FiiO BTA30 Pro high fidelity Bluetooth transceiver

Love it or hate it, Bluetooth is here to stay. We high fidelity fans sometimes like to dump on it for its perceived sound-quality weaknesses. Those are gradually being addressed with higher quality codecs. But even with those, there’s uncertainty. Which codec is my phone using? My headphones? My speaker system? Are they compatible?

Well, even if you hate Bluetooth, the FiiO BTA30 Pro high fidelity Bluetooth Transceiver is likely to have you hating Bluetooth less. As the name suggests, the BTA30 can use Bluetooth to send audio to Bluetooth headphones and loudspeakers, and it can also receive Bluetooth signals your phone, tablet and so on.

And, as we’ll see, it can even do both of those with high resolution audio.

FiiO BTA30 Pro high fidelity Bluetooth transceiver

In short

  • The FiiO BTA30 Pro is a multifunction Bluetooth device. It can transmit digital audio inputs via Bluetooth to other devices; it can receive Bluetooth signals and output them as analogue or digital audio; and it can act as a high-resolution DAC.
  • Supported Bluetooth codecs when transmitting: SBC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD and LDAC
  • Supported Bluetooth codecs when receiving: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
  • DAC chip: ES9038Q2M
  • DAC supports up to 32-bit, 384kHz and DSD256
  • Inputs: Bluetooth, USB Type-C, optical digital audio, coaxial digital audio (switches between input and output depending on mode)
  • Outputs: Bluetooth, analogue stereo audio (RCA), optical digital audio, coaxial digital audio (switches between input and output depending on mode)
  • Dimensions: 120mm wide, 25.8mm tall (95mm with antenna), 91mm deep (with antenna attached)
  • Weight: 145 grams
  • Power: via USB Type-C input, USB cable provided, works with any computer USB output or plug pack
  • The FiiO provides performance ranging from very good to excellent, while giving brilliant control over which Bluetooth codec you’re using. I’d rather it didn’t upsample 44.1kHz to 48kHz (or 96kHz when using LDAC) for Bluetooth transmission. The digits simply don’t convert cleanly. Probably not audible though. It worked perfectly with all my gear, it sounded excellent both as a Bluetooth transmitter and Bluetooth receiver. And at this price, with this flexibility, how could you possibly go wrong?
  • Price: $199
  • Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division (FiiO BTS30 Pro)
FiiO BTA30 Pro rear panel

    More about the FiiO BTA30 Pro

    Check out the photos. The raw dimensions are shown above, but they don’t really give a sense of how small the FiiO BTA30 Pro is. The Rubik’s Cube does give that sense. There are only four controls on the unit: two press buttons, one three-position slide switch and a volume control knob. The volume control works regardless of whether the unit is set to transmit or receive. I did most of my transmission mode listening with the volume knob set to maximum, and controlled the level at the receiving system end. But the ability to control the level at the transmission end would use useful in countless cases.

    It’s the slide switch that sets the mode of the unit: Bluetooth transmitter, Bluetooth receiver or DAC. If you’re transmitting, one of the buttons cycles through the inputs: USB, optical digital audio, coaxial digital audio. A set of four LEDs atop the unit show which is currently selected. The FiiO BTA30 Pro cannot transmit analogue audio.

    A fifth LED shows which Bluetooth codec it is using by its colour. Blue is SBC, aptX is purple, aptX HD is yellow, aptX LL is green and LDAC is white. When you’re transmitting, one of the buttons cycles through the codec selection so you have full control. Of course, if the receiving device doesn’t support the selected codec, the BTA30 Pro will look for another one that works. All of which means that if you have a set of Bluetooth headphones and you’re unsure of what codecs work with them, you can easily determine this with the FiiO BTA30 Pro. And of course it means that you can choose from amongst all the codecs compatible between your devices the one that sounds the best.

    What’s the difference between the codecs? Check out our article “Bluetooth codecs – getting music from your phone to your audio gear” to find out more. In terms of measurements, it’s not always obvious which one is actually the best. See our article “Let’s measure the Bluetooth Codecs: which performs the best”.

    If you press and hold one of the buttons for a few seconds, the unit is placed into Bluetooth pairing mode for one of the two Bluetooth connections. Press and hold the other button for the other one.

    FiiO BTA30 Pro high fidelity Bluetooth transceiver

    In receiving mode, the same LED lights up in different colours to show which codec is in use. You may have noticed above that the codec support is slightly different between transmitting and receiving. While there’s no AAC support for transmitting, there is for receiving (it shows a cyan light), and while the unit can transmit aptX LL, it can’t receive it.

    Modes of operation with the FiiO BTA30 Pro as a transmitter

    As I’ve suggested, for a tiny box with only a few controls, the FiiO BTA30 Pro gives the user a lot of control. Specifically you can choose which codec you want to use from all of those available. But even before that there are two “umbrella” modes: normal and “aptX LL First”. Normal is the default. In this mode, each press of one of the control buttons cycles through LDAC, aptX LL, aptX HD, aptX and SBC. But “aptX LL First” mode only allows switching between aptX LL and SBC, none of the others, and gives priority to aptX LL over SBC if its on offer from the paired device.

    I principally used the Topping D90SE DAC (Topping D90SE review) during my tests of the FiiO BTA30 Pro in transmission mode. The D90SE has a Bluetooth receiver built in and it supports as all the same codecs that the FiiO can transmit. Rather usefully, it also shows the sampling frequency. Let me be clear since people often confuse sampling frequency and bitrate. The sampling frequency is that of the underlying PCM sound. For CD standard sound that’s 44.1kHz, for movie sound it’s usually 48kHz and for high resolution sound it’s 88.2kHz, 96kHz or some higher multiple of them. The bitrate, by contrast, is the amount of data that is being used to pass the compressed signal from one device to another. For example, a bitrate often used for MP3 is 128kbps. The uncompressed CD-standard audio has a bitrate of 1411kbps. And in both cases, the sampling frequency is 44.1kHz.

    Back to the FiiO BTA30 Pro. With all codecs except LDAC, the displayed sampling frequency was 48kHz, despite the fact that most of the music I provided was 44.1kHz-sampled. That means that the BTA30 resamples from 44.1kHz to 48kHz prior to Bluetooth transmission. With LDAC, the Topping always showed 96kHz.

    I used two sources. Initially I used a Chromecast Audio connected to the optical digital audio input. The (now no longer produced) Chromecast audio would not pass through any 96kHz content … although it worked with 88.2kHz material. What’s going on there? Maybe it’s just getting old. So I switched over to USB input, delivering the audio from a Mac.

    FiiO BTA30 Pro high fidelity Bluetooth transceiver

    Listening with the FiiO BTA30 Pro

    I’d love to wax lyrical about how this unit sounded, both as a transmitter and as a receiver. But in fact if there were any defects to the sound, they were below my personal threshold of detection. I’ve run quite a few hours of music through this unit, primarily from the Mac through it to the Topping D90SE as the receiver, and the music was approximately as entrancing as it usually is. And likewise going the other way, sending music via Bluetooth from the magnificent Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 digital audio player (Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 review), with the BTA30 Pro plugged into my main sound system.

    Look, I will always use wire rather than Bluetooth if both options are available. I do that on principle. Every bit of processing, every bit of analogue to digital, digital to analogue conversion, every bit of digital audio compression and decompression, simply must as a mathematical certainty alter the signal. And probably measurably more than it is altered by transmission over copper. So, yes, I’ll go for hardware connections wherever possible. But that doesn’t mean that I could hear noticeable deficiencies in the Bluetooth connections provided by the FiiO BTA30 Pro. And, as we’ll see, there’s not a whole lot of difference between wire and the LDAC codec.

    Measuring the FiiO BTA30 Pro as a transmitter

    There’s a lot to measure with the FiiO BTA30 what with all those codecs and it operating as both a Bluetooth transmitter and a Bluetooth receiver. I did not measure its performance as a DAC. If it’s a DAC that you’re after primarily, there are lots of options. You buy the FiiO BTA30 because of its rare Bluetooth versatility.

    To measure its performance when acting as a transmitter, I used the Topping D90SE DAC as the receiver and used the USB input connected to a Mac. Starting with 16-bit, 44.1kHz tests, here was the frequency response for the five supported transmission codecs. Clearly not much between them, except for LDAC which proves capable of extending all the way up to 20kHz. All the others threaten to fall short, although they all do make it at -2dB to -3dB.

    FiiO BTA30 Pro transmission frequency response

    I was going to include graphs showing the dynamic range with these test signals but something quite strange happened. The measured dynamic range was in excess of 120dBA for SBC and the three aptX varieties, but “only” 97.8dBA for LDAC. Is LDAC really so poor? No, not at all. That’s in fact a fine measurement for 16-bit audio. No, something was wrong with the other measurements. They were appropriate for 24-bit audio.

    Indeed, that shook my confidence a little, and made me wonder if I’d accidentally used the 24-bit version of the test signal instead of the 16-bit version. So I remeasured SBC, and it delivered the same result. I had to hand a measurement of the Topping D90SE used as a Bluetooth receiver with the Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 and checked it. It showed 97.5dBA, an expected value. So what was going on with SBC, aptX, aptX HD and aptX LL when transmitted by the FiiO? I can’t say for certain, but I’m guessing that the FiiO is doing a little bit of signal pre-processing – maybe noise reduction? – and this is incompatible with what is, after all, a highly artificial test signal.

    Anyway, here are the summary results. Just don’t take the noise level and dynamic range results as being reliable, except for LDAC.

    Test SBC aptX aptX HD aptX LL LDAC
    Noise level, dB (A): -113.3 -113.9 -114.3 -114.0 -97.8
    Dynamic range, dB (A): 120.7 120.3 120.2 120.2 97.8
    THD, %: 0.043 0.00402 0.00107 0.00369 0.00034
    IMD + Noise, %: 0.029 0.194 0.038 0.192 0.00365

    You will see from the table that the THD is decent enough (SBC) through to very good (LDAC), while Intermodulation Distortion (IMD) plus noise is rather mediocre for aptX and aptX LL. This seems have a lot to do with those codecs, since most of my measurements of an assortment of devices using them come out with similar figures.

    Here’s the frequency response with a 24-bit, 96kHz test signal:

    FiiO BTA30 Pro transmission frequency response, 24-bit, 96kHz

    And here’s the table of other results:

    Test SBC aptX aptX HD aptX LL LDAC
    Noise level, dB (A): -121.1 -120.9 -122.1 -120.3 -121.1
    Dynamic range, dB (A): 121.0 120.9 122.2 120.6 104.7
    THD, %: 0.043 0.00543 0.00167 0.00570 0.00105
    IMD + Noise, %: 0.029 0.190 0.040 0.186 0.00150

    Again, I don’t trust the dynamic range measurement for the first four codecs. Otherwise, the results are broadly comparable to the 16-bit, 44.1kHz performance.

    Measuring the FiiO BTA30 Pro as a receiver

    To supply the test signals when measuring the FiiO’s performance as a Bluetooth receiver, I used the magnificent Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 digital audio player (Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 review) for all five of the supported codecs, plus an iPad for AAC and a Samsung Tab A for aptX. The SE180 has two modes for LDAC: “connection quality optimization” and “audio quality optimization”, so I measured them separately. The first of those two uses a lower bitrate to provide better range and a more reliable connection, although this comes at a cost to performance.

    Here are the frequency responses for them all on one graph:

    FiiO BTA30 Pro reception frequency response, 16-bit, 44.1kHz

    It seems to be a characteristic of the FiiO BTA30 Pro that its output level falls away a little in the bass, down between 0.5dB and 1.0dB. At the top end, the poorest performer is the AAC codec when delivered by an iPad, barely reaching 15kHz. AAC with the SE180 goes a bit further, while the supposedly inferior SBC codec extends even further into the treble. On the same theme, aptX from the Samsung tablet simply doesn’t reach as far as aptX from the SE180. aptX HD doesn’t make much difference, not does LDAC optimised for connection, but the higher bitrate LDAC easily reaches 20kHz, albeit with considerable variation in the top half-octave.

    Here’s the summary table of other performance characteristics:

    Test A&K SE180 SBC iPad AAC A&K SE180 AAC Samsung Tab A aptX A&K SE180 aptX A&K SE180 aptX HD A&K SE180 LDAC Connect A&K SE180 LDAC Qual
    Noise level, dB (A): -96.5 -96.9 -97.1 -97.9 -97.0 -97.5 -97.3 -97.3
    Dynamic range, dB (A): 96.7 92.8 91.0 97.8 95.9 97.0 97.3 97.2
    THD, %: 0.017 0.016 0.00104 0.00504 0.00368 0.00112 0.00074 0.00071
    IMD + Noise, %: 0.026 0.129 0.236 0.276 0.194 0.041 0.010 0.00411

    Note, there are no strangely impressive noise and dynamic range numbers. The noise levels are the kind of thing we expect to see with 16-bit audio, with a noticeably lower dynamic range for some of them. Here’s a graph showing why:

    FiiO BTA30 Pro reception dynamic range, 16-bit, 44.1kHz

    AAC and, to a lesser extent, aptX seem to produce a marked amount of noise close to the 1kHz test frequency. aptX HD, LDAC and even SBC, however, are quite clean. I do wonder if this noise near the test frequency contributes to the mediocre IMD+noise result for AAC and aptX. Clearly quality-optimised LDAC is the best here by a significant margin.

    As for 24-bit, 96kHz, here’s the frequency response:

    FiiO BTA30 Pro reception frequency response, 24-bit, 96kHz

    Again we see the bass droop, and again some of the codecs deliver mediocre high frequency results, particular AAC with both platforms and SBC as well this time. Lower bitrate LDAC cuts off hard at 18kHz, but audio-optimised LDAC just goes on and on – while swinging over a 2.5dB range – and manages to reach beyond 40kHz.

    Here are the summary results:

    Test A&K SE180 SBC iPad AAC A&K SE180 AAC Samsung Tab A aptX A&K SE180 aptX A&K SE180 aptX HD A&K SE180 LDAC Connect A&K SE180 LDAC Qual
    Noise level, dB (A): -118.1 -106.0 -118.3 -118.8 -118.4 -118.4 -119.5 -118.8
    Dynamic range, dB (A): 101.5 99.4 91.6 100.1 99.6 102.4 105.4 104.7
    THD, %: 0.017 0.015 0.00104 0.00651 0.00588 0.00127 0.00116 0.00113
    IMD + Noise, %: 0.025 0.040 0.255 0.276 0.194 0.037 0.00959 0.00171

    As you can see, the dynamic range for all codecs is quite a bit below the measured noise level. Different test signals produce different results. Now, let’s look at that dynamic range graph:

    FiiO BTA30 Pro reception dynamic range, 24-bit, 96kHz

    Data compression simply doesn’t come with no cost. You can see all the codecs creating quite a bit of noise. Most of it couldn’t be seen with the 16-bit tests, being below the 16-bit noise floor. Fortunately, none of it reaches higher than -110dB, except for a little of that AAC skirt, so it should be generally below the threshold of perception.

    The other results are broadly in line with what has gone before, except for AAC delivered by the iPad. This was much improved compared to the 16-bit result, and compared to AAC delivered by the SE180. I have no viable theories on why this might be.


    The FiiO BTA30 Pro is a nifty little device. It does precisely what it’s supposed to do. And it allows you rare control over your Bluetooth connections.

    And, it is priced very attractively indeed. If you need either a Bluetooth transmitter or a Bluetooth receiver around the house, give it a go.