Fiio X5 III 3rd Gen Digital Audio Player Review

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Verdict –


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.

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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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