Disclaimer: 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.
Multi-function onboard controls
Neutral, transparent sound
Lightning interconnect sold separately
High-performance Low-power ES9281Pro DAC chip.
4x MQA decoding support.
RGB Indicator light.
PCM decoding up to 32-Bit/384kHz.
DSD decoding up to DoP128.
Up to 70mW output power
Package & Accessories
The FC3 comes in a small square box with a transparent lid. Inside the box, you’ll find the FC3 USB DAC, a faux leather cover, a USB to Type-C interconnect, a Type-C to Type-C OTG interconnect, a small Hi-Res Audio sticker plus some documentation & warranty.
Measuring just 45*13*9 mm and weighing a mere 9.1g, the Hiby FC3 is more diminutive than the average USB dongle DAC. But despite its small size, the FC3 packs in features that some of the competition does not, like the 30-step hardware volume buttons that are multi-functional and can also skip/rewind tracks.
The aluminium alloy body has a brushed finish and solid build quality all around. FC3 also has an RGB indicator light that changes colour depending on the current playback bitrate or format. The colours are as follows:
Red: connected, not playing
Blue: playing at PCM 32-48kHz
Green: playing at PCM 88.2-192kHz / DSD64
Light green: playing at PCM 352.8-384kHz / DSD128
Purple: playing MQA
Speaking of bitrates, FC3 has support for PCM up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD128 DoP as well as MQA unfolding (with smartphone only). In terms of output, FC3 has a single 3.5mm headphone jack and can supply 70+70mW@32Ω. So, like most dongle DACs, it’s optimized for IEMs (in-ear monitors) or efficient headphones.
Internally, the FC3 hosts an ES9281Pro DAC chip. As well as its wide bitrate and format support, this chip also has a jack detect function. That means the FC3 can detect when there are no headphones plugged into its jack and it automatically goes into power-saving mode. Unlike some dongle DACs, the FC3 has excellent heat management and the chassis doesn’t get hot over time.
The Hiby FC3 can be used with a PC/laptop as an external USB DAC, as well as iOS and Android smartphones. However, Apple users will need to buy the Lightning to USB interconnect separately.
One of the things I really like about the FC3 is that the volume controls work independently of the source. That means that when adjusting the volume, it doesn’t change the existing volume level on your PC or smartphone.
From my first listen, it was apparent that there’s something different about the FC3 compared to other similarly priced dongle DACs. That difference is in the FC3’s neutrality and uncoloured presentation. What you get is a truly transparent sound that ultimately reveals the true nature of the earphones or headphones and to a lesser degree, the source.
You won’t find any shaping of the sound going on here, it’s as though it just passes through the FC3 in order to let your transducers formulate the outcome. The result is a truly balanced presentation without any additional lift in the bass or treble. This, in turn, gives the midrange additional forwardness but doesn’t diminish detail retrieval or resolution.
Bass notes are tidy and loaded with detail. This is especially good for warmer headphones as it limits congestion and increases clarity. The midrange is full-bodied yet detailed and highly resolving. Whether it’s Leprous’ “Castaway Angels” or Pure Reason Revolution’s “Silent Genesis”, the FC3’s rhythmic fidelity is evident across all music genres.
The treble control is on point too, showing good extension and precision. It’s neither smoothed over nor sharpened and has ample sparkle and detail. Thanks to its clean, dark background, the FC3 is able to create a stable soundstage with pinpoint imaging, even if the stage width is fairly average.
Meze 99 Classics: These are efficient headphones so they are a good match for something like the FC3. The bass sounds full-bodied and controlled. With the FC3’s neutral bass response, the 99 Classics sound clean and the bass that sometimes gets a little boomy with warmer sources sounds tighter and textured with this combo. Nice forward vocals, grungy electric guitars and a romanticized midrange combine with a rounded, airy treble. A good match.
M-Fidelity SA50: With its 102dB sensitivity and 30 ohms impedance, the SA50 requires more power than the average multi-BA IEM to shine. With the FC3 in charge, the SA50 comes to life in all its glory. Bass notes are full-bodied and sound as though they’re coming from a dynamic driver. Vocals are articulate and present while instruments sound lifelike and tonally accurate. The SA50’s crisp, treble is controlled and precise. While the soundstage isn’t vast, it shows good width and the excellent depth which is a hallmark of the SA50. This is still one of my favourite IEMs and the FC3 is an ideal companion.
Hifiman Sundara: As far as planar magnetic headphones go, the Sundara isn’t too demanding when it comes to driveability. But it is good at revealing shortcomings in lesser sources. Compared to my desktop DACs, the Sundara sounds slightly leaner in the sub-bass but everything else is intact. The midrange is detailed, instrument separation is superb and the treble is precise with good note density. A pretty good match.
Hidizs MS2: The MS2 is a budget hybrid dual driver IEM. It’s quite efficient with an impedance of 18Ω and 112 dB sensitivity so I was curious to see if there was any background noise with the FC3. I didn’t detect any hiss even at high volume. The bass is natural but tight with a controlled, decaying resonance. Midrange notes are forward and slightly rounded. Vocals and instruments are full-bodied but detailed. Instrument separation is excellent, especially for a budget IEM. Some instruments like the upper registers of a piano sound a little too forward but that’s a result of the MS2 and not the FC3 which has a linear presentation. The treble is airy and crisp. The soundstage remains within the headspace but is organized and accurate in terms of imaging.
Audirect Beam 2 (US$139)
The Audirect Beam 2 delivers a sound with slightly more body and warmth. Bass notes sound more authoritative albeit not as detailed. The midrange is warmer with a slightly larger note size and smoother delivery. This trend continues in the treble, where the Beam2 sounds more musical compared to the FC3’s more transparent rendition. Treble notes are softer and more rounded on the Beam 2but not quite as precise.
The Beam 2 has more output power from both the single-ended and balanced outputs but it comes at the cost of more power drain on your phone’s battery. Unlike the FC3, the Beam 2 lacks any physical playback controls. Where I feel the Beam 2 has a distinct advantage is its 2.5mm balanced output, however, you need to pay double the price for that benefit.
I’m quite charmed by the Hiby FC3. Considering its $69 price, build quality and onboard playback controls, it offers a lot in terms of functionality alone. But add its transparent and detailed sound and the true value of the FC3 truly becomes apparent. This is the best sub-$100 USB dongle DAC I’ve heard to date and as such, it comes highly recommended.