FiiO X5iii

Sound analysis.

Being quite familiar with audio performance of AK4490 DACs, I already expected to hear a smooth musical sound with a neutral-warm tonality and a laid-back presentation.  And that’s exactly how I hear X5iii DAP.  The signature is neutral with a noticeably warmish tilt.  I do hear a slightly rolled off treble which in a way reduces the airiness and layering of the sound.

Overall sound presentation is a little laid back, not as aggressive, with above the average soundstage which is not very wide.  While going from 3.5mm SE to 2.5mm BAL you do gain a little bit of soundstage width and some subtle improvement related to a blacker background, but everything else remained nearly identical and to my surprise I didn’t hear too much improvement in output power.  For me personally, I found the benefit of using 2.5mm BAL output for convenience since I have a lot of balanced terminated cables.

In the initial firmware release when I received X5iii, the sound had a flatter dynamics and not as good layering and separation between instruments and vocals.  Now, with fw 1.1.4, I’m hearing an improvement, but it’s still not a huge leap forward.  At first this made me wonder why is FiiO holding back, considering they know how to get the sound right, going by X7 with AM3 which had an impressive quality.  But then I realized, that is exactly the reason.  Why would they make a mid-fi X5iii model to sound as good or even better than a flagship X7?  I think it all goes back to my original thought in the intro of this review, X5iii looks like a flagship, but it’s not intended to sound like one.

fiio_x5iii-x41

Comparison.

While comparing to X5iii, I did find several other DAPs to have an edge in dynamics and layering/separation in sound.  In many cases, it wasn’t exactly night and day difference, but the problem is that I only used 3.5mm SE HO, and some DAPs have a noticeable sound improvement when switching to 2.5mm BAL output (if they support it).  As I mentioned already, X5iii BAL sounds very similar to its SE, thus if I compare X5iii SE to BAL of other DAPs – the gap can widen further.  So please keep in mind that the following impressions were taken using only 3.5mm HO in every comparison, along with UERR as my neutral monitor for sound evaluation.

X5iii vs X5ii – very similar soundstage expansion.  5ii tonality is a little more neutral, relatively brighter, while 5iii is relatively warmer, with more body, more musical, and smoother.  5ii sounds more transparent, with better layering while 5iii has a thicker sound presentation, not as layered, and not as dynamic.

X5iii vs X7 w/AM3 – similar soundstage, maybe with X7 being a little wider (AM3 balanced out has improvement).  Also, X7 tonality is more neutral, more revealing, more detailed, with a better layering and transparency, while X5iii is warmer and with a little more body in comparison, not as dynamic or layered, and a little flatter (more compressed) in comparison.

X5iii vs Opus#1 – very similar soundstage, with #1 being a little wider.  The tonality is nearly identical, both being smoother, musical, with an equal retrieval of details.  Opus#1 sound is a little more dynamic, but otherwise they are similar.

X5iii vs Plenue M2 – very similar soundstage expansion.  Also, very similar tonality, being smoother, musical, with a similar retrieval of details.  PM2 has a touch more transparency in sound, but overall, they are very similar.

X5iii vs i5 – i5 has a little wider soundstage.  i5 tonality it a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, tighter bass and crisper treble.  In comparison, X5 sounds a little warmer, smoother.  Also, because of more airiness and slightly better transparency, I hear improved layering and separation in i5 over X5.

X5iii vs Aune M1s – M1s has a wider soundstage. M1s tonality is a little brighter, with more airiness, tighter bass, more sparkle in treble.  M1s sound is more dynamic, better layering and separation, while X5iii sounds smoother, with fuller body, and more organic.

X5iii vs L&P L3 Pro – very similar soundstage expansion.  L3Pro tonality is a little brighter (more neutral), with more airiness, better transparency, along with layering and separation of the sound, and crisper treble.  In comparison, X5 sounds a touch more compressed and smoother, and with more organic tonality.

X5iii vs DX200 – DX200 has a wider staging, a brighter tonality (more neutral, reference quality), more airiness and treble crispness, and improved layering and separation of the sound.  X5 is smoother and not as dynamic in comparison.

X5iii vs Opus#2 – #2 has a little wider soundstage, similar tonality, though just a touch brighter in comparison, including a crisper and more airy treble.  In comparison #2 has better dynamics, better resolution, and improved layering and separation of the sound, where X5 is a touch smoother and flatter (dynamics of the sound) in comparison.

X5iii vs LPG – LPG has a wider soundstage, more neutral revealing tonality, higher resolution, tighter bass, and crisper treble. X5 is smoother and less dynamic in comparison, also can’t match the same level of layering and sound separation.

I know it’s not fair to compare mid-fi X5iii to some of the summit-fi performers, but I just wanted to point out that in no way some of its technical limitation makes it an inferior DAP.  Many people take my comparison notes in a negative way, thinking that I saying “one is better than the other”.  I’ve talked to many people who prefer a neutral-warmish source to balance out their bright/revealing headphones in order to find a happy medium of musicality and resolution, and X5iii is perfect for that.

X5ii, X5iii, X7.

fiio_x5iii-x40

Pair up.

During this testing, I kept X5iii in Low Gain, and noted the volume level (in “()”) in every case which should be useful for a relative comparison.  I also noted next to each pair up test a unique design features of headphones under the test.  One thing to mention, X5iii has a noticeable hissing with sensitive IEMs, but it’s on par with some other DAPs, like LPG.

R70x (95) 470 ohm open back – above average soundstage (not very expanded), smooth warm organic laid back sound, soft bass, clear warm mids, well defined treble but not as much airiness or sparkle.

T5p2 (75) tesla drivers – good soundstage depth, average width, smooth organic detailed sound, nice sub-bass rumble, decent mid-bass impact, warm organic mids, well defined treble with a nice sparkle but not as much airiness.

PM-2 (80) planar magnetic – good soundstage depth, but only average width, smooth organic detailed sound, warm relaxed bass, full body lower mids, organic smooth upper mids, treble is moderately crisp but not too much airiness.

EL-8C (93) planar magnetic – nicely expanded soundstage, both width and depth, balanced detailed sound with mids being slightly more forward, sub-bass has a nice rumble and mid-bass has a little above the neutral level of punch quantity, lower mids are neutral, upper mids are detailed, revealing, layered, and treble is crisp and with plenty of airiness – no hint of metallic sheen.  I was expecting this to be a great pair up due to a brighter sig of EL8C and it didn’t disappoint.

Zen (86) 320 ohm earbuds – nice soundstage expansion in both width/depth, very balanced natural detailed sound.  Well extended sub-bass with a nice rumble and a decent mid-bass punch, above neutral lower mids, detailed organic upper mids, well defined treble with a polite crisp extension but not as much airiness.

Pinnacle 1 (86) low sensitivity DD – great soundstage expansion (width/depth), v-shaped sound signature, deep sub-bass extension with a nice rumble, above neutral mid-bass punch, neutral slightly recessed lower mids, bright slightly grainy upper mids and crispy airy treble.

Zeus ZRA (35) high sensitivity multi-BA – noticeable hissing, nicely expanded soundstage, mid-forward sig, neutral extended bass, lean lower mids, revealing detailed upper mids (nicely layered sound), crisp airy treble.  Great pair up, and hissing not even noticeable when music is playing.

Xelento (49) tesla driver iem – great soundstage expansion (width/depth), w-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension with an excellent rumble, meaty mid-bass punch, neutral lower mids, organic revealing mids, and crisp airy treble. Really good bass emphasis in this pair up, and no sibilance or harshness in upper frequencies.

W900 (61) 9way hybrid – great soundstage depth and average width, slightly v-shaped balanced signature, deep sub-bass extension, nicely textured rumble, strong mid-bass punch, full body lower mids, natural detailed upper mids, crisp extended treble, but not as much airiness.  Overall, sound is a bit congested.

W80 (46) low impedance multi-BA – some hissing, above average width/depth soundstage, balanced sound signature, nice sub-bass extension with a textured rumble, softer mid-bass punch, fuller body lower mids, clear detailed natural upper mids, crisp well defined treble with a moderate airiness.

UERR (62) neutral reference – nice soundstage expansion, neutral-balanced sound signature, neutral extended low end with a quality punch, neutral lower mids and detailed natural upper mids, well defined crisp treble with a touch of airiness.

fiio_x5iii-x00

Other wired and wireless connections.

The flexibility of X5iii design with so many output ports makes this DAP a perfect candidate for a pair up with various amps, DACs, and other external setups.  While it’s convenient to have one compact device without a bulk of a stack up, if you want to scale up the sound quality, you have plenty of options to experiment with.

X5iii vs X5iii w/A5 with T5p2 – I always held E12A amp in high regard as a transparent neutral portable amp.  Its replacement, A5, doubles the power and adds a little more body to the mids, though I still consider it to be relatively neutral.  In testing X5iii 3.5mm HO vs X5iii LO + A5, I can clearly hear an improvement in sound being more dynamic, better layered, with more separation between instruments, and improved transparency.  This testing gave me a Eureka moment once I realized that the only thing that holding X5iii back in the mid-fi bracket is its headphone amplifier section of the design.

fiio_x5iii-x47

To confirm this theory, I tested X5iii with K5 docking station to evaluate the sound using this external desktop headphone amplifier.  And again, I was presented with a clean, dynamic, layered sound that was a pleasure to listen to.  That felt almost like an experience with X7 when I stepped through the original default AM1, switching to AM2, only to discover later the best sound combo with AM3.  You can’t roll X5iii amps like in X7, but you can certainly take the advantage of its neutral clean LO output of dual AK4490 DACs to add your own external amp to the sound chain.  And if you want to use your own DAC/amp, Coax Out turns X5iii into a digital transport which I successfully tested with my Micro iDSD to find a clean warm sound.  I’m sure, if X5iii would have supported optical out, the sound would have been more neutral, just based on my experience of Micro iDSD use.

If you want more controls, you can use 3.5mm HO with your headphones w/in-line remote since FiiO supports CTIA connection to enable playback controls from your headphone’s remote.  The pair up with FiiO new F5 iems was really good.

fiio_x5iii-x50

If you want to cut down the wires all together, go for Bluetooth wireless connection with an available aptX codec support.  The pair up was fast and easy, and the sound quality was no different than with my smartphone w/aptX.

fiio_x5iii-x51

And of course, WiFi support is not only convenient for download of over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates, but also tap into unlimited streaming resources from services like Spotify (using a free version of it, I have no complaints) or watching the latest videos on YouTube.  One app I could get to start but without a success of running it was Netflix.  I tried it on a few different occasions, and get an error when streaming starts.  I need to investigate it further.

Also, I’m still investigating FiiO’s USB DAC driver compatibility with my Win7 machine.  All my laptops still run Win7 home edition which has several security limitations, blocking the install of unsigned drivers.  FiiO even acknowledged that in their installation manual as a potential problem, offering various solutions how to bypass this limitation, but I had no success.  I can connect X5iii to my laptop, it switches to USB DAC mode, but my laptop gives me a headache since driver is not digitally signed.  I have the same issue with many other DAPs.

fiio_x5iii-x46

Conclusion.

To be honest, I got off on a “wrong foot” with X5iii.  When you look at its slick design, the complete list of features, dual OS mode (Android and Pure Music), all the available ports, and premium accessories – you forget it’s just a $399 mid-fi device and almost expect it to sound like a TOTL flagship DAP.  But once you start listening, you get a reality check that it doesn’t sound like other TOTL flagships.  Just think about it, no company in their right mind would design a mid-fi DAP to kill the sales of their flagship.  It’s a great consumer product for those who want to give their smartphone a break with an upgraded sound or would like an Android “player” alternative to their iPod Touch.  And if you want to scale the sound to a higher level, X5iii dual DAC implementation is perfect for your external portable amp on the go or while docked with their excellent K5 head-amp for a desktop use.

Overall, X5iii came a long way from its original X5 introduction.  It offers a full Android experience with a touch interface and access to Google Play store, OTA fw updates, hw playback control and analog volume wheel, premium accessories (tempered glass and two cases), plenty of storage with 2x microSD cards, dual DAC architecture, LO and Coax digital out, and both 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm BAL outputs depending on which cable you want to use.  The sound is still very good for a mid-fi level DAP with a musically-smooth clear tonality and just enough headroom for improvement to whet your appetite in time for the upcoming X7ii.  All this for under $400 is impressive, especially if you are after extra storage for your music library and require access to WiFi Streaming services.

Available for sale on Amazon.


 

39 thoughts on “FiiO X5iii

  1. What an overwhelming, but wonderfully done review. I wish I could be as insightful as you in the future as I’m basically a toddler in the audiophile world and just starting to take interest in enhancing my music experience.
    I’m a fan of Above and Beyond. I also listen to orchestra, masters of classics, jazz, blues, soul, bossa nova, lo-fi, trip-hop, and a lot of female vocals.
    Which DAP, amp, IEM combo should I get if I just want a relaxed bass, a wide soundstage, and great instrument separation?
    Thank you in advance.

    Like

    1. There are multiple dozens of daps and hundreds of iems, at least you don’t have to worry about external amps – for portable setup you just need dap + iem. You mentioned your music preference, but how about your budget? Now, this is very important part of decision. How much do you want to send on dap and iem?

      Like

      1. hi twister6! thank you very much for the quick reply. I think a sub $1000 set-up would be fine for now to test the waters.

        I’m considering either the iBasso DX200 or the FiiO X7 mark II, Status Audio open back headphone, any sub $100 IEM. I have no idea what amp to use though.

        Like

      2. While dx200 has an edge in sound over x7ii (just got x7ii for testing a few days ago), new x7ii is a better value and it will support Google play and all the apps without a need to side load anything. Plus, either dx200 or x7ii have interchangeable amp modules so you don’t need to buy anything external. With iems, you gotta raise the price bar. Maybe start with 3way hybrids, like it03 or new Primacy. Thats under $300. So if you go with $650 x7ii, you have $350 budget for iems to fit under $1k.

        Like

      3. Reading all the reviews I can find about your recommended IEMs, I am now leaning towards the new Primacy. I only need to decide whether I would go with the X7ii or the DX200.

        As I have previously stated, I want my music to produce a relaxed bass, a wide soundstage, and have great instrument separation.

        How significant is the difference if I splurge a bit on the iBasso instead?
        I am no rookie when it comes to Android, so sideloading apps will not be a problem. I also read on some site that the sound signature changes with different firmwares (ex: Lurker0, WindowsX).

        With these considerations, should I still go with the X7ii or will the difference be minimal that the FiiO will still be the better option.

        Like

      4. based on a pure sound quality and from a little bit of time I spent with X7ii after a short burn in, I still find the sound and the technical performance of dx200 to be superior.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Hi, I have a Cayin N3. I am looking for a better purchase sound-wise. Between the Cayin N5ii and Fiio X5iii which is a better sounding device considering that X5III uses dual-dac?

        Like

      6. Between these two, N5ii is a better sounding for sure. Read N5ii review on my blog, in there on page 3 I have a detailed comparison of N5ii vs X5iii.

        Like

      7. Thank you for the response. It has been mentioned that there is higher noise floor on Fiio x5iii. Is the noise heard when music is playing or is the noise heard when the music is only paused or stopped?

        Like

      8. the level of audible noise has to do with sensitivity of your iems (something like Andromeda is not going to pair up well), but you will mostly hear it when music stops/idling or when you are playing instrumental or vocal tracks which are not “crowded” with a heavy instrument arrangement. Noise is always there, and even if you don’t hear it – it contributes to a warmer sound of the dap.

        Like

      9. Thankyou I have one more question. Is the difference between quality between X5iii and N5ii just a matter of different sound signature-(as X5iii makes the sound lush not through refinement but through manipulation, so is it possible that N5ii also makes the sound more clinical not through refinement but through manipulation) or are they genuinely inferior/superior? I have an Audio Technical M50x so I thought that the X5iii will counter its bright tonality better than N5ii or could N5ii+M50x just sound better? I am indecisive because X5iii has a dual-dac as opposed to a single dad on N5ii.

        Like

      10. Hi, I have a Sennheiser hd 598(50 ohms) and X5iii. Which is a better sonic match for the X5iii between Cayin C5 and Fiio E12A? Don’t have choice to buy A5. Only either C5 or E12a.

        Like

      11. Hi, I have one last question sir regarding the E12A.
        Can the Fiio E12A power a Sennheiser hd 598 to full potential or is it wiser to go for Fiio A5?

        Like

      12. it should. HD598 is only 50 ohms with 112dB sensitivity, so you don’t need to push it as hard as some other 300 ohm or 600 ohm full size cans.

        Like

  2. Great review! May I ask how you’d compare X5-3 to iBasso DX80? From what I can guess, both are on the smooth/warm side.

    Having DX80 (and liking it), I’m not sure if something like X5-3 or Opus #1 might be a step forward?

    Like

    1. If you don’t care about Bluetooth or loading streaming apps (X5iii is android based with BT and WiFi) – then, there is no need to upgrade. Opus#1 will be a side grade.

      Like

      1. Thanks a lot! BT/apps are not necessary. Speaking of SQ, which DAPs would you suggest as the next step? Or investing into some higher-end IEMs should be done first? (My best ones are ATH-CKR10, KEF M200 and Lear LHF-AE1d)

        Like

      2. All depends on your budget. Many speak highly of zx300, Sony’s latest budget with 4.4mm balanced port, actually there zx300a variant that cost even less. Plenue R is very good, excellent battery and you get BT as well. Their dsp effects are mind blowing. FiiO X7ii is good and you can get a great deal on it. All these choices under $700, I believe.

        Like

      3. I have a Fiio X5iii and Cayin N3. I have observed that the headphone output volume with the M50X reaches a satisfying level of power at about 75 on high gain on X5iii. On my Cayin N3 I used to get a satisfying volume power at 60 in high gain. I am wondering why there is such a big gap between N3(60) and X5iii(75) despite X5iii being much more powerful. Is it normal or can there be something wrong with my X5iii’s headphone out. Can you shed some light on this?

        Like

      4. does the same volume ratio stays true when you try other IEMs or full size headphones? It probably will vary. One source of the difference is that manufacturers have different ways of measuring output power (and output impedance), where FiiO spec has a higher value but it might not be a true RMS measurement (vs Cayin). Then, in theory, power rating is a function of voltage and current, where you could have one source with lower voltage and higher current resulting in higher output while the other one having higher voltage and a lower current (to save battery life) which calculates to lower output power. But some headphones need higher voltage or higher current to drive their transducers to full potential. Plus, the difference in output impedance, even a small one, could also influence the change. There are many variables, besides just a power number 😉

        Like

      5. Thanks for responding. yeah it must be fine, I found the same ratio between X5iii and N3 on your respective pair-ups in your reviews of the two players.

        Like

      6. Thank you sir for the response. I will go for E12a with X5III. I am hoping the set-up will outperform a standalone Cayin N5ii .

        Like

      1. Hi, yes I have tried Ve Monk plus and Brainwavz Jive. Both earphones need about 20 volumes more on high gain on X5iii vs High gain on the N3. When I was going through your review I found a similarity. Your review of X5iii mentions similar volume gap of about 15-20 steps between N3(m) and X5iii(low) gains. The results are same for all earphones in my experience. I am just wondering if my headphone output is not damaged.

        Like

  3. Thanks for the great review. I own the Fiio X5iii but find the quality increase vs my iPhone 6S too little. I listened to the A&K AK70 MKii and Kann and really liked the sound with the Mr. Speaker Aeon Closed. I am building my lossless collection but still want to stream. I wanted to get the Kann but am put off by design, weight and the lack of Spotify. Now I am leaning towards the DX200 since Fiio disappointed me. Since I cannot listen to it I am not sure if it will be the jump in SQ I expect from such an investment. Amy thoughts?

    Like

    1. going to either X7ii or DX200 will be a noticeable leap in sound quality. And, DX200 with its latest amp modules like amp3, amp4, and amp5 widens a gap between x7ii even further. X5iii is not that bad, just a smooth warm tonality which lacks that “wow” factor when you are expecting a more detailed sound. Plus, hissing kills its pair up with sensitive multi-BAs…

      Like

      1. Thanks for the quick response. The DX200 is a good choice then but it is also the max I want to spend. Where does the “wow factor” start in your view?

        Like

      2. DX200 w/amp4, but amp module is an additional expense AND amp4 is 4.4mm so you will have to invest into new cables or use existing 2.5mm cables with 4.4mm adapter, like ibasso own cb02.

        Like

    1. it has been awhile since I used x5iii (i don’t use it due to a high noise floor and strong hissing with most of my iems). But if I recall correctly (and I could be wrong :)), isn’t pure music model disables some of the android functionality for audio playback where you don’t have wifi/streaming?

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s