FiiO S3 Portable Speaker/MP3 Player Review

fiios3 a FiiO S3 Portable Speaker/MP3 Player Review

Along with the FiiO PS1110 portable speaker I reviewed last week I also got a FiiO S3 portable speaker. While the PS1110 is exclusively a portable speaker, the S3 steps up the game and adds an integrated MP3 player that plays off SD(HC) cards.

  • FiiO S3 Specs
  • Dimensions: 156 x 65 x 26 mm
  • Weight: 155 grams
  • Colors: White, black
  • Output: 1.2W+1.2W
  • Memory: SD, SDHC
  • Battery life: 8 hours (read below for more info)
  • Supported formats: WMA (non-DRM), MP3
  • Data connection: MSC (Linux/Windows/Mac compatible)
  • Power source: 2x AA batteries, USB
  • Price: $27
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In the box

With the device you get a lanyard with a handy plastic clip-on stand, a USB cable and a 3.5mm interconnect cable for connecting to audio sources. If you’re going to use the MP3 part you will also need a SD card. I’ve only used 1GB cards on it, but it does support SDHC as well (manual says up to 16GB, but I see no reason why 32GB shouldn’t work). The lack of a shuffle feature or a screen however means you probably won’t find anything above 2GB very usable.

Design

Like the PS1110 the S3 is very well built, indescribably better than most Chinese products and even better than a lot of known brands who’ve become a little too cost effective when it comes to plastic quality. From the buttons to the input connectors to the case itself, nothing gives off a feeling of anything but complete build quality perfection, which is a rare thing. People I’ve shown it to have refused to believe the $27 price tag and the country of origin as it does indeed look like a $100-$150 device.

The device is shaped like a rectangle with rounded corners with the two speakers on the front along with two LEDs indicating power and whether the SD card is in use. The bottom has two rubber feet to help steady it, but frankly it doesn’t stand up very well on it’s own without the little stand that comes with it. The hole for this stand is located on the back along with the SD slot (though that’s technically on the top) and battery cover for the two AA batteries. The right side of the device has the auxiliary input jack (audio in), headphone port and USB connector as well as the lanyard hole. The left side has an opening the manual refers to as “sound phase inverter hole” which is essentially the closest thing you’ll come to a subwoofer on this thing. The playback controls are located on the top, and consists of a play/pause button, ffwd/rew and volume up/down.

In use

The S3 will function as a card reader if connected to a computer and can also get power from the USB port. It plays back MP3 and WMA put on the card and you obviously don’t need any special software. To activate auxiliary mode you simply plug in the cable and it will switch off the MP3 player mode, and if you plug in headphones it will turn off the internal speakers. It’s worth noting that if you plug in headphones and then remove them, it will automatically revert to internal speakers, so if you play on using this in public with headphones it’s a good idea to NOT trip the cable and yank it out, or you might draw a lot of attention. Another important thing to point out is that as mentioned earlier it doesn’t have a shuffle mode, but if you turn it off and on again it will start with the last played song and not from the beginning of the card, which means it is possible to use it with larger memory cards (“larger” as in 1-2GB) for short periods at a time without it playing the same songs over and over each time it’s been turned off.

The S3 will run off USB power but I’m guessing most people will use the battery option. At maximum volume, two AA’s will give you somewhere in the vicinity of 6-8 hours of play time, which is rather good for such a device – especially at max volume. Considering both volume and capacity of the battery (which varies from brand to brand) affects the outcome so much with such a device, your mileage will definitely vary. Rechargeable batteries might not be a bad idea if you plan on using this thing a lot.

The basic concept of this player; cheap, no screen, simple controls, speakers, AA batteries is perfect for a player for the older generation that thinks technology is evil. A lot of people well into adulthood turn away from MP3 players due to price, lack of easy of use and the fact they have to use headphones, but this thing is perfect for skipping over all those problems and providing a simple solution that works. I’ve already gotten requests to help ordering players for people at work (age 50) which haven’t cared much for such electronics in the past, so it’s obvious that this is a form factor that works. The price doesn’t hurt either and I think the S3 is a very nice gift for parents and the like who might not be that much into technology but still likes music.

Sound quality

Speakers

While both the PS1110 and the S3 are rated at 1.2W per speaker, the S3 is noticeably louder. Naturally the larger speaker elements also give a better sound quality with more bass and better clarity even at maximum volume. Unless you have the musical equivalent of someone running over a cat and recording it, I doubt you’ll manage to get it crackling and struggling to keep up even at high volumes, but as with the PS1110 I don’t see why anyone would need to run it at max volume as it’s so loud that if you need that kind of volume a portable speaker shouldn’t be your first choice anyways. All in all it’s one of the best sounding portable speakers I’ve listened to, only beaten by my Logitech mm28 which frankly doesn’t say a lot since the mm28 uses a flat panel technology that normal portable speakers can’t really ever compete with.

Headphones

I seriously doubt anyone will ever use this player with headphones considering the nature of the device, so the sound quality of the headphone output doesn’t really matter at all and I won’t commit a lot of time to it. As such, I’m inclined to classify the sound quality of the headphone output as “ok”, defined as “it won’t impress you nor will it make you commit suicide”. If you ever do decide to plug anything into this thing, I take it you’ll be in such an MP3 player crisis that any sound will do.

Conclusion

The S3 is an amazing device considering the price and unfortunately a rather overlooked product. Players with speakers aren’t that common and the few that exist are expensive. The S3 provides a speaker/player combo that’s a really good option both if you’re only after the speaker or the whole package. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this impressed with a product, and while the price has a lot to do with it I think this shows that FiiO is here to stay and should not be underestimated.




10 Comments

Bascom on July 27, 2009 1:44 PM

Good review. The deal extreme link isn’t working.

Martin on July 28, 2009 2:57 AM

Nice…it like psp

Alex on July 28, 2009 4:57 AM

Can you use the player to recharge rechargeable batteries?

Alan on July 29, 2009 11:50 PM

I’d love to know how to get it’s brother, the FiiO S5, that has a screen to see what you are playing.http://www.fiio.com.cn/en/showproduct.asp?id=314

Avorist on July 30, 2009 6:13 AM

I was also very interested in the S5, it seems it offers a solution to the S3s biggest drawback (lack of screen making it impossible to use large SDHC-Cards). However, it seems the S5 doesnt have a SDHC-Card Slot, which seems a very strange omission to me.So now you have 2 Products – with one you cant use the card slot because it lacks the screen, and the other one with the screen doesnt have the slot. Am I the only one who doesnt understand the logic behind that?

Kasi Viswanath on July 31, 2009 8:14 AM

A remote and a SDHC slot added on the S5 would be my perfect choice.May be S7??

paul on August 8, 2009 3:37 AM

I like high tech as much as the next person, but I hate lithium ion batteries, especially proprietary ones. They only make sense in large devices (laptops) and tiny ones (ipod shuffle). For normal handheld devices including most cell phones, AA or AAA are much better in terms of standardization and interoperability. I always try to buy gadgets that use AA’s instead of lithium so I can use the same nimh batteries and chargers for everything. The S3′s use of AA’s makes it very attractive. It’s too bad about the screen.The S5 unfortunately says “900 mah rechargeable battery” in its specs, which sounds like it uses another of those damn lithium packs, and it would be a dinky one like a cell phone pack. The S3 by comparison uses two AA’s, say 2500 mah nimh, equivalent to a 1600 or so mah lithium pack (3.7v). AA’s take about the same amount of space per unit energy but are a few grams heavier, no big deal. AA’s are way preferable for a thing like this.So will they please make a unit with an SDHC slot, and a screen, and that uses AA’s or AAA’s?While they’re at it, a small headphone-only player with a screen, that uses one AA in the spirit of the old iRiver T10 would be fantastic. It could have a microsdhc slot, very small but available in 16gb today and 32gb pretty soon.

anup on August 13, 2009 3:17 AM

hey i bought this one via dealextreme. they delivered it pretty fast to me in india. i have not yet heard any music on it yet, but the build quality is amazing. was always on the lookout for such a device using 2 AA batteries.

werich on August 18, 2009 10:38 AM

Ordered one from Hong Kong via ebay, and was at first a little bit disappointed from the missing bass frequencies. Guess I was a somewhat too enthusiastic from the good reviews and after listening to the outdatedPhilips SBC BA 290 during my holidays (with 3Watt per speaker vs. 1.3Watt of the S3).But compared to the 6 batteries/5 hours Phillips Speakers, the S3 seems to be the best compromise in sound quality and volume for a USB-powered device. Here I renounce the slightly better bass of the Phillips for the advantages of portability and real 8 hours music out of 2 batteries. Not to mention that the build in MP3 playing ability is a true killer feature for this low price.All in all I’m very satisfied with this very portable speaker system and the sound quality is awesome considering the limitations in power and size.

beatmaster2k on August 20, 2009 9:26 AM

Thank you very much for recommending this and reviewing it here. I ordered it a few weeks ago and it’s simply put the thing I was looking for for years.

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