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Fiio X5 III 3rd Gen Digital Audio Player Review

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Sound –

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 slightly tighter 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 by comparison, nothing major nor immediately noticeable, but something that I noted during a direct AB.

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 muddier 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 so 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. 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.

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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.

12 Comments

  1. Indrajit on

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

    • Deister on

      I have both. I got an X5 iii as an upgrade to the N3. I spent a week with the x5 and gave my N3 to a friend. I love the N3 for its size, simplicity and I’m ok with its sound.

      Things I don’t like about the N3:
      I find the N3 a bit too sharp for my tastes. Also, I hated the transfer times with the N3, I was forced to take the SD card out all the time. Moreover, it had one slot and I wanted two. The bluetooth on the N3 is implemented perfectly in that it can be a transmitter and/or receiver. And/Or! But, the range I found to be pretty cruddy and it would engage the AptX intermittently for me.

      Specifically on sound comparison:
      I have three pairs of cans: HD650, B&O h6 and hifiman 400i planars. My favorite day to day cans are the H6s and they sounded fine with the N3, balancing out the harshness. The hifiman’s sounded bad to me without any EQing. It’s not that I find sharp bad, just fatiguing. The hd650s needed a small amp to get to a level I was happy with. Hi gain on the N3 was almost enough, just not quite what I’d like, given that I know how well the hd6550s can sound. In the end I would often use a small topping NX amp with the N3 except with my h6s.

      I got the x5 as it looked like it could just eek out enough to drive some hd650s, but all accounts it had a fairly warm sound. Given my opinion on the N3 sounding too sharp I was into this. I loved the idea of two SD slots.

      For me, I am VERY happy with the x5 sound. It is on the warm scale, significantly more than the N3, but not too warm. It is still very precise. I like to listen to listen to Hüsker Dü (rip Grant Hart) as a way of gauging precision and warmth because a criticism many have of Grant and Hüsker is the hi-hat sizzle he loved. I love that too, but admit it can be fatiguing. This, is exactly the case you want hifi gear for, because it should be capable of presenting the crispness of the hi’s but roll them off well enough to keep the ears cranking for hours. Happy to report that Grant sounds amazing on the x5. Hip-hop sounds great (Liquid Swords and Dr. Octagonacologyst sound great). Electronic sounds great. I personally love the x5 iii sound. I wish it had 20% more drive for the hd650s, but I don’t want to F with the x7.

      On the other bits:
      The bluetooth on the x5 is awesome! It’s android, so you can download a receiver app if you want to emulate the N3, but the aptX engages always when appropriate, and the range is incredible. I have always been impressed with the iPhone6-7 bluetooth range, and the x5 bests the iPhones easily. I downloaded Apple Music and all the streaming apps, including sound cloud. I am very happy to have the option to use these on the same device as my hires flacs, DSDs and flacs. So, in the end, I don’t miss the N3’s receiver mode as I can use Spotify on device if I need too. Even Soundcloud crap 192 kbps audio sounds great on the x5, the amp is well implemented.

      The x5 is slow at times. The reason is that the os is on the built in memory (32 GB!), but it’s slow flash. It’s literally an internal micro SD quality flash drive. 99% of the time you won’t notice. But, while you set up the device the lag will bug you a bit and make you think you should have got the x7 (it has 2GB of ram vs. 1 in the x5). But, the slowness is not the RAM, it is almost all due to the slow internal flash memory. With that said, I am quite happy with it on a day to day basis. I would buy it again and I am not eyeing other DAPs (at least for a while 🙂

  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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