FiiO X5 3rd Gen (FiiO X5iii) – SoC Impressions & Review: Overview: I’m going to approach this in, primarily, a “stream of consciousness” and “progressive experience” fashion. Which means I’ll be adding posts to the commentary as I find things, good or bad, worth commenting on. And, periodically I’ll merge things back into the main post as a proper review. However, for now I’m going to start with my initial thoughts from the first day or so of playing with the thing. For reference, and before I get started, my primary portable player is a Sony NW-WM1A. I am not, in anyway, dissatisfied with the performance of that. My fiddling around with the FiiO X5iii is purely in the interests of seeing if it’s a viable dual-slot/streaming capable companion to the Sony. The Sony NW-ZX2 is, perhaps, a more logical alternative, but it’s a single card-slot unit again, so before I go down that path with a second player, I wanted to try out a dual-slot model. So, here I am, with a fresh, shiny, black FiiO X5iii in my paws … with a simple side-by-side shot of it with the Sony unit. More pictures will follow, for now this is just for context/provenance: Features: Let’s start with a summary of the units headline features: Dual AKM4490 DACs (w/ selectable filters) Dedicated 44.1/48 KHz clocks 300 mw output @ 32 ohms SE and balanced output (2.5mm TRRS) Works as a USB DAC (not tested this yet) Dual microSD card slots (2x 256GB) Bluetooth 4.0 (w/ AptX) WiFi Quick-Charge support Android 5.1 as the base OS (w/ heavy customization) Now, with any Android-based audio player I come into things with relatively low expectations in terms of ease-of-use, fussiness, UX consistency, overall stability and, most importantly, concerns about forced sample-rate conversion (a feature of any player that uses the stock Android audio stack), and odd behavior with third-party player apps. Which means that perhaps the single biggest, and best, feature for this unit is that FiiO have taken the time to re-plumb the audio stack. There’s no forced sample-rate-conversion here, even for third party applications. Full kudos is due here, as many other manufacturers have half-assed things here – with unpleasant results. So, your TIDAL streams will play at 16/44.1 and not get mangled up to 16/48. Your native files in other resolutions will also play, without fuss, at their native sample rates. We’ll see how this pans out, sound-quality wise, over the next few days but it is, at least, the right place for a manufacturer to start with an Android-based player. Build: Quite nice actually … physically and aesthetically. Sockets seem firmly anchored (unlike, say, the Onkyo DP-X1). The unit feels reassuringly solid. It comes in at 192g with both card slots filled, which is about ¾ the weight of the Sony unit, and it’s about ¾ the physical volume as well, so the sense of solidity is very similar. The card slots use something similar to the SIM-card trays in the iPhone. This means they’re entirely internal and protected … but also that you need a tool to get at the cards inside (one is supplied, and you can use a paperclip in a pinch). The screen is essentially that same as that on the X7. It’s a 480x800 unit, is nice in indoor situations but lacks some brightness when used outdoors (reflections/glare are also a bit of a problem here). I could say the same about the screen on the Sony unit in regards to trying to read it outdoors. A “glass” screen protector is pre-installed on the unit and a plastic sheet over the back. Charging & Battery Life: This unit charges off the typical micro USB connector. With normal chargers it’ll take about 4 hours to go from empty to full. With a “quick” charger (e.g. a 2A amp-capable Anker) that comes down to about 90 minutes. And that’ll get you about 8-10 hours of playback – my first run, playing a mix of local files, lasted almost exactly 8 hours driving IEMs in SE mode with WiFi enabled (for no reason other than I hadn’t turned it off). I’ll give this more specific attention after a few cycles, but right out of the box it’s yielding obviously better battery life than the Onkyo DP-X1 ever managed for me. Physical Controls: The layout of these is a bit less than ideal. The power/wake button (which is always illuminated when the unit is powered on, it seems) is a bit squidgy and activating it reliably generally results in you pressing one of the three buttons on the other side of the player (Play/Pause, Forward, Back). The volume wheel is nicely protected and has good tactility, but operates a bit too slowly for rapid changes – so make sure you turn things down before you start listening! If the screen is on when you touch it, it brings up an onscreen volume controller which is much more rapid and direct in operation. User Interface & Operating Modes: You can run the player in “Pure Music” mode, or “Android” mode. In the former, you simply get the UI for the built-in music player. The switch between modes only takes a second or so (no reboot is required). It’s hard to say what’s really being changed, other than how you interact with the device, but at best it appears to simply stop all unnecessary Android processes/apps in “Pure Music” mode. In “Android” mode it is a conventional Android device, albeit with a completely custom audio-stack, which avoids all the general Android audio nastiness. So far this seems to work very well with third-party players (no sound-quality issues with TIDAL or Spotify). UI responsiveness is typical “modern Android on decent hardware”. It’s generally quite fast and fluid, with the occasional stutter – most noticeable when scrolling. There’s little in the way of lag (so far), and it’s feels a little more responsive than the WM1A. However, and I’m not sure whether this is down to the screen protector/backing cover messing with the capacitive screen (which does happen), touches sometimes are not recognized. It’s worth stating that I’ve seen this before with other similar units and in those cases the issue generally went away with the protective backing removed – I’m not doing that here until I am sure I am going to keep the unit (which is, currently, mostly dependent on firmware fixes). Listening/Sound: This is where I’m going to say the least for now and, I expect, the most as we go along. Hiss: With very sensitive IEMs (EE Zeus R, SE846), there's a little audible hiss. I'm quite sensitive to this (in terms of being able to hear it, not in whether it bothers me or not); I can, for example, hear hiss with the SE846 driven from a Chord Mojo. The output stage is apparently turned off when the unit isn't playing music. But when it engages, a moment or two before a track starts, the change is apparent. And, again, at the end of your track or playlist, there will be a couple of seconds where no content is playing but the output stage is still operating ... and when it switches off the hiss instantly vanishes. This has not been any kind of issue in actual listening so far, but it's one of those things that comes up a lot (my bad for not mentioning it right out in the first post). In comparison the WM1A is completely silent. Quality & Signature: For now, I’ll say that this is clearly an AKM4490-based device, “Velvet Sound” and all. Whether you consider that a good thing or not is going to be something of a personal preference. And even then, what “Velvet Sound” actually yields is somewhat dependent on which of the 4490’s built-in filters you select (there are 5). These do result in readily audible changes. At this point I find the thing quite enjoyable to listen to, currently using Empire Ears Zeus R (non Adel) IEMs*. While “Velvet Sound” is not my preferred presentation or signature (the WM1A is more to my liking), it is, at least, a relatively musical presentation even if not a strictly neutral one. Firmware/Software Issues: In order to be clear about what they are and, if possible, provided work-arounds or other useful information, I’m going to keep these in a separate post and will update it/remove items from it as they’re either discovered or fixed. -- *More IEMs/headphones will get paired up with it, and commented upon, as I unpack them.