Fiio X5 III 3rd Gen Digital Audio Player Review

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Design –

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 sharper, 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.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

11 Comments

  1. Indrajit on

    Hi, have you had any experience with Cayin N3. How does x5iii compare with N3 sonically?

  2. Mark on

    Thanks for your review Ryan. If I respectfully may please, I really need help with my following inquiry…..

    I realize that you can’t extract various components that are non-existent from a song in a compressed mp3 file/format, since it’s not a ‘lossless’ file. And even though I see this X5 III as more suited for lossless files to truly get the fully enhanced effect, but….., can it at least improve the trebles and mid-ranges of a compressed mp3 file to a certain degree?

    A lot of my 256kbps iTunes songs are quite dull and muffled, thus wanting an equalizer that his X5 III has (which my iPod Classic does not have) to enhance the trebles and mid-ranges.

    Or, is it the equivalent of trying to suck blood from a stone and not worth the investment, since the compressed mp3 songs will have lost a lot of the original components of a lossless file? Therefore this device cannot improve upon something that is no longer there in the song. ???

    I would really appreciate an honest answer where I don’t feel like I’m being persuaded to buy it through an Amazon affiliate link. I’m not at all implying you would be ‘dishonest’, as that’s what I’m saying whatsoever.
    But other reviewers I could tell, were hyping up the device in order to get a sale, that’s all.

    Therefore, thank you for your kind understanding. 🙂

    I would be extremely grateful for your kind thoughts Sir.

    Thank you for your time. :)

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi Mark,

      I actually review gear, both headphones and audio players, with a mix of files, about half FLAC and half 320bps MP3. While everyone has their own experiences with file types, in my testing the difference in quality between lossless and lossy is more based upon the track than the encoding. Some songs don’t contain enough information to even saturate a 320kbps MP3 file while others produce an immediately audible difference when converting to a lossy format from lossless.

      Regardless, unless your music is especially poorly encoded, you will get an appreciable difference by switching from an iPod to the X5 III. If you have a good pair of over-ear headphones or really sensitive in-ears you will notice the lower noise floor, better bass extension due to the lower output impedance and perhaps improved dynamics and detail through increased driving power and resolution. All of these factors can make a considerable difference in sound quality regardless of the source file and that doesn’t just go for the X5 III but other “audiophile” audio players too.

      In my opinion, the headphones themselves make the greatest difference by far and this is usually where I would spend my money upgrading. The source is only important if yours is especially bad (and no Apple product is), if you have a particularly difficult set of headphones to drive like the 300ohm HD80 or if you have a really nice headphone/earphone already and would like to squeeze their max potential. Again, the file type shouldn’t matter too much unless most of your library is 128kbps MP3 Youtube rips and you can download just your favourite songs in lossless to save some storage space. I’ll put emphasis on the fact that these are my subjective experiences and that you should take it with a grain of salt, but I hope it helps you out nonetheless.

      Cheers,
      Ryan.

      • Mark on

        Hi there Ryan,

        I’m extremely grateful indeed for your very kind informative reply Bud – thanks so much!

        I can certainly see how all links in the audio chain should be as best as possible to acquire a high-end audio experience. Hi Res lossless songs, high quality DAP & Amp, and of course top-notch headphones as you say. One weak link can certainly compromise the overall experience.

        However after further research Ryan, the reviews on Amazon have been less than stellar. There are no 5 stars above 50% due to UI and software issues and grievances. Plus, they do NOT at all play well for Mac users, due to the immensely cumbersome organization and time consuming uploading process.

        It’s more Android friendly it seems, and for me personally, that’s my kryptonite!
        Yeah I know, I know….. 🙂
        But I’m not some fervent Mac cult follower, that sleeps on sidewalks in front of the store the night before waiting for a new release of a device either. I just want a more plug and play set up, or at least close to it, without all the hassles people are finding with the UI and overall internal system/library. I was very disappointed indeed with so many less than positive reviews.

        I think I will have to respectfully pass (and I have read extensively on other sites as well about the above issues after writing you my inquiry).

        Now having said that Ryan, if you know of a more Mac friendly device that’s hovers around the 300 to 600 dollar mark, I’m open to that. Or actually, perhaps a couple please…one in that price range, and another over 1K that I can save up for later.

        You’ve been fantastic regarding your thoughts and time Ryan……., I really am appreciative for that. 🙂

        Thank you heaps again.

        • Ryan Soo on

          Hey Mark,

          Just want to clear up that, as reviewers, we aren’t affiliated with the manufacturer nor are we providing falsely positive scores and articles to facilitate a sale. In fact, the X5 III I received here was a loan unit to be returned, I benefit nothing from writing the article and dedicated many hours of my time towards testing. It is all personal interest and to the benefit of buyers. At present, I’m not too enthused with Android DAPs, they are honestly all a bit clunky and we are very much in the first generation. If you’re looking for a solid, fast GUI, Apple’s is as good as it gets, a belief that I have stuck to much to the dismay of many audiophiles. Sony’s Walkman players also have really nice software that almost rivals Apple’s but has wider file support and micro sd. Otherwise, it can be quite jarring switching from an iPod or Walkman to a proprietary OS, most simply haven’t been refined enough to provide that flawless user experience.

          Perhaps you might prefer to look into a DAC/AMP rather than another audio player such as the Oppo HA-2SE. That DAC has a clearer sound that migth provide that midrange and high-end clarity you are looking for, it also has nice driving power and resolution; I personally purchased a unit and use it to power the majority of my review gear. I know many iPod users have also have a good experience with external amplifiers, something like the Fiio E12 or A3 to supplement the iPod you already have. That way, you get the benefit of reduced output impedance, increased driving power and lower noise.

          Regards,
          Ryan.

          • Mark on

            Hi again Ryan,

            Thank you kindly again for taking the time out of your day to answer at length. That;s why I’m so appreciative, because so many others will answe rin one or two line sentences and often don’t give enough of a thorough explanation.

            Yes, I was just looking at the Atell& Kerns, the Sony, and Pioneers, and they all seem to lean toward Android which really turns my off. So perhaps like you say Ryan, they are indeed seemingly clunky from the countless reviews I’ve read.

            Now, it;s funny you mention the Fiio, because I had my eye on the Fiio E12a. But somebody told me that although it’s robust with positive user experience, it’s basically still an amp that merely provides more bass boost than anything else.
            Whether thats accurate, I don’t know. If it is, that’s why I was looking elsewhere that had equalizer capabilities to enhance the trebles and mids too.

            So it seems lime I might have to go with your suggestion Ryan and keep the iPod Classic for now and just invest in the Oppo DAC/AMP, or the Fiio E12a, save the enhanced trebles and mid-ranges.

            So does this Oppo offer more to enhance the clarity and overall soundstage than the Fiio E12a? I’m so sorry Ryan, but I am not familiar with that model.

            I just hope that in the next 1 – 2 yrs. these devices will be greatly improved that can also be offered for Mac users too.

            Thank you also for clarifying your stance with these reviews Ryan. That’s quite all right and I fully understand. 🙂

            Thanks tons once again Buddy!

            • Ryan Soo on

              I usually recommend finding a good headphone/earphone with the right sound rather than altering the sound using eQ since that can be inconsistent between devices. Then find a nice source to drive them well, I should note that an amp can do much more than just boos the bass, definitely look into the terms output impedance, voltage, current and noise and how they pertain to your uses.

              Unfortunately, the state of audio is rather premium-orientated and in order to have an all in one package that does it all you pay the price. For most people, it’s better (or more economical) just to have a decent portable source, such as an iPod, and a nice DAC/AMP for home paired with a nice headphone that suits your sound preferences; it sounds like your current pair are lacking clarity and treble for your tastes and eQ, espcially the limited systems on portable devices, can not always remedy that while retaining optimal sound quality. I hope you find the solution that works best for you, I understand how steep the learning curve can be in audio for those just starting out, definitely read a few articles and reviews and try to find a retailer that allows demoing as your own ears are the best benchmark!

          • Mark on

            Hi RYan,

            Regarding your most recent reply that I can’t find on this page that I got from my email::

            I usually recommend finding a good headphone/earphone with the right sound rather than altering the sound using eQ since that can be inconsistent between devices. Then find a nice source to drive them well, I should note that an amp can do much more than just boos the bass, definitely look into the terms output impedance, voltage, current and noise and how they pertain to your uses.

            Unfortunately, the state of audio is rather premium-orientated and in order to have an all in one package that does it all you pay the price. For most people, it’s better (or more economical) just to have a decent portable source, such as an iPod, and a nice DAC/AMP for home paired with a nice headphone that suits your sound preferences; it sounds like your current pair are lacking clarity and treble for your tastes and eQ, espcially the limited systems on portable devices, can not always remedy that while retaining optimal sound quality. I hope you find the solution that works best for you, I understand how steep the learning curve can be in audio for those just starting out, definitely read a few articles and reviews and try to find a retailer that allows demoing as your own ears are the best benchmark!

            I just want to humbly acknowledge your efforts to summarize our previous correspondences. Yes, you’re right, there IS indeed a decent earning curve, and ironically I’m a musician too, but this particular area is not my specialty funnily enough.

            I really am grateful for your time Ryan. I will heed all that you’ve written and continue my search, but I think you’ve sold me on the Oppos – now the latest model – the OPPO HA-2SE . It looks like a great 2 in 1 device for my iPod Classic!
            Plus, the Chord Electronics Mojo Ultimate DAC/AMP looks interesting as well.

            Thanks so much again Ryan, and I wish you all the best! 🙂

  3. Rob on

    Definitive article on this device. Well written, informative and comprehensive.

  4. Credo on

    Hi Ryan, thanks for the review,
    would you plz tell your opinion about this player in comparison to AK 70 & AK jr?

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi Credo, I did give the AK Jr a brief listen, it’s a really nice looking device with one of the better UI’s I’ve tried (since it is a derivative of android). I did prefer the X5 III in most scenarios, it sounds a little cleaner and the batterylife, screen and software are all more capable, it also supports WiFi for streaming. I’m not sure if the AK Jr has fallen considerably in price, but I feel that it is the weaker player for the price unless the smaller form factor is really important to you.

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