Bluetooth is here to stay. We simply cannot avoid it any longer. Just look at how many new phones still have a headphone jack: there seem to be fewer every day. So how are you supposed to enjoy music from your smartphone now? Enter the FiiO BTR3 Bluetooth Receiver.
The BTR3 is a thumb-sized Bluetooth receiver that you can plug your headphones into and enjoy Hi-Res music from your phone or streaming device. The BTR3 has a built-in microphone so it can be used for hands-free calling too. You can also hook it up to your PC, laptop or tablet with the included USB-C cable and use it as an external DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter).
The BTR3 has a special claim to its name too: It’s the world’s first Bluetooth amp to support all wireless audio codecs. Yes, all of them. This includes aptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC, SBC and LHDC.
Type C USB charging cable*1, Quick Start Guide*1, Warranty Card*1,Lanyard*1
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own, based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
The FiiO BTR3 comes in a small white box with an image of the device on the front. It’s simple but practical packaging that isn’t wasteful or unnecessarily flashy so we’ll just leave it at that and jump into the actual contents. Inside the box are:
FiiO BTR3 Bluetooth Receiver
User manual and warranty
So, just like the box, the package contents are basic but practical and contain everything you need to get your new device up and running. So how are the physical aspects of the BTR3?
Build Quality and Design
As soon as you lay your eyes or hands (whatever comes first) on the BTR3 you’ll know that it has a really nice build. It has an all-metal chassis with a 2.5D glass front. There’s an LED on the front that lights up in different colours indicating various operating states and which Bluetooth codec is being used.
All the controls are on the right side of the device and are made up of 3 buttons in total. At the top is the Power on/off button that is also used to switch between input devices (the BTR3 can be simultaneously paired to 2 devices).
The second or middle button is a multi-function button used for Reconnect/Play/Pause/Answer phone call/End call. It can also be used to force pairing mode and even to activate Siri for iPhone users.
In between the top 2 buttons is the built-in microphone which can be used for hands-free phone calls. Lastly, we have the Volume up/down, Previous track/Next track buttons.
On the bottom edge are the 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port. The USB port is for charging the unit and can be used to connect the BTR3 to a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone via the included USB-C cable for use as an external DAC.
Over on the back of the device is a metal clip which can be used to attach the BTR3 to clothing or a bag etc. At the top of the clip is a through-hole which can be used to attach the included lanyard.
Bluetooth and Battery Life
Bluetooth connectivity is taken care of by the Qualcomm CR8675 Bluetooth chip which promises to have a more stable signal strength compared to other competing solutions. It is a low-power chip with support for 24-bit signal transmission. During my testing, I have not experienced any dropouts or disconnects when paired with my Android phone or Sony NW-ZX300 DAP.
FiiO’s BTR3 has a rated battery life of 11 hours and this turned out to be quite accurate for me during use. Using the included USB-C cable the device can be fully charged in just 1.5 hours.
At the heart of the FiiO BTR3 is the AK4376A DAC which according to the AKM website is:
a higher performing solution of the AK4375A that is adopted by many portable audio products since it was launched in 2014
I have to say the BTR3 really surprised me with its audio quality, especially since my recent infatuation with the similar Radsone ES100 (comparison below). The BTR3 sounds much better than my Galaxy Note 5 and laptop’s headphone outputs as well as some of the ultra-budget wired DAPs that I have laying around.
It should be noted that the BTR3 is rated for headphones up to 100 ohms, so if you’re looking to drive something above that then you should consider an alternative such as the ES100. Don’t be one of those donkeys who buys blindly and then complains when the unit doesn’t drive their 300 ohms headphone…
Having said that, it can actually drive my 250 ohms Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro really well: certainly loud enough though not quite optimal. For the majority of IEMs and low impedance headphones, however, the BTR3 has enough juice to bring out their best.
This is one comparison that everybody has been asking for and understandably so, considering these are the 2 major players for Bluetooth receivers in this price segment.
First of all, let me say that they both sound fantastic and there’s very little difference in actual audio quality. To my ears the BTR3 sounds just a tad more vivid and has more note density but that could possibly be a result of stored settings from the Earstudio app (crossfeed, digital filter etc.)
The FiiO unquestionably has a more premium build with its metal chassis and 2.5D glass front. Its clip has a better grip too, making it feel more secure when attached to clothing etc. That’s not to say the ES100 doesn’t have its own charm. If I were forced to make a choice between the 2, I’d probably have to flip a coin because I genuinely love them both.
For anyone who’s not sure which device suits them best I would say this: If you need to drive high impedance earphones or headphones then the ES100 is the better choice for you (requires balanced cable). Similarly, if you’re a control freak and demand EQ functionality and a multitude of tweaks then again the ES100 is the way to go.
If you’re the type who wants a simpler plug and play experience then the FiiO BTR3 would likely be your best choice. The BTR3 arguably has a better button layout than the ES100 and it supports a couple of rarer codecs such as aptX-LL and LHDC. One more thing worth mentioning is that the FiiO costs around $30 less.
The VS-1880 is another great Bluetooth receive and shares many similarities with the BTR3. Both units have a similar shape and size and both have metal housings. The Ampio’s clip can be reversed or even removed which is really handy.
In terms of sound quality both are fantastic and the real differences come down to features more than sound. The BTR3 supports those rarer codecs (aptX-LL and LHDC) so if you want to use either of those it should be an easy choice for you to make.
Both units have a similar power output and are suitable for up to 100 ohms headphones or slightly higher. Battery life is almost the same: 10 hours for the VS-1880 and 11 hours for the BTR3. Both have a built-in microphone for hands-free calling and both can be used as an external DAC: the Ampio via Micro-USB and the FiiO via USB-C.
Considering the VS-1880 is more than double the price of the FiiO it’s difficult to recommend over the BTR3. The only really compelling reason I can think of is if you like to treat your gear roughly then the VS-1880 feels more robust as it doesn’t have a glass front like the BTR3.
The FiiO BTR3 is the latest in high-fidelity Bluetooth receivers, something I believe we are going to see a lot more of in coming times as more smartphone companies ditch the headphone jack from their phones.
The BTR3 is a gorgeous device that sounds great and works just as it is intended. It’s a Bluetooth receiver with the most extensive codec support, it’s an external DAC, it’s a dongle and it will only set you back $70. What’s not to like?