The FiiO BTR3 is a bit old now as the BTR5 is out. But I have had difficulty in sourcing the BTR5, and then the whole world went crazy… Anyhoo I figured if I was going to review the BTR5 I should probably have a benchmark to compare it with, especially as the BTR5 is about twice the price of the BTR3. So here is my look at the FiiO BTR3 and let’s get into it.
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The Fiio BTR3 is a Bluetooth wireless receiver, DAC and headphone amp whose purpose is to allow wireless connectivity with otherwise wired headphones and earphones. When I first heard of this and products like it I didn’t quite get the appeal. But then after I got into IEMs something clicked. If I was going to be walking around wearing IEMs I would have to be tethered to my phone with a wire. I would inevitably end up tugging on the wire which would lead to discomfort and maybe dislodging the IEM from my ears. I would also either have to have the wire routed externally to my clothing all the time, something which I thoroughly dislike for walking around, or routed under my clothing and then I have to deal with that wire tethered to my phone. In short, exactly the reason why I shunned earphones for such a long time.
The FiiO BTR3 basically changed all of that. Fit the earphones, route the cable and connect to the BTR3 which is itself small enough to fit in a pocket and has a belt clip to allow you to clip it to any item of clothing. You then pair the BTR3 to your mobile device over Bluetooth supporting AAC/SBC/aptX/aptX LL/ aptX HD/LDAC/LHDC(HWA) codecs and away you go. No more tugging on cables and getting them caught on things. Just wireless convenience using your favourite earphones or headphones.
Other uses for this are to add Bluetooth connectivity to an existing HiFi system via an Aux input such as an in-car HiFi allowing you to stream audio to the HiFi from your mobile device.
For the specs nerds, the FiiO BTR3 operates over Bluetooth 4.2 and uses the Qualcomm CR8675 Bluetooth chip and an AK4376A DAC chip. The output impedance of the device is a claimed 0.3 Ohms which is excellent and shouldn’t cause you any issues with your low impedance portable headphones. FiiO recommends using headphones in the range of 16 – 100 Ohms. For IEM’s this has more than enough horsepower but I’ll talk later on how well the BTR3 drives some more inefficient headphones. The battery is 300mAh which takes just 1.5 hours to charge on a regular 5v 500mA USB charger. Battery life is claimed at 11 hours with the AAC codec. I didn’t bother to do a battery life test because this is going to vary heavily depending on the codec your device is using and the volume of the audio. The battery life you get out of the device is likely to be entirely personal to you.
Let’s take a closer look at the BTR3 itself, it uses a very compact aluminium body and weighs just 26g. On the front, we have a large panel that looks almost like it could be a touchscreen but actually, it is only there to display the FiiO logo at the top which is lit with an RGB LED. This LED is used to indicate the current charging status and also during use this changes colour depending on which Bluetooth codec is currently in operation.
There are a few quirks with this LED in that some of the colours do look quite similar to each other. Here I have paired my OnePlus 6 and it is currently using the LDAC codec and the BTR3 is meant to display a white LED however this looks much more purple than it does white. However during aptX and aptX LL operation, this does actually show purple, it’s a slightly darker purple so there is a difference, however as a quick glance without the comparison it’s hard to tell. The LED will also display dark blue for SBC, light blue for AAC, orange for aptX HD and green for LHDC or HWA.
The bottom of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB C charging port. And before you ask, yes it can be used as a USB DAC. However, it will not operate as a Bluetooth transmitter which is a bit of shame as it would have made a good tool for adding LDAC wireless to a PC which is something I would like to see in a future device. When connecting as a USB DAC is can draw power from your device. This might not be desirable if connecting to devices running on battery so you can disable the charging via a setting in the FiiO Control app.
On the right side, we have the controls. At the top the power button, under this we have a mic for taking phone calls. The BTR3 essentially acts as a Bluetooth headset for communication. The mic also uses Qualcomm’s cVc 8.0 noise cancellation which should suppress background noise during your calls. Check out my video review for quality sample.
Next down we have the multifunction button which is the same as any other headset with a remote and mic. This is used to answer/end/reject calls, as well as play/pause music and is also used for whatever smart assistant you have enabled on your phone.
Below this, there is a volume rocker. On that note, the volume controls on the FiiO BTR3 are independent of the ones on your mobile device. Some people prefer this and others such as myself prefer to have the volume control on the headphone control the volume of the playing device. That means, for all you Android users, the “Bluetooth absolute volume” setting on your phone doesn’t do anything with the BTR3, even if you enable this option the volume controls on the BTR3 and your device will remain independent. It’s not a deal-breaker for me but I do find it a bit annoying, you’ll have to decide if that means anything to you. At least the BTR3 does remember the last volume you had set so you won’t have to readjust next time you power cycle the device.
Pairing is easy, when you first turn on your device it will be in pairing mode and you pair your device the usual way. But there is also an NFC quick pairing option for those with mobile devices that support this. Simply tap your NFC capable device to the BTR3 and this will initiate the pairing process.
Multi-device connectivity is also an option with the BTR3. In practical use, that means you can have your BTR3 connected to multiple devices at once and you will be able to seamlessly switch playing audio from one source to another. This could be especially useful during these times of working from home. You can seamlessly switch between using the BTR3 for your Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings on your laptop and taking calls or listening to music on your phone.
Yes, this is not a new idea and has been in place on many Bluetooth headphones before. However, for someone coming from a headphone like the 1000XM3 this is a novel thing. I really hope they Sony adds this feature in the 1000XM4, come on Sony I believe in you. Some people might dislike this auto-switching feature and the good news is it can be disabled via the FiiO Control app. You would then have to manually switch input devices by double-tapping the power button.
On the back of the BTR3 there is a belt clip and lanyard hole for attaching the included lanyard strap as well as the Hi-Res Wireless Audio logo showing off the claimed hi-res capability of the device.
As previously mentioned, FiiO provides an app “FiiO Control” which allows some extra control over the device. FiiO Control provides a few options including a graphic equaliser, channel balance, manual selection of the Bluetooth Codec and disabling the LED. It’s worth noting that this app is entirely optional and other than the EQ just allows finer control of certain features.
So how does it sound? Well, I should hope it doesn’t sound like anything. I want my solid-state sources to be as transparent as possible. No DSP, no special tricks to deliberately colour the sound. I’m not an engineer so I can’t do measurements and talk in detail about SNR, SINAD and THD or whatever. As a mobile device itself, the competition for the BTR3 is the headphone out on your mobile music player. So I think the test should be is it noisy for high sensitivity earphones? And is it better than my phone, or at least is it not worse? These are the kind of real-world benchmarks that matter to me as someone who is not an engineer. Can I hear a negative difference? And the answer to that is no.
I couldn’t detect any noise with sensitive IEM’s but I should note that as the volume controls are independent you do want to have the volume up on the player to about 95% and then adjust the volume from the BTR3. This will give the best signal to noise ratio. I did find that the output of the BTR3 was cleaner than from my phone. My phone tends to be a little warmer in the low end and the BTR3 sounds more natural and has more clarity.
So what about less sensitive headphones, can they be driven from the BTR3? Well I connected my 6xx and the HE4xx and I can just about drive them to adequate levels with the BTR3 but there is not much headroom, the volume is almost maxed out. It does get louder than directly out of my phone for sure, I have to totally max the phone out to get them loud enough. But for the DT 770 Pro, I do need to fully max out the BTR3 to get to a decent volume.
So I think its fair to say that yes the BTR3 can drive more inefficient headphones to levels that are adequate but won’t damage your hearing. However for audio with more dynamic range, maybe it will struggle a bit. I think that’s mostly academic as most people will be using the BTR3 with portable headphones which tend to be much easier to drive.
All of this comes in a package that cost as little as £45 which is half the cost of the BTR5. I will be picking up the BTR5, hopefully soon to test and we shall see if it is worth the extra cost. But I’m certainly impressed with the FiiO BTR3, as a gadget nerd and audio enthusiast, this is a really cool device that opens up a whole new avenue of portable listening convenience for me. The only real question I have, is why I didn’t pick this up sooner?