The FiiO D3 is a straightforward SPDIF DAC that takes in coax and optical inputs and churns out RCA analog for a stupidly low price of $30.
I’ll admit this was the first time I’ve seen such a cool looking little straightforward DAC in this price range and couldn’t help but be a little skeptical at how they would perform. I mean, can we really expect anything good coming out of a $30 DAC? In the case of the D3, take out that $30 from your pockets and buy one ASAP because it sounds really good!
Let take a quick lot at what you get for $30 before plugging it in:
Most certainly a neat and tidy package this is a small unit with direct and informational dressing. No over the top marketing hype, it simply says what it does and at $30 that is the most important message.
Inside you get the unit, a power cable (since it is externally powered), a manual and that’s all she wrote folks! Cables and accessories you will have to supply yourself. Bear in mind that cables you and I are thinking of probably cost more than the D3 itself so this makes sense. I also think people who get the D3’s value are people with cables, no matter how good or bad they are and understand the use of the D3.
Power supply – DC5v
Output amplitude – 1.6v (0dB Fs)
Frequency Response – 20Hz – 20KHz
Signal to Noise Ratio – > 90Db
Total harmonic distortion: Hooking it up!
The first thing out of the box I did was test out the D3 as a DAC out of my laptop to replace FiiO’s own E7 DAC section that was docked on the FiiO E9 Headphone Amplifier. The D3 is connected via the toslink connection from the laptops headphone/optical jack then connected to the E9 via the minijack input at the rear of the amp. For doing the comparison, I switched between the two dacs by changing my hardware output options on my Audio settings section of my computer.
What did I hear? Well, I already did a review of the E7/E9 combo and found everything to be really good especially for the price but there was a brightness that bugged me a little. I blamed the E9 for this brightness since I thought the E7 wasn’t bright at all when used as a standalone unit. It turns out I was mistaken about the E9. It is a better amp than I previously thought it to be. I found that it was the E7 that caused the brightness in the sound of the combo that I didn’t like. I guess the E7’s DAC needed to be a little bright if paired with its slightly dark sounding internal amp so that it can sound good as a standalone DAC/AMP but when paired with the neutral E9, that added brightness is not needed any longer.
When the D3 DAC is used with the E9 Amplifier instead of the E7, that brightness that bothered me is now gone. The sound out of the E9 when using the D3 as a DAC is smooth. My HD600s sound detailed yet are no longer bright with the D3. Bass and lower midrange is also improved with the D3 against the E7. I am really loving the D3/E9 pairing right now. I used to use an old Pioneer integrated amplifier out of the E9’s RCA output to warm up the sound of the E7/E9 combo but with the D3 in the picture, I no longer need that Pioneer to improve on the bass and get rid of some brightness.
Besides being a DAC for the E9 Headphone Amplifier, I also tried the D3 out of a Pioneer DVD player connected to my speaker setup for watching movies. This time I connected the DAC using the coaxial digital input. What I found was that my system sounds a little more natural now than it was without the D3. It doesn’t sound like much of a description with lots of flowery words to tempt the readers but you have to understand that the system it is being used with here is not a detail monster. Basically I feel that paying much more for a DAC for this particular system may actually just result in money being wasted. What the D3 does is make the sound more natural in the upper mids to highs in this setup and for $30, that is good enough for me.
To people that want a bright amp to simulate more detail, don’t get the D3. Or get the D3 just to see what I mean, heck its only $30. To people that have headphones like the Shure SRH940 where I feel there to be a need for more warmth and less brightness, definitely give the D3 a try. Heck, I love them even with my warm sounding hd600s. The D3 adds meat to the sound and the tonality makes the soundstage more deep than wide when compared to the E7 as a DAC.
The FiiO D3 DAC is a keeper! Now I need to get better interconnects than the ones I am currently using!