Blafili B3 - An impressive device from an ambitious new audio startup
Blafili have an appealing new product with their initial ‘audiophile’ offering the B3. Specifically it is a 2 in 1
Bluetooth and USB DAC but what I found interesting (and the main reason for this review) is the appeal of the XLR
outputs at the price point of $109.
Beyond the XLR outputs, I was also impressed with it’s bluetooth implementation, so read on to find out if it’s a device you should add to your audio stack.
Packaging and Unboxing:
The BlaFili B3 arrives in a well-designed package that ensures the device’s safety during transit. My box seemed to have a hard time but everything was secure inside the box:
The unboxing experience is straightforward yet satisfying, revealing the device nestled securely amidst protective materials and a very generous set of connectors cables. While a pair of XLR cables are extra (but you can order them from blafili websitex). Finally, also included was a bluetooth aerial and some little ‘feet’ to stick on the bottom of the Box.
Here is a little video showing the build quality you can expect from the B3:
Overall, I was impressed with the B3 box, though the front screen is a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The build is solid with a clean finish and I like the design ’language’ compared to the similar devices from likes of SMSL or Topping.
When switched on the B3’s OLED screen is nice and bright, though in direct light it can be a bit hard to read.
Internally the B3 has an impressively clean design:
BlaFili obviously favour a minimalist design so on the front you get an OLED display and a single button to toggle some options, realying instead of sensible defaults e.g. bluetooth streaming takes priority over USB and all outputs are enabeld by default.
Once you start playing audio the OLED display information changes to show you the codec and format of the audio
playing. While its great that it shows the codec (as this is often a mystery with bluetooth devices) it would be
even better if it showed the bitrate selected on the OLED screen.
Here is what you can expect from the OLED screen: When LDAC is playing: Here is when the B3 is behaving as an USB DAC:
It correctly shows a 48khz FLAC file playing via USB:
And finally when I use my iPhone (or Mac) It correctly shows AAC as the codec:
The little animation in the bottom right is a nice touch, though it is a pity it is not a proper spectrum analyser.
At the back, the B3 has its various ports and connections are well-placed, clearly marked and constructed with quality materials, ensuring durability and reliable connectivity.
The USB connection doubles as the power source and a simple 5v power supply can power it. So, if you are not interested in also using the B3 as a USB DAC a typical USB phone charger is perfect to power on the B3.
The B3 has 2 inputs (Bluetooth and USB) on the righthand side and all the other connections on the back are outputs (all of which are active by default).
Let’s get into the details:
The B3 supports a wide range of Bluetooth audio codecs including LDAC, aptX HD, aptX LL, aptX, SBC, and AAC. This wide codec support ensures compatibility with various devices and optimizes wireless audio performance.
I specifically found both AAC from my iPhone (and Macbook) and LDAC from my Xaoimi Android Phone sounded excellent, in my opinion the bluetooth options is the key strength of the B3.
Note: there are some extra tricks to the bluetooth interface that Blafili offer. Check out this youtube video for details - effectively Blafili have exposed the configurability of the Qualcomm tools availalbe for their device, giving lots of technical options, like change the bluetooth device name or pin but other configuration options:
Side Note: Experimenting with Bluetooth Codecs
Given the wealth of codecs offered by the B3 I thought I would experiment a little with different codecs and for those curious I thought I would share some screenhots of what is available.
With Android by default you should get the best codec which in a modern Android DAP or Phone should be LDAC but it can still be interesting to experiment with different codecs.
So if you are interested you need to enable “Developer options” on Android - check with your model of Android device but typically this is clicking 3 times on the “Build version” in the “About Android” screen. Once the Developer options are enabled, there are various Bluetooth options available:
Each of these menu options has various options available e.g. the selection of codec on my Xaomi phone:
Finally it can be worth setting bluetooth to use the maximum availalbe settings over bluetooth with this menu option:
The USB input allows for direct digital connection from computers or other USB audio sources, providing an alternative to Bluetooth streaming.
So with USB the options a little bit limited with a max of 16/48- so you effectively get CD quality from the USB ‘DAC’ input but no ‘highres’ format like 96Khz. Given that the internal ES9018K2M DAC can handle up to 384kHz PCM data you only really get to utilise its full power via the LDAC Bluetooth input.
But for me CD quality is perfectly fine over USB but I am just mentioning it here for completeness.
So on MacOS this is what you see for the audio interface of the B3:
The inclusion of balanced outputs is in my opinion the key feature that sets the B3 apart from similiar bluetooth DACs in this price range, offering enhanced audio quality with less potential cable interference for users with compatible equipment.
The RCA outputs provide versatility in connectivity, ensuring the B3 can integrate seamlessly into a wide range of audio setups. I tested feeding the RCA outputs into my FiiO K7 headphone Amplifier and it worked perfectly.
Optical and COAX
I personally would rather have had Optical and COAX inputs into the onboard DAC, but I imagine it is much more flexible
that the B3 has optical and COAX outputs feeding the high quality LDAC bluetooth audio stream’s digitially into an external DAC.
I briefly tested the optical outputs into both a SMSL DAC with my Schiit Midgard and a FiiO K7 headphone amplifier I found it audible indistinguishable from going directly from the B3 via XLR into the Schiit or the FiiO, So the internal ES9018K2M DAC is well implemented. But if you already have a high quality DAC the B3 can be a great way to enhanced your stack with high quality bluetooth input.
The BlaFili B3 delivers a sound quality that is impressive for its price class. The sound is clean, detailed, and well-balanced across different genres of music. I found both the USB and the bluetooth inputs equally good though I was mainly using the bluetooth inputs due to the B3 impressive bluetooth support.
I also spent a few evenings A/B testing the sound quality comparing the output from the B3 with a SMSL SU-1 DAC using a Schiit Midgard switching between the Balanced and RCA inputs and once level matched I could not tell the difference between the inputs, the Midgard is an excellent device for this as it as the same volume from its XLR and RCA inputs.
I also use the B3 to feed my Fosi Audio ZA3 XLR inputs and again the sound impressed and for those who worry about bluetooth ‘interference’ I heard no annoying bluetooth artifacts from my speakers, overall for a small desktop setup the B3 paired with the ZA3 and some small bookshelf speakers would make a nice simple but good quality setup.
This is one of the first devices where I am happy to use bluetooth without feeling like I am compromising too much on sound quality due to the inclusion of the high-quality codecs like LDAC, AAC and aptX HD.
I have rated the Blafili B3 with a pragmatic rating of 4 as it’s rare to get XLR outputs paired with high quality bluetooth codecs from a DAC at this price point, though it’s a pity the USB DAC doesn’t fully utilise the ES9018K2M DAC.
Note: I would like to thank BlaFili for providing the B3 for this review. If you are interested in buying the B3 - the following is a non-affiliated link to this product: https://blafili.com/products/blafili-b3
The BlaFili B3 stands as a strong contender in its price category, offering a combination of solid build quality, versatile features with an excellent bluetooth, and an overall impressive audio performance. The inclusion of the XLR outputs to be set this device apart and is a sign of the ambition of Blafili to aim at the mid-fi audiophile market typically dominated by Topping and SMSL with a very pragmatically priced product.