By : Theo @ Samma3a
Output Impedance: ＜1Ω
Output power: ≥25mW @ 32-ohm
Battery Capacity: 1100mAh
The M3K comes in the same type of packaging that FiiO’s other low-cost devices and accessories are shipped in. The nearly all-white outer sleeve has a large image of the device on the front, and it is printed in an almost 1:1 scale with the image being ever so slightly smaller than the actual device. Removing the outer packaging leaves us with yet another box, this time in all-black.
As this is FiiO’s most affordable music player, and one that costs considerably less than $100 at that, we really couldn’t expect much if any accessories to be included with it. And yet, FiiO does seem to have gone an extra step here.
We get a relatively decent USB cable, but they’ve also included a micro-USB adapter as well as a Type-C adapter. This shows some forward thinking on FiiO’s part as many of today’s laptops simply don’t have full-sized USB ports, instead featuring a Type-C port. In this case, the standard USB cable would be useless without the included adapters if you wanted to charge the M3K or transfer your favourite music to it.
FiiO have also included a soft-touch silicon case to help protect the M3K from daily wear-and-tear. I do wish that they would’ve rather included a clear silicone case like you get with their other devices, but the fact that we’re getting any form of protective cover is a plus nonetheless.
The design of the M3K is significantly different to that of its predecessor, the M3. In fact, it looks more like a shrunk-down version of the X1 2nd Gen.
The front houses a large black panel that is comprised of the 2-inch IPS display and the numerous capacitive buttons.However, unlike the X1 2nd Gen, the M3K does not have a rotational touch panel, instead this time ‘round we’ve got an area which is reserved for some form of vertical sliding or scrolling. The other touch buttons include skip forward and back buttons, a return button, and a menu button.
Along the bottom edge is where we find the micro-USB charging and data port. I’m not quite sure why FiiO decided to use a micro-USB port rather than a Type-C port though as they’ve been doing a good job bringing this new standard to the rest of their latest devices.
In the middle is a micro-SD card slot, and just to the right of that is a 3.5mm single-ended output.
I quite like this large gold connector thing that they’ve got going on recently. We first saw this on the Q1 Mark II, and it’s also made an appearance on another new release, the M9. I’m not sure if Sony were the first to utilise this design element, but their devices are definitely the ones I associate with it the most.
Moving over to the left edge, here we’ve got the power button, the volume rocker, and a multifunctional button which is mainly used as a play/pause button.
The right edge and rear panel don’t have anything of interest, and the only thing we’ll find along the top edge are a series of very small holes behind which the microphone site. Yes, the M3K does have a microphone and it can be used as a voice recorder. Neato!
Overall, it’s a very nice, very solid build. For the asking price of just $70, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find this level of build quality elsewhere. But, it’s not just that the M3K looks and feels solid, but it also sits very comfortably in the hand. No, it’s nowhere near as small as the Shanling M0, but for many people the M0 might just be too small. The M3K, on the other hand, I think is just small enough to still be considered compact.
So, it looks pretty good, and feels pretty good in the hand, but what is it like to actually use it? Well, as I said, the M3K costs just $70, and so we’d expect to see some kind of compromise somewhere.
Unfortunately, it’s when using the device that it becomes apparent where that compromise lies.
For the most part, the layout and functionality of the controls is similar, if not identical to some extent to the way FiiO did things on the X1 2nd Gen and X3 Mark III. But, instead of the rotation scroll area, this new vertical scrolling thing just doesn’t work too well for me.
It’s not a matter of the actual hardware being glitchy, that part actually works fine, but where I’m having issue is how it and the functions of other buttons integrates with the UI.
You see, hardware controls are supposed to be the middle-man between the user and whatever is on the screen. Moreover, the purpose of a button should remain constant, or if the function of a button is meant to be contextual then it should at least not prohibit a more important function.
What would make a device like the M3K easy and intuitive to use is when your hardware control layout and functionality is done in such a way that the user doesn’t even have to think about it.
So, when it comes to the controls of the M3K, things can be rather unintuitive and it just shows that FiiO really have not thought this device through as much as I feel they should have.
It’s not a case of it being littered with software bugs, in that regard it actually feels pretty darn stable. But as far as the overall user experience is concerned, things feel rushed, and it reminds me of all the complaints I had about their old devices and how the software was the Achilles heel for those devices. Unfortunately, that same old ghost has come back to haunt the M3K.
Starting on the home screen, the various options and icons are laid out in a horizontal fashion, which is the complete opposite to the vertical scrolling orientation of that touch panel.
Once you get into any of the options, then it’s alright because all of the lists are organised in a vertical manner, in which case the vertical scroll panel makes sense. But, now we start seeing a bunch of other irregularities.
The skip forward and back buttons can also be used for navigating up and down in the lists as well as horizontally on the home screen. But that’s just the thing, they’re meant to allow you to skip tracks forward and back, and yet the only time that they function in that manner is when you’re on the Now Playing screen. At any other time they act entirely as navigation buttons.
Moreover, the play/pause button also only acts as a play/pause button if you’re on the Now Playing screen or if the display is turned off, at any other time it acts as a selection button.
Then we have the volume rocker. Thankfully, this is consistently used to adjust the volume, but it can also double up as a skip forward or back button by use of a long press…..but only when the display is off, at any other time it acts purely as a volume control.
So, I hope, you would’ve put the pieces of the puzzle together by now…..despite there being dedicated playback controls, they only function as playback controls if you’re on the Now Playing screen or when the display is turned off; meaning that you have no way of skipping or pausing your music if you’re navigating through any of the lists or menus.
I can’t help but feel that this is something that should be addressed before releasing the device to the public.
Again, I know this device only costs $70….and maybe with prolonged usage a person would become used to the way things work with the M3K.
Because of the affordable price, if the M3K happens to be a person’s first dedicated music player, I just hope that they don’t end up abandoning the entire hobby out of sheer frustration with trying to navigate this particular device.
As a simple stand-alone player, the M3K is actually a really nice little device. But I can guarantee you that once more people buy or use it, one of the biggest complaints is going to be the awkward navigation and controls….that is unless FiiO fixes this with a software update before sending a new batch of devices to its distributors.
As far as the sound is concerned, the M3K actually sounds really good despite its sub-$100 price tag. Of course, we’re not going to get the deepest, most controlled bass or the airiest of highs, but for what it is it’s really quite enjoyable.
In terms of tonality it’s tilted towards the softer and warmer end of the spectrum which I think is perfectly suited towards a player that’s not intended for critical listening sessions. This is for using when you’re out on your morning run, or if you just want to kick back and listen to some tunes without concentrating on what you’re listening to.
the biggest limitation here will be the available power output. Being able to deliver only around 25mW into a 32-ohm load, the M3K has considerably less power than even the M7. So with that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend the M3K if you’re headphones or IEM like a bit more juice.
Sometimes some tracks or albums naturally have a lower playback volume, so with the M3K you can often quickly find yourself maxing out the volume for such tracks.
But again, that’s going to depend entirely on your headphones or IEMs. For more efficient and low impedance devices the M3K should be OK.
Judging from the specs, it seems that the M3K uses the same DAC chip and has the same power output as that of the new BTR1K. So if you can’t find any info online to confirm that the M3K would have sufficient power for whichever headphones or IEMs you intend to use with it, then perhaps try searching for info regarding the BTR1K instead.
As far as the overall value is concerned, I keep having to remind myself that the M3K costs $70, and for that price I shouldn’t expect the device to be perfect. And honestly, I don’t expect it to be perfect, but what I do expect, and what I think most people out there would expect, is that at least the software would be well-designed and implemented enough as to not create any kind of frustration for the user.
If we disregard the software and only focus on the build of the device and its sound, then the M3K honestly is a nice little device, and one that I’d have no problem recommending to anyone who wants to dip their toes in this little portable audio hobby but aren’t quite ready yet to spend some bigger dollars on a more serious device.
But the fact is that we can’t disregard the software. A device can have the most amazing hardware ever, but if it’s crippled by the software the entire device is of little more use than a paperweight.
My humble recommendation would be to rather spend a little more and get something like the Shanling M0. It’s just a much more complete device, has more power, greater functionality, and is considerably more intuitive to use. Or, if the M0 doesn’t quite do it for you, then wait a little longer and check out FiiO’s M6 when it comes out in the next few weeks or so. It’ll cost just over double what the M3K does, but if the M7 and M9 are anything to go by, then the M6 will be a vastly superior device for day-to-day usage.