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The origins of the FiiO "Q" series of portable DAC/AMPs began with the FiiO Q1 and continued with the Q1 Mark II; The flagship Q5 was released after Q1 Mark II, which was upgraded to the FiiO Q5s and Q5s TC (amplifier with Type-C USB). To bridge the gap between the entry-level amplifiers and the flagship models in the series, FiiO has introduced the FiiO Q3, a portable headphone amplifier reminiscent in design with the Q1 with a redesigned audio path and multiple headphone ports.
The FiiO Q3 uses specific AKM 4462 Advanced Chip and AK4499 Main Chip components to read high sample rates in 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 formats. In addition, even though the AK4462 does not support MQA technology, it does support VELVET SOUNDTM technology.
Aside from all these buzzwords, the FiiO Q3 amplifier is a real mid-end/high-end product that stands out for its performance, sound quality and provides compatibility with plenty of headphone ports (2.5 mm, 3.5 mm, 4.4 mm) and devices: PC, iOS, Android devices (other devices and players such as Sony Walkman may need an adapter cable).
FiiO Q3 Portable DAC & Headphone Amp Review
DAC: AK4462 | Amplifier: THX AAA28 | Output and Power: 3.5 mm (160 mW/32 Ohms), balanced 2.5 mm and 4.4 mm (300 mW/32 Ohms) | Battery: 1800 mAh (~ 8 hours) | Digital Audio Formats: DSD (up to 22.5792 MHz/1-bit), PCM (up to 768 kHz/32-bit) | USB chip: XMOS XU208 | Weight: 110g
The packaging of FiiO products seems to be the same as usual. This is good; We also did not want any changes since the package is quite rich for a device of this price and favors the consumer.
All the accessories come in a sleek black box, where you’ll find the following items in addition to the DAC.
- A USB Type C
- Lightning cables
- Usual USB-A wire
- A set of two pairs of rubber bands of different sizes
- Rubber sticky “pad.”
- 3.5mm cable for using Q3 as an amplifier.
- Carrying pouch.
The design of the DAC/Amp doesn’t stray far from previous Fiio devices, so again we have a powder-coated aluminum chassis, a modern round shape, and a volume control knob on the top edge. Measuring 105 x 59 x 12.5 mm and weighing 110 grams, this compact amplifier is one of the lightest we’ve ever held in our hands. It fits comfortably in hand, and its rounded edges make it easy to handle.
The controls are evenly distributed on the top and bottom. At the bottom, you’ll find a Type-C port for charging, a gain control, and a pair of levers for toggling between bass boost and charging. The last lever is particularly notable because it prevented the company’s DAC from charging on some phones, but that problem has been completely solved.
The top section is entirely reserved for the music component, with 3.5mm input and output jacks, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced jacks, and volume control (with on/off function) next to the display. We’re dealing with a case of pros and cons here. On the one hand, you can praise it for the fact that it supports almost all analog outputs, so you don’t have to worry about adapters; on the other hand, you can’t use unbalanced headphones with the DAC in amp mode because the 3.5mm jack is a line input. This is a problem that could normally be solved by installing additional line inputs and outputs, but the company hasn’t done so for some reason.
Other than that, the unit is well built and has excellent fit and ergonomics, as you would expect from a company of this caliber.
Visually, the Q3 looks a lot like its little brother, the Q1, but technically, it has been completely redesigned. It uses the highly regarded THX AAA amplifier technology found in more expensive amplifiers such as the Monoprice Monolith THX AAA.
THX AAA amplifier technology delivers an uncompromising audio experience, providing the highest fidelity in the world with the lowest noise, distortion, and power consumption.
THX AAA features include.
- Uses a unique error correction topology that eliminates conventional distortion mechanisms.
- Reduces harmonics, intermodulation, and crossover distortion by up to 40 dB for an authentic, fatigue-free listening experience.
- Maximizes performance for optimal dynamic range and SPL.
- Provides a convenient, modular solution powered by a 3.6V battery.
- Optimizes and extends battery life with minimal pre-current and efficient power management.
- It is scalable enough to be integrated into any headphone or car amplifier to achieve the desired sound quality, output power, and price.
The DAC chip used in the Q3 is the new and powerful AKM AK4462, which supports decoding up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD512.
The DAC operates in a balanced mode, feeding a balanced signal into a low-pass filter, amplified by two THX AAA 28 operational amplifiers to provide a balanced output with low distortion and high power. However, the Q3 has a higher power output than the revolutionary Q1 II – 300mW / 32Ω, compared to 160mW / 32Ω for the balanced output. The Q3 is also fully compatible with iOS/Android devices and Windows PCs, and its USB receiver uses XMOS XUF208, the same chip used in the flagship Q5S. Fixed converters/amplifiers like the Fiio K5Pro and K3. The same chip is also used for audio streaming.
We tested the device with various headphones, from the AKG K72 to the AKG K702 and 712, including the Sennheiser HD 3.50 and the Sennheiser 560, 660, and 660 S. For the most part, the most recent of these was the Q3. The sound signature of this unit is weighty, physical, and musical. This is an amplifier for those who like roughness, drive, and power. If you listen to genres where the scale of the soundstage and detail are important, such as orchestral music or live recordings, you should look for a device with those sound characteristics because FiiO Q3 won’t satisfy you.
The FiiO Q3 sounds neutral and natural in terms of sound signature, with a slight tendency towards weight. There is no clear emphasis on any particular frequency. The sound has a heavy character, with moderate soundstage, width, and depth above average. The influence of mass seems to be the merit of the THX amplifier. Not only does this amp add mass, but with the right switch, you can boost low frequencies and add the deepest bass without sacrificing speed or clarity.
In the lower registry, the frequencies ensure that every instrument, voice, and note played has an accurate and noticeable weight. Due to the fused sound tuning, the bass overlaps slightly with the midrange. On the one hand, this is pleasant when listening to male voices. On the other hand, as soon as you play up a track with female vocals, the sound takes on color and depth, deepening the singer’s voice. That said, bass lovers will certainly appreciate the bass. It’s detailed, technical, deep, and has the kind of control that high-end amps are known for.
In the midrange, the preference is more for macro detail. Lower midrange frequencies are more audible, while instruments are played with richness, and voices are natural. Female vocals may lack a bit of lightness; the FiiO Q3 is fairly forgiving of less well-recorded tracks and doesn’t try to bring out all the flaws in the recording to the listener.
Lastly, it has good treble extension and does not mask the appeal of good material or recording flaws. The mid-range budget of this unit speaks for itself. Frequency response will not impress experienced audiophiles, but the Q3 rises to the challenge. Instruments and other bells and whistles are reproduced well enough to show the natural perception of matching headphones.
The FiiO Q3 is very aptly classified as a DAC/amplifier somewhere between the Q1 Mark II and the Q5: with an AK4462 chip with Velvet Sound technology, THX AAA architecture amplification, multiple headphone outputs, DAC and gain options, battery power, and a good price put FiiO Q3 into the limelight.
In terms of musical performance, the Q3 is a well-balanced device with a dense, natural sound that suits many listeners and genres. However, if you’re a fan of headphone amplifiers that are light, subtle, and transparent in their presentation, I don’t think this DAC is for you.
Buying the FiiO Q3 mid-range portable headphone amplifier depends on how you will use it. If your use is limited to lightweight headphones, you might consider a more compact player or DAC. But if you need a powerful portable DAC, there’s no better choice, and the FiiO Q3 has the complete package, excellent ergonomics, and great sound from a powerful portable mid-range amplifier.