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FiiO Q3s: Continues to raise the bar

Two years ago, Fiio released the Q3, a DAC (digital to analog processor/converter) with headphone amplifier. Sharpened for use with portable devices such as phones, tablets, laptops, etc. The device was very popular, thanks to the combination of functionality and price, and the presence of a battery. The new, updated version – FiiO Q3s MQA has the same external design and almost the same functionality. Some things were changed and improved.

What exactly has changed?

The changes affected the processor, now it is AK4452, the new XMOS XU316 chipset and MQA support. Both models, new and old, have the same battery – 1800 mAh. Fiio claims that the new version works longer, due to more efficient energy consumption, up to 12 hours instead of 10 – in USB mode, up to 23 hours instead of 18 – in amplifier mode. An interesting update in my opinion is support for UAC 1.0, this update allows you to expand the scope of the device by connecting it to Android TV and various game consoles via USB. By the way, this is my first DAC that works with the TV (running Android) without any problems. Other models that I had, for example, Fiio K3, K5, Shanling UA1 (first version models), Hidisz S9 Pro, different models from SMSL, all of them had problems when playing with Android TV, such as stuttering, cliques, etc. Both models, Q3 and Q3 MQA have almost the same power output. The new version has a slightly better signal-to-noise ratio. Now more details about the characteristics.

Technical characteristics:

  • Dimensions: 105 mm x 59 mm x 12.5 mm
  • Weight: 110 g
  • Maximum output power: 330 mW at 32 Ohms (4.4 mm and 2.5 mm), 160 mW at 32 Ohms (3.5 mm)
  • Frequency range: 20 Hz – 50 kHz (±:1.5dB)
  • THD + N: 0.001% at 32 ohms
  • Dynamic range: 119 dB at 32 ohms
  • Signal / Noise: 118 dB at 32 Ohms
  • Channel separation: 99 dB
  • Maximum resolution: PCM – 384 kHz (32 bits) / DSD 256

 

Packaging and assembly

Traditionally, the device comes in a stylish black package. Inside the box, you can find the device itself, which pleases. Unlike the Q3, the new version has silicone rubber bands for fixing to the phone. Silicone pad, warranty card and instructions. Cable:

  • USB C – USB C
  • USB A – USB C
  • 3.5 mm – 3.5 mm
  • Lightning – USB C

Design and ergonomics

Fiio Q3 MQA does not differ in appearance from the Q3. The body is metal, covered with black matte paint. Like all Fiio products, it is made very qualitatively. On the front panel there is a Line in 3.5 mm, which is an unbalanced standard output for headphones, next to it is a balanced 2.5 mm and a balanced 4.4 mm. There is also a volume control and a light indicator on the front panel. The meaning of the color on it:

  • Blue – PCM
  • Green – DSD
  • Purple – MQA
  • Red blinks – The device is turned off and charging
  • Red does not flash – The device is turned off, charging is complete

Also, flashing of any color indicates the charging process. On the back there is a bass boost switch, a Gain button, a USB C socket and a charging switch.

The design is very laconic and well thought out. I like everything, except for the volume control. Agree that the device will be lying on the table for most of the time, or tightly adjacent to the phone, or to any surface. In this case, it is extremely inconvenient to turn the volume control. At the same time, he scratches the phone or the surface on which it lies. That is, every time you need to adjust the volume, you have to move it away from the adjacent surface. I personally don’t know why it exists at all, when we all have software volume controls.

The X-shaped silicone rubber allows you to securely attach the amplifier to the phone. It can also be done with the help of silicone rings that come in the kit. In my opinion, the convenience is average. Dongles, plugs – “flash drives”, in my opinion, are much more convenient, more compact. But they have a minus – the lack of a battery. Devices like the Q3 are designed to solve this problem and do not take power from the phone.

Functional

This device is more likely a forced response to the lack of a 4462 processor, which was used in the old version, than it is really a new device. Fiio claims that the new processor (4452) is better than the old one, but one can only agree if it concerns energy consumption. In order to at least somehow justify the “new” version, in addition to changing the processor, Fiio added MQA support. Otherwise, we have the same old Q3.

The Q3S has an output power of 160 mW on the usual unbalanced output and twice as much on the balanced output, which is enough to rock more than 80% of headphones. For headphones with a resistance of 300 ohms and higher, I would recommend looking at more powerful alternatives.

This DAC supports PCM decoding up to 384 kHz, while the old Q3 model supported up to 768 kHz, DSD up to 256 instead of 512. It turns out that the new model has taken a step back here, due to the fact that the new processor cannot process such extreme streams , as the old AKM4462 processor did. The question is whether you need it. However, MQA support has been added.

The device can work as an amplifier, for this it uses a 3.5 mm socket, where a two-sided 3.5 mm cable is inserted (included). The signal is sent to the amplifier, to the 3.5 mm jack and exits through any balanced jack. In this mode, the battery life is significantly increased compared to the DAC + amplifier mode.

An interesting nuance, the USB-C cable will work only in a single “correct” combination, not only the direction, but also the side is important. Pay attention to the arrows, further by intuition.

I personally highly recommend the free application for Android – Hiby Music, it works perfectly, including with Q3s. Native playback of DSD and MQA without lags and dances. Quality player.

Sound

Obviously, the Fiio engineers initially prioritized the most natural, natural transmission of the recorded material. Fiio loves live music, this can be seen in their headphones, DACs, amplifiers. The same cannot be said about electronic music, music where the bass, by design, occupies almost the main place. But this claim applies more to their headphones.

Today, it is quite difficult to hear a big difference between DACs that are at the same price. Q3 MQA, in my opinion, is somewhere in the middle, maybe a little higher, in terms of DAC quality and amplifier power at a price of up to $150. The device easily drives high-impedance headphones up to 300 ohms. Fortunately, I had a Fostex TR-70 (250 Ohm) at hand. I really like this Japanese company. Q3 MQA, as I thought, such headphones rock easily, even when connected to the usual, unbalanced 3.5 mm.

Now more details about the sound. Excellent work in the low-frequency range, the bass goes as low as possible with very good attack and dynamics. The bass is collected and sharp. There is no hint of turbidity and smearing both in the LF and in the entire range. The middle range sounds very natural. The upper range is well detailed, good separation of small details. However, it has a slightly strange way of emphasizing higher 8 kHz. The acoustic guitar has a slightly strange metallic echo, an accent at the very top, which I did not notice on other DACs. This, perhaps, is the only nuance that I would like to note. I think someone will find this a plus for themselves.

Q3 MQA has good, sufficient resolution over the entire range. Fatigue is very low or absent at all. Even on very bright HF tracks, the Q3s managed to show a good result. Many records that I know well were played with all the “fat”, density and weight. The width and depth of the scene is at a confident average level, considering the price tag.

A few words about bass amplification. I frankly did not like the implementation of bass amplification. The amplification works according to the principle of a primitive low shelf filter somewhere at a frequency of 100 – 120 Hz. The result strongly depends on the recorded material and the headphones used, in most cases the amplification introduced an uncontrollable cloudy mass in the lower middle. Although on some recordings, amplification gave a good result. I preferred to leave it in the off position.

Comparisons

It will be correct to compare the Q3 MQA with the same devices at a similar price. Unfortunately, I don’t have them. Therefore, below I will mention a similar device without a battery.

As far as I can see today, the difference between DACs/amplifiers at the same price, released in the same period of time, is minimal when it comes to sound. They are separated by functionality, amplifier power and equipment. The Fiio Q3 MQA at the same price with the presence of a battery has very few competitors. For phone/tablet use, I personally prefer dongles such as Shanling UA. These are the smallest DACs with a built-in amplifier available on the market. Dongles eat your phone’s battery, it’s true, but they are not inferior in terms of sound, they are much cheaper and significantly less than devices like the Fiio Q3S. As a rule, they cannot boast of such a high output power as our amplifier, the question is whether you need it.

Personally, for me, Q3 MQA is an “incomprehensible” middle ground, not a stationary device, but also not quite portable. If we are talking about better stationary devices at the same price, then my choice will be for such things as Fiio K5 Pro , because they have Line Out output, coaxial and optical inputs. Whether you need it or not is up to you.

Conclusion

We live in an amazing time when we can get Hi-Fi sound from a 10 x 6 cm box for just $150. Fiio Q3s is a very bright device among a huge pile of  portable DACs  in the $100 to $200 range. Which, in my opinion, is slightly above the middle, among similar devices on the market. I am not aware of direct competitors of the Q3 MQA at the same price, with the presence of a battery, so it is possible to hint to some extent at its uniqueness.

Fiio is raising the level of its products by leaps and bounds, and we must admit, they are doing well. They traditionally offer the maximum, or close to it, within the established price list, this applies to both the device itself and the equipment. Unfortunately for them, competitors are not far behind.

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