Review: Fiio X3iii – The best sounding X3

A lot of users will be somewhat disappointed with the fact that the Fiio X3iii for the moment can’t be used yet as a media source only over USB, in combination with an external DAC. And then I’m of course talking about the all-conquering Chord Mojo which is the one most people are asking me about. For the moment you’ll have to use the coaxial output for that but do note the correct Fiio to Mojo adapter is not included in the box. Fiio has said the USB OTG function will be activated after a future firmware update. When? No one seems to know for now.

Firmware updates are done manually as well, there are no OTA firmware updates for the X3iii. One more thing about the X3iii, turn the player on and off, before and after you have your IEMs in your ears. The crack/pop when turning on/off is not ear friendly. When plugging your earphones in or out of the player, you’ll also hear pretty loud cracks, that’s often the case with DAPs at this price level and it isn’t anything special, but be advised/warned.

Sound

Fiio’s new X3iii DAP has a sound signature that is easy to like. That means it’s detailed but not overly so, musical but not too warm or smooth, dynamic but not analytical The X3iii is an almost silent, full bodied player that leans to the warmer and smoother side of things but without exaggerating any of that.

You get a good black background, a good separation, the right amount of “airiness” and a good sound stage width. The depth and layering are on par with a player in this price class, as is the level of detail, timbre and the technicalities. The Fiio X3ii doesn’t do anything exceptional in particular but what makes it so good, addictive and entertaining is the fact that it presents everything together as a whole. It’s easy to make a fun sounding player but this DAP is more than that, it simply is the best sounding revision of Fiio X3 so far, and all that for only $199.

Of course this isn’t a TOTL DAP like the X7, AK SP1000 or Sony NW-WM1Z, so don’t expect the dynamics, richness, preciseness or anything else to reach the same level. On the other side, for this price you get an exceptional package with great sound and to me the player’s limits are more in the firmware and usability. More on that in the End Words later.

“Wider sound stage and more detail”

That’s what Fiio is saying about their balanced output and well, they’re right in general, yet with the Fiio X3iii I find the difference between both outputs minimal. Normally you would get a wider and more spacious sound with better separation and easy of delivery but in this implementation the difference in sound is rather limited. You can hear the bass is more in control and that it has a bigger impact, and to me the upper mids and treble also sound more refined/rich but that’s about it. The difference isn’t as obvious as with competing or higher level DAPs. So I’m glad to have the balanced option but this isn’t the best DAP to showcase the performance of a balanced output if you’ve never heard one before.

USB DAC / Digital out / Line Out

The Fiio X3iii serves as an async USB DAC and delivers music up to 192/24. Installation and use of the DAP as a DAC is very easy and you can even change the volume when the screen is blacked out. When you light up the screen you’ll see the bit-rate the X3iii is receiving from your source:

Sound wise there isn’t any difference between using the X3iii as a DAP or a DAC/AMP. You can also use the X3iii as a DAC only by setting it to Line Out. Fiio gives you the option to set it to max volume or to make the volume variable. I have to admit I never used the X3III as a DAC for my desktop or portable amps. I most of the time rather use DAPs at home as a media source only. For the moment this can only be done by using the X3iii’s coaxial output. So if you want to hook up your Mojo or any other DAC to the X3iii, you better get the correct coax adapter to use, or use the 3.5 to RCA connector that comes included with the unit. Again, this is something I haven’t really done with the Fiio X3iii, and the reason is because of the very basic user interface and the lack of a touch screen.

As said earlier the USB OTG function is not available at the moment but it will be added with one of the next firmware updates. I tried hooking up my Mojo to it, but it didn’t even find a signal over USB.

Vs Fiio X3, X3ii and X5iii

Of course the previous versions of the X3 didn’t come with a balanced output, the design is also very different as you can see in the pictures.

The original X3’s sound signature was very different as the sound had a more forward approach and it sounded brighter and sharper. It wasn’t as silent (background noise) and it didn’t have the detail level it does now. Sound also wasn’t as layered, spacious or enjoyable really. It was a more concentrated and in your head kind of sound. The overall signature was to the more neutral side but with a smoother delivery. Bass was tight but not overly present, voices were somewhat more forward and treble was not the most extended.

The Fiio X3ii is more silent than the original but it’s still noisy. It has a more relaxed presentation with more warmth and smoothness. The X3II is very musical compared to the X3, with a richer, smoother and easier to like sound. Separation and spaciousness also are better but you are still getting a more “inside your head” sound. The X3ii sounds more natural, balanced and richer compared to the original X3 and it today still is a very easy to like even though the extension isn’t that present. I do love the X3ii’s form factor though, and as said, the navigation wheel hat the click system I prefer.

So compared to the earlier X3’s the 3rd revision has the best quality of sound with the most detail, best resolution, depth, spaciousness, etc. It’s also the most silent of all three players and the most natural to listen to. Sound wise, it’s clearly the best so far, also on technicalities.

Fiio X5iii, it’s bigger brother, of course comes with a different firmware, interface, touch screen and Android capabilities. It beats the X3iii in every possible way in usability and looks. To me it’s more noisy than the new X3iii and for a “big brother” that’s not really a good thing. Besides that, every single aspect of sound is better than the X3iii. Wider, deeper, richer, more dynamic, transparent, further extended, more layered. The X5iii is a great DAP in all possible ways, you just have to be able to not hear the noise and don’t care about the slightly slower user interface. The X5iii looks great, sounds great, feels great. It’s a step up from the X3iii, but that’s only normal as they’re in different leagues. The X5iii is selling for $399 at the moment so that’s double the X3iii.

Vs the competition

One of the new upcoming killer DAPs is the Cayin N5ii. It’s the second revision of the N5 model and it will be available in more or less in 2 to 3 weeks’ time. The retail price will be around $369 from what I hear but the things you’re getting in return are huge: double microSD, touch screen, dead silent background, full Android, Tidal, 2.5+3.5mm outputs, etc etc etc. It’s not really fair to compare it directly to a DAP half its price. It would be more correct to compare it to then Cayin N3 which is selling for only $149.99 making it a close competitor of the Fiio X3iii.

Like the Fiio, the N3 comes with a small screen and a very basic user interface without touch screen. In that regard they are equal. The big difference is that the Cayin N3 does USB OTG right from the start and more. See here: https://headfonia.com/review-cayin-n3-the-master/2/ . Connectivity wise the Fiio is lacking compared to the competition, I don’t know how else to put it. Sound wise the Cayin N3 is very different from the Fiio X3iii with a neutral presentation that has less body and impact. The N3’s resolution is great but the X3iii sounds smoother, warmer and a lot of people will find it nicer and easier to listen to, certainly in the long run. The tuning is very different though and different people will love it. The big advantage the N3 has is it’s connectivity and it makes a perfect partner for the Mojo.

Another DAP in this league is the new Hidizs AP200. We’ve had one here at the HQ for quite some time now but unfortunately our sample unit is having several/severe issues with the software making it very unpleasant to use. I’ve been waiting for more firmware updates but so far nothing has managed to make it a well-functioning player. I will add a comparison to the AP200 as soon as I get it to work as it should.

End Words

If this review was way too long for you to read I’ll summarize it in a few sentences. With the 3rd revision of the X3, Fiio has delivered the best sounding X3 DAP so far. It’s a nice addition to see the 2.5mm balanced output and its silent delivery but at the same time it isn’t the biggest difference either. The New X3iii looks and feels great and comes with a nice leather case. Connectivity and versatility-wise the Fiio X3 has a lot of potential but for now it hasn’t been fully unlocked yet.

If you can live without a touch screen, customizable user interface and the flexibility and options of the latest Android DAPs and only care about qualitative but mostly musical sound, then you will find the ideal partner with the new Fiio X3iii DAP in this $199 price range. I recommend using the X3iii with light and normal bodied IEMs that don’t have a bass boost from their own. If you’re in to treble then you better combine the X3iii with a treble focused monitors. Any other questions? -> The comment section awaits.

Specifications & Performance

http://www.fiio.net/en/products/72/parameters

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

13 Comments

  • Reply November 23, 2017

    vinc

    hi, will you do review of AK70 II?

  • Reply November 25, 2017

    SithMa

    You make wonderful reviews. I’m considering to replace my FiiO X3 2nd gen, and because you reviewed this one here and CAYIN N3, which one I should buy to replace it?
    Or maybe you know a third better option in the same price range..
    thank you!

  • Reply November 28, 2017

    blazer39

    if sound quality only matters, is the fiio x3iii worth 50$ more than cayin n3?

    also which player has smoother/less hot treble?

    i listen mostly to metal/rock

    • Reply November 28, 2017

      Lieven

      No I don’t think it is. The Fiio is smoother.

  • Reply December 2, 2017

    R.T.

    Sound quality: Worth $100.00 more than the Sony A35?

  • Reply February 17, 2018

    Swayamjeet Kar

    Would the fiio x3 mark iii be a better choice for almost the same price as the cayin n3? I already have a Fiio EX1 to go with them? And if the fiio EX1 will be better with either of these DAPs or the 1more triple drivers?

  • Reply September 3, 2018

    BeardedBetts

    So, I’ve read and reread your reviews of both the Fiio X3 Mark II and III and the Cayin N3 and I’m still torn between what to grab. The technical specs are above me, to be honest. My headphones (and ears) aren’t good enough to pull out too much difference these days (drumming and concerts have wrecked my hearing) but I absolutely hate iTunes and refuse to use it. So, iPods are a no. Always have been. My last DAP died on me a few months ago and I’m fed up with trying to use my phone. I was using a Creative Zen Vision M that I’ve had for 12-13 years ha…it’s time to move on. What I look for in a DAP is versatility and durability – everything else is a nice bonus. I love that these DAPs use micro sd cards vs dedicated on board memory. So, check.

    I’ve read reviews and it sounds like the Fiio X3 Mark III has some issues with being finicky, dropping/skipping audio, being slow, and eventually dying after a few months.

    People say the Cayin N3 doesn’t play nice with Windows 10. The price tag on the Hidisz AP60 II is a bit enticing as well, but the damn thing looks like a vape…clunky and whatnot.

    So, what would you recommend from the Hidisz AP60 II, Fiio X3 III and the Cayin N3 for someone who just wants to go for walks/car rides and listen to some prog-rock and black metal in the snow? I listen to a lot of styles of music, but for mostly prog/metal/instrumental types of music. We’ll say $200 is my price limit, but less is always nice if I don’t have to sacrifice quality/durability.

    Thank you, I know that’s probably a loaded question…

    • Reply September 4, 2018

      Lieven

      I’d probably recommend the Hiby R3 or AP80ii

      • Reply September 6, 2018

        BeardedBetts

        Awesome, thank you. Time to do some more research.

  • Reply December 7, 2018

    claudie cotet

    just got my n3
    after 10 hours of listening,
    very disappointed,
    less highs and unclean bass
    better voices, that’s the only nice thing
    interface: catastrophic
    bluetooth cuts off all the time ,
    very difficult to install anything like eq, playlists , bth
    once you are lucky enough, to have your qc 35 connected,
    you try to find your songs, bth disappears.
    and the slightest touch, carrying it around,
    everything stops
    very stupid to manage this device,
    compared to my fiio x3ii
    I wonder, who put something so complicated to use on the market
    and why there are so many hyped reviews all over yt.
    better not comment that.
    It’ s like a little dog wants to pee with the big ones.

  • Reply February 11, 2019

    mcelchorkz

    I’ve only known one other person carrying 1,000s of songs on their player and then leaving it on *shuffle* 100% of the time. I had to cancel that friendship. Complete and utter maniac.

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