For the third revision of the X5, the Chinese Fiio has decided to equip its player with a touch screen, a Wi-Fi connectivity and an operating system based on Android – luxury so far reserved for the very high-end X7 in the manufacturer’s catalog. The promise of this new X5 is clear: to combine the ergonomics and abundant functionality of Google’s mobile platform with first-rate audio performance, all for a relatively “reasonable” price (€ 469 at launch).
Everything from glass and aluminum clad, the X5 III sports a design without great history, which seems however more worrying alas to mark its belonging to the family of “audiophile players” than some notion of convenience. Its very generous thickness (about 15 mm) is therefore accompanied, as is the practice in this category of products, by very angular lines which make it easier neither to grasp the device nor to store it in a pocket.
Despite these remarks, the quality of manufacture of the walkman is quite satisfactory. It is only regrettable that the glass surfaces of the device, screen as back, do not benefit from any oil-repellent or anti-reflective treatment: they tend to hang very unobtrusively the fingerprints. Obviously, the readability of the screen suffers enormously during use in full light, which he did not need – we will return to it below. Very good point, however, Fiio has the kindness to provide not one, but two protective covers with its walkman, one in leather, the other in silicone (although less elegant, but more effective in terms of protection against the shocks).
On the bottom side of the player is the connector: micro-USB port, headphone output on 3.5 mm mini-jack, balanced output on sub-mini-jack 2.5 mm, and a line output on mini jack which can also as a coaxial S / PDIF output (a male mini-jack to RCA female adapter is provided for this purpose). The right slot accommodates the on / off button and the two microSD card slots (each capable of accommodating a microSDXC up to 256 GB), while on the left are the control buttons: play / pause, volume, next track, and previous track. The placement of the buttons on this side has something surprising, since it makes the use of the walkman much more ergonomic for the left-handed than for the right-handers: while the latter will have to make do with their index, major and / or the first will have the happiness of seeing their thumb fall very naturally on these orders. For once they are the ones who benefit, let’s take it as a refreshing upheaval of our habits!
The micro-USB port of the player is of course used for recharging and for connecting as external storage device to a computer, but also allows to use the X5 III as DAC USB under macOS or Windows – by means of the download and installing a dedicated driver under the Microsoft OS. The use in this mode is generally satisfactory, but suffers from a frustrating bug: after connecting the player as a DAC to a computer, we systematically was unable to reactivate the external storage mode, unless reboot the device . It is hoped that a future firmware update will correct this malfunction.
Now we need to look back on the X5 III’s screen, which alas clearly has not been the focus of much attention during the design of the player. For those who have kept abreast of the technological advances made on smartphone screens in recent years, the statement of characteristics is likely to take on travel tunes over time. Judge it: it is a 4-inch TN panel, with a definition of 480 x 800 px, a density of 233 pixels per inch. Not surprisingly, the display quality is disastrous: maximum brightness rising to a shy 345 cd / m², very narrow viewing angles, colors and delusional white balance (delta E medium to 12.3, near white medium point of 10 000 K) … Nowadays, the least entry-level entry-level smartphone does better; for a top-of-the-range product of 2017, it is simply unworthy. Only the contrast is quite good (for a TN panel!), Amounting to 1,015: 1. Las, this good score is marred by grayscale management also execrable: the average gamma is 3.3, and the images displayed are much too dark. In short, not only does this screen absolutely not allow to properly view a video or a photo, but it is also simply unpleasant to the daily use.
Another reason for discontent: the interface of the player has undergone a frankly dubious French translation, which not only makes some titles nebular, but has even totally dodged some labels, which remain in English version whatever the language chosen in the parameters. It’s not very serious.
The autonomy is promised by the manufacturer at about 10 hours, which corresponds well to what we found during our tests with a playlist made up of very varied file formats – from Flac quality CD to DSD128, the DXD (32-bit PCM / 384 kHz). It is a fairly meager value, but unfortunately common for this type of product. It should also be noted that our measurement was realized screen off, and activating the mode “pure music” of the player, which locks the access to any application other than Fiio Music. So we are far from the worst stress test that we could have put under the walkman …
As an Android device, the X5 III does not breathe the latest: powered by Android Lollipop 5.1, a version older than two and a half years, it is also equipped with a meager Rockchip RK3188 quad-core processor at 1, 4 GHz, supported by a single gigabyte of RAM. It is not necessary to hope to run games or some gourmet application on this device: this is absolutely not the use for which it is intended. But as long as one confines oneself to its primary vocation, namely the use of audio playback applications, this modest configuration is enough to propose a fluid interface and quite reactive.
The list of file formats with which the X5 III is natively compatible does not forget absolutely nobody: are to the appointment MP3, AAC, Vorbis, WMA, WMA lossless, FLAC, ALAC, APE, AIFF, WAV and DXD, to a completely oversized resolution from 32 bits to 768 kHz; DSD64 and 128 complete the enumeration. Complete and intuitive, the application Fiio Music, is very pleasant to use: the exploration of the music library by tags or folder structure is done without the slightest trouble, the search function is efficient and always very easily accessible, as well as managing playlists.
The use of Android obviously translates into a colossal advantage for the X5 III in terms of streaming services and music distribution. Whatever your platform of choice, just visit the Play Store to download any dedicated app, even Apple Music. It is difficult to dream better in terms of completeness. DLNA / UPnP compatibility: The Fiio Music application is already capable of fetching music on a remote server; but if you wanted to transform your player even into a server, or to broadcast music to a UPnP Renderer, nothing more simple: download a dedicated application like BubbleUPnP, and you are armed.
This same compatibility Play Store could also have made it possible to transform the X5 III into a video player, but unfortunately we face a few obstacles: first of course the poor quality of the screen but also and more foolishly the absence accelerometer in the camera, thus preventing viewing in landscape mode.
In addition to the Play Store, the Fiio X5 can also access an application repository managed by the manufacturer itself, named Fiio Market. We strongly discourage the use: not only impractical to use (it only allows to download APK which must then install manually), it also houses versions of applications completely obsolete. The biggest example is the Qobuz app, available in version 2.5 on the Fiio Market … while the Play Store is already in version 4.0.
Finally, if the X5 III has 32 GB of internal memory, only 2 GB is perceived by the OS as a system storage space – which, once again, is purely audio, should be amply sufficient. The rest of the memory actually usable for storing music amounts to 26GB.
Regarding the audio performance, the X5 III proves to live up to its ambitions. Its headphone output is distinguished above all else by the power it is capable of delivering. Two gain settings are available in the audio configuration: in “low gain” mode, the output voltage already reaches an impressive 370 mV RMS value; As for the “high gain” mode, it goes up to a gargantuan 750 mV RMS. In fact, very few helmets can prove too greedy for him.
The soundtrack of the player is made up of a double Asahi Kasei AK4490 DAC, and a double operational amplifier Texas Instrument OPA1642. The dynamic range reaches 117 dB, while the harmonic distortion + noise ratio does not exceed 0.002%: all the parasitic artifacts are therefore located a thousand leagues below the threshold of the audible. Crosstalk at -75 dB is also perfectly imperceptible to the ear.
Like any compatible “audiophile” player, the X5 III offers the user the choice of which type of low-pass filter he wishes to use at the digital-to-analog converter. As usual, this setting has no effect on the sound heard at the ear. Even our measuring instruments only manage to distinguish the “Super slow” mode because of its slightly more pronounced attenuation of the treble, but all the other modes are confused on the curves.
The X5 III offers innumerable sound treatments, but has the very bad taste to juxtapose in its menus effects available free and others to unlock by payment, without giving any way to distinguish each other as long as one does not tries to activate them. But in any case, it is as usual only a single treatment to which one will really want to be interested, and it is well accessible for free: it is of course the equalizer. This one proposes a setting on 10 bands rather precise, which will allow the hardened ones to compensate with enough accuracy a possible lack of neutrality of their helmet.
The FiiO X5 III is frustrated by some very annoying ergonomic mistakes, foremost of which an interface not free from bugs and dubious translations, but above all a screen of an unworthy quality. It’s a shame, because apart from these defects, the combination of impeccable audio performance and the abundance of features allowed by Android is obviously very attractive.