A headphone DAC and amp are not a requirement to enjoy the sound from your various devices, but sometimes they can help. Many mobile devices have a DAC (digital audio converter) built into their included dongles, which work reasonably well. But for serious audio listeners, with serious headphones, a DAC/amp like the FiiO Q3 is going to enhance the audio experience further.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
It’s also important to note that using a device like the FiiO Q3 with very cheap headphones may not do much for you. DACs and amps are made to drive headphones with more substantial power needs, such as the Sennheiser HD 58X. If you purchased a premium pair of headphones like this and wondered why they don’t sound as good as you thought, they may need a FiiO Q3 to help drive the internal hardware.
The FiiO Q3 is made to be used with wired headphones, so there is no Bluetooth here. If you are looking for a Bluetooth DAC and amp, FiiO has you covered. The FiiO BTR5 is an outstanding Bluetooth DAC and amp that will work with your Bluetooth headphones. So let’s jump into the review for the FiiO Q3 DAC/amp.
Table of contents
The FiiO Q3 has the following features and specifications:
|Audio input||Type C USB/3.5mm port|
|Headphone output port||Standard 3.5mm Port|
|Balanced output port||2.5mm balanced+4.4mm balanced|
|Channel balance||≤0.2 dB|
|Recommended headphone impedance||16～100Ω (PO); 16～300Ω (BAL)|
|Power supply||DC 5V 2A recommended|
|Battery life||USB in: PO: 10H, BAL: 8.5H|
AUX in: BAL: 19H
|Native DSD supported||DSD64/128/256/512|
|Max. sampling rate supported||768kHz/32bit|
|Chips used||DAC: AKM4462; Amp module: THX_AAA28; LPF: OPA1662; XMOS: XUF208|
|Test headphones||PO+M3 earbuds (27Ω); BAL+32Ω earbuds|
|Test volume||40mV output|
|Accessory||Dual USB Type C head cable, Lightening to Type C cable, USB Type C data cable, storage bag, non-slip mat, 3.5mm line cable, binding strap, quick start guide, warranty card|
|Weight||About 110g (incl. battery)|
Headphone output specifications (3.5mm headphone output port)
|Output power||• 150mW (16Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)|
• 160mW (32Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)
• 19mW (300Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)
|Frequency response||• 20Hz～20kHz, curve amplitude variation: 0.4dB|
• 20Hz～65kHz, curve amplitude variation: -3dB
1.2Ω (32Ω loaded)
|Noise floor||＜5.5uV (A-weighted)|
|Channel separation||• ≥75dB (1kHz, 32Ω loaded）|
• ≥105dB (1kHz, Unloaded)
|• 2.26V (32Ω/THD+N＜1%)|
• 2.38V (Unloaded)
|SNR||≥114dB (32Ω A-weighted)|
Balanced headphone output specifications (2.5mm/4.4mm headphone output port)
|Output power 1||• 180mW (16Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)|
• 300mW (32Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)
• 35mW (300Ω, THD+N＜1%, USB IN)
|Output power 2||• 190mW (16Ω, THD+N＜1%, AUX IN)|
• 325mW (32Ω, THD+N＜1%, AUX IN)
• 100mW (300Ω, THD+N＜1%, AUX IN)
|SNR||• ≥113dB (32Ω A-weighted, USB IN)|
• ≥115dB (32Ω A-weighted, AUX IN)
|Frequency response (USB in)||• 20Hz～20kHz, curve amplitude variation: 0.4dB|
• 20Hz～65kHz, curve amplitude variation: -3dB
|Frequency response (AUX in)||20Hz～90kHz,curve amplitude variation: 0.4dB|
|Noise floor||• ＜8uV (A-weighted, USB IN)|
• ＜5.5uV (A-weighted, AUX IN)
|THD+N||• ＜0.0015% (USB IN)|
• ＜0.0012% (AUX IN)
|Amplitude (USB in)||• 3.1V (32Ω/THD+N＜1%)|
• 3.38V (Unloaded)
|Amplitude (AUX in)||• 3.2V (32Ω /THD+N＜1%)|
• 5.6V (Unloaded)
|Output impedance||3Ω (32Ω loaded）|
|Channel separation||• ≥99dB (1kHz, 32Ω loaded)|
• ≥103 (1kHz, Unloaded)
What’s In The Box
- Fiio Q3
- Soft carrying case
- 3.5mm to 3.5mm AUX cable
- USB-C to USB-C
- USB-C to Lightning
- Rubber straps
- Non-slip mat
- USB-C to USB-A charging cable
- Manuals and Documentation
The FiiO Q3 is as simple as it gets. The chassis is made of metal and is of high quality. It’s not tiny, but it’s not huge, either. It’s smaller than most smartphones but large enough to be seen as not portable. FiiO does include some straps to hold the Q3 to the back of your smartphone. Because you need to be plugged in via USB-C or Lightning, there is no getting around this, making things a tad bulky for toting around.
FiiO does include a non-slip mat you can use to protect the back of both devices, should you not have a case on your phone. I don’t think many people will object to the added bulk, considering it is for the sound improvements they purchase this for.
The entire chassis of the FiiO Q3 is smooth and cool to the touch, thanks to the lovely black metal. The paint on the metal is flat and does not pick up fingerprints, which is a huge plus.
At the top of the FiiO Q3, you’ll find the power/volume knob. This is also made of metal and is knurled, giving it a nice feel when rotated. The RGB indicator is next to the knob, which relays some information about the operation.
- Red: When plugged in and charged, the RGB indicator will remain on and never turn off
- Blue: Powered on but not working (When in DAC Mode)
- Blue: Powered on and working at PCM≤48KHz (When in DAC Mode)
- Yellow: Powered on and working at PCM＞48KHz (When in DAC Mode)
- Green: Powered on and working at DSD (When in DAC Mode)
- Blue: Line in (headphone amp mode)
- Red Flashing: Low battery prompt light flashes every 5-seconds
- Red: Charging (powered off) red light pulses; constantly on while it is fully charged
- Red: Charging (powered on): light pulses while still indicating the relevant states; constantly on while it is fully charged
Next to the RGB indicator are your inputs, one 4.4mm balanced headphone output, one 2.5mm balanced headphone output, and one 3.5mm headphone output/line-in. If you’re unfamiliar with balanced outputs, here is a quick explanation.
A balanced output is an output that operates using a stereo audio layout with four different conductors. Each channel uses two audio signal paths, unlike an unbalanced output with only one signal path for each audio signal. You will need a balanced cable to take advantage of these connectors; you can buy them in 2.5mm or 4.4mm versions if your headphones support this.
You will find the charging switch at the bottom of the FiiO Q3. If the charging switch is set to ON, the Q3 will be charged once connected to a USB device (except in a low battery state). If the charging switch is set to OFF, the Q3 will not be charged. If Q3 runs out of battery, it will be charged regardless of the charging switch state until it is fully charged. When the Q3 is connected to a mobile device, it is suggested to set its charging switch to OFF to save the battery power of the mobile device.
If the FiiO Q3 is not being charged or working, it will enter standby mode automatically after 5 minutes to help to save more power with all indicator lights off. To wake up the Q3, you need to turn it off, turn it on, or connect it to a USB device.
Next to the charging switch are the USB-C port, and the GAIN button is next to the charging switch, followed by the BASS Boost button. The BASS Boost does just that; it bumps the low frequencies up, suitable for those who like bass-heavy music. I did not use this function because it crushed the mids and highs.
Overall, this is a straightforward and sleek design. The FiiO Q3 is well-built and looks like it should survive a little bit of rough use.
Ease of Use
I’m not even sure if this category is even needed. There is no software. There are only a few buttons and knobs. The FiiO Q3 is a plug-and-play device. Once you quickly figure out what the (few) buttons do, it’s off to the races. So yes, this device is dead simple to operate and use. Even a 2-year-old could handle this without breaking anything.
The sound of the FiiO Q3 will depend on the headphones you’re using. This section should really only be about performance, as the Q3 is designed to improve the sound of your headphones. The Q3 itself doesn’t produce the sound, but it does process the signal from your source.
I used the Sennheiser HD 58X headphones to test the Q3. I also used the AirPods Max and the Bowers & Wilkins Px8, but both of those are less than 40ohm headphones. While the sound quality was better with the Q3 on those headphones, it was significantly more noticeable on the 150ohm HD 58X.
Using a DAC/amp like the FiiO Q3 helps separate the frequencies making the overall sound less muddy. There is better separation, and you can hear subtleties in some tracks you may miss using cheaper headphones and no DAC/amp.
The soundstage is brighter, with the mids and highs coming through crystal clear and the bass holding everything up like a cloud.
If the default sound isn’t to your taste, the Q3 has the BASS switch for more low-end. Sliding this to the on position does enhance the bass frequencies; I did not care for this. You can also boost the gain by pressing the gain button. This will increase the signal, making everything louder and bumping up the dB. I didn’t care for this either—finally, the gain button cycles through preset sharp and slow roll-off filters, like an EQ. Double-tapping the gain button will cycle through those presets, and you can stay on one you like.
The FiiO Q3 also takes on all the volume functions. Your volume on your device and headphones will not function. FiiO says this analog potentiometer volume knob combined with ADC curve reconstruction gives you an accurate volume experience.
The FiiO Q3 is an outstanding performer and helped to give my HD 58X headphones an even better soundstage experience. The Q3 is an excellent piece of kit for those just starting in the audiophile world.
One more note, the Q3 does support MQA, but I do not use Tidal or a similar service that delivers MQA; I use Apple Music which does support Lossless but not MQA. So I did not test this feature.
The FiiO Q3 has a 1,800mAH battery which the company says should last 10 hours or more, even under USB decoding. I found battery life fluctuated between 9 and 12 hours. It depends on how loud the music is and the signal being sent into the DAC. I think the battery life is acceptable, but maybe getting something more along the lines of 15-20 hours may be more acceptable to other users.
DAC/amps can cost enormous sums of money, especially desktop versions. The FiiO Q3 will set you back $139.99, and you can use it as a portable or desktop DAC/amp. Given its portability, build quality, and performance. The value this adds to your setup is well worth the asking price.
Not everyone needs a DAC/amp, and some headphones might require even more than the FiiO Q3 can provide. It comes down to your needs and what you are trying to power. If you have a pair of Apple wired earbuds or earbuds from a Galaxy device, you truly won’t need this unit. The dongles packaged with your mobile device already have DACs to help make those buds sound better.
Suppose you have better headphones like the Sennheiser HD 58X (150ohms) or the beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80ohms) headphones. The FiiO Q3 will substantially enhance your listening experience. When you start heading towards even higher-end headphones like the 300ohm Sennheiser HD600s, you may need more power than the Q3 can provide. For most users using headphones in the 50-150 range, the FiiO Q3 is an excellent pick for a DAC/amp.
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Last Updated on January 24, 2023.
Ease of Use10.0/10
- Sleek design
- Great build quality
- Outstanding performance
- Easy to use, plug and play
- Fantastic price point
- Size might be an issue for some
- Wires might be an issue for some
- Battery life could be a bit better