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

Dac & Source

Why use an external amplifier or DAC with the X5iii? Because you can, because you prefer a different sound signature or maybe just because you need more power for your headphones. It’s a pity that the X5iii only has a single ended 3.5mm out though. The Fiio A5 portable amp seems to be the one a lot of people are planning on hooking up to their X5iii, as they size-wise perfectly fit. Fiio will also be releasing an X5iii stacking kit soon. Do check out our A5 review here. The big advantage the A5 has is that it is silent with the same sensitive inears that pick up the noise from the X5iii directly. As said in the A5 review, the amp performs pretty well and it’s my new favorite Fiio amp. It’s up to you to decide if you feel the A5’s sound quality is better than the X5iii’s but that will mostly depend on the head- or earphone you’ll be using it with.

While Fiio has reported that the USB OTG function (digital output over USB) will only be fully operational in a next update, I did get it working with the Chord Mojo on both the Fiio and the Hiby music app. Size wise this combo setup doesn’t really match up but I’m sure everyone is creative enough to make it work. The result is the typical Mojo sound, so do check out our double Chord Mojo review here and here. I couldn’t get the RHA DacAmp L1, ALO CDM or JDSLabs C5D DAC/Amp combos working with the X5iii but once Fiio gets this sorted out, I’ll be adding a part on what unit pairs best with the Fiio X5 sound wise.

I have been using the X5iii very regularly as desktop DAC/amp in combination with the AudioQuest NightOwl and SoundWarrior HP20. Both headphones are fairly easy to drive and X5iii’s amp didn’t have any problems making these sound good. To get the X5iii working with your Windows pc, you do need to install the special Fiio driver. Once you get that sorted out, using the DAP as a DAC is very easy. To me personally using a DAP as DAC/Amp is something I do in case of emergency when there is no other DAC around, but the quality of the DAP DAC’s is constantly improving. Besides for testing purposes I didn’t feel the need to use the Line Out/Coaxial out to an amp and/or DAC. This flawlessly works and there are no surprises to report here. Most of the time I end up liking the coaxial output over the USB one, but as this isn’t fully operational yet, I won’t be going into more detail about it.

Pairings

Dimitri from MusicaAcoustics sent me a bunch of Japanese headphones and the SoundWarrior HP20 actually is pretty nice. It has a more v shaped signature and after swapping the stock cable with a PlusSound one, it sounds really good straight out of the Fiio X5iii. The HP20 has a lighter and more analytic presentation and the X5iii with its smoother and relaxed presentation make it a very detailed yet musical headphone. While I am a fan of the latest AudioQuest NightOwl headphone, I’m not too fond of the synergy between it and the X5iii. The sound is rather light, very airy and not too defined with light bass. I very much prefer this headphone combined with RHA’s L1 DacAmp.

The budget KR ATR universal IEMs, like the famous VE Monk, only cost about $5 (free shipping) but they have an extremely good sound quality for the money. Compared to the Monk they’re more V-shaped in sound signature and they are IEMs and not earbuds. The X5iii makes them sound powerful with impactful bass, lush yet detailed mids and easygoing treble. If you’re a fan of a warmer, bass heavier sound, you will really enjoy these IEMs on the X5iii. I’m thinking R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, EDM, Pop, etc. The Radius hp-twf41 is another full bodied sounding universal IEM and as the Fiio already has quite the body, it for some might be too much. Bass heavy music isn’t for me with this combination, but all other genres get that typical hp-twf41 sound. This IEM keeps surprising.

The neutrally tuned custom Jomo Samba 8-driver as explained earlier will pick up some noise but if you can hear beyond that you’ll get a neutral sound with tight bass and detailed mids. The treble on the Samba is extended enough to even keep the treble fans happy. It’s a pretty good detailed and musical combination but my absolute favorite IEM with the Fiio X5iii is the German Inear ProPhile 8. The PP8 with Effect audio’s latest cable (the Thor Silver II+) sounds very detailed and it has a great sound stage. Without boost you get a neutral tuned flatter sounding monitor but even with the boost toggles flipped “on” the bass and treble, which increase in presence, are to die for. The detail and clarity of the PP8 combined with the body and smoothness of the Fiio X5iii make this the best combination for me to listen to. I realize the ProPhile 8 cost over double the X5iii but the synergy is incredible.

Personally I would recommend pairing a more neutral and clear sounding IEM/headphone with the X5iii as a warm and bassy unit might be “too much”.

TL/DR aka Conclusion

I love the design, lay-out and the usability of the Fiio X5. It’s easy and a pleasure to work with and as it is Android, the Fiio X5iii can basically run all the apps that you want. When buying the Fiio X5iii you don’t only get a DAP, but a portable DAC and DAC/Amp with five different outputs (3.5mm SE out, 2.5mm Balanced out, Line Out, Coax out and USB OTG). So you basically get one unit that can do it all.

The Fiio X5iii sounds more to the neutral side but with a musical and smooth presentation yet keeping all the detail nicely in there. It’s hard not to like. Is the X5iii a perfect DAP? No it isn’t yet as there still are several kinks to work out with the upcoming firmware updates. Even in the current state though, the Fiio X5iii already is a killer DAP in the sub $500 category (or even above). It definitely has the possibility to become the very best one once the remaining issues have been worked away. If Fiio manages to improve the reactivity/speed of the UI, lose some noise and improve the clarity of the sound a tad more, it’ll be the almost perfect player.

Well done Fiio!

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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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