FiiO X5 3rd gen Premium Hi-Res DAP

Pros: Sound quality/tonality, build quality, value, features, additional DSP options, UI, wireless options, ease of use
Cons: Some software stability issues, on/off button location, slight lag, and slow boot speed
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Picture are default 1200 x 800 resolution - click (photos in tables) to view larger images.

INTRODUCTION

That most elusive of audio hardware components – the perfect DAP or Digital Audio Player. Anyone who is into personal (and especially portable) audio will recognise the search for nirvana. The perfect player must be able to drive practically any headphone (from the most sensitive to the harder to drive), must sound incredible, have a perfect UI, perfect wireless, perfect bluetooth, perfect sorting ability, perfect EQ tools, long battery life, huge storage ability, be able to interface with practically any add-on we throw at it, and be priced at the value end of the spectrum. If you think I'm being just a little satirical – it's intended.

It is unlikely we'll ever agree what is the perfect DAP, so rather than trying to cover everything, I'll simply look at what “pushes my buttons” and why. On this journey, we'll explore the X5 3rd Generation (or X5iii) through my eyes (and ears), compare it to my own needs/wants, and take a little look at what FiiO offers at $400, and whether I think it is subjectively worth it. Along the way – we'll also look into some of the comments and critiques I've seen elsewhere, and my take on them (whether I think they are justified). So lets have a look at what I think of FiiO's X5iii.


ABOUT FIIO

By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary.

FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X7 and most of these DAPs are now into their 2nd or even 3rd generations.

They've also developed new cables, desktop and portable amplifiers, DACs, ear-buds and earphones. FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.


DISCLAIMER

The X5iiiwas provided to me gratis as a review sample. I have made it clear to FiiO in the past that I did regard any product they sent me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request. I have continued to use a lot of their gear for follow up reviews, but also for everyday use. I had previously purchased a lot of FiiO products and inquired if I could purchase the X7 a while ago from FiiO. They have insisted I keep any further products for for my own use. So I acknowledge now that the X5iii I have is supplied and gifted completely free of any charge or obligation. I thank FiiO for their generosity.

I have now had the X5iii for 7 months. The retail price at time of review is ~ USD 400.


PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

I'm a 50 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (mostly now from the FiiO X5iii, X7ii and iPhone SE) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and it has mainly been with my own personally owned IEMs - the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not overly treble sensitive, and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables (unless it was volume or impedance related), and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 50, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.

For the purposes of this review - I've used the X5iii and tested most of the functions I am able to. This does not include some applications like DLNA or DOP output – which I can neither test properly, nor am I interested in. We'll touch very briefly on streaming, but again it won't be an area I'll spend a lot of time on, simply because I simply use the X5ii predominantly as a player. I have prior experience with entry level Sony's (very early models), then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, FiiO X5, X1, X3ii, X5ii, X7, X1ii, X7ii, X3iii, iPhone SE, Cayin i5, and the L&P LP5, L5 Pro, and L3.

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.


WHAT I PERSONALLY LOOK FOR IN A DAP


I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP.
  • Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
  • Good build quality
  • Reasonable battery life – at least 8-10 hours
  • Easy to use interface
  • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.
  • Value for money
  • Enough storage to hold either my favourite albums in red-book, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)
  • Gapless playback
  • Reasonable EQ
  • Bluetooth/Wireless if available
Did I get all of this with the X5iii, and more importantly was the X5iii an improvement on the X5ii? Mostly – yes, and I hope that some of the remaining shortcomings with the firmware will still be improved over time. What I also got was some additional features which really surprised me (we'll go through some of those too).


THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

The X5iii arrived in a somewhat smaller box than its previous generations. This is a fully printed retail box measuring approx 110 x 165 x 50mm. The front has a full colour photo of the X5iii and the rear has a list of the main features (in both English and Chinese). Inside the outer retail jacket is a black rigid box and lid simply adorned the word “FiiO”. Removing the lid gives us our first look at the X5iii. Under this is another compartment which is home to the accessories.

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Retail boxInner boxFull accessory package

The total accessory package includes:
  • One USB data and charging cable
  • One coaxial adapter cable
  • One leather case
  • One clear silicone “gel” type case
  • Quick start guide and warranty
  • Memory tray release key
  • The FiiO X5iii

The accessories are the usual quality I'd expect from FiiO) and the inclusion of both cases is really nice. I probably use the leather a little more than the clear silicone case – simply because it then fits the DK1 dock without having to do anything – and its also easier to slip out of the leather case if I want to use the K5.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
(From FiiO's website), and I've included the old X5ii specs as well as the newer X7ii with AM3a module
ModelX5 3rd GenX5 2nd GenX7 2nd Gen
Approx current price$400 USD$238 USD$650 USD
Dimensions~ 114 x 66 x 15 mm~ 109 x 64 x 15 mm~ 129 x 67 x 16 mm
Weight186 g165 g212 g
DSD SupportDSD64/128DSD64/128DSD64/128
Lossless PCM SupportAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMAAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMAAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMA
Lossy SupportMP3, AAC, WMA, OGGMP3, AAC, WMA, OGGMP3, AAC, WMA, OGG
Use as external DACYesYesYes
Battery3400 mAh3300 mAh3800 mAh
Play time~10hr SE, 8hr bal~10hr SE~10hr SE, 8hr bal
DAC ChipAK4490x2PCM1792AES9028 Pro
Main amp chipOPA426x2OPA1612+BUF634Changes with module
SNR (H/O)≥115 dB (A-weighted)≥117 dB (A-weighted)≥116 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N (H/O)<0.003% (32Ω/1kHz)<0.001% (32Ω/1kHz)<0.003% (32Ω/1kHz)
Balanced?Yes 2.5mmNoYes 2.5mm (AM3A)
Output to 16ohm (SE/BAL)480 mW / 400 mW 436 mW200 mW / 380 m/W
Output to 32ohm (SE/BAL)250 mW / 240 mW245 mW150 mW / 400 mW
Output to 300ohm (SE/BAL)28 mW / 26 mW27 mW17 mw / 63 mW
H/O Impedance (SE/Bal)<1.0Ω / <3.0Ω<0.2Ω<1.2Ω / <1.7Ω
Line Out?YesYesYes
Digital Out?YesYesYes
Internal Storage32 GbNil64 Gb
External Storage512 Gb (256x2)512 Gb (256x2)512 Gb (256x2)
Screen3.97in IPS TFT 480x8002.4in IPS 400x3603.97in IPS TFT 480x800
OSAndroid 5.1FiiO ProprietaryAndroid 5.1
RAM1 GbN/A2 Gb
WirelessBluetooth and WiFiN/ABluetooth and WiFi

CHANGES FROM X5ii

The main differences between the X5iii and X5ii are:
  • Touch screen instead of solely manual controls
  • Change to Android based OS
  • Addition of internal memory
  • Addition of wireless functionality
  • Addition of balanced output
  • Dual DACs

BUILD AND DESIGN

The build quality is really quite excellent on the 3rd generation of the X5. Compared to the original X5ii, the first thing you notice is that despite packing in a lot more hardware features, the size is actually virtually the same (X5iii is very slightly bigger and heavier, but it is marginal). The casing is the usual high quality material (stainless steel composite) you expect from FiiO, but this time there is a gorilla glass back, and of course the close to full sized IPS touch screen. The corners on the casing are nicely rounded, and in terms of overall size it feels right in my hand (not too large, not too small), and has a good weighty feel without being too heavy.
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Left side – volume wheel and play controlsBottom – inputs and outputs
FiiO have put a lot of thought into this build, and on the left side of the device, they've done very well. There is their stepped volume wheel at exactly thumb height, and once I started using it, I suddenly noted how much I missed an actual volume wheel on the X5ii. Above it is the play/pause button, and below it is a rocker button which activates next/previous. All of them are in easy reach, are relatively discreet, and I have to compliment them on their design. It looks the part – and feels the part too. Unfortunately on the right side is where they have their first hiccup. The on/off (and screen on/off) button is on the right hand side directly across from the play/pause button. With one handed use, most of the time when pressing this button with my forefinger, I also inadvertently also press the play/pause or forward/next buttons. I don't mean to – its reflex. The on/off should be on top of the device – and incidentally this is where it appears on the X7ii (nice to see that FiiO listen to the critique's and improve the hardware!

On the right side about half way down are two “sim” slots (recessed trays akin to the sim slots in mobile phones) which hold the microSD cards. The X5iii at this time can take 2 x 256 Gb cards giving a total memory of 256 + 256 + 32 or 546 Gb of storage (less the operating space for the internal system). You access the cards using an included push tool (or a paper clip). I personally find it ideal as I'm not continually swapping cards in and out. The trays fit absolutely flush and are clearly labeled 1 and 2.


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Right side – Micro SDXC trasy and on/off buttonRear gorilla glass
At the top of the X5iii is nothing (and in my personal opinion this is where the headphone / line-out ports should be). At the bottom from left to right are the 3.5mm headphone out, 2.5mm balanced headphone out, USB port, and switchable 3.5mm line or coax out. Unfortunately this means that when docked with their DK1, there is no way to connect to the headphone ports. A pity – because I am sure others would also consider using the dock this way. Otherwise the ports fit nicely and snugly, and the USB out is compatible with both the DK1 and K5 docks.

The 4 inch (3.97) IPS TFT screen is superb compared to the X5ii, both clearer and more vibrant. It has a wide viewing angle (almost 180 deg), and my only critique is that it very easily picks up finger prints and smudges. Low light visibility is excellent, but with full sunlight (like most touch screen devices), you have to shade the device for any decent viewing legibility.

Internally the X5iii is equipped with two top-of-the-line AKM AK4490EN DACs (one for each channel). FiiO chose this DAC for its format support (32bit and supports all PCM and DSD formats), and also for its smooth “velvety” tonality whilst still maintaining high resolution. The AK4490EN also has impressively low THD and high SNR measurements. Along with the dual DACs are dual crystal oscillators which FiiO state help in reduced jitter, improved clock accuracy, stability and virtually no sampling rate conversion artifacts. For amplification, the X5iii uses two dual channel OPA1642 chips for its low pass filtering stage, and a custom-made OPA426 chip for amplification.


BATTERY
The X5iii is powered by a 3.8V 3400 mAh Li-polymer battery which provides approximately 10 hours use in ideal conditions using the 3.5mm single-ended output, or around 8 hours if using balanced output. In my tests this was achievable using IEMs with the screen mostly off, and the DAP set to play continuously in FiiO's Pure Music mode (with a lot of the Android system resources disabled). This obviously does not reflect real-world usage, so expect less if you're constantly using the screen, or using apps that may have a higher draw on the battery. For my personal use (single-ended) I can easily get 8 hours out of a fully charged battery with normal use, and this has been sufficient for day to day use.

The X5iii has the ability to quick charge from suitable 9/12v high current charging devices, and this essentially means you can fully charge the X5iii in approximately 1.5 hours from an appropriate charger. Normal charging only takes a little over 3 hours from a 5V/2A charger – which is more than enough for my use. You can also play and charge at the same time if using a portable battery pack.


POWER OUTPUT
FiiO's output specs and recommendations show that the balanced output has actually been throttled back, and is actually lower than the single-ended output, which is somewhat strange. But I appreciate they are trying to cater more to the people who see balanced output as an advantage in terms of lower crosstalk etc – whilst still catering mostly for portable use. I quoted the power output figures in the spec table earlier – but what does this mean in terms of real world conditions? I chose to utilise 4 different IEM / earphone / headphone combinations to see what the specs really meant.

For each test, I used the excellently mastered new track “The Same Asylum As Before” from Steven Wilson's new album “To The Bone” - for no other reason than I've just bought it and have been enjoying getting to know it. For each test, I aimed to get to my average preferred listening level of 65-75dB with peaks well under 85 dB. For this I used my trusty calibrated SPL meter.

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First up was FiiO's own 28 ohm, 106 dB/mW sensitivity F9 IEM. Why the F9? Simply because it is an easy load to drive, sounds absolutely excellent, and reflects an average load for everyday use. 45-50/120 on the X5iii was sitting me easily within my preferred sonic range on low gain – so plenty of head-room.

Next up was HiFiMan's flagship RE2000 IEM at 60ohm and 103 dB/mW sensitivity. This represents a load with higher impedance and lower sensitivity, and it did require 55-60/120 to reach the same listening volume. Again though – plenty of head-room, and the RE2000 on the X5iii sounded stunning.

OK – lets go with a harder load. This time an ear-bud – VE's flagship Zen2 is an incredible sounding ear-bud which while relatively sensitive at 108 dB/mW, has a much higher impedance of 320 ohm. This was much harder to measure, and I don't know if I got this completely accurate, but 60-65/120 reached my ideal listening level and again I could detect no issues with the X5iii's amplification sounding weak.

Final test – and this time lets step beyond the likely and try something a lot will consider slightly ridiculous (I don't). The HD800S is 300 ohm and 108 dB/mW. Its my real test as I sometimes like to move around the house with these headphones so for me it is a realistic test. This time 75-80/120 was hitting my ideal listening level with this headphone (again low gain). More importantly, fidelity was really good.

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OK Paul – but how do you know you were getting an acceptable level of fidelity from each earphone? Well that is the simple part. I also have FiiO's A5 headphone amp here. It is quite neutral, and can output 150 mW into a 300 ohm load. I've used it before with the HD800S and it has very much impressed me as a portable device. So once I'd found my ideal listening level with each transducer, I simply used test tones to replicate the same volume with the A5, then switched between the two. None of the combos sounded superior with the A5, except perhaps the HD800S where the bass was very slightly different with the A5 included (and this could have been expectation bias). What I will suggest is that the X5iii's power output is actually pretty decent for most portable loads. Just don't expect to drive really power hungry cans – and if you might be, consider the A5 as a very worthy partner.


WIRELESS CAPABILITY / PERFORMANCE
The X5iii comes with both Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4 Khz Wifi capability. Performance on both seems pretty good. The Wifi receiver is not as good as my iPhone. I'm sitting in my study, the router is around 8-10 meters away, but through two walls. My iPhone SE is showing full bars, the X5iii is about 75%. Connection is solid and stable, and perfectly good for streaming or downloading apps or updates. The iPhone is slightly quicker. So the X5iii is good – but not perfect.

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The Bluetooth connectivity is actually better than I expected. I used my FiiL Diva Bluetooth headset. Connection was straight forward – easily recognised and paired. And I can actually install the Android FiiL+ app (although the play store version says it isn't compatible – so I just downloaded and install the apk manually). I can also use all the headset's features including volume and track control, and can easily get past 10m (it starts breaking up about 13m) distance. The X5iii is showing AptX connection with the FiiL, and I have used these outside walking with X5iii in my pocket, complete wireless freedom, and a smile on my face!


UI AND USABILITY
The UI is standard Android and I'm not going to cover all the standard features (battery meters etc), and concentrate instead on FiiO's Pure Music app. You have the choice of retaining full Android functionality or going into an exclusive mode called Pure Music where a lot of the non-essential Android apps are turned off, and FiiOs own app takes over. I am currently using Pure Music V3.3.8.

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Home screenLocal musicFolder view
First view of the Pure Music app is a home screen (which you can configure in settings). At the top left is a settings icon (to take you to the Pure Music settings). At the top right is a search icon. In the middle is your now playing graphic. Below are 3 icons (configurable) which will take you to your choice of playlists, local music (accessing music via tagged database or vis folders), DLNA, recently played, most played, or recently added (you can choose 3 options). You can also have lists below these icons – the nice thing is that you decide how you want things to display. Clicking on the now playing graphic (or the note icon beside it) takes you to the main now playing screen.

The main now playing screen shows full sized album art. Tapping on this will cycle a lyrics screen (more on this later), an information screen showing title, album, artist, and format / bit-rate / sample rate, or a V-U meter. Below the album art is a scrubbing slider (or fast forward / rewind). Then below this are the traditional play/pause, next/previous icons (or you can use the physical buttons). At the left of these is the play through choice icon (straight through, shuffle, repeat etc). At the right is a single circle graphic with 3 dots, and this accesses the other features you'd likely to need from a now playing screen – including EQ, marking a track as a favourite as well as accessing the favourites screen, bluetooth, deleting a track, and accessing full information about the track on a single screen. At the very top of the now playing screen are two icons – right is a search icon, and left takes you back to the home screen. Swiping the middle of the album art right advances a track, and left goes back one track. Clicking, holding and moving up or down from the very right edge of the album art adjusts volume. Swiping right from the far left of the album art brings up the current playlist.

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Now playing screenPlaylist viewQuick menu
The local music screen gives access to tagged features within the library – including all songs, artist, album, genre and folder access. If you're playing a track while you're accessing this, it appears at the very bottom of the screen along with its controls (and tapping this takes you back to the now playing screen). To the right is a small button with 3 dots. This accesses more features including the ability to sort and also to perform mass operations (for the likes of building playlists). I don't really use this – as I find it easier to build the few playlists I need manually. Navigation is pretty easy, and once you are in a menu, going back is a simple matter of using the back button at the very bottom of the screen.

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VU MeterEQLyric menu
The EQ screen is an interesting one which I do use often, but find frustrating at times. There are presets, and a custom option (but you can customise all the presets, and there is a reset button to return them to their original state). There is a 12 dB swing (-6 / +6) which allows plenty of room for tweaking and 10 bands. The issue is that only 5 sliders are shown on screen at a time, so you have to slide left and right rather than having them all on the screen together. I realise this is a limitation of screen size and I can't find a way to rotate to use landscape. The good news is that the entire 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency display is shown on the entire screen, so this does help when you've inadvertently hit the wrong slider. Note to FiiO though – a label on each slider would help!

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Pure Music settingsPure Music settingsPure Music settings
FiiO's Pure Music settings are pretty comprehensive, and I'll show them in 3 screenshots rather than listing them all. The usual features are all covered including playing through folders, gapless, channel balance and gain. There are also some new ones like inclusion of Viper for Android effects which I'll cover shortly. You can also choose your preferred theme (now 3 options), lockscreen, and personalise many of the features. A notable exclusion is replay gain, and the ability to use landscape mode (please FiiO – address this), but otherwise most other settings are addressed pretty well.

Rather than go into depth with any more standard settings, lets look a little closer at some of the other features – some of which I didn't expect, but which are actually quite brilliant.


OTHER FEATURES
The first one I want to cover is something I didn't expect to use, nor actually find useful, When you are in play mode, you can click on the cover art, and bring up a lyrics screen. Tapping on the “search for lyrics” triggers an internet search for the correct lyrics and then saves it as a file. Through another icon/button on the same screen you have access to more tools so you can synchronise the lyrics properly. Its a pretty cool feature, and works well for most mainstream music – and the only thing I wish was easier was to select the sources to be searched.

The next is the Viper effects. These are the set of effects commonly known as Viper for Android, and developed by Euphy Wong – initially for desktop, then later for mobile use. The effects are somewhat similar to some of the enhancements in the Neutron app, or Cowon's BBE. Some are offered free, and others you have to pay for. If you aren't a tweaker, you may find them superfluous. But when the mood takes me, I find the Field Surround and Differential Surround are both really good if you want to widen the sound stage. There are other setting for bass, clarity, volume equalisation – quite a long list really.

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Some of the Viper effectsNeutron app running
You also have DAC mode, and coupled with FiiO's driver, I've had no issues connecting from my Windows 10 environment. Unfortunately I'm having a few issues with my Linux build at the moment and all the recent FiiO devices have issues with my desktop when using Linux – but I regard this as more of an issue with my current OS (Mint), and I'm confident when I return to a straight Debian set-up, they'll be solved. I've been using the X5iii with the K5, and no issues with connectivity, nor with selecting the appropriate output. One thing I was pleasantly surprised with was that I could originally connect the X5iii via USB port to my iPhone SE and have the iPhone outputting digitally to the X5iii's DAC. I seem to have lost that functionality with an iOS update – but you may have the ability (either iOS or Android) to use the X5iii as DAC. Its just a matter of trialling it – if it works, then its another nice option.

Gapless – has been a bit hit and miss. FiiO get it working, then sometimes during updates they'll tweak something which causes a reversion to functionality. Usually its fixed again relatively quickly. Currently gapless is 99% of the way there. There is the tiniest of micro-gaps. It doesn't bother me at all but if you are the kind to be completely OCD about having it perfect, you may want to consider something else.

Use of other apps. If FiiO's player isn't to your liking, you can install practically any other music playing app. I've been using Neutron from time to time – mainly because of its wealth of settings, and because I've come to know it pretty well. Its also very stable – sometimes more so than the FiiO Pure Music. But one of the beautiful properties of the X5iii is that at its heart it is an Android player with very good hardware. If you don't like the player – install something you do like as a front end.

I did test streaming with Tidal HQ (even bought a subscription so I could test properly. I was able to configure off-line download to the external memory cards, and it worked pretty well except for one small issue. From time to time it would “hitch” or “stutter” (not often for me – but definitely occurred). I know this issue has also occurred with other players (for example the Cayin i5), so I wonder whether this is a FiiO issue or a Tidal one.

I've also tested the various DAC filters (the X5iii includes sharp roll-off, slow roll-off, short delay sharp roll-off, short delay slow roll-off, and super slow roll-off). I hot swapped between the filters, and to be honest, I cant hear a difference. Could be that my hearing simply isn't sensitive enough. Anyway for me they don't really warrant playing around with. The research I've done into filters (essentially reconstruction filters which play in the ultrasonic regions, and are designed to cope with ringing and possible quantisation noise) suggest that most of them are only going to change things at 1-2 dB max at 15 kHz or higher. Thats beyond my hearing, and due to the frequency and the small change, should be beyond most “normal” people's hearing (and yes that was #sarcasm+jest).

I was unable to test DLNA or DSD over DOP.


STABILITY, SUPPORT, AND KNOWN ISSUES
I'll start first with support, and in my experience FiiO is one of the new breed of companies whose idea of product support is one of collaborative development. They are extremely active in the community, and are always listening to our requests, and trying where possible to implement new features or fix bugs. Unfortunately at times this means that the firmware isn't always stable (which is why the use of other apps is sometimes really important). I've heard a lot of critique about FiiO using its customers as beta testers, and breaking things more often than they fix them. I don't personally have the same experience (most of the time this X5iii has been very stable). It might be worth pointing out that I am more a traditional user though – relying less on streaming, and more on music loaded to the cards.

I have (at various times, and usually with new firmware) experienced crashes with Pure Music, and these can sometimes be quite annoying. I have found that FiiO has been quite responsive in coming up with solutions though, and I'm fairly tolerant as long as the device is still functional.

Included in the known issues are:

  • Gapless playback has a micro-gap (very small)
  • There is no replay-gain
  • Some have reported occasional lagging and stuttering especially with larger files (DSD or extremely high-res). I have not experienced this myself – but all of my files are generally aac256 and I have an entire library on a single 64Gb card
  • Occasionally – especially when awaking from sleep mode – it can take a couple of seconds for the 2nd micro SD card to be recognised.
  • Start-up time is fairly slow (around 30 seconds).
  • Output to 3rd party apps appears to be down-sampled with most (the exception being Neutron). Personally I don't find this being an issue as I know I can't tell the difference anyway. The issue appears to be more the integration of external apps rather than the actual X5iii itself.
  • Some stuttering with Tidal – appears to be a Tidal issue (have seen similar with the Cayin i5)

SOUND QUALITY & COMPARISONS

The following is what I subjectively hear from the FiiO X5iii. Some of you may find this section a little limited, so I’ll give you some insight into the way I’ve changed my opinion on how to describe the sound with any competently made DAC, DAP or amplifier. The problem with trying to break the sonics down to bass, mids and treble is that DAP / DAC / amp is designed (or should be designed) to be essentially flat across the frequency spectrum. If it has enhanced bass, then isn’t it adding colouration that should come from the headphones or EQ or recording? Likewise, I won’t comment a lot on sound-stage, as this is primarily a by-product of the actual recording, or the transducers you’re using.

So how do I go about describing it? Well my gear isn't great for measuring DAPs but judging by the correspondence from FiiO, and their own measurements, I’m pretty confident the X5iii is very linear in its frequency response. What I will do is comment on overall tonality and resolution, and also expand further when comparing the X5iii to some of the other DAPs I have experience with.

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For the record – on most tracks, the volume on X5iii was adjusted to give me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.17556 When I tested side-by-side with other DAPs I used test tones, and an SPL meter to volume match. I used the same track, and had the players set up so I could rapid switch. Testing was performed with LZ's Big Dipper.


X5iii General Tonality

This is actually an easy one – because the X5iii is (for me anyway) quite unique among the DAPs I've heard. I originally thought it was quite warm, but its not so much warm as rich and smooth. But isn't that warm Brooko? Nope – the low end is not enhanced (to me anyway) and there is no added bass response. I've seen others describe the X5iii as warm, or muddy. Or veiled, and I'm afraid thats not what I'm hearing. What I have found instead is that the X5iii actually has an extremely high level of resolution. With a headphone like the HD800S (or indeed any decent reasonably well balanced IEM) all the detail is there, and pretty easy to discern. Where the X5iii differs from some other DAPs I own is that the tonality is silky smooth – no sign of harshness or glare. It's funny too – I've never really noticed the glare on other DAPs before, but when comparing side-by-side, the X5iii just seems to have a really nice tonality.

Resolution / Detail / Clarity
Clarity and resolution is excellent on this DAP, its just not as “in your face” as some of the other DAPs I have. I've gone over my test tracks 100's of times now, and the X5iii is not missing any of the detail or resolution of my other “more linear sounding” DAPs. Its just the presentation of that detail. When playing PF's “Money”, all the nuances from the cash registers are present – they just don't have that artificial edge to them. In “Sultans of Swing” I can still hear the clicks when Withers taps his drumsticks together, but there isn't that extra heat or emphasis. What I hear is more organic, more balanced, more tonally pleasing.


Soundstage / Imaging
Why is this section even here? The perception of sound-stage in a DAP is a result of the music you listen to (the recording) and the transducers you use. The DAP has virtually nothing to do with it, as long as it has decent crosstalk measurements, and there is no DSP involved. I often laugh quietly to myself when I read reviews claiming one DAP has more sound-stage than another. For the record, I volume matched the Cayin i5 and X5iii (same DAC sections), and tested my binaural tracks. Both sounded pretty much the same. And with the HD800S or the Big Dipper IEM, the perceived sound-stage width/depth was the same on both, and only influenced by the actual transducer being used. The one advantage the X5iii has in this area is the ability to use the Viper settings with Pure Music (you can also get similar effects with Neutron's DSP settings). Both can shape the perceived stage (very nicely in fact).


X5iii vs X5 Original
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The original X5 was about the size an iPod Classic, but with better internals and a mechanical wheel. In terms of size, the X5 iii is almost exactly the same size as the X5 original. They both have dual micro SDXC slots, both can play most high-res formats (the X5iii can do native DSD decoding which the original X5 can't), both have similar output options (coax, line and headphone outs), and both have similar battery life (X5 original is slightly better at 10-12 hours vs X5iii's 8-10 hours.

The X5iiis advantages come with it's wireless connectivity options, touch screen, separate wheel for volume control, balanced output, more feature options via the Android interface (apps etc) and a better screen resolution. Power output is very similar (single-ended).

Sonically the two are practically identical, and in fact the X5 original is closer to the overall sonic signature of the X5iii than any of FiiO's other players. There is still a slight edge to the upper mid-range and lower treble which seems to be softened on the X5iii.

Gong back to the X5 original has actually been a really good exercise, and I've been surprised (all over again) at how good it sounds. Is the X5iii a big step up? Well, sonically I'd say no – but in virtually every other category – yes. It simply brings a lot more features, while retaining that original silky smooth but balanced signature.


X5iii vs X5ii
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The X5 2nd gen (X5ii) again is very close in size to the new X5iii, and shares (once again) remarkably similar physical dimensions (the X5iii is marginally larger and heavier). They again both have dual micro SDXC slots, both can play most high-res formats (both handle DSD this time), both have similar output options (coax, line and headphone outs), and both have similar battery life.

The X5iiis advantages again come with it's wireless connectivity options, touch screen, separate wheel for volume control, balanced output, more feature options via the Android interface (apps etc) and a better screen resolution. Power output is similar (single-ended), although I do need more power on the X5iii to volume match with the Dipper. The X5iii does have one advantage (feature wise) compared to the X5iii and that is working replay gain. Both also have a reasonable search function.

Sonically its amazing how many mis-conceptions disappear when volume matched and quickly switched. These two are a lot closer than I expected. The X5iii is slightly smoother but its definitely not any warmer. The X5ii still sounds slightly more vivid, and actually sounds a little cleaner (again its that very slight smoothing that the X5iii brings).

Once more I'm pleasantly surprised how the X5ii performs, and given that you can now buy a new X5ii on Amazon for only fractionally more than the new X3iii, it is even more a stellar performer than it originally debuted – especially as the fw matured. Of course the advantages of the X5iii still remain with its Android UI, features, and wireless connectivity. Those looking for absolute clarity are possibly better staying with the 2nd generation model. For me though, the combination of features (esp Viper or Neutron) are still worth the extra coin, and the wireless (Bluetooth) is really useful with my FiiL Diva.


X5iii vs X7ii
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This one should be interesting. The X7ii is if course the update to FiiO's flagship DAP. Its only been out a couple of months, and already has a big following. The X7ii is larger, mainly due to it's interchangeable amp section. But the design of the X7ii now borrows heavily from the X5iii, and includes dual expansion slots now, the volume wheel, and even the software is essentially identical. The same apps, wireless connectivity (although the X7ii adds access to the 5GHz band), access to balanced output (although the X7ii is more traditional and doubles volume output where the X5iii is weaker) – in fact the X7ii is essentially an X5iii but with different DAC (X5iii's dual AK4490 vs X7ii's ES9028 Pro). The other major difference in terms of hardware features is that the X7ii can utilise the new AM3a amplifier unit, but also any of the previous amplifier modules (including the high power AM5).

Sonically the difference is not huge, but is noticeable, and its a repeat of past comparisons. The Sabre DAC of the X7ii is noticeably more neutral and appears cleaner because of it. The X5iii in comparison has that slightly smoother rich tonality which people will either love (find it musical) or dislike (citing it as warm). This is not a night and day, and really comes down to preference. I can absolutely see the extra value in the X7ii – and especially if you're using the one device to drive a variety of headphones, and likely to utilise the functionality of different amp modules. For me, if I had to choose one at the moment, and my primary portable use is with IEMs or my FiiL Diva, it would be the X5iii simply because I genuinely like the tonality (which surprised me a little), and I also prefer the slightly smaller form factor. But you can't go wrong with either (two thumbs up FiiO).


So what about another Android based DAP – well fortunately I happen to have Cayin's i5 with me.

X5iii vs Cayin i5
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In terms of size, the two are very similar with the Cayin being slightly longer. Cayin only supplies one measurement of power output, so I tested both with my HD800S and playing same track at max volume, the i5 was able to supply 10 dB more volume than the X5iii (measured with calibrated gear). One slightly interesting quirk about the i5 is that the screen has to be on to change volume, where the X5iii works as it should. Cayins UI is based on a customised version of Hiby, and things like scanning are very fast (quicker than X5iii). The UI itself can be a bit easier at times to follow than FiiOs and other times more complex (getting to EQ requires more steps), but on the whole both are comparable. The i5 uses an older Android 4 version where the FiiO is Android 5. Wireless performance on both is comparable – however neither have as good wireless connectivity as my iPhone. Bluetooth range and stability is slightly better on the Cayin i5, but both are good for portable use with a headset. I was able to install 3rd party apps like Neutron and Tidal on the i5. Both performed well – with Tidal having the same issues on the i5 as the X5iii (intermittent stuttering). Both can be used as an external DAC, and I had no issues with either (after installing drivers) on a Windows 10 PC. For general ease of use and comparing the default Pure Music (X5iii) to Hiby (i5), my personal preference would be toward the X5iii. The i5 has also (over time) been a little more quirky – at odd times not playing until closing and restarting, displaying wrong album art etc

Sonically the two are very close and I guess this is the result of the same DAC hardware (AK 4490). I spent a lot of time going between the two and when volume matched, I'd say they sound practically identical – I certainly can't tell them apart in a blind test. At first I thought that there might have been a little more extension with the i5, but when I got my wife to help me blind swap I was completely baffled over which was which (more evidence of sighted bias at play). Both sound fantastic with a rich and smooth tonality that I personally find intoxicating.

In terms of overall preference, its a bit of a tough one for me. The price now on both units is pretty close – you can pick up an i5 for $470 so its much closer to the X5iii's 399 RRP. Both have their strong points. I don't tend to need 2 micro SDXC slots (I use aac256 on my portables anyway, so storage is never an issue). For me a balanced connection has more advantage with additional power (and the X5iii's is not configured that way). Both can power my HD800S with headroom to spare and I'd simply use my A5 amp anyway if I needed it. My personal preference goes with the slightly cheaper, slightly less quirky X5iii. Both have their individual personalities, neither is perfect, but the comparison is really close – and I would really be happy with either.

EDIT Nov 2017 - I've been reviewing the i5 over the last couple of weeks, and it has involved active comparisons with the X5iii once again. With the latest i5 firmware there is now a slight difference - the i5 appears to have a very slight shift in tonality - more toward neutrality - a little less warmth. The change is really subtle though. Definitely still more warm than neutral to me.


BALANCED PERFORMANCE
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I've tested this. The balanced output actually has slightly less power than the single ended, so no advantages there. So what advantages to balanced output are there? Balanced must be better right? Not really. Balanced will chew the battery quicker, and both outputs would drive practically any IEM into the regions of deafening you. Both are essentially over-kill.

Now lets look at the real differences - those bits that people make claims on. Remember how balanced is always cleaner, darker, more spacious, wider sound-stage .......Lets look at cleaner first. SNR on SE is 115 dB and on balanced is 111 dB. Both are beyond what we can hear - so no difference. Both have THD measurements at 0.003% = beyond our hearing. You'll get a magnitude more distortion from your earphones. Now the important one - crosstalk (channel separation). SE is 73 dB and balanced is 98 dB. That must make a big difference - right?

I'm going to quote something bookmarked a long time ago:
The FCC minimum channel separation/crosstalk spec for FM Stereo used to be 29.7dB...yes, that's right, 29.7. It had to do with how the signal was generated and handled, but 30 - 40dB wasn't hard to achieve, and 50dB wasn't uncommon.

The bulk of what is perceived as stereo separation happens above 20dB with decreasing detectable improvements above 30dB or so. It's almost impossible to detect separation improvements above 40dB. Localization of a phantom image depends less on channel separation and much more on relative intensity and inter-aural time delay of the sound, and human hearing response at different angles.
So....long answer...separation above 40dB doesn't improve sound quality, below 40dB it slowly degrades, the final separation is equal to the device with the least separation in the system. Once degraded by a device, no device following it can restore separation.
As you can see, SE crosstalk at 73 dB and balanced at 98 dB actually means nothing - we can't hear it.

What essentially happens is two things.
People read the specs, and tell themselves balanced must sound better, and thats what they talk themselves into. In a blind volume matched test, they won't tell a difference (unless impedance changes frequency).
Most people don't volume match, and we are terrible at volume matching by ear (which is what a lot of people do). Most balanced circuits output a lot more power by design - therefore they are louder. People saying they hear a difference are often simply listening to one louder than the other. And we know louder is perceived as sounding better. Int his case the X5iii's balanced output is ever so slightly weaker.
There are two other possibilities for differences:
The balanced circuit actually sounds better by design (unlikely given FiiO's expertise)
Impedance mismatch can affect frequency response for multi-BA driver set-ups (rarely happens with dynamics). You'll note the <1 ohm (SE) vs 3 ohm (bal) output.
Either way, if you're buying the X5iii because it has balanced output, and expecting a sonic miracle, you'd be better with EQ.

VALUE

So how do I see the overall value of the X5iii? Quite simply, it reaches that overall performance which has me definitely recommending it at its current price point. In FiiO's current range (X1ii, X3iii, X5iii and X7ii), it sits as the best overall value DAP (features for price) – especially if you are mainly using it for portable use and easier to drive earphones or headphones. I also have not encountered any DAP (and admittedly my experience with other brands is not extensive) which has more features and better sound (subjective) for the price.

FIIO X5iii – SUMMARY

My apologies, once again an overly long review, and my intention in future is to try and be more concise. Also my thanks to FiiO (especially Sunny and Shadow) for their support with my questions, for supplying the review sample, and for including me in some of their testing programmes).

The X5iii is a very well presented DAP with good build and some really good hardware design features (volume wheel, recessed SDXC trays), and just a few minor (IMO) fails (position of the on/off button, limited RAM). It feels great in the hand, has good implementation of both Bluetooth and Wireless, and the touchscreen seems quite responsive. It has the ability to store on 2 external sdxc cards. Power output is more than sufficient for IEMs and portable devices, and I've found its output perfectly OK with both my HD600 and HD800S. It also has a balanced output option – although this has slightly weaker output than its single ended output.

In terms of UI and features, the X5iii is pretty much up with most modern DAPs and includes a couple of extras (Viper DSP settings & also a lyrics search) which I wasn't expecting to find. The UI is easy to follow and relatively stable, although like most Android devices I've seen, as its good days and bad. For my personal use, I've had the occasional crash – but overall the fw has been relatively stable (YMMV depending on usage).

Sonically (and this is subjective) the X5iii has a rich and smooth tonality which I know many will call “warmish”. It has no issues with resolution or clarity, and I personally love the overall signature from the AK4490 DAC.

So far it has ticked all my personal boxes in what I look for in a DAP, and at the price of $399 I personally find that in terms of tonality, features, usability and performance – it is one of the “best in class” in terms of overall value.

4 stars from me. Possible improvements would include better button layout, a balanced output with increased power, more ram and more on-board storage.

Again – thanks to FiiO for providing me with the X5iii for review.


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Indrajit
Indrajit
Hi. The review at one point mentioned that I5 outputs 10db more power than X5iii via single-ended. The problem is that Fiio advertised that X5iii outputs around 250mW compared to I5 which outputs only 190mW. So does that mean that I5 is actually much more powerful than X5iii?

MacedonianHero

Headphone.Guru Editor
Pros: Light and Portable
Incredible Value Proposition
2 micro-SD card slots
Easy to use GUI
Great sound quality
Cons: Not able to output high resolution music via USB (yet...pending a possible firmware update)
Having finding myself in need of a lower cost portable digital-to-analog player, I began my search for a reasonable solution. If you've been around Head-Fi, you are most certainly going to stumble upon FiiO's recent upgrade to their venerable X5 DAP, the X5 Mark III. Priced at only $399, don't let the incredibly reasonable price tag through you off; you are getting some serious technology and audiophile level sound quality in this little wonder.

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At the heart of the FiiO X5 Mark III are dual AKM AK4490EN DACs using their "Velvet Sound" low distortion architecture with digital filtering and 32 bit processing. Quite impressive technology as I've been a big fan of AKM DACs and really loved their implementation in the full sized $2500 desktop Bryston BDA-2 digital to analog converter. So I was happy to see that FiiO selected AKM to make up the guts of their famous player.

Also included is a very much welcomed dual micro-SD support. This allows you to insert up to 2 micro-SD cards into the FiiO X5 MkIII and really load up all of your favourite albums (regardless of file sizes). You can add a whopping 512 Gb of additional storage room on this player; this was even more than many uber-expensive DAPs costing $2000 or more. Also included is the ability to drive your in-ear monitors or headphones in balanced mode through the 2.5mm headphone jack. Again, I was thoroughly impressed with the options available here that are typically reserved for digital-to-analog players costing several thousands of dollars!

The full list of specifications are:
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Build quality is excellent and unlike my previous player; the FiiO X5 MkIII comes in at a very light 187 grams. So it's very portable and easy to carry with you while you travel. Also included is a very handsome leather case that will protect the player and enhance its visual appeal at the same time! Another big feature to note is that this player supports Tidal Lossless Streaming. Just download the App from the FiiO Store and log into Tidal and you're off to the races. Again, for a player costing only $399 US, I am thoroughly impressed with what the folks at FiiO have been able to stuff into this small wonder and keep their price very competitive!

For this review, I used both in-ear monitors and full sized headphones that I had on hand that I typically use for portable use. I played lossless music from Tidal, to some of my favourite DSD test tracks. And with everything, the X5 MkIII really outperformed my initial expectations.

I absolutely love my custom Empire Ears Zeus ADEL XR in-ear monitors. These in-ear monitors allow the user to switch between the -R or warmer XIV versions. I find these IEMs about as transparent as I've ever come across and often use them in reviews for portable equipment. Now some might think pairing a pair of $2700+ in-ear monitors with a $399 DAP might really hold them back, but based on what I heard when playing my DSD recording of "Jazz at the Pawnshop" was as exciting and fulfilling as it ever was with these top notch in-ear monitors. I found the sound staging, detail retrieval and overall sonic enjoyment to be right there with many DAPs I've heard/owned costing north of $2000! Now how's that for value! The noise floor was incredibly low and the transparency incredibly high. You can have your cake and eat it too! Everything from the small nuances of the background chatter to the decay on the cymbals were perfectly laid bare with this combination.

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Next up, I decided to use my full sized AKG flagship headphones, the K812. I absolutely love these headphones and was curious how the FiiO X5 MkIII drove full sized headphones. For this test, I decided to go on to WiFi and use the downloaded Tidal App from the FiiO Store. I noticed that the classic 80's Bryan Adam's album "Reckless" had recently been updated with a new anniversary remaster. Going from the incredibly efficient Empire Ears Zeus ADEL IEMs to the AKG K812s did require me to certainly crack up the volume setting on the FiiO X5 MkIII player, but I have to say that this player was able to drive both very well and without the need of me having to put my Chord Hugo 2 in between the X5 MkIII and my K812s. The overall sound was full and energetic and the ability of the X5 MkIII to control the drivers on the K812 headphones was readily apparent! This combination took me back to high school when this amazing album was first released and for a quick on the go setup, the FiiO X5 MkIII certainly fit the bill!

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I did also include my recently acquired Chord Hugo 2 in between the FiiO X5 MkIII DAP and my headphones/IEMs and for the most part things went off without a hitch. However, when I tried to play high resolution music (anything north of 96kHz) the player would not output sound. I've read that the engineers at FiiO are looking into remedying this in a future firmware upgrade and I certainly hope that they do as this one issue I felt held the player from hitting every nail on the head. Fingers crossed this is released soon. That said, the GUI (graphical user interface) is quite easy to navigate and figure out...even for me, a sworn Apple user!

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Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the Fiio X5 MkIII DAP! The value proposition is simply off the charts. If you consider the outstanding build quality, dual AKM DAC chips, balanced operation, Tidal Support, dual micro-SD card inputs and incredibly impressive sound quality, this product is a no brainer to recommend! This player has certainly passed the "put your money where your mouth is" test as I will most definitely be purchasing the review unit. I strongly suggest you check this player out...you won't be disappointed!

maciux

Head-Fier
Pros: a variety of accessories included (e.g. silicone and faux leather cases)
- build quality
- nice looks
- high ergonomics & compact size
- no Wi-Fi interference
- clear signal (in case of most IEMs/headphones)
- neutral, direct, smooth and pleasant tuning (neither too analytical nor too musical) with high resolution, good separation and much air
Cons: low performance of internal storage, card readers, Wi-Fi and OTA update servers
- audible hiss (when using IEMs of high sensitivity)
- average battery life
- amplifier section could have been better – when using the line out, dynamics and resolution are improved
Third generation of FiiO X5 offers plenty of features. It utilizes dual AKM AK4490 DAC, quad-core SoC, a 4-inch touchscreen and runs on Android OS.

Third revision of X5 brings a lot novelties. Rotary dial has been replaced by a touchscreen and it comes with a single-band Wi-Fi module added. Moreover, streaming is supported and there’s a Bluetooth transmitter with aptX codec support. New X5 version is powered by dual Asahi Kasei DAC and the Chinese company decided to restore the internal memory (32 GB), which can be further expanded via 2 microSD slots (up to 256 GB each).

Accessories

The device is packed in an aesthetic box. The accessory set is as follows:
  • silicone case
  • faux leather case
  • USB-microUSB cable (100 cm)
  • coaxial adapter
  • card slot opening tool
  • quick start manual
Silicone case is thick, smooth and elastic. The included faux-leather case exposes the bottom flank and the volume dial.

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Construction

New X5 looks completely different than its predecessors. It more resembles FiiO X7 or Astell&Kern DAPs. X5 III is a device that reduces the gap between high-class digital audio players and smartphones.

Front is occupied by a nearly 4-inch IPS display, which is further reinforced by hardened glass. The borders are rather wide and the screen resolution is 480x800 pixels (235 ppi). Color reproduction is fine, viewing angles are wide and contrast is just average. Housing is made of CNCed aluminum.

Build-quality is awesome, better than in 1st gen X7. The device is massive and built like a tank. Materials are of high quality and the device’s also pleasant to look at. For me, it’s the sexiest FiiO’s device (it won the Red Dot Design Award) and I like it more than Astell&Kern’s products.

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Ergonomics and operation

Comfort of handling is fine, with some minor inconveniences. One also needs to remember that X5 III is a decent-sized device (11,4 x 6,6 x 1,5 cm), which weighs almost 200 grams.

X5 is meant to be held in the left hand. User can then comfortably operate the volume or navigate the tracks, while the right hand can be used to use the touchscreen. Elements are placed favourably, but the buttons are too soft, yet offer precise click. Accidental presses happen when lifting the device, but it’s easy to block that function (with the screen turned off) in the options menu.

All connectors are grouped at the bottom flank, which is a convenient decision as they can be easily distinguished and their position easily remembered. Card slots are placed on the right side and this time FiiO decided to use trays (like in smartphones ; a special tool is required for opening) instead of slots. Luckily, there are also 32 gigs of internal memory, while two microSD slots are compatible with microSD cards up to 256 GB.

Battery life is average for an audiophile DAP – up to 10 hours when using a headphone output. During intense tests X5 lasted for 7-8 hours with 3 hours Screen-on-Time. I used various headphones and earphones, played music from internal and external storage, streamed via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and switched between miscellaneous modes and functions.

During playback the device does not heat up much. Even after a long-lasting playback it is barely warm.

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Operating system and benchmarks

3rd gen X5 is powered by Google’s Android 5.1.1 Lolipop. The operating system is therefore outdated – it’s a shame that FiiO didn’t use at least 6.0 Marshmallow version, which features Doze sleeping algorithm.

Booting takes a long time, but when the device is finally ready to use, the system works fine. Android is almost clear and adapted for a DAP function. System is stable, but can be laggy, especially when launching an app. X5 scores 26322 points in AnTuTu 6.2.7 and GeekBench rates it at 500 points in single-core test and 1004 points in multi-core benchmark.

Graphics looks like stock Android. Memory is filled with essential apps only (including Google Play store). Notification drawer is adjusted to a DAP function and includes useful shortcuts (e.g. analogue/digital line out, gain level, USB connection type, digital filters). There’s also Pure Music mode which works as high-priority fullscreen application (enabling it doesn’t require a restart). Android settings offer basic options plus disabling the buttons when the DAP is locked.

Music player in Pure Music mode has been developed. Left flank of the app is filled with options like gapless, balance and gain adjustments etc. The app also includes ViPER Effect sound enhancements, most of which aren’t free. Home screen of the player is highly adjustable and features handy shortcuts. Music files can be launched via library or folders. I enjoyed Pure Music mode much and used it more frequently than PowerAmp.

One needs to remember that X5 III is not a smartphone and it has its limits. WiFi is not very fast and the same applies to FiiO’s OTA update servers – applying updates via microSD card is usually much quicker. The performance of internal memory and card slots is not very impressive too (in case of internal storage transfer rate is typically between 5 and 13,5 MB/s). Luckily, sound cracks do not appear and the overall performance is still decent for an audio player.

When using dynamic-driver IEMs hiss is not audible, but noticeable when using low-impedance and high-sensitivity Balanced Armature IEMs. Wi-Fi module doesn’t disrupt the sound and Bluetooth supports aptX.

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Specs

● SoC: Rockchip RK3188 (4x1,4 GHz)
● RAM: 1 GB
● OS: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop ; Pure Music mode
● screen: 3,97 inch, IPS, touchscreen, 480x800 px
● DAC: 2x AKM4490, 32-bit/384 kHz
● LPF: 2x OPA1642
● OP: 2x OPA426
● USB DAC (24-bit/196kHz), Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n (2,4 GHz), Bluetooth 4.0 aptX
● 32 GB internal storage, two microSD slots (up to 256 GB)
● 10-band equalizer, 120-step analogue volume control
● battery: 3300 mAh (up to 10 hours of life)
● balance control: +/- 10 dB
● 2 gain levels
● dimensions: 114,2 x 66,2 x 14,8 mm
● weight: 186 g

Sound

Cans: Audeze LCD-2 (Double Helix Fusion Complement4, PlusSound X8), MrSpeakers Ether 1.1 (Forza AudioWorks Noir HPC mk2, DUM), Final Sonorus III, AKG K612 Pro, Focal Spirit Professional, AKG K551, Noble Audio Savant i Noble 4, Etymotic ER-4PT, Brainwavz B200
AMPs + DAC/AMPs: Burson Conductor Virtuoso (Sabre), AIM SC808, ODAC i O2, Leckerton UHA-760, Zorloo ZuperDAC
DAPs: iBasso DX200, iBasso DX90
Interconnects: Forza AudioWorks Copper Series, Klotz
Music: various genres, different bitrates (including 24-bit), binaural tracks

X5 III surprised me with the sound quality and its signature. Applied DAC is known for warmer, mid-forward sound, while X5 III is neutral, bright and direct-sounding. FiiO’s sound signature, however, is still audible. X5 III resembles X7 1st gen, its smooth, a tad digital tuning, but the overall quality is a one step up. The sound is universal, detailed and surround. It allows for both analytical and relaxing listening. The signature has its flaws, though.

Bass is not dry, very hard and precise. It also doesn’t offer much attack and dynamics. Lows are vigorous and don’t get muddy and rumbling. It’s neither very fast nor very slow. It’s well-controlled – low tones are nicely separated from one another. The sound is not boring - when needed, a bass drum enters or midbass becomes stronger. Bass reveals many details, but not all of them. FiiO’s devices are often associated with emphasized midbass, but with X5 III the lows don’t overtake, are rather even, with appropriate transition into subbas. Bassheads won’t enjoy such signature, which is rather neutral and transparent. The sound is not thin, though – the bass is present, but not exaggerated.

Midrange is neutral and even. It’s not recessed and not forward either. This range is direct, clear and bright, not dominated by bass and not covered by trebles. Again, there’s no sign of harshness or dryness – the sound is smooth and pleasant, but without losing much resolution and details. Live instruments don’t impose, female vocals don’t hiss and the level of details isn’t overwhelming. The sound is fairly detailed, put somewhere between being analytical and musical. Lower midrange is not emphasised and not overlapped by bass. Midrange is close and non-aggressive. It works well with music genres featuring vocals and live instruments, but synthesizers and modern music also sound fine. Signature is not very natural, not warm. On the other hand, it may also not satisfy people seeking very analytical, highly-contoured tuning.

Upper midrange fluently turns into treble. This frequency range is solid, but – just as bass and midrange – also smooth and soft. It’s bright, but not syblilant. High tones seem a bit artificial, digital, but still at acceptable level – it’s more annoying in other FiiO devices and in two older generations of X5.

Holographics is impressive. One can actually hear that the device is using separate DACs for each side – channel separation is strong, the sound is airy with distinctly separated instruments. Soundstage size is optimal – it’s neither a hangar nor a concert hall. The device clearly exhibits instruments in all directions. The listener is plunged into music, but there’s no effect of discomfort, crampedness, aggressiveness. X5 III doesn’t sound distant – the user is placed in the middle of the scene, next to musicians.

Line out

Line out works awesome, which is in a way… disappointing. This is because when you add a better amplifier, you start to notice some vices of the chip that FiiO uses. When you pair X5 with such a great device as Leckerton Audio UHA760, it is then hard to return to the headphone output – the sound improves a lot. It remains smooth, but gains better dynamic and higher resolution. It seems that the internal amplifier makes the sound smoother. When using a line out, one can hear more details, soundstage also improves and bass is fuller and tighter.

On one hand, X5’s sound can be further improved by adding a high-quality external amplifier. On the other, if you find a decent combination, you may not want to use the headphone out anymore.

FiiO X5 III vs other DAPs

In its price range, the newest X5 is a very good sounding DAP. However, the sound quality is not as good as in Astell&Kern products. iBasso DX80 is also superior, not to mention the DX200. When using the line out, the differences are smaller, yet the FiiO device still loses. Naturally, X5 III offers a whole lot of features, but I wouldn’t call it a killer-DAP.

For me, X5 III performs on par with iBasso DX90 and Astell&Kern AK70. The first one offers harder, more raw and analytical tuning, which is not as easy to listen, but makes the sound more dynamic. X5’s tuning is more calm, less vigorous, but also speedy. FiiO’s device is smoother, musical, with better instrument separation and more air. If one prefers details, DX90 will be a better choice. X5 works better for neutrality in a musical version. Last but not least, one needs to remember that DX90 is much less feature-packed.

AK70’s tuning is more musical and coloured. The DAP offers more midbass and not as transparent and direct midrange. It sounds warmer and offers smaller soundstage, less air and worse separation.

iBasso DX200 provides much higher resolution and dynamics, bigger soundstage, deeper bass and trebles. By contrast, X5 is smoother, thinner, with softer tuning and lower dynamics and a smaller soundstage.

In case of Astell&Kern AK300, which utilizes the same DAC, but just a single one, the sound is more natural, but warmer. Midrange is closer and bass is more tight and massive, trebles are softer and the resolution is a bit higher.

FiiO X5 III vs headphones/earphones

X5 III pairs well with the majority of headphones and earphones, but not all. I much enjoyed it with Etymotic ER-4S and ER-4PT, which have become softer. FiiO works surprisingly great with AKG K551, but not as great with Focal Spirit Professional – the sound is too smooth. Noble Audio 4 hiss quite a lot, but in general sound good. X5 also pairs well with Noble Audio Savant and Brainwavz B200, so with both neutral and darker IEMs. I wouldn’t pair it with very bright and thin earphones/headphones. The device won’t add the lows or cut the highs.

Verdict

FiiO X5 III is not a perfect device and not a killer of much more expensive DAPs. As a whole, it’s, however, an excellent piece of gear, which I enjoy a lot. I prefer it over FiiO X7 1st gen with a standard amplifier and it’s also much better than the previous generations of X5. 3rd gen X5 is perfectly-built, easy to use and packed with a lot of features. Android OS works fine and allows streaming and connecting Bluetooth devices. It’s a fantastic all-in-one device that also offers great line out sound.

Personally I think that the performance of internal storage and card readers as well as Wi-Fi transfers are not limiting. I wouldn’t call X5 III a cheap DAP, especially that its 3rd generation is more expensive than the previous two. For its price, new X5 is for sure worth recommending.

maciux - Maciej Sas

F700

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Smooth and slightly warm sound signature, accessories, pure-music modus, bang for $$$
Cons: Needs the A5 amp to shine, weak Wi-Fi, just a bit narrow-sounding overall, UI could have a better response, average balanced-output
It will be a short review. I am not affiliated to FiiO in any kind. I bought the device and this is my honest opinion. No pictures, there are plenty of them already a bit everywhere around the web and on Head-Fi. Nevertheless, I could post some if requested.

Sorry for any grammatical or spelling errors, english not being my first language.

It actually is a X5III/A5 review. All of my audio-files are FLAC, ALAC or DSD.

The FiiO X5 III seems to divide people on Head-Fi a bit more than other pieces of equipment. Let’s say it right from the start, I never owned a DAP before the X5 III. I can say that I have some experience with full-size headphones and the arsenal a music enthusiast needs around them, but I am a newcomer in the world of DAPs. I blindly purchased the FiiO and I was expecting a noticeable improvement over my iPhone 6S, because I thought the investment made was supposed to bring something better in my ears. It was the case. Immediately. I fall in love with its sound signature. I am ready to accept the fact that it may be a bit veiled compared to the extra transparent offerings available on the market, but suffering from a slight tinnitus, I played it safe and trusted the reviews…and let’s face it, I always liked a slightly dark sound signature, with controlled but tight bass and a nice midrange. Driving a pretty wide range of headphones and IEMs, the FiiO A5 joined the X5 III a few days after the purchase of the DAP. Both have been stacked since then. I listened to the X5 III without the A5 a few time, but always had the impression that something was missing. It’s difficult to describe. It’s like the X5 III has to focus on the DAC and let the A5 doing the work of the amplification. Team working at its best.

Here are the headphones/IEM used with the X5 III/A5 combo and short comments about the pairing:
  • Sony Z5 (out-of-your-head experience with good recordings - fantastic SQ, also in SE, close to perfection)
  • Sony N3AP (cannot be beaten with electronic « bass » music, remind me a bit of my LCD-X with desktop setup)
  • Sony MDR-Z1R (smooth and relaxing, cosy yet detailed SQ, wide soundstage - have a drink, seat in an armchair and enjoy)
  • MEZE 99 Classics (lot of energy, uplifting SQ, good dynamics - brings party mood)
I bought the FiiO X5 III thinking I’ll use Tidal, WiFi and all the features which sounded promising on the paper. I ended up only using the device on « pure music » mode with a full 128GB SD card. Wifi is too weak, BT is ok. Tidal on iPhone on-the-go or connected to a wireless B&O is sufficient for me. So, it’s pure music and nothing else.

In my opinion, the X5 III needs the A5 to shine. Too bad there’s no balanced output on the A5, because the one on the X5 III is average. The difference with the Z5 is very small, if noticeable. Going SE with that IEM on the A5 is better than balanced with X5 III alone.

Short summary of the X5 III (with A5):

TOP
  • Smooth yet detailed and multi-layered sound
  • Non fatiguing SQ, treble is never harsh or too sibilant
  • Pure music mode is intuitive (for me at least) and quite stable
  • DSDs sound amazing, even in SE
  • Good built quality
  • Nice (p)leather case
  • Line-out cable is very short, perfect for the A5
  • Lots of power to drive a wide range of headphones (300ohm impedance is no problem with the A5)
  • Fiio seems to make a nice effort in order to bring FW-update and thus correcting bugs
  • Since I bought the X5 III, I definitively believe that DAPs may deliver much better SQ that any smartphone on the market today
FLOP
  • Could have a wider and opener presentation on some recordings
  • A tad snappier UI would have been great
  • Wifi is too weak, BT is just ok
  • No balanced-out from the A5
OVERALL RATING = 4.5 STARS

FINAL WORDS

Owning an USD 5K+ desktop setup (DAC, AMP & cables), I am amazed by the X5III/A5 pairing. It makes me wanting for more. The X5 III being qualified as a Mid-tier DAP, I am convinced that there something out there which will bring the experience to the next level… I am looking at you Sony NW-ZX300… :)

Thanks for reading!

Malevolent

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Generally good, clean sound
Easy to use
Well-priced product
Cons: Treble could be a little more pronounced
Some slight UI issues (see review for more details)
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Introduction

This is a review for the FiiO X5iii that has been a long time coming. I was chosen as part of the review tour in March, but I've been so busy that I wasn't able to complete the review, until now, that is. My apologies to @FiiO for the delay.

Most of these impressions were transcribed from my week spent with the X5iii from a few months back. Unfortunately, since so much time has passed, most of my thoughts on the unit have faded and I can no longer accurately describe, off hand, any ad-hoc thoughts on the player, apart from the points recorded below.

Hence, this is less of a straight-up review, but more of a comparison of the X5iii against some of the other DAPs in my possession. The files and IEMs used were consistent on each device. The players used were -
  • FiiO X5iii
  • Astell & Kern AK240
  • Astell & Kern AK380
  • Onkyo DP-X1
  • Chord Mojo
  • Empire Ears Zeus XIV (with plusSound X8)
All of them were tested with my Empire Ears Zeus XIV, on a single-ended connection (with my plusSound X8 SPC cable). I played a few of my favourite songs, which are generally my go-to list of tracks that I always use to test audio equipment. I will be talking about each device in comparison with the X5iii, unless otherwise stated.

By the way, I think my review is a little too bland, so if you have any critical thoughts on my writing, please do not hesitate to let me know. Thank you very much!

So without any further delays, here it goes (don’t mind the music choices!) -

Lady Gaga - Poker Face

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One of my favourite pop songs of all time, Lady Gaga’s Poker Face has an infectious melody and chorus line.

AK240: On the AK240, treble was crisp, with similar detail retrieval. It has slightly more midrange body. The X5iii sounds a touch leaner in comparison. Both are equally clear, with good instrument separation, staging and imaging.

AK380: The AK380 has the best treble presentation of the lot. Its highs are clear, detailed, sparkling but never sibilant. Soundstage is also wide and deep.

DP-X1: The Onkyo’s midrange sounds a little veiled and congested in comparison with the X5iii. Instruments and vocals are presented in a slightly more compressed stage. Unfortunately, its treble is a little sibilant, compared to the smooth highs on the X5iii.

Mojo: The Mojo has the greatest body of all the players. Against the FiiO, it is certainly weightier in tonality, with emphasis on a more prominent presentation in its mid and lower registers. Detail is top-notch, which edges it slightly above the X5iii.

X5iii: FiiO’s mid-tier champ reproduces Lady Gaga’s vocals relatively well. Its midrange was clear and detailed, with smooth highs. Layering was also on-par with the AK240, and surpasses the DP-X1 with ease.

The Cure - Just Like Heaven

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A recognisable rock song from my preferred generation, the 80s/90s.

AK240: As with Poker Face, treble on the AK240 was detailed and controlled. Against the X5iii, the AK240 has a more sparkling treble presentation, and on the FiiO, a smoother sound.

AK380: Again, the AK380’s huge soundstage affords The Cure’s Just Like Heaven a perfect platform to showcase the myriad instruments playing at one go. Treble sparkle and extension edges out the FiiO.

DP-X1: The DP-X1 struggles to reproduce the splendid, coherent song in all its greatness, with a midrange that sounds a little cramped. The X5iii easily trumps the Onkyo in this regard, with clear mids and superb imaging.

Mojo: The Mojo has stronger bass, and better extensions at both ends. Its soundstage was also a touch wider than on the X5iii. The latter however, sounds a touch cleaner.

X5iii: The X5iii’s slightly muted highs fell slightly short against the Mojo, the AK240 and the AK380, but made up for it with a clear and somewhat refreshing sound. Imaging and layering are strong points of the X5iii.

Ice MC - Give Me The Light

Ice MC - Give Me The Light (Small).jpg


A favourite dance track of mine. I could listen to this on repeat for over an hour.

AK240: On the AK240, bass has less impact but texture and layering are both very well done. The X5iii certainly has a little more punch in its lows.

AK380: Vocals on the AK380 were presented with aplomb, but the X5iii was surprisingly good in this regard as well. Lows on the AK380 were definitive, with better layering than on the FiiO.

DP-X1: The DP-X1 had a slightly heavier low end, with a bit more rumble than on the X5iii. However, despite its best attempts, the midrange was once again its weak point, allowing the FiiO to best it in overall musicality.

Mojo: The Mojo’s overall sound is warmer than that on the FiiO. It retains the same level of detail and vocal authority, with a heavier bass presence.

X5iii: The X5iii’s clean midrange was a star performer for this tune, allowing the mix of beats and vocals to come to the fore, with some excellent instrument separation to boot. Bass was somewhat middle of the pack when it comes to quantity, but it didn’t disappoint in its quality.

Usability

During my time spent with the X5iii, I recall experiencing some UI hiccups when I attempted to move between songs, or when I tried to scrub through the current track. Most of these UI issues are extremely hazy to me right now, but I did face a couple of bugs then.

Nevertheless, as the X5iii was a fresh-from-the-oven product during my time with it, I suppose FiiO would have worked on these issues by now.

Final Words

The FiiO X5iii is definitely a contender in the mid-tier category. It held its own against the AK240, which was rather surprising. Clarity and detail was about on par with AK’s former flagship, with perhaps a touch less treble sparkle than I was hoping for. The AK380 was without a doubt, the best sounding DAP in this review, but this wasn’t something unexpected. Rather, I was intrigued to see the X5iii perform at a comparatively close level.

The DP-X1 was quite a disappointment, as it fell short on many regards. The FiiO was clearer, had better staging and layering, and is the player with the better treble presentation. Stronger bass rumble on the Onkyo was a bit of a redeeming factor, allowing it to shine better when playing dance tunes.

The Mojo is certainly a star performer in its own right, but as a portable DAC, it’s definitely not in the same category as the X5iii. It has a warmer tonality, with a more powerful midrange and heavier lows. Nevertheless, the FiiO, as a proper DAP, trumps the Mojo with its use-case benefit - an all-in-one solution. The X5iii is also the cleaner sounding player.

For anybody considering a mid-tier DAP, the X5iii is certainly a player that you should consider. While I should have included more mid-range DAPs in this shootout, I was pressed for time, and I only had my own devices to compare it with.

Again, I’d like to thank @FiiO for this wonderful opportunity to use a player that was clearly designed to blend usability, sound and convenience in one package. Well done!
Pros: Size is nice in the hand, solid build, 2 micro-SD slots for tons of storage, Google Play Store, minimal skinning on Android, good functional interface, Quick Charge, excellent USB DAC function, full-featured
Cons: Sound is very mid-fi, hiss with sensitive IEMs, button layout not terribly ergonomic, weak/poor Bluetooth, limited amplification, crowded bottom end, coaxial digital out without with lame adaptor
List Price: $399

fiio-x5iii-rating.png


Acknowledgment
Thanks go to FiiO for organizing a worldwide tour of the X5iii and letting me join it. After this is all over, this player will be heading back to ea audio, FiiO’s UK distributor. You can buy the player there too.

This review originally appeared elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Introduction
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I have done a little bit of FiiO listening in the past at shows. I liked the X3ii. I thought the X1 was excellent value for money. I wasn’t really into the sound of either the X5ii or the X7. When I last met FiiO folks I was interested in reviewing their newly released (at the time) balanced cables. I didn’t like them. They had terrible ergonomics and a bit of a thin treble happy sound—consequently other reviews of gear that I like a lot more have taken precedence for writing up instead of the balanced cable reviews. I let FiiO know that I wasn’t likely to review those samples, but I’m a bit disappointed to not have done so. I may still do it.

My history with FiiO is one of not generally liking their house sound, but when I saw that they were releasing a DAP that was Android, with two microSD slots, Quick Charge, WiFi, Google Play Store enabled, and rocking two AK4490 chips I was more than intrigued. We’ll see if the intrigue carries on to affection.


Useability: Form & Function

Unboxing
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The unboxing experience was somewhat reduced due to this being on a tour. Folks just slam things back into the case and I have no idea what it originally looked like. What is included though is quite impressive. You get two cases, one pleather and one TPU. I’m not really a fan of either, but it’s a good include. Of the two cases I liked the pleather best, but it doesn’t have the kind of quality that the optional Opus #3 case has.

The player comes fitted with a tempered glass, which is a first for me. Good thing too, as when I took off the case I thought that one of the previous reviewers had cracked the screen whilst practicing their circus routine. Luckily it was just the screen protector.


In addition to the screen protector and cases FiiO includes a 3.5mm to coaxial female adaptor, and the ubiquitous micro-usb cable. Personally, I prefer having an optical out, and if an optical out isn’t provided, I’d rather have a direct to coaxial adaptor rather than one that makes me supply my own cable. It’s a portable device, I’m not likely to be carrying around a full-size coaxial cable and I’m not likely to need a big length. In this position, the approach that iBasso took with the DX-50 is preferable—I don’t know if they still supply 3.5mm to coax adaptors.

Aesthetics
The lines are striking and etched lines from the Astell & Kern school of DAP design, though applied only on one side of the DAP. The rest of the DAP is just like any other rectangular brick of metal. The material choice of Zirconium and the sand blasted surface give a nice texture to the body.

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The asymmetrical design may be partly responsible for the awkward fit of the pleather case, as the single sided hump makes it difficult for the structure to pull even. The alternative TPU case also suffers in the aesthetic department. First because TPU is rarely very attractive and second because the plugs for the outputs and inputs on the bottom of the DAP can easily have memory effects that make them swing out of their proper slots and just wave around saying ‘hi’ like the really drunk girl at prom.

prom-blog480.jpg


The glass sandwich front and back are reminiscent of the Cayin i5, another fine Android player, but one that I didn’t have for this review. The front and back have understated designs with a nice dot matrix adorning the front and a four-pointed star motif gracing the back.

Ergonomics
The FiiO X5iii has a good size in the hand with a nice weight. The sandblasted texture feels delightful in hand, but this baby was mostly in cases for me, just to protect it.

I had problems with the button arrangement. The power button and play/pause button are directly parallel one another and the fast-forward button was extraordinarily close by in terms of where your fingers go when you grip. On more than one occasion this arrangement led to pausing or skipping tracks whilst switching between DAPs or pressing to turn the screen on. I prefer layouts where the power button is on the top, like the following: Shanling M2s, TheBit Opus #3, Echobox Explorer.

I also was not a fan of having every input and output on the bottom. This can lead to a very crowded layout. I would recommend moving the line-out, if possible.

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I use DAPs in a blazer inside pocket quite a bit, and I found the volume hard to reach in this use instance. There are two reasons for this: the headphone jacks are at the opposite end of the player from the volume control, and because of this must be pointed down; and the orientation of the knob means it cannot be turned anywhere but from the side. The best implementation of a volume knob on a DAP for this type of use goes to the Cayin i5, with the Echobox Explorer not far behind. The Cayin i5 only requires one finger in the pocket to turn the knob. Nice.

Build Quality
The build quality is excellent. The metal is solid with a good grippy surface due to the sandblasting. The headphone jacks and line-out do not protrude far, but are not flush. With 2.5mm TRRS plugs, flush matters, as the plug is not very strong due to its diminutive size. The X5iii does well here in almost getting flush, but the Aune M1s does a better job on this as it is completely flush, allowing the plug body to lend reinforcement to the jack.

Operating System
The X5iii has a full Android operating system with the music player as an app. Google Play store comes included right out of the box which is refreshing after seeing both the Echobox Explorer and the TheBit Opus #3 fail to do this. The interface is mostly stock Android with a little theming. Installing apps is simple and they work intuitively with all the standard Android buttons not stomped on.

I like being able to listen to Tidal, and share my listening habits via Facebook and Twitter.

One of my biggest dislikes was the lock screen. I want to open up the player and immediately be in the player. FiiO should build in the ability to disable the lock screen.

Where I spend most of my time is the music app, and there is good and bad here.

Good:
  • Search function. Everyone should do this.
  • Genre tab with option to be organised as Albums or Songs. Everybody needs to do this.
  • Relatively easy to navigate
  • DLNA works okay for CD quality and under
  • USB DAC works excellently and is easy to access via drop down menu of Android
  • Loads of options: display album art, VU meter, lyrics
Bad:
  • Hypersaturated colour scheme, album art and text is a bit unnatural looking. It’s basically like a TV shop display with no way to make it have more normal settings. Neon grass forever, crap. Opus #3 looks natural.
  • Player doesn’t start in a music playback view, or even library navigation. It has a start screen with access to playlists, library and DLNA sources. Some may like this. I’d rather have one screen and a scrolling option bar.
  • No scrolling option bar. If I am playing an album and want to play a playlist, I have to back up in the menus multiple steps.
  • I prefer having text based menus instead of icons. I understand the reason for icons (better international compatibility), I just don’t like them.
  • Tapping back on a track doesn’t take you to the beginning of the track and slide scrolling with fingers is restrained by case edges. It’s too hard to get to the beginning of the darn track, which can be a pain for reviewers like me. It may be less of a pain for people who aren’t repeatedly listening to the intro of Hotel California and Time.
  • DLNA stutters on high bitrates and has lag issues. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Not enough memory or processor speed, methinks. 2GB RAM is not expensive, folks. C’mon.
  • Album art view is zoomed and cropped. This sucks, and it is because of button arrangement. This could be fixed by putting the track time in the track scroll bar, and making the scroll bar thinner. Tiled buttons would also allow for a more visually compact layout that would allow the full album art to be displayed.
  • Lots of purchase options for the Viper effects. I would have just left this off, as this is pretty lame.
Most of the problems in the OS I describe could have been resolved through beta testing. Send me your next DAP before it comes out FiiO, I’m not asking for a freebie. I want to help you.

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Audio quality
The X5iii is not what previous FiiO DAPs and products have been like for me. Whilst it isn’t a neutral reference due to it’s little bit of bass lift it is transparent with excellent detail. It doesn’t feel laconic like the X7 did and it doesn’t feel dark and brooding like the previous X5 series numbers did to me. This DAP may be exactly what many people are looking for and at a fraction of the cost of many other Android based players, including the Opus #3 referenced in this review. In fact, this player costs the same as the Opus #1 and has far more functionality. It has been too long and too many firmwares since the I listened to the Opus #1, so no comment on the rest of that comparison.

Sound positives:
  • Full bass and mids
  • Good open sound
  • Good level of detail
  • Speedy
  • Not reference bass (positive for many)
Sound not so positives
  • Vocals can be shouty
  • Sometimes guitars get a bit strident
  • Not as speedy as some competition
  • Some details smear
  • Not reference bass (negative for some)
  • Not enough power for HD600, not even close.
As there is only so much time with one of these tour units, I’m going to let the comparisons speak most for audio quality. Everything is relative anyway.

its_all_relative650px.jpg


Matchability
The X5iii did not do well with higher impedance IEMs. I threw both the RHA CL1 and RHACL750 at it and it sounded a bit sucked out in the mids and lacking in bass compared to what these can do with better power. I didn’t try to pair the X5iii with the HD600, as the poor performance with the RHA CL series seems a good predictor of poor performance with the HD600. I don’t recommend trying this for demanding cans without an amp.

The Noble Kaiser Encore, Unique Melody Miracle v2, and the UERR all played very nice with the X5iii. Dropping down from the top tiers of headphones the X5iii played nice with the Meze 11 Neo and Meze 12 Classics.

With Bluetooth, I found that the transmitter was not very good. I have had better quality with my cell phone (Asus Zenfone 3) and with my Avantree Priva II transmitter (best transmitter I’ve found). I tested both with the Lear BTC-01, which I’ve had good results with elsewhere.

Comparisons
Comparisons began with the UERR matched at 76.2 dB using an SPL meter and DIY coupler. Comparisons began in Android Mode and moved to Pure Music mode on the X5iii. All other players do not have a separate setting for ‘pure music.’ Midway through testing I switched headphones to the Noble Kaiser Encore.

Aune S6
First, to be fair, I’ll list off the signal chain for the S6. The S6 was connected to my laptop with the following chain:

Dell Vostro to iFi supplied generic USB 3.0 to iFi Micro iUSB3.0 to LH Labs Lightspeed 2G cable (split power and signal)

I find that this signal chain generally enhances soundstage and note resolution, so the S6 is already getting a leg up, but this would be my use case.

Sloop John B (DSD64). The S6 has a much more transparent and natural sound. The treble sounds clearer and the space in the soundstage is larger. Mids are clearer on the S6 and bass has a more natural feel. The FiiO X5iii sounds veiled in comparison with a bit of recession in the vocal range. Bass is less emphatic on the X5iii.

Georgio by Moroder has a smoother sound on the X5iii, but this also means it has a slightly lower resolution. The S6 has more power and body in every part of the spectrum.

The sound of the S6 is full and organic. The chugging bass on D’yer Ma’ker really shines on the S6. Comparatively, the X5iii sounds restrained. I like the extra body on the S6. However, the X5iii has better definition on those signature chugging bass notes, and the stage seems a little bit more defined. I think in this situation I prefer the pairing with the S6.

On Damien Rice – Elephant the strings have greater body and emotion with very natural decay and timbre. The X5iii is very clear and breathy, but the S6 is soulful. The timbre picture on this comparison is becoming quite clear. The S6 has a more lush, organic sound, but the X5iii is by no means dry on these tracks. Details are excellent on both.

Katherine Bryan — Flute Concerto Alla Marcia, the S6 has an effortless and natural depth to the stage. The width is also greater. This track used to be my treble torture test. Executed right it doesn’t pierce your ears, but has some very high notes on the flute. It also has some fantastic timpani strikes. Both the S6 and the X5iii pass the treble torture test for this track. No shrill moments on either.

On Infected Mushroom – Heavy Weight. The S6 has much greater depth and width and a far more natural flow to the music. It matches the X5iii punch for punch in detail. The sound is just dripping with power. With the power differential in the comparisons, I felt the need to try listening to the X5iii at a much louder volume. So I jacked it 10 points in volume, this should be a roughly 4 dB boost. The S6 was still fuller sounding, but it was a lot closer. It is quite possible that measurement error accounts for some of the differences in sound, but I think it unlikely that it accounts for all of the differences between the two. The X5iii has better detail resolution and precision. Note definition is tighter on all the digital percussive elements that this song has going. The X5iii is a bit faster too. Jacking the volume a bit helps with definition on the X5iii, unsurprisingly.

Audio Opus Opus #3
The soundstage is quite wide on the Opus #3 on Infected Mushroom – Heavy Weight. The Opus #3 might be the most detailed DAP I have listened to and it doesn’t disappoint here. The sound presentation is clear and uber transparent on the Opus #3. The X5iii sounds more restrained with less width in the stage and less height. The sound is also less transparent and textured. Win for the Opus #3 on this one. Trying the jack the volume test, I find that the Opus #3 still outpaces on details and soundstage width and height. The sound is just far more transparent.

The announcer is further back in the stage and the overall stage dimensions are smaller for the X5iii on Pink Floyd – On the Run, similarly on Time there is more space between the clocks and greater width on the Opus #3. The moving drummer also has greater depth to use. The Opus #3 appears to be outclassing the X5iii when both are operating in Android. Switching to pure music mode the soundstage width of the X5iii improves some. The Opus #3 still edges it here, but it is a closer battle. It’s very close, in fact. On depth after the switch, the X5iii has a less immediate presentation, but the sound stage isn’t really bigger, it’s just further away from you.

Let’s torture some treble. Kraftwerk – Kometenmelodie2 should work nicely.

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Both players let the sound get to the piercing levels it is supposed to achieve. Test passed. The X5iii sounds a bit veiled in comparison, though (we are in pure music mode now).

At this point, to insure that my sound interpretations aren’t just due to having a different volume measurement on the user error prone customs, I switched to the Noble Kaiser Encore and ran through some tracks again. Heavy Weight’s intro sounded a little veiled on the X5iii. The Opus #3 is more transparent with better resolution. The presentation is a bit more intricate on the Opus #3. On the repeat of On the Run the two players are about even. The announcer has equal clarity in both. If anything, I’d say the Opus #3 is a little airier with more spatial resolution, whilst the X5iii has a bit less width and a little bit firmer presentation. On Time there is a bit more depth in the presentation of clocks with greater differentiation in the stage depth on the Opus #3. The Opus #3 is crisper. When the drummer comes in the there is more impact on the X5iii. Both do an excellent job depicting his movement around the stage—the drummer’s dance is full of motion on both players.

So far for me it’s been largely about the treble differences between these two, the bigger stage of the Opus #3 and the greater immediacy and impact of the X5iii in the mids. But what if Meghan Trainor is right? Is it All About That Bass?


To find out, I’m going to throw a couple of my favourite test tracks at it: Massive Attack – Teardrop and Why – Strawberries. As expected, the X5iii has a firmer and fuller bass presentation on Teardrop. The electronic drums and bass have firmer and fuller body. For bassheads, the X5iii is definitely superior. The bass is still there on the Opus #3, but not nearly as full as the X5iii. Likewise on Strawberries, the Opus #3 has tight and resolved bass, but not the physical or emotional weight of the X5iii. The Opus #3 still has the wider soundstage on this track and the more articulate and detailed presentation, if not more emotional presentation.

Does emotional weight carry on to the mids? We’ll see. For testing emotional weight I like throwing Damien Rice’s 9 album down. I don’t know if there is a male singer who can make my waterworks just flow like Damien Rice. He may have the most emotional male vocal I’ve heard, and those lyrics don’t help either. When testing with Elephant, the Opus #3 is more airy. Guitar picks have more definition, vocals are more delicate while still maintaining emotional weight. Vocals on the X5iii had a tendency to feel a bit more shouty at the same SPL. The Opus #3 is just the more refined player of the two.

Aune M1s
The Aune M1s has a significantly wider and deeper soundstage. It has better note resolution, it is clearer. It sounds better. This is beginning to be a pattern. The X5iii just can’t win any of my duels. Good thing the battles are more like fighting with pool noodles than a real duel.

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The X5iii is on the left. Poor kid’s about to be decapitated.

At this point I just don’t have the heart to subject the X5iii to another comparison, so I decide to leave it alone vs. the Echobox Explorer. In the past I’ve found the Echobox to sound as good or better than the M1s, so the FiiO X5iii didn’t really have a chance anyway.

I had some tables in here, to show volume matching, but the Head-Fi transition appears to have eaten tables for breakfast. That was my breakfast, Head-Fi. Give it back. In the meantime, those wanting image tables, volume match tables, and tables of specifications should look go to the blog in my signature.

SourceHeadphoneCableSE/BalancedGainVolume~SPL
Audio Opus Opus #3UERRStock BalancedBalancedHigh9976.2
Aune S6UERRStock BalancedBalancedNA4776.2
FiiO X5iiiUERRStock BalancedBalancedHigh6576.2
FiiO X5iiiNoble Kaiser EncoreDouble Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3BalancedHigh4778.2
Aune S6Noble Kaiser EncoreDouble Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3 to Eidolic 2.5mm to 4-pin XLRBalancedNA4278.2
Aune M1S (firmware 1.05A)Noble Kaiser EncoreDouble Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3BalancedLow6278.1
Echobox ExplorerNoble Kaiser EncoreDouble Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3, DHC hypershort 3.5mm adaptorSENA~55%78.2

[Missing volume matching data table and specifications table, an earlier table had a feature comparison across three DAPs. Tables are awesome.]

Specifications
Here are some selected stats. For full stats, go to FiiO’s website. They have done a really impressive job listing stats and their methods of measurement. This is something that should be applauded. Applaud by going and having a look at their fine work here.

Specifications
Price$399 (£389)
DAC ChipsDual AKM AK4490EN
System on Chip (SoC)Rockchip RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 processor
RAM1GB
AmplifierLow-pass filter: OPA1612, Op-amps: customised OPA426 x 2
Output powerSingle-ended: ≥250 mW (32Ω /THD+N<1%)
Balanced: ≥240 mW (32Ω /THD+N<1%)
Output impedanceSingle-ended: <1Ω (32Ω loaded)
Balanced: <3Ω (32Ω loaded)
Recommended headphone impedance6 - 150Ω
Total Harmonic Distortion + N (THD+N)<0.0009% (1 kHz/10kΩ, line out), <0.003% (1 kHz, headphones)
Signal to Noise Ratio120dB (Line Out); ≥115 dB (A-weighted, SE headphones); ≥111 dB (A-weighted, balanced headphone)
Frequency Response5 Hz~55 kHz (-3dB)
Channel SeparationSingle Ended (headphone): >73 dB (1 kHz)
Balanced and line-out: ≥98 dB (1 kHz)
Outputs3.5mm headphone out, 2.5mm (balanced) headphone out, 3.5mm line-out with coaxial digital adaptor
Internal storage32GB
Expandable storage2 microSD slots (512GB)
Display3.97” IPS panel (480*800)
Battery<10 hours (tested), 3400 mAh
Charge modesQuick Charge, and standard
WiFi2.4Ghz
Bluetooth4.0 aptX low-latency
Format supportPCM 44.1-352.8kHz (16, 24, 32 bit); DSD64-DSD128 (single to double DSD; iso, dsf, and dff); APE; MP3; ALAC; AAC; OGG, WAV, WMA, AIFF, ALAC
AccessoriesBlack leatherette case, clear TPU case, USB cable, tempered glass screen protector (installed), coaxial digital adaptor, quick-start guide
Dimensions114.2mm (H) x 66.2mm (W) x 14.8mm (D)
Weight187g

Conclusions
The FiiO X5iii sounds acceptable to good, but the DAP is more about bells and whistles than sound. When I compared the X5iii to other DAPs and DAC/Amps it invariably lost on sound quality. It doesn’t have the audio capabilities of the Aune M1s at $249 and it lags far behind TheBit’s Opus #3 at $899 (I think this price will come down). It has better features than all the DAPs I compared it to, but if I was looking for features over sound I could probably just listen to my cell phone on plenty of music with plenty of headphones. The DAC chips are good in the X5iii, so if you feed it into an amp, the sound does improve, but if you were planning on using the X5iii as a transport, you’ll be disappointed in FiiO’s choice of a coaxial connection over an optical connection.

If sound is your most important criteria in an audio player, there are significantly better options available at price levels below and above the FiiO X5iii. Before doing this review I was hoping that FiiO had finally made a real giant killer. Some reviews out there made it seem that way, but my experience was different. This device is a great DAP shackled by an average amp. It is no giant killer.

Matrix Petka

500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great design, hardware potential, customer service
Cons: Veiled sound, beta software.
Disclaimer.

I bought my FiiO X5III for my money and have no interest to promote anything. Just my critical opinion, because lot of reviewers was talking about good and all good stuff about this player it is easy to find.

Packaging 5/5

Double shell – outside thin, with FiiO X5 III photo, basic specifications of device, etc. Inside – trending black box, promising something nice inside and nice unboxing experience.

Accessories 5/5

I would give 7. There FiiO set new high standard in the black box you will find:
Protective glass screen shield factory assembled
Two cases – one transparent silicon, another – nice black artificial leather!
USB cable
Coaxial adapter
Special key for SD card removal

Build 5/5

Red dot award – what I can to say more? Really nice looking, good feel at hand. Choice of three colors – black, titanium and red (why red, not blue?) Safe durable closed slots for SD cards. One thing I don’t like – power button – hard to push inside, especially when turning on, because you need to do it for quite long time.

Battery life 3/5

Mediocre. Hope, will improve when FiiO will fix software issues.

Computing hardware 3/5

Processor – mediocre, slow. RAM – small. There start problems – about them I will talk later.

Sound, video hardware 4/5

All chips are really high class, promising good sound. Display – just OK, lacking of resolution and vivid colors.

Connectivity 5/5

Bluetooth, WiFi working flawless, SE and balanced output sturdy with lot of grip, separate line out with possibility for coaxial output, OTG – it looks not working, but, hope, coming soon.

Software 2/5

Software full of bugs plus slow processor – and we got slow FiiO. You have wait eternity when you turn on, holding power button till you thumb feel tired – then you know, that player waking up and you have time for some breathing exercises to calm down. Second part of exercises you will have when you will start FiiO native player. Even when you turning on Viper effects you need to wait for about 2 seconds when they start working. Slow. Very slow.
Bugs…. Software so raw, that still full of bugs. Player freezes and need to be restarted. FiiO is doing their best to fix them and updates are coming often. Improves.

UI 3/5

Tricky navigation, some features access need unnecessary clicks and jumps.

Sound 3/5

Honestly, I was expecting more from chips and amps, balanced output available. By my opinion player have much bigger potential and it is limited by software. Why? Maybe FiiO wanted not to compete with X7, maybe lack of experience with Android. Maybe both. Maybe at first all attempts were concentrated only for mp3 files reproduction to make it sound pleasant and not harsh? Anyway, good friend of mine working on mods on FiiO software and now my player sounding much better without any EQ. That’s why I can tell that problems with sound is in software, not hardware.
Native sound veiled, lacking of micro dynamic and details, sound stage mediocre, poor depth and instrument placement. Distortion in some middle frequencies. High frequencies recessed, lacking of air and sparkle. Bass boomy and woolly.
Musical, emotional, pleasant sound, but in need for improvement.
Output power – enough even for up to 300 Ohm headphones to have mediocre loudness.

Customer support – 5/5

FiiO listening their customer and doing all they can to improve their products and solve issues. Nobody is perfect.


Overall score 48/12 - 4
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m1ku

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Build quality, Price, Smooth sound
Cons: UI needs improvements, bug fixes,
Disclaimer1
this is a review unit provided by Fiio during the tour event. Thanks again for Fiio allowing me to take part of this event.

Disclaimer 2
by no means I am an expert in audio, but I will try my best to express my impression of this device.

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Gear I used in this review:
  • Desktop (dac function)
  • AKG K7xx
  • Shure SE215
  • 32GB microsd card
Packaging
It is really nice that it included two different case for user to choose from. Both of them has their advantages and disadvantages.

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Build Quality
It feel very solid in my hands. As a thinkpad user, I would also worry the dent it make on the floor if I drop it. (luckily that never happened) Instead of full on metal case, Fiio incorporated a glass back which from my experience of the X7, it is much less slippery. Button placement is on point with my thumb able to access pause/play, volume knob, next track and previous track. The click on the button is also quite tactile. The volume knob also gives a good feedback. I really like the gear like knob that make sure the user does not slip while adjusting the volume.

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Hardware
Screen is nothing special since the device itself is focus on audio. I can understand Fiio would try to save cost in this aspect. Looking from the specs, it seems this is the same panel Fiio used in the X7. Viewing angle is average at best. With colorful albums, the color can shift quite a bit when I change the angle I look at the it. Touch in my opinion is a bit too sensitive. When I am scrolling through the tracks, I can accidentally swipe the track to the left for the option of delete. I’m not sure if this is also the case for other retail unit, but the one on the review unit comes with a glass screen protector. It is a nice addition to the user since most of us nowadays would slap on a glass screen protector right away. Screen brightness has to adjust manually since there no sensor for the auto brightness setting. The good thing is brightness control can be accessed very easily anywhere.

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next to my E10k​

While using it as a desktop DAC, it can get a bit warm to the touch. During my time using it, I would remove the leather case to keep it cool. You will need to download a driver from Fiio in order to make it work, but the installation process is very straight forward. Once it is connected, you will have to switch the mode to dac mode in the notification. The only issue I had was having replug the usb cable after my computer went to sleep, or else it the Fiio software won't be able to detect the device. I guess a software fix is possible on this one?

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The leather case definitely add some premium feeling to the device. The padding inside also kept the device well in place. During my week of using it, it never slip out a bit. The only problem is with the leather case on, the buttons become mushy and whenever I try to press the wake button to check its battery life or time, it is most likely I have pushed the next track button which it starts playing tracks until I check it the next time.

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On the other hand, the plastic case was pretty much made for users who listen with the device on-the-go. Besides the 3.5mm headphone port, the other ports are covered by flap inserts. This might be a bit weird to express, but the feeling of pushing the flaps into the ports are pretty satisfying. The buttons that the case covers remain clicky.

Software

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Lockscreen with an album cover

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Music player UI​

The UI might be a bit confusing to use since when you start using the first time, it has a guide that I consider too much for user to remember in that short amount of time. It does take time to get use to navigating through the interface. For people who are good at technologies, it might only be a very short process, but for other people, it can be a problem. I would love to see a cleaner UI.

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Storage
It supports two microSD cards up to 256GB for each slot. During the time I used the device, I was only able to use one of them and only a 32gb. When I try to play larger files (DSD), it takes a little bit more than one second to load the song and start playing.

Battery life
That being said, battery life on this unit is pretty good. Even when I left it playing music for almost two hours, it drop at maximum of around 20%. The first day I got the device, I fully charged it and let it sit on my desk overnight to check its standby time. After around ten hours of standby without any connectivity, it dropped only 6% from 100%. It really shows Fiio tweaked the Android system to consume as little battery as possible. Which comes back to the screen as it is a low resolution panel, it also help save battery life. Charging the device might take a little while when the 3400mah battery. It does support fast charging which I tried it with the oneplus 3 charger and it does charges faster.

Sound Quality
The majority of the reviews here are comparing this unit with similar pricing ones or even better ones. Whereas I was only able to compare it with entry level gears. My impression on the sound quality will mostly base on my Fiio X1 and LG G4.

Comparing it with my Fiio X1, it definitely has a wider soundstage. When I listen to classical music, each instruments sound more separate with some are further away, creating a more pleasant listening experience. With the highs such as piano notes, it sounds more transparent.While listening to Kool&Klean (jazz), it feels even more smooth with the combination of different music.

The amp was able to power my iems and headphones pretty well.

Conclusion
Overall. This is a great device. It provides a great experience with an affordable price comparing to other DAP that has similar specs. Build quality is very good with the use of metal. Accessories are also enough to get it going without adding additional costs to the users on screen protector and protective case. The UI could be improved with more user friendly design and also can be optimized even further to create a smooth experience.


Thank you for reading my review. Feel free to provide any feedback~

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noobandroid

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Easy navigation menu, Android based, multiple I/O potential
Cons: Player app crashes oddly, lacking driving power compared to 2nd gen
20170520_113056.jpg
The Fiio X5-3 is sent to me on a tour review setup, and so here is my impression on the unit and some illustrations on it's contents.

P/S I'm still trying out this weird formatting mechanism

Interface

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The above is the Android mode of the device, where it can be switched from android powered to dedicated fiio music player alone as below
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In android mode, the familiarity towards android eases the use by a lot, like a drop down not. bar
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there is also an app menu, that has both fiio store showing supported apps and play store for going for something out of bound
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The Fiio app store

I/O
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nice touch on having a dedicated play pause button. The volume is clicky so it's easy to know how much volume is spun up.

Sound Impression
The Fiio X5-3 sounds very different from the 2s. The 2s show a warmer tone with some slight bass and treble kicks in it, but on the 3s it's like a flat sounding player, not exactly my thing but hey, it's neutral and so it shows the characteristics of the IEM you use. If you use a heavy bass IEM, it's bass heavy, so it's a good choice for things like custom iem, where influence of the player sound sig shouldnt be there. I am pairing the 3s with RHA MA750i and Noble Audio Sage, and both performs well. The MA750i does need a high gain and a volume of 78 (on an accurate ripped CD source) though to be at the full form. Even the Sage needs close to that range, so power hungry pairings will certainly not apply, let alone headphones, dont think they can drive, but luckily for balanced output, things might change for the better, but I dont have a decent balanced IEM so I wont comment on that.

Not forgetting there is a (as usual design) Line out / coaxial combined. So now pairing a desired amp, and this thing will be beasting!

Conclusion
Fiio has improved the player on a correct direction but has done a series of sacrifice on what is already good, which was the UI and battery life of the 2s. The 3s has a shorter battery life due to the OS burden applied on it. Hope to see more software tweaks and improvements and this will be one versatile piece of player, as hardware is already there, just the software cant keep up

Halexx

New Head-Fier
Pros: Nice sound, access to online music service
Cons: Buttons feel slack, user interface could be more easy to navigate
Here is my appreciation of the FIIO X5 3rd generation that i had the opportunity of trying for 10 days.

This opportunity have been offered by FIIO for free in exchange for an honest review, and i did not received any payment or any other advantage for it from them.

My objective is, while giving you my impression of this unit to help you decide if it is of interest to you, to investigate if i would invest in one of those units myself, wich would be an upgrade from my FIIO X3 2e generation.

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About me

I am near 50, and have been interested in music for a long time. I am a semi-professional guitar player, have a small home studio for more than 30 years (in and out) where i produced and mixed some CD’S of my music(composition or covers) in many styles. I think i can say that my ears have a decent training in frequency listening, but still they aren’t ’’golden’’, as i can’t consistently differ a 128 MP3 from his flac counterpart in blind testing using Foobar 2000 and abx testing plug-in. But i’m practicing and one day i will!

My most used headphones are Shure SE846, Fostex TH-x00 and AKG K601. I listen mostly to them through Grace Design M9xx at home and FIIO X3 2e generation on the run. I fact, i do listen to a lot more music outside then at home. Walking is for me the best time to appreciate music.


Esthetics

At this point, many review offered you a lot of pictures and description, so i will only offer you my personal impression : it does look good. I find it to have style, and while i recognize i should not judge a book by his cover, i would not buy an audio player that would look like a toy, or would bring too much attention (in a bad way) to it. I may look superficial but i would not feel good having ,let’s say, an orange and yellow (sorry if you like it!) audio player in my hands in public. This X5 is classy, and i like it.


Ergonomics

The X5 is a little bigger and heavier than the X3, letting him maybe less ideal for jogging or sports. Still, it can enter most of my coat pockets so it is not a problem, but still an inconvenience in regard to X3.

The bigger size of the X5 come with a plus : a bigger and more easy to read screen.

I really did appreciate the addition of physical buttons, although they could be better placed in my opinion, and more robust (they felled a little slack and cheap). I did miss those buttons a lot getting back to the X3 after the trial.



User interface

The navigation is acceptable, but could, in my opinion, get better. Icons are not, from my perspective, easy to understand. In a perfect world, i could be able to play a song the first time using the unit without reading the manual, and in the case of the X6 i couldn't. Also, the X5 takes more time to be ready than the X3 when the on button is press, but it is understandable due to it having more software to load for the extra features. A ‘load only the music player but fast’ button could be a nice add-on to the phone.



Features

This is where the X5 outshine the X3 a lot. While you can easily find info about those features online(dual memory, dual sound chip, balanced output, etc) i want to focus on the ability to connect to the net for online service, which is an enormous bonus . While still in his infancy, online music is the way of the future, as it offers the possibility to expand our song library almost infinitely. I say almost, because my personal preferred music right now is Japanese, and the offer on western online service is still reduced to what is already exported in our CD music stores.


Sound

This point, for me, is the most important one.

First, a warning : i believe that while hearing is an objective action, listening is a subjective one, and is conditioned by what we expect to hear. My observations may vary from yours.

To me, the X5 3rd generation is a little brighter, and have more details and overall clarity than the X3 2nd. But it is not big difference, i would say around 5 %. If i listen to them back to back, i can easily discern them one from the other, but if i would not listen to music for a day, and then would listen to one of the device in a blind way, without comparing one to the other i could probably not tell which one it is. I personally consider those extra details and brightness to be a better sound, so the X5 do get my preference, but not by a large difference.

The X5 sound real close to the Grace Design M9xx, the difference, to my hear is minimal, Grace Design may get better defined bass and maybe the X5 is just little more clearer in the highs. I find they do sound really close.

I should point out that both X3,X5 and M9xx did manage to push my Shure, AKG and Fostex headphones to a decent level with good sound.


Conclusion

For me a good buy is one where you took time to precisely define your needs. What i need is a a portable unit that sound clearly better than phones, affordable for my budget and reliable.

The X3 already have all those aspects. The superiority in sound of the X5 over the X3 is not enough to justify to bought it while my X3 is still working. Upgrading from my Samsung S5 phone to the X3 was a way bigger improvement in sound than going from the X3 to the X5.

Nonetheless, if the online music service provider where to offer more Japanese music, i would probably get an X5 and subscribe to the service. For now, i must continue with Youtube to discover the latest songs of my favorite Japanese artist, and then wait many weeks for the CD’s to ship home when bought. Hopefully, the interest in Japanese music will grow and change that.

If you don’t already have a music player, and are happy with online music service offering, i would suggest you to buy directly the X5 and skip the X3 if your budget can afford it. But if you just want to listen to you current library of music, in my opinion, the difference in sound quality don’t justify by himself the price difference between the two units.

twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: design, features, accessories, storage, price.
Cons: fw still needs some work, summit-fi look with a mid-fi sound.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on Head-fi.

Manufacturer website: FiiO.

*even so my star rating was suppose to be 4.5, I can only select 4 or 5 stars, but not in the increments of 0.5.



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Intro.

Many of my readers can probably agree that original FiiO X5 was a gateway into the world of affordable audio quality. While the early X3 could be considered as an underground hit, the first gen X5 went all the way to a mainstream level, getting attention of not only audiophiles, but also regular consumers. That was 3 years ago, the time has changed, the market competition became more aggressive, the number of new releases skyrocketed, and picking your next DAP became more confusing due to so many choices. In audio gear business, if you don’t re-invent yourself with something new to stand out from the crowd, you are not going to last for a very long time. So, with FiiO recent announcement of their 10-year anniversary, you can get a good idea this company knows what they are doing, being in business for that long.

When it comes to their DAPs, without taking into consideration the original X3, the main design focus of the FiiO X-series was a mechanical wheel which lasted through X5, X5ii, X1, and X3ii. The next step was a brand new X7 flagship designed with a touchscreen interface and a removable amp module – a big step forward with an attempt to capture the attention of summit-fi market. X1ii was another bold move, replacing the mechanical wheel with a capacitive touch "wheel", but it kept a familiar design look from the original X-series, just in a more futuristic chassis. When X5iii was announced and its design details were revealed, it became an overnight “too good to be true” sensation, especially when FiiO shocked everyone with $399 price tag for an open Android DAP.

I’m building up my review intro, the same way how my excitement and anticipation was building up a few months ago, before I received X5iii review unit. Unfortunately, I got a bit carried away with high expectations without realizing that we are still talking about a mid-fi DAP, not intended to go head-to-head with summit-fi competition or to overthrow its own X7 flagship. But due to my own hype, when I finally got X5iii in my hands – I felt a bit underwhelmed with a sound, though impressed with a design. I’m glad I took some time before jumping into the review, and I was patient to wait for a few fw updates which did improve the sound quality. I do realize the web is already filled with dozens of published X5iii reviews, and hopefully I will be able to contribute with additional info from my perspective to complete the picture for anybody who is looking to either purchase their first or to upgrade to their next DAP.

Unboxing.

Keeping up with a common packaging theme between their different products, you can still expect a printed sleeve box with another storage box inside of it. The printed sleeve has an eye-popping image of X5iii which stands out with a 3D-like picture of the DAP, focusing on both a touch screen interface and a volume wheel on the left side. The back of the box has a detailed list of the Main Features with an impressive spec. While some other DAPs read like a smartphone spec, here there is no mistake you are dealing with a serious DAP design. Everything looks great on paper.

The actual storage box is all black, only with FiiO name on the top of the cover. With cover off, you will find a protective foam keeping the DAP secure inside of the precise cutout, and underneath of it a plethora of accessories. I will talk about accessories in the next section of the review, but I do want to mention that FiiO put an extra effort to make the unboxing experience of X5iii to feel like you are dealing with a flagship quality DAP. They set the bar high, so will be interesting to see what awaits us with X7ii.

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Accessories.

The list of included accessories starts off with a traditional high quality usb to micro-USB cable, thus you know that FiiO is sticking with a more common micro-USB port instead of following other manufacturers who are switching to usb-C. But I think one of the reasons for using micro-USB is to be backward compatibility with their K5 docking station which works fine with X5iii. Also, you will find FiiO's traditional short digital output interconnect with 3.5mm TRRS plug on one side and female coax connector on the other side. Keep in mind, this is not a typical interconnect because FiiO design shares LO with Coax Out. With that, all you need is to add a coax cable (not included) to use X5iii as a transport with your favorite DAC/amp.

One peculiar accessory I found was a metal key used to assist in removal of micro-SD card trays. Just like in some smartphones and sim card trays, FiiO decided to keep both micro-SD cards sealed away from the dust under a cover inside of a small tray which pops out when you insert this tool through a pinhole opening. You can probably use a paper clip for the same functionality, but nevertheless – this little tool looks cool.

If you are looking for a screen protector, you will find one already applied, and it’s not some cheap film protector but a high quality 7H hardness rated tempered glass screen protector. This was a great idea because now you are dealing with a full front panel touch screen which you want to protect not only from scratches but also from accidental drops. For those who are not familiar, in case of direct impact the tempered glass usually shatters and could be removed while leaving the glass display unharmed. Furthermore, tempered glass feels smooth and natural when swiping your finger across, unlike some plasticy film screen protectors. Btw, you will also find a regular film protector which is applied to the back of X5iii.

Long gone the days of the cheap black (or gray) silicone FiiO skin cases, and now X5iii arrives with 2 different cases. One is a nice looking black pleather case with a smooth shiny surface and red stiches on the back, along with a stamped FiiO logo. It’s not a real leather, but it has a premium look with a nice grip. The power button is covered but easy to press, on the other side the track skip buttons are covered and easy to press, while the volume wheel and play/pause button are open. The bottom of the case is open with a full access to both SE and BAL HO ports, micro-usb port, and LO/Coax port.

But if you want a more fun look with a fully transparent case that doesn’t hide any details of the design, you can switch to another included clear transparent case, made from a decent quality silicone material. With this case, all the buttons are covered and still easy to press. The volume wheel is open for easy access, and at the bottom you have an open 3.5mm SE HO output. The balanced 2.5mm HO, micro-SD, and LO/Coax ports are covered with a clear silicone dust plugs which are attached to the main case. You can open these ports and don’t have to worry about losing the plug. Or, if you find yourself irritated by constantly opening one of the ports and don’t want to be bothered with unplugging it – you can just cut off that plug cover.

For me personally, as much as I like a more sophisticated look of the pleather case, I prefer a transparent fun look of the clear silicone case which also has a better and a more secure grip. But either way, including a pleather case and a tempered glass screen protector (already applied) was a bonus I didn’t even expect.

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Cases:

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Design.

When a company announces a new product, you can expect an original design. But the incremental version bump usually has ties to the previous design. X5ii was a nice refresh from the original X5 but still had a similar layout and other familiar elements, which also scaled down to X3ii and X1. X1ii was a bold move that kept the original "look" but stepped it up with a major change when mechanical wheel was abandoned. And of course, X7 had an all new design with a smartphone-like touch screen layout. In contrast to all of these previous X-series releases, X5iii feels like a brand-new product.

Sized at 114.2mm x 66.2mm x 14.8mm and weighting only 186g, this CNC aluminum alloy DAP is slimmer and yet just a little taller and a touch wider than X5ii predecessor. The switch to a full Android OS means a touch screen interface which occupies almost the entire front panel of the DAP. The top of the DAP has no controls or ports, and the right side has a power button with a red accent ring around it and a blue power-on LED in the middle of it. As I mentioned before, below it you will find 2 microSD slots. Both are fully covered since now you are dealing with two separate trays, removable by pushing through the pinhole opening to release the latch. Each card is capable to support up to 256GB of storage, so you are talking about a combined 544GB of storage (including internal) and you can also expand further with OTG storage device and “unlimited” streaming on top of that.

The left side has a beveled edge where you will find a Play/Pause hw control button at the top and Skip Next/Prev combined button toward the middle. The buttons have a nice tactile response with a softer click response. As expected, hw Playback control buttons are operational with a screen on and off. Between Play and Skip buttons, you have a recessed volume wheel which sticks out just enough for you to control it with a thumb. As you move the wheel, which has a click action as it turns, you also have access to touch screen volume slider for a faster adjustment.

The bottom of the DAP has all the available ports. Starting from the left, you have 3.5mm single ended HO and next to it 2.5mm TRRS balanced HO. 3.5mm HO also supports headphones with in-line remote so you have an alternative way to control the playback. Next is micro-USB port which supports everything from charging (including 2 charging modes, regular and fast 9V/12V high speed to give you easily 10hrs of playback thanks to 3400 mAh 3.8V battery), data transfer to internal memory and micro-SD cards, using it as USB DAC, connecting external OTG storage (though some of the external hard drivers might not work if they sink too much current), and also being able to use it with a docking station such as K5 DAC/amp. Last, but not least, is 3.5mm port which you select from within Settings to operate as either Line Out to use with external amp or Digital (Coax) Out to use with external DAC/amp.

When it comes to non-touch screen DAPs, you have a lot of room for creativity to make your product stand out from the crowd. With a touch screen, especially when it occupies the whole front view - you don't have too much room for something original, so every little detail counts. Unlike a blander X7 design with a symmetric hw control buttons, X5iii spiced it up with a cool looking power button, seamless microSD card trays, and an interesting non-symmetric design of the left side with hw playback buttons and analog volume wheel. These little details make the design not only a pleasure to look at, but also a fun to use and to show off to others.

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Under the hood.

Here you will find a dual (2 separate) AK4490EN 32bit DACs which have been used in many recent new DAP releases, even those with a much higher price tag. This is not necessary the latest and the greatest DAC from AKM, but it's certainly among their very popular models that supports all the latest PCM and DSD lossy and lossless formats, from DXD, DSD64, DSD128, WAV, FLAC, APE, ALAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, etc., and has various digital audio filters. It was impressive to see two of these DACs being used in an Android DAP under $400.

Furthermore, you have a quad core SoC Rockship model RM3188 long with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of build in internal storage (and as I mentioned already, it could be expanded with additional 512GB of storage thanks to a support of 2 microSD cards). Also, you have 3.97" touch screen with an acceptable 480x800 pix resolution and decent colors (deep colors with a good contrast). You will also find Bluetooth BT 4.0 with aptX codec and 2.4GB WiFi. Plus, as already mentioned, 3.8V 3400 mAh battery supporting a dual charging mode. Playback time will vary depending on the file format, screen on time, enabling WiFi and Bluetooth, and volume level, but you can get at least 10hrs without a problem.

With all this hardware under the hood you shouldn't have problem running the pre-installed heavily customized Android 5.1 OS (still with a bypass of Sample Rate Conversion limitation), which comes with 2 operating modes: Pure Android (w/Google Play included) and Pure Music (no other apps are running to focus all resources on a pure music playback). Yes, you can load and run many different apps, but keep in mind that you only got 1GB of RAM and not the fastest SoC, so performance will not be a match your latest smartphone.

As far the hw audio portion of the design, in addition to a dual AK4490EN, you also get dual crystal oscillator (22.579MHz and 24.576MHz) to cover both clock rates (DSD/44.1/88.2/176.4/352.8kHz and 48/96/192/384kHz), and two dual-channel OPA1642 chips to use for Low Pass filtering and another OPA426 opamp for amplification section which supports 300mW under 32ohm load. All this looks great on paper, but the true test is how it translates into audio performance which I'm going to cover in Sound analysis section of the review.

GUI.

If you already have X7 and familiar with this original Android debut from FiiO, you will feel like at home navigating around X5iii. As a matter of fact, anybody with Android smartphone experience will be able to quickly find their way around X5iii. After all, we are talking about modified Android 5.1 OS, including pre-installed Google Play Store. Also, like X7, you have 2 operating modes: one Android mode where you can load any app, including FiiO Music one, and the other one is Pure Music mode where you only have FiiO Music app running as the main interface to preserve the resources, thus you can’t run any other 3rd party apps.

Regardless of modes of operation, you still have access to the notification bar where you have shortcuts to Adjust brightness of the display, turn on WiFi and Bluetooth (as well as get into detailed setup of each), switch between Android and Pure Music modes, select between LO and Coax digital out, switch between L/H gain, select AKM DAC filter setting, switch usb mode between USB DAC or Storage, and get into the setting of various power-off timers. These are all shortcuts, but you can also access all this functionality directly in Settings (upper right corner icon), like in any Android smartphone.

Also, regardless of Android or Pure Music mode, the main audio playback app looks and functions the same. In my opinion, FiiO Music app interface is a little confusing for the first-time user, but after a while you get used to it. The first screen is partitioned with an artwork thumbnail of the currently played track at the top of the display, along with Audio Setting icon, Search icon, and Play icon to take you to a full Playback screen. Below it, you have shortcuts to Playlist/Favorite (has a list with tagged Favorites and Custom created playlists), Local Music (where you can sort by Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, and search by Folders), and DLNA (where you can search for corresponding server). Underneath, you also have separate links to Recently played, Most played, and Recently added tracks. This view could be customized in setting, but not by much.

Personally, I wouldn’t have made this as my main Screen of Music app, and instead would use the full Playback screen once you start the music app. Also, you always must go back to this main screen if you want to access Audio Setting menu. Perhaps the problem here is that I have too many DAPs in my review collection, and there is too much variation between GUIs of each one to the point where every time I get my hands on X7 or X5iii, I must re-calibrate my brain to a different interface. If you are frequent to using X5iii or X7 as your daily source, this shouldn’t bother you.

On the other hand, I really do like the layout of the main Playback screen. Here the top half is occupied by either song’s artwork or a default graphics (if artwork is not embedded), and you have an icon in the upper left to get back to the main screen or in the upper right to search for a song. Tapping on this part of the screen will switch to Lyrics view, if one is available, and will give you options to search for lyrics, album art, zoom in/out, etc. The next click on that upper part of the screen will display a detailed song info, and one more click gives you a cool analog VU meter which is my favorite view.

Below that screen you have a scrub bar to fast forward through the song by dragging to a different point in song’s timeline bar. The lower half of the screen have playback touch controls with Play/Pause in the middle and current song time position and a total time above it, and skip Next/Prev on each side. Also, to the left of Play you will find EQ button which takes you to paragraphic EQ screen with 10 bands (31Hz, 62Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, 8kHz, 16kHz) and pull-up menu with 8 genre-specific presets (all could be customized further), and separate custom preset. Of course, you also have a Reset button to zero-out everything. Next to EQ button you will find Bluetooth enable button, and in the same area to the left there is Play mode icon to switch between play through, crossfade, loop all, and loop single.

To the right of Play, you will find “heart” icon to add the currently played track to Favorites list and another icon to add it to a Custom playlist. One more “blue” icon with dots gives you an option to either delete the song or find detailed info about the song. Furthermore, if you slide you finger along the right edge of the visible part of the Playback screen, you’ll activate a volume up/down touch swipe control. Also, swiping the screen to the right from the left edge will bring up a list of all the songs in the current directory so you can quickly scroll and select one. These are all great features, and the only thing which is missing - the icon to get to Audio Settings menu which you must go back to the “greeting” screen to access it.

The Audio Settings menu is quite extensive with Off Time (for music app), different ways to Scan for songs (including option for specific folder or skipping tracks with a short duration), Media Library update (manual or auto), Personalizing the “greeting” screen with different shortcuts, activating in-line remote (to support CTIA), Gapless playback enable, Gain setting, Channel balance (L/R), Customizing album art, Customizing volume, Resume options, Play through folder (enable/disable), Lockscreen album art and lyrics, Theme selection (switched between two), Max volume setting, Reset Database, Auto Search for lyrics and album art, and Help and About the App.

One interesting setting is VIPER effects, part of famous VIPER4Android ROM created by XDA-Dev members. Some of these effects are free while others need to be purchased, and it was cool for FiiO to include them as part of their Android customization. Here you will find Playback Gain control, FET compressor (purchase), Spectrum Extension, FIREqualizer, Convolver (purchase), Field Surround, Differential Surround, Reverberation, Dynamic System, Tube Sound (purchase), VIPER Bass (purchase), VIPER Clarity (purchase), Auditory System Protection (purchase), AnalogX (purchase), and Master gate. Some have a more noticeable effect on the sound while with the others are subtler, but either way you get more tools to tweak the sound. Too bad it was a tease to include effects which require to be purchased.

Overall, you can get a lot out of this interface, but if you are new to FiiO Android daps or used to audio apps on your smartphone, you could find FiiO Music app to be not as intuitive at first due to multiple screens, hidden swiping, different shortcut icons, etc. But sooner or later you will get used to it, or you can just download and install your other favorite Music apps from Play store.

The only thing that bothered me was a delay when you click (hw) Play button and must wait a few seconds for a response. Since the fw is still work in progress, I'm sure it will be fixed in one of the upcoming updates, but for now it left me a bit frustrated.

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Sound analysis.

Being quite familiar with audio performance of AK4490 DACs, I already expected to hear a smooth musical sound with a neutral-warm tonality and a laid-back presentation. And that's exactly how I hear X5iii DAP. The signature is neutral with a noticeably warmish tilt. I do hear a slightly rolled off treble which in a way reduces the airiness and layering of the sound.

Overall sound presentation is a little laid back, not as aggressive, with above the average soundstage which is not very wide. While going from 3.5mm SE to 2.5mm BAL you do gain a little bit of soundstage width and some subtle improvement related to a blacker background, but everything else remained nearly identical and to my surprise I didn't hear too much improvement in output power. For me personally, I found the benefit of using 2.5mm BAL output for convenience since I have a lot of balanced terminated cables.

In the initial firmware release when I received X5iii, the sound had a flatter dynamics and not as good layering and separation between instruments and vocals. Now, with fw 1.1.4, I'm hearing an improvement, but it's still not a huge leap forward. At first this made me wonder why is FiiO holding back, considering they know how to get the sound right, going by X7 with AM3 which had an impressive quality. But then I realized, that is exactly the reason. Why would they make a mid-fi X5iii model to sound as good or even better than a flagship X7? I think it all goes back to my original thought in the intro of this review, X5iii looks like a flagship, but it’s not intended to sound like one.

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Comparison.

While comparing to X5iii, I did find several other DAPs to have an edge in dynamics and layering/separation in sound. In many cases, it wasn't exactly night and day difference, but the problem is that I only used 3.5mm SE HO, and some DAPs have a noticeable sound improvement when switching to 2.5mm BAL output (if they support it). As I mentioned already, X5iii BAL sounds very similar to its SE, thus if I compare X5iii SE to BAL of other DAPs - the gap can widen further. So please keep in mind that the following impressions were taken using only 3.5mm HO in every comparison, along with UERR as my neutral monitor for sound evaluation.

X5iii vs X5ii - very similar soundstage expansion. 5ii tonality is a little more neutral, relatively brighter, while 5iii is relatively warmer, with more body, more musical, and smoother. 5ii sounds more transparent, with better layering while 5iii has a thicker sound presentation, not as layered, and not as dynamic.

X5iii vs X7 w/AM3 - similar soundstage, maybe with X7 being a little wider (AM3 balanced out has improvement). Also, X7 tonality is more neutral, more revealing, more detailed, with a better layering and transparency, while X5iii is warmer and with a little more body in comparison, not as dynamic or layered, and a little flatter (more compressed) in comparison.

X5iii vs Opus#1 - very similar soundstage, with #1 being a little wider. The tonality is nearly identical, both being smoother, musical, with an equal retrieval of details. Opus#1 sound is a little more dynamic, but otherwise they are similar.

X5iii vs Plenue M2 - very similar soundstage expansion. Also, very similar tonality, being smoother, musical, with a similar retrieval of details. PM2 has a touch more transparency in sound, but overall, they are very similar.

X5iii vs i5 - i5 has a little wider soundstage. i5 tonality it a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, tighter bass and crisper treble. In comparison, X5 sounds a little warmer, smoother. Also, because of more airiness and slightly better transparency, I hear improved layering and separation in i5 over X5.

X5iii vs Aune M1s - M1s has a wider soundstage. M1s tonality is a little brighter, with more airiness, tighter bass, more sparkle in treble. M1s sound is more dynamic, better layering and separation, while X5iii sounds smoother, with fuller body, and more organic.

X5iii vs L&P L3 Pro - very similar soundstage expansion. L3Pro tonality is a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, better transparency, along with layering and separation of the sound, and crisper treble. In comparison, X5 sounds a touch more compressed and smoother, and with more organic tonality.

X5iii vs DX200 - DX200 has a wider staging, a brighter tonality (more neutral, reference quality), more airiness and treble crispness, and improved layering and separation of the sound. X5 is smoother and not as dynamic in comparison.

X5iii vs Opus#2 - #2 has a little wider soundstage, similar tonality, though just a touch brighter in comparison, including a crisper and more airy treble. In comparison #2 has better dynamics, better resolution, and improved layering and separation of the sound, where X5 is a touch smoother and flatter (dynamics of the sound) in comparison.

X5iii vs LPG - LPG has a wider soundstage, more neutral revealing tonality, higher resolution, tighter bass, and crisper treble. X5 is smoother and less dynamic in comparison, also can't match the same level of layering and sound separation.

I know it’s not fair to compare mid-fi X5iii to some of the summit-fi performers, but I just wanted to point out that in no way some of its technical limitation makes it an inferior DAP. Many people take my comparison notes in a negative way, thinking that I saying “one is better than the other”. I’ve talked to many people who prefer a neutral-warmish source to balance out their bright/revealing headphones in order to find a happy medium of musicality and resolution, and X5iii is perfect for that.

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Pair up.

During this testing, I kept X5iii in Low Gain, and noted the volume level (in “()”) in every case which should be useful for a relative comparison. I also noted next to each pair up test a unique design features of headphones under the test. One thing to mention, X5iii has a noticeable hissing with sensitive IEMs, but it’s on par with some other DAPs, like LPG.

R70x (95) 470 ohm open back - above average soundstage (not very expanded), smooth warm organic laid back sound, soft bass, clear warm mids, well defined treble but not as much airiness or sparkle.

T5p2 (75) tesla drivers - good soundstage depth, average width, smooth organic detailed sound, nice sub-bass rumble, decent mid-bass impact, warm organic mids, well defined treble with a nice sparkle but not as much airiness.

PM-2 (80) planar magnetic - good soundstage depth, but only average width, smooth organic detailed sound, warm relaxed bass, full body lower mids, organic smooth upper mids, treble is moderately crisp but not too much airiness.

EL-8C (93) planar magnetic - nicely expanded soundstage, both width and depth, balanced detailed sound with mids being slightly more forward, sub-bass has a nice rumble and mid-bass has a little above the neutral level of punch quantity, lower mids are neutral, upper mids are detailed, revealing, layered, and treble is crisp and with plenty of airiness - no hint of metallic sheen. I was expecting this to be a great pair up due to a brighter sig of EL8C and it didn't disappoint.

Zen (86) 320 ohm earbuds - nice soundstage expansion in both width/depth, very balanced natural detailed sound. Well extended sub-bass with a nice rumble and a decent mid-bass punch, above neutral lower mids, detailed organic upper mids, well defined treble with a polite crisp extension but not as much airiness.

Pinnacle 1 (86) low sensitivity DD - great soundstage expansion (width/depth), v-shaped sound signature, deep sub-bass extension with a nice rumble, above neutral mid-bass punch, neutral slightly recessed lower mids, bright slightly grainy upper mids and crispy airy treble.

Zeus ZRA (35) high sensitivity multi-BA - noticeable hissing, nicely expanded soundstage, mid-forward sig, neutral extended bass, lean lower mids, revealing detailed upper mids (nicely layered sound), crisp airy treble. Great pair up, and hissing not even noticeable when music is playing.

Xelento (49) tesla driver iem - great soundstage expansion (width/depth), w-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension with an excellent rumble, meaty mid-bass punch, neutral lower mids, organic revealing mids, and crisp airy treble. Really good bass emphasis in this pair up, and no sibilance or harshness in upper frequencies.

W900 (61) 9way hybrid - great soundstage depth and average width, slightly v-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension, nicely textured rumble, strong mid-bass punch, full body lower mids, natural detailed upper mids, crisp extended treble, but not as much airiness. Overall, sound is a bit congested.

W80 (46) low impedance multi-BA - some hissing, above average width/depth soundstage, balanced sound signature, nice sub-bass extension with a textured rumble, softer mid-bass punch, fuller body lower mids, clear detailed natural upper mids, crisp well defined treble with a moderate airiness.

UERR (62) neutral reference - nice soundstage expansion, neutral-balanced sound signature, neutral extended low end with a quality punch, neutral lower mids and detailed natural upper mids, well defined crisp treble with a touch of airiness.

Other wired and wireless connections.

The flexibility of X5iii design with so many output ports makes this DAP a perfect candidate for a pair up with various amps, DACs, and other external setups. While it’s convenient to have one compact device without a bulk of a stack up, if you want to scale up the sound quality, you have plenty of options to experiment with.

X5iii vs X5iii w/A5 with T5p2 - I always held E12A amp in high regard as a transparent neutral portable amp. Its replacement, A5, doubles the power and adds a little more body to the mids, though I still consider it to be relatively neutral. In testing X5iii 3.5mm HO vs X5iii LO + A5, I can clearly hear an improvement in sound being more dynamic, better layered, with more separation between instruments, and improved transparency. This testing gave me a Eureka moment once I realized that the only thing that holding X5iii back in the mid-fi bracket is its headphone amplifier section of the design.

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To confirm this theory, I tested X5iii with K5 docking station to evaluate the sound using this external desktop headphone amplifier. And again, I was presented with a clean, dynamic, layered sound that was a pleasure to listen to. That felt almost like an experience with X7 when I stepped through the original default AM1, switching to AM2, only to discover later the best sound combo with AM3. You can’t roll X5iii amps like in X7, but you can certainly take the advantage of its neutral clean LO output of dual AK4490 DACs to add your own external amp to the sound chain. And if you want to use your own DAC/amp, Coax Out turns X5iii into a digital transport which I successfully tested with my Micro iDSD to find a clean warm sound. I’m sure, if X5iii would have supported optical out, the sound would have been more neutral, just based on my experience of Micro iDSD use.

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If you want more controls, you can use 3.5mm HO with your headphones w/in-line remote since FiiO supports CTIA connection to enable playback controls from your headphone’s remote. The pair up with FiiO new F5 iem was really good.

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If you want to cut down the wires all together, go for Bluetooth wireless connection with an available aptX codec support. The pair up was fast and easy, and the sound quality was no different than with my smartphone w/aptX.

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And of course, WiFi support is not only convenient for download of over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates, but also tap into unlimited streaming resources from services like Spotify (using a free version of it, I have no complaints) or watching the latest videos on YouTube. One app I could get to start but without a success of running it was Netflix. I tried it on a few different occasions, and get an error when streaming starts. I need to investigate it further.

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Also, I’m still investigating FiiO’s USB DAC driver compatibility with my Win7 machine. All my laptops still run Win7 home edition which has several security limitations, blocking the install of unsigned drivers. FiiO even acknowledged that in their installation manual as a potential problem, offering various solutions how to bypass this limitation, but I had no success. I can connect X5iii to my laptop, it switches to USB DAC mode, but my laptop gives me a headache since driver is not digitally signed. I have the same issue with many other DAPs.

fiio_x5iii-x46.jpg

Conclusion.

To be honest, I got off on a "wrong foot" with X5iii. When you look at its slick design, the complete list of features, dual OS mode (Android and Pure Music), all the available ports, and premium accessories - you forget it's just a $399 mid-fi device and almost expect it to sound like a TOTL flagship DAP. But once you start listening, you get a reality check that it doesn't sound like other TOTL flagships. Just think about it, no company in their right mind would design a mid-fi DAP to kill the sales of their flagship. It’s a great consumer product for those who want to give their smartphone a break with an upgraded sound or would like an Android “player” alternative to their iPod Touch. And if you want to scale the sound to a higher level, X5iii dual DAC implementation is perfect for your external portable amp on the go or while docked with their excellent K5 head-amp for a desktop use.

Overall, X5iii came a long way from its original X5 introduction. It offers a full Android experience with a touch interface and access to Google Play store, OTA fw updates, hw playback control and analog volume wheel, premium accessories (tempered glass and two cases), plenty of storage with 2x microSD cards, dual DAC architecture, LO and Coax digital out, and both 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm BAL outputs depending on which cable you want to use. The sound is still very good for a mid-fi level DAP with a musically-smooth clear tonality and just enough headroom for improvement to whet your appetite in time for the upcoming X7ii. All this for under $400 is impressive, especially if you are after extra storage for your music library and require access to WiFi Streaming services.

emptymt

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sounds great and smooth across all frequencies, 2 micro sd, accessories, price, build.
Cons: UI is not as snappy as competitors(not much different though), side buttons are a bit too soft
Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Fiio for making this awesome DAP at an affordable price and rich features, and also to @Fiio for organizing the tour.

This review will focus on the sound quality and not so much about other aspects, so I'll make the other sections as brief as possible.

The official rating of this device for me is actually 4.5 stars, however with head-fi's latest change to the site it isn't possible for me to put 4.5 stars for the ratings.
The review is long overdue so i decided to post it in anyway as a 5 stars as 4 stars is too low for this exceptional device.

INTRODUCTION

I'm an Indonesian working as a Web/PHP Developer in Melbourne, Australia.

Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.

When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, although, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, etc at the moment, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet >_<.

Starting from almost 2 years ago I've been really hooked in metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metalhead but I don't know about that, I also listen to other genres occasionally.


I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, everyday anytime anywhere)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Radiohead or something like it)
- Pop (90s stuff, rarely)
- EDM (Mostly trance and it's sub-genres)
- Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
- Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop or rock, guitar is used all the time, sounds natural and relaxing, however, mastering of the song is not very good, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
- KPOP
- JPOP and JROCK/Visual Kei, whatever you call it (mostly the older stuff)

EQUIPMENT USED FOR REVIEW/COMPARISON WITH THE DAP
- Shozy Stardust
- Meze 99 Classic
- Sony MDR Z1R
- AK Jr
- Chord Mojo
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Box
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ACCESSORIES
my unit come with a silicone case and also leather case.
USB cable
Coaxial cable
IMG_1044.JPGIMG_1048.JPG

The Fiio X5
The Build Quality is very nice, and also clean, nice colouring for the unit with sturdy construction, got a few option for colours too, the black one is really nice, but the red is very bold and daring looking, I like it.
It is a little thick, but not overly so and still comfortable on my side pocket.
Nice screen with good brightness to be used outdoor very easily.

At the top of the unit there is nothing.

At the bottom is the micro USB port for charging and data transfer duties, I'm a little disappointed that Fiio does not use USB C here, hopefully this will be rectified for future release.

Other than that you will find 3.5 SE jack, 2.5 balance jack and combo coax/line out jack.
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On the right, You will find 2 Micro Sd slot (very nice, great job Fiio!), and power button.
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On the left is the play/pause button, volume rocker wheel, and also next and previous button, of which has too little easy to press.
There are many occasion where I press it accidentally when handling the unit disrupting my music enjoyment.
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The player itself is very responsive to touch, but compared to the Cayin I5 which is the primary competitor of this unit, it is slightly less snappy, still very easy to use though, so this is just me nitpicking here.

UI & FEATURES

At the home screen, you will find your usual android interface here, nothing revolutionary here, I went straight to the music player as it is a DAP.
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There are 5 Navigation modes available:
- Folder
- Artist
- Songs
- Genre
- Playlist
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For other navigation except folder, you need to scan your library first for it to work.
I'm a big fan of Folder navigation since I like to group all my musics in folders based on my preference, so It is very good that Fiio has included this feature.

You can then access you on-board memory or to your sdcards to play your music.

You can also change the setting in the device, such as wifi, brightness, etc.
On the audio side, you can adjust gain and balance, etc
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Sound Quality

The Signatures
The Fiio X5 has a warm musical signature with slighly laid back highs and slight emphasis on the bass.
It works well with most modern music and my favourite genre (Metal & rock), The bass although quite a bit north of neutral never intrude the mids at all, and speaking of the mids I find it detailed and smooth with good body without being overly lush in any way.

The Bass
The Bass is has a slight emphasis to it with good extension and sounds quite tight and fast.
It Hits quite hard with good punch, so the dynamic is definitely there and it is good.
The bass is tight however it still has good body so the ratio is spot on on this, very slight bloom does help with musicality at times, adn Fiio surely know about this as the implementation is very nice.
The speed is excellent and combined with the tightness of the bass it portrays distinction between each drum hits very well, giving a distinct presentation per drum hits/beats.
For Metal tracks especially in Brutal/Technical Death metal, double blast beat hits strong and fast with excellent rumble and distinction on each hits, portraying the intensity perfectly.
On EDM tracks, the bass extends down to the sub-bass well and because it is not too tight, you still get that club room bass bloom that you expect in club music.

The Mids
The mids is detailed and has slight warm tilt to it, not too much though.
Clarity of the mids is very good without any overly excessive sibillance and just flows naturally with the music seamlessly, the warm tonality definitely helps with this, very enjoyable.
Screaming and growling vocals in metal track are slightly intimate and smooth, you can definitely hear the crackles in the vocals quite easily with this.
On Jazz Tracks like Norah Jones, the slight warm touch to the mids increase the emotions in her voice while exposing all the detailsin it very well.
Electric Guitar sounds smooth with excellent bites in it, it makes the guitars pop in the mix and I love it.

The Treble
The treble is smooth and slighly laid back, the good this is it is not fatigueing even in a long listening session, some treble sparkles is still there here and there but it is not the focus of the music.
The bass and mids are more forward then the trebles but the trebles does not feel lacking at all, in fact it provides the perfect company for the rest of the spectrum for engaging musical listening.

The Soundstage, Imaging and separations
The soundstage presentation is not very large but it is quite good, imaging is accurate and all the instruments are separated nicely and there is no congestion in the sound.
It more wide than tall/deep, so the positioning of instrument can be clearly heard in X axis across the songs but, meaning left-right channel separtion is excellent.

Pairing

Shozy Stardust earbud (hi-end earbud)
The stardust has an excellent synergy with the X5, the bass hits hard and the mids are detailed but musical sounding, treble is smooth and not fatigueing with relaxed listening experience.
The presentaion is also bigger in a sense, this earbud is excellent on its own in this regard but the Fiio takes it to the next level, sounding more full and bigger in soundstage.
Details in the treble is there and the presentation is still laid back so the mids and bass(mid-bass) pops out more in the mix.

Sony MDR Z1R
The Z1R is not a hard headphone to drive but I'm still impressed with how well the combo sounds, The driver in this headphone is huge but I see no occation where it feels underpowered on The Fiio.
Bass is still there along with the Z1R signature of powerfull but tight bass that sounds grand hall like in presentation, speed is still well maintained and speedy metal track still sounds like an absolute joy on this.
Mids is still detailed and does not get intruded by the bass, has good body and the details are still there, it drives the Z1R excellently and The power of Z1R still shines through in this combo.
Despite the slighly laid back nature of the X5, I don't feel that it changed the Z1R's treble to be too laid back. I actually feel it still remains laid back but detailed just like when I pair it with my desktop setup.

Meze 99 Classics

I expect the Fiio X5 to pair best with this headphone, in fact it does, but it doe not transform the headphone just like the Cayin I5 + meze99 combination.
Bass still hits hard and deep with excellent extension, compared to my AK Jr, the bass seems more refined and full force and unrestrained, it has that immediate effect to it that I like.
Mids is still true to the meze's natural presentation, it is still a litle u shaped as the bass seems a bit more emphasized xompared to the mids, vocal is lush and detailed with steady and quick decay, it is musical and engaging, and if you want to hear the details, you can, it's all there.
Treble is still smooth and laid back with enough sparkles when needed, it never gets fatigueing.

Comparisons

AK Jr
The Fiio X5 beats the AK Jr very easily in my opinion.
The bass has better dynamics and sounds bigger with better extension and clarity even though it has more empahasis, the tightness is about the same yet the details shines through more on the X5.
The mids has similar tonality but is way more detailed with crackles and raspness of vocals very easily heard without much efforts.
The treble on the X5 is slightly more laid back and smooth, the AK Jr's treble is not as laid back but details is more apparent and clear on The X5.
Soundstage is bigger in the X5 especially the width, sounds more spacious with more defined instrument separation.

Chord Mojo
Not a DAP, but I found the X5 is quite competitive despite the price differences.
Mojo's Bass is tight, accurate and still musical and is closer to neutral than the X5, details is slightly more and is also feels a little faster and more natural.
Mojo's mids expose more details and has better extension and decay, the decay on the mojo is very apparent and details in it still shines through as it fades, The X5 is good too, but the final bit of the decay is harder to hear due to stronger bass and less detail retrieval.
Mojo's treble is not as laid back and again is more detailed and neutral compared to the X5's laid back treble, both offers smooth treble and is not the thin analytical type.
Soundstage is about the same overall, the width is probabbly better on The X5 but the mojo is more 3D in it's presentation.

Cayin I5
I was once areviewer of the Cayin I5 a couple months ago, and I have to say I was impressed with the DAP, just like I am now with The X5.
Both offers exceptional performance for the price, there are a couple of difference though:
The bass of The I5 was more stronger in quantity than the X5 tight but emphasized presentation, but also more dynamic and more punchy, detail retrival I give a slight edge to the X5, but not by much.
The mids in The I5 was more forward and more lush and engaging but lose out on details to the X5 by a bit, The X5's mid is more align to the rest of the frquencies and not as forward but not laid back either.
The trebles on The I5 is a bit more laid back than the X5, but both has good extension and is not your typical bright DAP.
Soundstage is wider on The X5 due to the intimate vocals on The I5.
Pricing and feature are better on The X5 with 2 micro sd for a cheaper price and also balanced out, but The cayin has better player interface in my opinion and also feels snappier, buttons are also more resistant preventing accidental presses unlike The X5 which happens every once in a while.
I have to say that comparing the 2 DAPS in all aspects(not only sound), The X5 is a better buy, however depending on your preference you might feel that the I5 is more compelling for it's presentation.
It depends on what you like I guess.

For the price of the Daps, it is a complete package really, have many features, sounds great and very practical with great pricing.
I would recommend this DAP for anyone under a budget or for people who wants to put more of their money on their desktop set-up.

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Pros: Sonics, Versatility, Price, FiiO support
Cons: Firmware is almost perfect....almost



I was one of the first to showoff this beauty on YouTube and Head-Fi

It is a fantastic item with smooth sonic replay that does not sacrifice any detail.

I compared it with the double the cost iBasso DX200
I found the sound and usability of the X5iii to be superior.





FiiO has offered a premium device at an extremely cheap/affordable price relative to the competition.

This review will be updated and edited when I figure out how to use this new forum:confounded:








I highly...highly rec this item :call_me:
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xkonfuzed

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Impeccable Build. Great sound. Versatile.
Cons: Not the smoothest UI. Price point somewhat high. Minor caveats in SQ.
Pictures: 
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Introduction:
The device was lent to me as part of FiiO's review tour. I was given 10 days with the device to evaluate it and in return give my honest opinion about it. My current equipment is an LH Labs Geek Out V2 as my source, my headphones include a balanced HD650, Sony MA900, M-Audio Q40. I listen to a wide variety of music and generally tend to prefer my sound to be transparent, musical, and detailed. 
 
Build Quality:
FiiO absolutely nailed this part. I have never held the previous generations of the X5, however the X5III is built impeccably well. Everything is nice to the touch and the device itself has a good amount of heft to it giving the impression of quality. The buttons - albeit weirdly laid out and positioned - feel solid and give good feedback. The device has an analog volume knob (even though you could still adjust it digitally on screen). The volume adjusts in small increments and reacts linearly to minor adjustments. FiiO did a very good job here.
 
 
UI:
The X5III uses Android version 5.1 and for the most is actually pretty quick and responsive. However, I have encountered that apps like Tidal experience hiccups every once in a while. Another problem I encountered is that the Wifi cuts off randomly sometimes, and when I try to re-connect it takes longer than usual. Battery life is nothing special, however I am quite disappointed with the way this device loses juice when its idle and not in use. Overall I am happy FiiO went the Android way as this means a wide selection of music apps and players, and a lot of customization. For reference, I am using the stock FiiO firmware and did not want to fiddle with anything. 
 
Sound:
All music testing here was done in Tidal using the HiFi quality (lossless files).
 
The way I would describe the sound on the X5III is that it doesn't compromise on anything in favor of another. It manages to achieve and impressive amount of detail without tuning the sound to be bright. I have always preferred a warm, laid back sound but I have found that this often comes at the price of perceived clarity and detail. The X5, surprisingly, manages to achieve outstanding musicality with its warm, spacious sound while also retrieving subtle information in music. 
 
Instrument separation and a wide soundstage is one of the first things that stand out when listening to the X5. Instruments are widely spaced out and never feel mushed together. This, along with the wide soundstage, gives off a euphoric, almost life-like sound. 
 
The bass and midrange are beautifully integrated together to achieve a certain "thickness" to vocals and instruments which really enhances the musicality. One caveat with the bass is that it sometimes sound sluggish sometimes. The transitions in different bass frequencies dont seem to be as seamless as other gear I own (GO v2). The decay one the notes is also somewhat slower. This is not easily picked up but I thought I'd mention it since I noticed it a few times compared to my GO v2. As a whole though, the bass is extremely well defined and detailed, and is very pleasant to listen to. There seems to be more elevation in the mid/upper bass areas than deeper subbass. Gives an extremely satisfying thump to certain instruments and makes them stand out. This also contributes to the overall warmth characteristic that it possesses. I was listening to Woodkid's "Iron" and the way the drums are represented on the X5 is beautiful. They hit with authority, detail, and clarity. The midrange of the X5 has a certain sweetness to it. It is not forward nor recessed, however its warmth resonates a certain delicacy in instruments and voices that renders them beautifully. The midrange carries tons of detail and never sound shouty or harsh.  
 
The highs seems to be - relatively speaking - laid back and not as pronounced. I do miss the sparkle I got on my other sources, however the softer treble translates to me being able to listen for longer periods of time and relaxing more while doing so. The treble still offers plenty of detail and extension, however, if you like brightness you may want to look elsewhere. 
 
Comparison to LH Labs GO v2:
To be clear this is will be comparing the sound through the 3.5mm SE output as opposed to the Balanced out. I would have loved to test out the 2.5mm TRRS on the X5, however my balanced HD650 terminates in a 3.5TRRS and there wasn't enough time for me to get an adapter shipped in time. Therefore, this is a comparison of the SE outputs only. 
 
It seems that overall, the GO v2 seems to be the slightly faster, more detailed, and more forward source. It has a neutral signature with emphasis on the crystal clear mids and a sparkly (though not-fatiguing) treble. Bass is extremely quick and tight. What it lacks in musicality it makes up for in its technical ability. 
 
The X5 is a somewhat different story. On the surface it may appear like it may not have perceived clarity of the v2, however the more you listen the more the notice that it in fact "perceived" and the levels of clarity on the X5 are impressive. The soundstage is wider, instrument separation is better, and there's seems to be more room to "breathe". For me, it falls behind the v2 in terms of detail, speed, and decay, however it makes up for all of this with its warm, musical signature. 
 
Closing Thoughts:
To say that I enjoyed my time with the X5 would be a vast understatement. I found its musicality very appealing and ended up listening to it hours upon hours endlessly. I just wish it was cheaper as I feel (and this is purely my opinion) it is priced somewhat high. FiiO have made an excellent job of putting together a device that not only sounds incredible, but is also built remarkably well and has a lot of options and potential in the future.
 
Thanks for reading my review. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

ObjectVoice

Head-Fier
Pros: Beautiful Spacious Detail, Net-Connected Android Device
Cons: Net-Connected Android Device, a few intereface glitches

I got my hands on this as a part of the UK X5iii review tour.
 
1. Almost at once there was a keen ‘Oh ****, I’m just going to have to buy one of these’ moment for me when listening to Joni Mitchell and getting a sense for the first time ever of being able to judge or perceive the actual sound absorbency or acoustic qualities of the particular and different environments in which she recorded each of her individual vocal tracks. Just crazy.
 
2. The very, very slightly smooth tone of the X5iii made me switch from almost always using HD650’s (with my X5ii) to almost always using HD600’s. It seemed like: Smooth + Smooth = Slightly Too Damn Smooth. It was great with HD600’s though.
 
3. The wheel is fantastically useful on the go but it feels slightly odd at first: like you’re torturing a tiny sea creature with your thumb or something - and that’s just a little bit yucky.
 
4. There were a few glitches, crashes & other semi-weird interface miss-fire moments with it. Enough to make you appreciate the 'dumb' interface of non-Android DAP’s a bit more. (It seemed not to like you switching between using the Line out and headphone out mid-track and froze or crashed a couple of times.) The X5iii does make you realise that it takes very little in terms of interface glitches to make your belief in the overall coherence or the functional integrity of a device wobble a bit. It produces wonderful audio – but the impression of the player as a whole becomes peppered with the repetition of the still fairly numerous little ‘uh?’ moments. Probably the updates will fix this stuff though.
 
5. I ended up getting a bit more distracted from listening with the X5iii due to the access it offers to the endless blur of t'internet and/or Android system tweaks pulling my focus away from the music. Non-Android DAPS are pretty dull - and that’s arguably a good thing.
 
6. I worry about dropping my X5ii and I worried about dropping this more.
 
7. It’s obviously great for use with downloaded audio and since that’s basically how I get stuff now that’s obviously a huge plus over shifting stuff to SD cards from other download devices.
 
If FiiO offered to sell me the UK review tour X5iii ‘second hand’ at a hundred quid or so off the new price I’d probably buy it in a flash and flog my X5ii. Would I flog my X5ii now and buy one of these new? No - but then I buy almost nothing new and certainly not fancy DAPs. 
 
After a period of intense listening to both of them it’s made me realise afresh how much I actually really like the X5ii (particularly with my old beat-up HD650’s) and what an amazing audio device it is.
 
X5iii.jpg
 
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Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Interesting view over X5-3 though! 

bms44974

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: detail, sound stage, instrument separation, app functionality, build quality
Cons: Android, battery life

Disclaimer: I received the X5iii tour unit to evaluate for 7 days in return for my honest opinion.

Build:

The X5iii is solidly built and has a substantial feel. The controls are conveniently placed with the exception of the forward/backward rocker. I frequently skipped forward or backward when picking up the unit or holding the unit in my left hand and pressing the power button to wake the screen during playback (the base of my thumb would activate the rocker when pressing the power button with my index finger). The rocker can be disabled using custom keylock settings in the system options menu.
The unit came with a plastic case that covers all but the screen, volume wheel, and 3.5mm headphone port. Small flaps cover the 2.5mm balanced, line-out, and USB ports. The flap on the USB port would not stay in the closed position. The plastic cover must be removed for access to the SD slots. I assume it’s from repeated charging with the cover on.
SD cards are not inserted directly into the X5iii, but must be placed in pop-out trays. A small stylus is provided to facilitate tray removal. The trays could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how often you switch cards. The cards will fall out of the trays if ejected with the face of the unit up. I strongly suggest turning the unit over when ejecting and replacing SD card trays.

Operation:

I had prepared my music library in anticipation of receiving the tour unit, stripping embedded album art from files and including a single file (cover.jpg) in each album subdirectory. My music is structured with directories for each artist and subdirectories for each album. After formatting the cards in the X5iii, I mounted them on my laptop and copied the library directly to the SD cards. I encountered no problems reading the library from both SD cards. Album, artist, and genre tags functioned as advertised. Unfortunately, tracks sorted within artist without regard to album doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ll stick with playing by folder.
Most of my files are in FLAC format, but the X5iii had no problems with the few 64 and 128 bit DSD and ALAC (*.m4a) files that I threw at it.
The FiiO music app is feature-rich. Almost every time I touched the screen I found a new feature. I have no need for WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity. Consequently, the battery life was quite reasonable for an Android device. In standby mode (i.e. no music playing), the battery went from 80% to 40% over the course of about 10h. The 2.0A charger for my Android phone worked fine to charge the X5iii (0% to 100% in a couple of hours).
The only major problem I encountered was the known incompatibility of X5iii with the USB ports on my Dell XPS15 (9550) laptop. When connecting to an USB3 port on a XPS 15, the unit keeps cycling through the welcome screen. This happened whether the USB3 port was on the computer or a connected Dell WD15 dock. The same behavior was not noted on the USB3 port of the Dell DA200 attached to the same laptop, but an error message was generated, “Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. (Code 43). A request for the USB configuration descriptor failed.” The X5iii was powered down in all cases. USB storage mode would not work either when the X5iii was on. I had not installed the Windows 10 driver for the X5iii since I have a desktop DAC and would not use the X5iii for this purpose.

Sound:

The X5iii has lots of detail without being fatiguing. The sound stage is wider than my X5ii and the instrument separation is outstanding with well mastered source material.
The X5iii drives my Etymotic ER4SR with authority. I tried the line-out with my FiiO E12 amp, but found that it was (almost) completely unnecessary with ER4SR. The only exception was the analog bass boost on the E12. I fiddled with the digital EQ (FiiO music and Viper), but neither compared with the instant gratification of the E12 bass boost.
I tried several of the free Viper effects. The one I found most useful was the Playback Gain. It takes a few moments to analyze the source, but does an adequate job of adjusting volume on different albums/tracks. It may not be quite as effective as embedded replay gain, but it served the function with only minor volume adjustments between loud and soft tracks.

Overall:

This is an amazing DAP. The SQ is definitely worth the $399 retail price. I could do without Android and all the battery wasting overhead, but the SQ is worth it.
 
The following albums were sampled during my review:
Adam Harasiewicz: Chopin Nocturnes & Preludes
Adrian Legg: Waiting for a Dancer
Antoine Dufour: Back and Forth
Antonio Pleeth: 6 Geminiani cello sonatas
Billy Mclaughlin: Fingerdance
Calum Graham: Phoenix Rising
Dirks und Wirtz: Kinski Spencer Gismonti
Don Ross: PS15
Earl Klugh: Cool, One on One, & Whispers and Promises
Francois Sciortino: French Guitar
Giovanni Palombo: La melodia segreta, A Secret Melody
Goran Sollscher: Eleven-String Baroque
Helene Grimaud: Duo
Hoff Ensemble: Quiet Winter Night
Jian Wang: The Baroque Album
Jimmy Wahlsteen: No Strings Attached
John Doan: A Celtic Pilgrimage
John Williams: The Guitarist
Julian Webber: Elgar Cello Concerto - Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No.1
Krzysztof Meisinger: Villa-Lobos Melodia Sentimental
lan Ethan Case: Run Toward The Mountains
Laurence Juber: Guitar Noir
Lawson Rollins: Elevation
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: L.A.G.Q., Guitar Heroes, Spin
Luca Stricagnoli: Luca Stricagnoli
Lucas Michailidis: Laughing at the Thief
Markus Segschneider: Snapshots
Michel Haumont: Michel Haumont & Co
Mike Dawes: What Just Happened
Mstislav Rostropovich: Beethoven The Cello Sonatas- Vol1&2, Chopin Cello Sotatas, Schubert Schuman Debusy Cello Sonatas, The Brahms Sonatas, Vivaldi - Tartini - Boccherini Cello Concertos
Oslo String Quartet: The Shubert Connection
Peppino D'Agostino: Acoustic Guitar
Peter Ciluzzi: Still Without Words
Ryan LeBlanc: Speechless
Sarah Mclachlan: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing
Sergio & Odair Assad: Sérgio & Odair Assad Play Piazzolla
Spencer Elliott: Some Forgotten Color, Unspoken
Thomas Fellow & Stephan Bormann: Hands On Strings
Tomasz Gaworek: Born To Be Together
TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE: In Folk Style, Souvenir I & II
Vladimir Horowitz: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3
Yo-Yo Ma: Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1, 5 & 6, Rachmaninov Prokofiev Cello Sonatas, Mendelssohn Piano Trios, Op. 49 & Op. 6
 

csglinux

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Feature-rich, well-designed DAP with two microSD card slots and full Android 5 system
Cons: Sensitive IEMs expose noise floor from BAL-out and circuit noise from SE-out

Introduction 

 
The following impressions and measurements were made using a loaned X5iii unit which was returned to FiiO after the review. I want to say a huge thank you to FiiO for their bravery in selecting me for the North American review tour group 4 for the X5iii. I've never been very good at sugar-coating things, and I don't hold back when reviewing a product I don't like; I don't court controversy, but gushing exuberantly over every product you review doesn't paint an honest picture for a potential buyer. I've written some fairly scathing Amazon reviews of some earlier FiiO products, e.g., EX1 (nice sounding headphones, but I hated their ergonomics) and the X3 second gen (which I felt was overpriced, considering its sound wasn't all that much better - and its noise floor was worse - than my smartphone at the time). FiiO has taken some big steps since the X3ii, but without knowing what headphones are going to be used with the device, there still has to be a question mark over how much (if any) improvement in sound you're going to get with any dedicated DAP. For the right kind of headphone (explained below), the third-generation X5 could be your current best-choice in digital audio players. In order to save some typing, from this point on I'm going to refer to the X5 third generation as the X5iii. Please pay careful attention to the number of "i"s, because I'm also going to occasionally reference the X5ii :wink:
 
 
Sorry! Unboxing videos are so lame. I just can't bring myself to stoop to that. Please search YouTube if you really want to waste your life on unboxing videos. Suffice to say that the unit I tested came in a fairly minimalist cardboard box (thank you FiiO, for not unnecessarily destroying the planet with over-the-top packaging) with cables, connectors, a clear soft-plastic TPU case and a leather case. The leather case looked a little cheap and I didn't use it. I much prefered the look of the clear TPU case which fit well, didn't add much bulk and allowed the nicely-designed X5iii to show through it. I wish the X7 had come with such a well-fitting TPU case (the hard opaque plastic case that comes with the X7 doesn't fit all that well).
 
 

Hardware Design:

 
The hardware design of the X5iii is its strongest feature. It's a big change from the X5ii (second generation), with a move to a large touch-screen replacing the previous small screen and scroll wheel. Compared to its big brother (the X7), the X5iii is smaller, lighter, and fits easier in the hand. The volume control wheel is an awesome addition and is perfectly positioned to operate with your thumb when holding the player in your left hand. I've seen some people complain about the position of the hardware buttons and the risk of inadvertently pressing them, but I didn't have that problem. The only thing I'd wish for with the forward and back buttons is a long-press feature for forward/reverse scrubbing within a track. The two microSD card slots are a huge bonus, though there is a trade-off with the slick, streamlined design of the microSD card trays and the convenience of being able to just push an SD card out without need to find the right-sized paper-clip (a problem that I did encounter during an X5iii listening test with one of my headfi buddies). The X5iii screen has a slightly darker hue than that of the X7, but it still looks great and I didn't have any problem reading the screen, even in strong sunlight. Overall, I loved the design.
 

Software:

 
The software design of the X5iii follows closely from the developments of the Android 5 system used on the X7 and will feel very familiar to anybody that has used the X7. Unlike some vendors of far more expensive devices such as A&K and iBasso, FiiO offers a full Android 5 experience on the X5iii, which includes the Google Play store. The software highlight for me is FiiO's own music app. I understand that some people have issues with it, but for me, this is the best music app I have used on any device - ever. I absolutely love the FiiO music app and wish FiiO would offer this more generally via the Google Play Store. I would happily pay to have it on my Android smartphone. There are popular music players for Android (e.g., Neutron) that have far more features, but I very rarely - if ever - use those features, and in my experience these feature-rich players come with all sorts of bugs and issues. I love the simple, minimalist design of the FiiO music app; I love the option to automatically download synchronized lyrics, the integration with the Viper sound-effects module and the ability to rapidly change the volume by quickly swiping up/down on the right of the touch-screen. People may tell you that the software (mainly the FiiO music app) is buggy and that's probably still true - no DAP I've used is perfect in that regard - but what I find ironic about the complaints on the FiiO forums is that many of these issues are related to features that don't even exist in most other players. FiiO have worked hard to fix the issues in the Android 5 platform (and the FiiO music app) and a few of us on headfi have been helping to maintain a user-driven prioritized log of existing bugs on the X7. Those of you considering an X5iii might want to check out that list, because the vast majority of those issues will apply to the X5iii too. You will notice that most of the remaining bugs are not critical: http://www.head-fi.org/t/824174/known-bugs-issues-with-latest-x7-firmware
 

Listening/Measuring Tests:

 
I tested the X5iii using the following headphones:
 
Headphone
Connector Type
Impedance
Sensitivity
SE846 + brown Knowles damper mod
BAL and SE​
~ 9 Ohm @ 1 kHz​
114 dB SPL/mW​
FLC 8S + modded LF filter
BAL and SE​
11 Ohm​
93 dB SPL/mW​
ER4XR
BAL and SE​
45 Ohm​
104.5 SPL/mW​
Fostex TH-X00 Ebony (many thanks to @moedawg140!)
SE​
25 Ohm​
94 dB/mW​
ATH-M50X
SE​
38 Ohm​
98 dB/mW​
KSE1500
Analog LO only​
N/A​
N/A​
 
I compared DAPs on the balanced-output IEMs, SPL-matched using REW and a Vibro Veritas coupler, by connecting the sources via a 4-pole triple-throw switch:
 
PICTURE1.jpg
 
Each IEM tested with BAL-out was also tested on SE-out using its cable adapter:
 
PICTURE2.jpg
 
Line-out into the KSE1500 was sent through a 3-pole triple-throw switch:
 
PICTURE3.jpg
 

DAPs Compared:

 
DAPs Compared in this review:
S/N
THD+N
Z-out
FiiO X5iii
>=115 dB​
0.003% (into 32 Ohm @ 1kHz)​
< 1 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]DX200 2.5mm balanced output[/color]
125 dB​
<0.0002% (into 64 Ohm @ 3Vrms)​
0.15 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]DX200 3.5mm single-ended output[/color]
122 dB​
<0.00032% (into 32 Ohm @ 1.8Vrms)​
0.15 Ohm​
DX200 line-out
122 dB​
<0.00025%​
 ​
QP1R
 ​
0.0006% (@ 1 kHz)​
<0.19 Ohm​
AK380 [color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]2.5mm balanced output[/color]
117 dB​
0.0007% (@ 1 kHz)​
1 Ohm​
AK380 [color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]2.5mm single-ended output[/color]
116 dB​
0.0008% (​
@ 1 kHz)​
2 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]FiiO X7+am1[/color]
>=115 dB​
<0.0008%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<0.2 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]FiiO X7+am2[/color]
>=118 dB​
<0.001%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<0.5 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]FiiO X7+am3 balanced output[/color]
>=115 dB​
<0.0008%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<0.3 Ohm​
[color=rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.870588)]FiiO X7+am3 single-ended output[/color]
>=115 dB​
<0.001%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<0.3 Ohm​
FiiO X5ii
>=117 dB​
<0.001%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<0.3 Ohm​
FiiO X1ii
>=113 dB​
<0.003%
(into 32 Ohm​
@ 1 kHz)​
<1 Ohm​
 
I haven't listed MSRPs for the above DAPs, but some here are much more expensive than the X5iii and perhaps that might seem unfair. However, most potential buyers are still going to want to know how the X5iii compares in term of sound with the best currently available DAPs. It's a credit to the X5iii that with many headphones (there's a caveat, explained later), the X5iii compares remarkably well.
 
Of all the DAPs tested, the X5iii was the slowest to boot-up. It also takes some time to scan your music library (for my library of ~ 200 Gb worth of mostly FLAC files it took a bit less than 5 minutes, compared with ~ 1 minute on the DX200). However, music scanning is something you'll typically only do once (incremental updates are quicker) and, once booted, the X5iii has the fastest, most responsive UI of any DAP I've ever used.
 
I recently read a small review on Headfonia, from which I quote verbatim: "While the X5iii of course doesn’t perform at the same level as the AK380, it does get you as close as you can get for $399." I'm amazed that someone actually gets paid a salary for writing vacuous statements like this. Firstly, how has Headfonia established the metric of precisely how "close you can get for $399"? And how have they established that the X5iii exactly hits that mark? More significantly, the statement that "the X5iii of course doesn’t perform at the same level as the AK380" plays into all the usual stereotype of "well, this cost $5000, so it must sound better". If you've never heard the AK380, I recommend you check it out with a proper SPL-matched blind A/B test. It sounds basically the same as the X7, in many cases no better than the X5iii and, to my ears, less detailed than the QP1R, all of which sell for a fraction of the AK380's massively over-inflated price (and that’s not counting the extra expense of adding a copper or stainless steel chassis). Sorry for getting side-tracked here, but this is such an important issue. Iriver, like those that sell CD masters as 192/24 tracks, audiophile-quality mains cables, comb-filter-suppressing rock jars and unicorn horns, thrive by exploiting the gullible and the ignorant. One needs to be very careful in presuming that price buys you better audio quality. From a reputable seller it often can, but are there are plenty of cases where it buys you nothing (e.g., upsampled "hi-res" audio from identical masters: http://www.head-fi.org/t/648932/bandcamp-promotion-thread/15#post_13283024) and it also predisposes you to expectation bias, so you really must A/B test these things for yourself, SPL-matched and blind. It's really, really important. There's an entertaining section at the beginning of this video explaining why: https://youtu.be/BYTlN6wjcvQ
 
 
 
One of the entries you'll notice in the previous table of DAPs compared is that of THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise). It's a number I always look at and something I always want to be small, but it's a fairly deceptive measure and for a long time I've wished we had a better agreed-upon standard of output metrics. The problem with playing a single, loud, 1 kHz test tone is that it can mask a multitude of sins. The music that most of us listen to isn't comprised of single-frequency, high-amplitude sine waves. Music has crescendos, diminuendos - and even moments of silence. I appreciate hearing the air between the notes - and even sections of total silence. A consistent amp or circuit noise can be made to look arbitrarily small by swamping it with a sufficiently-loud signal into a higher-impedance load, but unfortunately you will still end up hearing that noise in quiet passages of music with more sensitive headphones. Furthermore, THD will vary with frequency and very loud signals may start to cause distortion and clipping, so a more useful measure of THD+N would be from a frequency sweep at several volume levels, which would include both very low and relatively high (close to maximum SPL) output levels into low-impedance headphones. Unfortunately, since there's no agreed-upon standard right now, THD+N at 1 kHz into a 32 Ohm load it is, and we'll just have to hope that the number we have is in some way relevant. In my experience, there does seem to be some correlation, but it's not a perfect measure by any stretch.
 
 

Listening Tests:

 
Most of my critical listening was done with my IEMs using my four-pole/double-throw switch to alternate a balanced output from two DAPs into a single set of headphones. The output was SPL-matched as close as possible (typically only within about 0.2 dB because of the discrete volume steps in all of these DAPs). I did almost all of my listening via balanced-out. I need to confess that I did not do a carefully controlled test of SE vs BAL on the X5iii. I’d really have needed two X5iii units to test these, properly SPL-matched. I just don’t trust my own brain when switching from two devices with a long pause while I have to adjust the gain. In all honesty, from the very brief and unscientific tests I did, I couldn’t detect much difference between BAL-out and SE-out - with one exception… When using sensitive IEMs, there was a noticeable noise floor on the BAL (2.5 mm) output. I’ve come to expect that with my SE846, but this was particularly noticeable, even with my FLC 8S. The noise floor with the SE846 was loud enough that I could even hear it over quiet passages of music. That's the only major issue I had with the X5iii . It has an outstanding design, DAC and feature set, but it really deserves a better amp.
 
I also noticed something odd with the SE (3.5 mm) output, which was some circuit noise that was apparent even when all radios were off and no other transmitting devices were within close proximity. This circuit noise was quite distinct from the typical white noise one hears as a noise-floor from an amp. The SE-out’s noise floor was less than that of the BAL-out, but its circuit noise contained some unpleasant tonal components, with a peak around 1.6 kHz. This circuit noise was present on the SE-out, independent of the volume setting, but wasn't present at all from the BAL-out. I’ve not seen anybody else report this, so it’s possible this was a fault with the North American review tour group 4 unit. (This was an issue I reported to FiiO, but something I never got any resolution on.) In any case, unless you have sensitive IEMs, it likely wouldn’t be a problem: it was audible on the SE846, faint on the FLC 8S and inaudible on the ER4XR.
 
I did do some listening via Tidal and, as with the X7, there can also be some WiFi interference noise with more sensitive IEMs. It rarely bothered me, as it’s only really apparent before playback starts and can always be eliminated completely by downloading the tracks you want and then switching to offline playback. With regular music playback, the biggest sonic differences between the X5iii were also apparent with the SE846, most likely due to the fact that the SE846 has an extremely low impedance (~ 7 Ohm @ 1kHz) and also wild impedance swings with frequency. The X5iii sounds slightly warmer than the X7+am3 or DX200 - so, taking the edge off its treble and/or boosting its bass, depending on how you want to look at it. This is a likely result of the X5iii’s slightly higher output impedance, but it really isn’t a problem for me. The differences are pretty small and could be a positive or a negative, depending on your sound preferences. These sonic differences show up in measurements too:
 
FRCURVE1.png
 
The sonic differences were extremely minor with the FLC 8S, with noise floor (BAL-out) and circuit noise (SE-out) also reduced in comparison to that from the SE846. With the ER4XR, I couldn't reliably A/B any differences at all (and noise floor and circuit noise were totally inaudible). Could you hear the differences with the ER4XR? If they’re there at these volume levels, they’re very, very subtle:
 
FRCURVE2.png
 
The X5iii’s digital output via USB doesn't appear to be working yet (perhaps this will get addressed in a future firmware?) so I wasn't able to test USB DAC mode feeding the KSE1500, but I did do some listening tests using the X5iii’s LO into the KSE1500. Wow. I was very pleasantly surprised by the X5iii’s DAC. To my ears, the X5iii’s LO beat that of the DX200, with a more enjoyable sound and better extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. (The KSE1500 always seems to have an extremely clean, black background, no matter the source.) Given its small size and excellent DAC, the X5iii would be a great choice for someone who already owns a good amp (such as the KSE1500’s electrostatic amp).
 

Summary:

 
The X5iii is a fantastic product, but it does have a slight weakness, which is its amp. Having said that, the weakness in the X5iii’s amp probably isn't going to be relevant, or even perceptible, to most people. Listeners with sensitive IEMs might want to look elsewhere, and those with harder-to-drive headphones might want to take it for a test drive first. But for a very large range of headphones in between, the X5iii has to be one of the most feature-packed and best value-for-money DAPs on the market right now.
peter1480
peter1480
Thus proving if you like the way it sound with your other equipment its the DAP 4U
swannie007
swannie007
Great review. No BS and succinct and to the point. I wish more reviewers would cut through the crap and just get on with the review as you do. Much appreciated and an informative read. Cheers.
svetlyo
svetlyo
I purchased the Fiio X5 III in Europe and I can attest the circuit noise - after pausing a song you can definitely hear it, some uneven static noises and after 2-3 it stops (I guess the SE out is shut off or at least a part of the amp circuit is deactivated for energy savings purposes) It is quite apparent on SE535 for example (which is not so sensitive after all)   

justjag

Head-Fier
Pros: Myriad features, thoughtful design, competitive price
Cons: Acceptable sound quality, button placement, usability quirks
 
Many thanks to Fiio for extending the opportunity to review the new X5 3rd Gen as part of their review tour.
 
A brief look at packaging
 
20170312_223033.jpg
 
20170312_223602.jpg
 
20170312_223721.jpg
 
 
20170323_144841.jpg
 
Attractive boxes, sensible layout, nice accessory package.
 
Before sound
 
A note on objectivity
 
Objective measurements serve as a basic benchmark of audio performance that all audio manufacturers should strive towards, and one in which Fiio products have traditionally fared very well in. They offer a measure of objective transparency and provide credence to the marketing claims of a product’s performance vis-a-vis other competing devices (including smartphones).
 
As expected, the X5 performs admirably here, but I still look forward to loaded (ie. real world) measurements of the X5.
 
Headphone out specifications (3.5mm headphone out jack)
Output power 1
≥480 mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%)
Output impedance
<1Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2
≥250 mW(32Ω /THD+N<1%)
Channel separation
>73 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3
≥28 mW(300Ω / THD+N<1%)
THD+N
<0.003% (1 kHz)
Frequency response
5 Hz~55 kHz(-3dB)
Peak output voltage
>8 Vp-p
SNR
≥115 dB (A-weighted)
Max. output current
250mA (For reference)
Balanced headphone out specifications (2.5mm TRRS headphone out jack)
Output power 1
≥400 mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%)
Output impedance
<3Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2
≥240 mW(32Ω /THD+N<1%)
Channel separation
≥98 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3
≥26 mW(300Ω / THD+N<1%)
THD+N
<0.003% (1 kHz)
Frequency response
5 Hz~55kHz(-3dB)
Peak output voltage
>7.5 Vp-p
SNR
≥111 dB (A-weighted)
Max. output current
>250 mA (For reference)



 
Subjective preamble
 
Beyond numbers and graphs, differences in voicing may nonetheless exist between sources which are important to consider. While these differences may ultimately be small, they can result in disproportionately large differences in the subjective experience of listening to music in terms of enjoyment and immersion.
 
Sound quality
 
That said, I have found the subjective performance of the X5 to be respectable but not particularly impressive. Make no mistake, the X5 is not remotely a bad sounding player, and in fact has quite an enjoyable and pleasing sound. It just has a few caveats which I have found to take away from MY own listening enjoyment which I feel are important to note for your consideration. Broken down into various aspects:
 
Soundstaging comes in with a solid performance. It does not sound compressed or claustrophobic in the least, but it is not particularly spacious either.
 
Separation and general resolution is rather underwhelming. The X5 does not sound congested but imaging is not especially precise or defined and note edges have a soft tone.
 
Presentation is intimate, present and engaging, but notably soft and smooth (no accentuation of textural details, stage elements not exaggeratedly distinct)
 
Bass has impressive if slightly elevated body and heft, making for a chunky, visceral sound that can be very satisfying. However, it is a little muddy and does not have the last say in punchiness and control which causes it to fall a little short in offering grit and realism.
 
Midrange is largely a matter of personal taste. It is forward and engaging but soft in character. It is not notably textured or detailed and has a comforting and pleasant presentation.
 
Treble is present and detailed but smooth.
 
Overall, the X5 generally meets but does not exceed expectations. Presentation is smooth and pleasing, while bass is visceral and impactful but could stand to be more controlled.
 
Not sound
 
Build and design
 
The X5 is gorgeous, functional and constructed impeccably. It features a compact design, tasteful angles, thoughtfully laid out transport buttons which are easy to identify and press, a sleek and well constructed volume wheel, a premium finish, attractive glass back panel and secure headphone ports.
 
My only gripe, which amounts to so much more of a shame in light of the otherwise fantastic design, is the awkward power button placement. It is too high up to reach comfortably one-handed and results in frequent misclicks of the play/pause button flanking the the same position on the opposite side.
 
 
 
20170319_170206.jpg
 
 
 
20170319_170423.jpg
 
 
 
20170319_170523.jpg
 
20170319_170603.jpg
 
 
 
20170323_144140.jpg
 
Software
 
Speed is passable. There is a slight delay with certain actions, but it doesn’t significantly hamper over experience or operation. Overall experience remains fluid other than a few hiccups and is very much usable.
 
Android interface is familiar and easy to use. Downloading third party apps such as Spotify and Tidal can be done through the Play Store or the FiiO Market which is less polished but still simple to use.
 
Pure music mode works well and is mostly smooth and intuitive to operate.
 
The X5 is absolutely jam packed with useful features, most notable being:
 
Wifi support (OTA updates and streaming):
  1. Streaming apps work well. No stutters or crashes
  2. Rather poor wifi reception. Slow OTA updates and streaming hiccups even for lossy 320 kbps Spotify tracks with a single concrete wall separation.
 
Filters
  1. Hard to access, quick settings bring up settings page rather than allowing immediate selection of filter choices.
  2. Minimal differences between filters. You might find a preference but honestly I struggle to tell a difference between filters beyond a vague gut feel.
 
Effects
  1. Channel balance (this should be a standard inclusion on every DAP honestly)
  2. Vipereffect
     
    1. About half of the features are locked behind a paywall (payment can be done through WeChat, Alipay or Paypal) but there is still a good selection of free effects like various surround simulations, gain adjustment, and upscaling
    2. Effects generally work well but there is a few seconds of delay before the settings take effect making finding the right setting quite laborious.
    3. Overall nothing astounding (at least based on the free effects) but nice to have the additional functionality and features.  
USB DAC, dac out
  1. USB dac installation much easier than before. No need to allow unsigned drivers in Windows settings.
  2. Software is laden with features usually absent on other daps featuring USB DAC functionality such as channel balance and even basic but important functions like volume adjustment with the screen off.
  3. However, some issues remain such as occasional crashes when changing usb streaming settings in the fiio driver software and notable latency making it unsuitable for video streaming/gaming. It is bearable on “minimum latency” setting but latency is still noticeable.
  4. Seems to not work through USB hubs whereas other dac/amps like my HA-2 worked just fine.
  5. Instant play/pause, no idle mode where the amp turns off after certain durations of inactivity.

I could not get the USB OTG out option to work even with third party apps like the Onkyo HF player to test the X5 with external DACs.
 
 
Usability quirks
  1. Amp section turns off after short period of disuse and produces audible clicks when turning off/on. Delay in output when turning on (almost 2 seconds).
  2. Occasional clicks when switching between tracks (either selecting a different track or simply during continuous playback)
  3. Power button too high up and positioned opposite the play pause button leading to accidental pauses.
 
Battery
 
About 8 hours (just short of 10 hours as per Fiio’s claims), capable of lasting several days between charges depending on usage.
 
 
 
Should you buy it?
 
At the end of the day, the X5 3rd Gen presents an incredible value considering it’s outstanding feature set (including streaming support, dual micro-sd slots, quick charging, balanced output), sensible and attractive design, and incredibly competitive price point.
 
However, it’s few usability quirks do amount to palpable annoyances in day to day usage and while the X5 is far from a bad sounding player, it’s relatively soft, smooth voicing and modest subjective technicalities mean you should probably give it a listen to see if it pairs well with your existing setup and if it suits your tastes before purchasing one.
 
Overall, the X5 is still a good sounding player and presents a strong value proposition worthy of a 4/5 rating.
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MinnieOne
MinnieOne
8 hours of power on battery isn't "just" short of 10 hours. That is a huge statistical and real world difference.
 
Imaging/soundstage blew me away. Admittedly I'm not a long term nor expert DAP user but sometimes I'll be looking around the room to see where certain sounds are coming from, a bit freaky IMO. Don't get that with my stereo and headphone set up from days past on the same music. 
justjag
justjag
I agree that a 2 hour difference is statistically significant but in view of the fact the manufacturers frequently overstate the battery life of their products (figures provided under ideal conditions), and the fact that battery life can vary so greatly depending on screen usage, brightness and wifi, 8 hours is a fair average in terms of actual real world usage.

I have also experienced the pleasant surprise of thinking a sound from my music came from elsewhere but I must say this experience is more a result of the headphones than the source. Even from my phone I can perceive this sense of imaging, but when put in relative to other premium daps like the Onkyo DPX1, the x5 does not fair as well in terms of soundstage or imaging.

ironpeg

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Aggressive sound with great bass impact, Sparkling Treble, Forward Mid, Android operating system, 2 memory card slots, luxury build
Cons: Firmware changes sound dramatically, cannot get Tidal, sometimes it went blue screen, distortions in bass and mid
EDITED: Firmware Comparison
 
 
This X5 Gen 3 unit is provided by Fiio for my honest review. The unit will be returned at the end of my review period.
 

I come from AK380Cu+Amp Cu which is ten times the price of Fiio X5 Gen3 but has the same DAC that Fiiio X5 Gen3 has. So most of my thought about Fiio X5 Gen3 will be compared to AK380Cu+Amp Cu
 
Testing Equipment: Zeus-XRA + Effect Audio Mars+Leonidas Bespoke 8 braids 2.5 TRRS.
 
Packaging: Fiio did a very good job in packaging. It looks like a luxury packaging that AK does for all their DAPs. There are 2 cases, silicone and leather, in the box already. I don't see screen protector in the box but I remember my friend said he has one in his retail purchase. There is a memory card slot opener in the box, and usb cable.
 
Design: Fiio X5 Gen3 has a perfect size for a small hand. It's roughly the size of iPhone 4 but thicker. It doesn't fits Pelican 1010 case but fits Pelican 1020. Design looks cool, nice and luxury. It comes with 26 Gb Storage and 2 Micro SD card slots which I remember that they support up to 256 Gb. This makes X5 Gen 3 has a massive storage.
 
Original Firmware 1.1.4
 
High Gain Setting
 
Sound presentation: The stage size is around 60% of what AK380Cu+Amp provides. It is tall but narrow. Depth isn't that deep. Therefore, it's less airy than AK380. Judging from my memory, its presentation is quite similar to AK240.
 
Bass: Bass has a very nice impact considering my iem isn't good with bass impact. Bass is fast, tight, and clean. Bass hits deep but lacks body. I heard some distortion of bass drum from Tidal. 
 
Mid: Mid is very clean and clear. Male vocal position is just right for me; not too forward nor laid back; however, female vocal seems to be laid back. Mid has more body than bass. Snare hits hard and pretty forward; just slightly behind the singer. Details are pretty fine but still at different level comparing to AK380Cu+Amp Cu. Also found some distortions from Electronic music.
 
High: High is laid back in X5 Gen3 but it has good sparkles. It's not piercing or harsh. This would be the best area that Fiio did. I'd love it more if it's not too laid back. Details are not impressive but still good for the price.

Note: I will not say anything regarding low gain because I feel that high gain provides much better sound and impact. There is no hiss on high gain with Zeus-XRA which is considered to be very sensitive to hiss.
 
Verdict: This could be secondary DAP (Gym DAP) for Audiophiles or Entry level DAP for beginners.
 
Original Firmware 1.1.1
 
High Gain Setting
 
Sound presentation: The stage size is still around 60% of what AK380Cu+Amp provides. Stage has way better presentation. It's no longer way bigger height like 1.1.4. Judging from my memory, its presentation is very similar to AK240.
 
Bass: Bass is faster than 1.1.4. Less impact. No distortion. 
 
Mid: Mid is slightly move backward comparing to 1.1.4. No Distortion.
 
High: Similar to 1.1.4. Still laid back.
 
Verdict: At this price, I'd get Fiio X5 G3 rather than AK240.
 
Modified Firmware by WindowsX
 
High Gain Setting
 
Sound presentation: Best soundstage among all firmwares. Stage is wider, and a bit deeper. This has the best realistic stage among the 3 firmwares.
 
Bass: Bass is nimble but smooth, lean, fast, and tight. Impact is very noticeable that it's quite less than 1.1.4. No distortion.
 
Mid: Mid is similar to original 1.1.1. I can hear a bit more details.
 
High: Not much changes.
 
Verdict: WindowsX did a great job modifying the Rom. Now X5G3 sounds closer to High-End DAP. WindowsX also does hardware mod. He claims that it sounds way different level than the stock. I would say with the right ROM X5G3 could easily beat AK240 from my memory.
Layman1
Layman1
A useful and interesting review, thanks!
Possibly worth mentioning for those that don't know, the AK380Cu is approximately 10 times the price of the X5iii. It's certainly a valid comparison, but perhaps a bit 'David vs Goliath' lol :D
ironpeg
ironpeg
@Layman1 Thanks. I've edited and said AK380Cu is 10 times the price of X5iii.
TwinACStacks
TwinACStacks
Most beginners aren't going to pop for that Kind of $$$ (Fiio) For a DAP unless they have a Trust fund or extremely good job with tons of expendable cash. Personally I would never pop AK money for a portable player or even try to compare it to a mid fi player. But it's still an informative review.

PinkyPowers

Reviewer: The Headphone List
Pros: Strong, goodly build. Duel SD slots. Volume wheel. Plays music on command.
Cons: Strangely complicated software. Bugs which I don't bother mentioning in review. Sound quality not competitive.
FrontPage.jpg

~::I originally published this review on The Headphone List. Now I wish to share it with my Head-Fi fellows::~

::Disclaimer::
FiiO did everything in its power to keep me out of this review tour. I signed up for it, waited months, and in secret they started gathering confirmations. I nearly missed out. Luckily, my spycraft is honed to a razor’s edge and I slipped in against their best efforts.

My time with the X5 3rd Gen was allotted on the condition I share my impressions openly and honestly, for good or ill. And that I leave the razors out of it.

We’ll see what I can do.

------------------------------
For further information on the X5 3rd Gen:
FiiO’s website
X5 on Amazon

For a long time I held the X5 Classic (FiiO’s 1st Gen) as the standard-barer for all mid-tier audio players. I tested everything against it, and very few products in that range beat the original X5, to my ears. That changed with the Cayin i5. And quickly changed again when I reviewed the Opus#1. This new breed of DAP has raised the bar awfully high. To clear it, a device must call upon some heinous forces and dedicate its labors to SOUND, above all other concerns.

Right off the bat I’ll say I prefer the 3rd Generation X5 to the FiiO X7. It does many things better, and it does many things different, and of those things which are equal, they are at least more in line with my tastes this time around.

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I’m a fan of the build. The X5 is a handsome device. The laser-etched back plate is straight up Astell&Kern. The size is just right. Very palm-able. It’s impressive just how much power and features they pack into this thing. On the outside it sits smack dab between my AK120II and the Opus#2. But on the inside, I think it packs more driving power than both. The buttons don’t bother me. I know some find them problematic, but I had no such issues. While they are placed in unusual locations, I grasped the design quickly and thought nothing of it thereafter.

FiiO deserves special congratulations for including duel microSD slots, on top of the 32GB internal storage. They deserve more than a mere clap on the back. I’m talking all due pomp and circumstance, banner-waving, and bikini-clad girls baring wreaths of flowers. Bravo FiiO! Have a trophy! This is becoming a rare thing to find, and I like to give credit where credit is due. I recall being disheartened when the X7 only had one slot, and I celebrate FiiO’s move in this direction.

On top of that, they’ve innovated the ****** out of these two microSD slots, designing cool little treys which seal the ports when the cards are installed. I LOVE THIS!

The volume wheel is a nice touch. It’s the weirdest one I’ve seen yet, but I like it. The wheel turns with fluid, controlled motion, and no wiggle. It’s minimalistic, unlike the king-hell knob on the Cayin i5, which holds an esteemed place in my heart. Go big or go home, I say. Or go weird. FiiO went weird. And it works.

VolumeWheel.jpg

We are given two headphone outs with the X5 3rd Generation: A 3.5mm single-ended, and a 2.5mm balanced. There are quite a few players on the market using the Astell&Kern-style balanced, and this is the latest to take up that excellent trend. Not that it executes Balanced especially well. I hear almost no difference between the two. At the very least, I can use all my balanced cables without the need for an adapter.

When I met with Lynn for a gear swap and mini Head-Fi meet, he had the clear silicon case on the X5. He liked it better than the black leather. He’s insane. Likely lost his mind after grading one paper too many. The first thing I did when I got my hands on it is switch cases. The PU leather is much nicer. I didn’t find the buttons difficult to work at all. Still, the fact we have two cases to choose from is a classy move on FiiO’s part. Give the “bird”-brains an option they can appreciate. Ho ho! He’ll enjoy that reference.

Now, the software… oh boy, the software. There’s not a lot I can say about it. For starters, from hour one I booted into Pure Music Mode and NEVER came out. My experience with the X5-3 was one devoid of Apps, Internet, Streaming, or clutter of any kind. That might not sound like the sentiment of a professional reviewer. And you’re right. I’m a fraud. I simply couldn’t motivate myself to sign up for Spotify and TIDAL just so I could test those functions for the sake of a thorough review. I don’t care about that stuff. So I pretended they don’t exist, and that gave me joy.

X5H901.jpg

One feature Pinky made certain to test, in spite of my contempt for it, is Bluetooth. Andrew over at MusicTeck sent me a pair of Bang&Olufsen H9 for review. So I can say with authority, Bluetooth streaming works very well on the X5. The distance I got was impressive. Not that I have any experience with this, but I didn’t expect to get out of the room and half-way into the next before the signal cut out. I figured we’d get around a ten foot range. Yet that’s not the case. Also, the H9 sounded pretty okay… for wireless.

But that’s for another write-up. Today we’re talking about FiiO. And I do believe it’s time to move on to a discussion of sound, and what it means to hear with human ears.

They call the new X5 smooth. It is. Coming from the AK120II and now the Opus#2, I’m familiar with the notion. Yet unlike those DAPs, the X5 achieves its smoothness not through refinement and polish, but rather by coloring the sound with an abundance of warmth, rolled-off treble, and sluggish dynamics. It’s smooth, alright. It’s also boring.

Now, now. Put away those pitchforks. It’s not as bad as all that. This device sounds pretty good when paired with the right headphone. Pick a transducer with the opposite characteristics described above and you’ll get a middle-ground that works quite well. The X5 is not incapable of rich, high-resolution audio. You simply need to help it along.

I must give FiiO credit for its ability to recreate clean, artifact-free music. The 3rd Gen is measurably better than the old X5 Classic. I hear none of that “digital” sound its forefather suffered from. This player renders natural, easy-going, laid-back audio. Its soundstage is neither big nor tiny, just a bit smaller than average. More like you’re listening to the music in a living room, rather than a local venue.

X5Encore01.jpg

There is thickness and weight to the notes, which I like. But when combined with the smaller stage, this makes instrument separation a crowded affair. Though imaging is excellent, you don’t get a good sense of air or space between the musicians.

When taken on its own, the X5 is entirely adequate. It’s when you toss this player into a ring with its more notable peers that you witness the dichotomy.

The Opus#1 by Audio-Opus (theBit) is THE DAP I recommend in the mid-fi category. It’s not a full-android device. There is no streaming, WiFi, Bluetooth or Apps. It’s just a music player, and it whips the X5-3 up and down the street. Okay, that might be hyperbolic, but to these queer ears, Opus sings a significantly grander tune. Not only that, but the OS is simpler and more intuitive, with far fewer bugs and peccadilloes. The music is clearer and more transparent. Details are more evident. The bass strikes harder, with control and texture. Treble has greater presence. The Opus’ soundstage shames the X5 in width and depth. And then there’s dynamics… the X5-3 sounds like it’s right in the middle of a long winter nap next the excitement found in the Opus. On the other hand, the X5 has the volume wheel, and you know I love me a volume wheel. That, and the full Android system makes the X5 a more versatile device. But I don’t really care about that. If you own a smartphone, you don’t need all that other stuff in your DAP. That’s why I bought the Opus#1 as my personal choice for best mid-tier player.

If you still think you need apps such as TIDAL, there is also the Cayin i5. Like the X5, the Cayin is quite warm-sounding. But unlike the X5, the i5 has a strong, dynamic sound that is wonderfully enthralling and terribly musical. After burn-in and v2.2 of the firmware, the sound opens up even more, achieving brighter highs and greater air. Sadly, the i5 is not as easy a recommendation as the Opus#1 since it lacks some of the things that makes the X5 so appealing: there is only one microSD slot and no balanced output. There are lots of reported troubles with streaming services. Yet the Cayin i5 is sexier and possesses superior audio, so you must decide where your priorities lie.

A sentiment has been passed around on the forums that the FiiO X5-3 competes at the Top of the Line level. You see these kinds of delusions sprout from the soil of many new devices, until a few months have gone by and the hype engine grows rusty. People suddenly come to their ******* senses.

I have on-hand the AK120II and the Opus#2. I shall not even go into how they compare to the X5, because quite honestly, the X5 doesn’t compete well at all. The Opus#2 is a small step up over the AK120II, and the AK is a small step up over the Opus#1, and the Opus#1 decimates the X5-3 and… well, you can see what I’m saying. After performing a thorough A/B test with my top players, I simply don’t feel it’s useful to draw this out.

As I said before, unlocking the potential of FiiO’s new player is all about synergy. Find the right pairing, and you can know happiness with this DAP.

X5IM0302.jpg

The Audio Technica IM03 is a longtime favorite of mine. It fights through the doldrums of the X5 and, on a budget, creates a great deal of liveliness. David Bowie’s Space Oddity is crisp in the treble, clear and detailed in the vocals, and boomy at the bottom. It’s just about the warmest I’ve ever heard these IEMs, but they don’t sound bad at all. Quite the contrary. This paring is scrumptious and I don’t want to turn the music off.

I plugged in my 64Audio U12 expecting this to be the worst pairing of all. The U12, while my go-to IEM, is aggressively smooth and warm. I feared adding a boring, laid-back source to the chain. In point of fact, this combination rather pleased me. The vocals come through strong and clear. There is decent air in the mix, and more attack than I hoped. The major failing of this coupling is it doesn’t take advantage of the U12’s monstrous soundstage. FiiO holds it back in a big way. Yet not so much that I can’t get lost in the musicality of the U12.

X5U1201.jpg

X5Solar01.jpg

Next to the U12, Rhapsodio Solar is fast, bright, and immensely detailed. But it’s not enough for the X5-3. FiiO’s newest player reminds me that Solar is actually a warm and thick CIEM with only moderately extended treble and average soundstage. The X5 accentuates these aspects in the worst possible way. It doesn’t offer Solar enough energy, and the combination is sadly underwhelming. Solar sounds so much better on other devices. It’s quite enthralling on the Cayin i5.

One of the finest examples of the all-arounder in the TOTL range is the new Kaiser Encore by Noble Audio. It doesn’t go too far in any aspect and thus will please most people. It’s also my favorite IEM for the X5. Encore is so highly dynamic, with bright, sparkly treble, extremely clear mids, and tight, punchy bass, you forget you’re listening to a lackluster DAP… because Encore never lacks luster. It brings a big bowl of it to the table.

X5Encore02.jpg

If you want a good pair of full-size headphones for the FiiO X5 3rd Gen, the same rules apply as with IEMs. Don’t go for a laid-back set. You want to counter this DAP’s natural tendencies to bore you. Look for treble energy, vibrancy, and dynamism. My choice is the Meze 99 Classics. The X5 robs them of some of their brilliance and excellence, but their special virtues shine through nonetheless. Putting on good old Nirvana Unplugged, and I hear the richness I come to expect from Meze. Some of the “crunch” is gone, and the treble is shier than I’d like. Pretty good detailing and clarity, though. Yet the stage is awfully small, and I miss the depth, layering and separation of better DAPs.

Although the X5 is well amped, and will get most full-size headphones good and loud, the Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX sounded miserable. Hollow, and lifeless. These have paired so well with weaker devices, like the Opus#1, that the only explanation is dynamics. When driving 300 Ohm headphones, a mobile device needs some way to compensate for not having the amperage of a desktop unit. The sonics need teeth. Both Opus and i5 kick hard enough to bring these cans to marvelous life, while the X5 falls well short. The HD6XX is a warm, laid-back headphone, and chained to a warm, exceedingly laid-back DAP, it’s just… sad. A rain curtain closes about you, and all light seems to leave the world. Before you know it, your hand is penning a suicide note.

Well that’s it folks. That’s all she wrote. Who’s “she”? You’ll never know. I killed her for asking too many questions, and you’re next if you don’t get a rein on that curiosity of yours. What do you want to know, exactly? Why is it so important? What more can I say about a smartphone that doesn’t phone?

FiiO’s 3rd Gen is not the wonder kid who’s changed the game forever. It’s a very capable streaming device that’s fully-featured, with class-leading storage capacity, faultless build quality, and endless potential. It’s probably the best option right now if streaming services are a requirement for you. Tragically, audio performance is the X5’s weakest asset. For my use, there are two mid-fi DAPs I’d take over this one in a heartbeat. But as you know, I’m wrong from the inside out, and my views do not reflect modern trends. Ignore the dinosaur typing away in his dark room. FiiO’s created a newfangled thingamabob all the kids will love. They call it an Em Pee Three Player, and I hear it’s going to replace 8-Track.

-~::Pinky_Powers::~-
Sound Eq
Sound Eq
HBB are you gonna end up buying the wm1z :)
Hawaiibadboy
Hawaiibadboy
@Sound Eq
​No.
I'm a Sony fanboy but that unit is part of the "priced beyond performance only collectors indeed proceed" IMO.
I could get it for 50% off but that is still too much. Beautiful. Sounds good. U.I. is just O.K. I'll leave the off topic stuff out off this review. I posted the link because I made my comment this morning and in the afternoon I re met one of the over priced DAP's I mentioned in the original comment.
javre76
javre76
Nice review and very honest. I am currently listening to the X5III, IMO, it sounds very, very nice to my ears (they are not golden ears by any stretch). I think the hardware is there and the flexibility of the software too, that with an affordable price, to me, it is a winner. They need to work on how to optimize the software with the hardware though and, despite I value the options, the Viper sound effects are artificial and unnecessary, I disabled them and it sounds fantastic. I might go with the "purist" firmware in the future to see if there is an improvement on the sound department (again, right now it sounds very good without Viper effects).
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