The Big Bad Bear Deep In Hibernation – A Review of the FiiO X5 3rd Gen

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They call the new X5 smooth. It is. Coming from the AK120II and now the Opus#2, I’m familiar with the notion. Yet unlike those DAPs, the X5 achieves its smoothness not through refinement and polish, but rather by coloring the sound with an abundance of warmth, rolled-off treble, and sluggish dynamics. It’s smooth, alright. It’s also boring.

Now, now. Put away those pitchforks. It’s not as bad as all that. This device sounds pretty good when paired with the right headphone. Pick a transducer with the opposite characteristics described above and you’ll get a middle-ground that works quite well. The X5 is not incapable of rich, high-resolution audio. You simply need to help it along.

I must give FiiO credit for its ability to recreate clean, artifact-free music. The 3rd Gen is measurably better than the old X5 Classic. I hear none of that “digital” sound its forefather suffered from. This player renders natural, easy-going, laid-back audio. Its soundstage is neither big nor tiny, just a bit smaller than average. More like you’re listening to the music in a living room, rather than a local venue.

There is thickness and weight to the notes, which I like. But when combined with the smaller stage, this makes instrument separation a crowded affair. Though imaging is excellent, you don’t get a good sense of air or space between the musicians.

When taken on its own, the X5 is entirely adequate. It’s when you toss this player into a ring with its more notable peers that you witness the dichotomy.

The Opus#1 by Audio-Opus (theBit) is THE DAP I recommend in the mid-fi category. It’s not a full-android device. There is no streaming, WiFi, Bluetooth or Apps. It’s just a music player, and it whips the X5-3 up and down the street. Okay, that might be hyperbolic, but to these queer ears, Opus sings a significantly grander tune. Not only that, but the OS is simpler and more intuitive, with far fewer bugs and peccadilloes. The music is clearer and more transparent. Details are more evident. The bass strikes harder, with control and texture. Treble has greater presence. The Opus’ soundstage shames the X5 in width and depth. And then there’s dynamics… the X5-3 sounds like it’s right in the middle of a long winter nap next the excitement found in the Opus. On the other hand, the X5 has the volume wheel, and you know I love me a volume wheel. That, and the full Android system makes the X5 a more versatile device. But I don’t really care about that. If you own a smartphone, you don’t need all that other stuff in your DAP. That’s why I bought the Opus#1 as my personal choice for best mid-tier player.

If you still think you need apps such as TIDAL, there is also the Cayin i5. Like the X5, the Cayin is quite warm-sounding. But unlike the X5, the i5 has a strong, dynamic sound that is wonderfully enthralling and terribly musical. After burn-in and v2.2 of the firmware, the sound opens up even more, achieving brighter highs and greater air. Sadly, the i5 is not as easy a recommendation as the Opus#1 since it lacks some of the things that makes the X5 so appealing: there is only one microSD slot and no balanced output. There are lots of reported troubles with streaming services. Yet the Cayin i5 is sexier and possesses superior audio, so you must decide where your priorities lie.

A sentiment has been passed around on the forums that the FiiO X5-3 competes at the Top of the Line level. You see these kinds of delusions sprout from the soil of many new devices, until a few months have gone by and the hype engine grows rusty. People suddenly come to their goddamn senses.

I have on-hand the AK120II and the Opus#2. I shall not even go into how they compare to the X5, because quite honestly, the X5 doesn’t compete well at all. The Opus#2 is a small step up over the AK120II, and the AK is a small step up over the Opus#1, and the Opus#1 decimates the X5-3 and… well, you can see what I’m saying. After performing a thorough A/B test with my top players, I simply don’t feel it’s useful to draw this out.

As I said before, unlocking the potential of FiiO’s new player is all about synergy. Find the right pairing, and you can know happiness with this DAP.

The Audio Technica IM03 is a longtime favorite of mine. It fights through the doldrums of the X5 and, on a budget, creates a great deal of liveliness. David Bowie’s Space Oddity is crisp in the treble, clear and detailed in the vocals, and boomy at the bottom. It’s just about the warmest I’ve ever heard these IEMs, but they don’t sound bad at all. Quite the contrary. This paring is scrumptious and I don’t want to turn the music off.

I plugged in my 64Audio U12 expecting this to be the worst pairing of all. The U12, while my go-to IEM, is aggressively smooth and warm. I feared adding a boring, laid-back source to the chain. In point of fact, this combination rather pleased me. The vocals come through strong and clear. There is decent air in the mix, and more attack than I hoped. The major failing of this coupling is it doesn’t take advantage of the U12’s monstrous soundstage. FiiO holds it back in a big way. Yet not so much that I can’t get lost in the musicality of the U12.

Next to the U12, Rhapsodio Solar is fast, bright, and immensely detailed. But it’s not enough for the X5-3. FiiO’s newest player reminds me that Solar is actually a warm and thick CIEM with only moderately extended treble and average soundstage. The X5 accentuates these aspects in the worst possible way. It doesn’t offer Solar enough energy, and the combination is sadly underwhelming. Solar sounds so much better on other devices. It’s quite enthralling on the Cayin i5.

One of the finest examples of the all-arounder in the TOTL range is the new Kaiser Encore by Noble Audio. It doesn’t go too far in any aspect and thus will please most people. It’s also my favorite IEM for the X5. Encore is so highly dynamic, with bright, sparkly treble, extremely clear mids, and tight, punchy bass, you forget you’re listening to a lackluster DAP… because Encore never lacks luster. It brings a big bowl of it to the table.

If you want a good pair of full-size headphones for the FiiO X5 3rd Gen, the same rules apply as with IEMs. Don’t go for a laid-back set. You want to counter this DAP’s natural tendencies to bore you. Look for treble energy, vibrancy, and dynamism. My choice is the Meze 99 Classics. The X5 robs them of some of their brilliance and excellence, but their special virtues shine through nonetheless. Putting on good old Nirvana Unplugged, and I hear the richness I come to expect from Meze. Some of the “crunch” is gone, and the treble is shier than I’d like. Pretty good detailing and clarity, though. Yet the stage is awfully small, and I miss the depth, layering and separation of better DAPs.

Although the X5 is well amped, and will get most full-size headphones good and loud, the Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX sounded miserable. Hollow, and lifeless. These have paired so well with weaker devices, like the Opus#1, that the only explanation is dynamics. When driving 300 Ohm headphones, a mobile device needs some way to compensate for not having the amperage of a desktop unit. The sonics need teeth. Both Opus and i5 kick hard enough to bring these cans to marvelous life, while the X5 falls well short. The HD6XX is a warm, laid-back headphone, and chained to a warm, exceedingly laid-back DAP, it’s just… sad. A rain curtain closes about you, and all light seems to leave the world. Before you know it, your hand is penning a suicide note.

Well that’s it folks. That’s all she wrote. Who’s “she”? You’ll never know. I killed her for asking too many questions, and you’re next if you don’t get a rein on that curiosity of yours. What do you want to know, exactly? Why is it so important? What more can I say about a smartphone that doesn’t phone?

FiiO’s 3rd Gen is not the wonder kid who’s changed the game forever. It’s a very capable streaming device that’s fully-featured, with class-leading storage capacity, faultless build quality, and endless potential. It’s probably the best option right now if streaming services are a requirement for you. Tragically, audio performance is the X5’s weakest asset. For my use, there are two mid-fi DAPs I’d take over this one in a heartbeat. But as you know, I’m wrong from the inside out, and my views do not reflect modern trends. Ignore the dinosaur typing away in his dark room. FiiO’s created a newfangled thingamabob all the kids will love. They call it an Em Pee Three Player, and I hear it’s going to replace 8-Track.

-~::Pinky_Powers::~-

The FiiO X5 3rd Generation

Main Unit
Name / Model No. X5 3rd gen(FX5321) Operating System Deeply customized Android 5.1.1
CPU Model RK3188 No. of cores 4
CPU operating frequency 1.4GHz DAC AK4490
Keyboard Virtual QWERTY keyboard Input method Touchscreen
Special features Dual Android / Pure Music operating modes, symmetrical remappable keys,  USB DAC, docking connector, etc. User Interface Android 5.1.1 / FiiO Music
Chips used SoC: RK3188, DAC: AK4490x2,  LPF: OPA1642x2,  OP: Customized OPA426x2
Connectivity
WIFI 2.4GHz IEEE802.11 b/g/n standards supported Bluetooth Bluetooth V4.0,aptX supported
USB Micro USB2.0
Display screen
Display size 3.97 inches Number of colours 16.7 million colors
Display type IPS TFT Viewable angle 178°
Resolution 480×800 Pixel density 233 ppi
Touchscreen Yes
Storage
RAM 1GB Total ROM 32GB
Storage expansion type Micro SD ROM available to user About 26G
Maximum storage expansion 512GB (256GB x 2)
Buttons and ports
Buttons Side buttons + side volume wheel+ touchscreen Custom key mapping N/A
Headphone out 3.5mm standard headphone output jack Balanced output Supported (2.5mm balanced headphone jack)
Line out Standard 3.5mm port(shared LO/Coaxial out) USB connection Micro USB2.0 (charging / data transfer / docking function / USB DAC)
Digital Coaxial out Standard 3.5mm port(shared LO/Coaxial out)
General
Color Titanium/Black Dimensions 114.2 mm× 66.2 mm× 14.8 mm
Weight 186g Volume control 120 steps +/- button control (via analog-domain controller
Recommended headphone impedance 16~150 Ω Equalizer 10-band EQ (±6dB), 9 presets+custom preset, freestyle EQ curve drawing (to be added in the future), ViPER Effect
Bass boost N/A Treble boost N/A
Balance control 10 dB Gain control Low/High
USB DAC Up to 192kHz/24bit supported
Power specifications
USB power adapter DC 12/1.5A, 9V/2A, 5V/2A recommended Battery Internal 3400 mAh High-voltage quick charging Li-polymer battery
Charging indication via LCD display and pulse LED Charging time <2 h (DC 12V/1.5A)
<3 h (DC 5V/2A)
Battery indication Yes (accurate battery % readings)
Battery Life & Test Conditions
3.5mm headphone output>10 h
Volume 46 Gain High
Load M3 open earbuds (27 Ω) Screen OFF
Test File MP3 44.1kHz/16bit EQ OFF
2.5mm TRRS balanced headphone output≥8 h
Volume 48 Gain High
Load 32Ω Screen OFF
Test File MP3 44.1kHz/16bit EQ OFF
Battery life test file download link http://pan.baidu.com/s/1sls0P5r
Others
Firmware Upgrade supported both via zip file and OTA Font size Changeable
Third-party apps support No limit (recommended to install the apps listed on FiiO Marketplace)
Line output specifications
THD+N <0.0009% (1 kHz/10kΩ) SNR ≥120 dB (A-weighted)
Frequency response 5 Hz~55 kHz(-3dB) Dynamic range >117 dB
Channel separation >98 dB (1 kHz) Line level >1.8Vrms
Headphone out specifications (3.5mm headphone out jack)
Output power 1 ≥480 mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%) Output impedance <1Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2 ≥250 mW(32Ω /THD+N<1%) Channel separation >73 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3 ≥28 mW(300Ω / THD+N<1%) THD+N <0.003% (1 kHz)
Frequency response 5 Hz~55 kHz(-3dB) Peak output voltage >8 Vp-p
SNR ≥115 dB (A-weighted) Max. output current 250mA (For reference)
Balanced headphone out specifications (2.5mm TRRS headphone out jack)
Output power 1 ≥400 mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%) Output impedance <3Ω (32Ω loaded)
Output power 2 ≥240 mW(32Ω /THD+N<1%) Channel separation ≥98 dB (1 kHz)
Output power 3 ≥26 mW(300Ω / THD+N<1%) THD+N <0.003% (1 kHz)
Frequency response 5 Hz~55kHz(-3dB) Peak output voltage >7.5 Vp-p
SNR ≥111 dB (A-weighted) Max. output current >250 mA (For reference)
File format support
Lossless: DSD:DSD64/128(”.iso”, “.dsf”, “.dff”)
DXD:352.8K
APE FAST/High/Normal:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
APE Extra High:192kHz/24bit(MAX)
APE Insane:48kHz/24bit(MAX)
Apple Lossless:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
AIFF:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
FLAC:384kHz/24bit(MAX)
WAV:384kHz/32bit(MAX)
WMA LOSSLESS:96kHz/24bit(MAX)
Lossy compression: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG…

 

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

6 Comments

  1. Lord Sinister on

    Excellent review Pinky! I’m so glad I didn’t make the purchase but now still stuck trying to decide. I like the rich features and capabilities of the X5-3 & Android OS but ultimately it’s the sound I’ll be paying attention to mostly, so, at this price range the Oppus#1 is superior from your perspective.

    • Pinky Powers on

      Yeah, I like the Opus#1 so much I bought a unit for myself, just to keep on hand.

  2. Fiberoptix on

    Finally a sensible assessment of this DAP. Your findings match mine.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I really wanted to like this player. I am still a big fan of FiiO as a company. But there are, to my ears at least, better sounding players in this price range. Not everybody agrees with me, though. And that is good and right.

      • AJ on

        I have to say that I agree with you completely.

        I have had the Fiio X5 3rd gen for 2 weeks. I just cannot get myself to like it. It sounds boring and dull. Everyone seems to praise it but I just do not get it. It is just not exciting to listen to.

        I used the Westone W30 and AKG K3003 with the X5 and I was honestly disappointed.

        I also have the Sony ZX2 which completely destroys the X5. It is musical and so engaging. The only downside to the Sony is the higher noise floor. Otherwise it is such an entertaining DAP to listen to.

        I am not sure if you have listened to the ZX2 but I am sure you will feel the same way.

        • Pinky Powers on

          I have not had the chance to audition any of the top Sony players, but I’ve read good things about the old ZX series, and even better things about the new WM1 series.

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