REVIEW! Fiio Q3 vs. hip-dac

Published on December 13, 2020
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On this super review live we’re going to take a look at the fio q3 which if it’s not clear what this thing is it’s a little portable dac amp from file i think it’s their latest and it clocks in at around 150 bucks and for that 150 bucks well we’ll get into the specifics of what you get but essentially what this is is an external dac and amplifier for use with your portable devices you could use it with a computer or a laptop but i think that form factor wise and some other features wise it’s definitely targeted at using it with your phone or perhaps with a lower powered digital audio player for me my main use case and what i’m on the hunt for is a portable dac amp like this that i can use on my digital audio players and my phone so that i can listen to high-powered headphones away from my desktop on my desktop obviously i’ve got you know i’ve got a little dac amp stack going on over there which is great but if i’m not at my desk and i want to listen to headphones like my sennheisers i kind of need something something like this so again it’s 150 bucks it’s thx is the the amplifier that they’ve got some thx branding attached to the amplifier in this thing it’s kind of its main claim to fame i guess of course it’s got your high res audio stickers on there actually not a sticker that’s actually kind of stamped on there pretty well anyway um what we’re going to do in this review though so i’ve spent the past couple of weeks living with the file q3 and comparing it to some other similar dac amps i’ve been comparing it with the ifi hip dac i’ve also got the x duo xp2 pro which i also reviewed recently as well as i’ve been comparing it with my z shin u1 and so in this review we’re going to go over sort of the build the physical aspects of the file q3 sort of what it’s like to live with talk a little bit about sound and then in the end i’ll give it a score this is however a live review if you’re watching live if you’ve got any questions about the q3 that i don’t answer in the review stick around in the live chat ask me questions at the end of this review we will have a little live conversation if you’re watching this and it’s not live however you probably missed your chance to ask me questions so my recommendation subscribe to the channel ding the bell so that youtube lets you know next time i’m live and then the next time i do a review and we’re live and you got any questions you can just ask me one on one well maybe many on one you can ask me in person here in chat in real time um maybe some other things to call out if you’re interested in engaging in real time i do also have a discord chat server with a link in a pinned comment below this video if you ever want to talk about things in between videos that’s a good way to do it and if you are interested in having a high-res placebo t-shirt there’s also a link to a store where you can buy that as well but anyway let’s dive into the fio q3 so i’m just going to start because i didn’t do an unboxing video i’ll just start with the things that we get inside the box of the q3 you get pretty decent little carrying pouch which is nice you know little file branding pretty lightweight but it’s actually fairly well padded and then of course you get a selection of usb cables this here is a usbc two usb-a you can use this for charging or for connecting the q3 to a computer you also get a usb c to lightning adapter for connecting this thing to an idevice which i actually think is kind of cool because some of the other dac amps that i’ve tried like the x duo and the ifi they just kind of copped out like they just said buy a different cable for using it with your with your iphone and it’s cool that file at least includes a cable that lets you use it directly you also get of course usb c to c connection which is going to let you connect this thing directly to most phones and frankly this is the cable i use primarily as well you also do get a 3.5 millimeter to 3.5 millimeter if you wanted to use this strictly as an amplifier and not necessarily as a digital analog audio converter what else you get in the box is you get these little rings which it might not be obvious what these things are made for basically this is i feel like a thing that’s kind of irrelevant in this day and age because phones don’t really have bezels on them anymore but back in the day it used to be pretty common to strap these things to the back of a phone let the rubber bands kind of go over the phone where the bezels are and that was some way to mount this thing to your portable device again phones don’t really have bezels that size right here’s my walk man it has you know kind of a thick bezel down here but even that i think is a little bit too thin for using these little rings so not a thing i use they also do include this little silicone pad which is i think for use in that same sort of scenario you can kind of put it down it’s a little anti-slip and maybe it prevents friction and scratching however it is not adhesive if you are looking for an adhesive i actually do have a recommendation but um i guess we’ll talk about that later because it didn’t come with the q3 and then of course you do get the q3 itself which i think is a pretty handsome little dak amp what do you think we’ll do a little tour of this device but i did want to just say that like right off the bat like in hand in just kind of general form factor of all the dac amps i’ve been trying the q3 is my favorite it’s just got the right amount of size i like the rounded edges it’s quite narrow quite thin so you can see if i stack it here with my walkman width-wise or thickness-wise it’s almost identical width-wise it’s a little bit wider than my walkman but i think it actually stacks quite well and then i also did stack it with my xperia 10 phone it’s a little bit narrower than this phone and this is a pretty narrow phone just to kind of give you a sense of scale but just general form factor i’m pretty happy with it it is also you know it’s basically an all metal build it’s this aluminum wrap around the entire player which actually on second thought how did they do that anyway it is an aluminum wrap all the way around there might be some plastic coverings here but it’s hard to tell and frankly i don’t really care if that’s plastic or not so generally just pretty happy with it not just in terms of feel but i think aesthetically it looks quite nice too you’ve got the all black look you’ve got these red accents on it which is kind of a fio thing and then you get these gold surrounds on your headphone connectors which just kind of makes this thing feel a little bit extra special there are some buttons on this thing but unfortunately there are no like audio transport buttons which is to say there’s no playback buttons no skip tracks or anything like that that’s a little bit of a downside but also seems to be entirely the standard for these portable dac amps unfortunately i would love it if a portable dac amp manufacturer out there wants to make one that has play pause and track skipping buttons that will function over usb i would be greatly appreciated but there are some buttons on here to control other functionalities so down here on the bottom of the player let’s see if we can show this off very well you can tell that the labeling is actually quite faint and hard to make out so pardon me if you’re not able to make it out there but let’s see down here we do have a gain is that upside down see it’s so faint i can’t even tell um all right so here on the left we’ve got a bass switch and that is a toggle you toggle it on and on on and off like that um and then you have a gain button which you press it and it will switch this thing between high and low gain modes and then over here on the right you’ve got a charge switch which turns which toggles whether or not this usb connection will charge the device or um or not charge the device basically it’s sort of like a power saving feature if you were to connect this thing to your phone and you don’t want this thing to drain the battery of your phone you want to make sure you flip that switch off so that it’s not drawing power um but yeah i think one thing to note about all these buttons and this stands out especially because of when i was using the x duo the x duo i had issues with the buttons just being easy to press by accident i had zero issues with accidentally pressing the buttons here on the q3 so that much i quite like up here you do also have your volume knob and this to me is kind of a big important thing like i don’t know maybe a volume knob doesn’t matter to most nerds but i feel like audio nerds like me get it like having a nice volume knob is a big reason why i want a device like this and i think this is you know a pretty decent volume knob however it does have one problem i mean we’ll get into that problem a little bit later but what i like about this is that it doubles as your power switch so you get that satisfying click on the volume knob which i like and then you also get pretty decent amount of travel so here’s the volume knob set to zero percent and i’ll show you as i rotate this thing all the way around that is at 100 so you get over 180 degrees of rotation um not the most rotation but i think it’s actually works out to be plenty um and then yeah i mean also worth calling out just because there is the the gain switch mode here right let’s go back in and now that i’ve got this thing turned on so this is in logan mode i hit that button green light will come on let me know i’m in high gain that lets you basically kind of get double the travel out of this volume knob volume dub volume dial volume knob um but yeah so the one issue that i did have with the volume knob however is is just a little bit stiff it does have you know some knurling on it knurling that’s a fun word to use you can see there is a little bit of texture on it but i did find that it’s just a little bit stiff and that makes it kind of hard to operate one-handed like here i’m doing it pretty well but i found that when this thing was attached to the back of my phone i actually had kind of a hard time operating this thing one-handed which was not an issue that i had here with the ifi hipdeck this thing operates very easily one-handed and unfortunately the dial here in the q3 i just found was a little bit stiff um we can talk real quickly about the i o on the q3 the inputs and so like i mentioned earlier there is the one usbc connector which we’ll actually dig into that a little bit more later but up here you do have quite the selection of headphone ports which i think is actually really cool a lot of the times you know obviously you get your 3.5 millimeter connector but you also get balance connectors and a lot of times in fact almost every time you have to choose a device that has either a 2.5 millimeter balance connector or a 4.4 millimeter balance connector and it’s cool that file just went ahead and said you know what you get both so you get 2.5 or 4.4 balance if you want i think that’s actually pretty cool um and then yeah let’s go and talk a little bit more about that single usb port um maybe one thing that’s worth calling out i don’t know curiously this usbc cable that it comes with is like uni-directional let’s see if we can punch in if you can see it’s got these arrows on it that basically dictate which direction this thing needs to be connected right you need to have the up arrow pointing into the bottom of the q3 otherwise it doesn’t work that’s interesting um that said i mean i was at least happy that it came with 90 degree cables like this it makes stacking much more comfortable versus stacking with the straight cable that came with the ifi hip dac it’s maybe a little bit on the long side but i did find that if i kind of like curled it around like this you could essentially get a very compact fit onto the bottom of your android device or whatever you’re connecting the q3 to so i was pretty happy with that but um well we’ll get into this usbc port a little bit more later that’s kind of the gist of the build of the file q3 generally pretty happy with it but let’s go and dive into a little bit more detail about the functionality and what it’s like to live with the q3 so following up on that usbc port i kind of covered this a little bit but it’s interesting that versus some of the other dac amps i’ve been trying having only one single usbc port on this thing means this support is doing both double duty it’s doing the duty of transferring audio the digital audio signal as well as it’s doing the duty of charging the device there’s a couple of downsides with that i found so versus something like you know the hip deck it’s got a separate usb c port for charging which means if i need to charge this thing i don’t have to disconnect the main audio connection i can leave this thing all hooked up and i can just plug in a usbc connector there and start charging it unfortunately here with the file q3 you’re going to have to disconnect it from your device before you start charging it which is kind of a bummer the other bummer and this is more to do with well this is just kind of like a funky funky workflow thing i mentioned there’s a switch on the bottom of the q3 that prevents the device from charging right so that it prevents this port from sipping power from your phone that seems nice except that if you do want to charge this device if you disconnect it from your phone and then connect it to a charger you have to remember to go back over here and flip the switch into charge mode and that i just found a little bit fiddly not a big deal i don’t think but it does mean that charging this device and maintaining this device is just a little bit more effort and a little bit a little bit more friction versus something like the ifi hip dac right here you want to charge this thing i just take my connector i charge it i plug it in it’s charging here with the q3 you got to disconnect your existing device flip the switch and then connect it is that a big deal i don’t know it’s kind of annoying but i could live with that um talk a little bit about the inputs so this thing you know obviously it’s got audio over the usbc connector if you want to use the dac in here you can also use the 3.5 millimeter connector to connect this thing directly to the headphone jack of a different device and just use this as a straight amplifier which is kind of cool the downside here is that because there’s no dedicated line input for 3.5 millimeter if you’re using this as a line in device you’re gonna have to use a balanced cable on the way out you’re not gonna basically you’re not gonna be able to use this as an amp for your phone over a 3.5 millimeter as well as use a 3.5 millimeter headphone it wasn’t an issue for me personally because i only used the usbc connector that was the only way i wanted to use the q3 but something worth considering and then another thing that again for me was not a big deal but might be a big deal for you just worth considering is there is no bluetooth built into the q3 this is strictly a usb dac amp or a headphone amplifier over 3.5 millimeters um in terms of like volume output this thing’s pretty good it’s definitely more powerful than my walkman amp my walkman dap but and it’s going to be more powerful than your average phone but it’s also not as powerful as some of the other dac amps that i’ve been trying fios ratings are at 32 ohms they say this has 160 milliwatts of power on the 3.5 millimeter connector so i think just for reference i think the the walkman is rated at 75 milliwatts of power or 70 milliwatts of power so 70 versus 160 it’s definitely more powerful this is plenty of power to power something like my sennheiser hd 600s but it’s just not as much power as something like the the the x duo which i think was 300 milliwatts almost double the power now the file if you use it over the balance connector you do actually get 300 milliwatts of power at 32 ohms on balance which is pretty common that the balanced output will have more power than the 3.5 millimeter and again if you need that extra power if you need 300 milliwatts that’s an option for you but but again i really didn’t have an issue running this thing or running my sennheiser hd 600s over the 3.5 millimeter connector and i think i didn’t even really need to dip into the high gain mode although i did because i like the way that it made the volume dial a little bit more sensitive okay what else can we say about this thing i mean i’ve talked about this a little bit in my review of the x duo i won’t get into it too deep here but basically i use this primarily with android devices so i use it with my walkman which is android 9. i use it with my xperia 10 phone which is android 10 and android has a couple of different ways of routing audio to an external device like this there’s sort of like the global audio routing and then there’s the app specific routing i had zero issues with either way on either device so basically this thing worked flawlessly um on either device in either mode so no issues here i can’t promise it’s going to work necessarily on your android phone the same but if you’ve got android 9 or android 10 there’s a pretty good chance it’ll work just as well the only kind of thing that the only kind of small downside that i did encounter is that this thing versus my other dac amps was a little bit slow to start up right so when you turn it on the the android device is going to ask you if your app can access it and here it took maybe two seconds versus the other devices would make that connection within about a second not a big deal but something worth calling out let’s see what else can we talk about um we talked just about the audio in general so i mean they do claim like i mentioned that this is a thx amplifier and that sounds pretty fancy but if i’m honest like it just sounds like very neutral and very clean and like it didn’t stand out in any way in terms of audio quality in my opinion like it sounds good it’s a good sounding little dak amp um but it just sounds very neutral and you know versus some of the other dac amps i’ve been trying the ifi hip dac it’s got a little bit of a warm flavor to it um the z shan u1 i find has a little bit of an extra liveliness to it versus some others but the the file q3 i just found was basically neutral and that’s not necessarily a bad thing could be a little bit on the boring side you know one thing that this is a thing that i probably shouldn’t admit to but i feel like it’s a real thing i found that this thing was a little bit more boring than i was expecting and i part of me wonders how much of it actually has to do with the stiffness of the volume dial now hear me out i’m not saying that the stiffness of the volume dial makes this thing sound worse what i’m what what my point really is is that a lot of the times i find when when playing with amps having a good volume dial that like has a good ramp up and like good acceleration on how much power it’s delivering to you can kind of give you the sense that it’s either more powerful than it is or that it just sounds more more powerful and i found that the stiff action here and the relatively long travel just means that i was kind of inadvertently listening to this thing at lower power volumes than i would have on my other players that have more just easier to use volume knobs does that make sense that i just discredit myself as an audiophile i feel like that’s a real thing and if you don’t think it’s a real thing play around with it again it’s a real fake thing i admit that but i feel like it’s a real thing um anything else to talk about the sound not really it’s again it’s a good sounding player just a little bit on the dull side but nothing a little bit of extra volume rotation won’t fix at least somewhat in terms of battery life file claims 10 hours of battery life which seems about right i mean i it’s a hard thing to measure but i did find that the battery in this thing lasted plenty plenty long versus something like the ifi hip dac they claimed eight hours on this i actually found i was getting probably a little bit less than eight hours that thing dies quicker than i expected whereas here with the q3 this thing seems to last about as long as i expected now finally the last bit of living with the file q3 that i wanted to talk about is what this thing is like to live with iems because well primarily i did get this to listen to headphones with but a lot of times when you deal with powerful amplifiers like this portable amplifiers especially um you you encounter sort of downsides when it comes to using it with a sensitive ian and my sensitive i am reference is the file or not the file it’s the maga oc k5 it’s very sensitive all baim and that is an im that will pick up any issues uh with using a portable device like this so let’s talk about it just generally i found that the q3 is actually pretty good for for iams the 3.5 millimeter connection there actually was pretty you know pretty noticeable hiss amp hiss that i could pick up with the maga oc k5s that was the same with the ifi hip dac but i found that the hiss on the hip dac was actually quite a bit stronger than the hiss here so i didn’t bother me too much and then also on the hip dac i had issues with channel imbalance when the volume dial was kind of at its minimum settings right somewhere between like zero percent and maybe five percent volume there is a significant channel imbalance and that becomes an issue with sensitive ims because that zero to five percent travel might actually matter fortunately here with the q3 i detected zero uh channel and bounce it was actually it seemed perfectly balanced at any volume setting so that was pretty good i also didn’t notice any tonal shifts which with a sensitive all ba earphone like the k5 you might pick up if there’s any significant output impedance on this thing sometimes these manufacturers don’t list what their output impedance is but fio actually does so their their claimed output impedance is uh 1.2 ohms over the 3.5 millimeter connector so not ideally you want under 1 ohm but 1.2 ohms i think that’s fine and then the balance connectors they claim zero ohms or sorry not zero three ohms of output impedance so a little bit more over there could be an issue for sensitive iams but the 3.5 millimeter again i didn’t have any issue with tonal shift here with the q3 so generally pretty good for iems just there was that ampus unfortunately i got i got an issue like all that kind of sounds pretty decent right but i got an issue with the q3 so this one usb-c connector here on the bottom of the file q3 um i had it attached to the bottom of marked the back of my xperia 10 where you currently see the ifi hip dac and i have it there for a while and then i kind of noticed that when i put this thing in my pocket sometimes the q3 would disconnect from my phone and that would interrupt the playback i have to pull the phone out re reconnect it to the q3 and then go about listening and then just over time that happened more and more often to the point that it it just got really sensitive basically bumping the usbc port on this thing will cause a disconnect with my q3 and my phone so i wasn’t sure if it was just my phone if it was just the cable so i did a bunch of swapping out of parts tried the i tried it on my walkman tried a different usb-c cable still had those accidental disconnects from bumping the cable and so i don’t know i figured it was just kind of a manufacturing defect sort of thing that can happen to anybody so i got a return i got a replacement from amazon and right out the box it was perfect i had no issues with the usbc cable disconnecting from bumps until about a week later and it sort of started developing that same sensitivity to bumpage which means i can’t in good faith recommend the file q3 i think there’s a lot to like about this little player this little dac amp again i really love this size that that’s a big problem i mean let’s go ahead and go and give it a give it a score i think out of five stars i’m just going to leave it with two stars again i like the physical form of this thing i love adding a volume dial to my devices or to uh to my phone and this is you know it’s got all the power that i want it sounds perfectly clean if maybe a little bit boring um yeah there’s a lot to like about the q3 but my main issues really were let’s let’s say my main issues really are the the stiff volume dial which i could live with but that kind of bothers me the single usb c port which just means that charging this thing is a little bit of a pain in the butt and then the fact that the usb-c port is now just so sensitive that i can’t put this thing in my pocket without interrupting playback kind of means i can’t use this thing so i’m going to end up returning this thing and this might be the sort of thing in fact this probably is the sort of thing that fio’s going to be making and selling this device for years to come they’re probably going to figure out what that problem is and solve it but for now i can’t recommend it and that is going to be my review of the file q3 if after this you’re still interested in however checking it out of course i’ve got a link in the description down below while you’re down there looking for that link if you found this video helpful you like this video go ahead and hit the like button you can subscribe to the channel ding the bell if you want to be part of the next live stream and i’ll see you on the next super radio.
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