Review: Fiio X5iii 3rd Generation – The one that could

Sound

So we now know the Fiio X5iii is beautiful, heavily equipped in terms of chips and memory and that it’s a pleasure to use. For $399 this is a sub $500 DAP killer so far, but will it be able to score big on “sound” too?

The new Fiio X5 sounds fairly neutral but with a smooth delivery and it certainly isn’t warm, dry or analytical sounding. The Fiio X5iii is quite different from the X5ii’s tuning which was less smooth and more clear and analytical. The X5iii’s chips deliver a good level of detail with a good sound stage width and depth for the price range. I would say it is wider than it is deep though. Separation and airiness is good. You get a clean and clear sound (yet not like the X5ii) that always is musical in its delivery. I didn’t observe any annoying channel imbalance at lower volumes.

From bass to mids to treble the Fiio X5iii has a full bodied and engaging sound. It doesn’t boost the bass or favors vocals or treble and I actually find it a very balanced sounding DAP. Bass has good impact and body with good quality, the mids are perfectly in line with the bass and they’re very musical and rich. Treble is soft and easygoing but it does have enough energy for all musical styles. The better quality files you use the better the X5iii will sound. With some of my old 128kb files you get a dark sound where detail and clarity is missing, so do make sure your files are up to the norm.

With full sized headphones and normal inears, the Fiio X5iii is silent but when you switch to sensitive inears/IEMs such as the Jomo Samba you can definitely hear the typical hissing noise. The noise is most present when using the balanced output which is quite remarkable. Using the single ended output, there is less audible hiss but it is still there. I always tend to go “balanced” whenever I can but with the X5iii I most of the time end up using the single ended output with my ciems. Not a lot of people like noise or can ignore it so if you do have sensitive gear in your collection do try the X5iii first. If you read reviews where they claim there is no hiss it probably is because they don’t have the gear that picks it up. The hiss unfortunately is there. Another downside is the performance of the balanced output. It’s not bad but it doesn’t perform like most other balanced outputs either. Normally you get a wider more spacious sound with a better presentation but the difference in performance on the X5iii is more limited as say with the Astell&Kern DAPs or the Luxury&Precision ones.

One of the things I like most in the X5iii is the way it does bass. Bass is fairly neutral but it does have a full body with for me great impact. At the same time bass goes deep with good layering but it never gets out of control or runs into the mids. It’s not the tightest and fastest bass ever but it certainly is foot tappingly good. A lot of people might expect a Fiio Bass Boost kind of bass but I can assure you that absolutely isn’t the case. It’s a mix of quality and quantity this time round. The midrange has that smoothness I mentioned earlier (don’t mistake it for a warm sound). The mids have the right amount of air with good instrumental separation. The mids sound rich and musical and they have the same excellent body just like the bass does. Do not expect forward mids with more upfront vocals, but musical and natural sounding mids.  X5iii’s treble has that same smooth character and while the treble is soft, it still manages to engage at all time. Fans of forward, highly detailed or extended treble won’t like what they hear. Think more of a soft and musical approach where treble rolls off sooner keeping it always easygoing.

DAP Comparisons

Of course everyone wants to know how it sounds compared to its predecessor, the X5ii. For the moment the X5ii is still available but the original X5 isn’t so I’ll not include it in the comparison. First of all the X5ii is part of the “old style” Fiio DAPs. That means they have a small, no touch screen and that all the navigation is done by using the buttons and the scroll wheel. Honestly, going back to the wheel to navigate was absolute horror. Design, build quality and usability, the new X5iii is miles ahead of the 2nd generation DAP.

Sound wise the X5ii was cleaner and it sounded clearer where the new X5iii has a smoother presentation. The X5ii was faster, tighter and more solid state sounding. Basically the excellent X5ii is the more analytical one where the X5iii is the musical one. Another way to describe both DAPs is that the X5ii is the lighter more forward sounding one and the X5iii is the thicker and easier one. The sound stage on the X5ii does seem bigger and deeper than on the X5iii but that might just seem like that because of the clearer presentation. Treble on the “old” version was more energetic and extended, there’s no doubt about that. Sound stage wise these aren’t that different looking at the width but I do feel the new X5ii goes deeper. Bass body on the X5iii is a little bigger and bass has slightly more impact where the X5ii was more neutral. The mids of the X5iii have more body and sound richer. The same hissing monitors on the X5ii are dead silent on the X5ii, so that’s a win for the X5ii. In the end the X5iii and X5ii are too different to say which one is the absolute best. If you’re more into neutral tight and fast sound, you might prefer the 2nd generation. If you want more depth, body and a smoother presentation than the X5iii is the one for you. But they’re quite complementary really.

The Luxury & Precision L3PRO is a little more expensive ($499) but it is one of the best sounding players on the market. Like with the X5ii, the new X5iii completely blows it away looking at FW, user friendliness and “Android” possibilities such as Tidal. They’re about the same size wise. Sound wise, the L3PRO shows bigger body like the X5iii but the X5iii’s is bigger in bass and mids. The L3PRO presents the sound in a cleaner and tighter way. I also find the treble to be more energetic on the L3PRO but the Fiio’s detail better. The mids have the same level of detail and depth, but again they’re cleaner on the L&P DAP. Sound stage width-wise these players are very comparable.

The Cayin’s i5, also an Android player and priced at $499, is just as easy to work with, it even is faster than the X5iii and it doesn’t show lag anywhere. Size wise I prefer the Fiio design and the i5 of course doesn’t have the balanced output. The Cayin’s sound is a little sharper overall, it has a more in your face presentation compared to the relaxed X5iii. Voices are more forward on the I5 but the level of detail is about the same. The X5iii seems to go a little bit deeper. Body-wise both players are very much alike. Treble on the i5 is more extended and energetic while bass has a tad more impact on the I5. It’s a difficult choice between both these players but the Fiio has double SD slots and a balanced output. The i5 is faster and has less noise.

Fiio’s TOTL DAP, the X7 (with my favorite AM2 card loaded), costs around $479 for the moment on Amazon.com. It is faster in general usage and it updates the library faster as well. With both players you get more or less the same functionalities but the X5iii is the easiest to use because of its design/layout. The X7 is faster and more reactive. The X7 has less noise than the X5iii when using sensitive monitors. Compared to the X7/AM2 combo, the X5iii sounds a little sharper where the X7 is cleaner and more precise. The X5iii is close to the X7 and the X7 is closer to the i5. Compared to the X5iii, the X7 still wins on technicalities and I don’t see any reason why you should turn in your X7 for an X5iii. They’re both great players, I prefer the sound and usability of the X7 but the design and lay-out of the X5iii.

Astell&Kern’s AK70 is more expensive but it does have a perfectly silent and great sounding balanced output. It’s also faster and more reactice when using it but it’s an Android version that (besides Tidal) doesn’t allow you to install any other apps. IF you don’t need all the customization options and you have extra money to spend, the AK70 could be more interesting. If you want something more versatile, the Fiio X5iii is the one to get.

Even more on the Fiio X5iii’s sound is on Page Four: https://headfonia.com/review-fiio-x5iii-3rd-generation-the-one-that-could/4/

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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.

38 Comments

  • Reply March 2, 2017

    Kasperr

    How does it sound compared to ibasso dx80?

  • Reply March 3, 2017

    Jeff

    I’d like to see a review of the native FIIO player app. Artist-Album drill down and how you add albums to the play queue, display the current play queue, clear the play queue, etc…

  • Reply March 4, 2017

    Marco Angel De La Torre Camacho

    Im going to buy this X5iii, i dont have heavy to drive headphone, but i always hear improvement on dynamics and control when using more powerfull amps (on inears, headphones and full size speakers) So when you compare it alone and with the A5 attached, sound this way? or the internal amp is enough to make them sing at their full potential.
    =)

  • Reply March 6, 2017

    Juan Luis

    X5iii can drive a beyer’s like 1990pro/Amiron Home? Its a good pairing?

  • Reply March 6, 2017

    Lieven

    It can but it’s not the best. The X5iii & Amiron is better than the DT1990 but I would suggest an external amplifier, a good one, especially for the PRO models

    • Reply March 6, 2017

      Juan Luis

      So what headphones are best paired with the x5iii (excluding iem’s)? I appreciate your coments!

    • Reply May 16, 2018

      Indrajit

      Hi, How does Fiio x5iii compare sonically with Cayin N5ii?

  • Reply March 6, 2017

    Lieven

    A whole lot but that depends on budget, other amps/gear, musical preference, etc

  • Reply March 10, 2017

    Alexa Man

    So how it sound comparing to Astell&Kern Ak70? I mean resolution, clearer presentation, more good mids? Or both almost same musical? Still doubt what to choose. What you prefer about sounding between Fiio X5iii and AK70? Thanks for your answer.

    • Reply March 10, 2017

      Lieven

      Didn’t I compare both in the review and in some comments? See Page 3

      Astell&Kern’s AK70 is more expensive but it does have a perfectly silent and great sounding balanced output. It’s also faster and more reactice when using it but it’s an Android version that (besides Tidal) doesn’t allow you to install any other apps. IF you don’t need all the customization options and you have extra money to spend, the AK70 could be more interesting. If you want something more versatile, the Fiio X5iii is the one to get.

  • Reply March 11, 2017

    Alexa Man

    Yeah, thank you i saw that, but my hope was that you compare them in details. Fiio has two DACs, and Ak70 has one DAC, however resolution remain the same?

  • Reply March 15, 2017

    J M Russell

    does this drive anything above 150ohm i.e. hd650 to a listenable standard

    • Reply March 16, 2017

      Lieven

      Not really optimally

    • Reply December 17, 2017

      pablo luis rey

      may be to late… but x5iii + a5… yeaaaaah1

  • Reply March 16, 2017

    Lars

    Hey there guys! Need some guidance: if you would be able to get the x5iii and the x7 (with am1) for the same price, which one would you opt for?

    I can also add to the mix that you have
    – Sennheiser Momentum M2 (wired)
    – AKG 7xx
    – Grace design m9xx for desktop

    Which would you go with?

  • Reply March 17, 2017

    Dave

    I have just bought the X5 gen 3 and the only gripe i have with it is the fact that the connections are all on the bottom. I prefer if I’m holding it in my hand to have the cable coming out from the top. Also when listening to music i have mine set on Random mode, but when swiping in from the left it lists all the music in alphabetical order instead of the order it will play them in, a sort of play queue if you like. I’m using it with the A5 amp with the bass boost on as i use the Grado RS2i headphones which are a little bass shy. I love the sound.

    • Reply June 13, 2017

      Elton

      Devices with headphone jacks at the bottom are designed to let u slip the device into your jeans/pants naturally and conveniently, that’s why apple moved the headphone jacks of their iphones to the bottom for a few generations before going totally wireless

  • Reply April 11, 2017

    Andrés

    Is the sound significativelly better than an iphone 6? Is it worth the investment?

    I generally use my iphone 6 + B&W P7

    Thanks!’

    • Reply April 12, 2017

      Lieven

      It depends how you want to use it. I would maybe add something like a DragonFly in stead of getting the X5iii

      • Reply April 15, 2017

        Alejandro

        Thanks!
        I was told that fhe dragonfly will not make a big difference, but the chord mojo would change my life lol.
        So, which path do you suggest to go: x5iii or chord mojo + iphone6s?

        • Reply April 16, 2017

          Lieven

          That’s tough. The RED will make a difference as well though. if you son’t need the functionalities of the X5iii I would go for Phone and Mojo. I never use my phone as source so I would end up with X5iii and the Mojo. HAve you seen the Cayin N3 though? IT’s a great transport for the Mojo

  • Reply April 16, 2017

    Alejandro

    thanks again for your input.
    I found this review (https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R19151QX6T3OJA/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B016W1X94O), so I will go with the mojo. Maybe I will finish buying the x5iii in some months too 🙂

  • Reply April 28, 2017

    John

    Hi.
    I’ve been trying to get the USB OTG function to work but I get a pretty consistent amount of scratching in the background with Fiio’s music app. When I tried Hibby I got no sound what so ever. I too have a chord mojo that I would like to connect to.
    When trying the coax I have a Fiio L16 cable which supposedly does not work anymore with this model. So frustrating.
    Could you recommend an after market cable like the L16 that would work with the Gen 3.

  • Reply April 28, 2017

    Lieven

    Are you on the latest FW? Are you using an OTG approved cable?
    The coax cable is included with the Fiio devices

  • Reply April 28, 2017

    John

    Yes, I am on the latest firmware.
    I’m not sure what an OTG apporved cable would be.
    I have the red Mini to Mini USB cable from Taiwan which was talked about here by another poster. A recommendation for a cable I could buy here in the States would be great.
    I did manage to get Hiby to play through the USB, but again with lots of scratching going on in
    the background.

    Thanks so much for helping me out.

    J

  • Reply April 28, 2017

    John

    Re The coax cable supplied. Is it the Coax to RCA? If so, I need Coax to Coax.

  • Reply April 29, 2017

    John

    Re the micro USB cable the brand is;
    ASEN AVANZATO X-LIMIT USB OTG Micro-Micro USB CHORD MOJO HUGO

    So I presume it is OTG compatible.
    I would really love this feature to work on the FIIO X5 rev 3. Not sure that it is currently.

  • Reply May 4, 2017

    Newob

    AK series and X5iii 3rd gen are not using the same DAC chips. AK series use AK4490EQ whereas X5iii 3rd gen uses AK4490EN. AK4490EQ is more premium.
    links:
    http://www.akm.com/akm/en/aboutus/news/20150514AK4490iriver_001/
    http://www.fiio.net/en/products/65

  • Reply May 9, 2017

    Gary

    Can you rate songs on the x5 like you can with the iPod?Know it’s not a huge issue but it would be useful if you could.

  • Reply May 11, 2017

    Alex

    Would the x5 III pair well with any of the following headphones/earphones?:

    1. Bose Quietcomfort 15
    2. Samsung Gear Iconx wireless Earbuds
    3. Ultimate ears 600 noise suppressing earphones

    Thanks

  • Reply May 29, 2017

    IAN

    Hi Lieven,

    Do you have any thoughts on X5iii compare to AK300 in term of sound quality ?

    Does dual DAC really make a huge difference for X5iii compare to single DAC AK300?

    • Reply May 31, 2017

      Lieven

      it’s not just about having 2 dacs, it’s about how they were implemented. Personally the 300 never convinced me and I prefer the AK70 and even the AK120/240 (and AK380 & SP1000)
      The X5 does have more possibilities and with some updates can be a really good dap. The X7.2 is also coming out just fyi.

  • Reply July 2, 2017

    Mark

    Thanks for your review. 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. :)

    • Reply July 2, 2017

      dale thorn

      Do not make the mistake of assuming that your MP3s are dull and muffled because they’re compressed. Those are bad masterings, period. The treble-bass-midrange balance does not change by MP3 compression, nor does compression change the overall character of the music.

      • Reply July 3, 2017

        Dave

        What he said.

        • Reply July 3, 2017

          Lieven

          Dale is right concerning the balance. My answer is about the detail

  • Reply July 2, 2017

    Lieven

    If you’re starting with low quality input (your 256 files), it will be hard to get out what isn’t there to start with. The X5III might make them sound different (I’m not even saying good) but what’s not there can’t be decoded.

    I would advise upgrading your library

  • Reply January 13, 2018

    g_t_j

    Lieven,

    From what you say, the Hifiman RE-00s or Ety’s EP4P will sing with the X5iii!
    Isn’t that the case?

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