FiiO BTR3 review: the best bluetooth amp for music lovers

FiiO BTR3 – Bite-sized powerhouse

Too Good:

  • Immersive sound
  • Great battery life – 11 hours
  • Eminently portable (and pocketable)
  • Headphone jack
  • Price
  • Codec support – SBC, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC, HWA – you name it!

Good:

  • USB-C – one less cable to carry 
  • USB DAC support – for those audiophiles in you

Not so good:

  • Desktop support only for Windows, not Mac
  • FiiO music app needs more development

Bluetooth headsets and me

I’m not going to pretend to be an audiophile. I’m not.

What I am, is a lover of good music. And I don’t discriminate against genre – I’ve got pop, dance, rock, jazz, EDM, classical, Indian, you name it – on my playlists.

And I love bluetooth – been using bluetooth headsets for streaming music for nigh on ten years now. Running and generally moving around is great with bluetooth headphones, and I can’t be bothered with the hassle that wired headphones bring to day-to-day listening. And bluetooth over the years has gotten progressively better at streaming quality. 

Also, I don’t have the patience (or the disposable income) to buy hi-fidelity music players and in-ear monitors – not to mention the FLAC files – to get the best listening experience. I carry too many gadgets as it is. But I’ve wanted better streaming quality for many years now. That desire led to many misguided purchases.

Enter the FiiO BTR3 Hi-fidelity Bluetooth amplifier. At $80, this has been my best music purchase to date. 

Sound

Let’s get to the number one reason to buy the BTR3. Listening to music with this device is a pleasure for the ears. I used it with the reasonably good Audio-Technica ATH-IM50 in-ear monitors. And yes, the BTR3 doesn’t bundle earphones. If you are serious about music, you have at least one pair of IEMs with good driveability, and you’re expected to use these with your BTR3 – makes sense. 

So obviously you need to pair your BTR3 with a good pair of earphones. The ATH-IM50 are a safe bet with their dual-symphonic driver (an audiophile friend says ‘they’re ok’. That translates to very very good for me).

You can hear all sorts of detail in the music that you previously didn’t, and it makes for immersive listening. I simultaneously use Apple AirPods, Jabra Elite Sport (2nd generation), and Soul X-Shock, and the BTR3 beats all of them comfortably and by a long distance. A dedicated chip from Qualcomm (CSR8675) makes connectivity a cinch – more on this later.

Codec support

This is where the BTR3 outshines the competition (and also in build quality – we’ll come to that later). Almost all major codecs are supported, which means the device gives you the best listening experience possible irrespective of the streaming source. For iPhones, this means AAC is supported and sounds fantastic. For Android phones, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, even LDAC and LHDC support is available provided your manufacturer has baked in software support. I have a Google Pixel 2 XL and get LDAC and am very happy with the music through the BTR3. 

The indicator lights that change colour according to the codec supported are a welcome design flourish. I found out that my laptop could stream aptX LL and my Pixel 2 XL could stream LDAC by observing these.

Battery Life

Very good – way better than most other options available out there. You get pretty close to the advertised listening time – 11 hours, and charging the FiiO BTR3 is a quick. Considering the size, this is great.

USB-C

Lifesaver. Means I need to carry one less cable. And obviously all the technical niceties that come along with it.

Connectivity

Overall, pairing the BTR3 with my various phones and PC/Mac, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 – very good. NFC on Android makes it super convenient to pair. Just bring your NFC-enabled Android phone and the headset together and pair effortlessly. And on iOS, the connection is rock solid. 

FiiO BTR3 – NFC connectivity in addition to Bluetooth 4.2 and Qualcomm CSR8675

Dedicated chip from Qualcomm – the CSR8675 brings low power connectivity and stability to improve the overall listening experience. 

The chip and Bluetooth combine to provide solid connectivity as well as an enhanced audio experience. And calls are reasonably good for a device at this price range, although the BTR3 expects you to use the single microphone next to the power button on the device. Any integrated microphones or other buttons on your wired headset won’t work (i.e., pass through is not supported). And call quality is ok – this is a music streaming device first.

USB DAC

I look at wired connections as a novelty at this point. When connected to my laptop, however, the FiiO BTR3 won me back effortlessly with the awesome audio experience. I was pleasantly surprised.

For anyone that spends a major part of their day interacting with a PC or Mac, the USB DAC on FiiO BTR3 is a godsend. Not to mention it keeps the amp charged and ready for when you’re on the go.

Design and Build

With a matt aluminium and glass finish, I’ve only received profuse compliments about the BTR3. It is cool and comfortable to hold. The size and weight are just right, and the overall footprint the device leaves is small and light. The integrated clip gives so many options to carry the device with you. The design and build quality exude the craftsmanship of a device far more expensive than what you pay for the FiiO BTR3. And the colour-changing (according to codec) ‘FiiO’ moniker lights are a fantastic design flourish that only add to the premium feel.

Design – the buttons are thoughtfully designed and ideally clustered.

I like that all the buttons are placed on one side of the device – and are shaped and sized differently to aid with managing your music without having to fiddle too much. The controls are simple and easy to learn, especially the multi-function button at the centre.

Comparison with AirPods and their kind

Will be entirely incorrect. If you’re looking for reviews on the FiiO BTR3, you know about the need for headphone cables with 3.5mm jack and that AirPods and Jabra Elites and their other ‘truly wireless’ earbuds cousins out there will beat the BTR3 hands down on portability. What you’re looking for, is the sound that the FiiO BTR3 is capable of that none of those TWS wannabes can get close to (yet) – although the Master & Dynamic MW07 and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are getting a little close. Then again, the MW07 and their Sennheiser opposites cost about 4 times the BTR3, and will render your wired headsets collection useless.

Gripes

Firmware updates are available on desktop only, and only through Windows. This meant I had to dust up my 2-years old Windows laptop and spend a couple hours getting it back to shape in order to do the update. With a dedicated FiiO music app available on both iOS and Android, you’d imagine firmware updates will be a cinch. Apparently not. Hopefully FiiO will fix this soon.

The other gripe is the FiiO music app – no idea why it exists, and what benefits I can derive from it. On Android, I got a pop up asking if I wanted LHDC support for my music. I will try this and let you know if it is worth the hassle. A ‘coming soon’ sign is posted when you try the in-app equalizer. Hopefully it will. The app can’t break through to Apple Music for my downloads, so I’ll need to go back to my old mp3 collection to test. 

FiiO BTR3 – USB-C makes for one less cable for you to worry about

Should you buy it?

Yes! If you want to listen to high quality music over bluetooth, there isn’t a better option. The Radstone ES100 is a distant second, and nothing else comes close. For the price, the FiiO BTR3 will give you the best value you can get in the market. If you are keen on good music at a budget, look no further. And if you have good-quality wired headsets suddenly challenged by the absence of the headphone jack on modern smartphones, this device will give your headsets a new breath of life. 

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