Darn… FiiO just went and did it and finally gave us the DAP they have been talking about since late 2011 – the FiiO X3. Feted for their quality to price ratio and bang for buck kings (sorry I have almost run of memes for FiiO to be honest) they have kind of stepped into the unknown or a radically different and more competitive market of DAP’s for the X3 and offered us a high quality DAP for the price point of $200. I would have to say this is going to be a qualified rather than unqualified success. It is going to sell well for sure. The FiiO fan is almost ‘applesque’ in their dedication and those who want a good quality DAP and on a budget will take a second look at the X3 I have no doubt.
About 5 years ago the DAP market was safe, ipod was still the click or touch wheeel and iRiver etc were emulating the DAP model to a degree of success in the wake of the initial Ipod trail blazing forumla. Nowadays everyone is in on the act and a flac player with button control can be bought for as little as $30 locally or imported from China. Yet the DAP market is not just a straight shootout between FiiO, iRiver, Cowon and Colorfly. Just because the FiiO does good quality high bit rate playback of music at almost a third of the price of an AK100 doesnt automatically give it first place – the ipods are still lingering around and in this era of gadget convergence and ‘usb on the go’ so also many mobile phone manufacturers and at cut throat rates also.
What the general gadget market is looking for now is conveinence and convergence so it could be argued that FiiO’s X3 could almost be deemed irrelvant in 2013 to many who have the latest iPhone and Android variation and say a CLAS Solo or Fostex HP-P1 given it’s lack of wifi, apps, bluetooth and huge touchscreen. OK so why release the X3 now and in it’s current format? Well you have to be living under a rock for the last 18 months not to notice some of the old timers and new players are once again trying to create a new pitch for the pure DAP player at a new and rather higher price point. The AK100, Colorfly C4, the iBasso DX100 all have massive selling points for the audiophile purist and old school fans that created the gap for FiiO to do what they do best. People now want to know the DAC chip inside a DAP, the demand for more than just a headphone jack is deafening and the eagle eye readers dont want MP3 as the standard bearer for storing music on the go, they want high bit rate and they want oodles of space to store it and play it back in the best possible way. Call it a comeback if you like for the humble DAP over the swiss army knife PMP and mobile phone convergence devices. But these cost an arm and a leg starting at about $600 minimum, unfair say many for the pursuit good quality sound on a budget and that is where the X3 fits right in and starts to becomes relevent.
Oddly enough for such a critical release the packaging is much the same as the E17 or the E12: that small white and red box with the picture and what it is and the same neatly folded internal packaging with a usb cable, coaxial adaptor, silicon case, screen protectors and a small but useful manual. Perhaps to kep costs low, perhaps to stay on brand and identity I just hoped for something a bit more special but it’s only a fleeting thought since in reality the box will gather dust thereafter.
The X3 itself is very much FiiO build quality and finish with that familar edge and design in the form factor but this time with a more piano black glossy feel than the previous brush metal look of their amps. The brushed metal finish is reserved for the back plate and the front manual metal panel with a hard plastic bezel and screen panel. For $200 it’s a good finish, plenty out there slightly cheaper but not as well cut or cut 100% from hard plastics. It feels sturdy and not something you are going to forget about in a hurry in your pocket. The dimensions are more reminiscent of the old classic Sony Walkman W600 or W900 candybar mobile phones crossed with a slight nod to the iRiver iAudio 7 series media players with the recessed swooped diagonal contours housing the buttons and a stop/exit on the left and play and power on the right. The minimal button on top is a move away from the button on side approach you find nowadays with the touchscreen DAP’s and cellphones. Hand to eye coordination on what you see and what your pressing is always better on top for me than to the side for non touchscreen electronics.
The screen resolution is 240×320 which is adequate for browsing and selecting music but since thankfully it is not a PMP or touch based we need not worry too much about picture quality. It gets the job done and that is all we can say about that.