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FiiO X5 3rd gen Premium Hi-Res DAP

Rating:
4.22414/5,
  1. ryanjsoo
    Fiio X5 III Review – Affordable Luxury?
    Written by ryanjsoo
    Published Feb 23, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Spacious soundstage, Full but aggressively detailed sound, Rock solid build, Impeccably finished, Accessories, Well implemented android OS, apt-x
    Cons - Button placement produces accidental presses, Older SOC frequently freezes when multi-tasking, Slow WiFi, Slightly muddy lower mids, Very slow SD slot
    Introduction –

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    The X5 is perhaps the quintessential Fiio player, it was one of their first devices and also one of their most universally acclaimed. Fiio have come far since the unveiling of the original X5, experimenting with various form factors and interfaces. With their flagship X7, Fiio first adopted a touch screen based android interface, one that radically differed from the scroll wheel based devices that came before. This was an especially pertinent move since the majority of complaints about Fiio devices was their inefficient, immature software and the move to the much more refined, much more developed Android OS was nothing but wise. Just one later, it’s great to see Fiio bringing this premium experience down to a more affordable price. Retailing for $550 AUD, the new X5 III provides a highly similar performance and feature set to the X7 within a more compact form factor. Let’s see if the X5 III is Fiio’s next champion device.

     

    Disclaimer –

    I would like to thank Fiio very much for providing me with the opportunity to review the X5 III. This article is part of Fiio’s review tour, there is no monetary incentive for a positive review and I will be as objective as possible in my evaluation of the player.

     

    About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

    I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

    Read More

     

    Accessories –

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    Fiio are constantly improving their packaging and I really like the direction they’re heading in. The X5 III in addition to all of Fiio’s new earphones, the F1 and F3, all come within a nice uniform box with a light colour scheme behind lustrous high-contrast renders. The X5 III comes in a two-tone box with a white face and black sides and rear that looks subjectively premium. The rear showcases basic specs and overarching features.

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    Upon opening the box, the buyer is presented with an almost ornate hard box with the Fiio logo embossed in gold. The X5 III lies inside, nestled within a bed of foam. Underneath, Fiio take a page from 1More’s fantastic packaging with several small geometrically matching boxes containing the accessories.

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    Fiio provide the user with two cases, a very minimal TPU clear case pre-installed on the player. It’s well-cut and grippy, showcasing the new design of the player while providing basic scratch protection.

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    Within the lower box, Fiio provide a more substantial leather case. It has some thin padding that will provide some more substantial protection from mild drops. It also has a nice tactile texture and responsive button feedback. Its design suits the player nicely.

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    Within the smaller boxes lies the micro-usb charging cable with a nice integrated Velcro strap, a 3.5mm to coax cable and instruction and warranty papers.

     

    Design –

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    While I have always been a fan of Fiio’s build quality, the level of finish on their devices always left me wanting (though more excusable at their respective asking prices). For instance, the X5 II and E17K both have a nice completely aluminium build, yet both also have an unsightly, uneven seam that runs the perimeter of the brushed rear panels. The X5 III is a large leap forward in terms of both build and finish. It builds upon the solid feel in the hand achieved by the second generation X5 but adds a much more fitting glass panel to the rear. There are no seams and the level of finish is almost equal to that of my Oppo HA-2, no small feat. Through the use of a uni-body construction, the X5 achieves similar feel in the hand to a flagship smartphone.

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    X5 II – X5 III


    Physically, the X5 III is roughly identical to the X5 II in size but adopts an android based touch screen interface over the proprietary click wheel-based interface used before. Usage should be familiar to those who have experience with the higher end X7 since it employs the same internals and operating system.

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    But while the X5 II had a more rounded design, the 3rd iteration of Fiio’s iconic player instead boasts a much sharp, angular styling that is refined enough not to become abrasive in the hand but far more catching to the eye. Each corner is subtly rounded and softly chamfered both for ergonomics and aesthetics. The sandblasted finish on the sides of the device grant it with some traction in the hand and the glass back is certainly very eye catching. I would perhaps like to see a frosted glass back on the next model, ever since I lay my hands on the Sony Z5, I’ve been a huge fan, but the glossy back should remain clean due to Fiio’s inclusion of not one but two cases. I love the gunmetal colour scheme that Fiio have adopted, it’s industrial and mature, more so than previous devices.

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    Horizontal/Vertical Viewing Angles – Colour and Contrast Comparison @Max Brightness


    From a glance, the first thing that pops out is the 4” IPS LCD panel up front. While the X5 III remains, at its core, a music player, the implementation of a touch based android interface requires an impressive display since it is such a visual based operating system. Luckily, Fiio’s choice of panel is quite good, perhaps not by today’s standards (as shown above), but it’s a reasonably bright and saturated panel that sports a sharp 800×480 resolution, a universe apart from the rather archaic panel employed on the X5 II. The capacitive touch screen is also sensitive, and navigating through the UI is mostly as response as any modern smart device. Tasks such as watching videos and even some casual gaming are all well served by this resolution and the screen was visible even under the harsh Australian summer sun, if barely. There is no ambient light sensor so you’ll have to manually adjust the brightness but Fiio were kind enough to leave the brightness slider in the notification quick settings for easy adjustments.

    While purists may not embrace the move to Android, the X5 III does retain all of the controls of the X5 II, minus the scroll wheel. The layout has been updated to better fit the form factor and ergonomics of the device.

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    The illuminated power button sits on the top right just above two micro sd card slots. Each supports up to 256GB via Micro SDXC and had no trouble reading my 128gb Sandisk Extreme formatted via Exfat. The device also supports Fat32 and NTFS. At present, that means you could option an X5 III to contain almost 538GB of storage! (32GB internal, 26GB usable) I’m happy that Fiio have moved to using trays for the micro sd slots as opposed to the exposed spring loaded slots on the X5II. They better protect your valuable cards (and data) in addition to increasing the quality of the device, the exposed ports always look somewhat subpar.

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    All of the ports are located on the bottom of the player. From left to right, the X5 III sports a 3.5mm headphone output, a 2.5mm balanced output, a micro-usb charge/data port and a line/coax out port. All are nicely finished and lie flush with the player’s housing.

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    The left side of the player contains the playback controls. At the very top, opposite the power button is the play/pause button, beneath is a nice clicky digital volume wheel and just below are the track skip buttons. Fiio have added some ridging on the left side of the X5III to recess the volume wheel and prevent accidental changes (buttons can be disabled when the device is sleeping in setting). However, not only is this design feature functional, it also enhances the aesthetics of the player, the sharply angled surfaces producing some visual interest.  In addition, the two tone ridged aluminium volume wheel both looks and feels tremendously premium.

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    Ergonomically, the device is easy to use and generally intuitive. Most people will be familiar with android, and if not, the X5 III can be operated in music only mode. The dimensions are also well considered though the button placement could do with a little work. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to using larger, taller devices such as the iPod Touch 6g and HTC M8/10, but I always find myself accidentally pressing the skip track button when I pick up the device. In addition, since the play/pause button is directly opposite the power button, I often press both at the same time when trying to put the player to sleep, pausing my music. Since the top face of the player has no controls, perhaps it would be a good idea to move the power button to the top, and then move the track skip buttons to the right. After a bit of adjusting, I found myself making these errors less often, however it took conscious effort not to hit the skip track buttons in my usage. Otherwise, the buttons themselves are pronounced and clicky and the ports are all tight and hold connection reliably. Fiio also install a protector on the front and rear from factory to prevent scratches. Overall, the Fiio X5 III is a handsome, mature and refined player that vastly improves upon both the build and design of its predecessor.

     

    Usage –

    While the X5 III is an audio device, It cannot be considered a pure music player due to its adoption of the android operating system. I’m a huge fan of this move, I owned the X3 for a while and loved the form factor and quality of the device, but found the UI significantly less practical than an average smart device. Many others have noted this as well, perusing Fiio’s Amazon pages reveals similar complaints; the device is solid, the interface is not. Luckily, moving to android grants the device access to the wonderful Google Play store and all of the apps supported by android, meaning the X5 III is compatible with Spotify, Pandora, etc. It also makes for a nice browsing and casual gaming device due to its large battery capacity. Youtube is not ideal since the X5 III has no external speaker or gyroscope (no auto-rotate) though use with headphones is as proficient as any other android device.

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    Antutu Benchmark Results


    Behind the scenes, the X5 III is internally identical to the X7 with the same RK3188 SOC. For reference, it’s using a quad-core A9 running at 1.8GHz with a Mali-400 GPU, essentially the same as the Samsung Galaxy S3. But don’t let those specs hold you back, due to the X5 III’s lower resolution 800×480 screen (vs 1280×720 on the S3), the UI is much smoother, mostly running around 50-60fps with only the occasional skip. This is helped by Fiio’s incredibly clean and stripped down version of android. While it still has all the essential features, Fiio have loaded the player with minimal bloatware and have stripped all superfluous features such as auto sync. The X5 III is missing all of the superfluous additions that bog down almost every Chinese smartphone I’ve tested, I’m very grateful for Fiio’s thoroughly clean and functional take on Android for it is just what this player needs. Yet due to the more dated hardware, the X5 III is still nowhere near as fast as a modern smartphone (though it is smooth), even my M8 is considerably faster in general navigation even with its 1080p screen and my 10 is faster still. I do feel that the device is limited by its 1GB of RAM; when streaming music in the background, the player will frequently freeze and multitasking isn’t really viable, most apps close as soon as you open a new one. However for music in addition to a basic tasks such as browsing or 2D gaming (even some 3D gaming), the player is fluent and zippy, it only begins to bog down when multiple things are happening at once, such as when updating apps in the background.

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    The X5 III is great for gaming, browsing and streaming


    And this actually one of those features that most people don’t appreciate on Android, the ability to have music playing in the background, here in pristine quality while playing a casual game of Pinout or Smash hit. Of course, the device was never intended as a gaming platform, but it goes to show that it is viable and ultimately, a great way to pass the time.

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    Powering all of this is a 3400mah non-removable battery. Fiio rates it for over 10 hours of usage however in my testing, the player could achieve considerably more playback time. I’m assuming that’s a screen on figure, 10 hours is achievable given the screen’s low resolution and smaller size, but you would have to turn off WiFi, Bluetooth and turn the screen down to its minimum brightness. In terms of music playback, users can expect around 20 hours on low gain and a bit under that on high gain. I left the X5 III playing for 12 hours overnight to burn-in my F3’s, the device was in low-gain at volume 60/120 and there was just below 50% remaining in the morning. That’s not quite as impressive as the Sony NW-A25 for example, but the X5 III is a far more powerful device in every way and superior to the vast majority of smartphones. With more multi-media usage, music, browsing, watching videos and some brief 3D gaming, the X5 III made a full day of heavy usage with around 20% to spare at night which would be sufficient for any user. While the device does not use a Qualcomm chipset, it is compatible with Quick Charge 3.0, I was able to charge to 80% in just over 40 minutes, very impressive. The device did become warm but not alarmingly so, the thick aluminium shell acts as a nice heatsink to keep everything running within threshold.

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    X5 III – HTC 10


    Storage performance is more important than you might think when navigating a large music library and also in general device responsiveness. Luckily, the internal storage performance on the X5 III was high enough not to bottleneck the device, unlike my HTC One X, which is good to see. While the player does bog down when installing apps, navigating through a ~20GB music library stored on the internal storage was nice and zippy, the app caches the majority of the information to speed things up. Using the A1 SD Benchmark app, I saw internal storage sequential read and write speeds of 29.43MB/s and 25.65MB/s respectively, which is far from a UFS solution, but better than most budget smartphones which tend to see vastly reduced write performance. The SD slots is unfortunately, quite lack-luster and you will not see any benefit when using faster U3 cards over a basic class 10 one such as the Sandisk ultra. I put my fastest Micro SD into the player, my Sandisk 128GB Extreme Plus rated for 95MB/s read and 90MB/s write, and the player only managed to pull sequential read/write speeds of 12.33MB/s and 11.79MB/s which is very disappointing. By comparison, my HTC 10, which currently has the fastest non-UHSII SD slot on the market, managed to pull 86.60MB/s read speeds and 57.47MB/s write speeds from that same card. Running the test multiple times unfortunately, produced similar results. But benchmarks do not necessarily reflect real life performance and even with these mediocre speeds, navigating through a 120GB library of music (20GB internal and 100GB on sd) was still smooth and stutter free. The reason, again, comes down to that caching. While album arts can take a second or two to load, all of the titles and albums are stored in a database file resulting in quick navigation. This was both in Poweramp and the native Fiio music app, both of which have a lengthy library scan upon first launch but remain responsive in usage after that. While some users will be disappointed with that SD performance, the device is no longer as reliant on sd reader speed as previous devices due to optimisations within the software rather than hardware.

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    But should you want to dedicate yourself purely to the music, the X5 III has the ability to boot into music only mode which essentially locks you into the Fiio music app. While I would prefer to be able to choose my music player of choice (Poweramp is my go to), Fiio’s music player is generally intuitive and even has some features that Poweramp lacks. It has its fair share of options and enhancements and the layout was fluent to use.

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    I’m especially fond of the swipe based interaction; swiping to the right over a song/album reveals options to favourite, add to playlist or send songs via Bluetooth while swiping to the left allows users to delete albums off the device.

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    At the top is a tabbed UI which has the usual categories: all songs, artist, album, genre and folders. The app automatically scans when the SD card has been removed/mounted to your PC but there is an option to manually rescan your library should an error occur.

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    From the now playing screen, Fiio give you a nice large album art, basic play/pause and skip track buttons along with toggles for action upon finished song and a button to add the playing song to a playlist. In the bottom left is the eQ button which reveals 3 presets, rock, metal and pop along with a slot for a user defined eQ. There are 10 bands with 6dB of adjustment either way. Heading into Viper effects in the settings menu enables an eQ with up to 12dB of adjustment should you require more flexibility.

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    Viper effects has various other useful features though unfortunately, most require an in-app payment. Fiio’s music player also lacks a persistent service that runs in the background. Music will keep playing when the app is minimised though if the app is closed through the multitask window, music will cease playing. Most music players such as Poweramp and play music have a persistent notification even when the app is closed, it just prevents accidental closes when the close all button is pressed in the multitasker. In addition, the app does not remember the songs that were last played nor does the home screen widget which resets everytime the app is closed.

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    Fiio also include their own Fiio marketplace. It has some basic apps, Poweramp, Neutron music player, Spotify, etc. While I appreciate the thought, it offers no functionality that the play store does not.

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    Though X5 III defaults to charge only when connected to a USB port, the device can also functions as a USB DAC. You are required to install a driver from Fiio beforehand, but after installation, it’s essentially plug and play, you just need to select the X5 as your playback device on your computer. On the X5 itself is a setting that allows you to exit USB DAC mode and resume function, there is also an option to mount the internal storage and SD card(s) via USB Mass storage, the X5 III does not support MTP at present, meaning you’ll have to wait for the cards to unmount first before they appear on your PC.

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    I would also like to add some comments on the X5 III’s wireless performance. Bluetooth is surprisingly potent with above average range for a player in addition to apt-x support, resulting in perceptively lower latency and higher audio-quality over a standard connection. Connecting to a Bluetooth enabled device is as simple as with any other Android device, Fiio have even added a dedicated Bluetooth button to their music player app for quick streaming to a wireless speaker/headphone. WiFi performance is not so flawless. It is likely an antiquated single band implementation that easily bogs down with larger app downloads and even stutters with 480p Youtube streaming. I live in a very interference-heavy area and definitely feel the lack of 5Ghz WiFi support. That being said, I had no issue downloading smaller updates and apps and experienced no freezing when streaming extreme quality audio through Spotify. While the WiFi implementation is far from ideal, it is adequate for what the player was designed for.

     

    Sound –

    The X5 III is using quite a comprehensive list of electronics to achieve what Fiio and AKM say is a “velvet sound”. It’s a nice setup that is quite impressive for the X5 III’s asking price (especially considering all of its other features) with dual components serving each channel discretely. In usage, this translated to a sound that was not as resolving as my Saber based HA-2, but one that was smoother and just as well separated. The player carries the slightly darker Fiio house sound though deviations are very minimal and I would actually consider it to be more neutral than my brighter Oppo HA-2.

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    Images courtesy of Fiio


    The first thing I noticed about the X5 III was its soundstage. It is definitely one of the most spacious portable sources I’ve heard in a while. The X5 III did a great job reproducing live recordings through my Sennheiser HD700’S and ie800’s, the HD700’s in particular, do tend to struggle here with lesser sources. When compared to the HA-2, a similarly priced source, the X5 III is just as spacious and open even though it has a darker sound which tends to sound a little more musical and a little less pristine. Imaging is also very good, not quite as sharp as the HA-2, but very close. Separation was admirable on the X5 III and instruments and details all had a nice sense of air around them. The X5 III was a huge upgrade over my Realtek based laptop and HTC 10, both sounding considerably more closed in and compressed. My e17K did an admirable job considering its more conservative pricing and age, but ultimately, its performance was not as nuanced and separated, the e17K also has a more sculpted sound that is sure to be more polarising.

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    While there are many factors in an audio chain, I do believe that the DAC gives character to the sound with the amplifier choice providing subtle adjustments as per the manufacturer’s intentions for the device. And where the Oppo HA-2 carries the typical clean and hyper clear Saber sound, one that I find rewarding yet somewhat fatiguing, the X5 III produces a sound that is more musical, warm and lush. I do feel that the HA-2 is a technically superior source though many will find the X5 III is more listenable for longer stretches of time. Of course, this is also a matter of synergy; both of my favourite phones, the HD700 and IE800, are treble boosted and especially susceptible to source tonality.

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    The X5 III starts off strong with a slightly lusher than neutral low-end. The HA-2 is slightlytighter and more agile, but also has a more diffuse sub-bass tone where the X5 III is fuller. Mid and upper bass was linear on both though the X5 III sounded like it had a few dB of boost across the board, nothing major nor immediately noticeable, but something that I noted during direct comparison.

    Mids are slightly warm and slightly dark, the HA-2 boasted more clarity and also more detail, male vocals in particular, were reproduced with increased resolution on the HA-2. The warmer X5 III is still resolving, more so than the X3, Q1E17K and my HTC 10, but male vocals still sounded very slightly muddy to me, something that does not affect the HA-2 and Mojo. Female vocals tell a similar story though to a lesser extent. The X5 III has a slightly fuller body where the HA-2 sounds clearer but also slightly less natural, I feel that their quality is on par, their presentations just differ. The midrange performance will probably be more a matter of personal preference, while I do tend to prefer the more resolving HA-2 with my darker HD 700’s, my brighter, more neutral and already very aggressively detailed New Primacy’s are generally better served by the more musical X5 III.

    The high-end is where things get pretty interesting. The HA-2 no doubt has the brighter treble response of the two overall, every detail is present and sparkly while remaining surprisingly refined. Despite this, the X5 III is actually more aggressively detailed in the high end, especially micro-details; the X5 III tends to bring them more to the fore than the HA-2. That being said, the X5 III lacks the refinement of the HA-2 and Mojo, while the player resolves a lot of detail, it does come at the cost of smoothness and higher instruments such as strings tend to sound smoother on the HA-2 with the same amount of detail retrieval, it’s all just less in your face. This, again, comes down to preference, however here, I do find myself consistently preferring the HA-2 more often. The X5 III performs very admirably however, and I do consider the HA-2 to be a pretty standout DAC/AMP combo. It’s really phenomenal that the X5 III is mostly comparable in terms of SQ, considering the minimal pricing difference and extensive feature set of the Fiio.

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    The AMP section is also quite proficient. As with most recent Fiio gear, background hiss was present but minimal with my most sensitive iem, the Oriveti New Primacy and non-existent with my less sensitive gear such as my ie800’s and portable headphones. In terms of volume, I usually sat around 25-35 of 120 volume levels on high gain with my HD700’s and around 20-25 on low gain with the majority of my iems. My HTC 10 by comparison required around 10-12 of 16 volume levels to achieve the same volume and my Oppo HA-2 sits at around 2 of 5 on high gain. The X5 III also produces no coil whine when charging, unlike the Sony NW-A25 which had a prevalent buzz when plugged into a power source. I would say that there is sufficient volume and driving power for any portable earphone/headphone and enough for most larger home headphones too. Perhaps higher 300-600 ohm headphones will struggle, but I feel that my HD 700’s were well driven; just slightly less so than from my Oppo HA-2 which sounded a little more dynamic and spacious (may also affect my impressions of the X5 III's tonality). The X5 III was clearly superior to my HTC 10 (undoubtedly one of the best smartphones for audio) when listening through my HD700’s, with a much larger soundstage, more bass extension and a clearer sound in general. With earphones, the 10 holds an advantage with a silent noise floor though the X5 III was still noticeably more dynamic and punchy. I suspect the X5 III has a slightly fuller bass response than neutral, if very slightly so; it pursues the warmer, lusher and smoother sound that the Chord Mojo so masterfully pioneered, though it still lacks that sense of effortless detail that the Mojo possesses.

     

    Verdict –

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    My readers commonly ask me where they should first upgrade their audio chain; their earphones, player, AMP and even source files. I would never recommend DAPs on account of their inefficient interfaces and unrefined software; I’ve personally always had a much more pleasing experience using my Android or IOS based device with an external DAC/AMP combo. Fiio had stopped surprising me in this regard, I had come to expect great products for affordable prices at every release but somehow every new iteration of their devices failed to really grab my attention. But with the X5 III, I feel that Fiio have really invigorated the DAP market with the move to a more conventional touch-based operating system while retaining familiar (not to mention very high quality) analogue controls. Fiio have also outdone themselves in sound quality which is pretty fantastic. The X5 III also boasts an incredibly solid build, one that is much improved over past Fiio devices in addition to a pretty solid display that is well served by its conservative quad core chipset.

    Accessories – 10/10, Fiio have never skimped on their accessories and the X5 III exemplifies their need to go above and beyond in this regard. I appreciate the addition of a slim TPU and protective Leather case from factory, both accessories most manufacturers charge considerable amounts for after sale. In addition, Fiio provide the user with some great quality cables and even apply screen protectors from factory. Nice job Fiio!

    Design – 9/10, The build is as solid as any HTC device I’ve owned in addition to the class-leading HA-2. The finish is also much improved, the device feels much more unified though the glass back attracts smudges as one would expect. The edging on the glass panels could do with a bit of work (could be more rounded), but the chassis is quite exemplary overall, easily superior to almost any other Chinese player I’ve felt and much improved over Sony’s plastic frames. The controls are all pronounced and well delineated. The volume wheel is nice and clicky with a strong texture that avoids accidental presses by design. The play/pause and track skip buttons could both be located better, requiring conscious effort to avoid accidental presses.

    Sound Quality – 8.75/10, I do still prefer my HA-2 (mainly midrange), the X5 III is close, more musical and also far more fully featured. It does lack that effortlessness and silky detail that the HA-2 regularly glimpses and Mojo commands, but every other aspect of the sound is sublime, it’s just not otherworldly. Lower mids in particular, are a bit muddy and the high end can sound more granular than other high-end sources. Bass is nice, full and very articulate, upper mids are also smooth and very natural. It’s a lush sound that is also aggressively detailed, something that I’m sure many people will love.

    Verdict – 9.25/10, The X5 III is ultimately another well-rounded, fully-featured and competitively priced device; except this time, there are no software quirks to hold back my recommendation. If devices such as the iPod Touch have survived this long, then I can see a place for this device in today’s market. Its standout sound quality is immediately superior to even the best smart devices, its dimensions are very portable (even if it is quite thick) and the playback controls make a world of difference when on the go, even if those controls have some placement issues. While I would like to see a faster wireless implementation and a processor that is perhaps 1 generation ahead of that implemented, the X5 III is still vastly faster than any proprietary player. If you’ve been looking for a great DAP without the software quirks that plague so many, the X5 III should on your watch list, it brings many of the features that the X7 pioneered to a more palatable price.

    1. View previous replies...
    2. justDAP
      my 1st DAP was a X1 with A12 bought almost 3 years ago and had always wanted to upgrade 6 months after it, but too much options and too little money. when i saw the x5iii unvieled, i was very fired up to get it. however, due to working in a country less accessible to such tech and infrequent flying home to shop, i decided to get a DX80 during my last trip home, a week before the x5iii reach my country. as its a demo set and cost only US280, a more mature FW, though still a few bugs. i simply loved the DX80, but am very curious how it'll compared to the x5iii, since it was my initial option...
      justDAP, Mar 15, 2017
    3. ryanjsoo
      @uzairahmed101 Sorry for the late reply, I did have a brief chance to test out the se846 and CA Andromeda (which is more sensitive if anything). Unfortunately, the venue wasn't super silent so I can't say for certain, but hiss was definitely present but not obtrusive for both iems on the X5 III. 
       
      @justDAP I was really curious about this too, but the DX80 at my local retailer was broken so I was unable to compare. At least in terms of UI, the DX80 is considerably slower to navigate with a less responsive touch screen and interface. Otherwise, the build is really nice and both are kinda similar in size. If you're coming from the X1, the DX80 will likely feel just fine. 
      ryanjsoo, Mar 15, 2017
    4. Snowball0906
      Hello Ryan! May i know if you've tried using both Spotify and Tidal on x5 iii? Want to know if there's huge diff between Tidal - lossless and Spotify 384kHz
      Snowball0906, Mar 18, 2017
  2. Brooko
    FiiO X5iii - Value and Tonality (SQ)
    Written by Brooko
    Published Sep 3, 2017
    4.0/5,
    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.

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.


    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    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!

    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG][​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]
    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.


    [​IMG]
  3. Dobrescu George
    FiiO X5-3: The Next Benchmark for Digital Audio Players
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published Feb 24, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very Detailed Bass and Mids, Good Soundstage Width and Depth, Fast and Fluid UI, Android, Modern Design, Screen Quality
    Cons - Buttons Placement, Smooth top end
     
    Introduction
     
    FiiO X5 3rd  generation is the successor of the "loved by many" X5 2nd generation DAP from FiiO. 
     
    I was a part of the tour for X5 3rd gen because I really wanted to hear it for a longer period of time before deciding whether I want to buy one for myself or not.
     
    This proven to be an unwise idea as now I want to buy one. 
     
    FiiO is a company that emerged in 2007 and focused on portable headphone amplifiers at first, but slowly extended their product range to DAPs (digital audio players), desktop headphone amplifiers and IEMs (in-ear monitors). I only met with a FiiO product in 2014-2015 when I got my FiiO X5 - the best DAP I would had ever laid my hands on at that point. FiiO impressed me with the quality of their products for the price asked ever since and I generally recommend their products for both the value and the quality of their offering, albeit I don't have any affiliation with FiiO at this moment and there was no incentive offered for any of my words. Those are just my honest observations. 
     
    There are many DAPs that want to claim the tile of King Of DAPs and none was perfect thus far for my needs, with the closest to perfect being FiiO X5ii which has been my great music companion for over two years now and proven to be a champ in every aspect.
     
     
    About me
     
    My name is George and I enjoy music and listen to music more than the average person. Sometimes I listen even 8 - 10 hours a day. I listen music while working, listen to music for enjoyment and listen to music while I'm gaming. Music is everywhere around me, be it classical, pop, rap, metal, jazz or electronica or any other genera for that matter. I also like to prepare long playlists to enjoy while working on my company's games.
     
    You can check out more on our pages here https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/     and here https://twitter.com/7heartstudios . My love for music has had an impact on our games as we hold the music close to our hearts and we are committed to only use ogg -q10 as the encoding format for our music since it offers the best disk space to sound quality ratio, OGG -q10 being audibly transparent when compared to FLAC encoding. 
     
    Sometimes I like to get lost in music and experience a whole new level of enlightenment from the long hours. I love new songs as much as I love songs that I've been listening to since my early childhood. I can say that music shaped my imagination and improved every part of my life, giving me a wide perspective over life - this being a broad statement made about music in general. Love is a term too short to explain how I feel about music, but so are most words when used to describe complex human emotions.
     
    (Sorry, I got lost for a moment there. Back on track)
     
     

    First Impression
     
    I have owned a FiiO X5 2nd generation for a good while now. I has been my trusty companion through thick and thin, being there with me on my long trips to distant cities and being with me when I was happy and fully enjoying my life. X5ii shaped my standards for what I consider a worthy DAP and I was quite agitated when FiiO announced an X5-3 that was so different from it's predecessor. I had so many questions, so many doubts about X5-3 so I wanted to test one and see how it works for myself. 
     
    By the time FiiO X5-3 arrived to me, it was a cloudy morning and I had too little sleep that night having worked until 6 AM on the upcoming games Eternal Hour, Falsetto Memories and Quantum Magica. The agent delivering the X5-3 called me on a monotonous tone, so I swiftly went outside to pick the box. 
     
    Fast forward through the unboxing and the first setup to the sound and device impressions, I was baffled. There was so much about X5-3's feeling as a device that was different from X5ii. Instead of feeling like a DAP, X5-3 feels more like a high end luxury device that you might expect to get with an expensive car. The device is packaged with a leather case that adds a certain style to owning the device. The moment I plugged X5-3 in with me IEMs, Sennheiser ie800, the sound coming from the rather modern device sound was shocking; The entire sound was changed and in a positive way. It felt like X5-3 is the upgraded version of an X5ii on steroids and I had to listen more before making a certain assessment of how the sound changed exactly. All I knew is that I loved the guitar notes I was hearing
     
     
    Packaging
     
     
    Box and package
     
    IMG_20170224_132556.jpg
     
    IMG_20170224_132638.jpg     IMG_20170224_132714.jpg     IMG_20170224_132823.jpg    
     
     
     
    X5-3
     
    IMG_20170224_132940.jpg     IMG_20170224_134002.jpg     IMG_20170224_134118.jpg
     
     
     
    Package contents
     
    IMG_20170224_133022.jpg     IMG_20170224_133146.jpg     IMG_20170224_133353.jpg
     
     
     
    Leather skin + X5-3
     
    IMG_20170224_134234.jpg     IMG_20170224_134305.jpg     IMG_20170224_134401.jpg
     
     
     
    X5-3 and X5-2
     
     
    IMG_20170224_135125.jpg     IMG_20170224_134854.jpg     IMG_20170224_135014.jpg
     
     
    X5-3 came in a nice package made out of a cardboard box with an intricate layering inside. In the box you can find X5-3, its manuals, a warranty card, a tool for taking the mSD trays out, one coaux cable,  a leather (leatherette?) skin, a silicone clear skin (it is on X5-3 by default) and a high quality USB cable (thicker than the typical audio cable and dedicated for Audio). 
     
    One of the most exciting parts of owning a product is opening the box it came in, then using it the first few times. If a product is really good, it will be exciting every single time it's being used, and this is something FiiO X5ii was really good at with the device I bought in the past.
     
    The most intriguing parts of the box are X5-3 itself, the leather case and the USB cable. While I'm not a leather expert, the leather case has a nice red stitching on it's back that adds a clear plus of style to it and the leather itself has a smooth yet slightly textured feeling to it. There is no indication whether it is faux leather or animal leather, but it looks pretty good in person. The writing on the back looks and feels nice to the touch and the holes in the leather case exactly where they should to enable a good operation. The leather case is arguably better than the silicone one for most usage scenarios since the cut around the headphone jack in the silicone case won't allow for certain cables to be used, but that is just me nitpicking. 
     
    The USB cable is also a very interesting addition as it's been changed from the ones a few years ago (when I first bought my X5 and my X5ii) and now the cables are of a higher quality and have a different type of construction and shielding. Flexing the cable is possible, but it is not overly flexible. The stiffness is most probably caused by its internal composition. 
     
    It is worthy to mention that there are screen protectors both on the face and on the back of X5-3; The screen protector found on the display of X5-3 is a glass screen protector with rounded and chamfered edges that doesn't impede operation and usage of X5-3 in any way. The screen protector on the back seems to be a thin plastic protector that is applied to protect the back of X5-3's glass back from scratches. I am pleased with both additions since they come in the box and already applied from the factory. 
     
    The Hi-Res sticker on the glass display of X5-3 can be easily peeled off but I didn't really take the liberty to do so as I don't own the tour unit. There was a similar sticker on the back of my X5ii when it arrived and it took me 10 seconds to peel it off, and another 5 to clean any residual glue, but given the smooth glass texture of the X5-3's glass display protector, there won't be any trace glue left. 
     
    All in all, The unboxing experience of X5-3 is nice and the box includes the right amount of accessories. There aren't many other accessories that I would had really asked for since it's package is robust, but I would like audio companies to bring back the 3.5mm jack saver (a rubber 3.5mm plug) that was found with the first generation of FiiO X5. I found them good for protecting the headphone jacks from dust or other debris, but it is good to mention that the silicone case offers rubber flaps over the 3.5mm audio jacks.
     
     
    What I look in for a DAP
     
    When buying a Digital Audio Player, I have a few things that I really need for me to even consider buying it. Those are:
     
    - Battery life – at least 8 hours of function at high volume on high gain, with some screen operation and with EQ function engaged (real world usage scenario) 
    - Good and intuitive / ergonomic build (buttons arrangement, robust build, no creaking noises, resistance to pressure for when it's a pocket, robust headphone jacks)
    - Display (screen) brightness, sharpness, colors and general quality 
    - Good Value
    - Interesting design - the device must look modern / elegant / luxurious and fit in with both street usage and a business environment
    - To work well with both IEMs and over the ear headphones
    - Sound quality
    - USB DAC function 
    - Good EQ function
    - Enough I/O ports
    - Fluent, Fast, stable Firmware 
    - Wide Music file type support
     
     
    Technical Specifications
     
    Output Impedance1 ohm into a 32 ohm load
    Connector3.5mm Headphone Out, 2.5 mm balanced 
    Frequency Response5 Hz - 55.000Hz (-3dB)
    Works as a USB DACYes (didn't test)
    Battery3400mAh, Li-Polymer
    Play Time~10 Hours
    Display Size / Type 3.97", IPS
    Display Resolution480x800 pixels
    Output Power 480mW into 16 ohm, THD+N <1%
    Weight186g
    DAC ChipAK4490 x 2
    Max Output Voltage8 Vp-p
    Max Current250mA
    Cross Talk98 dB / 1kHz
    SNR115dB (A weighted)
    AMP ConfigurationOPA 1642 x2 + OPA 426 x2
    CPURK 3188 4-core
    FirmwareCustomized Android 5.1
    Wifi SupportYes, b/g/n standards
    BluetoothV4.0 apt-X supported
    RAM1GB
    mSD support2 x mSD slots (max 256 GB x2)
    Formats supported Virtually every format made supported by Android apps

     
     
     
    Build Quality/Aesthetics
     
    X5-3 will surprise anyone who looks at it as it's far from being a chunky audiophile device and it looks closer to an elegant device taken out of a modern (or maybe Industrial) museum. X5-3 is characterized by sharp angles, a smooth digital volume wheel, snappy buttons on both sides of the device and glass on both front and back of the device.
     
    On the front, there is a very fine dot pattern that accompanies the display, giving it a plus of elegance, and the back of X5-3 is characterized by a glass surface under which there is a pattern of tiny golden stars. The FiiO logo on the front will be covered by the leather case and so will be most of the device, but the leather case by itself has a stylish appearance although it features less angular and more rounded edges, 
     
    The volume wheel is an analogue controller for the digital volume chip and while the clicks are not exactly the loudest or the most tactile, they are easy to feel and offer the volume a coherent feel. The space between two clicks is large and while it helps with having a finer control over the volume wheel, it is better to use the display control of volume if you're doing large adjustments for volume. 
     
    The placement of the buttons is okay, but it is possible to press the play / pause button by mistake while trying to press the power button as it is possible to press the FWD / BCKWD button while trying to press the power button. A similar effect happens with the volume wheel as it is exactly on the other end compared to the power button. The device works well for ambidextrous usage and while it doesn't offer perfect button placement, using it left handed will offer a better control for buttons when compared to right handed usage. 
     
    It is possible to use X5-3 inside the pocket without much hassle and having the physical buttons on the other side than the power buttons is better here as it's not possible to activate the display by mistake. 
     
    X5-3 is made out of metal and the edges are slightly chamfered offering a good feeling to the device. The device feels sturdy in the hand and there is no creaking as X5-3 does not give in to any kind of pressure. The display won't show any color shifts when pressure is applied, so X5-3 can be used inside a pocket without a problem. It is recommended to avoid pocket usage to protect the headphone jacks, but the headphone jacks are sturdy and have a solid feeling to them. The USB port is also pretty stable and won't jiggle while in usage. 
     
    While many have criticized the usage of a combined line out and coaux out port, I rarely use either so it works well enough for me. I can't assess whether there is any degradation in sound caused by the standalone design, but the DAC within X5-3 is good and the sound coming out of the line out is clean. I didn't text the coaux function at all, but there is an adapter included in the box and I know that it worked very well with X5 and X5ii attached to Chord Hugo.
     
    The usage of a touchscreen display is good, but the display might be small for big fingers as I'm actually using a phone of 6.44" and still can't write a message without Google's auxiliary help (autocorrect). Nevertheless, I was able to use X5-3 without a problem and the big font setting helps out with this. There is enough information on the display and the touchscreen sensor is precise enough for daily usage. Given the size and purposing of X5-3, it is not a device made for playing games or watching videos, and its main purpose is listening to music - purpose which it achieves pretty well. 
     
    Both mSD card trays are ejected using the tool included in the package and they sit pretty tightly in the device, there is no trace of them sliding out without the usage of the mentioned tool. The mSD cards are facing with the connector pins up (towards the display) and are placed from the back of the device, the design being the same as it is on my Xiaomi Mi Max smartphone. 
     
    I can't talk about the 2.5mm balanced jack in any way as I don't own any balanced IEMs or headphones at the moment and I didn't have the time to borrow a balanced headphone.
     
     
     
    Firmware and UI
     
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    Upon opening X5-3 first time and activating the wifi function, it will request the installation of the latest FW via OTA update. The update goes smooth and the latest version released from FiiO works well. The firmware and UI themselves are fluid and fast, X5-3 being the new standard for the speed a DAP should have. Comparing X5-3 to X5ii, X5-3 is faster than even X5ii with the modded firmware and considerably faster than X5ii running stock firmware. X5-3 features a built in music app developed by FiiO which works well and plays back all the music formats I have within my collection. It is hard to fault X5-3 on the firmware or UI side as it is right now and the device requires a maximum time of 5 minutes before getting used to it.
     
    FiiO bundled Viper effects within the stock music app offering a while array of effects developed by the Viper Team. As this is a review unit (and I have to send it back), I didn't purchase any effect, but the effects that you can use out of the box are good, and won't cause any aliasing / distortions / artifacts. 
     
    FiiO's own Music app is adequate and it's actually good for music playback. I didn't feel the need to install any other app.
     
    The operation is smooth, gapless playback seems to work by default and there were no drops in music and no crashes in my usage. I generally prefer to use "browse by folder" as it is simpler for me to predict what songs are included under which tag and my music collection is too big to manually tag every song. Some songs had certain tags when extracted from the CDs making them harder to properly tag to be used while portable. Nevertheless, I tested the play by tag function and X5-3 has indexed my entire library well and all tags were read correctly, even tags and names that otherwise didn't show well on my X5ii.
     
    As the FW is based on Android, it is possible to install most music apps and even video apps and games from Google Play Store and upon testing, VLC media player works well, same for Angry Birds and Tentacle Wars games. This addition of Google Play based apps will allow for virtually any file type to be played and other type of features that are enabled through a different app, if there is a feature desired that isn't supported by the default music app. I didn't discover any feature that wasn't supported by the default music app, but my needs are quite basic when it comes to music playback. I wasn't able to test the bluetooth function as I don't own any Bluetooth headphones or IEMs at this moment. 
     
    Regarding the FW being based on Android, I observed no degradation in sound caused by the usage of Android firmware and I got to admit that I was a bit reluctant at first when it came to Android, but I was pleasantly surprised that FiiO made the FW stable and the sound quality is good with Android. They made a deeply customized version of android that comes with very little on the side and I would actually be willing to say that there is zero bloatware on x5-3, most apps being useful. The technical support app offers an easier way of finding whether X5-3 is running the latest FW available for it and is a good help so all the apps that come installed from the factory are pretty useful.
     
     
     
    Sound Quallity
     
     
    X5-3 has a specific signature that is not exactly easy to describe. I would say that the sound is detailed, open with a generally smooth and warm presentation. It has a large soundstage that has a good depth, width and height to it and it also features good technical ADSR, PRaT and transients.  
     
     
    Little disclaimer: For those impressions I have used Ultrasone Dj One pro, Sennheiser ie800 and Meze classics 99, all items being quite revealing in terms of sound. The headphones used will always have an impact on the sound and impressions. X5-3 is able to drive all of them very well. EQ was used for 99C and DJ1P but no EQ or enhancements were used for ie800. At some point, I might end up describing the signature of ie800, 99C or DJ1P so please take the whole sound quality area with a grain of salt as it's not really possible to describe the sound of a source without using a transducer. The transducers used are very good and TOTL - your experience might differ if you're using other transducers.
     
     
    Channel balance
     
    I noticed that the channel balance is good on X5-3 and there is an option in the settings to change the channel balance if need be, with + / - 10dB on either channel. The function works well and won't introduce aliasing or errors nor will affect the sound in any negative way. 
     
     
    Bass
     
    The Bass is one of the first things that hits when listening with X5-3. The bass of X5-3 is deep and goes lower than you would expect before listening to it. At the same time, the bass is tight and fast, it doesn't lose any of its power nor it bloat or lose its detail. The bass is able to recover every bit of detail in the music that's being played - but there's more to it. The bass is actually faster and better than on any other device I owned to date, being able to expose all the tiny ribs and textures hidden within the bass of many tracks - ribs and textures that I wasn't aware of before. Listening to IOSYS and Mindless Self Indulgence will reveal an even deeper layer of textures than most devices are able to show, the quality of the bass being way better than expected. Given my prior experiences, X5-3 has the best bass of any DAP I played with for extended periods of time, outclassing every DAP that I owned (X5, X5ii). What's even more interesting about the bass of X5-3 is the transient quality of it; Most DAPs will recover the bass as either a mass of sound or a liquid presence in the music, but X5-3 recovers the bass with more transients, more depth and considerably better texture recovery than any of those being an axe that cuts through the veil that's been laid on the bass before. I would say that if there is a lace laid over the bass area, X5-3 is able to recover all the details in that and show paint it before your eyes.
     
    The most interesting part is that X5-3 doesn't have an enhanced bass by itself, being pretty neutral in the bass area; This detail in bass is a result of its own ability to recover the details hidden in the bass and I can easily name its bass the best I heard to date and even although I always loved bass, I never knew that there was so much fun to it - so much texture.
     
    The incredible transient recovery of ie800 and 99C will also play a role in this, but the other DAPs I owned were tested with the same headphones so it's fair to assume that X5-3 outclasses them by a considerable margin.
     
     
    Midrange
     
    The midrange of X5-3 is another really nice surprise for X5-3 as it has abilities beyond those of its predecessors. The midrange is sweet and has a generally sweet tone to it while staying true to the recording. I was baffled again by the detail but even more by the textures that are once again better than I expected. The transient abilities of X5-3 are very good and the midrange can recover sounds that I barely noticed before like short notes or nuances in complex songs. For example, many of the background guitars in Dance Gavin Dance - Acceptance speech were generally clouded and sounded closer to a fuzzy cloud rather than proper guitar notes with complex textures and X5-3 is able to properly define all those textures - not only exposing them like under a microscope, but even pointing the smallest dents in the sound. Violins now have a complex texture and it's easier to recall the tension and surface of the strings while they are played, but the biggest difference I felt were in rock and metal music as X5-3 was very good at painting guitars, strings and string textures.
     
    The details are very good and the soundstage and instrument separation of X5-3 are on another level when compared to its predecessors, leading to a whole new level of instrument definition. Those differences are best felt on extremely complex songs that can bring a simpler device to its knees. Songs like those include most of the IOSYS album "Nothing but the TOHO EDM", album which has a lot of fine details in the mids that are easily overshadowed by a less detailed source. Dance Gavin Dance music in general can get overshadowed by a cloud of noise, like a fuzz, while really well detailed sources will be able to pick all the details in the guitar picks and notes. The guitars do move across the stereo image as they should and there is an involving sense of music within every note. Songs that would otherwise sound stale will gain a sense of melody and fun to them, will gain more musicality and the better speed of X5-3 has a deep impact on how a song can transform from a random compilation of fuzzy noises into a true magical masterpiece that pictures the music as it was recorded. 
     
     
    Treble
     
    It is smooth and slightly rolled off. This is one of the smoother trebles I heard so far in a DAP and the general signature of X5-3 is not neutral but fun and smooth. The DAC chip within X5-3 is known to have "Velvet Sound" technology incorporated, which is a technology developed by Asashi Kasei. There is some information on Asashi Kasei Microdevices official site about what it does, but I would like to have more time to listen to X5-3 before pronouncing what it does exactly.
     
    From the more practical information that can be found on their site, the velvet sound technology is a trick that will enhance the soundstage of a device and it works pretty well for that. Given it's name "velvet sound", it is unclear whether it tries to achieve velvety treble as well in the DAC phase, but the treble of X5-3 could be named velvety and smooth. It sounds like the cymbals have some velvet within instead of being fully made of metal. This results in a sound where all the detail is still there but the treble is soft and velvety.
     
    The top end of X5-3 is smooth, detailed and will show every instrument played and cymbal crash. There is something to it that will pull back the top end in a recording and will make almost any album listenable, giving music less work in the high registers. This approach is useful to make music easier on the listener, being forgiving with many types of music. Songs like Amon Amarth -  the Pursuit of The Vikings will get a new meaning to their music, the melodic part of the song being enhanced by the velvety treble. The song becomes a fast and friendly composition rather than the raw / rough metal song that it normally is. 
     
    I will complete this section when I get the chance to listen more to X5-3 as right now my opinions are incomplete and my time of listening to X5-3 has pretty much ran out now. Some impressions might be mistaken due to not enough time spent with X5-3.
     
    X5-3 could be named musical considering that it will make even harsh death metal songs sound more musical; Taking away the harshness of the cymbal crashes will turn many otherwise energetic songs into relaxed compositions where it is easier to appreciate the beautiful guitar compositions and drums arrangements. With acoustic music, it is possible to increase the treble from either X5-3's internal EQ or from within Viper Effects to add a bit more bite, if this is desired. The treble is ultimately as clear and detailed as X5ii, with the sound coming as more refined in the end, but with smoothness. X5-3 is a DAP that can be used for many hours at once, without getting any fatigue. It is fairly good for long listening sessions of Jazz compositions or even listening to technical death metal as without the harshness in the treble, those songs are more like fast compositions of non-fatigue energetic music. 
     
     
    Soundstage
     
    The soundstage of X5-3 is bigger than that of it's predecessor - or it rather has better depth and a rounded soundstage. The soundstage of X5-3 reaches very good levels and it adds a bit more realism to the instrument separation making music more interesting. It is easy to identify a single guitar's work in complex songs like those speedy pieces from Protest the Hero or identifying the fine nuances over a classy Cabaret or Jazz composition, like those sang by Jill Tracy. The ethereal and straightforward out-worldly compositions of Akira Yamaoka have a precise position of all the symbols and the instruments, giving more life to all the eerie pieces he composed.
     
    With a good depth of stage, it is possible to recall which sound comes from a closer position and which comes from a distance, leading to an intriguing experience. X5-3 is good at getting the user involved in the music. 
     
     
    ADSR/PRaT
     
    The ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) and PRaT (Peace, Rhythm and Timing) are consistently better on X5-3 when compared to X5ii and the transients were upgraded as well in the process. The new level of detail in the transients will have two effects, one immediate and one that will change listening to music. The immediate effect are the improved textures of every instrument and the macro-details being enhanced and presented more directly without affecting the main component of the music. The longer and more subtle effect is a considerable boost in micro details and nuances within the musical notes. As ADSR is the main component of every note responsible for how real a note sounds like (musical notes having a unique shape in nature), the improvement brought in ADSR will give every note a new subtle meaning, every piano key being even closer to its natural sound. 
     
     
    Drive factor
     
    FiiO X5-3 is rated to be able to drive headphones from 16 to 150 ohm, but the highest headphone I tested it with was a 64 ohm Ultrasone Dj One Pro. X5-3 was able to drive DJ1P well, and there was no trace of struggle at any point. If there is a need for more power, FiiO A5 amplifier is a good option and the combo should have enough driving power for most headphones. X5-3 combined well with Sennheiser ie800 and there was no trace of hiss, but ie800 is not the most hissy IEM out there either. All in all, X5-3 should be able to work just well with almost any headphone out there. I cannot talk about the standalone DAC sound / signature at this moment as I need more time to test, but I speculate that the DAC in X5ii is good and should make a good DAC even in an audiophile large speaker system. 
     
     
    Comparisons 
     
    X5-3 vs X5ii – X5-3 brings a lot of new features to the table, making the comparison almost unfair. X5-3 brings a whole new level of customization with the Android OS, a more detailed sound in general with better textures, a considerably smoother top end and a whole new feature set like Wifi abilities, BlueTooth with APT-X and balanced headphone output. The mechanical volume controller on X5-3 is a nice addition as is its smooth to use for making fine adjustments. While both devices have a very good screen, X5ii has a slightly brighter screen while X5-3 has a considerably larger screen as its main system of operation is based on touchscreen instead of a mechanical wheel switch controller.
     
    Bonus Photos
     
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    Value
     
    Taking into account every of X5-3's specifications and the fact that it became a new benchmark for DAPs everywhere, X5-3 has a fair value being priced between 400$ and 530$, depending on the area it's bough in, the specific VAT for that country and other taxes that must be handled. Compared to all of its direct competitors, X5-3 has a stable UI and fluid UI operation with an intuitive orientation. The feature rich set of X5-3 and the fact that it ticks all boxes for a DAP makes X5-3 a good value and one of the best DAPs that can be bought at this moment. There are many alternatives but X5-3 is priced competitively, making it a very interesting choice. The increase in price when compared to x5ii is also fair considering all the new features that were bought to X5-3, like Android firmware, Wifi, BlueTooth and all the other bells and whistles that you might want in a DAP. The price of X5-3 is comparable to a midrange portable audio device, but X5-3 offers more than most do at that price point, including the very detailed sound and nice design touches, turning X5-3 into a good value device. When compared with high end devices, X5-3 performs very well and can be safely considered one of the high end DAPs. 
     
     
    Conclusion
     
    Falling in love with X5-3 is unavoidable once you hear one and you're bound to want to buy one once you get enough time playing with it. The UI is faster than any other DAP UI I've laid my paws upon, faster than Cowon J3 and X5 and slightly faster than FiiOX5ii after customizing it with the light UI. It was a lot of fun time using X5-3 and I'm glad I was a part of the tour.
     
    It survived through my outdoors usage test, my quandaries related to music and it was able to customize its sound to face my rather obtuse listening habits. I got to use some Youtube and some video watching in the meanwhile, but I own a 6.44" Xiaomi Mi Max for videos and games. The main reason I want a DAP is for music and music alone. X5-3 answers well to this call.
     
    X5-3 set a new benchmark for what a DAP should do and how a DAP should act. The speed of the UI is great, the detail retrieval is great, and while the top end is smooth, this can be alleviated by the built-in Viper and Equalizer functions. There is little to fault on X5-3, but the things nice to see in a future revision are buttons on only one side and all audio ports on top of the device with USB on bottom. I would also like to see a brighter top end as it helps my ears distinguish details better, but that's a matter of personal preference. 
     
    All in all, X5-3 is a great device and it's probably going to be the highlight for a good while in terms of Digital Audio Players. I can't wait to see what next thing FiiO comes with and what other DAPs will appear on the market. Everything is getting really nice!
     
    I am thankful to FiiO for including me in the tour and I hope this was a good read for you! 
     
    Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!

    1. View previous replies...
    2. Dobrescu George
      @Indrajit - X5-3 is much warmer, much much smoother, much leaner, much more relaxing. N5ii is more energetic, more honest, more balanced, more versatile. There are other differences as well, like for example, the display, their software and so on, but just sonically, N5ii feels more balanced, where X5-3 feels smoother and warmer. The detail levels are similar, Cayin N5ii might have a slight edge on the revealing part because the treble is much more balanced / natural
      Dobrescu George, Jul 16, 2018
    3. Dobrescu George
      @JaZZ - I am really curious if you had a chance to try X5-3, and how you felt about its smooth velvety treble reproduction :)
      Dobrescu George, Jul 16, 2018
    4. fokta
      Nice Review, Quick Question,Do X5-3 with install apps Spotify able to go offline, and storage the song in the SD card ?
      fokta, Aug 8, 2018
  4. twister6
    Another (DAP) price barrier is broken!
    Written by twister6
    Published May 8, 2017
    4.0/5,
    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.

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    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.
  5. PinkyPowers
    The Big Bad Bear Deep In Hibernation - A Review of the FiiO X5 3rd Gen
    Written by PinkyPowers
    Published Mar 21, 2017
    3.5/5,
    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.
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    ~::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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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::~-
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Sound Eq
      HBB are you gonna end up buying the wm1z :)
      Sound Eq, Mar 25, 2017
    3. 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.
      Hawaiibadboy, Mar 25, 2017
    4. 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).
      javre76, Mar 29, 2017
  6. MacedonianHero
    FiiO X5 III DAP - Talk About Great Value!
    Written by MacedonianHero
    Published Aug 29, 2017
    4.0/5,
    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.

    Player 1.jpg

    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:
    FiiO X5 III Specs.jpg

    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.

    jazz at pawnshop.jpg

    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!

    Untitled.jpg

    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!

    Player 2.jpg

    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!
      maxh22, junix, punit and 6 others like this.
  7. bhazard
    A DAP Revolution
    Written by bhazard
    Published Mar 8, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound Quality, Android OS, Wifi, USB DAC
    Cons - Older android OS, Slow transfers.
    Introduction
     
    I’ve never been a fan of DAPs. I’ve always found the interfaces clunky and missing features compared to what I could do with my Android smartphone and its apps. When high quality DACs started appearing in smartphones and when USB external DACs started working on them, my interest waned even further. It didn’t seem like I would ever be happy with a DAP, and I just gave up on them.
     
    Fiio’s release of the X5 Gen 3 changes all of that. It includes everything I felt was missing in a DAP (Android apps, Wifi transfer, balanced audio, USB DAC, OTA updates), and it does it very well. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the X5 Gen 3 tour, and I will be providing my impressions based on a week with the unit.
     
     
    REVIEW
     
    Specifications
     
    DAC : 2 x AK4490
    Processor : Quad-core RK3188 processor
    ROM : 32GB built-in storage +
    RAM : 1GB
    Storage : Up to 512GB(2 x micro SD)
    Headphone Out : 3.5mm + 2.5mm TRRS balanced output +
    OS: Android 5.1
    Connectivity : Bluetooth 4.0 (aptX) + 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
    Usability: 4.0 in. touchscreen
    Charging : 2 Fast charging modes(Qualcom QC and MTK PE)

     
    Full specs here:
    http://www.fiio.net/en/products/65/parameters
     
    Accessories
     
    IMG_20170220_210515.jpg IMG_20170220_210632.jpg IMG_20170220_210706.jpg
     
    IMG_20170220_210914.jpg
     
     
    Package Contents:
     
    1 x Case 1 x Protective TPU Silicone Case  1x Screen Protector
     
    The X5 comes packaged beautifully, similar to the packaging of a high-end smartphone. The pre-applied screen protector is a nice touch, and the silicone case helps prevent scratches and wear. Despite some annoying silicone pieces that are meant to cover the openings getting in the way, I think it was wise of Fiio to provide protection instead of having to have the customer search for some or pay extra.
     
     
    Build Quality
     
    IMG_20170220_211306.jpg
     
     
    The X5 size and shape reminds me of a deck of cards, albeit slightly larger.  Its compact size allows it to be carried easily on a commute or trip, far easier than it would be to strap a DAC to the back of your smartphone. It’s design is sleek but simplistic,  focusing your eyes onto the display, despite the enclosure giving a very polished, high quality look. While not heavy, it did feel sturdy enough to survive a drop and day to day use.
     
    While not high res like a smartphone, the display resolution is more than acceptable.
     
    The balanced port is 2.5mm, making it easy not to plug into the wrong output.
     
    One of the things I somewhat disliked is the location of the back/skip buttons. They are entirely too easy to hit while holding the device or walking. The volume knob is fluid and far more useful than pressing buttons, and having the separate hardware play button was useful.
     
    I had no issues with the touchscreen, and the interface behaved very much like the Android interface I’ve grown used to over the years.
     
     
    Features
     
    Quick Charge. Ever since it first debuted, it was a monumental battery achievement to me. Getting a full charge in less than two hours, and a useable one in 15-30 minutes was so convenient that I stopped caring about removeable batteries. Having this on the X5 is a beautiful thing.
     
    Balanced audio: More power, more crisp audio in an affordable unit. With the prevalence of MMCX iems, not running balanced for every bit of power and other enhancements seem like a waste to me. The X5 had just enough power to drive my balanced AKG7XX at more than acceptable levels.
     
    Dual MicroSD: Do you have several terabytes of music like I do? If so, running two 128GB MicroSD cards on the X5 gives you a very large collection for cheaper than an integrated 256GB of storage would cost. Transfer speeds are a bit slow though, so it can take a bit to load if you transfer to the cards in the X5 via USB. Apps like USB Audio Player Pro, Neutron, and even the Fiio Music app easily detects the music.
     
    aptX: I like that Fiio included aptX (although aptX HD would have been a bit nicer). aptX provides substantial benefits in sound quality over a Bluetooth connection, and it works well on the X5. I believe that using Bluetooth on a DAP is a waste though, as you get the same experience you would from your aptX enabled smartphone. You also miss out on the sound quality of the balanced connection.
     
      
    Functionality
     
    The ability to sideload android apps is the killer functionality feature of the X5. While the “Fiio Market” contains many of the popular Android apps such as Spotify, adding your own favorite app just works the majority of the time.
     
    ES File Explorer Wifi transfers provide another desperately needed function to the X5. You can connect to your media server without wires and download your music to the X5. This is incredibly useful while lying in bed or away from your PC. Transfer speeds are on the slow side however, as the Wireless N wifi connection and slow transfer speeds of the internal memory and SD card tend to transfer under 4 MB/s. It would be best to transfer a large collection onto the SD card first, where the wifi connection works well for a few albums to listen to on a whim.
     
    USB DAC: This is the most useful function of the X5 to me surprisingly. In USB DAC mode, the X5 has the power and features to replace many desktop DAC/AMP setups with its dual balanced mono DAC and powerful amp implementation. While it doesn’t have the power to truly drive power hungry headphones, it was able to drive my AKG 7XX in balanced mode at more than acceptable levels with the volume knob at 90/100 in High Gain mode (you can also adjust Gain in normal use). My smartphone can’t do that, and I have the Axon 7 with the same AK4490 DAC.
     
    You can adjust many features in USB DAC mode as seen below
     
    IMG_20170225_140042.jpg IMG_20170225_140106.jpg
     
    I did have trouble finding out how to turn this feature on. You need to hit the “Storage” button in the notification pane to switch over to USB DAC mode. You also need to install the USB drivers from Fiio, then choose the Fiio ASIO driver in programs like Foobar2000. None of this is documented, which will confuse a lot of users.
     
    ViperAudio & EQ: I've used ViperAudio a lot in the past. I didn't use it much on the X5, but it has extensive sound modeling features. Seeing it on a DAP for the first time is exciting. The Fiio EQ is a nice feature, but I didn't use it much. It is lacking compared to Viper and a Parametric EQ, such as the paid EQ within USB Audio Player Pro.
     
    IMG_20170227_205323.jpg
     
     
    OTA Updates: OTA updates went very smoothly. I had no issues updating to version 1.1.1, although a semi detailed changelog would be nice before each update. Easy updates like this weren’t possible on DAPs before.
     
     
    Sound Review
    Testing Gear (in order of quality)
     
    LH Labs Pulse X Infinity 2.0
    LH Labs Geek Out V2+ Infinity + Moto X Pure
    Axon 7
    MSI Gaming 7 amped onboard DAC
     
    Testing Songs
     
    Random Metal, Rock, EDM, Rap, Top 40, Hip Hop, Blues, and anything else that comes along. I focus on songs I know well to spot differences in frequency amongst a/b comparisons.
     
    IMG_20170227_205309.jpg
     
     
    Sound Signature
     
    The AK4490 is a warm, smooth yet detailed DAC. The Dual Balanced Mono DAC configuration along with the amps chosen provide a more powerful, more refined, more detailed sound over the AK4490 configuration in my Axon 7, despite the same overall signature. The S/N ratio increase the X5 has is noticeable.
     
    Compared to my Dual Mono Sabre ESS SABRE9018AQ2M setup in my LH Labs Infinity V2+, the Sabre has more forward mids and treble, which presents itself as a little bit clearer. Both the V2+ and AK4490 sound excellent in their implementations, but the AK4490 is a bit easier to listen to for longer periods of time.
     
    Comparisons
     
    There is no comparison to me in the price range unless you go by pure sound quality. You get so much more functionality over a custom DAP interface by using Android OS.
     
    Conclusion
     
    There are a few things that I wished were a bit different. I wish Fiio used a more powerful SoC to give the X5 faster transfer speeds and AC wifi. I also wish they used Android 7.0 Nougat as a base instead of Android 5.1, which is over 2 years old now. These are minor qualms though, as the X5 functions just fine otherwise.
     
    This is the first DAP that I would ever purchase. If I did not already have a strong balanced DAC in the V2+ Infinity, I would own the X5 3rd gen. The combination of sound quality, build quality, features, and price makes the X5 an incredible value to me. This says a lot because I have never truly liked DAPs in the past. Fiio really nailed it here.
     
    Thanks to FiiO for the opportunity to review the X5! You’ve been a wonderful company to us music lovers for years, and we hope you continue being great.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Quadfather
      How does it compare to the FiiO X7 and Questyle QP1R?
      Quadfather, Mar 13, 2017
    3. Melonfrog
      I reserved it about 10 days ago.  Very excited.  I hope the shipment arrives soon.
      Melonfrog, Mar 13, 2017
    4. MrRimantas
      Be careful with updates, it gets a MCU update filed error or just hangs on bot logo. Had couple customers, who have been guided through this problem.
      MrRimantas, Mar 16, 2017
  8. peter1480
    Fiio X5iii Review - not just another DAP
    Written by peter1480
    Published Feb 26, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound stage, detail, balanced out put, build quality, value for money, accessories.
    Cons - Button placement, slow screen, no dual band Wi-Fi, Fiio app still a work in progress.
    Disclaimer:
    I would like to thank Fiio very much for providing me with the opportunity to review the X5 iii. This review is part of Fiio’s tour, there is no monetary incentive for a positive review, the player is on loan and I will be as objective as my ears can in my evaluation of the player.
     
    About me:
    My ears are 57 years old and have listened all kinds of noise! My first recollections of music are of my grandfather's 78's, symphonies on 15 or more records, imagine. I 've progressed from a dancette record player to some serious Hi-Fi, Linn, Naim et al. I had one of the first Philips CD players and one of the Iriver CD-R players, onto Ipods and phones; to DAP and stacks and now HR DAPs.
    My musical taste is wide, all forms of rock comprises most of my collection but there is an extensive repertoire of classical, jazz, country and the spoken word. If I like it, I listen to it and that is commuting, at work and often in the evening with phones when the grand children are in bed.
     
    The excellent reviews that have already been posted have dealt with the unboxing, aesthetics and technical details. Me thinks they know a lot more about these things than I do and are far better photographers.
    DSC_0002.jpg
    DSC_0005.jpg
     
    So here goes, I've loaded three SanDisk Ultra 256GB MicroSD, one full for a Fiio x7 and two split for the x5iii, with an identical music selection, everting from classical to rock in mp3, DSD, WAV and FLAC. The fiio player app on the x7 and the x5iii I would consider is identical FW 3.1.5 as of 24/2/17, I will not dwell on the outstanding issues, check out the x7 thread. Both scanned the same number of tracks, not all my music by about a 1000, but Fiio are on the case so hope fully this will be fixed soon. So I have also added the Neturon (payed for) player so I can compare SQ on that as well. Phones are Meze 99 classics, Audeze LCD-XC and Fidue A83 all using standard cable and balanced cable on each one. Also to test out the bluetooth a pair of Sennheiser momentum 2.0 on-ear wireless and some Sony SBH80's IEs. I do not tend to mess with output ie no Viper and no equaliser, so hopefully I'm reflecting what each bit of kit has to offer with each other. The x7 is about 8 months old, as a believer in 'run-in' electronics the x5iii has been sat playing to its self when not in use so should be run in. By the way the clear plastic cover is a nice touch but it gets in the way of getting a 2.5mm balanced plug in fully seated especially if its a chunky one. But the included leather cover is open at the bottom so has no such problem.
     
    In Fiio 'pure' mode (which I believe bypasses a lot of android):
     
    Sennheiser momentum 2.0 on-ear wireless:
    AptX is enabled, mid range appears a bit less clear than with the x7 but bass is the same.
    DSC_0011.jpg
     
    Sony SBH80
    AptX works. Bass heavy but quite detailed with both, but you can tell they are quite cheep with both players, the x5iii is more forgiving I think and provides better results. But see the Fidues below, is it just best for IEs?
     
    Meze 99 classic:
    With the stock 3.5mm unbalanced you would be hard pushed to tell which player was which. However with the balanced cables and the x7 with the AM3, the x7 presents a better sound stage, bass is the same with both but top-end a bit brighter with the x5iii. Rock sounds particularly nice with this combo.
    DSC_0013.jpg
     
    Fidue A83:
    I hate to say this but with IEM I think the x5iii has it perhaps because they are easier to drive? The difference on volume being 30 on the x7 and 42 on the x5iii for a similar perceived volume. But again with the balanced cable the x7 has it by a slim margin. Both sound excellent with rock.
    DSC_0008.jpg
     
    So lets put something silly on the end of them both....... Audeze LCD-XC:
    Sorry the x7 wins just more of everything. But with either, a good combo for classical and Jazz.
    DSC_0007.jpg
     
    Not phones but the x5iii sounds convincing with a Audio Pro T10 and at the other end of the spectrum a Naim Hi-Fi with Neat speakers.
    DSC_0009.jpg
     
    Android mode using Neutron, with none of Neutrons added extras turned on and the EQ left off, the sound is perhaps not quite so precise, bass while strong feels a little dense, mid range is open and clear, top range sometimes a little splashy and occasionally harsh.
     
    Taking the x5iii out and about in your pocket. It's a bit easier to fit in your pocket than the x7 being a bit smaller and the buttons are less easily knocked. I did n't accidentally trigger fast forward as I sometimes do with the x7. But activating the player again with the on/off button you can easily hit the play/pause. The screen seems less sensitive to my fat fingered prods than the x7 or a SonyZX phone. I use Sony SBH80's on bluetooth for the commute and Fidue A83's in the office. Last week I used the same phones for the same amount of time with the x7, the x7 wins on battery by about an hour. On bluetooth connection it breaks less frequently and you can get about 2m further away with the x7 than the x5iii, unless its stood upright, same with Wi-Fi strength, (strange). One day I managed to only get 6 hours use out of the x5iii but the screen was on a lot and I was using the Audezes. DSC_0012.jpg
     
    Tidal, Amazon Music loaded via Google Play Store. They both work as expected and will download to internal and external storage. The x5iii appeared to cope well with different sample rates, though I'm no expert on those. I think the sound quality is a bit better than the Neutron player app but perhaps not as good at the Fiio player in pure mode, over all similar to the x7. Using the Fiio app to play DLNA music from my Synology DS716 worked very well, the same as the x7, as I expected and a similar sound.
     
    I may just be getting use to the x5iii or it may just be running in but I think the sound stage feels bigger, bass has stayed firm and punchy, treble well controlled as time is going on. But I still love my x7it sounds ….....less restrained, perhaps more effortless?
     
    Using the x5iii as a USB DAC on a Windows 10 i7 all SSD computer. Not something I ever done much, I've too many other ways to store music. It says 44,100 Hz 24 bits and is playing a DSD track, has 'played' uncompressed and compressed FLAC, MP3, using Sony Media Go with the HR tag lit up when you would expect. The Fiio diver is set at stream mode reliable, buffer, auto. It sounds nice, bit rich and warm, no pops or buz.
     
    The x5iii bluetoothed with my Mini and sounded fine, I nominally use a USB stick and the built in Mini player, all MP3 tracks. Mini has the advantage it works well with Ipods all the track info etc. being displayed not the case with the x5iii.
     
    A quick comparison to other players, some I own some friends do some with my phones some with friends (very subjective sic.):
    Ibasso DX80, generally warmer and less high end detail than the x5iii
    A&K Junior, very similar to the x5iii
    Sony Walkman NW-A35, I like the interface, but very bright in comparison to the x5iii.
    X5 2nd. 3 is better than 2 but similar signature.
    Iopd classic, more convenient than the x5iii but no comparison in SQ.
    HTC phone and a mojo, nice, mojo doing all the work but adds bulk.
    Cyin N6, the design is interesting and the sound is more x5 2nd .If I had n't heard the x5iii I may well......
    remember this is my ears personal opinion!
    DSC_0001.jpg
     
     
    Selecting some specific tracks not for any reason just as I've played them as I typed this:
    Classic Rock
    Rush: Moving Pictures: XYZ: FLAC:96/24:
    The drumming is clean and the symbols not too splashy. The base rattles your fillings as it cuts in. Mids are well distinguished. The whip crack noises have space and depth. I've often though this was quite brightly recorded when played on an Ipod but the x5iii makes the best of it. I thine the x7 gives it a bit of a wider sound stage.
     
    Classical
    Bartok: Concerto For Orchestra – Reiner-CSO: Elegia: Andante non troppo: DSD/128:
    Violin a nice, the flute is very crisp and clear. Base is very reverberative and deep. The sound stage appears wide and had depth. The wind section has real attack. The loud passages are well contrasted to the quite melancholy passages. With the Mezes I think this is easier to listen to with the x5iii than the x7, perhaps it too involving for comfort. But this is not music to relax to it's music you listen to and will make the hairs on the back of you neck stand on end. Exceptional on both with the Audezes
     
    Jazz
    Jazz Various:2006 Chesky Records: Meditation - Ana Caram: WAV :96/24:
    Voice is clear with no top ends sibilance, while the piano bounces away in the background, the appears to be a lot of space between it and the singers. During the the duet there is good voice separation. The piano roll-off at the the end has drama. With the Fidue A83's its quite dream like it rolls around you head.
     
    Rock
    Five Finger Death Punch: American Capitalist:100 ways to hate: FLAC: 44/16 encoded from CD with EAC:
    Power and dynamic range are improved and the voice stands out. In a track I've always thought must have been mastered as an MP3; the drumming appears to have more space and is cleaner and the guitar mids are cleaner. When it stops it stops, is there hiss, no its jut the hairs in you ear just stopping moving. Gives the Momentums a workout.
     
    Contemporary Rock:
    Coheed and Cambria:Good God Apollo I'm burning star IV: The willing well III: Appollo II: MP3 download:
    MP3 is what it is you can tell stuff is missing, it's compressed but it sounds better than on and Ipod perhaps a bit more life. Voices are less splashy and the instruments more clearly defined.
    DSC_0004.jpg
     
     
    Hopefully this gives you some idea what the x5iii sounds like at least to my ears. But remember everyone's ears and phones are different and we all have our own preferences.
    The good news is that if you want to play around the equaliser on the Fiio app, it is good and then there is always Viper. In Neutron there are extensive sound controllers that an make your music sound almost any way you want it to or even make up for deficiencies in you phones or hearing.
     
    Conclusion:
    Will I go out and buy one? Yes I have. What will it replace an Ipod classic (clapped out). Is it the best DAP? Perhaps my Naim HDX is but then you can not stuff it in your pocket and the x5iii is very listenable to and a 10th. of the price.
     
    I hope you enjoy reading this, its my first review! Thank you Fiio for letting me have a play with the x5iii.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. peter1480
      Vinick, as I said everyones ears are diffenent. Best way is to go try one out for your self.
      peter1480, Feb 27, 2017
    3. NoMythsAudio
      As you have both, if you were to just have one which would you pick; X7 or X5iii, considering both in same price range? I don't necessarily gravitate towards the latest stuff just looking for bang for money. And no I can't demo them either as I live in the Caribbean ehere I have to import all my gadjets.

      Thanks.
      NoMythsAudio, Mar 4, 2017
    4. peter1480
      NoMythsAudio,
      if it is for the office the x7, if it is to be mobile the x5iii. If you have hard to drive phones the x7.
      peter1480, Mar 4, 2017
  9. ngoshawk
    Setting the "new standard" for mid-fi DAPs, the x5iii, produces upper-level audio quality
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Feb 26, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Easy OS, excellent musical tone, multitude of platforms, fairly fast operations, updated FW
    Cons - Buttons can be accidentally pushed, Fiio's native music app does not "remember" place upon exit, leather case is OK...
    FiiO x5iii-please see addendum at bottom for clarification of FiiO playback feature.
     
    Many times, there is trepidation when you sign up for a possible tour review, at least for me. Your hope is to not only be chosen, but to give an open honest review, under the assumption that the manufacturer has put that trust in you. Kind of a scary thought, that if one did not openly convey their positives and negatives, it could hurt the direction where said company wants to go. Well, the chance of a single negative review, even from the tour hurting the company is quite slim one would hope, which helped alleviate my fears when signing up for this unit. A HEALTHY dose of people signed up, so to be chosen was quite an honor. I thank @FiiO for the opportunity to review the x5iii, a MUCH anticipated unit indeed.
     
    Digital Audio Players (DAP’s) are still fairly new, blooming within the last decade or so. The plethora of new DAP’s coming out recently bucks this trend of a trickle. Many manufacturers are scrambling to put out an Android-based music player, with exceptional sound characteristics as well as a good baseline for Internet usage. I think we are at the cusp of the next big expansion in our listening pleasure. A player that can not only give us music listening of top quality, but also allow us to use the ubiquitous World Wide is a trend that I see. A trend to keep up with those hipper than your humble author into their musical stream and social stream. While the “common Smartphone” can do the same; the quality of music leaves a lot to be desired.
     
    Some such as @PinkyPowers espouse the virtue of keeping all separate. The Luddite in me agrees, for purities sake, we should. But I can see in the near future a meeting of the two into a happy melding of sound, social media, work, and “phone calls.” For those of you not familiar with what that is, ask your grandparents…All joking aside, the mid-fi DAP market is flush with excellent choices from Bit Audio, FiiO, Shanling, Cayin, Onkyo, Pioneer and others. I have firsthand experience with the first four, and can say with somewhat of an authoritarian tone, they are all excellent. It is HOW those companies manage that sound, which is different. Throw in the abilities of the Android-web versions and you can see how quickly this could not only cascade out of control; but how quickly it might all change.
     
    Unboxing video:
     
     
    [​IMG]
    Unboxing video
     
     
    Build/Functionality:
     
    Excellent fit and finish. Top quality build. No blemishes. Kind of nifty on the left side, what with the beveled edges tapering to the rotary volume wheel, complete with detents and gold accent. A very efficient box, too. Hardly any wasted space. This bodes well for protection, as well as saves money on packaging. An added benefit (huge to me!) is that this is more environmentally responsible. Nice job, FiiO.
     
    Typical FiiO red ring around blue power button…subtle and a nice touch.
     
    Easy to set up, FAST OS. FW 1.1.0. Tidal downloaded in nothing. MUCH better WiFi than i5. Functionality/aesthetics are quite pleasing. Another FW upgrade brought it to 1.1.1, during the test. After initial troubles, the FW updated automatically, including some stabilizing effects as well as album art to the lock screen. A nice touch is that you can now not only access the current music being played (and change), but also access the drop down menu from the lock screen, to change many items. A nice touch.
     
    Streaming is good, Tidal sounds fabulous. It simply works without fuss. Streaming and surfing work well together. Small keyboard, but what do you expect. You can lock side buttons, so you do not inadvertently push them…Screen could be a bit bigger.
     
    Loading the SD card was easy, just be careful when taking the tray out. Card is mounted upside down, too. Using FiiO’s own music app, was easy and the scan was quick and painless. Sound quality is quite good. Open, refreshing, unobtrusive. Clean, clear and crisp. Audio-wise this is on par with the Cayin i5, Opus #1 and Shanling M5. All of these mid-fi DAP’s work quite well (for music, we will only discuss that here..functionality later), so the presentation is what might be needed to separate the quartet. Running the gamut from full-on Android/WiFi/Bluetooth to the “lower” Android, to dedicated DAP’s; the decisions are not as easy as one might think.
     
    Running Android 5.1.1, under extensive customization allows the x5 to function at quite a high level. Not top Smartphone level, but let’s be honest, you didn’t buy this for the Smartphone capabilities. You wanted an efficiently functional music player, which can provide you access to your tunes across multiple platforms, while POSSIBLY surfing the pages of Head-Fi, and checking Amazon for the latest accessories for that King George parlor…see below for reference, sheesh.
     
    th-4.jpg
    The finest place to listen to your FiiO...
     
    Upon turning the critter on for the first time, connecting to my home network, the FiiO automatically upgraded to Build # 1.1.0. I was told to update to this build, but watching the x5 do so automatically, and quickly was nice to see.
     
    Buttons are somewhat-logically laid out on two sides, with all of the jacks/ports on the bottom. There has been talk of accidentally pushing buttons while trying to manipulate others; but to be honest you get used to it. Also, I am left-handed so this conundrum does not bother me much. While getting used to the layout, should one need worry about bumping other buttons? I would think not, but when you consider how bloody complicated these are, it is a trade off, which would not be a deal breaker to me. And to boot, you can disable those side functions so you do not accidentally bump them. A cop-out to some; a non-issue to me. Here is one of the few situations where being left-handed is a boon! OK, beside toll-booths and typewriters…
    th-7.jpg
     
     
    Since I run iOS, there was some reacquainting needed with the Android system. After about a day, I was versed enough to function without looking like an idiot who had a new expensive sports car, but didn’t know how to drive a stick… (I DO know how, so kindly don’t go there…).
    th-6.jpg
    Told you...
     
     
    Logical in sub menus, my only problem was remembering all of those sub menus, and how to get there! Think cockpit check system, and you get my point…
     
    th-5.jpg
    Kind of like relearning Android OS...kind of...
     
     
    A nice feature is the dropdown menu from the top, which provides you with quick options to change many functions. Pulling down twice from that top reveals a quick list of necessity functions ranging from your WiFi setting, to Bluetooth, to Line out/Coax digital out, to how your music is playing (storage/USB DAC), a quick hit of the low/high gain switch, filter settings, and whether you want the critter running in Android or Pure Music Mode (which switches all unnecessaries off dedicating all operations to “Pure Music.” The deeper settings switch can be accessed in the top right of this sub menu from the ubiquitous settings cog, allows deeper tuning of system items. Useful, functional and without unnecessary “frills,” is how I would describe the FiiO…efficient to a fault. My right side brain is having a real conundrum with this efficiency…
     
    th-16.jpg
    Think RIGHT side...
     
     
    Three buttons on the bottom center allow navigation around the Android OS. The back button controls many features throughout the apps, a home button, and the multi-tab button, where you can access everything, which is open. Yes, this is standard Android, but it is nice to see FiiO keep the basics of functionality intact. Again, logical in layout along with multiple options move the x5 ahead of it’s competition. Menus are clearly laid out, and logical of navigation. With the three buttons at the bottom always present, you are a mere two clicks away from another app, or the web.
    IMG_2387.jpg IMG_2404.jpg
    Illuminated navigation buttons
     
     
     
    Pretty much everything is customizable, so we will leave it with that. With a 1.2mHz chip, this isn’t meant to compete with your Smartphone. No, it is meant to be competent and upgradable when new Firmware comes out. FiiO has chosen wisely in not loading the x5 with bloatware. We seem to be a far cry from the day when manufacturers loaded their wares with unneeded bloatware. THANK GAWD!   
     
    th-8.jpg
     
     Operation between screens is fairly fast…fast enough not to be bothered while our lightning fast Smartphones run circles around it…Don’t think tortoise/hare, though. That would be an unfair comparison. Think hare/less fast hare…
     
     
    Navigation around the critter is good, efficient, and typical Android. Running 5.1.1 , it is solid. While no match for a smartphone, speedwise the x5 is quite adequate as mentioned above. Those familiar with Android phones will have no problem navigating around; and even those lunkheads of us using iOS, will gain sufficient competence to not look like a dolt whenst around you “Android-experts.”
     
    th-15.jpg
    ME, not you as I met Android again...
     
     
    Native FiiO Music App:
     
    FiiO’s native music app is quite good, but pretty much frill-free, outside of VIPER. The ability to download and run your favorite music app gives many, many options. The first app I downloaded was Tidal so streaming allows multiple music platforms. Pretty much anything that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store can be run. Although I have not tried it, Apple Music can be downloaded and run. How well, again I do not know. With this plethora of options (and yes, I know these are not new, but how well they preform is “almost” a new feature), you can customize the FiiO to your hearts content!
    th-9.jpg
     
     
    Someone PM’d me regarding the use of Apple streaming music, as they had quite a bit of that. Well, I did not know, but did the legwork, and you can in fact run an Apple Music app on the x5. So, multi-platforms are certainly a nice aspect of running an OS system on a DAP.
     
    Music Functions (within each app):
     
    Loading two sd cards, is quick and painless (much less so, than on my old x3ii, believe it or not). Once in the native FiiO music app, you are presented with the usual choices of genre, artist, album, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary here…move along…to the menu, which shows all of the songs. Scrolling right on a song reveals a cool menu option of favorite, add to playlist and share via Bluetooth. Excellent options, indeed. Scrolling left give the delete song option.
     
    DSC_0129.jpg DSC_0130.jpg
    Scroll right for favorites, playlist and Bluetooth sending. Scroll left for delete
     
     
     
     
    While in the individual songs menu, you have the options of shuffle, repeat, share via Bluetooth again, favorite, add to playlist and the usual play functions. Scrolling right from this sub menu gives the option to see what songs are queued before and after the current song. In album mode, you get the whole list.
     
    A decent, logical app, which will work for most people, the native app is nothing to sneeze at. Others will of course download their favorite such as Poweramp or others. With 480mW at 16 ohms, there is plenty of power for those apps to run most headphones, too. A multitude of supported file formats helps, too (as it should).
     
    File format support
    Lossless:
    DSD:DSD64/128(".iso", ".dsf", ".dff")
    DXD:352.8K
    APE FAST/High/Normal:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
    APE Extra High:192kHz/24bit(MAX)
    APE Insane:48kHz/24bit(MAX)
    Apple Lossless:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
    AIFF:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
    FLAC:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
    WAV:384kHz/32bit(MAX)
    WMA LOSSLESS:96kHz/24bit(MAX)
    Lossy compression:
    MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG...

     
    A quick word about the VIPER option. From what I have read, this is quite the popular sound EQ app/addition. My understanding is that this is the “go to” EQ for Android systems. While I have played around with it somewhat, I’m not sure this isn’t just a glorified native EQ. I’m sure there are those of you out there, who will now throw tiny pebbles and twigs at me for saying that, but tough...
    th-10.jpg
     
    It’s my review and I can say that if I want.
     
    th-11.jpg
     
    That tantrum said, I can hear a difference, and I am still playing with it. One of the benefits, which I can see is that you can modify several different settings WITHOUT changing the EQ. That might be the true beneficial aspect of this. I know, I would be loath to spend any money on some of the features before trying them out. I guess I am saying it works, but I am not sold on its benefits…yet…Addendum: it works!
     
     
    Gear used:
     
    FLC Technology FLC8S
    MEE Audio Pinnacle P1
    Audioquest Nightowl
    Audioquest Nighthawk
    Tennmak Pro
    FiiO F1 (because I can!)
     
    Schiit Magni 2
     
     
    The majority of my time was spent with the FLC8S. This was easiest to me, and in all likelihood, I would IEM my upcoming x5iii. Using a headphone would be a luxury, which I would love to enjoy more but it simply doesn’t happen enough to me. And I will state, that the FLC8S unequivocally worked stunningly well. I am as impressed day to day with them as I am the x5. The synergy with the Shanling M5 was astounding, and what hooked me. The synergy with the FiiO is as good, and sometimes better (such as on twentyonepilots excellent newer song Heathen). Both versions on Tidal are superb. The building of sound towards that bass flush is anticipation of Heinz Ketchup quality. To feel the bass flow through the drivers makes me extol the virtues like few items have before. Just wow…
     
    th-17.jpg
    Anticipation...
     
    The Nighthawk gave a wonderfully airy sound to any music played. Whether through the sd card, or Tidal; overall quality of sound was worth the time. One could say that the clarity of the FiiO was met hand in hand with the airy sound from the NH. One would not be wrong. And one would be happy to enjoy the pair.
     
    Brief listens through both the P1 and Tennmak’s Pro allowed for verification, that the FLC8S is pretty damn good. I can say that I liked all three, but the FLC8S is my go-to, until my Vibro Labs Aria arrives. The P1 was astounding yet again. This $200 IEM keeps coming back to me and I must smile. While the bass is lacking to me, the overall clarity and crisp nature of the sound makes it just quite pleasant with which to listen. Through Tidal or FiiO native music, I enjoyed my time yet again with the Pinnacle.
     
    The Tennmak, is probably my favorite “budget” IEM. Retailing for 9x LESS than the P1, I really like the sound characteristics. Much deeper and palpable bass, the only thing holding this critter back is that it cannot handle complicated music like the expensives with which it tries to compete. That and because of the bass, the sound can be a bit hard to separate instrumentation-wise. I still use them regularly for workouts and general quick listens. They worked quite well with the x5. A worthy addition to anyone’s collection.
     
     
    Sound signature:
     
    Smooooth. Slightly warm. Good bass through Tidal, sound stage is good, and pushed forward. I do not mind. Closer to neutral than i5, but with a better bass push. Maybe it is an authentic bass sound, or the Tidal tuning. There is a jet-black background between songs on Tidal. Velvety of sound has been thrown around in the descriptions by some. I would concur, and add that the sound might be the equivalent of experiencing King Henry’s sitting parlor on the finest sofa you may have set your bum upon…while reading politely and listening to the Harpsichord play. Just a thoroughly enjoyable time is had. Almost neutral, but slightly north of neutral is how I would describe the signature. Instrument separation where it should be, true to the artist. Good depth and width of the sound stage, and a cohesiveness that allows the musical selection to show through.
     
    A brighter, more clear sound than my 6+, and I would hope so! That is all I need say there...Compared to the MBP-the x5iii is a slightly more forward sound. Those cymbal shots, which are up front (as they should be in any twentyonepilots song…) on the x5iii, are SLIGHTLY behind center stage on the MBP, without the Shanling UP. With the UP inline, the mids are pushed forward, and a deeper bass than the x5iii can provide is had.  But that’s not really a fair comparison, so…
     
    Running the x5iii through its paces, I alternated between Tidal (ummm…no, actually you didn’t; you ran one dedicated program a day, you moron…) and the native Fiio music app. Tidal free provides a really good basis for comparison, because even that level of music is quite good (to me). I was mighty impressed with how the FiiO handled the songs without any delay (except the initial load-up of a change in artist), while allowing me to surf the web without pause. The only glitches to speed and functionality were from my home WiFi going goofy and playing hide-and-seek with me…I now hate hide-and-seek and will punch anyone who says otherwise…
     
    th-12.jpg
    My LEAST favorite game, as of yesterday...
     
    Anywho, the FiiO came through all trials with nary a glitch or hiccup. As each time of use passed, I became more and more impressed. This was fast moving to the top of my DAP list, knocking the heck of the things in front of it to get there, too. Over the last year, I have had the privilege to test some fine equipment; and I can say that each time I was impressed with something from each DAP. Each have their benefits whether it was sound quality, ability to play music seamlessly, or the functions that go along with said DAP. With the x5iii, I can honestly say that all of the functioning parts came together, and well…. just worked. And the benefit? The sound was close to the top, if not AT the top against all of those other DAP’s. A true tip of the hat to FiiO for making a synergistic device, which caters to those who favor streaming, AND those who are stuck with the “ancient” technology of sd cards. Each format can sound simply superb. I say this listening  Stevie Ray Vaughan (God rest his soul) on FLAC and my 64gb sd card. The pull of his guitar on Voodoo Chile is magical, deep, near-religious, smoky, dark, and mysterious. A true soul-rendering version to the original by Jimmy Hendricks. One cannot help but come away with chills and be impressed that not only is the song magnificent, but the presentation by the x5 is true to meaning. I must have another Cold Shot of single malt to calm my nerves…Man, he is good…and so is the FiiO. This combo was meant to be together…period. GOD, I miss him…
     
    th-14.jpg
    Taken from us too early...
     
    A side note: a huge portion of my passion for music comes from Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lucky enough to see him twice in the big (both outdoor), and twice more AFTER each show in a small venue (INTIMATE actually); his passion was unquestionable. His oneness with the guitar showed on each little scratch, each little divot, each stretch of string to get that little extra out of the note was something I will never forget…ever. He was taken from us way too early. I was “lucky enough,” under the circumstances to see Eric Clapton, in Kansas City the night after the plane crash. The two had just performed the night before at Alpine Valley, in Wisconsin. It was Eric Clapton’s seat, which SRV took on that fated night flight…something that clearly shook Clapton as he played for three-and-a-half hours straight that next night in KC. He never said a word about anything. He let his music play tribute to SRV, and it did. There were times you could hear a pin drop in the outdoor audience, and then a collective sob of sorrow whilst EC played. That was the only way it could be, an impassioned musical tribute to a friend; a player we all collectively lost that previous night. I can still go through every song played that night.
     
    If the FiiO can bring out the passion, the sweat in SRV’s music, then I am smitten. I am taken back to the last time I saw SRV live, and it was a good night as he sat on the stage at Starlight Theater, swinging his feet as he played Lenny, and we listened. We closed our eyes and simply enjoyed the music. It was perfect.
     
    The FiiO is not, but it is an exceptionally well-versed attempt at such. And as such, the highest praise I can give is that my own personal unit is on order awaiting shipment. I had no intention what so ever in doing that, but I bit. I bit hard, and after a glorious week, I do not regret it one bit. Or is that bite?
     
    Negatives of the FiiO are there, but pretty much few. I’m not a real fan of the black leather case…to me it makes operating the buttons much harder. Maybe it will break in, but I prefer the clear plastic case, with the benefit of looking at the cool device. While the volume wheel looks very fine with the gold accent, I would like a quicker response to large inputs. To raise the volume a good bit takes several tweaks of the wheel. I’m not a big fan of that. As @x RELIC x mentioned, bumping the side buttons is annoying, and should be changed. I would agree, but with the caveat that being left-handed has an advantage here…I can carefully wake the item from sleep, and raise the volume with one hand. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a “left handed DAP,” before; but I will take it!
     
    FiiO’s native music app is good, quite good. Throw in the addition of VIPER, even with the add-on purchases; and you have a fine baseline. A function, which I deservedly call a flaw though is that when you pause music, and exit. Upon return, the app resets to the baseline start, instead of remembering where you were. I find this highly annoying. To the point, where I will probably download another music app to try with my own. Neutron gets good reviews, so that will probably be my first option. Coming from iOS, I am devoid of Android music app knowledge, so I will rely upon the fine peeps here. Maybe a future FW update will correct that. Not a deal breaker, simply annoying, it is.
     
    th-18.jpg
    How I felt using the native FiiO app, but not PLAYING it...
     
     
    Beyond that, I can find little to fault. A superb attempt at an Android DAP, and one, which will probably be studied closely by the competition.
     
     
     
     
    Comparisons:
     
    Baseline information on the competitors:
     
    1. Cayin I5- A Ferrari with a flat tire limited to the speed limit. But, it IS still a Ferrari. Yes, a red one.
    2. Shanling M5- an old trusty (I said trusty not rusty) Range Rover…it just works, even with the quirks it possesses, and goes anywhere.
    3. Opus #1- VW R32-fast, fun, it just works. Unobtrusive, almost boring, but stunning in performance. Dark gray in color…interior, too. One, which those in the know…well know.
    4. FiiO x5iii- an Aston Martin Vanquish S with the street creds to back it up.
    5. iPhone 6+ boring baseline Smartphone (no auto analogies, except maybe a “competent” Toyota Corolla…)
     
    x5iii v i5:
     
    From memory, the i5 provides a warmer sound base with which to start. I REALLY liked the sound of the Cayin. Clean, clear, crisp like that mountain cabin, one cannot escape the fact that this is a well “north of neutral” warm sounding DAP. My tastes tend toward the dark side, so I did not mind. A thoroughly enjoyable sound, mixed with the niggles and snafus of a near-first time Android-based DAP in this range. I commend Cayin for helping make the i5 such a fine DAP. It is an excellent foray into the mid-fi range, and one, which I anxiously look forward to upgrades in, or their revised model (no hurry, it is still quite good). But, compared to the x5iii, it falls short. The x5 is easier to navigate through, quicker of operation, and generally more efficient of operation. Plus two card slots help, along with a “newer” Android OS makes it functional in the interwebbie-world for a longer time.
     
    Sound wise, the x5 runs slightly south of the i5, and I do not mind. ZOOT ALORE! He likes something that is LESS warm!!! Oh, shut it…yes in fact I do. While the FiiO is SLIGHTLY less warm, it is still north of neutral, just not out of sight warm like the i5 tends to be…A bit crisper (crispier?) a smidge more clear, and a sound closer to neutral has it’s benefits. One is that you can EQ that sound to your preferences. Running VIPER while listening to Stevie Ray, you are enveloped in the music, taken into the experience. With a sound stage slightly larger than the intimate Cayin, you get the whole musical experience. The i5 is no slouch, and if my preferences were based solely on sound, then the Cayin could very well win…who DOESN’T want a Ferrari?! That said, the early-stage adoption of an older Android OS while allowing Cayin a base in which to develop; it does put operational “skills” behind the newer/ slicker 5.1.1 on the x5. If we are talking whole package, the x5 wins, but an excellent try is had by the i5. It really is a worthy DAP.
     
     
    Opus #1 v x5iii:
     
    I was lucky enough to have @nmatheis’s #1 in house for the entirety of my time with the x5. And I was glad. Arriving slightly before the FiiO afforded me time to compare it to the i5, as well as my trusty (NOT RUSTY!) x3ii. The Opus is quite a stunning unit. Extremely easy to operate, it is a simple DAP, that focuses on MUSIC. And music, only (future upgrades on the upper level Opus #2, will bring Android operations on par with the x5iii, apparently). With dual slots, it matches the x5iii. Built of plastic and aluminum, the feel is slightly more comfortable holding than the FiiO. Make that less worried, not more comfortable. I like the way it feels. I like its heft. If possible, sound characteristic-wise, it is between the i5 and x5iii. Not neutral, not overly warm, it is an extremely pleasant sound. Again, I REALLY enjoyed the sound of the Opus (I am currently using it to burn in my Audioquest Nightowls, so it is in good hands). It does have a slightly narrower sound stage than the FiiO. SLIGHTLY. Instrument separation is excellent, bass is good with wonderful reach, and a small roll off of treble (small…), gives this stunner the warmish sound I hear. A thicker sound is what I hear from the Opus, versus the x5, too. Robust would not be an embarrassing term to describe the sound. And with dual sd slots, you should have plenty of opportunities to listen.
     
    If quality sound characteristics are what you desire first and foremost, then you would be hard pressed to beat the Opus or the Shanling in this price range. Both are superb examples of exceptional sound capabilities. Mind you the FiiO and Cayin are no slouches, but the pure of you, dear reader, (yes, @PinkyPowers I’m thinking of you…) would be well and good to consider the #1 or M5. In fact, I peruse the Head-Fi classifieds for a used example of either, daily. My bank account is very worried…
     
    DSC_0125.jpg DSC_0126.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
    M5 v x5iii:
     
    The Shanling came my way (thanks Nik!) at the same time as a loaner FLC8S, which I ended up purchasing (used from eBay) after my audition. I was stunned that such a device could have such a pure sound. Almost dead neutral, the music spoke; and spoke volumes. The sound was like looking at that spectacular mountain scene, then walking through it, on a fine summer day. There was no hiding anything with the Shanling. I liked that. A lot.  Compared to the FiiO, this was probably the closest of sound signatures. Vibrant (think clarity) of sound, depth of quite acceptable stage; the M5 is excellent, and I would rate it against ANY of the devices mentioned in this review. I would happily own one for pure music’s sake.  And, rumor has it, that they will soon join the touchscreen Android scene. I am extremely excited at that prospect. The only knocks against this excellent device (to me) would be the finicky scroll wheel (which to me was not as intuitive to use as I thought it should be), and the slightly smaller screen. A single sd slot is also a mark against it.  With adequate power, though and the excellent AK4490 chip, it does compete, and VERY well. Sound wise, there is no embarrassment in the Shanling house. Think clean and clean view, and you get the message.
     
    DSC_0102.jpg
     
     
     
    A final comparison of the four would yield:
     
    1. Three have volume wheels (weeeeee!): x5iii, M5, i5. The i5 wins here, simply sexy and smooth of operation. To raise the volume a good bit on the x5iii, takes quite a bit of effort and scrolling (rather annoying). The Shanling is similar to a toy bottle cap, and I do mean to state that. That to me is one of its major downsides. If it had a better tactile feel, that would improve the functioning immensely.
    2. Aesthetics of design: Again, the i5 wins here…just flat sexy. Slim, no waste of space and a thin body. Most simplistic of design, goes to the #1. Nothing to see here, move along…The M5 is the eccentric one of the lot, and that wheel simply confirms it (not bad, mind you, just annoying…). Finally, FiiO went conservative on the x5iii. Nothing wrong with that, and it is easy to operate in hand (EXPECT some of the mentioned problems with multiple button touches)…One can simultaneously press the on/off and either the play/pause or fast forward/reverse buttons. While turning the side buttons off in the settings can compensated for, should one have to? An annoyance, one must decide if it is worth living with...
     
    1. Two card slots: x5iii & #1. One card slot: M5 & i5. That is not a major deterrent to me. While it is inconvenient, I really do not care.
     
    1. Final verdict on the fine four: All produce excellent sound characteristics ranging from slightly north of-neutral (x5iii, to me); to thick, stout and warm (#1); to bright, vibrant and cheery (M5); to pretty darn warm (i5). To say that I like all four would be an understatement, which will be explained below…
     
     
    Final conclusions:
     
    As I listen to Lindsey Stirling on the FiiO, my time comes close to ending. This would normally make me sad; except that I will have my very own in hand within a couple of weeks. This is the highest regard I can give to a piece of audio kit, which I review. And yes, I know that part of the appeal from the manufacturers standpoint is that the tour participant MAY end up with one. But, I am extremely judicious in that regard. Otherwise, I might find myself with all of that new kit, under a bridge without the means to charge any of them! (Wife-unit would have me hide…)
     
    th-2.jpg
     
     
    FiiO has had plenty of time to mull over decisions, make changes to their units, learn from mistakes and improve upon them. The x5iii is a stunning example of this thought and commitment to making the audio products they sell. Are they perfect? Heck, no. Does this do anything radically different? No, again. Is it groundbreaking? Certainly not. But what the x5 does, is take all that collective wisdom, and improve upon what needed improving. First and foremost, they addressed the shortcomings in their own devices and made those improvements. When you then throw in the tweaks done using other manufacturers items, you get the sense that FiiO has (hopefully) learned from their past mistakes, and will now take the necessary time to run this out, AND correct the mistakes of their other units. My firsthand knowledge is limited to this, and the excellent x3ii. I like both, a lot. But as others have pointed out, FiiO has had to work overtime correcting some of their other products operations. My hope is that they continue to do this, while sending us lucky peeps stunning devices such as the x5iii. We all win if that is the case.
     
    I want to thank @FiiO for the opportunity to have this unit so early in the cycle. I feel honored to be included, and thank them immensely for the fine unit I have in hand. FiiO truly trusts those of us with the tour unit, and take our collective criticisms seriously. One need only look at the response time on the Head-Fi thread to understand their commitment.
     
    *Addendum*
     
    After conversation with @FiiO, it was determined that I did not have the "resume" feature toggled on within the FiiO native music app. I regret not searching the features more, and appreciate the clarification by FiiO. A picture of the feature is shown below:
     
    IMG_2409.jpg IMG_2410.jpg
     
    My apologies to the community for this oversight.
     
     
     
    Final review video:
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Well done, FiiO.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Preachy1
      I figured it should be as simple as that, but I don't see a Key-Lock Settings option.
      Preachy1, Mar 21, 2017
    3. Preachy1
      Hmmm, looks like it's only available in Android mode?
      Preachy1, Mar 21, 2017
    4. Preachy1
      Never mind, Ima dumb-ass!!!!  found it
      Preachy1, Mar 21, 2017
  10. csglinux
    Tons of Features in a Small, Well-Designed DAP
    Written by csglinux
    Published Apr 14, 2017
    4.0/5,
    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​
    DX200 2.5mm balanced output
    125 dB​
    <0.0002% (into 64 Ohm @ 3Vrms)​
    0.15 Ohm​
    DX200 3.5mm single-ended output
    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 2.5mm balanced output
    117 dB​
    0.0007% (@ 1 kHz)​
    1 Ohm​
    AK380 2.5mm single-ended output
    116 dB​
    0.0008% (​
    @ 1 kHz)​
    2 Ohm​
    FiiO X7+am1
    >=115 dB​
    <0.0008%
    (into 32 Ohm ​
    @ 1 kHz)​
    <0.2 Ohm​
    FiiO X7+am2
    >=118 dB​
    <0.001%
    (into 32 Ohm ​
    @ 1 kHz)​
    <0.5 Ohm​
    FiiO X7+am3 balanced output
    >=115 dB​
    <0.0008%
    (into 32 Ohm ​
    @ 1 kHz)​
    <0.3 Ohm​
    FiiO X7+am3 single-ended output
    >=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.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. peter1480
      Thus proving if you like the way it sound with your other equipment its the DAP 4U
      peter1480, Apr 15, 2017
    3. 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.
      swannie007, Apr 15, 2017
    4. 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)   
      svetlyo, Apr 15, 2017