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

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

FiiO did everything in its power to keep me out of this review tour. I signed up for it, waited months, and in secret they started gathering confirmations. I nearly missed out. Luckily, my spycraft is honed to a razor’s edge and I slipped in against their best efforts.

My time with the X5 3rd Gen was allotted on the condition I share my impressions openly and honestly, for good or ill. And that I leave the razors out of it.

We’ll see what I can do.

For further information on the X5 3rd Gen:
FiiO’s website
X5 on Amazon

For a long time I held the X5 Classic (FiiO’s 1st Gen) as the standard-barer for all mid-tier audio players. I tested everything against it, and very few products in that range beat the original X5, to my ears. That changed with the Cayin i5. And quickly changed again when I reviewed the Opus#1. This new breed of DAP has raised the bar awfully high. To clear it, a device must call upon some heinous forces and dedicate its labors to SOUND, above all other concerns.

Right off the bat I’ll say I prefer the 3rd Generation X5 to the FiiO X7. It does many things better, and it does many things different, and of those things which are equal, they are at least more in line with my tastes this time around.

I’m a fan of the build. The X5 is a handsome device. The laser-etched back plate is straight up Astell&Kern. The size is just right. Very palm-able. It’s impressive just how much power and features they pack into this thing. On the outside it sits smack dab between my AK120II and the Opus#2. But on the inside, I think it packs more driving power than both. The buttons don’t bother me. I know some find them problematic, but I had no such issues. While they are placed in unusual locations, I grasped the design quickly and thought nothing of it thereafter.

FiiO deserves special congratulations for including duel microSD slots, on top of the 32GB internal storage. They deserve more than a mere clap on the back. I’m talking all due pomp and circumstance, banner-waving, and bikini-clad girls baring wreaths of flowers. Bravo FiiO! Have a trophy! This is becoming a rare thing to find, and I like to give credit where credit is due. I recall being disheartened when the X7 only had one slot, and I celebrate FiiO’s move in this direction.

On top of that, they’ve innovated the f**k out of these two microSD slots, designing cool little treys which seal the ports when the cards are installed. I LOVE THIS!

The volume wheel is a nice touch. It’s the weirdest one I’ve seen yet, but I like it. The wheel turns with fluid, controlled motion, and no wiggle. It’s minimalistic, unlike the king-hell knob on the Cayin i5, which holds an esteemed place in my heart. Go big or go home, I say. Or go weird. FiiO went weird. And it works.

We are given two headphone outs with the X5 3rd Generation: A 3.5mm single-ended, and a 2.5mm balanced. There are quite a few players on the market using the Astell&Kern-style balanced, and this is the latest to take up that excellent trend. Not that it executes Balanced especially well. I hear almost no difference between the two. At the very least, I can use all my balanced cables without the need for an adapter.

When I met with Lynn for a gear swap and mini Head-Fi meet, he had the clear silicon case on the X5. He liked it better than the black leather. He’s insane. Likely lost his mind after grading one paper too many. The first thing I did when I got my hands on it is switch cases. The PU leather is much nicer. I didn’t find the buttons difficult to work at all. Still, the fact we have two cases to choose from is a classy move on FiiO’s part. Give the “bird”-brains an option they can appreciate. Ho ho! He’ll enjoy that reference.

Now, the software… oh boy, the software. There’s not a lot I can say about it. For starters, from hour one I booted into Pure Music Mode and NEVER came out. My experience with the X5-3 was one devoid of Apps, Internet, Streaming, or clutter of any kind. That might not sound like the sentiment of a professional reviewer. And you’re right. I’m a fraud. I simply couldn’t motivate myself to sign up for Spotify and TIDAL just so I could test those functions for the sake of a thorough review. I don’t care about that stuff. So I pretended they don’t exist, and that gave me joy.

One feature Pinky made certain to test, in spite of my contempt for it, is Bluetooth. Andrew over at MusicTeck sent me a pair of Bang&Olufsen H9 for review. So I can say with authority, Bluetooth streaming works very well on the X5. The distance I got was impressive. Not that I have any experience with this, but I didn’t expect to get out of the room and half-way into the next before the signal cut out. I figured we’d get around a ten foot range. Yet that’s not the case. Also, the H9 sounded pretty okay… for wireless.

But that’s for another write-up. Today we’re talking about FiiO. And I do believe it’s time to move on to a discussion of sound, and what it means to hear with human ears.



Pinky Powers

Pinky Powers

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.


16 Responses

  1. The N5ii is a good direction to go. But since you are running full-size headphones in single-ended, it’s not exactly the most ideal situation.

    On the other hand, the 598 is fairly efficient, and the N5ii has decent power. So it could be a fine match. I just wish I knew for certain.

  2. I have read a few things about the underwhelming amp-section inside the Fiio X5III. In your opinion does adding an amp like a Cayin C5 or Schiit Fulla 2 to the X5iii’s line out bring out a drastic improvement in sound quality. Or is it better to simply get a Cayin N5ii. My headphone set up is Sennheiser HD 598 and I don’t use single ended.

  3. From my perspective, the Opus#1 edges out the i5. It is clearer, more spacious, with higher sense of resolution.

    Though both are fantastic in sound quality. I use the i5 often, and it always satisfies. The differences are small, with the Opus just barely winning out.

    You can’t go wrong with either.

  4. Great review – thanks for the in depth information and your personal feedback about the item.
    Really helps reviewing the product and not only discussing the specs of everything.

    Cheers from Canada!

  5. No problem. A lot people disagree with me on this device. And on the Opus. This review is just my personal feelings on the matter. Nothing more.

    Glad you like it, though. Thanks for reading.

  6. This may sound absurd, but while I thought your review was great, I disagree with alot of your informaion. I found the Opus to not be boring… but just plane jane. The vocals were too pronounced, cymbals sounded artificial and there was no mid-bass warmth. The clarity and soundstage of the Fiio is much more natural and less fatiguing.

    But like I said, I thought your review was a very good one.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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