Compact yet solid design, Solid USB connector, In-built volume control, CTIA remote and mic support, Neutral tone, Well-detailed, Low OI
Faint hiss with very sensitive IEMs, Driving power just adequate for headphones
With streamlined usability, a lightweight aluminium build and clean audio section, the FC3 is hard to fault for portable use and offers a well-rounded package for a reasonable asking price.
Hiby has made a significant impact in the audio world despite only recently beginning to master their approach to hardware design. Instead, the company are force when it comes to software, with their apps and standards being adopted across a huge range of source devices in addition to their own. Though their recent DAP releases have come to occupy the spotlight, the company has been tackling smartphone audio to some capacity as well, with their hyper-portable source devices. The FC3 is the latest in the range, a dongle-style DAC/AMP with ESS Sabre chipset offering MQA and DSD support alongside Hiby Music integration. It targets portability, power efficiency and clean audio at a conservative price point.
The FC3 retails for $69 USD, you can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit on HiFiGO.
I would like to thank Hiby and Nappoler from HiFiGO very much for providing me with the FC3 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAC/AMP free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Dimensions: 45 x 13 x 9mm
- Weight: 9.1g
- DAC Chip: ES9281PRO
- DSD Support: Up to DSD128 (DoP)
- USB Port: Type – C
- Headphone Port: 3.5mm with CTIA headset support
Behind the Design –
This is the current flagship of ESS’ USB-C low-power audiophile codecs featuring Quad-DAC technology. As with all of their low-power chipsets, this is an all-in-one SOC featuring an integrated USB-controller and headphone amp in addition to a 8-channel DAC (4 per channel in stereo, hence, Quad DAC). Much like pixel binning, the additional channels permit summing of 4 into 2 yielding an improved SNR. ESS promise file support up to 32-bit, 384kHz PCM in addition to MQA decoding. ESS’ reference design promises 124dB DNR and -112dB THD + N. Though the highly-integrated nature of this package means there is usually minimal variance between different models with the same chip, it also ensures a quality experience across the board.
The unboxing experience is fairly no-frills and in-line with what you would expect from a product of this price and nature. A frosted sleeze slides off to reveal the FC3 within a foam inlet. Just beneath are some addition accessories, a leatherette slide-on cover to protect from scratches and two USB cables, one Type-C to Type-C and one Type-A cable. The cables have good tolerances and form a tight USB connection which aids reliability. They are fairly long for interconnect cables though this does help with flexibility and places less strain on the USB-ports. Though the metal connectors impress on the OTG cable, the USB-A cable is plastic with generic insulation and strain relief is fairly rudimentary. Still, this is a good package for the money that gets the user started and the case is a nice addition for portable use.
Hiby have always had a knack for clean, industrial designs and the FC3 follows suit. Immediately, the compact dimensions and lightweight nature come to the fore, this device easily being one of the most compact DAC/AMPs on the market. Despite this, it feels substantial with a 2-piece aluminium build that inspires confidence with its solidity. Though the squared off edges and lower-grade finish fail to match the elegance of premium competitors like the A&K Dual DAC Cable or Earmen Sparrow, the metal Hiby faceplate and metal volume rocker uphold a pleasing in-hand feel.
In addition, the buttons are clicky with enough travel to provide clear feedback. An LED indicator with matte diffuser offers a soft, even glow, denoting the music format/sample rate. With no fixed cable, the FC3 offers a Type-C port on one end with a 3.5mm output on the other. Of note, the Type-C port is quite tight, which is a plus in my eyes, helping to retain a solid connection during portable use. The FC3 is a simple yet efficient device that offers a streamlined user experience in addition to a sturdy BOM that should withstand the rigors of daily use well.
The FC3 promises a plug and play experience and that is what the company has delivered. The device turns on when headphones are connected and a playback device are connected. I experienced no pops or crackles when power cycling and the FC3 worked immediately on my Windows 10 laptop and Android Smartphone without requiring additional drivers or applications. Once connected, the integrated controls worked reliably to change volume and skip track with a several second hold. Of note, the volume control on the FC3 works independently of the volume control on the source which gives great fine grain adjustment. However, for maximum sound quality, it is recommended to set the playback device to full volume and adjust the volume output using the FC3. As it has no internal battery, the FC3 draws power from the playback device. I found it to be quite efficient, only becoming lightly warm to the touch during use. I didn’t notice nearly as much power drain on my smartphone as with older DAC/AMPs, about on par with the A&K Dual DAC.
Do be warned that compatibility may be limited on older smartphones that may not support power output through their USB-port, however. The bottom-facing LED indicator illuminates to denote power and changes colour to showcase filetype. It flows red with no playback, blue for up to 48kHz, green up to 192kHz/DSD64, light green up to 384kHz/DSD128 and purple for MQA. It’s handy to ensure your source isn’t down sampling your high-quality files. I was able to play these files using Poweramp on my Xperia 5 II and Foobar on my PC. The 3.5mm plug also offers CTIA headset support, and I was able to use the mic and playback controls on a 4-pole earphone when using the FC3 with my Android smartphone.