FiiO M3 Pro Review ESS Sabre DAC USB-C DAP with e-Book Support

Friday, May 08, 2020

Many phones have pretty decent DACs in them so, with a decent music app, like PowerAmp, you can turn the average phone into a sound powerhouse!
The problem though, most phones have limited storage capacity and no micro SD card slot, forcing you to upgrade when you need more space! Before blowing your cash on a new expensive smartphone though, you should take a long, hard look at the FiiO M3 Pro digital audio player.
The FiiO M3 Pro cost a fraction of a flagship smartphone, supports e-book reading and can record audio in WAV/MP3 format (48kHz/16-bit). The M3 Pro delivers also audio that rivals the best of the best smartphones for listening to music.
The FiiO M3 Pro integrates the ESS SABRE ES9218P chip, which is the same SABRE DAC chip found on the LG V30/V30+ and G7 ThinQ smartphones. This means, the FiiO M3 Pro features multiple digital filters, including a minimum phase and short delay slow roll-off filter that removes pre-ringing and post-ringing (echoey sucking sound).
Powering the FiiO M3 Pro, it's the Ingenic X1000/E CPU processor, which works better than the Ingenic X1000 at minimizing lag while scrolling a large library when playing music.
There is no "search" function though, which is a key feature on an MP3 player. That said, most portable DAP players, like the M3 Pro, don't integrate a search function because of the limitation in CPU power.
The FiiO M3 Pro can play both PCM up to 384kHz/32bit and DSD up to 128 (5.6MHz/1bit). This makes the FiiO M3 Pro a 32-bit DAC rated digital audio player with a potential signal-to-noise ratio of 192 dB (low noise) and output power of 92mW at 16 ohms load and 75mW at 32 ohms load.
The output power of the M3 Pro is three times more power than the M3K music player because the amp in the M3 Pro is built-in to the DAC chip.
10 steps of brightness
With that much power, you will be able to drive low (16 ohms minimum) and high impedance headphones (up to 100 ohms).
The FiiO M3 Pro has a thin, tall (almost bezel-less) body frame (95.8mm x 45.4mm x 10.4mm) with a bathtub notch. The large high quality 3.46-inch touchscreen display has a resolution of 340x800 pixels that displays vibrant colors. The screen is superbly lit and swiping between screens is fairly quick.
The frame of the M3 Pro is made of aluminium with black anodized finish. It features four individual buttons on the left top side (no rocker switches), a micro SD card slot on the bottom left side and a 3.5mm headphone jack, microphone and dual purpose (audio/charging) USB-C port on the bottom side.
The FiiO M3 Pro has a battery life of up to 15 hours (1-month standby) when playing audio at 50%, which means setting the volume to approximately 30 steps.
The M30 Pro volume control has a total of 60 steps. The volume up and volume down buttons share functionality with skipping tracks (next/previous).
Charging the 1000mAh battery inside the FiiO M3 Pro is fairly quick, taking just 2 hours via 5V/2A USB-C input charge. A long USB-C cable is included. The FiiO M3 Pro has 78dB crosstalk, which is good since the higher the dB value the less crosstalk
There is no USB transport function but, the FiiO M3 Pro has an EQ function which works while serving as a USB DAC. The EQ contains seven presets but without a custom preset, which even the BTR3K DAC amp does. Luckily, it is reported that FiiO will introduce a custom/parametric EQ in the upcoming firmware update.
To enter USB mode, you have to go into the M3 Pro settings and select DAC mode as it's set by default to storage mode, which turns the M3 Pro into a micro SD reader, which supports up to 2TB. USB DAC mode does require the installation of the FiiO USB DAC driver, which can be downloaded from FiiO's website.
Once the driver is installed, the FiiO M3 Pro will be recognized by a computer as a playback device; hence you will need to go to the computer's playback options to set the M3 Pro to default device.
When using the M3 Pro connected to a car stereo AUX, you will need to change the default setting PO (Headphone Out) to LO (Line Out).
The FiiO M3 Pro Play settings include resume mode, playback gap, max volume, fixed volume, balance (left/right), play through folders and play mode (i.e. shuffle play, single play, single loop and sequential p).
Screen timeout can be set to a maximum of 120 seconds and standby time to a maximum of 8 minutes. The M3 Pro internal microphone does a good job at recording external audio, although the system requires a memory card with capacity larger than 8GB.
FiiO's M3 Pro user interface is simple to navigate since there is just eight menu options from the main screen. You can swipe back and forth between screens without pressing a button, which is nice.While shortcuts cannot be created manually, there is a shortcut gesture on the main screen that lets you quickly access some key settings such as brightness, play settings and calculator. It would have been more useful if the calculator shortcut was replaced with a shortcut to USB DAC mode.
The FiiO M3 Pro is the perfect portable music player for those looking for a lightweight (70 grams), high quality/low price DAP that you can use with wired headphones to play high-resolution music. If you need more functionality like streaming apps, balanced output or wireless aptX/ LDAC support, you should look to the M5 digital audio player. You can buy the FiiO M3 Pro on amazon.

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