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Portable Source Components item created by ryanjsoo, Feb 23, 2017
Pros - Can run Android Apps; dual memory card slots, clear sound for the most part
Cons - Folder use is difficult; NAS use not functioning yet; hissing when not playing music on my IEMs, congested bass on some tracks
I wanted to love this unit. Really I did. I was looking forward to a sound signature in line with or even better than thebit Opus #1; Cayiin i5, and other Android app capable devices. And at first I thought I was going to absolutely love it. With less complicated, semi-acoustic albums it sounded very good. Miles Davis Kind of Blue (MFSL-SACD DSD rips) sounded clean and articulate. Beck's Sea Change--sounded nice. But then I started trying out heavier rock; and my opinion became muddier. Or should I say the sound became muddier.
And for me; sound is factor #1, #2, and #3. Simply put, I can't rave about the sound. Now with some FIIO products sound signatures move around with various firmwares, and we are only on version 1.13. So I would watch how the reviews evolve over time. I remember that the sound on the original X3 went from muddy to very pleasing over time. I hope that happens here.
Then there is the issue of the apps. They do not all seem to hang together right now.
Right now I would rather own a single purpose machine with great sound (Opus #1 is a stand out at this price point, but there are others). Or perhaps feed the Chord Mojo (yes it is that good) with your device of choice. I hope the firmware evolves and that my initial thoughts will prove to be out-dated.
It might be because of impedance issues; but I have two observations when using this with the FLC8S. First, there can be almost too much bass with this machine. I found that taking the FLC8S to a reference tuning was a good choice (gray - gray - gunmetal). Otherwise sometimes there is simply too much bass. I think some would describe the sound as congested or bloomy. in the low and mid-bass area.
Second, for some reason, when music is not playing, I experienced a fair amount of hiss with the FLC8S.
I did try two other IEMs; the venerable Carbo Tenore and my LZ-A2. The LZ also sounded a bit muddy. The Carbo Tenore is a bit bass light compared to the other two IEM units, and did not have the same bloom issues.
On the positive side, the treble was clear and open and I thought the soundstage was likeable. But unlike other electronics, I found myself listening too much to the unit and not enough listening to the msuic.
OK, I will admit it. There is much to be said for old school digital audio players. Scroll wheel, buttons, volume knobs. With this unit, you very much know you are using an Android device. I like to listen to music in folder mode. Bad choice for this machine. There is no easy way to traverse folder structure. You need to close down the FIIO app to get back to the SD card file level. Otherwise you will be presented with a somewhat random list of albums created from scans. With some errors to boot.
I was able to put in some network passwords and look at FLAC files on my NAS units. But the unit does not seem to associate those files with the FIIO music app and you get an error message when you click on the files. Well, one it actually started playing music with firmware 1.11; but I could not repeat that happy situation. Once it started to download the files from the NAS to the unit; but I cancelled that.
I did play some tunes via JRiver's Gizmo APK app. Unfortunately, Gizmo transcodes music to 320kbps MP3 (at best). I suppose I could have fiddled with some APKs from Synology. I put in DS Audio but that just wanted to download files not play them. As you might guess, I dropped that idea. If I was the owner of the unit I probably would have doggedly looked for another, better workaround but since I was just testing the unit I decided to punt on that effort.
There is an advanced audio equalizer available, but it seemed to require a separate license and I was not interested in that. So sorry, not comments about VIPER from me. The primary equializer works with files at least up to 24 - 96 (that was all I tested). It does not work with DSD files (not a criticism; DSD files are not designed for EQ). Actually, I almost never use EQ so testing that was not a priority for me either.
I did not test Tidal or other streaming apps
I like the dual microSDXC slots. I did not test the bluetooth, or the USB outputs to an external DAC. Nor did i use it as a DAC from the PC or iphone.
I really wanted to love this machine and came away on the positive side of neutral but not enthralled. My $200 DAP is not as detailed as the X5III, but it is not muddy with heavy rock tracks.
I hope that future firmware releases will address some of the issues discussed here. I thank FIIO for allowing me to evaluate this unit
Disclaimer: I was loaned this unit by FIIO as part of a North American Tour. No renumeration was received for this review.
Pros - Value, functionality, build quality, detailed & clear sound
Cons - Slow wifi & file transfer. SQ maybe a little clinical and cool.
Before I start, many thanks to Fiio for arranging this tour and allowing many Head-Fiers, including myself, to be a part of it. I am not affiliated to Fiio in any way.
A bit of background about me, I guess you’d say I’m a keen exponent of what many on Head-Fi would refer to as mid-fi gear; with a view to getting the most ‘bang for buck’. This is due in most part to having a young family and other interests which, for the most part, win in competing for my disposable income!! To that end, my current set up consists of Meze 99 Classes for home (where I’d say I do 90% of my listening), 1 More Triples for use on the go and I was, until recently, using a Dragonfly Red as DAC/AMP out of my MacBook Air at home (and occasionally for longer trips away from home, paired with my iPhone 6S Plus). I long since stopped buying music (apart from a period of investing in a decent vinyl set up, subsequently sold), because most of my listening is done via Tidal Hi-Fi.
Prior to the tour, again with one eye on maximising value and usage, I had been considering a DAP to replace the Dragonfly Red. So, a DAP that doubles as a USB DAC at home, scores high on my checklist. Prior to receiving the X5iii tour unit, I had literally just splurged on an iBasso DX80. So, I was still open to being persuaded by the charms of an alternative. Oh, I just remembered, I did splash out on an A&K AK70 before Christmas but returned it. It was honestly a great DAP (using a single implementation of the CIRRUS CS4398 DAC chip vs dual usage of the same chip in the DX80). Where the AK70 fell down though, badly, was when used as a USB DAC - as well as occasional noise (pops & clicks), it struggled badly when sample rates changed between tracks.
So, in summary this tour came around at a timely point for me! The following make up my short, DAP main features shopping list:
- Doubles as a USB DAC
- Sound quality - might sound obvious but given the relative quality of the iPhone, a DAP has got to offer a decent step up in order to justify carrying a second device
- Works as a standalone - I don’t want to carry a stack for when I am out and don’t especially want to feel as if I need an amp to get the most out of my setup at home. Fortunately, the Meze are ridiculously easy to drive so that’s not really an issue.
- Bonus feature: ability to stream Tidal. As this is currently my main media channel this would definitely be a nice to have. On the other hand, not having this as a DAP feature would encourage me, bit by bit, to build on my long neglected library; by adding to it and replacing existing content with better quality files.
Anyway, onto the Fiio X5iii. Whilst I’d consider this DAP to be priced at a, relatively speaking, mid-fi price point - the packaging has a premium look and feel to it. Both the bundled clear silicone & leather cases are a nice touch and of good quality. This is carried forward into the build of the unit itself. It has a lovely build quality and weight to it, though I agree with others observations that button positioning makes it too easy to accidentally skip tracks when hitting the power button to shut the screen off. The screen is both lovely to look at and faultless in operation. GUI comes courtesy of Android and again is implemented in a clean no fuss fashion (which can be further dialled back in ‘Pure Music’ mode, freeing up system resources to focus only on music reproduction.
Set up is also quick & simple. What’s not so quick is transferring content to the device. What’s even slower is the downloading of firmware updates over wifi - a good couple of hours for a not particularly big update.
Downloading streaming apps from the marketplace is simple & work flawlessly when either streaming or downloading for offline listening (I only tried Tidal). Using the device as USB DAC also worked perfectly. Just a note here; like the DX80, the device tries to draw a
Sound quality - probably top of most people’s priority list. My impressions are that the X5iii is fairly neutral in tonality. It offers good detail retreival and decently wide staging. It has well controlled & punchy sub-bass and bass, the detail I mentioned, is prevalent in the mids and slightly, pleasantly, rolled off through the treble so as to be not fatiguing. It’s all positive stuff and I can’t really fault it. When I compare it to the DX80 however, it sounds slightly clinical where the DX80 I find to much warmer, smoother and analogue sounding. The DX80 too carries good levels of detail retrieval and has a wider soundstage. Bass on the DX80 is less ‘tight’ but goes, pleasingly, deeper. Sound wise, for me, I think the DX80 is a better fit for my ears.
The X5iii in summary, offers a compelling and complete package at a price point that means it’s, rightly so, likely to capture a large fan base. It doesn’t do anything particularly poorly (other than file transfer and updates slowly), which won’t, I’m sure, be fixed by future updates. It certainly ticks all the boxes on my shopping list. If I were to apply a weighting to my criteria though, I think my preference for the tonality of DX80 means I’m likely to keep hold of that for now (not to mention the X5iii currently costs £100 more). For those though after a do it all DAP, whose primary use case is entered around purely portable use - it’s a compelling proposition.
Pros - Sound Quality, Android OS, Wifi, USB DAC
Cons - Older android OS, Slow transfers.
I’ve never been a fan of DAPs. I’ve always found the interfaces clunky and missing features compared to what I could do with my Android smartphone and its apps. When high quality DACs started appearing in smartphones and when USB external DACs started working on them, my interest waned even further. It didn’t seem like I would ever be happy with a DAP, and I just gave up on them.
Fiio’s release of the X5 Gen 3 changes all of that. It includes everything I felt was missing in a DAP (Android apps, Wifi transfer, balanced audio, USB DAC, OTA updates), and it does it very well. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the X5 Gen 3 tour, and I will be providing my impressions based on a week with the unit.
DAC : 2 x AK4490
Processor : Quad-core RK3188 processor
ROM : 32GB built-in storage +
RAM : 1GB
Storage : Up to 512GB(2 x micro SD)
Headphone Out : 3.5mm + 2.5mm TRRS balanced output +
OS: Android 5.1
Connectivity : Bluetooth 4.0 (aptX) + 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
Usability: 4.0 in. touchscreen
Charging : 2 Fast charging modes(Qualcom QC and MTK PE)
Full specs here:
1 x Case 1 x Protective TPU Silicone Case 1x Screen Protector
The X5 comes packaged beautifully, similar to the packaging of a high-end smartphone. The pre-applied screen protector is a nice touch, and the silicone case helps prevent scratches and wear. Despite some annoying silicone pieces that are meant to cover the openings getting in the way, I think it was wise of Fiio to provide protection instead of having to have the customer search for some or pay extra.
The X5 size and shape reminds me of a deck of cards, albeit slightly larger. Its compact size allows it to be carried easily on a commute or trip, far easier than it would be to strap a DAC to the back of your smartphone. It’s design is sleek but simplistic, focusing your eyes onto the display, despite the enclosure giving a very polished, high quality look. While not heavy, it did feel sturdy enough to survive a drop and day to day use.
While not high res like a smartphone, the display resolution is more than acceptable.
The balanced port is 2.5mm, making it easy not to plug into the wrong output.
One of the things I somewhat disliked is the location of the back/skip buttons. They are entirely too easy to hit while holding the device or walking. The volume knob is fluid and far more useful than pressing buttons, and having the separate hardware play button was useful.
I had no issues with the touchscreen, and the interface behaved very much like the Android interface I’ve grown used to over the years.
Quick Charge. Ever since it first debuted, it was a monumental battery achievement to me. Getting a full charge in less than two hours, and a useable one in 15-30 minutes was so convenient that I stopped caring about removeable batteries. Having this on the X5 is a beautiful thing.
Balanced audio: More power, more crisp audio in an affordable unit. With the prevalence of MMCX iems, not running balanced for every bit of power and other enhancements seem like a waste to me. The X5 had just enough power to drive my balanced AKG7XX at more than acceptable levels.
Dual MicroSD: Do you have several terabytes of music like I do? If so, running two 128GB MicroSD cards on the X5 gives you a very large collection for cheaper than an integrated 256GB of storage would cost. Transfer speeds are a bit slow though, so it can take a bit to load if you transfer to the cards in the X5 via USB. Apps like USB Audio Player Pro, Neutron, and even the Fiio Music app easily detects the music.
aptX: I like that Fiio included aptX (although aptX HD would have been a bit nicer). aptX provides substantial benefits in sound quality over a Bluetooth connection, and it works well on the X5. I believe that using Bluetooth on a DAP is a waste though, as you get the same experience you would from your aptX enabled smartphone. You also miss out on the sound quality of the balanced connection.
The ability to sideload android apps is the killer functionality feature of the X5. While the “Fiio Market” contains many of the popular Android apps such as Spotify, adding your own favorite app just works the majority of the time.
ES File Explorer Wifi transfers provide another desperately needed function to the X5. You can connect to your media server without wires and download your music to the X5. This is incredibly useful while lying in bed or away from your PC. Transfer speeds are on the slow side however, as the Wireless N wifi connection and slow transfer speeds of the internal memory and SD card tend to transfer under 4 MB/s. It would be best to transfer a large collection onto the SD card first, where the wifi connection works well for a few albums to listen to on a whim.
USB DAC: This is the most useful function of the X5 to me surprisingly. In USB DAC mode, the X5 has the power and features to replace many desktop DAC/AMP setups with its dual balanced mono DAC and powerful amp implementation. While it doesn’t have the power to truly drive power hungry headphones, it was able to drive my AKG 7XX in balanced mode at more than acceptable levels with the volume knob at 90/100 in High Gain mode (you can also adjust Gain in normal use). My smartphone can’t do that, and I have the Axon 7 with the same AK4490 DAC.
You can adjust many features in USB DAC mode as seen below
I did have trouble finding out how to turn this feature on. You need to hit the “Storage” button in the notification pane to switch over to USB DAC mode. You also need to install the USB drivers from Fiio, then choose the Fiio ASIO driver in programs like Foobar2000. None of this is documented, which will confuse a lot of users.
ViperAudio & EQ: I've used ViperAudio a lot in the past. I didn't use it much on the X5, but it has extensive sound modeling features. Seeing it on a DAP for the first time is exciting. The Fiio EQ is a nice feature, but I didn't use it much. It is lacking compared to Viper and a Parametric EQ, such as the paid EQ within USB Audio Player Pro.
OTA Updates: OTA updates went very smoothly. I had no issues updating to version 1.1.1, although a semi detailed changelog would be nice before each update. Easy updates like this weren’t possible on DAPs before.
Testing Gear (in order of quality)
LH Labs Pulse X Infinity 2.0
LH Labs Geek Out V2+ Infinity + Moto X Pure
MSI Gaming 7 amped onboard DAC
Random Metal, Rock, EDM, Rap, Top 40, Hip Hop, Blues, and anything else that comes along. I focus on songs I know well to spot differences in frequency amongst a/b comparisons.
The AK4490 is a warm, smooth yet detailed DAC. The Dual Balanced Mono DAC configuration along with the amps chosen provide a more powerful, more refined, more detailed sound over the AK4490 configuration in my Axon 7, despite the same overall signature. The S/N ratio increase the X5 has is noticeable.
Compared to my Dual Mono Sabre ESS SABRE9018AQ2M setup in my LH Labs Infinity V2+, the Sabre has more forward mids and treble, which presents itself as a little bit clearer. Both the V2+ and AK4490 sound excellent in their implementations, but the AK4490 is a bit easier to listen to for longer periods of time.
There is no comparison to me in the price range unless you go by pure sound quality. You get so much more functionality over a custom DAP interface by using Android OS.
There are a few things that I wished were a bit different. I wish Fiio used a more powerful SoC to give the X5 faster transfer speeds and AC wifi. I also wish they used Android 7.0 Nougat as a base instead of Android 5.1, which is over 2 years old now. These are minor qualms though, as the X5 functions just fine otherwise.
This is the first DAP that I would ever purchase. If I did not already have a strong balanced DAC in the V2+ Infinity, I would own the X5 3[sup]rd[/sup] gen. The combination of sound quality, build quality, features, and price makes the X5 an incredible value to me. This says a lot because I have never truly liked DAPs in the past. Fiio really nailed it here.
Thanks to FiiO for the opportunity to review the X5! You’ve been a wonderful company to us music lovers for years, and we hope you continue being great.
Pros - Great sound, nice accessories, stable UI, perfect price point
Cons - Erm...maybe...I don't really know actually...
Last time I reviewed a FiiO DAP, it was (I think) the X5ii. If I recall correctly, the X5ii sadly succumbed to the exotic charms the Pono offered. I ditched my plans to settle down with a nice safe option like the X5ii, and ran off with the exotic Pono, with its balanced output, weird, yet appealing shape and hellishly temperamental UI.
Today I received a review sample of the X5iii to try out for a little while and then forward on to the next reviewer in the schedule. This unit is part of yet another legendary FiiO review tour. I am getting no financial reward or gifts for this review. This is definitely no longer the dowdy, safe, matronly X5ii. It's not even a quirky cousin. The X5iii is a clear and definite upgrade of the X5ii. Three physical items stand out:
The large touch screen interface.
The physical volume knob.
The prominent ridge on the left hand side of the device.
A closer look shows a couple more physical updates:
2.5 mm Balanced output.
Smartphone SIM-card-style Micro-SD card holders
The device also features a Play/Pause button, as well as a Skip Forward and a Skip Backward physical button on the pronounced ridge on the left side of the device. Gone is the old iPod-style click wheel. There is still a line-out/co-ax out jack.
In the box you no longer get a silicon case. Instead, the unit comes already snuggled up in a clear plastic flexible shell that covers the back and sides. You can pull that off and use the black leather case included instead if you’d like. Personally I preferred the plastic sheath. The leather case has slightly gaudy looking red stitching on the back, and an odd almost Harley Davidson-esque logo embossed on its rear with the FiiO slogan in it: “Born for music and happy”.
When you start the unit up, it takes a while to get going. Along the way you see various graphics, one of them proclaims the unit as a “Smart Hi Res DAP”. I am not too sure what this means, and possibly sounds a little hyperbolic to me….but it is an Android device, equipped with wi-fi, capable of streaming from various services, connecting with a DLNA server, connecting with bluetooth headphones and generally being a badass, so I guess “smart” is warranted.
I tested the unit I was given to try out using Google Play, the Bandcamp app, and a 128GB micro-SD card loaded with 16/44 FLAC files of various genres. I tend to be a little esoteric in my tastes, listening to Jamaican Dub by the likes of Lee Perry and Scientist, modern IDM by folks like Flying Lotus and Four Tet, Jazz by Alice and John Coltrane, Miles Davis and a host of others. I also have a thing for Madagascan guitar lately, and a few other acoustic genres coming from the Dark Continent. What can I say, I miss my home. This tested the X5iii across multiple styles and gave a good impression of its ability to handle bass, miss and highs.
For my testing, I used some homemade Ypsilon woodies in Black Limba and Burmese Blackwood (single-ended termination), some Monk Plus terminated with a 2.5mm balanced plug and an outlier earbud, the Quian39 (just because….well….why not?). I am not much of an IEMs person. They irritate my ears and annoy me when I start to be able to hear myself chewing, breathing, gulping, etc…
Sound wise the X5iii is great., especially when listening to balanced headphones. It conveys bass realistically, without over-emphasis, the mids are clear and coherent, and the highs are clean, without introducing fatigue. Compared to other players I have owned/currently own, its not going open the gates of heaven, or transfigure you into an avatar of pure audio bliss. What player will though? The audio world is plagued by the rule of diminishing returns, and fanciful legends about $3K+ players transporting users to higher dimensions populated by rock gods, their wanton maidens and rivers of milk, honey and money...
The only way to show value in the DAP market is to produce a clean-sounding, competent player with a stable UI, and the extra features people look for as the hobby evolves (like Bluetooth, wi-fi, the ability to load streaming apps, balanced output, expandable storage…).
In this regard, FiiO has produced an incredible product. It gives all of these things, and it only costs $400 new. This changes the game substantially. Want balanced? Sure…there are a few cheaper players out there that will give you this…no bluetooth though, and no stable UI. Want a stable UI? Yeah, buy an iPod Classic….no balanced though, no wifi or apps, and limited storage unless you get crazy and crack that sucker open for some surgery. Want wi-fi? Sure thing…it will even come with balanced….but dear Lord you’re going to pay a premium. You get the idea.
FiiO, in their characteristic fashion, have seen the hole in the market and firmly filled it with all of the features people clamor for, at a reasonable price, in a handsome package (with a slightly kitschy leather case on the side ). I applaud them for their astute market knowledge, and an extremely successful release, that seems to be free of the usual early firmware bugs that inspire such wailing and gnashing of teeth these days. The X5iii is an excellent successor to the already popular X5 and X5ii.
Pros - Mature design, Great sound, Ability to install 3rd party apps, Price point, Bluetooth connectivity, Apt-X, WiFi, Dual card slots, Fast charging
Cons - Slow start up, Slight play in buttons, Storage trays not the most convenient, Screen’s outdoor legibility
Full review can be found at: https://www.samma3a.com/tech/en/fiio-x5-3rd-gen-high-res-player-review/
The NO BULL rating system is designed to take as many aspects of the device into account as possible. As such, we have a basic rating, as well as a final rating. The basic rating rates the product purely as a high quality portable audio device, and is generally a good indicator of how it stacks up to its rivals in terms of standard features and specs. The final rating, however, grants bonus points for any extra features and specs that aren’t quite as common, and is a great way to judge the product as a complete package.
Look and feel: 7 / 10
Screen protector: YES
Protective case: YES
Quality control: 8 / 10
Seems durable: YES
Screen quality: 7 / 10
Intuitive interface: 9 / 10
Responsive interface: 8 / 10
Comfortable button layout: 7 /10
Internal storage: YES
Accepts external storage: YES
Relative silence when inserting cables: 5 / 10
Sound stage: 8 / 10
Detail retrieval: 8 / 10
Sibilance: 9 / 10
Instrument separation: 8 / 10
Neutrality of sound signature: 8 / 10
Ability to EQ: YES
Plays lossless audio: YES
Plays 24-bit: YES
Hiss: 7 / 10
Small size: 7 / 10
Relatively low weight: 7 / 10
battery life more than 8 hours: YES
Competitive price-point: YES
Relative value: 9 / 10
Released the device with relatively bug-free software: 9 / 10
Is prompt with software updates: 7 / 10
Is active and prompt on forums/social-media: 9 / 10
Basic Rating: 7.7 / 10
Bass boost: -
Various digital filters: 4
Allows 3[sup]rd[/sup] party apps: YES
Number of cables included: 2
Number of gain positions: 2
Fast charging: YES
Premium case: -
Premium look and feel of the device: 9 / 10
Number of digital connections: 2
Number of analogue connections: 3
Power adapter included: -
Balanced output: YES
Dual card slots: YES
Touch screen: YES
Dual DAC setup: YES
Premium DAC chip(s) used: YES
Screen protectors included: 1
Use of metal and/or glass: YES
Plays DSD: YES
Plays 32-bit: YES
Ultra low power-saving mode: -
Wireless connection quality: 9 / 10
Gapless playback: /10
Final Rating: 9.2
Pros - Easy OS, excellent musical tone, multitude of platforms, fairly fast operations, updated FW
Cons - Buttons can be accidentally pushed, Fiio's native music app does not "remember" place upon exit, leather case is OK...
FiiO x5iii-please see addendum at bottom for clarification of FiiO playback feature.
Many times, there is trepidation when you sign up for a possible tour review, at least for me. Your hope is to not only be chosen, but to give an open honest review, under the assumption that the manufacturer has put that trust in you. Kind of a scary thought, that if one did not openly convey their positives and negatives, it could hurt the direction where said company wants to go. Well, the chance of a single negative review, even from the tour hurting the company is quite slim one would hope, which helped alleviate my fears when signing up for this unit. A HEALTHY dose of people signed up, so to be chosen was quite an honor. I thank @FiiO for the opportunity to review the x5iii, a MUCH anticipated unit indeed.
Digital Audio Players (DAP’s) are still fairly new, blooming within the last decade or so. The plethora of new DAP’s coming out recently bucks this trend of a trickle. Many manufacturers are scrambling to put out an Android-based music player, with exceptional sound characteristics as well as a good baseline for Internet usage. I think we are at the cusp of the next big expansion in our listening pleasure. A player that can not only give us music listening of top quality, but also allow us to use the ubiquitous World Wide is a trend that I see. A trend to keep up with those hipper than your humble author into their musical stream and social stream. While the “common Smartphone” can do the same; the quality of music leaves a lot to be desired.
Some such as @PinkyPowers espouse the virtue of keeping all separate. The Luddite in me agrees, for purities sake, we should. But I can see in the near future a meeting of the two into a happy melding of sound, social media, work, and “phone calls.” For those of you not familiar with what that is, ask your grandparents…All joking aside, the mid-fi DAP market is flush with excellent choices from Bit Audio, FiiO, Shanling, Cayin, Onkyo, Pioneer and others. I have firsthand experience with the first four, and can say with somewhat of an authoritarian tone, they are all excellent. It is HOW those companies manage that sound, which is different. Throw in the abilities of the Android-web versions and you can see how quickly this could not only cascade out of control; but how quickly it might all change.
Excellent fit and finish. Top quality build. No blemishes. Kind of nifty on the left side, what with the beveled edges tapering to the rotary volume wheel, complete with detents and gold accent. A very efficient box, too. Hardly any wasted space. This bodes well for protection, as well as saves money on packaging. An added benefit (huge to me!) is that this is more environmentally responsible. Nice job, FiiO.
Typical FiiO red ring around blue power button…subtle and a nice touch.
Easy to set up, FAST OS. FW 1.1.0. Tidal downloaded in nothing. MUCH better WiFi than i5. Functionality/aesthetics are quite pleasing. Another FW upgrade brought it to 1.1.1, during the test. After initial troubles, the FW updated automatically, including some stabilizing effects as well as album art to the lock screen. A nice touch is that you can now not only access the current music being played (and change), but also access the drop down menu from the lock screen, to change many items. A nice touch.
Streaming is good, Tidal sounds fabulous. It simply works without fuss. Streaming and surfing work well together. Small keyboard, but what do you expect. You can lock side buttons, so you do not inadvertently push them…Screen could be a bit bigger.
Loading the SD card was easy, just be careful when taking the tray out. Card is mounted upside down, too. Using FiiO’s own music app, was easy and the scan was quick and painless. Sound quality is quite good. Open, refreshing, unobtrusive. Clean, clear and crisp. Audio-wise this is on par with the Cayin i5, Opus #1 and Shanling M5. All of these mid-fi DAP’s work quite well (for music, we will only discuss that here..functionality later), so the presentation is what might be needed to separate the quartet. Running the gamut from full-on Android/WiFi/Bluetooth to the “lower” Android, to dedicated DAP’s; the decisions are not as easy as one might think.
Running Android 5.1.1, under extensive customization allows the x5 to function at quite a high level. Not top Smartphone level, but let’s be honest, you didn’t buy this for the Smartphone capabilities. You wanted an efficiently functional music player, which can provide you access to your tunes across multiple platforms, while POSSIBLY surfing the pages of Head-Fi, and checking Amazon for the latest accessories for that King George parlor…see below for reference, sheesh.
The finest place to listen to your FiiO...
Upon turning the critter on for the first time, connecting to my home network, the FiiO automatically upgraded to Build # 1.1.0. I was told to update to this build, but watching the x5 do so automatically, and quickly was nice to see.
Buttons are somewhat-logically laid out on two sides, with all of the jacks/ports on the bottom. There has been talk of accidentally pushing buttons while trying to manipulate others; but to be honest you get used to it. Also, I am left-handed so this conundrum does not bother me much. While getting used to the layout, should one need worry about bumping other buttons? I would think not, but when you consider how bloody complicated these are, it is a trade off, which would not be a deal breaker to me. And to boot, you can disable those side functions so you do not accidentally bump them. A cop-out to some; a non-issue to me. Here is one of the few situations where being left-handed is a boon! OK, beside toll-booths and typewriters…
Since I run iOS, there was some reacquainting needed with the Android system. After about a day, I was versed enough to function without looking like an idiot who had a new expensive sports car, but didn’t know how to drive a stick… (I DO know how, so kindly don’t go there…).
Logical in sub menus, my only problem was remembering all of those sub menus, and how to get there! Think cockpit check system, and you get my point…
Kind of like relearning Android OS...kind of...
A nice feature is the dropdown menu from the top, which provides you with quick options to change many functions. Pulling down twice from that top reveals a quick list of necessity functions ranging from your WiFi setting, to Bluetooth, to Line out/Coax digital out, to how your music is playing (storage/USB DAC), a quick hit of the low/high gain switch, filter settings, and whether you want the critter running in Android or Pure Music Mode (which switches all unnecessaries off dedicating all operations to “Pure Music.” The deeper settings switch can be accessed in the top right of this sub menu from the ubiquitous settings cog, allows deeper tuning of system items. Useful, functional and without unnecessary “frills,” is how I would describe the FiiO…efficient to a fault. My right side brain is having a real conundrum with this efficiency…
Think RIGHT side...
Three buttons on the bottom center allow navigation around the Android OS. The back button controls many features throughout the apps, a home button, and the multi-tab button, where you can access everything, which is open. Yes, this is standard Android, but it is nice to see FiiO keep the basics of functionality intact. Again, logical in layout along with multiple options move the x5 ahead of it’s competition. Menus are clearly laid out, and logical of navigation. With the three buttons at the bottom always present, you are a mere two clicks away from another app, or the web.
Illuminated navigation buttons
Pretty much everything is customizable, so we will leave it with that. With a 1.2mHz chip, this isn’t meant to compete with your Smartphone. No, it is meant to be competent and upgradable when new Firmware comes out. FiiO has chosen wisely in not loading the x5 with bloatware. We seem to be a far cry from the day when manufacturers loaded their wares with unneeded bloatware. THANK GAWD!
Operation between screens is fairly fast…fast enough not to be bothered while our lightning fast Smartphones run circles around it…Don’t think tortoise/hare, though. That would be an unfair comparison. Think hare/less fast hare…
Navigation around the critter is good, efficient, and typical Android. Running 5.1.1 , it is solid. While no match for a smartphone, speedwise the x5 is quite adequate as mentioned above. Those familiar with Android phones will have no problem navigating around; and even those lunkheads of us using iOS, will gain sufficient competence to not look like a dolt whenst around you “Android-experts.”
ME, not you as I met Android again...
Native FiiO Music App:
FiiO’s native music app is quite good, but pretty much frill-free, outside of VIPER. The ability to download and run your favorite music app gives many, many options. The first app I downloaded was Tidal so streaming allows multiple music platforms. Pretty much anything that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store can be run. Although I have not tried it, Apple Music can be downloaded and run. How well, again I do not know. With this plethora of options (and yes, I know these are not new, but how well they preform is “almost” a new feature), you can customize the FiiO to your hearts content!
Someone PM’d me regarding the use of Apple streaming music, as they had quite a bit of that. Well, I did not know, but did the legwork, and you can in fact run an Apple Music app on the x5. So, multi-platforms are certainly a nice aspect of running an OS system on a DAP.
Music Functions (within each app):
Loading two sd cards, is quick and painless (much less so, than on my old x3ii, believe it or not). Once in the native FiiO music app, you are presented with the usual choices of genre, artist, album, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary here…move along…to the menu, which shows all of the songs. Scrolling right on a song reveals a cool menu option of favorite, add to playlist and share via Bluetooth. Excellent options, indeed. Scrolling left give the delete song option.
Scroll right for favorites, playlist and Bluetooth sending. Scroll left for delete
While in the individual songs menu, you have the options of shuffle, repeat, share via Bluetooth again, favorite, add to playlist and the usual play functions. Scrolling right from this sub menu gives the option to see what songs are queued before and after the current song. In album mode, you get the whole list.
A decent, logical app, which will work for most people, the native app is nothing to sneeze at. Others will of course download their favorite such as Poweramp or others. With 480mW at 16 ohms, there is plenty of power for those apps to run most headphones, too. A multitude of supported file formats helps, too (as it should).
File format support
DSD：DSD64/128（".iso", ".dsf", ".dff"）
APE Extra High：192kHz/24bit（MAX）
MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG...
A quick word about the VIPER option. From what I have read, this is quite the popular sound EQ app/addition. My understanding is that this is the “go to” EQ for Android systems. While I have played around with it somewhat, I’m not sure this isn’t just a glorified native EQ. I’m sure there are those of you out there, who will now throw tiny pebbles and twigs at me for saying that, but tough...
It’s my review and I can say that if I want.
That tantrum said, I can hear a difference, and I am still playing with it. One of the benefits, which I can see is that you can modify several different settings WITHOUT changing the EQ. That might be the true beneficial aspect of this. I know, I would be loath to spend any money on some of the features before trying them out. I guess I am saying it works, but I am not sold on its benefits…yet…Addendum: it works!
FLC Technology FLC8S
MEE Audio Pinnacle P1
FiiO F1 (because I can!)
Schiit Magni 2
The majority of my time was spent with the FLC8S. This was easiest to me, and in all likelihood, I would IEM my upcoming x5iii. Using a headphone would be a luxury, which I would love to enjoy more but it simply doesn’t happen enough to me. And I will state, that the FLC8S unequivocally worked stunningly well. I am as impressed day to day with them as I am the x5. The synergy with the Shanling M5 was astounding, and what hooked me. The synergy with the FiiO is as good, and sometimes better (such as on twentyonepilots excellent newer song Heathen). Both versions on Tidal are superb. The building of sound towards that bass flush is anticipation of Heinz Ketchup quality. To feel the bass flow through the drivers makes me extol the virtues like few items have before. Just wow…
The Nighthawk gave a wonderfully airy sound to any music played. Whether through the sd card, or Tidal; overall quality of sound was worth the time. One could say that the clarity of the FiiO was met hand in hand with the airy sound from the NH. One would not be wrong. And one would be happy to enjoy the pair.
Brief listens through both the P1 and Tennmak’s Pro allowed for verification, that the FLC8S is pretty damn good. I can say that I liked all three, but the FLC8S is my go-to, until my Vibro Labs Aria arrives. The P1 was astounding yet again. This $200 IEM keeps coming back to me and I must smile. While the bass is lacking to me, the overall clarity and crisp nature of the sound makes it just quite pleasant with which to listen. Through Tidal or FiiO native music, I enjoyed my time yet again with the Pinnacle.
The Tennmak, is probably my favorite “budget” IEM. Retailing for 9x LESS than the P1, I really like the sound characteristics. Much deeper and palpable bass, the only thing holding this critter back is that it cannot handle complicated music like the expensives with which it tries to compete. That and because of the bass, the sound can be a bit hard to separate instrumentation-wise. I still use them regularly for workouts and general quick listens. They worked quite well with the x5. A worthy addition to anyone’s collection.
Smooooth. Slightly warm. Good bass through Tidal, sound stage is good, and pushed forward. I do not mind. Closer to neutral than i5, but with a better bass push. Maybe it is an authentic bass sound, or the Tidal tuning. There is a jet-black background between songs on Tidal. Velvety of sound has been thrown around in the descriptions by some. I would concur, and add that the sound might be the equivalent of experiencing King Henry’s sitting parlor on the finest sofa you may have set your bum upon…while reading politely and listening to the Harpsichord play. Just a thoroughly enjoyable time is had. Almost neutral, but slightly north of neutral is how I would describe the signature. Instrument separation where it should be, true to the artist. Good depth and width of the sound stage, and a cohesiveness that allows the musical selection to show through.
A brighter, more clear sound than my 6+, and I would hope so! That is all I need say there...Compared to the MBP-the x5iii is a slightly more forward sound. Those cymbal shots, which are up front (as they should be in any twentyonepilots song…) on the x5iii, are SLIGHTLY behind center stage on the MBP, without the Shanling UP. With the UP inline, the mids are pushed forward, and a deeper bass than the x5iii can provide is had. But that’s not really a fair comparison, so…
Running the x5iii through its paces, I alternated between Tidal (ummm…no, actually you didn’t; you ran one dedicated program a day, you moron…) and the native Fiio music app. Tidal free provides a really good basis for comparison, because even that level of music is quite good (to me). I was mighty impressed with how the FiiO handled the songs without any delay (except the initial load-up of a change in artist), while allowing me to surf the web without pause. The only glitches to speed and functionality were from my home WiFi going goofy and playing hide-and-seek with me…I now hate hide-and-seek and will punch anyone who says otherwise…
My LEAST favorite game, as of yesterday...
Anywho, the FiiO came through all trials with nary a glitch or hiccup. As each time of use passed, I became more and more impressed. This was fast moving to the top of my DAP list, knocking the heck of the things in front of it to get there, too. Over the last year, I have had the privilege to test some fine equipment; and I can say that each time I was impressed with something from each DAP. Each have their benefits whether it was sound quality, ability to play music seamlessly, or the functions that go along with said DAP. With the x5iii, I can honestly say that all of the functioning parts came together, and well…. just worked. And the benefit? The sound was close to the top, if not AT the top against all of those other DAP’s. A true tip of the hat to FiiO for making a synergistic device, which caters to those who favor streaming, AND those who are stuck with the “ancient” technology of sd cards. Each format can sound simply superb. I say this listening Stevie Ray Vaughan (God rest his soul) on FLAC and my 64gb sd card. The pull of his guitar on Voodoo Chile is magical, deep, near-religious, smoky, dark, and mysterious. A true soul-rendering version to the original by Jimmy Hendricks. One cannot help but come away with chills and be impressed that not only is the song magnificent, but the presentation by the x5 is true to meaning. I must have another Cold Shot of single malt to calm my nerves…Man, he is good…and so is the FiiO. This combo was meant to be together…period. GOD, I miss him…
Taken from us too early...
A side note: a huge portion of my passion for music comes from Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lucky enough to see him twice in the big (both outdoor), and twice more AFTER each show in a small venue (INTIMATE actually); his passion was unquestionable. His oneness with the guitar showed on each little scratch, each little divot, each stretch of string to get that little extra out of the note was something I will never forget…ever. He was taken from us way too early. I was “lucky enough,” under the circumstances to see Eric Clapton, in Kansas City the night after the plane crash. The two had just performed the night before at Alpine Valley, in Wisconsin. It was Eric Clapton’s seat, which SRV took on that fated night flight…something that clearly shook Clapton as he played for three-and-a-half hours straight that next night in KC. He never said a word about anything. He let his music play tribute to SRV, and it did. There were times you could hear a pin drop in the outdoor audience, and then a collective sob of sorrow whilst EC played. That was the only way it could be, an impassioned musical tribute to a friend; a player we all collectively lost that previous night. I can still go through every song played that night.
If the FiiO can bring out the passion, the sweat in SRV’s music, then I am smitten. I am taken back to the last time I saw SRV live, and it was a good night as he sat on the stage at Starlight Theater, swinging his feet as he played Lenny, and we listened. We closed our eyes and simply enjoyed the music. It was perfect.
The FiiO is not, but it is an exceptionally well-versed attempt at such. And as such, the highest praise I can give is that my own personal unit is on order awaiting shipment. I had no intention what so ever in doing that, but I bit. I bit hard, and after a glorious week, I do not regret it one bit. Or is that bite?
Negatives of the FiiO are there, but pretty much few. I’m not a real fan of the black leather case…to me it makes operating the buttons much harder. Maybe it will break in, but I prefer the clear plastic case, with the benefit of looking at the cool device. While the volume wheel looks very fine with the gold accent, I would like a quicker response to large inputs. To raise the volume a good bit takes several tweaks of the wheel. I’m not a big fan of that. As @x RELIC x mentioned, bumping the side buttons is annoying, and should be changed. I would agree, but with the caveat that being left-handed has an advantage here…I can carefully wake the item from sleep, and raise the volume with one hand. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a “left handed DAP,” before; but I will take it!
FiiO’s native music app is good, quite good. Throw in the addition of VIPER, even with the add-on purchases; and you have a fine baseline. A function, which I deservedly call a flaw though is that when you pause music, and exit. Upon return, the app resets to the baseline start, instead of remembering where you were. I find this highly annoying. To the point, where I will probably download another music app to try with my own. Neutron gets good reviews, so that will probably be my first option. Coming from iOS, I am devoid of Android music app knowledge, so I will rely upon the fine peeps here. Maybe a future FW update will correct that. Not a deal breaker, simply annoying, it is.
How I felt using the native FiiO app, but not PLAYING it...
Beyond that, I can find little to fault. A superb attempt at an Android DAP, and one, which will probably be studied closely by the competition.
Baseline information on the competitors:
Cayin I5- A Ferrari with a flat tire limited to the speed limit. But, it IS still a Ferrari. Yes, a red one.
Shanling M5- an old trusty (I said trusty not rusty) Range Rover…it just works, even with the quirks it possesses, and goes anywhere.
Opus #1- VW R32-fast, fun, it just works. Unobtrusive, almost boring, but stunning in performance. Dark gray in color…interior, too. One, which those in the know…well know.
FiiO x5iii- an Aston Martin Vanquish S with the street creds to back it up.
iPhone 6+ boring baseline Smartphone (no auto analogies, except maybe a “competent” Toyota Corolla…)
x5iii v i5:
From memory, the i5 provides a warmer sound base with which to start. I REALLY liked the sound of the Cayin. Clean, clear, crisp like that mountain cabin, one cannot escape the fact that this is a well “north of neutral” warm sounding DAP. My tastes tend toward the dark side, so I did not mind. A thoroughly enjoyable sound, mixed with the niggles and snafus of a near-first time Android-based DAP in this range. I commend Cayin for helping make the i5 such a fine DAP. It is an excellent foray into the mid-fi range, and one, which I anxiously look forward to upgrades in, or their revised model (no hurry, it is still quite good). But, compared to the x5iii, it falls short. The x5 is easier to navigate through, quicker of operation, and generally more efficient of operation. Plus two card slots help, along with a “newer” Android OS makes it functional in the interwebbie-world for a longer time.
Sound wise, the x5 runs slightly south of the i5, and I do not mind. ZOOT ALORE! He likes something that is LESS warm!!! Oh, shut it…yes in fact I do. While the FiiO is SLIGHTLY less warm, it is still north of neutral, just not out of sight warm like the i5 tends to be…A bit crisper (crispier?) a smidge more clear, and a sound closer to neutral has it’s benefits. One is that you can EQ that sound to your preferences. Running VIPER while listening to Stevie Ray, you are enveloped in the music, taken into the experience. With a sound stage slightly larger than the intimate Cayin, you get the whole musical experience. The i5 is no slouch, and if my preferences were based solely on sound, then the Cayin could very well win…who DOESN’T want a Ferrari?! That said, the early-stage adoption of an older Android OS while allowing Cayin a base in which to develop; it does put operational “skills” behind the newer/ slicker 5.1.1 on the x5. If we are talking whole package, the x5 wins, but an excellent try is had by the i5. It really is a worthy DAP.
Opus #1 v x5iii:
I was lucky enough to have @nmatheis’s #1 in house for the entirety of my time with the x5. And I was glad. Arriving slightly before the FiiO afforded me time to compare it to the i5, as well as my trusty (NOT RUSTY!) x3ii. The Opus is quite a stunning unit. Extremely easy to operate, it is a simple DAP, that focuses on MUSIC. And music, only (future upgrades on the upper level Opus #2, will bring Android operations on par with the x5iii, apparently). With dual slots, it matches the x5iii. Built of plastic and aluminum, the feel is slightly more comfortable holding than the FiiO. Make that less worried, not more comfortable. I like the way it feels. I like its heft. If possible, sound characteristic-wise, it is between the i5 and x5iii. Not neutral, not overly warm, it is an extremely pleasant sound. Again, I REALLY enjoyed the sound of the Opus (I am currently using it to burn in my Audioquest Nightowls, so it is in good hands). It does have a slightly narrower sound stage than the FiiO. SLIGHTLY. Instrument separation is excellent, bass is good with wonderful reach, and a small roll off of treble (small…), gives this stunner the warmish sound I hear. A thicker sound is what I hear from the Opus, versus the x5, too. Robust would not be an embarrassing term to describe the sound. And with dual sd slots, you should have plenty of opportunities to listen.
If quality sound characteristics are what you desire first and foremost, then you would be hard pressed to beat the Opus or the Shanling in this price range. Both are superb examples of exceptional sound capabilities. Mind you the FiiO and Cayin are no slouches, but the pure of you, dear reader, (yes, @PinkyPowers I’m thinking of you…) would be well and good to consider the #1 or M5. In fact, I peruse the Head-Fi classifieds for a used example of either, daily. My bank account is very worried…
M5 v x5iii:
The Shanling came my way (thanks Nik!) at the same time as a loaner FLC8S, which I ended up purchasing (used from eBay) after my audition. I was stunned that such a device could have such a pure sound. Almost dead neutral, the music spoke; and spoke volumes. The sound was like looking at that spectacular mountain scene, then walking through it, on a fine summer day. There was no hiding anything with the Shanling. I liked that. A lot. Compared to the FiiO, this was probably the closest of sound signatures. Vibrant (think clarity) of sound, depth of quite acceptable stage; the M5 is excellent, and I would rate it against ANY of the devices mentioned in this review. I would happily own one for pure music’s sake. And, rumor has it, that they will soon join the touchscreen Android scene. I am extremely excited at that prospect. The only knocks against this excellent device (to me) would be the finicky scroll wheel (which to me was not as intuitive to use as I thought it should be), and the slightly smaller screen. A single sd slot is also a mark against it. With adequate power, though and the excellent AK4490 chip, it does compete, and VERY well. Sound wise, there is no embarrassment in the Shanling house. Think clean and clean view, and you get the message.
A final comparison of the four would yield:
Three have volume wheels (weeeeee!): x5iii, M5, i5. The i5 wins here, simply sexy and smooth of operation. To raise the volume a good bit on the x5iii, takes quite a bit of effort and scrolling (rather annoying). The Shanling is similar to a toy bottle cap, and I do mean to state that. That to me is one of its major downsides. If it had a better tactile feel, that would improve the functioning immensely.
Aesthetics of design: Again, the i5 wins here…just flat sexy. Slim, no waste of space and a thin body. Most simplistic of design, goes to the #1. Nothing to see here, move along…The M5 is the eccentric one of the lot, and that wheel simply confirms it (not bad, mind you, just annoying…). Finally, FiiO went conservative on the x5iii. Nothing wrong with that, and it is easy to operate in hand (EXPECT some of the mentioned problems with multiple button touches)…One can simultaneously press the on/off and either the play/pause or fast forward/reverse buttons. While turning the side buttons off in the settings can compensated for, should one have to? An annoyance, one must decide if it is worth living with...
Two card slots: x5iii & #1. One card slot: M5 & i5. That is not a major deterrent to me. While it is inconvenient, I really do not care.
Final verdict on the fine four: All produce excellent sound characteristics ranging from slightly north of-neutral (x5iii, to me); to thick, stout and warm (#1); to bright, vibrant and cheery (M5); to pretty darn warm (i5). To say that I like all four would be an understatement, which will be explained below…
As I listen to Lindsey Stirling on the FiiO, my time comes close to ending. This would normally make me sad; except that I will have my very own in hand within a couple of weeks. This is the highest regard I can give to a piece of audio kit, which I review. And yes, I know that part of the appeal from the manufacturers standpoint is that the tour participant MAY end up with one. But, I am extremely judicious in that regard. Otherwise, I might find myself with all of that new kit, under a bridge without the means to charge any of them! (Wife-unit would have me hide…)
FiiO has had plenty of time to mull over decisions, make changes to their units, learn from mistakes and improve upon them. The x5iii is a stunning example of this thought and commitment to making the audio products they sell. Are they perfect? Heck, no. Does this do anything radically different? No, again. Is it groundbreaking? Certainly not. But what the x5 does, is take all that collective wisdom, and improve upon what needed improving. First and foremost, they addressed the shortcomings in their own devices and made those improvements. When you then throw in the tweaks done using other manufacturers items, you get the sense that FiiO has (hopefully) learned from their past mistakes, and will now take the necessary time to run this out, AND correct the mistakes of their other units. My firsthand knowledge is limited to this, and the excellent x3ii. I like both, a lot. But as others have pointed out, FiiO has had to work overtime correcting some of their other products operations. My hope is that they continue to do this, while sending us lucky peeps stunning devices such as the x5iii. We all win if that is the case.
I want to thank @FiiO for the opportunity to have this unit so early in the cycle. I feel honored to be included, and thank them immensely for the fine unit I have in hand. FiiO truly trusts those of us with the tour unit, and take our collective criticisms seriously. One need only look at the response time on the Head-Fi thread to understand their commitment.
After conversation with @FiiO, it was determined that I did not have the "resume" feature toggled on within the FiiO native music app. I regret not searching the features more, and appreciate the clarification by FiiO. A picture of the feature is shown below:
My apologies to the community for this oversight.
Final review video:
Well done, FiiO.
Pros - Sound stage, detail, balanced out put, build quality, value for money, accessories.
Cons - Button placement, slow screen, no dual band Wi-Fi, Fiio app still a work in progress.
I would like to thank Fiio very much for providing me with the opportunity to review the X5 iii. This review is part of Fiio’s tour, there is no monetary incentive for a positive review, the player is on loan and I will be as objective as my ears can in my evaluation of the player.
My ears are 57 years old and have listened all kinds of noise! My first recollections of music are of my grandfather's 78's, symphonies on 15 or more records, imagine. I 've progressed from a dancette record player to some serious Hi-Fi, Linn, Naim et al. I had one of the first Philips CD players and one of the Iriver CD-R players, onto Ipods and phones; to DAP and stacks and now HR DAPs.
My musical taste is wide, all forms of rock comprises most of my collection but there is an extensive repertoire of classical, jazz, country and the spoken word. If I like it, I listen to it and that is commuting, at work and often in the evening with phones when the grand children are in bed.
The excellent reviews that have already been posted have dealt with the unboxing, aesthetics and technical details. Me thinks they know a lot more about these things than I do and are far better photographers.
So here goes, I've loaded three SanDisk Ultra 256GB MicroSD, one full for a Fiio x7 and two split for the x5iii, with an identical music selection, everting from classical to rock in mp3, DSD, WAV and FLAC. The fiio player app on the x7 and the x5iii I would consider is identical FW 3.1.5 as of 24/2/17, I will not dwell on the outstanding issues, check out the x7 thread. Both scanned the same number of tracks, not all my music by about a 1000, but Fiio are on the case so hope fully this will be fixed soon. So I have also added the Neturon (payed for) player so I can compare SQ on that as well. Phones are Meze 99 classics, Audeze LCD-XC and Fidue A83 all using standard cable and balanced cable on each one. Also to test out the bluetooth a pair of Sennheiser momentum 2.0 on-ear wireless and some Sony SBH80's IEs. I do not tend to mess with output ie no Viper and no equaliser, so hopefully I'm reflecting what each bit of kit has to offer with each other. The x7 is about 8 months old, as a believer in 'run-in' electronics the x5iii has been sat playing to its self when not in use so should be run in. By the way the clear plastic cover is a nice touch but it gets in the way of getting a 2.5mm balanced plug in fully seated especially if its a chunky one. But the included leather cover is open at the bottom so has no such problem.
In Fiio 'pure' mode (which I believe bypasses a lot of android):
Sennheiser momentum 2.0 on-ear wireless:
AptX is enabled, mid range appears a bit less clear than with the x7 but bass is the same.
AptX works. Bass heavy but quite detailed with both, but you can tell they are quite cheep with both players, the x5iii is more forgiving I think and provides better results. But see the Fidues below, is it just best for IEs?
Meze 99 classic:
With the stock 3.5mm unbalanced you would be hard pushed to tell which player was which. However with the balanced cables and the x7 with the AM3, the x7 presents a better sound stage, bass is the same with both but top-end a bit brighter with the x5iii. Rock sounds particularly nice with this combo.
I hate to say this but with IEM I think the x5iii has it perhaps because they are easier to drive? The difference on volume being 30 on the x7 and 42 on the x5iii for a similar perceived volume. But again with the balanced cable the x7 has it by a slim margin. Both sound excellent with rock.
So lets put something silly on the end of them both....... Audeze LCD-XC:
Sorry the x7 wins just more of everything. But with either, a good combo for classical and Jazz.
Not phones but the x5iii sounds convincing with a Audio Pro T10 and at the other end of the spectrum a Naim Hi-Fi with Neat speakers.
Android mode using Neutron, with none of Neutrons added extras turned on and the EQ left off, the sound is perhaps not quite so precise, bass while strong feels a little dense, mid range is open and clear, top range sometimes a little splashy and occasionally harsh.
Taking the x5iii out and about in your pocket. It's a bit easier to fit in your pocket than the x7 being a bit smaller and the buttons are less easily knocked. I did n't accidentally trigger fast forward as I sometimes do with the x7. But activating the player again with the on/off button you can easily hit the play/pause. The screen seems less sensitive to my fat fingered prods than the x7 or a SonyZX phone. I use Sony SBH80's on bluetooth for the commute and Fidue A83's in the office. Last week I used the same phones for the same amount of time with the x7, the x7 wins on battery by about an hour. On bluetooth connection it breaks less frequently and you can get about 2m further away with the x7 than the x5iii, unless its stood upright, same with Wi-Fi strength, (strange). One day I managed to only get 6 hours use out of the x5iii but the screen was on a lot and I was using the Audezes.
Tidal, Amazon Music loaded via Google Play Store. They both work as expected and will download to internal and external storage. The x5iii appeared to cope well with different sample rates, though I'm no expert on those. I think the sound quality is a bit better than the Neutron player app but perhaps not as good at the Fiio player in pure mode, over all similar to the x7. Using the Fiio app to play DLNA music from my Synology DS716 worked very well, the same as the x7, as I expected and a similar sound.
I may just be getting use to the x5iii or it may just be running in but I think the sound stage feels bigger, bass has stayed firm and punchy, treble well controlled as time is going on. But I still love my x7it sounds ….....less restrained, perhaps more effortless?
Using the x5iii as a USB DAC on a Windows 10 i7 all SSD computer. Not something I ever done much, I've too many other ways to store music. It says 44,100 Hz 24 bits and is playing a DSD track, has 'played' uncompressed and compressed FLAC, MP3, using Sony Media Go with the HR tag lit up when you would expect. The Fiio diver is set at stream mode reliable, buffer, auto. It sounds nice, bit rich and warm, no pops or buz.
The x5iii bluetoothed with my Mini and sounded fine, I nominally use a USB stick and the built in Mini player, all MP3 tracks. Mini has the advantage it works well with Ipods all the track info etc. being displayed not the case with the x5iii.
A quick comparison to other players, some I own some friends do some with my phones some with friends (very subjective sic.):
Ibasso DX80, generally warmer and less high end detail than the x5iii
A&K Junior, very similar to the x5iii
Sony Walkman NW-A35, I like the interface, but very bright in comparison to the x5iii.
X5 2[sup]nd[/sup]. 3 is better than 2 but similar signature.
Iopd classic, more convenient than the x5iii but no comparison in SQ.
HTC phone and a mojo, nice, mojo doing all the work but adds bulk.
Cyin N6, the design is interesting and the sound is more x5 2[sup]nd [/sup].If I had n't heard the x5iii I may well......
remember this is my ears personal opinion!
Selecting some specific tracks not for any reason just as I've played them as I typed this:
Rush: Moving Pictures: XYZ: FLAC:96/24:
The drumming is clean and the symbols not too splashy. The base rattles your fillings as it cuts in. Mids are well distinguished. The whip crack noises have space and depth. I've often though this was quite brightly recorded when played on an Ipod but the x5iii makes the best of it. I thine the x7 gives it a bit of a wider sound stage.
Bartok: Concerto For Orchestra – Reiner-CSO: Elegia: Andante non troppo: DSD/128:
Violin a nice, the flute is very crisp and clear. Base is very reverberative and deep. The sound stage appears wide and had depth. The wind section has real attack. The loud passages are well contrasted to the quite melancholy passages. With the Mezes I think this is easier to listen to with the x5iii than the x7, perhaps it too involving for comfort. But this is not music to relax to it's music you listen to and will make the hairs on the back of you neck stand on end. Exceptional on both with the Audezes
Jazz Various:2006 Chesky Records: Meditation - Ana Caram: WAV :96/24:
Voice is clear with no top ends sibilance, while the piano bounces away in the background, the appears to be a lot of space between it and the singers. During the the duet there is good voice separation. The piano roll-off at the the end has drama. With the Fidue A83's its quite dream like it rolls around you head.
Five Finger Death Punch: American Capitalist:100 ways to hate: FLAC: 44/16 encoded from CD with EAC:
Power and dynamic range are improved and the voice stands out. In a track I've always thought must have been mastered as an MP3; the drumming appears to have more space and is cleaner and the guitar mids are cleaner. When it stops it stops, is there hiss, no its jut the hairs in you ear just stopping moving. Gives the Momentums a workout.
Coheed and Cambria:Good God Apollo I'm burning star IV: The willing well III: Appollo II: MP3 download:
MP3 is what it is you can tell stuff is missing, it's compressed but it sounds better than on and Ipod perhaps a bit more life. Voices are less splashy and the instruments more clearly defined.
Hopefully this gives you some idea what the x5iii sounds like at least to my ears. But remember everyone's ears and phones are different and we all have our own preferences.
The good news is that if you want to play around the equaliser on the Fiio app, it is good and then there is always Viper. In Neutron there are extensive sound controllers that an make your music sound almost any way you want it to or even make up for deficiencies in you phones or hearing.
Will I go out and buy one? Yes I have. What will it replace an Ipod classic (clapped out). Is it the best DAP? Perhaps my Naim HDX is but then you can not stuff it in your pocket and the x5iii is very listenable to and a 10th. of the price.
I hope you enjoy reading this, its my first review! Thank you Fiio for letting me have a play with the x5iii.
Pros - Very Detailed Bass and Mids, Good Soundstage Width and Depth, Fast and Fluid UI, Android, Modern Design, Screen Quality
Cons - Buttons Placement, Smooth top end
FiiO X5 3rd generation is the successor of the "loved by many" X5 2nd generation DAP from FiiO.
I was a part of the tour for X5 3rd gen because I really wanted to hear it for a longer period of time before deciding whether I want to buy one for myself or not.
This proven to be an unwise idea as now I want to buy one.
FiiO is a company that emerged in 2007 and focused on portable headphone amplifiers at first, but slowly extended their product range to DAPs (digital audio players), desktop headphone amplifiers and IEMs (in-ear monitors). I only met with a FiiO product in 2014-2015 when I got my FiiO X5 - the best DAP I would had ever laid my hands on at that point. FiiO impressed me with the quality of their products for the price asked ever since and I generally recommend their products for both the value and the quality of their offering, albeit I don't have any affiliation with FiiO at this moment and there was no incentive offered for any of my words. Those are just my honest observations.
There are many DAPs that want to claim the tile of King Of DAPs and none was perfect thus far for my needs, with the closest to perfect being FiiO X5ii which has been my great music companion for over two years now and proven to be a champ in every aspect.
My name is George and I enjoy music and listen to music more than the average person. Sometimes I listen even 8 - 10 hours a day. I listen music while working, listen to music for enjoyment and listen to music while I'm gaming. Music is everywhere around me, be it classical, pop, rap, metal, jazz or electronica or any other genera for that matter. I also like to prepare long playlists to enjoy while working on my company's games.
You can check out more on our pages here https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/ and here https://twitter.com/7heartstudios . My love for music has had an impact on our games as we hold the music close to our hearts and we are committed to only use ogg -q10 as the encoding format for our music since it offers the best disk space to sound quality ratio, OGG -q10 being audibly transparent when compared to FLAC encoding.
Sometimes I like to get lost in music and experience a whole new level of enlightenment from the long hours. I love new songs as much as I love songs that I've been listening to since my early childhood. I can say that music shaped my imagination and improved every part of my life, giving me a wide perspective over life - this being a broad statement made about music in general. Love is a term too short to explain how I feel about music, but so are most words when used to describe complex human emotions.
(Sorry, I got lost for a moment there. Back on track)
I have owned a FiiO X5 2nd generation for a good while now. I has been my trusty companion through thick and thin, being there with me on my long trips to distant cities and being with me when I was happy and fully enjoying my life. X5ii shaped my standards for what I consider a worthy DAP and I was quite agitated when FiiO announced an X5-3 that was so different from it's predecessor. I had so many questions, so many doubts about X5-3 so I wanted to test one and see how it works for myself.
By the time FiiO X5-3 arrived to me, it was a cloudy morning and I had too little sleep that night having worked until 6 AM on the upcoming games Eternal Hour, Falsetto Memories and Quantum Magica. The agent delivering the X5-3 called me on a monotonous tone, so I swiftly went outside to pick the box.
Fast forward through the unboxing and the first setup to the sound and device impressions, I was baffled. There was so much about X5-3's feeling as a device that was different from X5ii. Instead of feeling like a DAP, X5-3 feels more like a high end luxury device that you might expect to get with an expensive car. The device is packaged with a leather case that adds a certain style to owning the device. The moment I plugged X5-3 in with me IEMs, Sennheiser ie800, the sound coming from the rather modern device sound was shocking; The entire sound was changed and in a positive way. It felt like X5-3 is the upgraded version of an X5ii on steroids and I had to listen more before making a certain assessment of how the sound changed exactly. All I knew is that I loved the guitar notes I was hearing
Box and package
Leather skin + X5-3
X5-3 and X5-2
X5-3 came in a nice package made out of a cardboard box with an intricate layering inside. In the box you can find X5-3, its manuals, a warranty card, a tool for taking the mSD trays out, one coaux cable, a leather (leatherette?) skin, a silicone clear skin (it is on X5-3 by default) and a high quality USB cable (thicker than the typical audio cable and dedicated for Audio).
One of the most exciting parts of owning a product is opening the box it came in, then using it the first few times. If a product is really good, it will be exciting every single time it's being used, and this is something FiiO X5ii was really good at with the device I bought in the past.
The most intriguing parts of the box are X5-3 itself, the leather case and the USB cable. While I'm not a leather expert, the leather case has a nice red stitching on it's back that adds a clear plus of style to it and the leather itself has a smooth yet slightly textured feeling to it. There is no indication whether it is faux leather or animal leather, but it looks pretty good in person. The writing on the back looks and feels nice to the touch and the holes in the leather case exactly where they should to enable a good operation. The leather case is arguably better than the silicone one for most usage scenarios since the cut around the headphone jack in the silicone case won't allow for certain cables to be used, but that is just me nitpicking.
The USB cable is also a very interesting addition as it's been changed from the ones a few years ago (when I first bought my X5 and my X5ii) and now the cables are of a higher quality and have a different type of construction and shielding. Flexing the cable is possible, but it is not overly flexible. The stiffness is most probably caused by its internal composition.
It is worthy to mention that there are screen protectors both on the face and on the back of X5-3; The screen protector found on the display of X5-3 is a glass screen protector with rounded and chamfered edges that doesn't impede operation and usage of X5-3 in any way. The screen protector on the back seems to be a thin plastic protector that is applied to protect the back of X5-3's glass back from scratches. I am pleased with both additions since they come in the box and already applied from the factory.
The Hi-Res sticker on the glass display of X5-3 can be easily peeled off but I didn't really take the liberty to do so as I don't own the tour unit. There was a similar sticker on the back of my X5ii when it arrived and it took me 10 seconds to peel it off, and another 5 to clean any residual glue, but given the smooth glass texture of the X5-3's glass display protector, there won't be any trace glue left.
All in all, The unboxing experience of X5-3 is nice and the box includes the right amount of accessories. There aren't many other accessories that I would had really asked for since it's package is robust, but I would like audio companies to bring back the 3.5mm jack saver (a rubber 3.5mm plug) that was found with the first generation of FiiO X5. I found them good for protecting the headphone jacks from dust or other debris, but it is good to mention that the silicone case offers rubber flaps over the 3.5mm audio jacks.
What I look in for a DAP
When buying a Digital Audio Player, I have a few things that I really need for me to even consider buying it. Those are:
- Battery life – at least 8 hours of function at high volume on high gain, with some screen operation and with EQ function engaged (real world usage scenario)
- Good and intuitive / ergonomic build (buttons arrangement, robust build, no creaking noises, resistance to pressure for when it's a pocket, robust headphone jacks)
- Display (screen) brightness, sharpness, colors and general quality
- Good Value
- Interesting design - the device must look modern / elegant / luxurious and fit in with both street usage and a business environment
- To work well with both IEMs and over the ear headphones
- Sound quality
- USB DAC function
- Good EQ function
- Enough I/O ports
- Fluent, Fast, stable Firmware
- Wide Music file type support
Output Impedance1 ohm into a 32 ohm load
Connector3.5mm Headphone Out, 2.5 mm balanced
Frequency Response5 Hz - 55.000Hz (-3dB)
Works as a USB DACYes (didn't test)
Play Time~10 Hours
Display Size / Type 3.97", IPS
Display Resolution480x800 pixels
Output Power 480mW into 16 ohm, THD+N <1%
DAC ChipAK4490 x 2
Max Output Voltage8 Vp-p
Cross Talk98 dB / 1kHz
SNR115dB (A weighted)
AMP ConfigurationOPA 1642 x2 + OPA 426 x2
CPURK 3188 4-core
FirmwareCustomized Android 5.1
Wifi SupportYes, b/g/n standards
BluetoothV4.0 apt-X supported
mSD support2 x mSD slots (max 256 GB x2)
Formats supported Virtually every format made supported by Android apps
X5-3 will surprise anyone who looks at it as it's far from being a chunky audiophile device and it looks closer to an elegant device taken out of a modern (or maybe Industrial) museum. X5-3 is characterized by sharp angles, a smooth digital volume wheel, snappy buttons on both sides of the device and glass on both front and back of the device.
On the front, there is a very fine dot pattern that accompanies the display, giving it a plus of elegance, and the back of X5-3 is characterized by a glass surface under which there is a pattern of tiny golden stars. The FiiO logo on the front will be covered by the leather case and so will be most of the device, but the leather case by itself has a stylish appearance although it features less angular and more rounded edges,
The volume wheel is an analogue controller for the digital volume chip and while the clicks are not exactly the loudest or the most tactile, they are easy to feel and offer the volume a coherent feel. The space between two clicks is large and while it helps with having a finer control over the volume wheel, it is better to use the display control of volume if you're doing large adjustments for volume.
The placement of the buttons is okay, but it is possible to press the play / pause button by mistake while trying to press the power button as it is possible to press the FWD / BCKWD button while trying to press the power button. A similar effect happens with the volume wheel as it is exactly on the other end compared to the power button. The device works well for ambidextrous usage and while it doesn't offer perfect button placement, using it left handed will offer a better control for buttons when compared to right handed usage.
It is possible to use X5-3 inside the pocket without much hassle and having the physical buttons on the other side than the power buttons is better here as it's not possible to activate the display by mistake.
X5-3 is made out of metal and the edges are slightly chamfered offering a good feeling to the device. The device feels sturdy in the hand and there is no creaking as X5-3 does not give in to any kind of pressure. The display won't show any color shifts when pressure is applied, so X5-3 can be used inside a pocket without a problem. It is recommended to avoid pocket usage to protect the headphone jacks, but the headphone jacks are sturdy and have a solid feeling to them. The USB port is also pretty stable and won't jiggle while in usage.
While many have criticized the usage of a combined line out and coaux out port, I rarely use either so it works well enough for me. I can't assess whether there is any degradation in sound caused by the standalone design, but the DAC within X5-3 is good and the sound coming out of the line out is clean. I didn't text the coaux function at all, but there is an adapter included in the box and I know that it worked very well with X5 and X5ii attached to Chord Hugo.
The usage of a touchscreen display is good, but the display might be small for big fingers as I'm actually using a phone of 6.44" and still can't write a message without Google's auxiliary help (autocorrect). Nevertheless, I was able to use X5-3 without a problem and the big font setting helps out with this. There is enough information on the display and the touchscreen sensor is precise enough for daily usage. Given the size and purposing of X5-3, it is not a device made for playing games or watching videos, and its main purpose is listening to music - purpose which it achieves pretty well.
Both mSD card trays are ejected using the tool included in the package and they sit pretty tightly in the device, there is no trace of them sliding out without the usage of the mentioned tool. The mSD cards are facing with the connector pins up (towards the display) and are placed from the back of the device, the design being the same as it is on my Xiaomi Mi Max smartphone.
I can't talk about the 2.5mm balanced jack in any way as I don't own any balanced IEMs or headphones at the moment and I didn't have the time to borrow a balanced headphone.
Firmware and UI
Upon opening X5-3 first time and activating the wifi function, it will request the installation of the latest FW via OTA update. The update goes smooth and the latest version released from FiiO works well. The firmware and UI themselves are fluid and fast, X5-3 being the new standard for the speed a DAP should have. Comparing X5-3 to X5ii, X5-3 is faster than even X5ii with the modded firmware and considerably faster than X5ii running stock firmware. X5-3 features a built in music app developed by FiiO which works well and plays back all the music formats I have within my collection. It is hard to fault X5-3 on the firmware or UI side as it is right now and the device requires a maximum time of 5 minutes before getting used to it.
FiiO bundled Viper effects within the stock music app offering a while array of effects developed by the Viper Team. As this is a review unit (and I have to send it back), I didn't purchase any effect, but the effects that you can use out of the box are good, and won't cause any aliasing / distortions / artifacts.
FiiO's own Music app is adequate and it's actually good for music playback. I didn't feel the need to install any other app.
The operation is smooth, gapless playback seems to work by default and there were no drops in music and no crashes in my usage. I generally prefer to use "browse by folder" as it is simpler for me to predict what songs are included under which tag and my music collection is too big to manually tag every song. Some songs had certain tags when extracted from the CDs making them harder to properly tag to be used while portable. Nevertheless, I tested the play by tag function and X5-3 has indexed my entire library well and all tags were read correctly, even tags and names that otherwise didn't show well on my X5ii.
As the FW is based on Android, it is possible to install most music apps and even video apps and games from Google Play Store and upon testing, VLC media player works well, same for Angry Birds and Tentacle Wars games. This addition of Google Play based apps will allow for virtually any file type to be played and other type of features that are enabled through a different app, if there is a feature desired that isn't supported by the default music app. I didn't discover any feature that wasn't supported by the default music app, but my needs are quite basic when it comes to music playback. I wasn't able to test the bluetooth function as I don't own any Bluetooth headphones or IEMs at this moment.
Regarding the FW being based on Android, I observed no degradation in sound caused by the usage of Android firmware and I got to admit that I was a bit reluctant at first when it came to Android, but I was pleasantly surprised that FiiO made the FW stable and the sound quality is good with Android. They made a deeply customized version of android that comes with very little on the side and I would actually be willing to say that there is zero bloatware on x5-3, most apps being useful. The technical support app offers an easier way of finding whether X5-3 is running the latest FW available for it and is a good help so all the apps that come installed from the factory are pretty useful.
X5-3 has a specific signature that is not exactly easy to describe. I would say that the sound is detailed, open with a generally smooth and warm presentation. It has a large soundstage that has a good depth, width and height to it and it also features good technical ADSR, PRaT and transients.
Little disclaimer: For those impressions I have used Ultrasone Dj One pro, Sennheiser ie800 and Meze classics 99, all items being quite revealing in terms of sound. The headphones used will always have an impact on the sound and impressions. X5-3 is able to drive all of them very well. EQ was used for 99C and DJ1P but no EQ or enhancements were used for ie800. At some point, I might end up describing the signature of ie800, 99C or DJ1P so please take the whole sound quality area with a grain of salt as it's not really possible to describe the sound of a source without using a transducer. The transducers used are very good and TOTL - your experience might differ if you're using other transducers.
I noticed that the channel balance is good on X5-3 and there is an option in the settings to change the channel balance if need be, with + / - 10dB on either channel. The function works well and won't introduce aliasing or errors nor will affect the sound in any negative way.
The Bass is one of the first things that hits when listening with X5-3. The bass of X5-3 is deep and goes lower than you would expect before listening to it. At the same time, the bass is tight and fast, it doesn't lose any of its power nor it bloat or lose its detail. The bass is able to recover every bit of detail in the music that's being played - but there's more to it. The bass is actually faster and better than on any other device I owned to date, being able to expose all the tiny ribs and textures hidden within the bass of many tracks - ribs and textures that I wasn't aware of before. Listening to IOSYS and Mindless Self Indulgence will reveal an even deeper layer of textures than most devices are able to show, the quality of the bass being way better than expected. Given my prior experiences, X5-3 has the best bass of any DAP I played with for extended periods of time, outclassing every DAP that I owned (X5, X5ii). What's even more interesting about the bass of X5-3 is the transient quality of it; Most DAPs will recover the bass as either a mass of sound or a liquid presence in the music, but X5-3 recovers the bass with more transients, more depth and considerably better texture recovery than any of those being an axe that cuts through the veil that's been laid on the bass before. I would say that if there is a lace laid over the bass area, X5-3 is able to recover all the details in that and show paint it before your eyes.
The most interesting part is that X5-3 doesn't have an enhanced bass by itself, being pretty neutral in the bass area; This detail in bass is a result of its own ability to recover the details hidden in the bass and I can easily name its bass the best I heard to date and even although I always loved bass, I never knew that there was so much fun to it - so much texture.
The incredible transient recovery of ie800 and 99C will also play a role in this, but the other DAPs I owned were tested with the same headphones so it's fair to assume that X5-3 outclasses them by a considerable margin.
The midrange of X5-3 is another really nice surprise for X5-3 as it has abilities beyond those of its predecessors. The midrange is sweet and has a generally sweet tone to it while staying true to the recording. I was baffled again by the detail but even more by the textures that are once again better than I expected. The transient abilities of X5-3 are very good and the midrange can recover sounds that I barely noticed before like short notes or nuances in complex songs. For example, many of the background guitars in Dance Gavin Dance - Acceptance speech were generally clouded and sounded closer to a fuzzy cloud rather than proper guitar notes with complex textures and X5-3 is able to properly define all those textures - not only exposing them like under a microscope, but even pointing the smallest dents in the sound. Violins now have a complex texture and it's easier to recall the tension and surface of the strings while they are played, but the biggest difference I felt were in rock and metal music as X5-3 was very good at painting guitars, strings and string textures.
The details are very good and the soundstage and instrument separation of X5-3 are on another level when compared to its predecessors, leading to a whole new level of instrument definition. Those differences are best felt on extremely complex songs that can bring a simpler device to its knees. Songs like those include most of the IOSYS album "Nothing but the TOHO EDM", album which has a lot of fine details in the mids that are easily overshadowed by a less detailed source. Dance Gavin Dance music in general can get overshadowed by a cloud of noise, like a fuzz, while really well detailed sources will be able to pick all the details in the guitar picks and notes. The guitars do move across the stereo image as they should and there is an involving sense of music within every note. Songs that would otherwise sound stale will gain a sense of melody and fun to them, will gain more musicality and the better speed of X5-3 has a deep impact on how a song can transform from a random compilation of fuzzy noises into a true magical masterpiece that pictures the music as it was recorded.
It is smooth and slightly rolled off. This is one of the smoother trebles I heard so far in a DAP and the general signature of X5-3 is not neutral but fun and smooth. The DAC chip within X5-3 is known to have "Velvet Sound" technology incorporated, which is a technology developed by Asashi Kasei. There is some information on Asashi Kasei Microdevices official site about what it does, but I would like to have more time to listen to X5-3 before pronouncing what it does exactly.
From the more practical information that can be found on their site, the velvet sound technology is a trick that will enhance the soundstage of a device and it works pretty well for that. Given it's name "velvet sound", it is unclear whether it tries to achieve velvety treble as well in the DAC phase, but the treble of X5-3 could be named velvety and smooth. It sounds like the cymbals have some velvet within instead of being fully made of metal. This results in a sound where all the detail is still there but the treble is soft and velvety.
The top end of X5-3 is smooth, detailed and will show every instrument played and cymbal crash. There is something to it that will pull back the top end in a recording and will make almost any album listenable, giving music less work in the high registers. This approach is useful to make music easier on the listener, being forgiving with many types of music. Songs like Amon Amarth - the Pursuit of The Vikings will get a new meaning to their music, the melodic part of the song being enhanced by the velvety treble. The song becomes a fast and friendly composition rather than the raw / rough metal song that it normally is.
I will complete this section when I get the chance to listen more to X5-3 as right now my opinions are incomplete and my time of listening to X5-3 has pretty much ran out now. Some impressions might be mistaken due to not enough time spent with X5-3.
X5-3 could be named musical considering that it will make even harsh death metal songs sound more musical; Taking away the harshness of the cymbal crashes will turn many otherwise energetic songs into relaxed compositions where it is easier to appreciate the beautiful guitar compositions and drums arrangements. With acoustic music, it is possible to increase the treble from either X5-3's internal EQ or from within Viper Effects to add a bit more bite, if this is desired. The treble is ultimately as clear and detailed as X5ii, with the sound coming as more refined in the end, but with smoothness. X5-3 is a DAP that can be used for many hours at once, without getting any fatigue. It is fairly good for long listening sessions of Jazz compositions or even listening to technical death metal as without the harshness in the treble, those songs are more like fast compositions of non-fatigue energetic music.
The soundstage of X5-3 is bigger than that of it's predecessor - or it rather has better depth and a rounded soundstage. The soundstage of X5-3 reaches very good levels and it adds a bit more realism to the instrument separation making music more interesting. It is easy to identify a single guitar's work in complex songs like those speedy pieces from Protest the Hero or identifying the fine nuances over a classy Cabaret or Jazz composition, like those sang by Jill Tracy. The ethereal and straightforward out-worldly compositions of Akira Yamaoka have a precise position of all the symbols and the instruments, giving more life to all the eerie pieces he composed.
With a good depth of stage, it is possible to recall which sound comes from a closer position and which comes from a distance, leading to an intriguing experience. X5-3 is good at getting the user involved in the music.
The ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) and PRaT (Peace, Rhythm and Timing) are consistently better on X5-3 when compared to X5ii and the transients were upgraded as well in the process. The new level of detail in the transients will have two effects, one immediate and one that will change listening to music. The immediate effect are the improved textures of every instrument and the macro-details being enhanced and presented more directly without affecting the main component of the music. The longer and more subtle effect is a considerable boost in micro details and nuances within the musical notes. As ADSR is the main component of every note responsible for how real a note sounds like (musical notes having a unique shape in nature), the improvement brought in ADSR will give every note a new subtle meaning, every piano key being even closer to its natural sound.
FiiO X5-3 is rated to be able to drive headphones from 16 to 150 ohm, but the highest headphone I tested it with was a 64 ohm Ultrasone Dj One Pro. X5-3 was able to drive DJ1P well, and there was no trace of struggle at any point. If there is a need for more power, FiiO A5 amplifier is a good option and the combo should have enough driving power for most headphones. X5-3 combined well with Sennheiser ie800 and there was no trace of hiss, but ie800 is not the most hissy IEM out there either. All in all, X5-3 should be able to work just well with almost any headphone out there. I cannot talk about the standalone DAC sound / signature at this moment as I need more time to test, but I speculate that the DAC in X5ii is good and should make a good DAC even in an audiophile large speaker system.
X5-3 vs X5ii – X5-3 brings a lot of new features to the table, making the comparison almost unfair. X5-3 brings a whole new level of customization with the Android OS, a more detailed sound in general with better textures, a considerably smoother top end and a whole new feature set like Wifi abilities, BlueTooth with APT-X and balanced headphone output. The mechanical volume controller on X5-3 is a nice addition as is its smooth to use for making fine adjustments. While both devices have a very good screen, X5ii has a slightly brighter screen while X5-3 has a considerably larger screen as its main system of operation is based on touchscreen instead of a mechanical wheel switch controller.
Taking into account every of X5-3's specifications and the fact that it became a new benchmark for DAPs everywhere, X5-3 has a fair value being priced between 400$ and 530$, depending on the area it's bough in, the specific VAT for that country and other taxes that must be handled. Compared to all of its direct competitors, X5-3 has a stable UI and fluid UI operation with an intuitive orientation. The feature rich set of X5-3 and the fact that it ticks all boxes for a DAP makes X5-3 a good value and one of the best DAPs that can be bought at this moment. There are many alternatives but X5-3 is priced competitively, making it a very interesting choice. The increase in price when compared to x5ii is also fair considering all the new features that were bought to X5-3, like Android firmware, Wifi, BlueTooth and all the other bells and whistles that you might want in a DAP. The price of X5-3 is comparable to a midrange portable audio device, but X5-3 offers more than most do at that price point, including the very detailed sound and nice design touches, turning X5-3 into a good value device. When compared with high end devices, X5-3 performs very well and can be safely considered one of the high end DAPs.
Falling in love with X5-3 is unavoidable once you hear one and you're bound to want to buy one once you get enough time playing with it. The UI is faster than any other DAP UI I've laid my paws upon, faster than Cowon J3 and X5 and slightly faster than FiiOX5ii after customizing it with the light UI. It was a lot of fun time using X5-3 and I'm glad I was a part of the tour.
It survived through my outdoors usage test, my quandaries related to music and it was able to customize its sound to face my rather obtuse listening habits. I got to use some Youtube and some video watching in the meanwhile, but I own a 6.44" Xiaomi Mi Max for videos and games. The main reason I want a DAP is for music and music alone. X5-3 answers well to this call.
X5-3 set a new benchmark for what a DAP should do and how a DAP should act. The speed of the UI is great, the detail retrieval is great, and while the top end is smooth, this can be alleviated by the built-in Viper and Equalizer functions. There is little to fault on X5-3, but the things nice to see in a future revision are buttons on only one side and all audio ports on top of the device with USB on bottom. I would also like to see a brighter top end as it helps my ears distinguish details better, but that's a matter of personal preference.
All in all, X5-3 is a great device and it's probably going to be the highlight for a good while in terms of Digital Audio Players. I can't wait to see what next thing FiiO comes with and what other DAPs will appear on the market. Everything is getting really nice!
I am thankful to FiiO for including me in the tour and I hope this was a good read for you!
Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!
Pros - Spacious soundstage, Full but aggressively detailed sound, Rock solid build, Impeccably finished, Accessories, Well implemented android OS, apt-x
Cons - Button placement produces accidental presses, Older SOC frequently freezes when multi-tasking, Slow WiFi, Slightly muddy lower mids, Very slow SD slot
The X5 is perhaps the quintessential Fiio player, it was one of their first devices and also one of their most universally acclaimed. Fiio have come far since the unveiling of the original X5, experimenting with various form factors and interfaces. With their flagship X7, Fiio first adopted a touch screen based android interface, one that radically differed from the scroll wheel based devices that came before. This was an especially pertinent move since the majority of complaints about Fiio devices was their inefficient, immature software and the move to the much more refined, much more developed Android OS was nothing but wise. Just one later, it’s great to see Fiio bringing this premium experience down to a more affordable price. Retailing for $550 AUD, the new X5 III provides a highly similar performance and feature set to the X7 within a more compact form factor. Let’s see if the X5 III is Fiio’s next champion device.
I would like to thank Fiio very much for providing me with the opportunity to review the X5 III. This article is part of Fiio’s review tour, there is no monetary incentive for a positive review and I will be as objective as possible in my evaluation of the player.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
Fiio are constantly improving their packaging and I really like the direction they’re heading in. The X5 III in addition to all of Fiio’s new earphones, the F1 and F3, all come within a nice uniform box with a light colour scheme behind lustrous high-contrast renders. The X5 III comes in a two-tone box with a white face and black sides and rear that looks subjectively premium. The rear showcases basic specs and overarching features.
Upon opening the box, the buyer is presented with an almost ornate hard box with the Fiio logo embossed in gold. The X5 III lies inside, nestled within a bed of foam. Underneath, Fiio take a page from 1More’s fantastic packaging with several small geometrically matching boxes containing the accessories.
Fiio provide the user with two cases, a very minimal TPU clear case pre-installed on the player. It’s well-cut and grippy, showcasing the new design of the player while providing basic scratch protection.
Within the lower box, Fiio provide a more substantial leather case. It has some thin padding that will provide some more substantial protection from mild drops. It also has a nice tactile texture and responsive button feedback. Its design suits the player nicely.
Within the smaller boxes lies the micro-usb charging cable with a nice integrated Velcro strap, a 3.5mm to coax cable and instruction and warranty papers.
While I have always been a fan of Fiio’s build quality, the level of finish on their devices always left me wanting (though more excusable at their respective asking prices). For instance, the X5 II and E17K both have a nice completely aluminium build, yet both also have an unsightly, uneven seam that runs the perimeter of the brushed rear panels. The X5 III is a large leap forward in terms of both build and finish. It builds upon the solid feel in the hand achieved by the second generation X5 but adds a much more fitting glass panel to the rear. There are no seams and the level of finish is almost equal to that of my Oppo HA-2, no small feat. Through the use of a uni-body construction, the X5 achieves similar feel in the hand to a flagship smartphone.
X5 II – X5 III
Physically, the X5 III is roughly identical to the X5 II in size but adopts an android based touch screen interface over the proprietary click wheel-based interface used before. Usage should be familiar to those who have experience with the higher end X7 since it employs the same internals and operating system.
But while the X5 II had a more rounded design, the 3rd iteration of Fiio’s iconic player instead boasts a much sharp, angular styling that is refined enough not to become abrasive in the hand but far more catching to the eye. Each corner is subtly rounded and softly chamfered both for ergonomics and aesthetics. The sandblasted finish on the sides of the device grant it with some traction in the hand and the glass back is certainly very eye catching. I would perhaps like to see a frosted glass back on the next model, ever since I lay my hands on the Sony Z5, I’ve been a huge fan, but the glossy back should remain clean due to Fiio’s inclusion of not one but two cases. I love the gunmetal colour scheme that Fiio have adopted, it’s industrial and mature, more so than previous devices.
Horizontal/Vertical Viewing Angles – Colour and Contrast Comparison @Max Brightness
From a glance, the first thing that pops out is the 4” IPS LCD panel up front. While the X5 III remains, at its core, a music player, the implementation of a touch based android interface requires an impressive display since it is such a visual based operating system. Luckily, Fiio’s choice of panel is quite good, perhaps not by today’s standards (as shown above), but it’s a reasonably bright and saturated panel that sports a sharp 800×480 resolution, a universe apart from the rather archaic panel employed on the X5 II. The capacitive touch screen is also sensitive, and navigating through the UI is mostly as response as any modern smart device. Tasks such as watching videos and even some casual gaming are all well served by this resolution and the screen was visible even under the harsh Australian summer sun, if barely. There is no ambient light sensor so you’ll have to manually adjust the brightness but Fiio were kind enough to leave the brightness slider in the notification quick settings for easy adjustments.
While purists may not embrace the move to Android, the X5 III does retain all of the controls of the X5 II, minus the scroll wheel. The layout has been updated to better fit the form factor and ergonomics of the device.
The illuminated power button sits on the top right just above two micro sd card slots. Each supports up to 256GB via Micro SDXC and had no trouble reading my 128gb Sandisk Extreme formatted via Exfat. The device also supports Fat32 and NTFS. At present, that means you could option an X5 III to contain almost 538GB of storage! (32GB internal, 26GB usable) I’m happy that Fiio have moved to using trays for the micro sd slots as opposed to the exposed spring loaded slots on the X5II. They better protect your valuable cards (and data) in addition to increasing the quality of the device, the exposed ports always look somewhat subpar.
All of the ports are located on the bottom of the player. From left to right, the X5 III sports a 3.5mm headphone output, a 2.5mm balanced output, a micro-usb charge/data port and a line/coax out port. All are nicely finished and lie flush with the player’s housing.
The left side of the player contains the playback controls. At the very top, opposite the power button is the play/pause button, beneath is a nice clicky digital volume wheel and just below are the track skip buttons. Fiio have added some ridging on the left side of the X5III to recess the volume wheel and prevent accidental changes (buttons can be disabled when the device is sleeping in setting). However, not only is this design feature functional, it also enhances the aesthetics of the player, the sharply angled surfaces producing some visual interest. In addition, the two tone ridged aluminium volume wheel both looks and feels tremendously premium.
Ergonomically, the device is easy to use and generally intuitive. Most people will be familiar with android, and if not, the X5 III can be operated in music only mode. The dimensions are also well considered though the button placement could do with a little work. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to using larger, taller devices such as the iPod Touch 6g and HTC M8/10, but I always find myself accidentally pressing the skip track button when I pick up the device. In addition, since the play/pause button is directly opposite the power button, I often press both at the same time when trying to put the player to sleep, pausing my music. Since the top face of the player has no controls, perhaps it would be a good idea to move the power button to the top, and then move the track skip buttons to the right. After a bit of adjusting, I found myself making these errors less often, however it took conscious effort not to hit the skip track buttons in my usage. Otherwise, the buttons themselves are pronounced and clicky and the ports are all tight and hold connection reliably. Fiio also install a protector on the front and rear from factory to prevent scratches. Overall, the Fiio X5 III is a handsome, mature and refined player that vastly improves upon both the build and design of its predecessor.
While the X5 III is an audio device, It cannot be considered a pure music player due to its adoption of the android operating system. I’m a huge fan of this move, I owned the X3 for a while and loved the form factor and quality of the device, but found the UI significantly less practical than an average smart device. Many others have noted this as well, perusing Fiio’s Amazon pages reveals similar complaints; the device is solid, the interface is not. Luckily, moving to android grants the device access to the wonderful Google Play store and all of the apps supported by android, meaning the X5 III is compatible with Spotify, Pandora, etc. It also makes for a nice browsing and casual gaming device due to its large battery capacity. Youtube is not ideal since the X5 III has no external speaker or gyroscope (no auto-rotate) though use with headphones is as proficient as any other android device.
Antutu Benchmark Results
Behind the scenes, the X5 III is internally identical to the X7 with the same RK3188 SOC. For reference, it’s using a quad-core A9 running at 1.8GHz with a Mali-400 GPU, essentially the same as the Samsung Galaxy S3. But don’t let those specs hold you back, due to the X5 III’s lower resolution 800×480 screen (vs 1280×720 on the S3), the UI is much smoother, mostly running around 50-60fps with only the occasional skip. This is helped by Fiio’s incredibly clean and stripped down version of android. While it still has all the essential features, Fiio have loaded the player with minimal bloatware and have stripped all superfluous features such as auto sync. The X5 III is missing all of the superfluous additions that bog down almost every Chinese smartphone I’ve tested, I’m very grateful for Fiio’s thoroughly clean and functional take on Android for it is just what this player needs. Yet due to the more dated hardware, the X5 III is still nowhere near as fast as a modern smartphone (though it is smooth), even my M8 is considerably faster in general navigation even with its 1080p screen and my 10 is faster still. I do feel that the device is limited by its 1GB of RAM; when streaming music in the background, the player will frequently freeze and multitasking isn’t really viable, most apps close as soon as you open a new one. However for music in addition to a basic tasks such as browsing or 2D gaming (even some 3D gaming), the player is fluent and zippy, it only begins to bog down when multiple things are happening at once, such as when updating apps in the background.
The X5 III is great for gaming, browsing and streaming
And this actually one of those features that most people don’t appreciate on Android, the ability to have music playing in the background, here in pristine quality while playing a casual game of Pinout or Smash hit. Of course, the device was never intended as a gaming platform, but it goes to show that it is viable and ultimately, a great way to pass the time.
Powering all of this is a 3400mah non-removable battery. Fiio rates it for over 10 hours of usage however in my testing, the player could achieve considerably more playback time. I’m assuming that’s a screen on figure, 10 hours is achievable given the screen’s low resolution and smaller size, but you would have to turn off WiFi, Bluetooth and turn the screen down to its minimum brightness. In terms of music playback, users can expect around 20 hours on low gain and a bit under that on high gain. I left the X5 III playing for 12 hours overnight to burn-in my F3’s, the device was in low-gain at volume 60/120 and there was just below 50% remaining in the morning. That’s not quite as impressive as the Sony NW-A25 for example, but the X5 III is a far more powerful device in every way and superior to the vast majority of smartphones. With more multi-media usage, music, browsing, watching videos and some brief 3D gaming, the X5 III made a full day of heavy usage with around 20% to spare at night which would be sufficient for any user. While the device does not use a Qualcomm chipset, it is compatible with Quick Charge 3.0, I was able to charge to 80% in just over 40 minutes, very impressive. The device did become warm but not alarmingly so, the thick aluminium shell acts as a nice heatsink to keep everything running within threshold.
X5 III – HTC 10
Storage performance is more important than you might think when navigating a large music library and also in general device responsiveness. Luckily, the internal storage performance on the X5 III was high enough not to bottleneck the device, unlike my HTC One X, which is good to see. While the player does bog down when installing apps, navigating through a ~20GB music library stored on the internal storage was nice and zippy, the app caches the majority of the information to speed things up. Using the A1 SD Benchmark app, I saw internal storage sequential read and write speeds of 29.43MB/s and 25.65MB/s respectively, which is far from a UFS solution, but better than most budget smartphones which tend to see vastly reduced write performance. The SD slots is unfortunately, quite lack-luster and you will not see any benefit when using faster U3 cards over a basic class 10 one such as the Sandisk ultra. I put my fastest Micro SD into the player, my Sandisk 128GB Extreme Plus rated for 95MB/s read and 90MB/s write, and the player only managed to pull sequential read/write speeds of 12.33MB/s and 11.79MB/s which is very disappointing. By comparison, my HTC 10, which currently has the fastest non-UHSII SD slot on the market, managed to pull 86.60MB/s read speeds and 57.47MB/s write speeds from that same card. Running the test multiple times unfortunately, produced similar results. But benchmarks do not necessarily reflect real life performance and even with these mediocre speeds, navigating through a 120GB library of music (20GB internal and 100GB on sd) was still smooth and stutter free. The reason, again, comes down to that caching. While album arts can take a second or two to load, all of the titles and albums are stored in a database file resulting in quick navigation. This was both in Poweramp and the native Fiio music app, both of which have a lengthy library scan upon first launch but remain responsive in usage after that. While some users will be disappointed with that SD performance, the device is no longer as reliant on sd reader speed as previous devices due to optimisations within the software rather than hardware.
But should you want to dedicate yourself purely to the music, the X5 III has the ability to boot into music only mode which essentially locks you into the Fiio music app. While I would prefer to be able to choose my music player of choice (Poweramp is my go to), Fiio’s music player is generally intuitive and even has some features that Poweramp lacks. It has its fair share of options and enhancements and the layout was fluent to use.
I’m especially fond of the swipe based interaction; swiping to the right over a song/album reveals options to favourite, add to playlist or send songs via Bluetooth while swiping to the left allows users to delete albums off the device.
At the top is a tabbed UI which has the usual categories: all songs, artist, album, genre and folders. The app automatically scans when the SD card has been removed/mounted to your PC but there is an option to manually rescan your library should an error occur.
From the now playing screen, Fiio give you a nice large album art, basic play/pause and skip track buttons along with toggles for action upon finished song and a button to add the playing song to a playlist. In the bottom left is the eQ button which reveals 3 presets, rock, metal and pop along with a slot for a user defined eQ. There are 10 bands with 6dB of adjustment either way. Heading into Viper effects in the settings menu enables an eQ with up to 12dB of adjustment should you require more flexibility.
Viper effects has various other useful features though unfortunately, most require an in-app payment. Fiio’s music player also lacks a persistent service that runs in the background. Music will keep playing when the app is minimised though if the app is closed through the multitask window, music will cease playing. Most music players such as Poweramp and play music have a persistent notification even when the app is closed, it just prevents accidental closes when the close all button is pressed in the multitasker. In addition, the app does not remember the songs that were last played nor does the home screen widget which resets everytime the app is closed.
Fiio also include their own Fiio marketplace. It has some basic apps, Poweramp, Neutron music player, Spotify, etc. While I appreciate the thought, it offers no functionality that the play store does not.
Though X5 III defaults to charge only when connected to a USB port, the device can also functions as a USB DAC. You are required to install a driver from Fiio beforehand, but after installation, it’s essentially plug and play, you just need to select the X5 as your playback device on your computer. On the X5 itself is a setting that allows you to exit USB DAC mode and resume function, there is also an option to mount the internal storage and SD card(s) via USB Mass storage, the X5 III does not support MTP at present, meaning you’ll have to wait for the cards to unmount first before they appear on your PC.
I would also like to add some comments on the X5 III’s wireless performance. Bluetooth is surprisingly potent with above average range for a player in addition to apt-x support, resulting in perceptively lower latency and higher audio-quality over a standard connection. Connecting to a Bluetooth enabled device is as simple as with any other Android device, Fiio have even added a dedicated Bluetooth button to their music player app for quick streaming to a wireless speaker/headphone. WiFi performance is not so flawless. It is likely an antiquated single band implementation that easily bogs down with larger app downloads and even stutters with 480p Youtube streaming. I live in a very interference-heavy area and definitely feel the lack of 5Ghz WiFi support. That being said, I had no issue downloading smaller updates and apps and experienced no freezing when streaming extreme quality audio through Spotify. While the WiFi implementation is far from ideal, it is adequate for what the player was designed for.
The X5 III is using quite a comprehensive list of electronics to achieve what Fiio and AKM say is a “velvet sound”. It’s a nice setup that is quite impressive for the X5 III’s asking price (especially considering all of its other features) with dual components serving each channel discretely. In usage, this translated to a sound that was not as resolving as my Saber based HA-2, but one that was smoother and just as well separated. The player carries the slightly darker Fiio house sound though deviations are very minimal and I would actually consider it to be more neutral than my brighter Oppo HA-2.
Images courtesy of Fiio
The first thing I noticed about the X5 III was its soundstage. It is definitely one of the most spacious portable sources I’ve heard in a while. The X5 III did a great job reproducing live recordings through my Sennheiser HD700’S and ie800’s, the HD700’s in particular, do tend to struggle here with lesser sources. When compared to the HA-2, a similarly priced source, the X5 III is just as spacious and open even though it has a darker sound which tends to sound a little more musical and a little less pristine. Imaging is also very good, not quite as sharp as the HA-2, but very close. Separation was admirable on the X5 III and instruments and details all had a nice sense of air around them. The X5 III was a huge upgrade over my Realtek based laptop and HTC 10, both sounding considerably more closed in and compressed. My e17K did an admirable job considering its more conservative pricing and age, but ultimately, its performance was not as nuanced and separated, the e17K also has a more sculpted sound that is sure to be more polarising.
While there are many factors in an audio chain, I do believe that the DAC gives character to the sound with the amplifier choice providing subtle adjustments as per the manufacturer’s intentions for the device. And where the Oppo HA-2 carries the typical clean and hyper clear Saber sound, one that I find rewarding yet somewhat fatiguing, the X5 III produces a sound that is more musical, warm and lush. I do feel that the HA-2 is a technically superior source though many will find the X5 III is more listenable for longer stretches of time. Of course, this is also a matter of synergy; both of my favourite phones, the HD700 and IE800, are treble boosted and especially susceptible to source tonality.
The X5 III starts off strong with a slightly lusher than neutral low-end. The HA-2 is slightlytighter and more agile, but also has a more diffuse sub-bass tone where the X5 III is fuller. Mid and upper bass was linear on both though the X5 III sounded like it had a few dB of boost across the board, nothing major nor immediately noticeable, but something that I noted during direct comparison.
Mids are slightly warm and slightly dark, the HA-2 boasted more clarity and also more detail, male vocals in particular, were reproduced with increased resolution on the HA-2. The warmer X5 III is still resolving, more so than the X3, Q1, E17K and my HTC 10, but male vocals still sounded very slightly muddy to me, something that does not affect the HA-2 and Mojo. Female vocals tell a similar story though to a lesser extent. The X5 III has a slightly fuller body where the HA-2 sounds clearer but also slightly less natural, I feel that their quality is on par, their presentations just differ. The midrange performance will probably be more a matter of personal preference, while I do tend to prefer the more resolving HA-2 with my darker HD 700’s, my brighter, more neutral and already very aggressively detailed New Primacy’s are generally better served by the more musical X5 III.
The high-end is where things get pretty interesting. The HA-2 no doubt has the brighter treble response of the two overall, every detail is present and sparkly while remaining surprisingly refined. Despite this, the X5 III is actually more aggressively detailed in the high end, especially micro-details; the X5 III tends to bring them more to the fore than the HA-2. That being said, the X5 III lacks the refinement of the HA-2 and Mojo, while the player resolves a lot of detail, it does come at the cost of smoothness and higher instruments such as strings tend to sound smoother on the HA-2 with the same amount of detail retrieval, it’s all just less in your face. This, again, comes down to preference, however here, I do find myself consistently preferring the HA-2 more often. The X5 III performs very admirably however, and I do consider the HA-2 to be a pretty standout DAC/AMP combo. It’s really phenomenal that the X5 III is mostly comparable in terms of SQ, considering the minimal pricing difference and extensive feature set of the Fiio.
The AMP section is also quite proficient. As with most recent Fiio gear, background hiss was present but minimal with my most sensitive iem, the Oriveti New Primacy and non-existent with my less sensitive gear such as my ie800’s and portable headphones. In terms of volume, I usually sat around 25-35 of 120 volume levels on high gain with my HD700’s and around 20-25 on low gain with the majority of my iems. My HTC 10 by comparison required around 10-12 of 16 volume levels to achieve the same volume and my Oppo HA-2 sits at around 2 of 5 on high gain. The X5 III also produces no coil whine when charging, unlike the Sony NW-A25 which had a prevalent buzz when plugged into a power source. I would say that there is sufficient volume and driving power for any portable earphone/headphone and enough for most larger home headphones too. Perhaps higher 300-600 ohm headphones will struggle, but I feel that my HD 700’s were well driven; just slightly less so than from my Oppo HA-2 which sounded a little more dynamic and spacious (may also affect my impressions of the X5 III's tonality). The X5 III was clearly superior to my HTC 10 (undoubtedly one of the best smartphones for audio) when listening through my HD700’s, with a much larger soundstage, more bass extension and a clearer sound in general. With earphones, the 10 holds an advantage with a silent noise floor though the X5 III was still noticeably more dynamic and punchy. I suspect the X5 III has a slightly fuller bass response than neutral, if very slightly so; it pursues the warmer, lusher and smoother sound that the Chord Mojo so masterfully pioneered, though it still lacks that sense of effortless detail that the Mojo possesses.
My readers commonly ask me where they should first upgrade their audio chain; their earphones, player, AMP and even source files. I would never recommend DAPs on account of their inefficient interfaces and unrefined software; I’ve personally always had a much more pleasing experience using my Android or IOS based device with an external DAC/AMP combo. Fiio had stopped surprising me in this regard, I had come to expect great products for affordable prices at every release but somehow every new iteration of their devices failed to really grab my attention. But with the X5 III, I feel that Fiio have really invigorated the DAP market with the move to a more conventional touch-based operating system while retaining familiar (not to mention very high quality) analogue controls. Fiio have also outdone themselves in sound quality which is pretty fantastic. The X5 III also boasts an incredibly solid build, one that is much improved over past Fiio devices in addition to a pretty solid display that is well served by its conservative quad core chipset.
Accessories – 10/10, Fiio have never skimped on their accessories and the X5 III exemplifies their need to go above and beyond in this regard. I appreciate the addition of a slim TPU and protective Leather case from factory, both accessories most manufacturers charge considerable amounts for after sale. In addition, Fiio provide the user with some great quality cables and even apply screen protectors from factory. Nice job Fiio!
Design – 9/10, The build is as solid as any HTC device I’ve owned in addition to the class-leading HA-2. The finish is also much improved, the device feels much more unified though the glass back attracts smudges as one would expect. The edging on the glass panels could do with a bit of work (could be more rounded), but the chassis is quite exemplary overall, easily superior to almost any other Chinese player I’ve felt and much improved over Sony’s plastic frames. The controls are all pronounced and well delineated. The volume wheel is nice and clicky with a strong texture that avoids accidental presses by design. The play/pause and track skip buttons could both be located better, requiring conscious effort to avoid accidental presses.
Sound Quality – 8.75/10, I do still prefer my HA-2 (mainly midrange), the X5 III is close, more musical and also far more fully featured. It does lack that effortlessness and silky detail that the HA-2 regularly glimpses and Mojo commands, but every other aspect of the sound is sublime, it’s just not otherworldly. Lower mids in particular, are a bit muddy and the high end can sound more granular than other high-end sources. Bass is nice, full and very articulate, upper mids are also smooth and very natural. It’s a lush sound that is also aggressively detailed, something that I’m sure many people will love.
Verdict – 9.25/10, The X5 III is ultimately another well-rounded, fully-featured and competitively priced device; except this time, there are no software quirks to hold back my recommendation. If devices such as the iPod Touch have survived this long, then I can see a place for this device in today’s market. Its standout sound quality is immediately superior to even the best smart devices, its dimensions are very portable (even if it is quite thick) and the playback controls make a world of difference when on the go, even if those controls have some placement issues. While I would like to see a faster wireless implementation and a processor that is perhaps 1 generation ahead of that implemented, the X5 III is still vastly faster than any proprietary player. If you’ve been looking for a great DAP without the software quirks that plague so many, the X5 III should on your watch list, it brings many of the features that the X7 pioneered to a more palatable price.