Fiio X5 III
The Fiio X5 III – or Fiio X5 3rd gen – is the newest offspring in the X5 range of the brand Fiio, worldwide recognized as about the best price / quality portable high resolution player – also known as DAP or “digital audio player” – on the market. But is this correct? We made a review and found out.
Fiio – born for music & happy
The slogan of the company proves that Chinese have a different interpretation of the English language. “Fiio: born for music & happy”. This is a funny pay-off, but does not say anything about the brand and its products. What we do know: the Asian high-end audio market is exploding. Apart the many new company’s rising from the East, almost all manufacturers of DAP’s have their origin in Asia. For instance, the South Korean Astell & Kern – about the Rolls Roys of DAP’s – or the middle segment iBasso, that also hails from China, just like Fiio does.
In Europe we are not used to a lot. When you hear the stories about high end boutiques in Asia where they serve you a high-end headphones with velvet gloves, or the pictures you see displaying the most esoteric setups in spaces larger than my complete house, than we are just pussies.
The new Fiio X5 3rd gen costs about the same amount you pay for the latest iPod Touch. The latter unfortunately only plays compressed formats (such as mp3) and has only 128 gig storage on board. Luckily, the Fiio X5 III has much more to offer for that amount of money, especially if your highest priority is optimal sound quality. Because this player has so much to offer, I give you a detailed summary of the available options:
DAC: double AKM AK4490EN dac on board, one for each channel. These dac’s support high resolution files up to 32 bit / 768 Khz and native DSD up to DSD 128.
CLOCK: dubble Crystal oscillators as master clock, one for DSD / 44.1 / 88.2 / 176.4 / 352.8 sampling rates and one for 48 / 96 / 192 / 384 KHz sampling rates. This ensures reduced jitter, better clock accuracy and almost no artefacts when converting sampling rates.
AMPLIFICATION: two double channel OPA1642 chips for low-pass filtering and a custom-made audiophile OPA426 chip for amplification, with a larger output power than previous versions (300mW with a load of 32 Ohm) and larger capacitive load capabilities.
HEADPHONE: 2 headphone outputs, one single-ended and one balanced.
OPERATING SYSTYEM: based on Android 5.1, according to Fiio modified and optimized for best possible music reproduction.
AUDIO FILE FORMATS: plays practically any file formats: DXD, DSD64, DSD128 (DSF, DFF and even ISO files, not the case with many other DAP’s). Also plays: WAV, FLAC, APE, ALAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, ogg vorbis, with a PCM sampling rate up to 384 KHz / 32 bit.
ANDROID OR PURE MUSIC MODE: in Android mode other applications can be installed and used, such as Tidal, Spotify, and you can use the player in the same way as another Android device. In Pure Music mode everything apart from the music player is turned off (including wifi, bluetooth, adroid,…). This is done to achieve the best (purest) possible music reproduction.
WIFI & BLUETOOTH: with thee 2.4 GHz wifi you can use online streaming services such as Tidal or Spotify ; the Qualcomm AptX enables a wireless high quality connection for Bluetooth with low latency ; DLNA is also supported.
STORAGE: intern memory of 32 gig ; room for 2 MicroSD cards of each maximum 256 gig. In total this player can have 544 gig of storage capacity, one of the largest storage capacities any player on the market can handle, also in the top segment.
IN-VEHICLE MODE: the X5 3rd gen can easily be attached in your car, for high end music on the road. A convenient extra when you drive a lot, but I was unable to test this option.
USB DAC & DIGITAL TRANSPORT: the Fiio X5 III is also a complete usb dac, and can be connected to a pc or laptop to play high resolution files up to 24 bit / 192 Khz ; the X5 III can also be used just as a transport and send the digital signal to another external DAC via the SPDIF/coax connection.
BATTERY LIFE: +- 10 hours according to the Fiio website. In Pure Music mode, with wifi & bluetooth turned off and a lower screen brightness, I reached even more hours.
My standard portable music player is an old Sansa Clip. When it came out in 2009 it was one of the only portable players that could play flac (only 16 bit / 44 Khz) and for its cheap price it sounded relatively decent, thanks to the price/quality serious dac on board. I am born in 1983 and have been witness of the complete portable evolution from its very beginning: as a kid I used a Sony Walkman, later a Sony Discman and to record my dj-sets I used a Sony minidisc player, that sounded quite good at the time. When digital audio files started to appear I used an iPod Classic for a long time. The only way to play lossless music with this player (flac in 16 bit / 44 Khz) was by installing the custom firmware Rockbox. All that time I was wondering why not a single manufacturer had the idea to make a portable player that had enough storage capacity and could play high quality digital music. This was less than 10 years ago.
Fiio X5 3rd gen first use
Meanwhile a lot has changed. I notice this when I take the X5 III out of the box for the first time. Everything is neatly packed, the different accessories fit tightly in the luxury box, the package exudes class, with attention to detail. Such portable luxury did not exist 10 years ago, especially not for this budget friendly price.
For current pricing, or if you want to buy the Fiio X5 III – 3rd gen – check it out on Amazon:
When turning the review unit on I notice that the battery was mostly charged already. Convenient. The first navigation is self-explanatory if you are already used to the Android operating system. Standard procedure for me when first using these kinds of components is to install the latest firmware. I follow the instructions of the very brief manual (one large page that unfolds in a lot of languages, but luckily more info can be found on the website of Fiio). The player instantly connects to my wifi network and automatically indicates a new firmware version is available. 10 minutes later the player was updated and now the real work could start: transferring music, via usb mode directly hooked to the PC. The player and the Micro SD cards easily get recognized by my Windows 10 PC and mounted as external drives. Another advantage of the Fiio X5 III: copy files directly to the player without the need of extra software. Important when using Micro-SD cards is to format these to fat32 first (do not insert a MicroSD card which already contains music files. This caused my Fiio X5 3rd gen to freeze). The data transfer speed is not the fastest. When you want to transfer 2×256 gig of files, you will be busy for quite a while. I used the internal storage and one 64 gig MicroSD card. I started transfer before I went to bed, and in the morning I could start listening.
Sennheizer HD 25-1 MKII
My headphone for normal use is a Custom Cans modified Sennheizer HD 25-I MK2. These headphones were a reference with dj’s and studio engineers because of the noise cancelling and their neutral tonal balance. The upgrades that were done by Custom Cans include better damping in the cups, and better cabling. For years I used this headphone as a dj, but also for music playback at home, or on the road.
From the first listen to the Fiio it was clear: this is a solid performer. What a power and souplesse this player is feeding my Sennheizer! I seldom heard my trusted headphones with such control and ease. In comparison with my Sansa Clip or rockboxed iPod, these last two are just toys. The Fiio X5 III plays music, at a high level.
The sax of Arne Domnérus on the album Antiphone Blues (DSD 64, rip from original SACD, PRSACD7744 Proprius Records) sounds big, full and very natural. Even some microdetails are audible, like the valves of the sax when pressed. The organ is beautifully portrait behind the sax. Although the stereo image is bigger and more open than I’m used to, the Sennheizer is unable to portray a very large stereo image. There are currently many closed backs that outperform the HD 25-1 MK2.
For me, this recording is mostly a test for the reproduction of acoustical space. On my Sennheizer I hear a notion of this space, the reverberation and reflection of the sound, but this could be better. Further the HD 25-1 MKII is not the best pair of headphones for deep bass reproduction. In the low registers of the organ, these headphones fall short. But regardless of these little downsides, this budget conscious headphone does give quite a pleasant result, and gave me a first impression of the capabilities of the Fiio X5 III.
Audiophile tip: you can easily order Antiphone Blues by Arne Domnérus via Amazon.
Time for the real deal. Where the Sennheizer falls short, the Fostex TH900 excells: a tight, deep bass and an immense soundstage. The only downside: the Fostex is not neutral. But since the TH900 is not the hardest headphone to drive, this seemed an ideal headphone to continue testing the X5 III. What turned out? Antiphone Blues was a heavenly delight. The soundstage (or headroom to be more correct) now grown huge, the sax perfectly placed in space, the organ deep. Almost goose bumps.
One of my discoveries of the last couple of years is Akalé Wubé, a French based Ethio Jazz group, formed in 2009 and inspired by the great legends of the Ethiopian funk jazz scene of the sixties, such as Mulatu Astatke or Fela Kutti. My favorite album is Mata (WAV 16 bit / 44 Khz, ripped from original cd), a mix of revolving, funky, sultry music with ethnic elements, performed in big band formation. The song “Dodo” is very uptempo & rhytmic, and for me an ideal test for “timing” and “slam”. The song opens with an energetic bass and drum roffle, after which horn section and guitar dictate the repetitive, almost hypnotic melodies. On the Fiio X5 3rd gen in combination with the Fostex, this picture is portrayed very nice. Drums have impct, the song got drive and all instruments are rendered with a decent amount of resolution, separated on a large soundstage.
Arvo Pärt is one of my favorite contemporary composers. One of his less famous works (his most famous are probably those he recorded for the New Series on the label ECM), but for me one of his most fairytale, is Fratres (WAV, 16 bit / 44 Khz, ripped from original cd), a composition written for piano and violin. The reproduction of this composition through the Fiio X5 3rd gen and the Fostex TH900 is magical. The timbre and the emotions which the violin and piano use for interplay is plain beautiful. At certain moments very delicate and fragile, at other moments intens and powerful. The stereo image once again very spacious, with piano and violin perfectly focused. This time not almost, but real goose bumps.
The Last Resort by Trentemøller is used regularly on hifi shows and found its way to audiophile music lovers. No wonder, the album is produced very well. Here too, the Fiio X5 III makes the music a real treat to listen to, and is able to give a decent reproduction of the electronic sounds, such as fat bass, strange glitches, swirling synths & all kinds of effects.
To inform future Fiio X5 III users, I give you the four possible filter settings which can be set for the dac. Depending on the chosen setting for digital to analogue conversion, the sound signature can change, giving the sound a slightly different character.
For this review I used the X5 3rd gen “slow roll of short delay” filter. This gave good results in combination with the Fostex TH900. I did not endessly compare these four different filters. When it sounds right, why change again? The EQ was turned off for this review and gain set to “high”. Depending on headphones and personal taste, these settings can vary for other users. Experimentation is advised.
I was long looking for a device like the Fiio X5 3rd gen. The last few weeks I have used this Fiio player regularly at home to listen music. The more I listened, the more my pleasure grew. The reproduction of each album that I played was a large improvement over my standard (very basic) portable player. It seemed that a complete high end audio setup (pre- and power amps, dac, loudspeakers, cables, power supplies,…) was carried on my head, like an audiophile Atlas, but without the burden. In fact, quite the contrary: I did not think about the headphones on my head, or the player in my pocket anymore. I was sucked into the music, and before I realized the album I had just put on was already finished, and made me want to listen more. Maybe this is the best compliment for this player: unconstrained listening to music, without paying attention to possible flaws, only focus on the music that takes center stage.
If only the best is good enough, Astell & Kern could be a preferable choice. For their current flagship you pay 3.999 euro, only for the player. But if you are price conscious and looking for a rock solid performer with large storage capacity, that blows you away with its sound quality and plays about any imaginable file formats, including DSD, then don’t look elsewhere. The Fiio X5 3rd gen costs about the same amount as the new iPod Touch. The latter is a toy. The Fiio X5 3rd gen means serious business.
Where can I buy the Fiio X5 3rd gen?
The Fiio X5 III – 3rd gen – can be easily purchased via Amazon: