by Shanth Swaroop March 19, 2020
Alright, folks! Gather around and step right up for a face-off that has been long-awaited and eagerly requested time and again.
Impressive contenders in the relatively new category of DAC/Amps, these Bluetooth amplifiers have been revving up rave reviews from users and reviewers alike.
We’ve often been asked to do a comparison. We’ve shied away from it till now as we thought it’s best to let the products do the talking, or playing, for themselves.
However, who can resist a good, ol’ school slugfest, eh? So here we are, pitting two impressive entry-level Bluetooth DAC/Amps to a straight-up, face-to-face, fight-till-the-death match.
Let’s begin by quoting Russel Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius in the movie Gladiator - Are you not Entertained?
Tech-heavy, power-laden competition-destroyer
Bluetooth amplifier Champion from the house of FiiO
In one corner, we have Shanling’s champion - the tenacious UP2.
In the other corner, we have the BTR3 from the house of the well-known brand that has been making steady in-roads as a serious audiophile brand - FiiO.
Though opponents, the UP2 and BTR3 are still the pioneers of a new genre of headphone DAC/Amps and pretty evenly matched on many accounts. Being trailblazers needs getting a few basics right and then some. Let’s see what makes them unique by being similar, in terms of features.
Connectivity Kings - Being the latest entrants for Bluetooth DAC/Amps, compatibility with the latest codecs and Bluetooth version is a bare minimum requirement. AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC, LHDC and HWA including Hi-Res audio - the duo ticks all the right boxes for uncompromised music listening.
Light ‘em up - With an LED indicator that lights up to show the codec in use, the twins assure you of the quality of music being streamed. Indicative bells and whistles like these are definitely appreciated by users
The Qualcomm quotient - Both feature upgraded Bluetooth chipsets - the Qualcomm CSR8675. A premium, low-power consuming option, it supports 24-bit transmission and processing, all thanks to its 120MHz DSP. High resistance to interferences, minimum latency and most importantly a stable connection over longer distances make this chipset an ideal solution for the task.
Sound Card Support - Besides providing amplification, these Bluetooth amplifiers can be connected to a PC via a USB-C cable. Thus, they act as a USB DAC/Amp that can be used as an external soundcard. Simple Plug and play with no extra drivers needed. Multitalented multitasking indeed.
SNR and output impedances - The Shanling UP2’s 120dB SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) is similar to FiiO BTR3’s 116dB. That’s barely a difference. Ditto on the output impedance, from 0.2 ohms to 0.3 ohms for the UP2 and BTR3 respectively. These numbers are hardly a cause for concern as they’re designed keeping the standard output rating of most IEMs.
DAC’s the way - The high-performing independent AK4376A DAC on the BTR3 possesses admirably low -107dB distortion and an impressively high 124dB SNR. Meaning - every nuance and detail of your favourite track is easily noticed during listening sessions. The UP2’s ESS ES9218P SABRE DAC puts the DAC/Amp on par with the popular Shanling M0 portable DAP. Power-efficient, it offers a high resolution with a clear and powerful output with low output impedance.
Conversation friendly - With the new 8.0 generation od cVc noise cancellation technology onboard both the models, clarity in conversations is a given in even the noisiest of environments.
Weight watchers - The Shanling UP2 weighs 26g, same as the FiiO BTR3. Possessing an unremovable clip, the BTR3 is slightly bigger than the UP2.
Round 1: Power Play
The Shanling UP2 punches harder by providing 67mW output power as compared to the FiiO BTR3’s 25mW at an equal load of 32 ohms. That’s a difference of almost 3 times or 2.68 times if you’re being particular! This power is delivered at a distortion of 0.05% (WHA) by the UP2 as compared to the power provided at the same level of distortion from the BTR3. That’s pretty heavy and refined power hitting by the UP2, in comparison. This means that you can power headphones better with the UP2.
Round 2: Bluetooth bang for the buck
The FiiO BTR3 has the Bluetooth 4.3 version while the Shanlin UP2 is more in tune with the times with the 5.0 version. This results in the UP2 providing a more stable connection at twice the speed over a longer range.
Round 3: Endurance
The Shanling UP2 provides a longer battery life with its 400mAh battery. The FiiO BTR3 falls short by a 100mAh with a 300mAh battery capacity. The UP2 is definitely ready to go the distance.
Round 4: Crystal Clear Conversation
Featuring a Knowles SiSonic microphone, the UP2 offers clearer and cleaner conversations as compared to the FiiO BTR3.
Round 5: Control and Navigation
Shanling UP2’s Wheel of Universalcontrol: Making even the tiniest of volume changes possible with amazing precision, the UP2’s multifunctional wheel is boon when dealing with sensitive earphones, in particular. Split into 64 steps, the user can exercise greater volume control with precision. Volume can be controlled by both, the Shanling UP2 and the connected smartphone. The wheel controls everything from pairing, track skipping, play/ pause and even call handling - this is achieved by clicking the wheel a set number of times. Each number of clicks activates a unique function. Exquisite functionality with admirable simplicity.
FiiO BTR3’s multiple functionalities: Long pressing on the volume buttons initiates track forward and backward processes. Oddly, the minus icon is for forwards and the plus icon takes you back to the previous track. Pairing mode, call management for smartphones and activating Siri (for iOS devices) is handled by the small button in the middle, between the volume rocker and power button. One drawback or positive aspect, depends on how you approach it, is that the BTR3 is officially qualified for iOS devices. Android functionality, though workable, is not guaranteed. This is a bit of a grey area or sour patch as Android devices far outnumber iOS ones.
Round 6: Inputs and Outputs
Both the contenders feature USB-C charging ports and can be connected to a computer for a USB-DAC output from a computer. The FiiO BTR3 has the 3.5mm AUX port and the USB-C port on the underside of the device. This can prove to be an issue as the cable will tend to bend from the connector end as it turns upwards towards the headphone drivers. This can cause cracks in the cable over time. This is especially the case if you use the BTR3’s clip to clip the unit to your neck collar. The Shanling UP2 has the USB-C port and the AUX port on either side with the latter sitting on top, thus avoiding the issue mentioned above. Again, this can go either ways, depending on the usage.
Round 7: Clipped
The FiiO BTR3 has a clip as a part of its main body. Its clip has a spring system and a lanyard system and it comes with a black nylon strap that allows you to hang the BTR3 around your neck if you wish to. The Shanling had a detachable clip case that attaches to the body in a flush manner. This detachable factor allows more options of use for the UP2. One more advantage is that during use, should the clip of the BTR3 spoil, you’ll have no option but to use continue using the device. This is subject to FiiO’s replacement policy. If you are eligible for a new unit then well and good. If not, tough luck, mate. You’ve been clipped.
Round 8: NFC
The BTR3 has NFC support whereas the Shanling UP2 does not.
Round 9: The final - look and feel
The BTR3 has a glass that resists fingerprints. FiiO terms this glass display as oleophobic (oil repelling). As such there’s no particular data available about the UP2. Both products feel slick, and have a great form factor. The UP2 has a slicker feel due to fewer buttons and simplified functionality.
The Shanling UP2 and FiiO BTR3 went at each other and slugged it out with no holds barred. But as you can see from the results collected from the various bouts above, the Shanling UP2 is clearly The Winner! Power output, Bluetooth version, battery life, click wheel functionality and more - the UP2 punches harder, longer and better than the equally-priced FiiO BTR3. Offering more bang for the buck, the Shanling UP2 is the champion of the budget Bluetooth amplifiers.
We hope you enjoyed this thrilling battle of the Bluetooth DAC / amplifiers!
As always, Happy Listening!