Headphone Amplifier – FiiO A3 Review

Charging Port - Headphone Amplifier - FiiO A3 Review

If you want to give your smartphone or MP3 player an extra boost, you came to the right place! You might be wondering why this device is so highly-rated and reviewed. Is it because it outperforms all the competition? Is it the best budget-friendly amp your money can buy?

Throughout this review, we’ll do our best to help you understand the best and worst features this device has to offer, as well as hopefully answering any questions you have! Our second goal is to point out where it performs at its best (and for what type of listener)!  

If you’re anything like us, you probably agree with the importance of having all the facts before you make your decision! Keep reading our FiiO A3 Review to see why it’s so highly-rated!

 

FiiO A3 Review – Why Is It So Highly-Rated?

 

 

Basic Features & Technical Specs:

  • External Functions: Volume knob & Gain/Bass Boost switch
  • Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16 – 150 Ohms
  • Internal Battery: 1400 mAh rechargeable battery
  • Charging: Micro USB to USB
  • Battery Life: Approx. 16 hours run time on a single charge
  • Preamp: OPA1642 preamp (ultra low distortion/superior sound quality
  • Amp Section: AD8397 (low distortion/high output current)
  • Housing Build: Aluminum 
  • Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.58 x 0.51 in.
  • Weight: 3.2 oz

 

Before you move on, take a quick look at the links below that you can use to navigate our review. Each section will provide an in-depth analysis for each individual performance aspect.

Here are the 5 most important features you’ll want to consider before making your decision:

  1. Build Quality & External Controls
  2. Battery Life & Charging – What To Expect!
  3. Is It Better For Portable or At-Home Listening?
  4. How Much Better Will Your Music Sound?
  5. Is It The Right Fit For You?

 

Now that you’ve taken a quick look at the technical specs, let’s start by examining two of the most important features – build quality and external controls!


Build Quality & External Controls

This tiny device has an all aluminum build (including the gain/bass boost switches). When you turn the volume dial past the ‘0’ on the dial, it makes a satisfying click and the blue LED on the opposite end lights up. 

The volume dial is also made of aluminum and has a black finish with tactile notches all the way around. Even when you’re using it under low-light, it’s pretty hard to miss. The click when you power it on plus the notched volume dial work very well for letting you know when it’s on or off. 

Keep in mind that as you turn the volume higher, there isn’t any other tactile response past the initial click. The only way to tell how far you’ve turned the dial up, is to actually look at it. Although it is pretty minor for everyday use, we think it’s important to point out. If anything, it’s just a slight nitpick that doesn’t affect its performance in any way. 

 

Control What You Hear – Gain/Bass Boost Switches

There is a gain and bass boost switch on either side of the volume dial. The gain switch allows you to choose from 2 settings – low or high. The bass boost also has two settings – on or off. There isn’t any right or wrong way to use them, as long as you’re comfortable with the way your music sounds.

When you’re listening to certain styles of music, it may be more appropriate to have the gain switch on low. If you want to give your music a stronger low end presence, it makes sense to flip the bass boost switch. Once you have everything plugged in, you can experiment to see which settings you prefer. 

As you can see in the picture below, all 3 of these functions are featured on the bottom of the device. On the opposite (or top) end, you’ll find the aux in, 3.5 mm port, and micro USB port for charging. You can use the included short 3.5 – 3.5 mm cable to connect with your phone or other DAP. 

Headphone Amplifier FiiO A3 Review

Most people have fun playing around with each function until they find their preferred setting. A few simple adjustments end up making a pretty big difference, especially when you tailor the sound by genre or artist. Next, let’s take a look at how long the battery lasts!


Battery Life & Charging – What To Expect!

No matter what device you decide to pair it with, you can expect to get about 16 hours of continuous use. 16 hours is a pretty impressive battery life whether you’re listening at home or on-the-go. (That’s enough time to listen to 16 full albums!) If you’re using it to watch your favorite series on Netflix, you can watch more than 1 full season and still have time for more!

The point we’re trying to make, is that 16 hours of continuous use is usually more than enough battery life for most everyday uses. Since it’s ultra compact and has a great battery life – you can take it with you for all day listening, and then some.

The LED indicator we mentioned above will pulsate while it’s charging, then turn solid when it’s ready. It usually takes about 4 hours for a full charge. Keep reading below to see if there are any major flaws in this area!

 

Are There Any Major Flaws?

There is one minor downside that you’ll want to keep in mind. Let’s say you’re streaming your favorite playlist on Spotify. All of the sudden – the music stops. You check your phone to make sure you didn’t accidentally press pause. 

After checking, you realize that the music is still playing. At that point, you might be asking “Why can’t I hear anything?”. Chances are, the amp needs more juice. Since the mini LED (right next to the headphone jack) is pretty discreet – it can be harder to tell that it completely shut off.

 

Does The Blue LED Change Color?

Unfortunately, the LED doesn’t change color when you’re running low on battery. When you power it on, it turns blue. When it’s close to dead, the LED is still blue. Since there’s no clear way to tell when it’s running low, it can be a slight inconvenience. There’s nothing worse than your music player stopping out of nowhere while you’re jamming out to your favorite song.

If this happens to you, keep in mind that you won’t be able to keep listening as you’re charging the device. You’ll have to go without until it’s fully charged again. If we had to point out a single major flaw, we think this is it. Although the 16 hour battery life is usually more than enough – having to wait for a few hours while it charges is pretty inconvenient. 


Is It Better For Portable Use or At-Home Listening?

In a nutshell, this amp is extremely adaptable. Since it’s so small and sleek – you can easily use it with a variety of devices (and in a variety of situations). It also fits inside smaller pockets, which makes it very ideal for portable use

If you prefer your music in solitude, it also works great for listening at home. As you’ll see in the section below, it does have its limitations. As far as practical use goes, there are a few more factors you’ll want to consider!

 

Paired With Your Smartphone

As you know, most smartphones have touch screens and a pretty wide build. How will it affect your listening experience? Well, if you want to use the included elastic bands with your iPhone, it can be pretty inconvenient. The bands will have to wrap around and over the touch screen. They’ll get in the way and prevent you from navigating your music library. 

The same goes for MP3 players that have touch screens. (Then again, some DAPs have enough empty space on the top and bottom where you can fit the elastic bands.) Although this shouldn’t prevent you from pairing this amp with your smartphone, the fit could be better.

We recommend using the A3 without the elastic bands when you’re listening with your smartphone. Trying to avoid the bands across your screen can get pretty annoying after a while. What if you want to use it while you’re walking around? 

In that case, you can just keep it plugged into your paired device and store them both in your pocket. They won’t completely disconnect (or move around too much) even without the elastic bands holding them together. 

Headphone Amplifier FiiO A3 Review

Now that you know what to expect in this area, you’re probably wondering how much better your music will sound!


How Much Better Will Your Music Sound?

As cliche as it might sound, you will immediately notice an undeniable night and day difference. It adds a significant amount of color and fullness to your music – no matter what style (or genre) you’re listening to.

Everything will sound much fuller, richer, and louder. It makes no difference whether you’re streaming music from your phone or other digital audio player. The bottom line is that you’ll find it almost impossible to switch back and listen without it! That being said, it’s extremely important that you pair it with compatible headphones

 

Recommended Headphone Impedance

If you try pairing it with cans that aren’t within the recommended impedance of 16 – 150 Ohms, you won’t notice any difference at all. In fact, you’ll probably be very disappointed with its performance. The recommended impedance is ‘recommended’ for a reason. 

Its internal operating system only has enough output power to drive lower impedance cans. The good news is that most in-ear, on-ear, and over-ears fit well within that range. On the other hand, if you own a pair of Sennheiser HD600 or another high impedance headphone – you will need to invest in a more powerful option. 

If you’re not sure if your cans are within the range, we recommend doing a quick Google search. Just type in the ‘brand and model name + impedance’. Chances are, someone else has asked the same question before and you’ll be able to find it pretty quickly. Once you’ve verified that your pair is compatible, you’ll be ready to start listening!

 

Is That A Tear In Your Eye?

If you’re a huge fan of music, you probably love getting the ‘chills’ or ‘goosebumps’ when you listen to music. Sometimes, a song is so powerful that it can bring tears to your eyes. How does this apply to a headphone amp? 

Those songs that you really connect with will become that much more powerful. All we’re trying to say is that you might be pretty emotionally moved when you can hear more detail, clarity, and overall depth. 

Personal Audio Amplifier

This device brings out every sonic element that the producer, band, or solo artist wanted you to hear. You’ll probably find yourself picking out small details and other elements you may have missed before. You’ll be able to hear any and all nuance or detail that’s present on a recording. 

Watch the quick video below for a visual explanation:

If you made it this far, you’re probably wondering if it’s the right fit for you. Since you did make it this far, you might also have a feeling that it seems like a pretty good fit! Take a look at the last section below to see one final recap!


Is It The Right Fit For You?

This tiny device would be perfect for you if you’re looking for a great entry-level portable headphone amp. If you want to add more ‘oomph’ to your music (or hear what it would sound like on steroids), this is a great place to start!

It’s also an ideal travel companion, as long as you’re fine with the 16 hour battery life. Although there is the slight possibility that it may not fit perfectly with your smartphone, it works just fine without the elastic bands. 

Compared to the competition, this device will give you the extra boost you need (at a value that balances quality and a premium performance). It usually retails for well-under $100, and is an extremely popular choice as an entry-level device. 

If you’re still on the fence and aren’t quite sure whether or not this is your best option – we suggest you take a look at the review table below. There, you can see the main pros/cons as well as how we calculated our final rating out of 10.

Now that you’ve read our entire FiiO A3 review, what do you think? Does it deserve all of the positive feedback its gotten? Are there any features you wish it had?

Let us know what you think by leaving a question or comment below! We always do our best to respond as quickly as we can! Thanks for stopping by to take a look at our review, we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.

FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier (Black)

8.9

Build Quality

9.0/10

External Controls

8.5/10

Battery Life & Charging Time

8.5/10

Headphone Improvement

9.0/10

For Everyday Use

9.5/10

Pros

  • Extremely Easy To Use (Especially As An Entry-Level Amp)
  • Perfect For Portable Or At-Home Use
  • Easily Drives Lower Impedance Headphones
  • Volume Dial Is Very Sturdy & Tactile
  • Compact & Fairly Versatile Design

Cons

  • Cannot Be Used While Charging
  • Elastic Bands Aren't Ideal For Players With A Touch Screens
  • LED Indicator Doesn't Change Color On Low Battery

14 thoughts on “Headphone Amplifier – FiiO A3 Review

  1. Hey Dom, I have quite a good experience in the past with FiiO products. I would have no problem recommending them to friends.

    What are your headphones? Do they NEED an amplifier, or would the built-in player amp be enough?

    I personally never listen to music with a portable device, so I only use amp+headphone combination at home. With a quality duo, the quality is outstanding! Next thing I need to find is a DAC. Have you tried any yet?

    1. Hey Misan, 

      I usually use a pair of V-Moda Crossfade LP2’s for everyday listening. They don’t NEED an amplifier as they sound good by themselves, but I like to use the amp especially when I find a new album I want to listen to and get the most out of. 

      What headphones do you use for everyday listening?

      At home with my desktop I use a Presonus Audiobox USB. I love it bc I can use it not only for listening but also recording music. 

      Hope that helps, thanks for tuning in. 🙂

      Thanks,

      Dom

  2. Hi Dom,

    I have a FiiO mp3 player. The sound quality is noticeably better than my iPhone and I like it for its “ever-lasting” battery life. I go on a full charge for days. I wonder how they did it. Anyway, I am just wondering if I already own a FiiO player, do you think this will improve the overall listening experience by a lot more?

    From your review, I like its simplicity of use and the Live Music part really appeals to me. I am keen to try it. However, to band the player and the amp together is not aesthetically pleasing. 🙂 Well, it is what it is – to provide great music anywhere you go.

    1. Hey Jude, 

      It’s funny you mention your FiiO mp3 player, I’ve actually been thinking about trying one out recently. 

      Pairing the two devices together, especially being the same brand, will most definitely increase the quality of sound. I’ve read multiple reviews elsewhere about using the two together which is partially why I’m thinking about making the switch from an iPod Classic

      I hear you on the bands not being aesthetically pleasing but it’s a sacrifice well worth it for the sonic enhancement in my opinion. 

      Thanks for tuning in,

      Dom

    1. The Fiio i1 will give you more boost than your iPhone will have without it but if you want even more boost – I’d recommend going with the FiiO A3. It will definitely make your music sound a lot fuller, clearer, and better overall.

      The i1 should perform pretty well (especially considering it’s compact size), not to mention it’ll be easier to carry around with your phone. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use the i1 + the A3 at the same time just because that’s not the recommended use.

      Since you already have the i1, why not try the A3 and compare the two side-by-side? We know the A3 works extremely well, but how does it compare to the i1?

      Unless you’re already using the FiiO i1 and you’re satisfied with it’s performance, I’d recommend listening with the FiiO A3.

      I hope that answers your question, thanks for stopping by Imme!

  3. Hi Dom,

    I just recently bought Audeze Sine. I will be using it mostly with my iPhone X. I am considering buying dac/amp to get as much as I can from my headphones. Would you recommend this Fiio A3 in combination with iPhone and Audeze Sine? If not, is there any other dac/amp up to 100-120$ you would recommend?

    Thanks,
    Davor

    1. Hey Davor, great choice of headphone by the way – I can only imagine how great they sound!

      Assuming you already have a headphone jack adapter for your iPhone X, I would recommend a DAC/Amp that has a higher output impedance than the FiiO A3.

      Although you might be able to squeeze by using the A3, it works best for closed back headphones that are easier to drive. For your Audeze Sine there are a couple other options that would probably be a better fit.

      In that price range, I would recommend either the FiiO E10K or the FiiO A5. Both come highly rated and both work great for use with a smartphone.

      The E10K can also be used with your laptop or PC and the A5 is quickly becoming a favorite among both casual listeners and audiophiles. The A5 is a bit more expensive but it’s overall performance will be worth it after all is said and done.

      I hope that helps answer your question, have fun listening with your new setup!

      1. Hi Dom,
        Audeze Sine is a closed back headphone, maybe you were referring to Sine DX model? However, I am considering also Fiio Q1ii. How would you rate it compared with E10K and A5?

        1. Sorry about that Davor, you’re right – I was referring to the Sine DX, that’s my fault.

          The FiiO Q1 Mark II is also a great DAC amp, with the main difference being it’s native DSD chip. It can support more file types and if you have a big library of hi-res files (or plan on building one), it would definitely come in handy.

          It also has an official Apple MFi certification which would make it a perfect match for use with your iPhone X. All 3 of these amps would be a great choice, but once again, the Q1 Mark II would be your best option if you mainly listen to larger, hi-res audio files.

          If I were to recommend your top 2 choices (out of these 3) – I would suggest trying the Q1 Mark II or the FiiO E10K. Both have DAC capabilities and have gotten great reviews. The E10K has been around for quite a bit longer, so it is more highly-rated on Amazon as of now.

          The main deciding factor would be the difference in price, which is about $20 (at the time of writing this response).

          Let me know if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help!

  4. Hey! I’m a very proud owner of a pair of AKG K270 (yes, that old parabolic headphones from the 80’s) and I was wondering if this A3 would give them that sound gain they need. My common use is for audio monitoring in my home studio.

    1. Well, it looks like the AKG K270 have an impedance of 72 Ohms.

      If you just want to give your cans an extra boost, the A3 would work just fine! Your headphones fall well within its recommended headphone impedance.

      If you record music and want an amp that’s better suited for your home studio (not portable use), I’d recommend the Audioengine D1.

      Although the A3 is great for both at-home and portable use – the D1 is quite a bit more powerful. It’s also designed for desktop use, and would be more appropriate for a home studio setup, in my opinion.

      Great question, let me know if you need anymore help!

  5. Hi Dom,

    Great article. I’m only started to pay attention to what I hear last year and only recently stumbled upon the potential need for adding an amp to my Fiio X5 3rd gen + Shozy Hibiki setup. I know it’s not much but I’m pretty satisfied with my current setup. Since I mostly use IEM (I have ATH M50x at home that I rarely use), do you think I should get an amp at this point, or wait until I get a more power-hungry IEM? FYI Shozy Hibiki’s impedance is 18 ohm so it falls well within the recommended impedance.

    Many thanks!

    1. Thanks Daniel, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      We all have to start somewhere, there’s never a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to improve your current setup. 🙂 (By the way, the FiiO X5 3rd Gen is a great DAP, nice choice!)

      Most IEMs (and headphones) almost always benefit from an extra boost. In my opinion, it never hurts to try it out and see what you think! (Especially since Amazon’s return policy is pretty generous.)

      The A3 will significantly improve the sound quality of your Shozy Hibiki, and when you decide to upgrade your IEMs in the future, they’ll get the same benefit (as long as they’re also within the recommended impedance).

      As you said, you’re pretty satisfied with your current setup already, but once you catch the bug – it’s hard to turn back!

      Hopefully that answers your question, if not, let me know. 🙂

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