X5 3rd Gen Hi-Res DAP Review
Company & Product Overview
Since 2007, Fiio has been designing a variety of products aimed at improving the portable audio experience. Since their inception, they’ve delivered portable speakers, amplifiers, adapters, and even a soundbar for your computer monitor. However, over the last few years, Fiio has made a transition from creating products that enhance your experience through peripherals to focusing more on digital audio players. The X1, X3, and X5 Digital Audio Players have brought Fiio to the forefront of the market by delivering easy to use, great sounding players. The third generation of the X5 is no exception.
In a bit of a departure from the previous models, the Fiio X5 3rd Gen now features a 4” touchscreen display and an Android interface. These changes give it a decidedly more comfortable experience, on par with an Android smartphone. The new interface should also keep the learning curve low for most users.
Design & Build Quality
From the moment we opened the box, we were impressed by the obvious care taken to ensure every aspect of the end user's experience. Out of the box, the X5 3rd Gen was already equipped with a clear plastic case that keeps dust, dirt, and other undesirables off of the unit and out of the inputs and outputs. More importantly, it had a fully charged battery, so you can be listening to music within minutes of unboxing the player.
The body feels rugged, with a CNC aluminum body finished with zirconium sand and a tempered glass screen that provides a distinctly premium feel. The physical volume knob is a nice addition that provides a finer level of adjustment than the standard on-screen volume control.
The touchscreen is more responsive than we expected, but not as refined as an iPhone or any other premium smartphones. We were able to use the Google Play Store to easily download a few streaming music apps like Tidal, Deezer, and Spotify.
The X5 has all of the bells and whistles one would expect from a high-caliber digital audio player, including a 2.5mm balanced output, digital coaxial out, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. It comes with 32GB of internal memory and two very well hidden micro SD card slots each with a maximum capacity of 256GB. With both cards and the internal storage, it boasts an impressive 544GB of total available storage for music files of all types.
Fiio is offering up more than Henry Ford black on these, with black, titan, and a standout red as options. When you hold the new X5 in your hand, you can tell it is built quite well.
Features & Technology
With more and more DACs & DAPs coming out that are DSD capable, it should come as no surprise that the X5 is fully equipped to play any output resolution that you throw at it including; DXD, DSD64, DSD128, WAV, FLAC, APE, ALAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, and Ogg vorbis. In short, if you have music files, this unit will play them. Fiio is using a new DAC that is capable of playing all PCM and DSD formats. Better yet, Fiio uses one of these per channel with good supporting electronics to deliver premium sound at a great price point.
Learning how to navigate around in the Fiio world takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have figured it out, it’s pretty simple. Hopefully, we can save you a little pain. The key to switching between Pure Music and Android mode is that you need to use a couple of fingers to swipe down the screen. This reveals a settings menu and you can easily flip between modes from there.
One of our favorite audio brands, Naim Audio, has a feature in many of their products that allow you to turn off certain digital features inside the unit in order to extract every bit of performance. Fiio takes a similar approach with their Pure Music mode.
When you are in Pure Music mode, you can only access files on the SD cards. Everything else is shut down so that there is nothing running in the background other than decoding your music files. Fiio uses a Windows-like folder hierarchy to find your music, plus you can sort by artist, album, song, and genre. When you move back to Android mode, you’ll re-engage the streaming apps, allowing you to play Tidal, Spotify, and more.
Should you wish to mess around with the EQ of your music, Fiio includes a pretty cool parametric EQ, allowing you to tame any issues you may find in your music and tune it to your preferences. Our suggestion is to take it low and slow in this area as Fiio allows a pretty broad range of adjustments and it’s easy to go too far.
Getting your music onto your Fiio is best done by connecting it up to your computer using the supplied USB cable, then dragging the files over to the SD cards. If you want to delete songs, you can actually do so directly within the Fiio interface.
In the design of the headphone amp section, Fiio used a small group of beta listeners to test out different combinations of chipsets to drive the dual-type headphone connections. The X5 gives you a choice of normal or balanced connections. The extra design time resulted in an amp section that not only sounds great but can drive just about any type of headphone with ease.
Fiio also uses two types of crystal oscillators: one for DSD and one for PCM. This reduces any chance of sample rate conversion errors, provides more accurate clocking, and reduces jitter.
Fiio also took battery life and charging to a new level. You get over 10 hours of playback with the X5 3rd Gen, and with their new rapid charge, you can fully charge the unit in as little as 90 minutes.
Finally, as if the Android apps were not enough, the Fiio X5 3rd Gen comes equipped with both Bluetooth and wireless DLNA to give you access to even more music.
We loaded up quite a bit of music into the Fiio to give it a good test. We used the Focal Elear and AudioQuest NightOwl for our listening. The Fiio had no issues driving either of these. What really amazed us was just how good this unit sounded for its modest cost.
To think that it is the exact same price as the very first iPod was in 2001 is astounding! Bass extension was good, vocals floated well in our headspace, and the high-end was silky. It also appears that all the attention Fiio took to reducing jitter and having great clocking really paid off with a really good sense of timing, which is quite shocking for a $399 player. There really is not anything even close to the price. No, it does not sound as good as the higher end Sony or Astell&Kern units, but it is nowhere near their price points either!
If you want to get into the world of streaming at home, the X5 can also be used with a USB DAC. You can simply connect it up to your DAC and stream in Tidal to your high-performance home audio system, making it a real swiss army knife.
If you have a large music library and enjoy listening to music on the go, you may be considering how much better a DAP might sound over your phone. Well, the Fiio X5 3rd Gen is a great way to enter into this category. The build-quality, ease of use, features, and performance are outstanding for the price and will blow your smartphone away.
Add in the ability to stream from Tidal or Spotify when you are on WiFi and you have a real winner. You can carry a great system in your pocket and it will power any headphone with ease. The UI may take a few minutes to get used to, but will quickly become second nature.
Simply put the Fiio X5 3rd Gen provides the value of a $1,000 digital audio player for less than half that price. Take it for a spin and it’s clear to see why it’s the most popular sub-$500 portable music player on the market.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
The X5 3rd Gen is built as well or better than some $1,000 music players, simply astounding for its modest price.
We love the way you can switch back from the Pure Music mode to Android mode opening up the ability to stream in Tidal and Spotify for a world of music at your fingertips
Great Headphone Outputs
Not only do you get both single-ended and balanced, the X5 Gen 3 has a great headphone amp, capable of driving just about an can on the market today