediaMonkey every time to get to Music. Should have called it Aardvark, or just dumped all the music at the top level.

Finally you get to walk the files you've set up and at this point I realise I have set up the file names incorrectly. For multi-disc albums I use the track number and disc number tags, as you would. But I forgot to include the disc number in the file name, and if you're just playing the raw files the Fiio will play in alphabetical order.

Jah Wobble's 5 disc opus Redux has now been dumped in as

01 Track Name.mp3

01 Other Name.mp3

01 Different Name.mp3

01 Heterogeneous Name.mp3

01 Blah Name.mp3

02 etc. etc

If I try to play it I get track 1 from each disc, then track 2, and so on.

So now I have to go back and change my sync name pattern to

{Disc Number} {Track Number} {Track Title}{Format}

and re-do things.

Actually Playing Music

Well once I start playing, the album art does actually appear.

The screen is a pretty tatty 2" 320*240 pixels and it's pretty dim. It looks like a relic compared to any modern smart phone.

Sound? Yep, it sounds good. Much better than my phone.

After listening for a while, particularly to one album Anastasis by Dead Can Dance I get a bit of a feeling of distortion when notes are held. Might be my imagination?

Maybe lets try flac.

On The Job, sorry, On The Go

In the immortal words of Screamin' Jay Hawkins introducing 'On The Job' (a song about, err, bodily functions), 'This is a song about real pain'

The Fiio supports USB On The Go

Basically it can act as a host for a USB stick, hugely increasing storage capacity.

Let's go and buy some more stuff.

No-name OTG cable £1.07 from eBay including shipping.

How does anyone make any money on this?

SanDisk 48MB/s read speed Cruzer Blade 128GB USB stick.

£19.99 from Amazon.

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I decided to go full-fat and copy music onto the USB in its native format, either flac or mp3.

There was no involvement from the Fiio at all, just plug the stick into your computer.

It has an advertised read speed of 'up to' 48Mb/s. There's no mention of write speed, but my experience was somewhere between 'slow' and 'slow as shite'. Much, much slower than writing to the Fiio / SD card. I guess the important thing for these cards is a camera dumping large amounts of data onto them very quickly so write speed is good, not so with the USB stick.

Actually using the OTG USB stick was a cinch. Once you've connected it to the Fiio and dug into 'OTG' it just appears like the onboard storage.

I listened to Dead Can Dance's Anastasis again, but this time in flac. Maybe it was my imagination but it did sound better. None of the 'he might be a underwater' feeling. Switching back to the mp3 version he didn't sound underwater there either. However the treble was definitely splashier than with the flac version. No real surprise there, then. I guess I was having a bad day on the previous listen to have such difficulty.

I then went off for a meeting leaving the Fiio as it was. I think it goes into some kind of sleep mode when you simply leave it alone. And hour later I attempted to carry on listening where I left off, however the Fiio had a major seizure at this point. It said that it couldn't find the external storage and flashed up an error for every single track in the queue. I took the time-honoured IT support approach of turning it off and on again, and everything started working again. It would appear that sleeping makes the Fiio dismount external storage. This is a bit crap, and basically makes the OTG unusable for me.

Gah! I just did it again! I've now had to sit through it flashing 'File not found' for almost the whole of 'The Way Of Curve' that I had queued up, and I was only away for 10 minutes. That's it, OTG is unuseably shit.

Conclusion

Well that's it really. There's not a huge amount to report about something so commonplace as an mp3 player. In summary about the Fiio X3 ii

The interface is abominable.

I wouldn't have bought it if I had realised that it doesn't support the Album Artist tag.

Sound quality is good, particularly compared to a phone where I guess the DAC is basically as cheap as possible.

128Gb of storage with an appropriate card is a huge amount of space.

There's not a lot of difference between 320 kbps mp3 and flac, particularly with my headphones.

The screen and the clickwheel are like something from 10 years ago.

This is a geek's device, where tweakability and overall sound quality trump useability every time.

The OTG facility is next-to useless.

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Thanks for that, i think you have just saved me £160 worth of bin fodder. As I have to do shit like walk n things, the sound from a pad/phone is getting iritating, but no album artist filter thing would gave me chucking the bloody thing away.

Shall have to annoy some poor sod in currys and see what sony et all have to offer.

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Hi,

I have the Fiio X3 Gen 1 and I think it's great, it has better audio quality than the Ipod Touch and Creative player I tried, works as a DAC, it plays DSD, as well as most other file you care to mention, it's not bad via my amp ( although not as good as my PI/iQaudio setup ) I've never had any of the issues you have described, oh well, maybe you'd be better off buying Apple or A&K at ridiculous prices ;-)

My Gen 1 is running FW3.3 so maybe the Gen 2 just needs to catch up firmware wise.

Mike.

PS: if you didn't know what OTG and TF meant then maybe this device isn't for you :whistle: - :geek:mode required

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Hi, same as Mikey, I have the 1st gen Fiio X3 and it is a piece of cake to operate. I just drag and drop albums to it and everything appears as it should together with album art. No configuring at all. Can't speak for MP3s, don't use them, don't see the point of having a hi res player to play MP3s. I have taken mine to a few bake offs and plugged into other people's DACs and it has been received favourably.

I was thinking of trying the 2nd gen, but I guess now I won't bother

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Hi, same as Mikey, I have the 1st gen Fiio X3 and it is a piece of cake to operate. I just drag and drop albums to it and everything appears as it should together with album art. No configuring at all. Can't speak for MP3s, don't use them, don't see the point of having a hi res player to play MP3s. I have taken mine to a few bake offs and plugged into other people's DACs and it has been received favourably.

I was thinking of trying the 2nd gen, but I guess now I won't bother

Hi,

I was in the same boat, but the Gen II has lower output to headphones too, gonna stick with Gen 1 for time being.

Mike.

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Thanks a lot for that thorough review. I'm also considering getting one.

Could you not put the album artist name before the album title in the same category? So 'Sasha & Digweed - Renaissance'. I appreciate you won't be able to skip straight to the very album, but unless you have heaps of albums under the same album artist name, it won't take long to locate it once you get to that artist.

I'm in a similar situation to you with many compilation albums so this will be an issue for me too. However I don't mind having to adapt a bit to workaround it if the rest of the device is good. I'm not going to buy an A&K - I think they're too expensive.

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Guest

My point about the Album Artist tag was that I'd like to browse by Album Artist, just like on any sane player (Sonos, MediaMonkey, Google Play Music, the list goes on). As it stands, I'm reduced to organising the file system itself by Album Artist (with the problems that brings) and browsing that. I have no intention of changing any tags just to suit a particular player.

I was originally going to buy an A&K AK jr, but I was put off by the advertised maximum SD card size of 64 Mb (maybe that's changed, or was just a marketing mistake?) and reviews elsewhere on the web reckon that the UI is very laggy, potentially unuseably so. Again, maybe a firmware update has fixed / will fix that.

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Guest

... and the latest update on Gyro Versus Fiio.

Yesterday I put some more music on the Fiio.

Given that the options for browsing don't include Album Artist (as detailed above) I did an update of the media library simply to get an idea of how many tracks I had put on.

Strangely it told me that I still had 5800 tracks. Odd.

A quick google confirms that the Fiio has a hard cap on the number of tracks with which it can cope, of, yes, 5800.

You can still just walk through the file system manually and that works ok, but it won't index anything over 5800 based on tags.

I say again, Jesus.

Browsing by Artist confirms that (for instance) Warpaint, W.A.S.P., Yazoo and ZZ Top simply aren't there. OK, 'Artist' might be a bit optimistic for W.A.S.P., but other than that, what a load of rubbish.

From the Firmware update page it looks like the X5 has had this restriction removed. Maybe it has more physical memory? But not the X3 ii. :doh:

As a side note, yes, the main repository for firmware is a page on a forum, and the firmware binaries are stored on dropbox of all places. The closer one looks, the more amateur-hour the whole thing appears.

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Wow. Are you going to send these comments to them? They should probably address these issues and I wouldn't have thought some of them would be too hard to resolve in an update.

I'm pretty much dissuaded from getting one now. What's even more depressing are the comments on the A&K as those are marketed and sold as premium devices. It's incredibly poor if they have slow interfaces given the prices they charge.

On the other hand, I have a lot of music I'd like to have on a portable device. There aren't really many options - Sony have some units but those are all expensive too (though I'd assume they'd at least have a decent UI). What to do?

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Hi Josh, I'm trying to understand your problem. When I put new stuff on my 1st gen I have my music in folders, for example, ZZTop "Rhythmeen" or Warpaint "Warpaint". I then just drag these folders via PC to either the internal drive or the external drive of the Fiio.

To play, I just access the drive, open it, and quickly scroll down to the album I want to play, takes a few seconds. How does the new Fiio differ from this?

I don't do any formatting of the files, they are just as they were ripped or downloaded.

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To play, I just access the drive, open it, and quickly scroll down to the album I want to play, takes a few seconds. How does the new Fiio differ from this?

It probably doesn't. Yes, you can go and dig around in the files under 'Browse Files' and everything is there.

However if you're trying to browse by tags in the files, navigating under 'Category' where you can see Album, Artist, Genre etc. then

  1. you can't browse by Album Artist, only Artist
  2. only the first 5800 files it sees are categorised

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Ah I see, thanks for that. I'm a simple soul and never want to do that, I just find an album a and play it.

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I also own a Fio x3 and I simply drag and drop music. All my music is already ripped to my Nas drive for streaming and I simply plug the player into a sub slot and 2 - 3 minutes later the album is on my player. I'm also using the same Sandisc card and it supports my hi def downloads as well, all in Flac. I really am impressed with the sound quality through Sennheiser ie 800, which are very revealing of any short falls in the music replay. I think at the price even including a memory card, it's stocking value. I'd love to have the money for an Astell and Kern, but I don't feel short changed with the Fiona.

Edited by krellmad

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     I've used an x2 for a couple of years with no problem at all but it must be said I'm a desktop computer user and as such must be considered weird. Swipey devices don't work well for me so the mechanical interface is great way around that.

     I've used it with a variety of connected headphones, headphones output to amp aux RCAs and straight to a DAC coax (to use it as a storage device). It's always sounded pretty good to me for a bit of kit in that price range.

     I keep it in a small cheap case which houses two spare 128Mb cards in addition to the two it has inserted, that's an awful lot of FLACs (or even WAVs if you're so inclined). 

     It suits me and my purposes so 10/10 for that. Everyone's different though and I can see that it wouldn't suit some peeps. :) 

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Super Wammer

I have a Gen 1 X3 and I use daily a Gen 1 X5 . These are indeed quirky little players and they do take a little getting used to . However I would recommend the following in order to get the best .

1) Do not load music direct to the SD Card in the X3 . Instead put the SD card in a Card reader plug in to your PC Create a single File and name it (My Music / Music File / X3 Music whatever) . Then just dump from your library straight copies . I only use FLAC and all of my music is ripped via DbPoweramp anf tagged by that software. I have the files set to dynamic artist so there is folder for the artist and any new CD for that artist is automatically added to that folder.

Playback for me is a simple thing I have about 8300 songs and I go to All Songs set Shuffle pick a song to start and hit play . After this I just skip anything I do not want to hear .

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