Monday, June 8, 2020

FiiO M3 Pro VS. Cowon iAudio DAP: Superior Functionality Pitted Against Superior Sonics, Who Will Triumph?

By Clay Valarezo

Chief DAP-a-holic Officer (CDO)




Where do I begin with this post? I have written maybe a dozen DAP reviews on Amazon, where I get on my soap box about how sound is NOT the feature that users should be prioritizing when purchasing a DAP. So, I feel a bit weird for posting about sound quality in the following few words.


There is just something about Cowon devices that sound good to my ears. The Plenue D, Plenue R, and the Plenue J (my favorite sounding device PERIOD) all sound so good to me, and I don’t know why. So, I figured that I would give the Cowon iAudio 32 GB a shot. I mean why not?


From a sound perspective, like all of its Cowon relatives, the Cowon iAudio sounds great to my ears. I know, shocking! I can’t say this is because they all utilize the same electronics, as the guts of all the devices that I have listed, rely on different DAC/AMP chips. So, maybe it is just the way the device is designed by Cowon engineers? I will never know, I fear.


The FiiO M3 Pro, on the other hand, at least to my ears has a harsher sound. In that case, why do I keep writing about it? I feel that this device offers the best in class features for the price, and its EQ CAN be adjusted… just not the extent of the Cowon iAudio.



The Why?


Why did I buy the Cowon iAudio in the first place? Despite my curiosity for how it sounded, the iAudio is the only device in its price range that offers internal storage. For a high-resolution audio device that is priced in the budget level, this is impressive. Internal storage is one of the features that companies like FiiO, Shanling, Cayin, and Hiby avoid addressing as a means of cutting costs of their players.


The version that I purchased was the Cowon iAudio 32 GB, but they no longer offer it on Amazon, so I will link to the 128 GB version for your viewing pleasure.


The Reason for this Post


I want to give readers a sense of where to spend the next $100 of their gas money, so that they can continue to perpetuate their DAP-a-holic urges. There are two camps that these devices represent. The camp that prioritizes functionality (M3 Pro), and the camp that is always searching for premium sound “on-a-budget (Cowon iAudio).” Let’s look at these two camps separately, and then I will let you decide where to spend your finances, funding your unhealthy addiction to the sound hobby.


The Functionality Camp: FiiO M3 Pro is the Clear Winner

FiiO M3 Pro
FiiO M3 Pro


I won’t give you an overblown list on all the functional benefits of the M3 Pro; I will focus on the features that matter the most to me.


First, the M3 Pro has a superior user experience; it has a touch screen, audio recorder, e-book reader, and calculator (I know, that darn calculator again). The iAudio has a touch-capacitive scroller, but it is awkward to use.


Second, there is VERY LITTLE lag compared to notorious lag monsters, like say, the Cowon Plenue D and J. The iAudio is not a lag sloth by any means—it is quite snappy—but its interface looks dated, and not modern at all.


Third, and even with all of these features, FiiO has found a way to offer a device that operates through long periods of usage. Typically, I get 13 hours of battery life on this lil’ guy (not lil’ gal, that would sound weird). I get roughly 8 hours of battery life on the iAudio.


The Sound Camp: The Cowon iAudio is the Clear Winner

Cowon iAudio
Cowon iAudio


I will reiterate. I don’t like expressing my opinion of sound quality as I feel that everyone listens to audio differently. In other words, just because I argue that the Cowon iAudio sounds amazing, DOES NOT mean that you will feel (or should feel) the same way. So please don’t take my opinion on this subject too heavily. With that said…


The Cowon iAudio has the enormous benefit of a well-structure and abundantly rich equalizer. The EQ is called JetEffects 5 and BBE, and HOLY SH$T, the settings sound great, and are incredibly useful. There is so much “punch” in the rock setting that I always forget that I am listening to a $100 device. Wow!


My only criticism of the M3 Pro is its harsh sound quality. I can’t imagine the benefits it would have it had JetEffects installed as its EQ software. Yes, the M3 Pro has an EQ, but the settings are unusable. They are not special in any way.




If you had to choose where to spend your next $100, you first need to decide what camp you reside; are you a function kind-of guy or gal, or do you prefer solely sound quality?


Right now, my preference leans towards the M3 Pro, but that is only because I am partial towards functionality/battery life. I imagine that most of you are sound campers, as the pivotal idea behind high-resolution DAPs is sound-oriented.


Just to be clear, I own both devices, and I use them in the same context: to exercise or fart around the house. As you might expect, the flavor of the week for me has been the M3 Pro… I love this thing! But the sound of the iAudio though…


Do you need either device if you already own multiple devices or have a flagship DAP? No, you don’t. But, hey. We are all hopelessly addicted to this hobby, so is another DAP going to hurt us? I think not!


At this point, I still don’t have a call-to-action. Shoot an email if you are interested in sharing ideas about this obsession of high-resolution music listening. I am totally pumped about this subject, and I bet y’all are also. Until next time, stay listening!

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