The X5 3rd Gen By FiiO
Tonality8.7
Build & Functionality8.5
UI8.5
Matchability8.5
Value For Money9.5
8.7Our Score

Generational revisions are usually evolutionary in nature with often a well-advised approach to retaining legacy plus points from previous technological “wins” as a core production and marketing process. It is safe, keep the fans on board and keeps the sales ticking in.

We have come to expect these generational revisions from FiiO, in fact with any tech company these days. Truth be told when I heard the rumor and the discussion that 2017 would herald the next gen DAPs of the X series I was not sure how much click wheel revisionism I could suck up whilst retaining a marked degree of gaiety.

And then FiiO told us all about it, sent the pics, then sent the sample. Cue the merrymaking because the X5iii is a positive quantum leap in DAP design making for the mid-fi market. To compare their brand new $399.99 3rd Gen X5iii with the older 2nd gen X5ii is a bit like comparing the steam engine with the bullet train. There is simply nothing left in the 3rd gen that links with the 2nd Gen technology and design wise bar the name FiiO X5. This has to be a good thing.

What Is The Pitch?

Casual & Audiophile

Well if the X7 was a nod and wink with 4.4 then the X5iii is the full headbanging with its out and out Android 5.1 makeup, endless wireless and digital options and a sleek new squat candy bar design. For me, FiiO has pitched the X5iii to two key target markets. Those with an eye for style, perhaps crossovers from the smartphone market who want familiarity and those who want a kickass topology loaded with chips, modules and packing a good quality sound as a result. At $399.99 the X5iii is not budget level but it could well be the type of value proposition to both groups on a certain budget.

Design Acumen

FiiO has been alluding to design improvements for years now and whilst you could argue that the X5ii has a subtle homage to higher priced competitors it still doesn’t take away from the fact it is probably the sleekest looking DAP in the market today at this price point. Others would seem to agree with no less than the iF International Forum Design GmbH giving the X5iii a design excellence award for 2017 just a few weeks ago.

Crossover DAP

Those using an Android smartphone should be able to relate quickly and easily to the X5iii key features and stylistic talking points such as the sim card style memory slots, touchscreen, aptX BT, wifi and downloadable apps. It is as thoroughly modern as a modern DAP can be without a phone module stuck in it (Hello Onkyo!).

Dual Chip

Of course, all of this would be moot if the innards are dull, old school and simply sound bad. FiiO’s big tech pitch with the X5iii this time round is the use of not one DAC chip, the AK4490EN, but, like the AK380, it will use 2 AK4490EN DAC chips in a dual channel configuration. Hooray for a premium association, additional exciting technical measurements that punch way above the X5ii and for playing the numbers game that we all secretly love to do but thoroughly deny it. Is 2 better than one? Sometimes, but for marketing purposes it nearly always is.

Build

Design & Materials

The FiiO X5iii looks sexy, no doubt about it. It fits wonderfully in your hand and feels sturdy and heavy enough not to get too worried about its physical durability. I love the fact that FiiO saw fit to include a leather case as standard with the X5iii, one in the eye for others that charge a small fortune for just such a case.

The FiiO X5iii measures 66.2 x 114.2 x 14.8mm and weighs in at 186g. It is a fairly stocky DAP with differing and shorter dimensions to the X7 long candy bar and in the hand that stubby approach works awfully well in terms of handling. Ranged up against competing DAPs is it marginally taller, wider and lighter than the Cayin i5 but over 12mm shorter. It is also slightly taller and wider than the Shanling M5 but again up to 6mm shorter and 50g heavier.

Design cues on the X5iii have a familiar but well-executed tone. This is a solid stainless steel composite chassis with zero flex, smooth cornering and a little accent on the left-hand side for protection of their new physical volume knob control. Gone is the focus on the X design physical knobs and click wheel of the old X5 and X5ii and in comes a more modern 4″ IPS touchscreen on the front.

Buttons are now more discreet in the X5iii design with playback functionality on the left panel on either side of the volume wheel and the multifunction and beautifully designed power button on the right. The Power button doubles as the screen on and off and charge indicator with its glowing centered LED light. Functionality in terms of inputs and outputs are now all on the bottom panel with nothing at the top.

Screen

I have to say the quality of the X5iii screen is simply superb and miles better than the old X5ii squat display. The new screen is a 3.97″ IPS TFT touchscreen with a tempered glass finish and a 480 x 800-pixel resolution measuring in at 233ppi.

To give you a point of context it is the exact same screen FiiO have put into the X7; the same type, same resolution, and same ppi. Both have the same viewing angle at 178 degrees and both have an excellent saturation of colors (16.7m to be precise). The only difference is the chassis of the X5iii is shorter making one-handed gestures on the X5iii that bit easier than the X7 even if both have the same screen.

This is a precise touchscreen, capacitive in nature and very easy to work with. Touch sensitivity is excellent and very responsive. Out of the box, it does have a tempered glass film on it but it is not the matte type so whilst you get wonderful clarity unlike the duller matte but often it comes with the propensity to hold onto a thin layer of prints and grease when in use making it a very smudgy choice. I am not sure if it can be changed, perhaps FiiO will introduce new matte options down the line.

Battery

Lifespan

FiiO has put a 3400 mAh High-voltage quick charging Li-polymer battery inside the X5iii which on paper will give around 8-10 hours battery life depending on whether you go balanced or unbalanced for listening directly from the DAP. FiiO is not yet offering solid battery specs on using the FiiO X5iii as a DAC out from your PC or on OTG simply because it is not 100% functional yet, something which I expect to be the case with the next firmware.

Lifespan is average, to be honest, and will be shorter if you spend all day using 3rd party apps with unmeasured resource usage as well as heavy button and screen mashing or high bit rate decoding.

Variability

As with the X7, the decision to use an open google platform and allow 3rd party app downloads means that your own personal setup battery lifecycle could be very different to mine. The only way to get those rated numbers accurately is to switch the X5iii into Pure Player Mode. This does away with the Android open system and apps and locks you into their themed OS bootup meaning you can only use the player and minimal resources from Android.

Rapid Charging

One thing to note with the X5iii battery management is the new support for a rapid 9/12v charging system on top of the regular USB BC1.2 design. To cut a long story short this means you can charge your X5iii in about 1.5 hours rather than the more standard 4 hours. The new battery config allows both this and temperature management when opting to rapid charge and tell you all of this on the screen during those 1.5 hours.

Memory Capacity

Unlike the previous X5 generations which had no onboard memory, the X5iii comes packed with 32Gb of onboard memory with 26Gb available for use. For light users, this is plenty to start with for both OS and app requirements as well as small selection of lossy and lossless music files to get going.

512GB

Those from an iPhone background will have spotted those two “sim slots” on the right side right away and yes they do operate exactly as you would expect with FiiO supplying a key to push into and thus drive out two small trays for memory card management. Simply put in your microSD cards into the trays (up to 512GB in 2 x 256gb configuration) and slide them back in again.

0.2mm Gap

Certainly, it looks more seamless than the two gaping holes before with just a 0.2mm gap from top to bottom and definitely more durable than the rubber flaps of X5 Gen 1. Quite stylish if but for the fact you have to carry that key with you if you want to change cards.

Physical Controls

Inputs & Outputs

Bottom Plate

All inputs and outputs on the X5iii are now located at the bottom of the unit. It extremely clean, well laid out and whilst you have four ports they look far more spacious in their layout than previously on the X5ii. Credit to the guy who picked the No. 180 Zirconium sand chassis finish because the port gaps are nonexistent and super flush to the body.

As before you have a 3.5mm stereo unbalanced headphone output and a 3.5mm fixed line-out/coaxial output on the far left and right of the bottom plate. In the center, FiiO has opted to retain the micro-USB charging and data transfer interface rather than “upgrade” to USB 3.0 or USB-C.

Balanced

The big news is the for the first time FiiO has included balanced headphone output in the form of an additional 2.5mm TRRS output beside the unbalanced port. This brings FiiO’s DAPs right up to speed with modern audiophile demands and the fast growing balanced IEM cable market. DAPs such as the DX200, N5, Opus#1 and Onkyo’s DPX-1 all sport an unbalanced connection. It is not a sure fire guarantee for better audio quality but as an option on a DAP, it is almost mandatory in 2017.

Accessories & Packaging

As ever FiiO’s packaging is professional and well thought out. Even more so with the X5iii with the addition of the leather stitched case which fits fantastically on the X5iii with no slippage issues as well as a silicone gel back case.

The leather case doesn’t feel cheap and does a great job of protecting the X5iii whilst at the same time giving complete access to all the main physical buttons and touchscreen. It looks especially good on the black version of the X5iii.

Beyond the leather case and a nice clear silicone gel back case you get what I would call the standard FiiO DAP accessory package and for a DAP at $399.99 it’s reasonable if not spectacular. You get FiiO’s quick start guide, the warranty card, the memory tray quick release key, their short coaxial adapter for hooking up to desktop units if needed and a micro USB to USB A data transfer and USB charging cable.

For those wondering about screen protectors the X5iii comes with the tempered glass screen protector already on the IPS screen, you simply just peel off the sticker and you are good to go.

Page 2: Functionality & Software

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • 24bit

    You covered everything but the credit history and what toppings it prefers on pizza. Excellent review, mate!

    • headfonics

      Credit rating is fair to good and as far as I can tell no olives.

  • Jesper Møller Rimestad

    Great review! For someone about to buy their first DAP would you recommend this over the Cayin I5, when the price differences here is only about 10$.

    • headfonics

      Is it really just $10 now? Last I checked it was $399 and $499 or $100 difference. If just $10 its a toss of a coin to be honest.

      • Fareeha Ateeq

        Hi I had the cayin i5 but I returned it ,the sound was a
        In your face no space at all .
        Regards Ateeq

  • Jeff Rogers

    Thanks for the review. But, I am floored by the following “browse” library limitation (Lack of Drill Down)

    ” If you happen to have 10 albums of the same artist there is no album organization in the artist category. You are simply hit with a wall of songs in numerical or alphabetical order.”

    This would need to be fixed before I would purchase this device.

    • Hoàng Bửu

      Agreed. Things will get troublesome if Fiio did not improve the artist category.

    • headfonics

      Yeah I saw on head-fi Relic says he gets albums under artist. All I can say is that all other apps and DAPs such as AK240, AK380, DX200 etc etc all show artist>album>song. I also have complete drill down on all pc software that reads my tags. I use MP3Tag and I tag for both artists and album artists the same as well as Genre, year, track number and song title. I am pretty anal about tagging. The files I am loading are FLAC.

      • anc69

        Hi, I’ve a question about Fiio X5 iii search feature. In the search result, if you click on an album or an artist the player start suddenly with first track of album (or artist). Is there a way to avoid this immediate start? I’d like to have something like a ‘drill-down’ option: in other words I’d like to see the track list of the selected album or artist, and then choose which track to play. Is it possible? Thanks

    • headfonics

      Hi Jeff

      We spoke with FiiO and there is a little icon in the top right that will organize the songs into albums though it is by no means immediately obvious that this button does that. We have updated the review to reflect that option and requested to FiiO that perhaps this option should be on by default as not everyone understands an icon without a label.

  • Jeff Rogers

    Is there a “play queue” in the FIIO player app ? i.e. Add album to play queue, display the current contents of the play queue, etc…

    • headfonics

      You can create playlists on the go so simply load up the playlist and acts as a queue.

  • don t

    This looks good, but I only paid $150.00 more for my onkyo dp x1 that has so much more.

    • headfonics

      Well for an extra $150 I would be wanting more 🙂 I hear the Granbeat Onkyo project is looking very promising also.

      • don t

        Yes. I started out either the AKjr. It sounded great, but the interface was horrible, and the Bluetooth didn’t work. So I read & read. Every article pointed to the dp x1 as the player to get. It’s still the only player that will play mqa although I’m sure more will catch on soon.

        Dons galaxy S7 EDGE

        • headfonics

          Not a fan of the MQA business model but it’s a feature and maybe that’s where the $150 will come in. Mind you, the X7ii is around the corner also.

  • Moleman_X

    The EQ limitation on the X3ii did not allow it to work with hi res or DSD files. Can you verify that EQ works on all file types in the native app? Thanks!

    • CENTER

      This really pisses me off too. I couldn’t find any info on any website that says that the x5 gen ii can’t use the EQ for hi res files above 48khz, beside a forum post by a moderator. This is unacceptable. Did you find any new info on this yet?

      • Moleman_X

        Nope… guess I need to ask over at Head-Fi.

        • CENTER

          I know it works with the X5 iii

          • Moleman_X

            Oh, that’s what I was asking! Very much thinking of getting X5 iii but want to be able to EQ even DSD files. Thanks!

          • CENTER

            I don’t know about DSD files though. That’s streaming. Possibly ask YouTubers.

  • Paulo Abreu

    Great review as always!

    X5 III looks great for the money but now its more clear for me its not an “upgrade” to my X7/AM3 using balanced output to my A&K Angie II IEM – a killer combo to my ears. Btw, I think you meant “… all sport a balanced connection…” under Balanced topic page 1

    Thanks

    • headfonics

      I would wait for the X7ii in that case.

  • pyktures

    Great review including a comparison with two of the hottest dap (cayin i5 and opus 1). I’ve been looking to find a chunkier dap than the plenue D for a more passionate listening on the go and this one seems to tick a lot of boxes.

    What I’m mostly worried about is the 1gb of ram. Being a long time android user, I know having too little ram can hang the system in the long run. Would you think it happens on DAPs?

    I also don’t know if it’s in the same price bracket as the ibasso dx200 as this one comes with 2gb of ram and dual dacs.

    I’d probably make my decision by the holidays as I still very much enjoy the cowon, but knowing where the x5iii sits withing the gearscape of 2017 would be useful.

    Thx!

    • headfonics

      Well first up the X5iii is $399 to the DX200 $900 so I wouldn’t put either of them in the same bracket. Mind you the Dx200 has 4k video which is interesting.

      As for 1Gb yes its slim and I have no clue what people will shove on their android platforms by way of apps and games etc so 1GB, if treated like a smartphone will be slim, 1GB if used as a DAP should be just fine.

      • scottmdj

        One of the reasons the iBasso is much more is the large 720p screen vs 800×400 one on the Fiio (akin to the pricing on the similarly configured Calyx M) and the more powerful amp. Looking forward to that review—but really not til April? :).

        • headfonics

          Vacation time, plus about 10 others ahead in the queue.

  • Punit Shetty

    Great Review. Really well written, especially the comparison with other DAP’s.

    • headfonics

      Thanks Punit, it’s a very involving DAP, quite a lot of features. Glad you are enjoying your FiiO DAPs

  • scottmdj

    The Cayin i5 also plays DSD DST files, unlike the Fiio at the moment. So now does the brand new iBasso–can you get your hands on a review of that unit?

    • headfonics

      We will indeed have a review of the DX200 out next month and its a great DAP but bear in mind it is over twice the price of the X5iii.

  • Raul

    How good is this for rock, classic rock and 80s metal. Does it have the punch to sound amazing paired with good earbuds for the style?

    • headfonics

      I think pure aggression is the Cayin I5 but I like my LA guns and love hate with the x5iii 🙂

  • nothxrlly

    I might have missed it, but how’s it go against the dx80?

    • headfonics

      The X5 3rd Gen has an edge in terms of functionality and resolution

  • Pingback: Steve Hoffman Music Forums: Fiio X5 3rd generation. | RELAXING VIDEO()

  • antonio

    Thanks for your review, it’s very clear and useful: now I’m waiting my new Fiio x5 iii shipping!…
    But I’ve a trouble about headphone pairing. I used for year my old Fiio x3 with Beyerdynamic DT 880 (250 ohm), and I was happy. Now I read somewhere that X5 iii + Beyer DT 880 250 is not a good choice. Does anybody have some experience about? I’d like to avoid an external amp… Which headphone is good for this beautiful product for you? Thanks!

  • emil

    So would you recommend this for a guy who only wants to use it for music? MY ipod finally died and I have been thinking about pulling the trigger on the 2nd gen x5 solely for the space capabilities of the sd cards and the similarities with the ipod. I have TONS of music but I don’t want to shell out the money for something that cannot last. My ipod served me well and took some bumps and bruises. I want something that is going to last and sound great that isnt super complicated to use on the fly wither

    • headfonics

      For music yes, light years ahead of the x5ii

  • Michael Welshy Lloyd

    Just ordered one. Had the x1, x3ii, x5ii, and x7 (and an AK jr). All of them had pretty significant shortcomings. Ultimately I want something I can use with tidal, which is why the x7 was the one that lasted the longest. But it wasn’t very pocket friendly and I ended up back on my phone.

    this looks like it could be the one. Not exactly svelte, but probably one that can actually fit in your pocket while walking around.

    I’ve used it as an excuse to upgrade my cans. Have some Oppo PM-3s on the way. I hope they pair well.

    • headfonics

      Awesome, let us know how you got on when your X5 3rd gen arrives 🙂

  • Pritch

    Is the X5 3rd Gen compatible with a Mac? Do you just drag and drop to add music to the player?

  • econaut

    “Will subsequent firmware updates tackle the noise levels? One can only hope so.”

    Is it even possible to fix this by software? Unfortunately, the X5iii and the Andromeda are on my shortlist…

    • headfonics

      If it is gain related it may be possible by lowering the gain levels through software but I am not 100% sure it is pure gain. I believe Cayin has gone some way to reducing the background noise on their i5 through software. Mind you the Andromeda hiss is not overwhelming, only when it’s quiet, I actually use this pairing a lot.

      • econaut

        I will demo the X5iii in a few days with my Dunu DN-1000 (10 Ohm / 98 dB). Andromeda is 12.8 Ohms / 115 dB. I hope I will get an impression of the hiss then.

        Alternatively, the Sony NW-WM1A looks promising. A review would be highly appreciated 😉

        • headfonics

          I would love to review the WM1A but sadly Sony do not give out review units. Maybe I will get lucky later in the year.

  • Matt

    Would this be a good pairing with B&W P5 wireless?

  • Exh1l3d_0n3

    I’ve been following this DAP on Head-Fi, there are so many issues with the firmware that it seems the consumers are Beta testers at the moment. How does this compare to the Onkyo DP-X1 or AK70?

    • anc69

      Hi, I’m an happy Fiio X5 III owner since last month, and I’m a Head-Fi follower too. It’s true, there’re some issue in firmware as usual for all daps, but it seems to me that many ‘audiophile’ critics are really overstated … I had no crash, data loss or other big issue on the Fiio X5 III. Obviously I’d like that everything would be perfect, but if an album cover is missing on an ape file I can surely survive.I feel more a musicphile me than an audiophile, and Fiio sound is wonderfull for me. I don’t kwow AK70, but I’ve tried the Onkyo DP-X1 near X5, Iand I choosed the second one. Onkyo is a very good player, but Fiio value for price and build quality are higher; and mostly the sound: for my hears Fiio musicality wins, each sound plan is perfectly detailed but in a very balanced syntesis. In other words the Fiio does not exhibit frozen details, but plays music. This is my opinion and my taste, of course; nevertheless someone seems interested in asserting himself as a technical guru more than in music. Finally, Fiio customer care is very good: I have answers from support in a day, and firmware upadates are frequent.

  • thumperBF

    Viper4android, or Viper effects as it’s implemented in this DAP, is probably the single best thing everyone should have if using an Android based device. The audio tweaks are endless, almost making an EQ irrelevant. Although I prefer a dedicated DAP to using my Android (7.1.1) phone, I’m still amazed at the capabilities of Viper with my phone and no amp or DAC. The software itself has been taken and added upon by various developers, but the ARISE sound system is probably the best and latest iteration. Glad to see Fiio implementing it from the getgo! Might have just tipped the scales in favor of the X5 III instead of others I have been eyeing…

    • headfonics

      I think it’s vastly more impressive than the generic EQ app, one of the first times I am tempted to pay for DSP.

  • Michael Britton

    I’ve ordered a pair of Jupiter’s and I’m tending towards the purchase of this DAP, however the efficiency of the Jupiter’s is concerning me in regards to the hiss I might encounter. Should I not be concerned? I’m really hoping it will be a good pairing. Could you please give me advice on what I can do to reduce hiss with these headphones and the X5iii? -Would much much appreciate that.

    • headfonics

      I don’t think you should be overly concerned, it’s not high enough to be distracting it’s just not a completely black background. Best way to reduce hiss is to play some music 🙂 You will not hear it then unless you are playing chamber music.