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.
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/