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.
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!