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FiiO X5 3rd gen Premium Hi-Res DAP

  1. ironpeg
    X5G3 Android PlayerGreat for the price!
    Written by ironpeg
    Published Apr 5, 2017
    Pros - Aggressive sound with great bass impact, Sparkling Treble, Forward Mid, Android operating system, 2 memory card slots, luxury build
    Cons - Firmware changes sound dramatically, cannot get Tidal, sometimes it went blue screen, distortions in bass and mid
    EDITED: Firmware Comparison
    This X5 Gen 3 unit is provided by Fiio for my honest review. The unit will be returned at the end of my review period.

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

    Note: I will not say anything regarding low gain because I feel that high gain provides much better sound and impact. There is no hiss on high gain with Zeus-XRA which is considered to be very sensitive to hiss.
    Verdict: This could be secondary DAP (Gym DAP) for Audiophiles or Entry level DAP for beginners.
    Original Firmware 1.1.1
    High Gain Setting
    Sound presentation: The stage size is still around 60% of what AK380Cu+Amp provides. Stage has way better presentation. It's no longer way bigger height like 1.1.4. Judging from my memory, its presentation is very similar to AK240.
    Bass: Bass is faster than 1.1.4. Less impact. No distortion. 
    Mid: Mid is slightly move backward comparing to 1.1.4. No Distortion.
    High: Similar to 1.1.4. Still laid back.
    Verdict: At this price, I'd get Fiio X5 G3 rather than AK240.
    Modified Firmware by WindowsX
    High Gain Setting
    Sound presentation: Best soundstage among all firmwares. Stage is wider, and a bit deeper. This has the best realistic stage among the 3 firmwares.
    Bass: Bass is nimble but smooth, lean, fast, and tight. Impact is very noticeable that it's quite less than 1.1.4. No distortion.
    Mid: Mid is similar to original 1.1.1. I can hear a bit more details.
    High: Not much changes.
    Verdict: WindowsX did a great job modifying the Rom. Now X5G3 sounds closer to High-End DAP. WindowsX also does hardware mod. He claims that it sounds way different level than the stock. I would say with the right ROM X5G3 could easily beat AK240 from my memory.
    1. Layman1
      A useful and interesting review, thanks!
      Possibly worth mentioning for those that don't know, the AK380Cu is approximately 10 times the price of the X5iii. It's certainly a valid comparison, but perhaps a bit 'David vs Goliath' lol :D
      Layman1, Apr 5, 2017
    2. ironpeg
      @Layman1 Thanks. I've edited and said AK380Cu is 10 times the price of X5iii.
      ironpeg, Apr 5, 2017
    3. TwinACStacks
      Most beginners aren't going to pop for that Kind of $$$ (Fiio) For a DAP unless they have a Trust fund or extremely good job with tons of expendable cash. Personally I would never pop AK money for a portable player or even try to compare it to a mid fi player. But it's still an informative review.
      TwinACStacks, Apr 5, 2017
  2. PinkyPowers
    The Big Bad Bear Deep In Hibernation - A Review of the FiiO X5 3rd Gen
    Written by PinkyPowers
    Published Mar 21, 2017
    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.

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

    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.



    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.



    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.


    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.

    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
      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
  3. originalsnuffy
    Evolving Platform; Good Sound but Can be Congested in the Bass; Apps Do not Completely Hang Together Yet
    Written by originalsnuffy
    Published Mar 20, 2017
    Pros - Can run Android Apps; dual memory card slots, clear sound for the most part
    Cons - Folder use is difficult; NAS use not functioning yet; hissing when not playing music on my IEMs, congested bass on some tracks
    I wanted to love this unit.  Really I did.   I was looking forward to a sound signature in line with or even better than thebit Opus #1; Cayiin i5, and other Android app capable devices.  And at first I thought I was going to absolutely love it.  With less complicated, semi-acoustic albums it sounded very good.   Miles Davis Kind of Blue (MFSL-SACD DSD rips) sounded clean and articulate. Beck's Sea Change--sounded nice.  But then I started trying out heavier rock; and my opinion became muddier.  Or should I say the sound became muddier.
    And for me; sound is factor #1, #2, and #3.  Simply put, I can't rave about the sound.  Now with some FIIO products sound signatures move around with various firmwares, and we are only on version 1.13.  So I would watch how the reviews evolve over time. I remember that the sound on the original X3 went from muddy to very pleasing over time.  I hope that happens here.
    Then there is the issue of the apps.  They do not all seem to hang together right now.   
    Right now I would rather own a single purpose machine with great sound (Opus #1 is a stand out at this price point, but there are others).  Or perhaps feed the Chord Mojo (yes it is that good) with your device of choice.   I hope the firmware evolves and that my initial thoughts will prove to be out-dated.
    It might be because of impedance issues; but I have two observations when using this with the FLC8S.  First, there can be almost too much bass with this machine.   I found that taking the FLC8S to a reference tuning was a good choice (gray - gray - gunmetal).  Otherwise sometimes there is simply too much bass.  I think some would describe the sound as congested or bloomy. in the low and mid-bass area. 
    Second, for some reason, when music is not playing, I experienced a fair amount of hiss with the FLC8S. 
    I did try two other IEMs; the venerable Carbo Tenore and my LZ-A2.   The LZ also sounded a bit muddy.  The Carbo Tenore is a bit bass light compared to the other two IEM units, and did not have the same bloom issues.
    On the positive side, the treble was clear and open and I thought the soundstage was likeable.  But unlike other electronics, I found myself listening too much to the unit and not enough listening to the msuic.
    User Interface
    OK, I will admit it.  There is much to be said for old school digital audio players.  Scroll wheel, buttons, volume knobs.   With this unit, you very much know you are using an Android device.  I like to listen to music in folder mode.  Bad choice for this machine.  There is no easy way to traverse folder structure.  You need to close down the FIIO app to get back to the SD card file level.  Otherwise you will be presented with a  somewhat random list of albums created from scans.  With some errors to boot.
    I was able to put in some network passwords and look at FLAC files on my NAS units.  But the unit does not seem to associate those files with the FIIO music app and you get an error message when you click on the files.  Well, one it actually started playing music with firmware 1.11; but I could not repeat that happy situation.   Once it started to download the files from the NAS to the unit; but I cancelled that.
    I did play some tunes via JRiver's Gizmo APK app.  Unfortunately, Gizmo transcodes music to 320kbps MP3 (at best).  I suppose I could have fiddled with some APKs from Synology.  I put in DS Audio but that just wanted to download files not play them.  As you might guess, I dropped that idea.  If I was the owner of the unit I probably would have doggedly looked for another, better workaround but since I was just testing the unit I decided to punt on that effort.
    There is an advanced audio equalizer available, but it seemed to require a separate license and I was not interested in that.  So sorry, not comments about VIPER from me.  The primary equializer works with files at least up to 24 - 96 (that was all I tested).  It does not work with DSD files (not a criticism; DSD files are not designed for EQ).   Actually, I almost never use EQ so testing that was not a priority for me either.
    I did not test Tidal or other streaming apps
    I like the dual microSDXC slots.  I did not test the bluetooth, or the USB outputs to an external DAC.  Nor did i use it as a DAC from the PC or iphone.
    I really wanted to love this machine and came away on the positive side of neutral but not enthralled.  My $200 DAP is not as detailed as the X5III, but it is not muddy with heavy rock tracks.
    I hope that future firmware releases will address some of the issues discussed here.  I thank FIIO for allowing me to evaluate this unit
    Disclaimer:   I was loaned this unit by FIIO as part of a North American Tour.  No renumeration was received for this review.
    . IMG_2073.jpg
    1. View previous replies...
    2. originalsnuffy
      Ripping SACD files is not easy  Computer Audiophile has instructions on doing this with older PS3 units and certain Oppo units.  I have a buddy do the rips for me.  But better yet; purchase the version of this on HD Tracks.  It is FLAC 24 - 196, not too expensive and in my opinion sounds even better than the MOFI.  I just wanted to feed a reasonable DSD rip for testing purposes but its not my favorite version of this album.
      originalsnuffy, Mar 21, 2017
    3. Krisna13
      I've got the 24/196 version from HDtracks, thank you for the suggestion though. Was just curios on how you got your hands on a SACD rip as I couldn't find one anywhere online. Its interesting you say the 24/196 sounds better, in what way?
      Krisna13, Mar 21, 2017
    4. originalsnuffy
      There are a lot of threads on Steve Hoffman forums about Kind of Blue.  This is one of them.
      As mentioned above, I sent my SACD to a buddy that I met at Computer Audiophile, and he ripped it for me.  But I don't think there is a point to that as I like the HDTracks version better.  I mainly use that rip when I need a good DSD file for testing; but for actual listening I go HDTracks.
      originalsnuffy, Mar 21, 2017
  4. leaky74
    A Compelling Proposition
    Written by leaky74
    Published Mar 20, 2017
    Pros - Value, functionality, build quality, detailed & clear sound
    Cons - Slow wifi & file transfer. SQ maybe a little clinical and cool.
    Before I start, many thanks to Fiio for arranging this tour and allowing many Head-Fiers, including myself, to be a part of it. I am not affiliated to Fiio in any way.
    A bit of background about me, I guess you’d say I’m a keen exponent of what many on Head-Fi would refer to as mid-fi gear; with a view to getting the most ‘bang for buck’. This is due in most part to having a young family and other interests which, for the most part, win in competing for my disposable income!! To that end, my current set up consists of Meze 99 Classes for home (where I’d say I do 90% of my listening), 1 More Triples for use on the go and I was, until recently, using a Dragonfly Red as DAC/AMP out of my MacBook Air at home (and occasionally for longer trips away from home, paired with my iPhone 6S Plus). I long since stopped buying music (apart from a period of investing in a decent vinyl set up, subsequently sold), because most of my listening is done via Tidal Hi-Fi.  
    Prior to the tour, again with one eye on maximising value and usage, I had been considering a DAP to replace the Dragonfly Red. So, a DAP that doubles as a USB DAC at home, scores high on my checklist. Prior to receiving the X5iii tour unit, I had literally just splurged on an iBasso DX80. So, I was still open to being persuaded by the charms of an alternative. Oh, I just remembered, I did splash out on an A&K AK70 before Christmas but returned it. It was honestly a great DAP (using a single implementation of the CIRRUS CS4398 DAC chip vs dual usage of the same chip in the DX80). Where the AK70 fell down though, badly, was when used as a USB DAC - as well as occasional noise (pops & clicks), it struggled badly when sample rates changed between tracks.
     So, in summary this tour came around at a timely point for me! The following make up my short, DAP main features shopping list:
     - Doubles as a USB DAC
     - Sound quality - might sound obvious but given the relative quality of the iPhone, a DAP has got to offer a decent step up in order to justify carrying a second device
     - Works as a standalone - I don’t want to carry a stack for when I am out and don’t especially want to feel as if I need an amp to get the most out of my setup at home. Fortunately, the Meze are ridiculously easy to drive so that’s not really an issue.
     - Bonus feature: ability to stream Tidal. As this is currently my main media channel this would definitely be a nice to have. On the other hand, not having this as a DAP feature would encourage me, bit by bit, to build on my long neglected library; by adding to it and replacing existing content with better quality files.
    Anyway, onto the Fiio X5iii. Whilst I’d consider this DAP to be priced at a, relatively speaking, mid-fi price point - the packaging has a premium look and feel to it. Both the bundled clear silicone & leather cases are a nice touch and of good quality. This is carried forward into the build of the unit itself. It has a lovely build quality and weight to it, though I agree with others observations that button positioning makes it too easy to accidentally skip tracks when hitting the power button to shut the screen off. The screen is both lovely to look at and faultless in operation. GUI comes courtesy of Android and again is implemented  in a clean no fuss fashion (which can be further dialled back in ‘Pure Music’ mode, freeing up system resources to focus only on music reproduction. 
    Set up is also quick & simple. What’s not so quick is transferring content to the device. What’s even slower is the downloading of firmware updates over wifi - a good couple of hours for a not particularly big update.
    Downloading streaming apps from the marketplace is simple & work flawlessly when either streaming or downloading for offline listening (I only tried Tidal). Using the device as USB DAC also worked perfectly. Just a note here; like the DX80, the device tries to draw a  
    Sound quality - probably top of most people’s priority list. My impressions are that the X5iii is fairly neutral in tonality. It offers good detail retreival and decently wide staging. It has well controlled & punchy sub-bass and bass, the detail I mentioned, is prevalent in the mids and slightly, pleasantly, rolled off through the treble so as to be not fatiguing. It’s all positive stuff and I can’t really fault it. When I compare it to the DX80 however, it sounds slightly clinical where the DX80 I find to much warmer, smoother and analogue sounding. The DX80 too carries good levels of detail retrieval and has a wider soundstage. Bass on the DX80 is less ‘tight’ but goes, pleasingly, deeper. Sound wise, for me, I think the DX80 is a better fit for my ears.   
    The X5iii in summary, offers a compelling and complete package at a price point that means it’s, rightly so, likely to capture a large fan base. It doesn’t do anything particularly poorly (other than file transfer and updates slowly), which won’t, I’m sure, be fixed by future updates. It certainly ticks all the boxes on my shopping list. If I were to apply a weighting to my criteria though, I think my preference for the tonality of DX80 means I’m likely to keep hold of that for now (not to mention the X5iii currently costs £100 more). For those though after a do it all DAP, whose primary use case is entered around purely portable use - it’s a compelling proposition. 
  5. Brooko
    FiiO X5iii - Value and Tonality (SQ)
    Written by Brooko
    Published Sep 3, 2017
    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
    Picture are default 1200 x 800 resolution - click (photos in tables) to view larger images.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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 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.

    (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
    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


    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


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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)


    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.

    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.

    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.


    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.

  6. MacedonianHero
    FiiO X5 III DAP - Talk About Great Value!
    Written by MacedonianHero
    Published Aug 29, 2017
    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!


    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. F700
    An afFIIOrdable DAP that needs an amp to shine...
    Written by F700
    Published Aug 12, 2017
    Pros - Smooth and slightly warm sound signature, accessories, pure-music modus, bang for $$$
    Cons - Needs the A5 amp to shine, weak Wi-Fi, just a bit narrow-sounding overall, UI could have a better response, average balanced-output
    It will be a short review. I am not affiliated to FiiO in any kind. I bought the device and this is my honest opinion. No pictures, there are plenty of them already a bit everywhere around the web and on Head-Fi. Nevertheless, I could post some if requested.

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

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

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

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

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

    Short summary of the X5 III (with A5):

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


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

    Thanks for reading!
      knudsen and buonassi like this.
  8. Malevolent
    A stellar DAP in its price range
    Written by Malevolent
    Published Jul 17, 2017
    Pros - Generally good, clean sound
    Easy to use
    Well-priced product
    Cons - Treble could be a little more pronounced
    Some slight UI issues (see review for more details)
    Fiio X5iii - Review.jpg


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

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

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

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

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

    Lady Gaga - Poker Face

    Lady Gaga - Poker Face (Small).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Cure - Just Like Heaven

    The Cure - Just Like Heaven (Small).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ice MC - Give Me The Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Final Words

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

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

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

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

    Again, I’d like to thank @FiiO for this wonderful opportunity to use a player that was clearly designed to blend usability, sound and convenience in one package. Well done!
  9. glassmonkey
    FiiO X5iii: the giant killer that wasn’t
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Jun 1, 2017
    Pros - Size is nice in the hand, solid build, 2 micro-SD slots for tons of storage, Google Play Store, minimal skinning on Android, good functional interface, Quick Charge, excellent USB DAC function, full-featured
    Cons - Sound is very mid-fi, hiss with sensitive IEMs, button layout not terribly ergonomic, weak/poor Bluetooth, limited amplification, crowded bottom end, coaxial digital out without with lame adaptor
    List Price: $399


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

    This review originally appeared elsewhere in the blogosphere.


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

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

    Useability: Form & Function


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    If sound is your most important criteria in an audio player, there are significantly better options available at price levels below and above the FiiO X5iii. Before doing this review I was hoping that FiiO had finally made a real giant killer. Some reviews out there made it seem that way, but my experience was different. This device is a great DAP shackled by an average amp. It is no giant killer.
  10. Matrix Petka
    Just critical review about player with bright futu
    Written by Matrix Petka
    Published May 26, 2017
    Pros - Great design, hardware potential, customer service
    Cons - Veiled sound, beta software.

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

    Packaging 5/5

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

    Accessories 5/5

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

    Build 5/5

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

    Battery life 3/5

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

    Computing hardware 3/5

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

    Sound, video hardware 4/5

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

    Connectivity 5/5

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

    Software 2/5

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

    UI 3/5

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

    Sound 3/5

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

    Customer support – 5/5

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

    Overall score 48/12 - 4
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