Big shoutout to FiiO for sending this unit, and for their continued support! I am not being compensated for the review, just giving my thoughts and opinions.
- 10/10/20. Article Posted.
- 2/2/21. Article/link cleanup.
- 2/10/22. BTR5 impressions added. Images coming soon.
- 2/14/22. Images added.
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Table of Contents
Click to navigate the article!
FiiO BTR3K Overview
FiiO BTR5 Overview
BTR3K vs. DragonFly Red
BTR3K vs. BTR5
BTR3K/5 vs. Go Blu
Today we’re going to take a look at the BTR3K and see how it compares with the BTR5. We’ll also throw in comparisons to the DragonFly Red and iFi’s Go Blu which seems to be a close competitor to FiiO’s Bluetooth on the go variety of dacs that have been very popular as of late.
Towards the end, I will provide a value judgment and tell you which I’d personally go with!
In the Box
Hard Plastic Case for on the go
USB-C Charging Cable
Build & Features
We’ll start with build and features. This wireless Bluetooth Amp/DAC is a little bit longer and larger than the fan-favorite DragonFly Red, but has a glossy finish that will leave more fingerprints than a dumb criminal at a murder scene.
It’s rather glassy and sleek looking. Most people will adore its small form factor and elegant look. If you don’t, you’re probably a weenie.
On the front, there’s a 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm jack for your headphones, and on the side, we’ve got a power button, volume buttons, and a mic button for calls if you need to make a ransom handoff.
On the top, there’s a USB-C charging port which you can also just plug into your laptop and listen to music with. More on that later.
Just hold the top button to power the BTR3K on. It will cycle Red and Blue to indicate it’s waiting to pair. Go into your phone’s settings and press search. It will show up as “FiiO BTR3K.”
Now we’re ready for la musica!
Any time the device has been completely disconnected (i.e. your phone is off, etc.) it will flash twice every 2 seconds. Just hold the second button from the top to re-enter pairing mode.
When you plug it into your laptop, it will flash blue twice every 2 seconds and land on red for 2 seconds. Now just look for it in your sound panel, select it, and play a track. It will then turn white. If you pause the track, it will resume the blue/red cycle after about 45 seconds to a minute. Play the song again and it goes back to white.
I’m not going to get into all the rest of the technical mumbo jumbo. Just read the manual, homie!
It’s really simple and straightforward. You can take calls with this thing, and it can pair two separate devices at one time.
Yeah, that’s right you heard me correctly.
“Yo dog we heard you like listening to music at the same time someone else is on the same dac, so we made an amp/dac that allows you to listen to music at the same time someone is else on the same dac, and we made that joint wireless so you don’t even need wires neither.”
The BTR3K is super convenient for on-the-go homies as well.
You guys know me. I mostly listen to music on my desktop or when I’m at the gym, completely wireless with Bluetooth. I personally hate carrying around a phone and a DAC and pretty much never do. The BTR3K is a product that I would absolutely carry around with me, and I do when I’m driving at night.
It even comes with a plastic belt clip. Just put the DAC inside the clip’s holder and attach it somewhere you know it won’t fall off. I attached it sideways to my belt loop and that seems to work really well when I’m sitting in my car seat.
Originally I tried to attach it vertically to my pants, but it kept popping out because I’m kind of fat, but only when sitting down alright!
Aside from that silliness, the BTR3K supports your standard codecs:
- For SBC, a blue light pulsates when listening to music.
- For AAC, Cyan.
- For aptX or aptX LL, Purple (as in the case of my phone).
- For aptX HD, Yellow.
- And for LDAC, White.
In the Box
Quick Start Guide
Hard Plastic Case for on the go
USB-C Charging Cable
USB-C to USB-C Cable
Right off the bat, you’ll notice the obvious elephant in the room – the BTR5 has a lot more power than the 3K. With my 400se and 3K, I’m pretty much maxed out. There are perhaps 1 or 2 volume clicks of headroom left.
Specs indicate that the BTR3K Unbalanced provides 25 mW into a 32-Ohm load and 50 mW into a 16-Ohm load.
For Balanced you’re looking at 78 mW into 32 Ohm and 40 mW into 16 Ohm.
By contrast, the BTR5 provides 80mW into 32 Ohms and 90mW into 16 Ohm Single-ended, while the balanced jack supplies 240mW into both 16 and 32 Ohm.
With the BTR5, you’ll have plenty of headroom and won’t have to worry about maxing out with 99% of headphones.
What you will be doing is maxing and relaxing, but we’ll get to that soon so chill tf out for now okay?
The other thing you’ll notice is that the BTR5 is a bit heavier than the 3K and also larger in length, width, and height. In addition to that, the BTR5 displays sample rate, volume level, and battery level upon a short press of the power button. The 3K does not have this feature.
Also, the 3K only supports up to 16-bit/48kHz while the BTR5 boasts 32-bit/384 as well as DSD. Related: What Is DSD In Audio?
While I do value higher bit-depth (more information being sampled), the sample rate is a little more tricky and files around 48kHz may be all you ever need given the Nyquist Shannon Theorem.
In other words, companies may advertise higher sample rates as a way to indirectly say “The product performs better”, but it’s much harder for our brains to process/perceive speeds that high due to the limitations of human hearing.
Both are seasoned fingerprint gatherers, both have 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended connections for your headphones, both can be paired with 2 devices at once, and both generally function in about the same ways.
There’s a charging port on the bottom, a display, volume buttons, a reset button, a power button, and a call button.
A small note of difference is the displays on both are a bit different. The 3K will flash blue twice while it’s waiting for a pair, but the BTR5’s display is mostly blank.
As for the rest of the functions, I’ll just attach an image as it’s all in the quick start guide and fairly self-explanatory.
- Headphones used: Koss KPH30i, Philips SHP9600, Sennheiser HD600, AKG K702, HIFIMAN HE400se, (more to come).
- Source(s): Tidal Hi-Fi, Spotify Premium, LG-X Charge Phone via aptX.
- Playlist: Here!
BTR3K vs. DragonFly Red
The sound of the BTR3K is fairly neutral to my ears but does have a touch of warmth. It mostly does sound about the same as the DragonFly, but you’ll notice the Fly is a bit more open and cool sounding.
The vocals on the DragonFly Red seem to be a bit more prominent than they are on the BTR. They’re pushed slightly more forward. This is still a very minor discrepancy and maybe my imagination.
Still, I find the sound of the BTR uncomfortably close to being just as good sound-wise. If I’m being honest, it pretty much is. There’s nothing about the more expensive Fly that I would say is better than the cheaper FiiO.
In fact, the BTR3K has quite a lot going for it:
- It’s small, compact, and lightweight. You can carry it anywhere.
- You don’t need an adapter for your phone should you want to pair it on the go. If you have a phone with aptX HD (or any other superior codec), it’s quite close to having Hi-Fi, audiophile-quality sound in your pocket.
- It can be used with your laptop, which is my preferred method.
- It can take calls.
- It has a 2.5mm balanced jack. That’s a great feature for these newer up-and-coming snobs who won’t settle for anything less than the best!
- Lastly, you can download the FiiO control app and you’ve got a super slick interface at your fingertips. Adjust the EQ, volume, and customize the DAC in many other ways just using your phone.
It also utilizes volume control separate from your source’s volume. From Soundphile:
The only thing I can think of that the Fly provides that the BTR doesn’t is more power unbalanced. Soundwise? The 3K sounds just as good at roughly $130 less. It’s pretty astounding actually.
Yes, the Red is a bit more refined; female vocals sound a tad more fleshed out and articulate. The overall sound is a little more revealing and clear, like a cold water splash in the morning.
But like I’ve said a thousand times in other articles and videos, you’re not going to know or even care. I’m afforded the luxury of being able to discern these marginal differences because of all the gear I have at my disposal.
Even with the Koss at a somewhat higher 60 Ohm impedance, you’ll notice yourself pushing the volume more so than you would with something in the 32 Ohm ballpark. With the 9600, I’m at 28/32.
I tried the HD600 with it, and while it does get loud enough, you’re maxed out with no headroom. Not the most ideal scenario, as you’ll most certainly want to raise the volume some more.
- The 3K pushes 25mW at 32 Ohm.
- Balanced is 78mW at the same impedance.
BTR3K vs. BTR5
It’s interesting to me that the BTR5 boasts an ESS9219C chip because, in theory, it should sound cleaner and more sterile than the BTR3K’s AK4377A.
I’m not sure if this specific ESS chip is a bit different from the one present in the DragonFly, but the point is that I didn’t hear much in the way of sound difference between the 2.
Foxing’s “Night Channels” may sound ever so slightly more lively and with perhaps a tad too much sheen over hi-hats and cymbals, but it’s extremely subtle and won’t be discernable to the majority of people. Upon further listening, I noticed that this trend has continued.
The Foreign Exchange’s “Come Around”, a song I’m very familiar with, sounds more lively during the intro. The BTR5 seems to push the instruments forward whereas the BTR3K’s sound feels a tad recessed and a bit more laid back.
Ultimately it’s still very subtle and probably won’t matter much to the majority of people and I could just be imagining it knowing the BTR5 houses the ESS chip. It’s hard to say. If you have experience with these, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
BTR3K/5 vs. Go Blu
Again, not too much in the way of difference in sound here, which is again, rather surprising. I did hear a slightly clearer presentation with the DragonFly Red, but that’s to be expected and my impressions of that have remained constant for a few years now.
The Go Blu, even with its Burr Brown chip, sounds remarkably similar to the BTR3K/5. For this comparison, I used Chelsea Cutler’s “Deserve This”, a well-recorded track with clear vocals and not too much going on in the intro.
What I found was that her voice sounded exactly the same on the Go Blu, BTR3K, and BTR5. The 3K may come across a tad warmer than the Blu, but it’s almost a wash.
I went back and forth for quite a while and my impressions didn’t change much at all, so I’m not going to overthink it and neither should you.
The ultimate point I’m trying to make with regard to the sound of these 4 is that I would likely have a pretty tough time determining which is which if I was blindfolded. I could probably point out the DragonFly Red, but the other 3 would be a lot tougher to sort.
There are many products I’ve come across in my time demoing audiophile gear. There aren’t many that I could see myself owning and using for long periods of time.
While the 3K is a great value and was my previous choice, I think I’d rather have the extra power/headroom that the BTR5 provides. In other words, if you bought the 3K because it’s cheaper, you’d likely upgrade later anyways after needing the power for more demanding headphones.
The DragonFly Red is around $200 and I tend to recommend it a lot, but you may opt to save some money here and go with the BTR5.
Likewise, the Go Blu is around the same price and does provide the XSpace and XBass, but those aren’t worth $70 especially considering XSpace essentially changes nothing within the sound profile.
So, interested in a well-priced Bluetooth DAC?
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5 vs. DragonFly Red vs. iFi Go Blu comparison/review/shootout thingie-ma-bob, and are better equipped to make a purchasing decision!
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Could you see yourself with a BTR5? Why or why not? I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
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