Fiio X5 III 3rd Gen Digital Audio Player Review

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Usage –

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time health 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.

3 Comments

  1. Rob on

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

  2. 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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