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Portable Source Components item created by ryanjsoo, Feb 23, 2017
Pros - design, features, accessories, storage, price.
Cons - fw still needs some work, summit-fi look with a mid-fi sound.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on Head-fi.
Manufacturer website: FiiO.
*even so my star rating was suppose to be 4.5, I can only select 4 or 5 stars, but not in the increments of 0.5.
Many of my readers can probably agree that original FiiO X5 was a gateway into the world of affordable audio quality. While the early X3 could be considered as an underground hit, the first gen X5 went all the way to a mainstream level, getting attention of not only audiophiles, but also regular consumers. That was 3 years ago, the time has changed, the market competition became more aggressive, the number of new releases skyrocketed, and picking your next DAP became more confusing due to so many choices. In audio gear business, if you don’t re-invent yourself with something new to stand out from the crowd, you are not going to last for a very long time. So, with FiiO recent announcement of their 10-year anniversary, you can get a good idea this company knows what they are doing, being in business for that long.
When it comes to their DAPs, without taking into consideration the original X3, the main design focus of the FiiO X-series was a mechanical wheel which lasted through X5, X5ii, X1, and X3ii. The next step was a brand new X7 flagship designed with a touchscreen interface and a removable amp module – a big step forward with an attempt to capture the attention of summit-fi market. X1ii was another bold move, replacing the mechanical wheel with a capacitive touch "wheel", but it kept a familiar design look from the original X-series, just in a more futuristic chassis. When X5iii was announced and its design details were revealed, it became an overnight “too good to be true” sensation, especially when FiiO shocked everyone with $399 price tag for an open Android DAP.
I’m building up my review intro, the same way how my excitement and anticipation was building up a few months ago, before I received X5iii review unit. Unfortunately, I got a bit carried away with high expectations without realizing that we are still talking about a mid-fi DAP, not intended to go head-to-head with summit-fi competition or to overthrow its own X7 flagship. But due to my own hype, when I finally got X5iii in my hands – I felt a bit underwhelmed with a sound, though impressed with a design. I’m glad I took some time before jumping into the review, and I was patient to wait for a few fw updates which did improve the sound quality. I do realize the web is already filled with dozens of published X5iii reviews, and hopefully I will be able to contribute with additional info from my perspective to complete the picture for anybody who is looking to either purchase their first or to upgrade to their next DAP.
Keeping up with a common packaging theme between their different products, you can still expect a printed sleeve box with another storage box inside of it. The printed sleeve has an eye-popping image of X5iii which stands out with a 3D-like picture of the DAP, focusing on both a touch screen interface and a volume wheel on the left side. The back of the box has a detailed list of the Main Features with an impressive spec. While some other DAPs read like a smartphone spec, here there is no mistake you are dealing with a serious DAP design. Everything looks great on paper.
The actual storage box is all black, only with FiiO name on the top of the cover. With cover off, you will find a protective foam keeping the DAP secure inside of the precise cutout, and underneath of it a plethora of accessories. I will talk about accessories in the next section of the review, but I do want to mention that FiiO put an extra effort to make the unboxing experience of X5iii to feel like you are dealing with a flagship quality DAP. They set the bar high, so will be interesting to see what awaits us with X7ii.
The list of included accessories starts off with a traditional high quality usb to micro-USB cable, thus you know that FiiO is sticking with a more common micro-USB port instead of following other manufacturers who are switching to usb-C. But I think one of the reasons for using micro-USB is to be backward compatibility with their K5 docking station which works fine with X5iii. Also, you will find FiiO's traditional short digital output interconnect with 3.5mm TRRS plug on one side and female coax connector on the other side. Keep in mind, this is not a typical interconnect because FiiO design shares LO with Coax Out. With that, all you need is to add a coax cable (not included) to use X5iii as a transport with your favorite DAC/amp.
One peculiar accessory I found was a metal key used to assist in removal of micro-SD card trays. Just like in some smartphones and sim card trays, FiiO decided to keep both micro-SD cards sealed away from the dust under a cover inside of a small tray which pops out when you insert this tool through a pinhole opening. You can probably use a paper clip for the same functionality, but nevertheless – this little tool looks cool.
If you are looking for a screen protector, you will find one already applied, and it’s not some cheap film protector but a high quality 7H hardness rated tempered glass screen protector. This was a great idea because now you are dealing with a full front panel touch screen which you want to protect not only from scratches but also from accidental drops. For those who are not familiar, in case of direct impact the tempered glass usually shatters and could be removed while leaving the glass display unharmed. Furthermore, tempered glass feels smooth and natural when swiping your finger across, unlike some plasticy film screen protectors. Btw, you will also find a regular film protector which is applied to the back of X5iii.
Long gone the days of the cheap black (or gray) silicone FiiO skin cases, and now X5iii arrives with 2 different cases. One is a nice looking black pleather case with a smooth shiny surface and red stiches on the back, along with a stamped FiiO logo. It’s not a real leather, but it has a premium look with a nice grip. The power button is covered but easy to press, on the other side the track skip buttons are covered and easy to press, while the volume wheel and play/pause button are open. The bottom of the case is open with a full access to both SE and BAL HO ports, micro-usb port, and LO/Coax port.
But if you want a more fun look with a fully transparent case that doesn’t hide any details of the design, you can switch to another included clear transparent case, made from a decent quality silicone material. With this case, all the buttons are covered and still easy to press. The volume wheel is open for easy access, and at the bottom you have an open 3.5mm SE HO output. The balanced 2.5mm HO, micro-SD, and LO/Coax ports are covered with a clear silicone dust plugs which are attached to the main case. You can open these ports and don’t have to worry about losing the plug. Or, if you find yourself irritated by constantly opening one of the ports and don’t want to be bothered with unplugging it – you can just cut off that plug cover.
For me personally, as much as I like a more sophisticated look of the pleather case, I prefer a transparent fun look of the clear silicone case which also has a better and a more secure grip. But either way, including a pleather case and a tempered glass screen protector (already applied) was a bonus I didn’t even expect.
When a company announces a new product, you can expect an original design. But the incremental version bump usually has ties to the previous design. X5ii was a nice refresh from the original X5 but still had a similar layout and other familiar elements, which also scaled down to X3ii and X1. X1ii was a bold move that kept the original "look" but stepped it up with a major change when mechanical wheel was abandoned. And of course, X7 had an all new design with a smartphone-like touch screen layout. In contrast to all of these previous X-series releases, X5iii feels like a brand-new product.
Sized at 114.2mm x 66.2mm x 14.8mm and weighting only 186g, this CNC aluminum alloy DAP is slimmer and yet just a little taller and a touch wider than X5ii predecessor. The switch to a full Android OS means a touch screen interface which occupies almost the entire front panel of the DAP. The top of the DAP has no controls or ports, and the right side has a power button with a red accent ring around it and a blue power-on LED in the middle of it. As I mentioned before, below it you will find 2 microSD slots. Both are fully covered since now you are dealing with two separate trays, removable by pushing through the pinhole opening to release the latch. Each card is capable to support up to 256GB of storage, so you are talking about a combined 544GB of storage (including internal) and you can also expand further with OTG storage device and “unlimited” streaming on top of that.
The left side has a beveled edge where you will find a Play/Pause hw control button at the top and Skip Next/Prev combined button toward the middle. The buttons have a nice tactile response with a softer click response. As expected, hw Playback control buttons are operational with a screen on and off. Between Play and Skip buttons, you have a recessed volume wheel which sticks out just enough for you to control it with a thumb. As you move the wheel, which has a click action as it turns, you also have access to touch screen volume slider for a faster adjustment.
The bottom of the DAP has all the available ports. Starting from the left, you have 3.5mm single ended HO and next to it 2.5mm TRRS balanced HO. 3.5mm HO also supports headphones with in-line remote so you have an alternative way to control the playback. Next is micro-USB port which supports everything from charging (including 2 charging modes, regular and fast 9V/12V high speed to give you easily 10hrs of playback thanks to 3400 mAh 3.8V battery), data transfer to internal memory and micro-SD cards, using it as USB DAC, connecting external OTG storage (though some of the external hard drivers might not work if they sink too much current), and also being able to use it with a docking station such as K5 DAC/amp. Last, but not least, is 3.5mm port which you select from within Settings to operate as either Line Out to use with external amp or Digital (Coax) Out to use with external DAC/amp.
When it comes to non-touch screen DAPs, you have a lot of room for creativity to make your product stand out from the crowd. With a touch screen, especially when it occupies the whole front view - you don't have too much room for something original, so every little detail counts. Unlike a blander X7 design with a symmetric hw control buttons, X5iii spiced it up with a cool looking power button, seamless microSD card trays, and an interesting non-symmetric design of the left side with hw playback buttons and analog volume wheel. These little details make the design not only a pleasure to look at, but also a fun to use and to show off to others.
Under the hood.
Here you will find a dual (2 separate) AK4490EN 32bit DACs which have been used in many recent new DAP releases, even those with a much higher price tag. This is not necessary the latest and the greatest DAC from AKM, but it's certainly among their very popular models that supports all the latest PCM and DSD lossy and lossless formats, from DXD, DSD64, DSD128, WAV, FLAC, APE, ALAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, etc., and has various digital audio filters. It was impressive to see two of these DACs being used in an Android DAP under $400.
Furthermore, you have a quad core SoC Rockship model RM3188 long with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of build in internal storage (and as I mentioned already, it could be expanded with additional 512GB of storage thanks to a support of 2 microSD cards). Also, you have 3.97" touch screen with an acceptable 480x800 pix resolution and decent colors (deep colors with a good contrast). You will also find Bluetooth BT 4.0 with aptX codec and 2.4GB WiFi. Plus, as already mentioned, 3.8V 3400 mAh battery supporting a dual charging mode. Playback time will vary depending on the file format, screen on time, enabling WiFi and Bluetooth, and volume level, but you can get at least 10hrs without a problem.
With all this hardware under the hood you shouldn't have problem running the pre-installed heavily customized Android 5.1 OS (still with a bypass of Sample Rate Conversion limitation), which comes with 2 operating modes: Pure Android (w/Google Play included) and Pure Music (no other apps are running to focus all resources on a pure music playback). Yes, you can load and run many different apps, but keep in mind that you only got 1GB of RAM and not the fastest SoC, so performance will not be a match your latest smartphone.
As far the hw audio portion of the design, in addition to a dual AK4490EN, you also get dual crystal oscillator (22.579MHz and 24.576MHz) to cover both clock rates (DSD/44.1/88.2/176.4/352.8kHz and 48/96/192/384kHz), and two dual-channel OPA1642 chips to use for Low Pass filtering and another OPA426 opamp for amplification section which supports 300mW under 32ohm load. All this looks great on paper, but the true test is how it translates into audio performance which I'm going to cover in Sound analysis section of the review.
If you already have X7 and familiar with this original Android debut from FiiO, you will feel like at home navigating around X5iii. As a matter of fact, anybody with Android smartphone experience will be able to quickly find their way around X5iii. After all, we are talking about modified Android 5.1 OS, including pre-installed Google Play Store. Also, like X7, you have 2 operating modes: one Android mode where you can load any app, including FiiO Music one, and the other one is Pure Music mode where you only have FiiO Music app running as the main interface to preserve the resources, thus you can’t run any other 3rd party apps.
Regardless of modes of operation, you still have access to the notification bar where you have shortcuts to Adjust brightness of the display, turn on WiFi and Bluetooth (as well as get into detailed setup of each), switch between Android and Pure Music modes, select between LO and Coax digital out, switch between L/H gain, select AKM DAC filter setting, switch usb mode between USB DAC or Storage, and get into the setting of various power-off timers. These are all shortcuts, but you can also access all this functionality directly in Settings (upper right corner icon), like in any Android smartphone.
Also, regardless of Android or Pure Music mode, the main audio playback app looks and functions the same. In my opinion, FiiO Music app interface is a little confusing for the first-time user, but after a while you get used to it. The first screen is partitioned with an artwork thumbnail of the currently played track at the top of the display, along with Audio Setting icon, Search icon, and Play icon to take you to a full Playback screen. Below it, you have shortcuts to Playlist/Favorite (has a list with tagged Favorites and Custom created playlists), Local Music (where you can sort by Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, and search by Folders), and DLNA (where you can search for corresponding server). Underneath, you also have separate links to Recently played, Most played, and Recently added tracks. This view could be customized in setting, but not by much.
Personally, I wouldn’t have made this as my main Screen of Music app, and instead would use the full Playback screen once you start the music app. Also, you always must go back to this main screen if you want to access Audio Setting menu. Perhaps the problem here is that I have too many DAPs in my review collection, and there is too much variation between GUIs of each one to the point where every time I get my hands on X7 or X5iii, I must re-calibrate my brain to a different interface. If you are frequent to using X5iii or X7 as your daily source, this shouldn’t bother you.
On the other hand, I really do like the layout of the main Playback screen. Here the top half is occupied by either song’s artwork or a default graphics (if artwork is not embedded), and you have an icon in the upper left to get back to the main screen or in the upper right to search for a song. Tapping on this part of the screen will switch to Lyrics view, if one is available, and will give you options to search for lyrics, album art, zoom in/out, etc. The next click on that upper part of the screen will display a detailed song info, and one more click gives you a cool analog VU meter which is my favorite view.
Below that screen you have a scrub bar to fast forward through the song by dragging to a different point in song’s timeline bar. The lower half of the screen have playback touch controls with Play/Pause in the middle and current song time position and a total time above it, and skip Next/Prev on each side. Also, to the left of Play you will find EQ button which takes you to paragraphic EQ screen with 10 bands (31Hz, 62Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, 8kHz, 16kHz) and pull-up menu with 8 genre-specific presets (all could be customized further), and separate custom preset. Of course, you also have a Reset button to zero-out everything. Next to EQ button you will find Bluetooth enable button, and in the same area to the left there is Play mode icon to switch between play through, crossfade, loop all, and loop single.
To the right of Play, you will find “heart” icon to add the currently played track to Favorites list and another icon to add it to a Custom playlist. One more “blue” icon with dots gives you an option to either delete the song or find detailed info about the song. Furthermore, if you slide you finger along the right edge of the visible part of the Playback screen, you’ll activate a volume up/down touch swipe control. Also, swiping the screen to the right from the left edge will bring up a list of all the songs in the current directory so you can quickly scroll and select one. These are all great features, and the only thing which is missing - the icon to get to Audio Settings menu which you must go back to the “greeting” screen to access it.
The Audio Settings menu is quite extensive with Off Time (for music app), different ways to Scan for songs (including option for specific folder or skipping tracks with a short duration), Media Library update (manual or auto), Personalizing the “greeting” screen with different shortcuts, activating in-line remote (to support CTIA), Gapless playback enable, Gain setting, Channel balance (L/R), Customizing album art, Customizing volume, Resume options, Play through folder (enable/disable), Lockscreen album art and lyrics, Theme selection (switched between two), Max volume setting, Reset Database, Auto Search for lyrics and album art, and Help and About the App.
One interesting setting is VIPER effects, part of famous VIPER4Android ROM created by XDA-Dev members. Some of these effects are free while others need to be purchased, and it was cool for FiiO to include them as part of their Android customization. Here you will find Playback Gain control, FET compressor (purchase), Spectrum Extension, FIREqualizer, Convolver (purchase), Field Surround, Differential Surround, Reverberation, Dynamic System, Tube Sound (purchase), VIPER Bass (purchase), VIPER Clarity (purchase), Auditory System Protection (purchase), AnalogX (purchase), and Master gate. Some have a more noticeable effect on the sound while with the others are subtler, but either way you get more tools to tweak the sound. Too bad it was a tease to include effects which require to be purchased.
Overall, you can get a lot out of this interface, but if you are new to FiiO Android daps or used to audio apps on your smartphone, you could find FiiO Music app to be not as intuitive at first due to multiple screens, hidden swiping, different shortcut icons, etc. But sooner or later you will get used to it, or you can just download and install your other favorite Music apps from Play store.
The only thing that bothered me was a delay when you click (hw) Play button and must wait a few seconds for a response. Since the fw is still work in progress, I'm sure it will be fixed in one of the upcoming updates, but for now it left me a bit frustrated.
Spoiler: Click to View GUI pictures (too many)
Being quite familiar with audio performance of AK4490 DACs, I already expected to hear a smooth musical sound with a neutral-warm tonality and a laid-back presentation. And that's exactly how I hear X5iii DAP. The signature is neutral with a noticeably warmish tilt. I do hear a slightly rolled off treble which in a way reduces the airiness and layering of the sound.
Overall sound presentation is a little laid back, not as aggressive, with above the average soundstage which is not very wide. While going from 3.5mm SE to 2.5mm BAL you do gain a little bit of soundstage width and some subtle improvement related to a blacker background, but everything else remained nearly identical and to my surprise I didn't hear too much improvement in output power. For me personally, I found the benefit of using 2.5mm BAL output for convenience since I have a lot of balanced terminated cables.
In the initial firmware release when I received X5iii, the sound had a flatter dynamics and not as good layering and separation between instruments and vocals. Now, with fw 1.1.4, I'm hearing an improvement, but it's still not a huge leap forward. At first this made me wonder why is FiiO holding back, considering they know how to get the sound right, going by X7 with AM3 which had an impressive quality. But then I realized, that is exactly the reason. Why would they make a mid-fi X5iii model to sound as good or even better than a flagship X7? I think it all goes back to my original thought in the intro of this review, X5iii looks like a flagship, but it’s not intended to sound like one.
While comparing to X5iii, I did find several other DAPs to have an edge in dynamics and layering/separation in sound. In many cases, it wasn't exactly night and day difference, but the problem is that I only used 3.5mm SE HO, and some DAPs have a noticeable sound improvement when switching to 2.5mm BAL output (if they support it). As I mentioned already, X5iii BAL sounds very similar to its SE, thus if I compare X5iii SE to BAL of other DAPs - the gap can widen further. So please keep in mind that the following impressions were taken using only 3.5mm HO in every comparison, along with UERR as my neutral monitor for sound evaluation.
X5iii vs X5ii - very similar soundstage expansion. 5ii tonality is a little more neutral, relatively brighter, while 5iii is relatively warmer, with more body, more musical, and smoother. 5ii sounds more transparent, with better layering while 5iii has a thicker sound presentation, not as layered, and not as dynamic.
X5iii vs X7 w/AM3 - similar soundstage, maybe with X7 being a little wider (AM3 balanced out has improvement). Also, X7 tonality is more neutral, more revealing, more detailed, with a better layering and transparency, while X5iii is warmer and with a little more body in comparison, not as dynamic or layered, and a little flatter (more compressed) in comparison.
X5iii vs Opus#1 - very similar soundstage, with #1 being a little wider. The tonality is nearly identical, both being smoother, musical, with an equal retrieval of details. Opus#1 sound is a little more dynamic, but otherwise they are similar.
X5iii vs Plenue M2 - very similar soundstage expansion. Also, very similar tonality, being smoother, musical, with a similar retrieval of details. PM2 has a touch more transparency in sound, but overall, they are very similar.
X5iii vs i5 - i5 has a little wider soundstage. i5 tonality it a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, tighter bass and crisper treble. In comparison, X5 sounds a little warmer, smoother. Also, because of more airiness and slightly better transparency, I hear improved layering and separation in i5 over X5.
X5iii vs Aune M1s - M1s has a wider soundstage. M1s tonality is a little brighter, with more airiness, tighter bass, more sparkle in treble. M1s sound is more dynamic, better layering and separation, while X5iii sounds smoother, with fuller body, and more organic.
X5iii vs L&P L3 Pro - very similar soundstage expansion. L3Pro tonality is a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, better transparency, along with layering and separation of the sound, and crisper treble. In comparison, X5 sounds a touch more compressed and smoother, and with more organic tonality.
X5iii vs DX200 - DX200 has a wider staging, a brighter tonality (more neutral, reference quality), more airiness and treble crispness, and improved layering and separation of the sound. X5 is smoother and not as dynamic in comparison.
X5iii vs Opus#2 - #2 has a little wider soundstage, similar tonality, though just a touch brighter in comparison, including a crisper and more airy treble. In comparison #2 has better dynamics, better resolution, and improved layering and separation of the sound, where X5 is a touch smoother and flatter (dynamics of the sound) in comparison.
X5iii vs LPG - LPG has a wider soundstage, more neutral revealing tonality, higher resolution, tighter bass, and crisper treble. X5 is smoother and less dynamic in comparison, also can't match the same level of layering and sound separation.
I know it’s not fair to compare mid-fi X5iii to some of the summit-fi performers, but I just wanted to point out that in no way some of its technical limitation makes it an inferior DAP. Many people take my comparison notes in a negative way, thinking that I saying “one is better than the other”. I’ve talked to many people who prefer a neutral-warmish source to balance out their bright/revealing headphones in order to find a happy medium of musicality and resolution, and X5iii is perfect for that.
During this testing, I kept X5iii in Low Gain, and noted the volume level (in “()”) in every case which should be useful for a relative comparison. I also noted next to each pair up test a unique design features of headphones under the test. One thing to mention, X5iii has a noticeable hissing with sensitive IEMs, but it’s on par with some other DAPs, like LPG.
R70x (95) 470 ohm open back - above average soundstage (not very expanded), smooth warm organic laid back sound, soft bass, clear warm mids, well defined treble but not as much airiness or sparkle.
T5p2 (75) tesla drivers - good soundstage depth, average width, smooth organic detailed sound, nice sub-bass rumble, decent mid-bass impact, warm organic mids, well defined treble with a nice sparkle but not as much airiness.
PM-2 (80) planar magnetic - good soundstage depth, but only average width, smooth organic detailed sound, warm relaxed bass, full body lower mids, organic smooth upper mids, treble is moderately crisp but not too much airiness.
EL-8C (93) planar magnetic - nicely expanded soundstage, both width and depth, balanced detailed sound with mids being slightly more forward, sub-bass has a nice rumble and mid-bass has a little above the neutral level of punch quantity, lower mids are neutral, upper mids are detailed, revealing, layered, and treble is crisp and with plenty of airiness - no hint of metallic sheen. I was expecting this to be a great pair up due to a brighter sig of EL8C and it didn't disappoint.
Zen (86) 320 ohm earbuds - nice soundstage expansion in both width/depth, very balanced natural detailed sound. Well extended sub-bass with a nice rumble and a decent mid-bass punch, above neutral lower mids, detailed organic upper mids, well defined treble with a polite crisp extension but not as much airiness.
Pinnacle 1 (86) low sensitivity DD - great soundstage expansion (width/depth), v-shaped sound signature, deep sub-bass extension with a nice rumble, above neutral mid-bass punch, neutral slightly recessed lower mids, bright slightly grainy upper mids and crispy airy treble.
Zeus ZRA (35) high sensitivity multi-BA - noticeable hissing, nicely expanded soundstage, mid-forward sig, neutral extended bass, lean lower mids, revealing detailed upper mids (nicely layered sound), crisp airy treble. Great pair up, and hissing not even noticeable when music is playing.
Xelento (49) tesla driver iem - great soundstage expansion (width/depth), w-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension with an excellent rumble, meaty mid-bass punch, neutral lower mids, organic revealing mids, and crisp airy treble. Really good bass emphasis in this pair up, and no sibilance or harshness in upper frequencies.
W900 (61) 9way hybrid - great soundstage depth and average width, slightly v-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension, nicely textured rumble, strong mid-bass punch, full body lower mids, natural detailed upper mids, crisp extended treble, but not as much airiness. Overall, sound is a bit congested.
W80 (46) low impedance multi-BA - some hissing, above average width/depth soundstage, balanced sound signature, nice sub-bass extension with a textured rumble, softer mid-bass punch, fuller body lower mids, clear detailed natural upper mids, crisp well defined treble with a moderate airiness.
UERR (62) neutral reference - nice soundstage expansion, neutral-balanced sound signature, neutral extended low end with a quality punch, neutral lower mids and detailed natural upper mids, well defined crisp treble with a touch of airiness.
Other wired and wireless connections.
The flexibility of X5iii design with so many output ports makes this DAP a perfect candidate for a pair up with various amps, DACs, and other external setups. While it’s convenient to have one compact device without a bulk of a stack up, if you want to scale up the sound quality, you have plenty of options to experiment with.
X5iii vs X5iii w/A5 with T5p2 - I always held E12A amp in high regard as a transparent neutral portable amp. Its replacement, A5, doubles the power and adds a little more body to the mids, though I still consider it to be relatively neutral. In testing X5iii 3.5mm HO vs X5iii LO + A5, I can clearly hear an improvement in sound being more dynamic, better layered, with more separation between instruments, and improved transparency. This testing gave me a Eureka moment once I realized that the only thing that holding X5iii back in the mid-fi bracket is its headphone amplifier section of the design.
To confirm this theory, I tested X5iii with K5 docking station to evaluate the sound using this external desktop headphone amplifier. And again, I was presented with a clean, dynamic, layered sound that was a pleasure to listen to. That felt almost like an experience with X7 when I stepped through the original default AM1, switching to AM2, only to discover later the best sound combo with AM3. You can’t roll X5iii amps like in X7, but you can certainly take the advantage of its neutral clean LO output of dual AK4490 DACs to add your own external amp to the sound chain. And if you want to use your own DAC/amp, Coax Out turns X5iii into a digital transport which I successfully tested with my Micro iDSD to find a clean warm sound. I’m sure, if X5iii would have supported optical out, the sound would have been more neutral, just based on my experience of Micro iDSD use.
If you want more controls, you can use 3.5mm HO with your headphones w/in-line remote since FiiO supports CTIA connection to enable playback controls from your headphone’s remote. The pair up with FiiO new F5 iem was really good.
If you want to cut down the wires all together, go for Bluetooth wireless connection with an available aptX codec support. The pair up was fast and easy, and the sound quality was no different than with my smartphone w/aptX.
And of course, WiFi support is not only convenient for download of over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates, but also tap into unlimited streaming resources from services like Spotify (using a free version of it, I have no complaints) or watching the latest videos on YouTube. One app I could get to start but without a success of running it was Netflix. I tried it on a few different occasions, and get an error when streaming starts. I need to investigate it further.
Also, I’m still investigating FiiO’s USB DAC driver compatibility with my Win7 machine. All my laptops still run Win7 home edition which has several security limitations, blocking the install of unsigned drivers. FiiO even acknowledged that in their installation manual as a potential problem, offering various solutions how to bypass this limitation, but I had no success. I can connect X5iii to my laptop, it switches to USB DAC mode, but my laptop gives me a headache since driver is not digitally signed. I have the same issue with many other DAPs.
To be honest, I got off on a "wrong foot" with X5iii. When you look at its slick design, the complete list of features, dual OS mode (Android and Pure Music), all the available ports, and premium accessories - you forget it's just a $399 mid-fi device and almost expect it to sound like a TOTL flagship DAP. But once you start listening, you get a reality check that it doesn't sound like other TOTL flagships. Just think about it, no company in their right mind would design a mid-fi DAP to kill the sales of their flagship. It’s a great consumer product for those who want to give their smartphone a break with an upgraded sound or would like an Android “player” alternative to their iPod Touch. And if you want to scale the sound to a higher level, X5iii dual DAC implementation is perfect for your external portable amp on the go or while docked with their excellent K5 head-amp for a desktop use.
Overall, X5iii came a long way from its original X5 introduction. It offers a full Android experience with a touch interface and access to Google Play store, OTA fw updates, hw playback control and analog volume wheel, premium accessories (tempered glass and two cases), plenty of storage with 2x microSD cards, dual DAC architecture, LO and Coax digital out, and both 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm BAL outputs depending on which cable you want to use. The sound is still very good for a mid-fi level DAP with a musically-smooth clear tonality and just enough headroom for improvement to whet your appetite in time for the upcoming X7ii. All this for under $400 is impressive, especially if you are after extra storage for your music library and require access to WiFi Streaming services.
Pros - Sounds great and smooth across all frequencies, 2 micro sd, accessories, price, build.
Cons - UI is not as snappy as competitors(not much different though), side buttons are a bit too soft
Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Fiio for making this awesome DAP at an affordable price and rich features, and also to @Fiio for organizing the tour.
This review will focus on the sound quality and not so much about other aspects, so I'll make the other sections as brief as possible.
The official rating of this device for me is actually 4.5 stars, however with head-fi's latest change to the site it isn't possible for me to put 4.5 stars for the ratings.
The review is long overdue so i decided to post it in anyway as a 5 stars as 4 stars is too low for this exceptional device.
I'm an Indonesian working as a Web/PHP Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, although, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, etc at the moment, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet >_<.
Starting from almost 2 years ago I've been really hooked in metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metalhead but I don't know about that, I also listen to other genres occasionally.
I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, everyday anytime anywhere)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Radiohead or something like it)
- Pop (90s stuff, rarely)
- EDM (Mostly trance and it's sub-genres)
- Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
- Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop or rock, guitar is used all the time, sounds natural and relaxing, however, mastering of the song is not very good, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
- JPOP and JROCK/Visual Kei, whatever you call it (mostly the older stuff)
EQUIPMENT USED FOR REVIEW/COMPARISON WITH THE DAP
- Shozy Stardust
- Meze 99 Classic
- Sony MDR Z1R
- AK Jr
- Chord Mojo
my unit come with a silicone case and also leather case.
The Fiio X5
The Build Quality is very nice, and also clean, nice colouring for the unit with sturdy construction, got a few option for colours too, the black one is really nice, but the red is very bold and daring looking, I like it.
It is a little thick, but not overly so and still comfortable on my side pocket.
Nice screen with good brightness to be used outdoor very easily.
At the top of the unit there is nothing.
At the bottom is the micro USB port for charging and data transfer duties, I'm a little disappointed that Fiio does not use USB C here, hopefully this will be rectified for future release.
Other than that you will find 3.5 SE jack, 2.5 balance jack and combo coax/line out jack.
On the right, You will find 2 Micro Sd slot (very nice, great job Fiio!), and power button.
On the left is the play/pause button, volume rocker wheel, and also next and previous button, of which has too little easy to press.
There are many occasion where I press it accidentally when handling the unit disrupting my music enjoyment.
The player itself is very responsive to touch, but compared to the Cayin I5 which is the primary competitor of this unit, it is slightly less snappy, still very easy to use though, so this is just me nitpicking here.
UI & FEATURES
At the home screen, you will find your usual android interface here, nothing revolutionary here, I went straight to the music player as it is a DAP.
There are 5 Navigation modes available:
For other navigation except folder, you need to scan your library first for it to work.
I'm a big fan of Folder navigation since I like to group all my musics in folders based on my preference, so It is very good that Fiio has included this feature.
You can then access you on-board memory or to your sdcards to play your music.
You can also change the setting in the device, such as wifi, brightness, etc.
On the audio side, you can adjust gain and balance, etc
The Fiio X5 has a warm musical signature with slighly laid back highs and slight emphasis on the bass.
It works well with most modern music and my favourite genre (Metal & rock), The bass although quite a bit north of neutral never intrude the mids at all, and speaking of the mids I find it detailed and smooth with good body without being overly lush in any way.
The Bass is has a slight emphasis to it with good extension and sounds quite tight and fast.
It Hits quite hard with good punch, so the dynamic is definitely there and it is good.
The bass is tight however it still has good body so the ratio is spot on on this, very slight bloom does help with musicality at times, adn Fiio surely know about this as the implementation is very nice.
The speed is excellent and combined with the tightness of the bass it portrays distinction between each drum hits very well, giving a distinct presentation per drum hits/beats.
For Metal tracks especially in Brutal/Technical Death metal, double blast beat hits strong and fast with excellent rumble and distinction on each hits, portraying the intensity perfectly.
On EDM tracks, the bass extends down to the sub-bass well and because it is not too tight, you still get that club room bass bloom that you expect in club music.
The mids is detailed and has slight warm tilt to it, not too much though.
Clarity of the mids is very good without any overly excessive sibillance and just flows naturally with the music seamlessly, the warm tonality definitely helps with this, very enjoyable.
Screaming and growling vocals in metal track are slightly intimate and smooth, you can definitely hear the crackles in the vocals quite easily with this.
On Jazz Tracks like Norah Jones, the slight warm touch to the mids increase the emotions in her voice while exposing all the detailsin it very well.
Electric Guitar sounds smooth with excellent bites in it, it makes the guitars pop in the mix and I love it.
The treble is smooth and slighly laid back, the good this is it is not fatigueing even in a long listening session, some treble sparkles is still there here and there but it is not the focus of the music.
The bass and mids are more forward then the trebles but the trebles does not feel lacking at all, in fact it provides the perfect company for the rest of the spectrum for engaging musical listening.
The Soundstage, Imaging and separations
The soundstage presentation is not very large but it is quite good, imaging is accurate and all the instruments are separated nicely and there is no congestion in the sound.
It more wide than tall/deep, so the positioning of instrument can be clearly heard in X axis across the songs but, meaning left-right channel separtion is excellent.
Shozy Stardust earbud (hi-end earbud)
The stardust has an excellent synergy with the X5, the bass hits hard and the mids are detailed but musical sounding, treble is smooth and not fatigueing with relaxed listening experience.
The presentaion is also bigger in a sense, this earbud is excellent on its own in this regard but the Fiio takes it to the next level, sounding more full and bigger in soundstage.
Details in the treble is there and the presentation is still laid back so the mids and bass(mid-bass) pops out more in the mix.
Sony MDR Z1R
The Z1R is not a hard headphone to drive but I'm still impressed with how well the combo sounds, The driver in this headphone is huge but I see no occation where it feels underpowered on The Fiio.
Bass is still there along with the Z1R signature of powerfull but tight bass that sounds grand hall like in presentation, speed is still well maintained and speedy metal track still sounds like an absolute joy on this.
Mids is still detailed and does not get intruded by the bass, has good body and the details are still there, it drives the Z1R excellently and The power of Z1R still shines through in this combo.
Despite the slighly laid back nature of the X5, I don't feel that it changed the Z1R's treble to be too laid back. I actually feel it still remains laid back but detailed just like when I pair it with my desktop setup.
Meze 99 Classics
I expect the Fiio X5 to pair best with this headphone, in fact it does, but it doe not transform the headphone just like the Cayin I5 + meze99 combination.
Bass still hits hard and deep with excellent extension, compared to my AK Jr, the bass seems more refined and full force and unrestrained, it has that immediate effect to it that I like.
Mids is still true to the meze's natural presentation, it is still a litle u shaped as the bass seems a bit more emphasized xompared to the mids, vocal is lush and detailed with steady and quick decay, it is musical and engaging, and if you want to hear the details, you can, it's all there.
Treble is still smooth and laid back with enough sparkles when needed, it never gets fatigueing.
The Fiio X5 beats the AK Jr very easily in my opinion.
The bass has better dynamics and sounds bigger with better extension and clarity even though it has more empahasis, the tightness is about the same yet the details shines through more on the X5.
The mids has similar tonality but is way more detailed with crackles and raspness of vocals very easily heard without much efforts.
The treble on the X5 is slightly more laid back and smooth, the AK Jr's treble is not as laid back but details is more apparent and clear on The X5.
Soundstage is bigger in the X5 especially the width, sounds more spacious with more defined instrument separation.
Not a DAP, but I found the X5 is quite competitive despite the price differences.
Mojo's Bass is tight, accurate and still musical and is closer to neutral than the X5, details is slightly more and is also feels a little faster and more natural.
Mojo's mids expose more details and has better extension and decay, the decay on the mojo is very apparent and details in it still shines through as it fades, The X5 is good too, but the final bit of the decay is harder to hear due to stronger bass and less detail retrieval.
Mojo's treble is not as laid back and again is more detailed and neutral compared to the X5's laid back treble, both offers smooth treble and is not the thin analytical type.
Soundstage is about the same overall, the width is probabbly better on The X5 but the mojo is more 3D in it's presentation.
I was once areviewer of the Cayin I5 a couple months ago, and I have to say I was impressed with the DAP, just like I am now with The X5.
Both offers exceptional performance for the price, there are a couple of difference though:
The bass of The I5 was more stronger in quantity than the X5 tight but emphasized presentation, but also more dynamic and more punchy, detail retrival I give a slight edge to the X5, but not by much.
The mids in The I5 was more forward and more lush and engaging but lose out on details to the X5 by a bit, The X5's mid is more align to the rest of the frquencies and not as forward but not laid back either.
The trebles on The I5 is a bit more laid back than the X5, but both has good extension and is not your typical bright DAP.
Soundstage is wider on The X5 due to the intimate vocals on The I5.
Pricing and feature are better on The X5 with 2 micro sd for a cheaper price and also balanced out, but The cayin has better player interface in my opinion and also feels snappier, buttons are also more resistant preventing accidental presses unlike The X5 which happens every once in a while.
I have to say that comparing the 2 DAPS in all aspects(not only sound), The X5 is a better buy, however depending on your preference you might feel that the I5 is more compelling for it's presentation.
It depends on what you like I guess.
For the price of the Daps, it is a complete package really, have many features, sounds great and very practical with great pricing.
I would recommend this DAP for anyone under a budget or for people who wants to put more of their money on their desktop set-up.
Pros - Sonics, Versatility, Price, FiiO support
Cons - Firmware is almost perfect....almost
I was one of the first to showoff this beauty on YouTube and Head-Fi
It is a fantastic item with smooth sonic replay that does not sacrifice any detail.
I compared it with the double the cost iBasso DX200
I found the sound and usability of the X5iii to be superior.
FiiO has offered a premium device at an extremely cheap/affordable price relative to the competition.
This review will be updated and edited when I figure out how to use this new forum
I highly...highly rec this item
Pros - Impeccable Build. Great sound. Versatile.
Cons - Not the smoothest UI. Price point somewhat high. Minor caveats in SQ.
The device was lent to me as part of FiiO's review tour. I was given 10 days with the device to evaluate it and in return give my honest opinion about it. My current equipment is an LH Labs Geek Out V2 as my source, my headphones include a balanced HD650, Sony MA900, M-Audio Q40. I listen to a wide variety of music and generally tend to prefer my sound to be transparent, musical, and detailed.
FiiO absolutely nailed this part. I have never held the previous generations of the X5, however the X5III is built impeccably well. Everything is nice to the touch and the device itself has a good amount of heft to it giving the impression of quality. The buttons - albeit weirdly laid out and positioned - feel solid and give good feedback. The device has an analog volume knob (even though you could still adjust it digitally on screen). The volume adjusts in small increments and reacts linearly to minor adjustments. FiiO did a very good job here.
The X5III uses Android version 5.1 and for the most is actually pretty quick and responsive. However, I have encountered that apps like Tidal experience hiccups every once in a while. Another problem I encountered is that the Wifi cuts off randomly sometimes, and when I try to re-connect it takes longer than usual. Battery life is nothing special, however I am quite disappointed with the way this device loses juice when its idle and not in use. Overall I am happy FiiO went the Android way as this means a wide selection of music apps and players, and a lot of customization. For reference, I am using the stock FiiO firmware and did not want to fiddle with anything.
All music testing here was done in Tidal using the HiFi quality (lossless files).
The way I would describe the sound on the X5III is that it doesn't compromise on anything in favor of another. It manages to achieve and impressive amount of detail without tuning the sound to be bright. I have always preferred a warm, laid back sound but I have found that this often comes at the price of perceived clarity and detail. The X5, surprisingly, manages to achieve outstanding musicality with its warm, spacious sound while also retrieving subtle information in music.
Instrument separation and a wide soundstage is one of the first things that stand out when listening to the X5. Instruments are widely spaced out and never feel mushed together. This, along with the wide soundstage, gives off a euphoric, almost life-like sound.
The bass and midrange are beautifully integrated together to achieve a certain "thickness" to vocals and instruments which really enhances the musicality. One caveat with the bass is that it sometimes sound sluggish sometimes. The transitions in different bass frequencies dont seem to be as seamless as other gear I own (GO v2). The decay one the notes is also somewhat slower. This is not easily picked up but I thought I'd mention it since I noticed it a few times compared to my GO v2. As a whole though, the bass is extremely well defined and detailed, and is very pleasant to listen to. There seems to be more elevation in the mid/upper bass areas than deeper subbass. Gives an extremely satisfying thump to certain instruments and makes them stand out. This also contributes to the overall warmth characteristic that it possesses. I was listening to Woodkid's "Iron" and the way the drums are represented on the X5 is beautiful. They hit with authority, detail, and clarity. The midrange of the X5 has a certain sweetness to it. It is not forward nor recessed, however its warmth resonates a certain delicacy in instruments and voices that renders them beautifully. The midrange carries tons of detail and never sound shouty or harsh.
The highs seems to be - relatively speaking - laid back and not as pronounced. I do miss the sparkle I got on my other sources, however the softer treble translates to me being able to listen for longer periods of time and relaxing more while doing so. The treble still offers plenty of detail and extension, however, if you like brightness you may want to look elsewhere.
Comparison to LH Labs GO v2:
To be clear this is will be comparing the sound through the 3.5mm SE output as opposed to the Balanced out. I would have loved to test out the 2.5mm TRRS on the X5, however my balanced HD650 terminates in a 3.5TRRS and there wasn't enough time for me to get an adapter shipped in time. Therefore, this is a comparison of the SE outputs only.
It seems that overall, the GO v2 seems to be the slightly faster, more detailed, and more forward source. It has a neutral signature with emphasis on the crystal clear mids and a sparkly (though not-fatiguing) treble. Bass is extremely quick and tight. What it lacks in musicality it makes up for in its technical ability.
The X5 is a somewhat different story. On the surface it may appear like it may not have perceived clarity of the v2, however the more you listen the more the notice that it in fact "perceived" and the levels of clarity on the X5 are impressive. The soundstage is wider, instrument separation is better, and there's seems to be more room to "breathe". For me, it falls behind the v2 in terms of detail, speed, and decay, however it makes up for all of this with its warm, musical signature.
To say that I enjoyed my time with the X5 would be a vast understatement. I found its musicality very appealing and ended up listening to it hours upon hours endlessly. I just wish it was cheaper as I feel (and this is purely my opinion) it is priced somewhat high. FiiO have made an excellent job of putting together a device that not only sounds incredible, but is also built remarkably well and has a lot of options and potential in the future.
Thanks for reading my review. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Pros - Beautiful Spacious Detail, Net-Connected Android Device
Cons - Net-Connected Android Device, a few intereface glitches
I got my hands on this as a part of the UK X5iii review tour.
1. Almost at once there was a keen ‘Oh ****, I’m just going to have to buy one of these’ moment for me when listening to Joni Mitchell and getting a sense for the first time ever of being able to judge or perceive the actual sound absorbency or acoustic qualities of the particular and different environments in which she recorded each of her individual vocal tracks. Just crazy.
2. The very, very slightly smooth tone of the X5iii made me switch from almost always using HD650’s (with my X5ii) to almost always using HD600’s. It seemed like: Smooth + Smooth = Slightly Too Damn Smooth. It was great with HD600’s though.
3. The wheel is fantastically useful on the go but it feels slightly odd at first: like you’re torturing a tiny sea creature with your thumb or something - and that’s just a little bit yucky.
4. There were a few glitches, crashes & other semi-weird interface miss-fire moments with it. Enough to make you appreciate the 'dumb' interface of non-Android DAP’s a bit more. (It seemed not to like you switching between using the Line out and headphone out mid-track and froze or crashed a couple of times.) The X5iii does make you realise that it takes very little in terms of interface glitches to make your belief in the overall coherence or the functional integrity of a device wobble a bit. It produces wonderful audio – but the impression of the player as a whole becomes peppered with the repetition of the still fairly numerous little ‘uh?’ moments. Probably the updates will fix this stuff though.
5. I ended up getting a bit more distracted from listening with the X5iii due to the access it offers to the endless blur of t'internet and/or Android system tweaks pulling my focus away from the music. Non-Android DAPS are pretty dull - and that’s arguably a good thing.
6. I worry about dropping my X5ii and I worried about dropping this more.
7. It’s obviously great for use with downloaded audio and since that’s basically how I get stuff now that’s obviously a huge plus over shifting stuff to SD cards from other download devices.
If FiiO offered to sell me the UK review tour X5iii ‘second hand’ at a hundred quid or so off the new price I’d probably buy it in a flash and flog my X5ii. Would I flog my X5ii now and buy one of these new? No - but then I buy almost nothing new and certainly not fancy DAPs.
After a period of intense listening to both of them it’s made me realise afresh how much I actually really like the X5ii (particularly with my old beat-up HD650’s) and what an amazing audio device it is.
Pros - detail, sound stage, instrument separation, app functionality, build quality
Cons - Android, battery life
Disclaimer: I received the X5iii tour unit to evaluate for 7 days in return for my honest opinion. Build: The X5iii is solidly built and has a substantial feel. The controls are conveniently placed with the exception of the forward/backward rocker. I frequently skipped forward or backward when picking up the unit or holding the unit in my left hand and pressing the power button to wake the screen during playback (the base of my thumb would activate the rocker when pressing the power button with my index finger). The rocker can be disabled using custom keylock settings in the system options menu.
The unit came with a plastic case that covers all but the screen, volume wheel, and 3.5mm headphone port. Small flaps cover the 2.5mm balanced, line-out, and USB ports. The flap on the USB port would not stay in the closed position. The plastic cover must be removed for access to the SD slots. I assume it’s from repeated charging with the cover on.
SD cards are not inserted directly into the X5iii, but must be placed in pop-out trays. A small stylus is provided to facilitate tray removal. The trays could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how often you switch cards. The cards will fall out of the trays if ejected with the face of the unit up. I strongly suggest turning the unit over when ejecting and replacing SD card trays.
Operation: I had prepared my music library in anticipation of receiving the tour unit, stripping embedded album art from files and including a single file (cover.jpg) in each album subdirectory. My music is structured with directories for each artist and subdirectories for each album. After formatting the cards in the X5iii, I mounted them on my laptop and copied the library directly to the SD cards. I encountered no problems reading the library from both SD cards. Album, artist, and genre tags functioned as advertised. Unfortunately, tracks sorted within artist without regard to album doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ll stick with playing by folder.
Most of my files are in FLAC format, but the X5iii had no problems with the few 64 and 128 bit DSD and ALAC (*.m4a) files that I threw at it.
The FiiO music app is feature-rich. Almost every time I touched the screen I found a new feature. I have no need for WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity. Consequently, the battery life was quite reasonable for an Android device. In standby mode (i.e. no music playing), the battery went from 80% to 40% over the course of about 10h. The 2.0A charger for my Android phone worked fine to charge the X5iii (0% to 100% in a couple of hours).
The only major problem I encountered was the known incompatibility of X5iii with the USB ports on my Dell XPS15 (9550) laptop. When connecting to an USB3 port on a XPS 15, the unit keeps cycling through the welcome screen. This happened whether the USB3 port was on the computer or a connected Dell WD15 dock. The same behavior was not noted on the USB3 port of the Dell DA200 attached to the same laptop, but an error message was generated, “Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. (Code 43). A request for the USB configuration descriptor failed.” The X5iii was powered down in all cases. USB storage mode would not work either when the X5iii was on. I had not installed the Windows 10 driver for the X5iii since I have a desktop DAC and would not use the X5iii for this purpose.
Sound: The X5iii has lots of detail without being fatiguing. The sound stage is wider than my X5ii and the instrument separation is outstanding with well mastered source material.
The X5iii drives my Etymotic ER4SR with authority. I tried the line-out with my FiiO E12 amp, but found that it was (almost) completely unnecessary with ER4SR. The only exception was the analog bass boost on the E12. I fiddled with the digital EQ (FiiO music and Viper), but neither compared with the instant gratification of the E12 bass boost.
I tried several of the free Viper effects. The one I found most useful was the Playback Gain. It takes a few moments to analyze the source, but does an adequate job of adjusting volume on different albums/tracks. It may not be quite as effective as embedded replay gain, but it served the function with only minor volume adjustments between loud and soft tracks.
Overall: This is an amazing DAP. The SQ is definitely worth the $399 retail price. I could do without Android and all the battery wasting overhead, but the SQ is worth it.
The following albums were sampled during my review:
Adam Harasiewicz: Chopin Nocturnes & Preludes
Adrian Legg: Waiting for a Dancer
Antoine Dufour: Back and Forth
Antonio Pleeth: 6 Geminiani cello sonatas
Billy Mclaughlin: Fingerdance
Calum Graham: Phoenix Rising
Dirks und Wirtz: Kinski Spencer Gismonti
Don Ross: PS15
Earl Klugh: Cool, One on One, & Whispers and Promises
Francois Sciortino: French Guitar
Giovanni Palombo: La melodia segreta, A Secret Melody
Goran Sollscher: Eleven-String Baroque
Helene Grimaud: Duo
Hoff Ensemble: Quiet Winter Night
Jian Wang: The Baroque Album
Jimmy Wahlsteen: No Strings Attached
John Doan: A Celtic Pilgrimage
John Williams: The Guitarist
Julian Webber: Elgar Cello Concerto - Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No.1
Krzysztof Meisinger: Villa-Lobos Melodia Sentimental
lan Ethan Case: Run Toward The Mountains
Laurence Juber: Guitar Noir
Lawson Rollins: Elevation
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: L.A.G.Q., Guitar Heroes, Spin
Luca Stricagnoli: Luca Stricagnoli
Lucas Michailidis: Laughing at the Thief
Markus Segschneider: Snapshots
Michel Haumont: Michel Haumont & Co
Mike Dawes: What Just Happened
Mstislav Rostropovich: Beethoven The Cello Sonatas- Vol1&2, Chopin Cello Sotatas, Schubert Schuman Debusy Cello Sonatas, The Brahms Sonatas, Vivaldi - Tartini - Boccherini Cello Concertos
Oslo String Quartet: The Shubert Connection
Peppino D'Agostino: Acoustic Guitar
Peter Ciluzzi: Still Without Words
Ryan LeBlanc: Speechless
Sarah Mclachlan: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing
Sergio & Odair Assad: Sérgio & Odair Assad Play Piazzolla
Spencer Elliott: Some Forgotten Color, Unspoken
Thomas Fellow & Stephan Bormann: Hands On Strings
Tomasz Gaworek: Born To Be Together
TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE: In Folk Style, Souvenir I & II
Vladimir Horowitz: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3
Yo-Yo Ma: Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1, 5 & 6, Rachmaninov Prokofiev Cello Sonatas, Mendelssohn Piano Trios, Op. 49 & Op. 6
Pros - Feature-rich, well-designed DAP with two microSD card slots and full Android 5 system
Cons - Sensitive IEMs expose noise floor from BAL-out and circuit noise from SE-out
The following impressions and measurements were made using a loaned X5iii unit which was returned to FiiO after the review. I want to say a huge thank you to FiiO for their bravery in selecting me for the North American review tour group 4 for the X5iii. I've never been very good at sugar-coating things, and I don't hold back when reviewing a product I don't like; I don't court controversy, but gushing exuberantly over every product you review doesn't paint an honest picture for a potential buyer. I've written some fairly scathing Amazon reviews of some earlier FiiO products, e.g., EX1 (nice sounding headphones, but I hated their ergonomics) and the X3 second gen (which I felt was overpriced, considering its sound wasn't all that much better - and its noise floor was worse - than my smartphone at the time). FiiO has taken some big steps since the X3ii, but without knowing what headphones are going to be used with the device, there still has to be a question mark over how much (if any) improvement in sound you're going to get with any dedicated DAP. For the right kind of headphone (explained below), the third-generation X5 could be your current best-choice in digital audio players. In order to save some typing, from this point on I'm going to refer to the X5 third generation as the X5iii. Please pay careful attention to the number of "i"s, because I'm also going to occasionally reference the X5ii
Spoiler: Unboxing Video:
Sorry! Unboxing videos are so lame. I just can't bring myself to stoop to that. Please search YouTube if you really want to waste your life on unboxing videos. Suffice to say that the unit I tested came in a fairly minimalist cardboard box (thank you FiiO, for not unnecessarily destroying the planet with over-the-top packaging) with cables, connectors, a clear soft-plastic TPU case and a leather case. The leather case looked a little cheap and I didn't use it. I much prefered the look of the clear TPU case which fit well, didn't add much bulk and allowed the nicely-designed X5iii to show through it. I wish the X7 had come with such a well-fitting TPU case (the hard opaque plastic case that comes with the X7 doesn't fit all that well).
The hardware design of the X5iii is its strongest feature. It's a big change from the X5ii (second generation), with a move to a large touch-screen replacing the previous small screen and scroll wheel. Compared to its big brother (the X7), the X5iii is smaller, lighter, and fits easier in the hand. The volume control wheel is an awesome addition and is perfectly positioned to operate with your thumb when holding the player in your left hand. I've seen some people complain about the position of the hardware buttons and the risk of inadvertently pressing them, but I didn't have that problem. The only thing I'd wish for with the forward and back buttons is a long-press feature for forward/reverse scrubbing within a track. The two microSD card slots are a huge bonus, though there is a trade-off with the slick, streamlined design of the microSD card trays and the convenience of being able to just push an SD card out without need to find the right-sized paper-clip (a problem that I did encounter during an X5iii listening test with one of my headfi buddies). The X5iii screen has a slightly darker hue than that of the X7, but it still looks great and I didn't have any problem reading the screen, even in strong sunlight. Overall, I loved the design.
The software design of the X5iii follows closely from the developments of the Android 5 system used on the X7 and will feel very familiar to anybody that has used the X7. Unlike some vendors of far more expensive devices such as A&K and iBasso, FiiO offers a full Android 5 experience on the X5iii, which includes the Google Play store. The software highlight for me is FiiO's own music app. I understand that some people have issues with it, but for me, this is the best music app I have used on any device - ever. I absolutely love the FiiO music app and wish FiiO would offer this more generally via the Google Play Store. I would happily pay to have it on my Android smartphone. There are popular music players for Android (e.g., Neutron) that have far more features, but I very rarely - if ever - use those features, and in my experience these feature-rich players come with all sorts of bugs and issues. I love the simple, minimalist design of the FiiO music app; I love the option to automatically download synchronized lyrics, the integration with the Viper sound-effects module and the ability to rapidly change the volume by quickly swiping up/down on the right of the touch-screen. People may tell you that the software (mainly the FiiO music app) is buggy and that's probably still true - no DAP I've used is perfect in that regard - but what I find ironic about the complaints on the FiiO forums is that many of these issues are related to features that don't even exist in most other players. FiiO have worked hard to fix the issues in the Android 5 platform (and the FiiO music app) and a few of us on headfi have been helping to maintain a user-driven prioritized log of existing bugs on the X7. Those of you considering an X5iii might want to check out that list, because the vast majority of those issues will apply to the X5iii too. You will notice that most of the remaining bugs are not critical: http://www.head-fi.org/t/824174/known-bugs-issues-with-latest-x7-firmware
I tested the X5iii using the following headphones:
SE846 + brown Knowles damper modBAL and SE~ 9 Ohm @ 1 kHz114 dB SPL/mW
FLC 8S + modded LF filterBAL and SE11 Ohm93 dB SPL/mW
ER4XRBAL and SE45 Ohm104.5 SPL/mW
Fostex TH-X00 Ebony (many thanks to @moedawg140!)SE25 Ohm94 dB/mW
ATH-M50XSE38 Ohm98 dB/mW
KSE1500Analog LO onlyN/AN/A
I compared DAPs on the balanced-output IEMs, SPL-matched using REW and a Vibro Veritas coupler, by connecting the sources via a 4-pole triple-throw switch:
Each IEM tested with BAL-out was also tested on SE-out using its cable adapter:
Line-out into the KSE1500 was sent through a 3-pole triple-throw switch:
DAPs Compared in this review:S/NTHD+NZ-out
FiiO X5iii>=115 dB0.003% (into 32 Ohm @ 1kHz)< 1 Ohm
DX200 2.5mm balanced output125 dB<0.0002% (into 64 Ohm @ 3Vrms)0.15 Ohm
DX200 3.5mm single-ended output122 dB<0.00032% (into 32 Ohm @ 1.8Vrms)0.15 Ohm
DX200 line-out122 dB<0.00025%
QP1R 0.0006% (@ 1 kHz)<0.19 Ohm
AK380 2.5mm balanced output117 dB0.0007% (@ 1 kHz)1 Ohm
AK380 2.5mm single-ended output116 dB0.0008% (@ 1 kHz)2 Ohm
FiiO X7+am1>=115 dB<0.0008% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<0.2 Ohm
FiiO X7+am2>=118 dB<0.001% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<0.5 Ohm
FiiO X7+am3 balanced output>=115 dB<0.0008% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<0.3 Ohm
FiiO X7+am3 single-ended output>=115 dB<0.001% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<0.3 Ohm
FiiO X5ii>=117 dB<0.001% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<0.3 Ohm
FiiO X1ii>=113 dB<0.003% (into 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz)<1 Ohm
I haven't listed MSRPs for the above DAPs, but some here are much more expensive than the X5iii and perhaps that might seem unfair. However, most potential buyers are still going to want to know how the X5iii compares in term of sound with the best currently available DAPs. It's a credit to the X5iii that with many headphones (there's a caveat, explained later), the X5iii compares remarkably well.
Of all the DAPs tested, the X5iii was the slowest to boot-up. It also takes some time to scan your music library (for my library of ~ 200 Gb worth of mostly FLAC files it took a bit less than 5 minutes, compared with ~ 1 minute on the DX200). However, music scanning is something you'll typically only do once (incremental updates are quicker) and, once booted, the X5iii has the fastest, most responsive UI of any DAP I've ever used.
Spoiler: A DAP Rant: Part 1.
I recently read a small review on Headfonia, from which I quote verbatim: "While the X5iii of course doesn’t perform at the same level as the AK380, it does get you as close as you can get for $399." I'm amazed that someone actually gets paid a salary for writing vacuous statements like this. Firstly, how has Headfonia established the metric of precisely how "close you can get for $399"? And how have they established that the X5iii exactly hits that mark? More significantly, the statement that "the X5iii of course doesn’t perform at the same level as the AK380" plays into all the usual stereotype of "well, this cost $5000, so it must sound better". If you've never heard the AK380, I recommend you check it out with a proper SPL-matched blind A/B test. It sounds basically the same as the X7, in many cases no better than the X5iii and, to my ears, less detailed than the QP1R, all of which sell for a fraction of the AK380's massively over-inflated price (and that’s not counting the extra expense of adding a copper or stainless steel chassis). Sorry for getting side-tracked here, but this is such an important issue. Iriver, like those that sell CD masters as 192/24 tracks, audiophile-quality mains cables, comb-filter-suppressing rock jars and unicorn horns, thrive by exploiting the gullible and the ignorant. One needs to be very careful in presuming that price buys you better audio quality. From a reputable seller it often can, but are there are plenty of cases where it buys you nothing (e.g., upsampled "hi-res" audio from identical masters: http://www.head-fi.org/t/648932/bandcamp-promotion-thread/15#post_13283024) and it also predisposes you to expectation bias, so you really must A/B test these things for yourself, SPL-matched and blind. It's really, really important. There's an entertaining section at the beginning of this video explaining why: https://youtu.be/BYTlN6wjcvQ
Spoiler: A DAP Rant: Part 2
One of the entries you'll notice in the previous table of DAPs compared is that of THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise). It's a number I always look at and something I always want to be small, but it's a fairly deceptive measure and for a long time I've wished we had a better agreed-upon standard of output metrics. The problem with playing a single, loud, 1 kHz test tone is that it can mask a multitude of sins. The music that most of us listen to isn't comprised of single-frequency, high-amplitude sine waves. Music has crescendos, diminuendos - and even moments of silence. I appreciate hearing the air between the notes - and even sections of total silence. A consistent amp or circuit noise can be made to look arbitrarily small by swamping it with a sufficiently-loud signal into a higher-impedance load, but unfortunately you will still end up hearing that noise in quiet passages of music with more sensitive headphones. Furthermore, THD will vary with frequency and very loud signals may start to cause distortion and clipping, so a more useful measure of THD+N would be from a frequency sweep at several volume levels, which would include both very low and relatively high (close to maximum SPL) output levels into low-impedance headphones. Unfortunately, since there's no agreed-upon standard right now, THD+N at 1 kHz into a 32 Ohm load it is, and we'll just have to hope that the number we have is in some way relevant. In my experience, there does seem to be some correlation, but it's not a perfect measure by any stretch.
Most of my critical listening was done with my IEMs using my four-pole/double-throw switch to alternate a balanced output from two DAPs into a single set of headphones. The output was SPL-matched as close as possible (typically only within about 0.2 dB because of the discrete volume steps in all of these DAPs). I did almost all of my listening via balanced-out. I need to confess that I did not do a carefully controlled test of SE vs BAL on the X5iii. I’d really have needed two X5iii units to test these, properly SPL-matched. I just don’t trust my own brain when switching from two devices with a long pause while I have to adjust the gain. In all honesty, from the very brief and unscientific tests I did, I couldn’t detect much difference between BAL-out and SE-out - with one exception… When using sensitive IEMs, there was a noticeable noise floor on the BAL (2.5 mm) output. I’ve come to expect that with my SE846, but this was particularly noticeable, even with my FLC 8S. The noise floor with the SE846 was loud enough that I could even hear it over quiet passages of music. That's the only major issue I had with the X5iii . It has an outstanding design, DAC and feature set, but it really deserves a better amp.
I also noticed something odd with the SE (3.5 mm) output, which was some circuit noise that was apparent even when all radios were off and no other transmitting devices were within close proximity. This circuit noise was quite distinct from the typical white noise one hears as a noise-floor from an amp. The SE-out’s noise floor was less than that of the BAL-out, but its circuit noise contained some unpleasant tonal components, with a peak around 1.6 kHz. This circuit noise was present on the SE-out, independent of the volume setting, but wasn't present at all from the BAL-out. I’ve not seen anybody else report this, so it’s possible this was a fault with the North American review tour group 4 unit. (This was an issue I reported to FiiO, but something I never got any resolution on.) In any case, unless you have sensitive IEMs, it likely wouldn’t be a problem: it was audible on the SE846, faint on the FLC 8S and inaudible on the ER4XR.
I did do some listening via Tidal and, as with the X7, there can also be some WiFi interference noise with more sensitive IEMs. It rarely bothered me, as it’s only really apparent before playback starts and can always be eliminated completely by downloading the tracks you want and then switching to offline playback. With regular music playback, the biggest sonic differences between the X5iii were also apparent with the SE846, most likely due to the fact that the SE846 has an extremely low impedance (~ 7 Ohm @ 1kHz) and also wild impedance swings with frequency. The X5iii sounds slightly warmer than the X7+am3 or DX200 - so, taking the edge off its treble and/or boosting its bass, depending on how you want to look at it. This is a likely result of the X5iii’s slightly higher output impedance, but it really isn’t a problem for me. The differences are pretty small and could be a positive or a negative, depending on your sound preferences. These sonic differences show up in measurements too:
The sonic differences were extremely minor with the FLC 8S, with noise floor (BAL-out) and circuit noise (SE-out) also reduced in comparison to that from the SE846. With the ER4XR, I couldn't reliably A/B any differences at all (and noise floor and circuit noise were totally inaudible). Could you hear the differences with the ER4XR? If they’re there at these volume levels, they’re very, very subtle:
The X5iii’s digital output via USB doesn't appear to be working yet (perhaps this will get addressed in a future firmware?) so I wasn't able to test USB DAC mode feeding the KSE1500, but I did do some listening tests using the X5iii’s LO into the KSE1500. Wow. I was very pleasantly surprised by the X5iii’s DAC. To my ears, the X5iii’s LO beat that of the DX200, with a more enjoyable sound and better extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. (The KSE1500 always seems to have an extremely clean, black background, no matter the source.) Given its small size and excellent DAC, the X5iii would be a great choice for someone who already owns a good amp (such as the KSE1500’s electrostatic amp).
The X5iii is a fantastic product, but it does have a slight weakness, which is its amp. Having said that, the weakness in the X5iii’s amp probably isn't going to be relevant, or even perceptible, to most people. Listeners with sensitive IEMs might want to look elsewhere, and those with harder-to-drive headphones might want to take it for a test drive first. But for a very large range of headphones in between, the X5iii has to be one of the most feature-packed and best value-for-money DAPs on the market right now.
Pros - Myriad features, thoughtful design, competitive price
Cons - Acceptable sound quality, button placement, usability quirks
Many thanks to Fiio for extending the opportunity to review the new X5 3rd Gen as part of their review tour.
A brief look at packaging
Attractive boxes, sensible layout, nice accessory package.
A note on objectivity
Objective measurements serve as a basic benchmark of audio performance that all audio manufacturers should strive towards, and one in which Fiio products have traditionally fared very well in. They offer a measure of objective transparency and provide credence to the marketing claims of a product’s performance vis-a-vis other competing devices (including smartphones).
As expected, the X5 performs admirably here, but I still look forward to loaded (ie. real world) measurements of the X5.
Headphone out specifications (3.5mm headphone out jack)
Output power 1
≥480 mW（16Ω / THD+N＜1%)
＜1Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2
≥250 mW（32Ω /THD+N＜1%)
＞73 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3
≥28 mW（300Ω / THD+N＜1%)
＜0.003% (1 kHz)
5 Hz~55 kHz（-3dB）
Peak output voltage
≥115 dB (A-weighted)
Max. output current
250mA (For reference)
Balanced headphone out specifications (2.5mm TRRS headphone out jack)
Output power 1
≥400 mW（16Ω / THD+N＜1%)
＜3Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2
≥240 mW（32Ω /THD+N＜1%)
≥98 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3
≥26 mW（300Ω / THD+N＜1%)
＜0.003% (1 kHz)
Peak output voltage
≥111 dB (A-weighted)
Max. output current
＞250 mA (For reference)
Beyond numbers and graphs, differences in voicing may nonetheless exist between sources which are important to consider. While these differences may ultimately be small, they can result in disproportionately large differences in the subjective experience of listening to music in terms of enjoyment and immersion.
That said, I have found the subjective performance of the X5 to be respectable but not particularly impressive. Make no mistake, the X5 is not remotely a bad sounding player, and in fact has quite an enjoyable and pleasing sound. It just has a few caveats which I have found to take away from MY own listening enjoyment which I feel are important to note for your consideration. Broken down into various aspects:
Soundstaging comes in with a solid performance. It does not sound compressed or claustrophobic in the least, but it is not particularly spacious either.
Separation and general resolution is rather underwhelming. The X5 does not sound congested but imaging is not especially precise or defined and note edges have a soft tone.
Presentation is intimate, present and engaging, but notably soft and smooth (no accentuation of textural details, stage elements not exaggeratedly distinct)
Bass has impressive if slightly elevated body and heft, making for a chunky, visceral sound that can be very satisfying. However, it is a little muddy and does not have the last say in punchiness and control which causes it to fall a little short in offering grit and realism.
Midrange is largely a matter of personal taste. It is forward and engaging but soft in character. It is not notably textured or detailed and has a comforting and pleasant presentation.
Treble is present and detailed but smooth.
Overall, the X5 generally meets but does not exceed expectations. Presentation is smooth and pleasing, while bass is visceral and impactful but could stand to be more controlled.
Build and design
The X5 is gorgeous, functional and constructed impeccably. It features a compact design, tasteful angles, thoughtfully laid out transport buttons which are easy to identify and press, a sleek and well constructed volume wheel, a premium finish, attractive glass back panel and secure headphone ports.
My only gripe, which amounts to so much more of a shame in light of the otherwise fantastic design, is the awkward power button placement. It is too high up to reach comfortably one-handed and results in frequent misclicks of the play/pause button flanking the the same position on the opposite side.
Speed is passable. There is a slight delay with certain actions, but it doesn’t significantly hamper over experience or operation. Overall experience remains fluid other than a few hiccups and is very much usable.
Android interface is familiar and easy to use. Downloading third party apps such as Spotify and Tidal can be done through the Play Store or the FiiO Market which is less polished but still simple to use.
Pure music mode works well and is mostly smooth and intuitive to operate.
The X5 is absolutely jam packed with useful features, most notable being:
Wifi support (OTA updates and streaming):
Streaming apps work well. No stutters or crashes
Rather poor wifi reception. Slow OTA updates and streaming hiccups even for lossy 320 kbps Spotify tracks with a single concrete wall separation.
Hard to access, quick settings bring up settings page rather than allowing immediate selection of filter choices.
Minimal differences between filters. You might find a preference but honestly I struggle to tell a difference between filters beyond a vague gut feel.
Channel balance (this should be a standard inclusion on every DAP honestly)
About half of the features are locked behind a paywall (payment can be done through WeChat, Alipay or Paypal) but there is still a good selection of free effects like various surround simulations, gain adjustment, and upscaling
Effects generally work well but there is a few seconds of delay before the settings take effect making finding the right setting quite laborious.
Overall nothing astounding (at least based on the free effects) but nice to have the additional functionality and features.
USB DAC, dac out
USB dac installation much easier than before. No need to allow unsigned drivers in Windows settings.
Software is laden with features usually absent on other daps featuring USB DAC functionality such as channel balance and even basic but important functions like volume adjustment with the screen off.
However, some issues remain such as occasional crashes when changing usb streaming settings in the fiio driver software and notable latency making it unsuitable for video streaming/gaming. It is bearable on “minimum latency” setting but latency is still noticeable.
Seems to not work through USB hubs whereas other dac/amps like my HA-2 worked just fine.
Instant play/pause, no idle mode where the amp turns off after certain durations of inactivity.
I could not get the USB OTG out option to work even with third party apps like the Onkyo HF player to test the X5 with external DACs.
Amp section turns off after short period of disuse and produces audible clicks when turning off/on. Delay in output when turning on (almost 2 seconds).
Occasional clicks when switching between tracks (either selecting a different track or simply during continuous playback)
Power button too high up and positioned opposite the play pause button leading to accidental pauses.
About 8 hours (just short of 10 hours as per Fiio’s claims), capable of lasting several days between charges depending on usage.
Should you buy it?
At the end of the day, the X5 3rd Gen presents an incredible value considering it’s outstanding feature set (including streaming support, dual micro-sd slots, quick charging, balanced output), sensible and attractive design, and incredibly competitive price point.
However, it’s few usability quirks do amount to palpable annoyances in day to day usage and while the X5 is far from a bad sounding player, it’s relatively soft, smooth voicing and modest subjective technicalities mean you should probably give it a listen to see if it pairs well with your existing setup and if it suits your tastes before purchasing one.
Overall, the X5 is still a good sounding player and presents a strong value proposition worthy of a 4/5 rating.
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.
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:
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.