Like it or not, Bluetooth is here to stay and fast becoming the primary method of audio delivery for mobile devices. Soon after the headphone apocalypse, a few companies offered solutions for those of us not quite ready to give up our wired cans. About a year ago, Fiio impressed us with its excellent BTR1 Bluetooth audio receiver, though many lamented its somewhat limited codec support. A few months ago, Fiio expanded its lineup with μBTR, a very affordable, but also very low-power device aimed at users of sensitive IEMs. This week, we’re looking at the newest entry into Fiio’s Bluetooth lineup, the BTR3. It’s a bit more expensive and, sure, it offers some more features and a bit more power, but we think it’s more significant to this hobby than its specs.
Right out of the box, one thing seems clear: Fiio is abandoning the BTR1’s design language in favor of the clean looks of the μBTR. The BTR3 is, like the μBTR, a small rectangle with rounded edges. Its materials and build quality, however, are fully upgraded, with a full metal housing and rear clip and glass front — a welcome improvement on the μBTR’s easily-scratched acrylic. It’s heavier and larger than the μBTR, but at 26 grams and 58mm x 25mm x 10.4mm, the BTR3’s weight and size are still negligible. All controls are on the side — clicky buttons for power/pairing/mode and play/pause and a rocker switch for controlling volume/track control. Like its predecessors, a microphone is also included for wireless calling. Inside the BTR3 is a 300 mAh battery that charges in about 90 minutes and lasted about 10 hours in our testing. Two Bluetooth devices can be paired a time; double-clicking the power button toggles between them. Unlike the μBTR, the BTR3’s headphone jack and USB-C port are both on the bottom of the device. This can be a bit problematic in practice, since it can be impossible to use both with anything other than the included USB-C cable and a low-profile headphone plug.
What really sets the BTR3 apart is its broad codec support and unique feature set. Fiio seems to have taken prior community requests and complaints to heart — the BTR3 supports virtually every Bluetooth audio codec on the planet, displaying the current decoding format using the RGB-backlit logo located on the front of the device: blue for SBC, cyan for AAC, purple for aptX/aptX Low Latency, yellow for aptX HD, white for LDAC, and green for LHDC. Red indicates charging and white…indicates something special. Unlike the BTR1 and μBTR, the BTR3 supports USB DAC mode by triple-clicking the power button with a USB cable connected. This feature worked flawlessly without drivers on our PC and Mac, though decoding was limited to a passable 16 bit/48 kHZ resolution. We’re especially excited for this feature because the BTR3 is one of the few USB audio devices that works with the Nintendo Switch. The BTR3 worked nicely with our iPhone in Bluetooth mode; Fiio now proudly maintains its volume controls (30 steps) independent from that of the phone, a welcome change after the BTR1 was limited by iOS’s 16-step range. Full specs are available on Fiio’s website, but we will mention that the BTR3’s output impedance is low at less than 0.3 ohms, with THD+N at .003% and singal-to-noise at 120 dB — all impressive enough for a device at this price. Fiio’s frequency response graphs indicate a generally flat response with rolloff above 14 kHZ on aptXHD, and low-end rolloff when using LDAC (no graphs were provided for the more commonly-used SBC, AAC, and aptX codecs). These were borne out in our testing, where the BTR3 sounded transparent to our ears. The BTR3’s power output is claimed to be 25 mW 32 ohms, 33 mW into 16 ohms; significantly higher than the μBTR and, in our testing, enough to drive IEMs easily and some of our fullsize headphones adequately.
There is room for improvement in the BTR3: its flashing logo is a little annoying, its placement of power and USB ports is not ideal, its USB file resolution support is dated, and its lack of Line Out in USB mode feels like an oversight. However, with the BTR3, we think Fiio has done more than add a little power to its Bluetooth receiver offering. The BTR3, with its extremely broad Bluetooth codec support and USB DAC functionality, is an unexpectedly compelling argument in favor of the dongle life. Bluetooth headphones may be self-contained solutions, but they effectively lock the user into one sound signature, limited format support and, often, wireless-only listening. The BTR3, however, provides flexibility in all those areas for $70. It’s almost the best of all worlds.
Company and Price