Fiio have been well-regarded as an audio company for their budget to mid-priced offerings. The original Fiio X5 DAP captivated audiences worldwide but with a keen attention to detail and reception for critical feedback, Fiio have consequently released generational devices which have improved upon and refined their original vision.
Enter, the Fiio X5 3rd Generation DAP—a digital player which has challenged its competition by offering supreme usability combined with a smart piece of industrial design. Priced at $399, the X5 III comes equipped with a touchscreen interface and an Android operating system.
Design and build
The design philosophy of the Fiio X5 III lies in accord with its previous iteration. Described as being "meticulously detailed", the X5 III's body comes processed with specially-selected zirconium sand. The X5 III measures in at 186g and sports 66.2 x 114.2 x 14.8mm dimensions. The DAP is rather shorter than the Fiio X7 and relatively larger than Fiio's budget M3 DAP. Akin to the X5, the X5III adopts a solid stainless material with smooth finish.
Gone is the tactile feedback and click wheel and in its place is a 4 inch IPS display panel. This ties in with Fiio's move for a modern DAP that adopts a more smartphone-like and accessible user experience.
Starting with the bottom of the device, there is a line/coaxial output port where users have the ability to play music stored in the X5 III on an external device with a coaxial input port. On the left hand side, there is the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack which is this time accompanied with a welcomed balanced output option. The charging input rests in the middle with a new support for a rapid 9/12v charging system on top of the regular USB BC1.2 design. This allows users to charge the X5 III to full capacity at a relatively shorter period compared to the standard 4 hours experienced with the Fiio X7.
On the right hand side of the device, the X5 III comes complete with two sim slots which allow users to input microSD cards of up to 256 GB with the insertion of Fiio's supplied sim key. Users will also be pleased to know that Fiio have supported an on-board storage of 32 GB which no previous X5 device has offered before. On the top of the right hand side, resides the power button which is responsive and tactile to the touch.
On the left side, Fiio have embraced a scrolling volume wheel which sits below the play/pause button and on top of the skip/rewind track keys. It must be said that Fiio have done an excellent job in creating these responsive and aesthetic buttons which feel very premium.
Included within the packaging is a USB charging/data cable, coaxial digital adapter cable, tempered glass screen protector (applied in factory), clean case, leatherette case, a warranty card and quick start-up guide. It is nice to see that Fiio have chosen to remove stickers they have included in their previous device which felt tacky and detracted from the clean and elegant feel of the DAP.
The screen of the Fiio X5 III is markedly more impressive than both the X5 II and I devices. It features a 4 inch IPS TFT touchscreen with tempered glass that supports a 480 x 800-pixel resolution equalling a respectable 233 pixel per inch.
This lies in stark contrast to the 400 x 360 2.4 inch HD display of the Fiio X5 II. It is interesting to note that Fiio have chosen the same screen type as the one of the Fiio X7, albeit, in a smaller form factor.
The X5 III comes equipped with Fiio's most advanced software operating system—version 5.1 Android Lollipop, which feels much more integrated than the previous 4.4 Android OS on Fiio's X7.
Users have the choice of two boot-up modes; android or pure music. The former is a vanilla Android 5.1 experience whereas the latter offers just the music app experience. From regular use, music playback is smooth and refined with no lag. Fiio have come far by honing in on the user experience and have delivered seamless playback which not only trumps its previous iterations but also the Fiio X7.
This era of smartphone android-like experience has enabled DAPs to run with the functionality that normal consumers are used to. It is refreshing to see that mechanical wheels and hard buttons have been replaced with a responsive capacitive touch screen. It is definitely something which other DAPs such as Questyle's Q1Pr and HiFiMAN's HM-901 could learn from.
Behind the brushed stainless steel chassis, Fiio have chosen a dual-channel AKM AK4490EN DAC chip which supports native DSD decoding. For the amps, Fiio uses two Texas Instruments OPA1642 chips for low pass filter and dual customised OPA426 for direct amplification. These chips are said to feature low noise and minimal distortion (THD + N – 0.00005%).
Fiio have adopted a relatively large 3400 mAh high-voltage capacity which trumps the meagre 2100 mAh offered by iBasso's DX90. However, while it is also 100 mAh greater than its predecessor, the X5 II, I have not seen a great improvement on battery life which lasts 8 to 10 hours on normal use. This obviously depends on app use which should be taken into consideration when purchasing this item.
To test out the sonic characteristics of the Fiio X5 III's, I have used multiple IEMs including the Rock-it Sounds R-50, DUNU DK-3001 and Fidue A73. These IEMs were consequently compared with fellow Chinese company iBasso's DX90 DAP, Questyle's Q1PR, Fiio's X5 2nd generation, Fiio's M3 and their flagship, the X7.
The tonality of the X5 III is a slight departure from Fiio's latest DAP products. While the recent emphasis has been on a more neutral and analytical sound, the X5 III returns to Fiio's M3 and original X3 DAPs which portray a more musical and warmer sound. That is not to say that the X5 III is muddy or bass-heavy because it certainly pumps a lot of detail with an overall more relaxed and smoothened out performance.
Compared to Fiio X5's second generation DAP, the Fiio X5 III renders more detail along with a weightier bass performance. Staging is rather good on the latter device with good width proportions which enable a more holographic sound akin to Fiio's X7. However, the X5 III falls short of both the X7's and Q1Pr's detail retrieval owing to their more analytical sound signature.
Low-end is presented with full weight and good extension, texture and control. Michael Jackson's "Monster" is a good example of this where bass is hard-hitting and impactful. Having said that, the decay speed of the X5 III is slightly slower than the DX90 and X7. However, X5 III delivers a more articulate bottom-end performance compared to Fiio's other musical DAP—the M3.
The midrange frequencies are very pleasant to listen to with a smooth and natural sounding signature. Although separation levels are not on the same level as Fiio's X7, there is no congestion and tracks sound spaced out with decent levels of resolvement. Vocals are slightly forward with a thicker note presentation that iBasso's DX90.
Treble fits in line with the rest of the frequency spectrum with a smooth and relaxing signature. There is a slight roll-off but nothing that may cause any unnecessary detracts from music. Rather, there is no shrillness or stridencies which some analytical DAPs can be culprits of.
The staging of the X5 III offers good width proportions and depth ratios. Although not as spacious as Fiio's X7, music still is presented with open space which bests the X5 2nd generation offering.
Overall, Fiio have stuck true to their roots as budget kings. For a sub $500 device, the Fiio X5 III does a lot right. With an impressive build and design, compelling musical sound signature and outstanding usability, the X5 III represents the next generation of digital audio players to offer enhanced sound in a convenient form factor. Although this may not be to the complete purists taste, the X5 III has done well in delivering an enjoyable sound with adequate detail that surpasses its previous iterations. It is hard to pinpoint another DAP in its price range which offers the same features and sound performance as the X5 III. Thus, this is a highly recommended addition for those wishing for an all-in-one solution to their audiophile needs.