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A "headphone revolution" has been taking place lately. Many manufacturers have removed the headphone jack on smartphones and are now encouraging the use of wireless headphones. Unfortunately, wireless headphones don't sound very good to trained ears (especially true wireless ones).
Some will say, “Manufacturers usually include an adapter with a USB-C to 3.5mm jack so that you can use that. But if the sound from the adapter is weak and the sound quality is not poorly reproduced, what are your options? The FiiO BTR3, a portable wireless digital-to-analog converter with an amplifier, seems to solve this problem. The BTR3 is the little brother of the successful BTR1 and the prototype of the more affordable uBTR.
BTR3 Portable Bluetooth Headphone Amp Review
DAC: AK4376A | Bluetooth chip: CSR8675 | Bluetooth version: 4.2 | Supported codecs: AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, LDAC, LHDC codecs | Frequency range: 20Hz to 20kHz aptX, 20Hz to 40kHz LDAC | Battery: 300mAh (11 hours) | Charge time: 1.5 hours | Output power: 25mW/32 Ohms, 33mW/16 Ohms | Output impedance: <0.3 Ohms | Recommended load impedance: 16 to 100 Ohms | Total harmonic distortion + noise: <0.003% LHDC | Signal to noise ratio: 120dB | Channel separation: ≥75dB | Features: Built-in microphone Qualcomm cVc noise reduction technology | Weight: 26g.
The box looks like the standard “thin” variant from FiiO, but this time it is made of thin plastic instead of cardboard. But that doesn’t make a big difference. In the box, you’ll find a manual, a warranty card, a USB cable for charging or use as a DAC, and a neckband that allows you to wear the BTR3 amplifier around your neck, wrap it around your wrist, or wear it anywhere you like.
Firmware updates are done through a dedicated firmware updater on your computer, while setup is done through the FiiO Music app on your smartphone. All instructions are available in English on the official forum and in the knowledge base of the manufacturer’s website. Moreover, the receiver usually works right out of the box!
Compact black aluminum housing with a glass front panel gives an elegant “2.5D” effect. The top of the control panel features an illuminated FiiO logo. It changes color depending on the codec you’re using and is also a universal battery discharge/charge indicator; we had fun for about 10 minutes switching codecs on the M7 and checked several times to make sure they were working.
On the right side, you’ll find the power button, the microphone port, a separate “Smart” button with several functions, including play/pause and voice assistant invocation, and a volume button. A short press changes the volume; a long press changes the song. When you press the up button, it increases the volume, but if you hold it down simultaneously, it reverts to the previous song, which confuses many people. While this may not appear logical to most, it makes sense since the volume indicator always goes up and the tracklist goes down. However, the built-in configuration tool will almost certainly provide a way to adjust this behavior in the future.
To make this portable amplifier more convenient, the company includes a clip to attach it to your clothes, which is very reliable. It’s also worth mentioning that the BTR3 has its own volume control. Basically, you can adjust the volume conveniently without taking out your smartphone or using the volume control on the headphones.
You may not be interested in headset capabilities, but for some reason, this wireless DAC/amp has a great hands-free feature. You can talk to another person through the built-in microphone if you hold the device close enough to your face, which works pretty well. Qualcomm’s noise cancellation technology is not lost, but the single microphone shows its limits when you use the microphone farther than the distance that your neck loop allows.
Like many modern devices, the BTR3 amplifier can be connected to two sources and quickly switch between them. It also supports Android’s Quick Pair mode. To pair it with a compatible smartphone, hold down the control button and tap the notification that appears on your smartphone.
The USB input and headphone output are both located on the bottom of the device, making it difficult to connect USB at the same time when using the large 3.5mm jack. USB-C is used for charging, needing roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes to charge the BTR3 fully, giving you 9 to 11 hours of usable power. The connector can also be used to connect the receiver as a USB DAC.
The connection quality is pretty good. It’s all relative and depends first on the source and second on the strength of the electromagnetic interference in the environment. Of course, the codec used also has an impact. Even using the same LDAC encoder, there is a very noticeable difference in reliability between the “quality priority” mode and the “connection priority” mode. In general, with the BTR3’s aptX, AAC, and LDAC codecs, I had no problems in the “Connection” mode. – With good clarity, it easily stayed within 15m, but without a solid connection wall, the distance dropped to about 10m. You shouldn’t have issues listening to music and wearing the device in your pocket.
Meanwhile, FiiO began developing a new Bluetooth codec, LHDC, to compete with Sony’s LDAC. This technology was first used in the BTR3 and FiiO players. According to the study, wireless transmission provides high-resolution audio with low latency. Instead, it says the sound quality should be equal to LDAC.
I won’t describe the sound in detail this time since the BTR3 doesn’t render the same level of detail as the high-end portable DAC/amp. To describe the sound in an elegant and very neutral way, I tested the same headphones (in this case, the MEE Audio Pinnacle P1) with several other audio players (FiiO X1, M3 Pro, M5, etc., which should be in about the same price range) and compared them. FiiO’s DAC/AMP is high quality, but there’s something in the BTR3 that appeals when playing rock, metal, and heavy music in lossless formats.
To have a similar experience, keep in mind that the headphones are sensitive and have a low impedance. If you connect the Sennheiser HD 660S to the BTR3, you won’t get the same results; the BTR3 plays smoothly without any noticeable coloration or problems. However, you can’t overlook the wireless audio transmission.
This DAC/AMP can also act as a USB sound card, making it a very versatile product equipped with an AK4376A digital-to-analog converter from Asahi Kasei Microdevices. FiiO BTR3 is certainly not the best DAC to plug into your computer. Still, it is a great portable headphone amplifier that you will usually find if you are looking for a Bluetooth receiver. This DAC also removes the sound card built into your computer’s motherboard.
Sound quality over Bluetooth
The LHDC codec is very similar to LDAC, and in testing, the difference was minimal. The bass and midrange may be a little easier to handle than with LDAC, but the top half is handled a little better. However, for most types of music, the top half of the bass and midrange also play an important role, so LDAC is probably better for modern music, while LHDC is better for more artistic and complex music. In other words, the choice is yours, depending on your musical tastes.
The BTR3 is also very good in DAC mode, most of the wireless artifacts are gone, and the sound is always neutral, dynamic, balanced, tight and natural. Of course, expensive, portable DACs will be better, but as an economical solution for smartphones and laptops, today’s test hero can get the job done.
As for compatibility, we can safely say that the BTR3 should be paired with sensitive headphones or in-ear monitors (IEMs), as they offer longer battery life and lower noise levels. Of course, the BTR3 doesn’t have a background as quiet as the FiiO Q1 Mark II, but this amp is much more listenable when paired with sensitive IEM headphones. The low output impedance makes it well-suited for multi-way models.
In terms of compatibility, we can safely say that the BTR3 should be paired with sensitive headphones or in-ear monitors (IEMs), as they offer longer battery life and lower noise levels. Of course, the BTR3 doesn’t have a background as quiet as the FiiO Q1 Mark II, but this amp is much more listenable when paired with sensitive IEM headphones. The low output impedance makes it well-suited for multi-way models.
More and more people are opting for the convenience of wireless connectivity, and technology is growing all the time. Naturally, amplifiers are becoming more convenient, portable, easy to use, and of higher quality. There are high-quality devices with state-of-the-art features, and the BTR3 is an excellent example.