The trend of dropping the headphone jack in mobile devices in favor of wireless headsets has been seemingly met with little resistance. But like many portable audio lovers out there, we at The Synops recognize the value of a wired connection over wireless, despite its progressions. If you do a little research, you’ll fortunately find that all is not lost. There are some slick ways around it, and here we’re going to talk about one of the best ones.
Our past look at Fiio’s tiny BTR1 wireless DAC/amp left us pleasantly surprised. It functioned well, but most importantly sounded great, especially considering its insignificant size. There was room for improvement, and we were left anticipated for where Fiio would take the platform. Well, we now have that answer with the BTR3 successor. This Synopsis fires through the need-to-know details.
The BTR3 isn’t just an incremental update to the BTR1, as one may think. Fiio overhauled the design. We don’t quite understand why, being fans of the original’s metal design. It worked well and looked great. Fiio appears to have taken inspiration from smartphone hardware evolution, swapping an industrial design for an elegant one. The body of the BTR3 is a uniform block of metal with a more refined soft-touch finish and rounded corners. And the front is even entirely topped with a 2.5D curved glass panel. There’s also a marked $20 price hike, upping the cost to a tougher sell of $70.
- Small footprint and lightweight
- Easy playback controls
- Good looking and sturdy build
- Great sound for the size of the unit
- Wide wireless audio codec support, even LDAC
- Large glass panel unnecessary, and not durable
- DAC chip is not upgraded from before
- Not water resistant
- May be too weak for headphones with >100 ohm impedance
What it’s like to use
- Looking past the redesign, the BTR3 is the same kind of animal as before. It’s refined in multiple places, with a couple added features, but the primary use is the same: pair to a mobile device, plug in your headphone jack, and play audio untethered (from the source).
- So is the update just superficial? Not if you value the latest tech. For instance, we now have a charging port using the latest USB-C standard. An impressive note is that the port is enabled to allow the BTR3 to be used as a USB DAC (wired digital audio processing from a PC or mobile device). There’s also the efficient CR8675 Bluetooth chip driving the wireless function.
- One of our biggest complaints with the BTR1 was the lack of higher fidelity wireless audio codecs. AptX is decent, but any device touting “HiFi” output should have the ability for better standards. Well, that’s mended now. The BTR3 can not only do AptX HD, but also Sony’s even higher bandwidth LDAC codec. There’s additionally support for AAC, SBC, and aptX Low Latency. Fiio went all out.
- On the subject of audio codecs, a gripe I always have with the wireless platform is that you don’t know for sure what codec/fidelity you’re transmitting. Fiio thought of this too. Under the front glass, the light-up “Fiio” text is RGB, and it turns a specific color upon playback to indicate which codec is being utilized. It additionally uses the common blue/red method to indicate power on or low battery.
- The attachment clip on the rear makes a return, and it has a strong grasp like before. Due to the BTR3’s slender dimension change, it’s not as wide (but longer, as it now spans the entire back panel). It works just as well to securely clip on your person and forget about it.
- Fiio switched the front and center power/play/pause button of the original for a more straightforward side placement. All the physical controls are lined along the right side, with nothing on the left side and top.
- While the BTR1 sounded great, with such a size restriction, there was noticeable room for improvement. This was our biggest interest in a subsequent device. However, the BTR3 is equipped with the same AK4376A DAC model number. This isn’t necessarily to be dismayed about. Tuning plays a big part in the audio experience, and Fiio has shown substantial growth in this practice as of late.
- Indeed, the BTR3 is a noticeable (but not big) step up in audio quality.
- The first thing to note is the silent noise floor and clarity. Even with our very sensitive, 9 ohm Shure SE846, the background is completely black (no hissing). What’s more, there’s a low-impedance friendly output of a measly 0.3 ohms. So you’re completely covered on low power end of the headphone spectrum, but that also means to not expect much for hungrier headsets. Fiio’s upper impedance recommended rating tops out at only 100 ohms.
- Audio comes through very clear as a result of setting up the stage well, so to speak. The best word for the overall sound is crisp. Notes have this clean snap and articulation to them (proving the benefit of a proper DAC in a portable wireless solution, which many lack). The treble benefits the most, where some notes seem to reach out and tap your ear as a result. A reason for this is because the sound signature leans on the treble end slightly.
- That said, this won’t be a basshead’s favorite sound. Not saying it’s not well-defined, but just on the light side. It’s however still pronounced and there’s enough warmth present to keep us from deeming the BTR3 bright.
- The presence of the mid-range is a beautiful thing. Fullness is something that we applaud Fiio on time and time again, and the BTR3 is no exception. Vocals in particular shine through in an open and engaging manner. Again, we feel some notes could hit with more authority. Definition and resolution seem lacking at times, in the form of lighter-hit of instruments and less natural vocals. But we’re nit-picking at this point. You aren’t going to get Mojo level quality in a form-factor this small.
- One last positive is on soundstage. While imaging could be improved, we were impressed how expansive soundstage is, both in width and 3D space. You get surrounded by the music. It’s apparent that Fiio put priority on presentation with the BTR3, and we think it’s was the right call.
We’ve been fans of the tiny DAC/amp Bluetooth receiver concept since the beginning. It’s not only a minimal impact solution (simple to use and easy to carry, but is another device you have to keep charged) to the forsaken headphone jack, but done right, it can give you better audio quality than traditional (standard DAC) wired output. And that’s exactly what Fiio is providing here. We can attest that the BTR series is of the best implemented executions of the concept, and even at the increased $70 feel it’s totally worth it for those like us who are adamant on our beloved wired headsets.