The X5 rocks!

A Review On: FiiO X5 High-res Portable Music Player

FiiO X5 High-res Portable Music Player

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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Battery Life
Design
User Interface
Value
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Price paid: $350.00
Barra
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Pros: Top grade sound, powerful quality internal amp, superb micro-detail, great value, ability to obtain full quality sound in a compact package

Cons: No removable battery for easy charging or continuous use, adequate only battery life, difficult to get back to now playing screen to regain fw/bk cont

 

 

Disclaimer:

 

  1. This is not my personal DAP, as part of the X5 Preview tour, I only had the chance to evaluate the unit for 10 days to form my opinion.
  2. As a preview model, there may be material differences compared to the commercial version - especially in the firmware.
  3. The following review is based on my personal needs and tastes using equipment that I personally own unless otherwise noted.

 

Pros: Top grade sound, powerful quality internal amp, superb micro-detail, great value, ability to obtain full quality sound in a compact package without the inconvenience of an external amp.

Cons: No removable battery for easy charging or continuous use, adequate only battery life, difficult to get back to now playing screen to regain forward/back button functionality, scrolling long lists is difficult.

 

Summary

 

The X5 rocks! It is the best sounding mobile DAP I have heard to date. However, I have not heard the DX100, balanced 901, or the AK120 to know if they can do any better. What I can say is that at 2 to 4 times the cost including the required balanced cable for the 901,  and considering the form factor, they would need to be clearly twice as good to get any serious consideration from me vs. the X5. That’s not even considering the AK240 – could it really be 7 times better?

 

The X5 is the clear winner over my current DX50 – no contest. However, adding my BH2 amp pairing gets the stack sound quality much closer with the X5 still taking an easy win. The DX50’s internal amp really lets it down. I guess the big question is whether the X5 is good enough to justify replacing that stack which starting this review, I was still considering. If I didn't already have them, it would be a no brainer, but it is much harder to justify sidelining what I already have. So I still have to work on answering that question – maybe I can introduce the stack to my wife or make a gift to my father. We’ll see.

 

Introduction

 

Use Case:

Having a two year old and another child due in two months, cranking my speakers whenever I want is no longer an option so I need a high fidelity alternative to enjoy my music. I actually need three alternatives:

 

  1. (NO) Listening station: My highest quality option is my desktop setup when I am willing to sit still at my desk or in my recliner.
    - iTunes/AIFF (.5TB) < Caiman DAC < Mjolnir < Black Dragon balanced < LCD2
  2. (NO) Active mobile: This is for the gym, jogging, mowing the lawn, or hiking. The Clip Zip has been the perfect solution for this as it is light, sounds great, clips to my shirt making it very manageable and out of the way, and it pairs well with most headphones. The surrounding noise and distractions during these activities makes it impossible to appreciate a higher quality sound anyways so why be at risk for more than $30. I listen through my TF10s or my Monster Coppers for reasonably high quality sound.
  3. (YES) High quality mobile: When wanting to listen comfortably around the house, when going to sleep, or when traveling, I like to be able to listen to higher quality sound. This is where the X5 would be used. I am currently using my DX50/BH2 combo for these purposes, so it would be my main comparison in the review. Traveling or around the house I use my NT6pros to pair, but for going to sleep I need a better low volume performer and more comfort so I use my HD595s.

 

Testing:

Since my main pairing for my high quality mobile setup will be with the NT6pros, this is the HP that I will be making the general comparisons with. However, the other headphones will have their own sections on pairing attributes. As my DX50/BH2 stack is by far the best I have to compare to the X5, I will be mainly discussing the DX50 stack when comparing except in the specific comparison sections.

 

Music Collection:

My biggest music sound quality upgrade by far was to convert my entire library to a lossless format, period. To keep things simple, I use iTunes to rip, tag, and manage my entire 1 TB AIFF music collection. I use playlists to organize my favorite music collections. Outside of Apple products, I create folders named for my playlists, and drag and drop all songs directly from the iTunes interface into the folders on my MicroSDs. I divide the playlists between my 5 MicroSDs and rotate as I update. This allows me to choose folders and play them like playlists as the mood strikes. I bring this up because it defines my DAP usage style.

 

NOTE: Given the lack of music worth listening to in high res 24/196 formats and absolutely no reasonable choices in DSD, I am almost ignoring these capabilities with the exception of a few test files.

 

Perspective:

My Magnepan Mangneplaner speaker setup is my best sounding by far, period. IMO, the ergonomics of wearing a headphone automatically remove some of the “being there” illusion so I would be really surprised if a mobile setup even came close. So my perfect ten is my speaker system and I compare everything else to it. My speakers make the performers sound as if they are in the room with me, literally. No kidding, but I often respond to background voices in the music or during movies thinking it is my wife or child calling me. It may not be as good as some of the quarter to half a million dollar full sound room setups that I have heard, but it is not far off. I am guessing that most  of the difference is the dedicated room, speaker placement and tuning, and room treatments.

 

Most of the good Head-Fi gear I have heard are a step or two below “being there.” Continuing the analogy, a step below is like an old wild west Hollywood movie set with 2D building fronts held up by posts. You can get lost in the sound only if you ignore all the 2D clues and stay focused on the action. A step below that is the stylized stage show where no one is attempting to imitate reality, but to make colorful and fun. The final step below that is a children’s kindergarten play with miss-scaled props made from cardboard and crayons. The table below shows my perspective of how the gear I tested lines up.

 

Equipment

Rating

Notes

  • $500K Dedicated Sound Room

12

Cost no concern, dedicated sound room with treatments, sophisticated tuning

  • My Speaker Setup

10

Marantz SR7005 > Rotel RB 1090 150lb Amp (700 watts into 4 ohms) > Magnepan 1.6 plus a pair of MK 12” high current dual sealed active/passive subwoofers

  • X5/Mjolnir

8.5

Life sized performers and intimate soundstage

  • X5

8

Closest DAP to being there

  • X5/BH2

7.5

BH2 more colored than X5 HO

  • DX50/BH2

7

DX50 holding BH2 back with lesser DAC than X5

  • C3/BH2

6.5

C3 less detailed and more blaring than DX50/BH2

  • DX50

6

Better details and power than C3 with FW1.2.8

  • C3

5.7

Nice details, but lacks power

  • Clip Zip

5.5

Very musical and engaging but a clear step down from DX50

  • iPhone 5

4.0

Has talent, but very 2D and overly blaring at volume sweet spot.

  • iPhone Classic G6

4.0

Has talent, but very 2D and overly blaring at volume sweet spot.

 

Findings

 

Ergonomics:

The interface takes a little getting used to, but quickly it becomes second nature. Here are some of the things that I have noticed while using it. Please remember that this is a pre-release tour unit on an early firmware so any of these UI dependent notes are likely to change with firmware updates.

  • Looks: It is not ugly like I thought it would be from the pictures - it looks and feels like a quality product that you would be proud to show off. Holding the DX50 and the X5 in either hand, IMO you would guess the X5 costs more which held up when I was showing to friends and family.
  • Resume: It requires a startup period rather than instant on resume like an iPod. However, the startup isn’t bad and is faster than most players I have used including the irritatingly slow DX50 startup. Like an iPod, after starting it does resume playing where you left off. It even has resume options in the setup options to customize how it resumes.
  • Off: It is relatively easy and quick to turn off – much easier than the DX50 that requires an additional confirmation.
  • Wheel: The wheel spin is opposite of the expected screen movement which is a little weird, but given the short graphical list, easy to adjust for. However, this should probably be fixed.
  • Navigation: It is easy to navigate the UI and find the option you are looking for. The UI is fast and responsive with no lags.
  • Buttons: The front buttons do get pressed in the pocket easily unless disabled, but then you cannot forward between songs easily.
  • Now Playing: You lose the ability to use the forward/back buttons to control the music when you leave the “Now Playing” screen which is unfortunate. Worse, there is no easy way back to the “Now Playing” screen once you leave it requiring too many clicks and too much navigation to return. This is one of the bigger issues with the player. (Joe Bloggs says that a coming firmware update will provide a shortcut key option for the “Now Playing” screen.)
  • Search: There is no search function that I can find. I would love to see an indexed search function that creates a selectable smart options list below as I type letters like any smart phone uses. The iPhone IOS7 smart search is a good example.
  • Scrolling: There is no scroll management to get through long lists quickly so it takes forever to go to the end of a large library list. I would like to see the scroll speed up after a few seconds switching to the alphabet scroll like the iPod.
  • Weight: It is heavy compared to other DAPs and is built like a tank so it needs to be well secured when mobile. However, I would be more worried about chipping my granite counters than damaging the X5 as it is that solid.
  • Heat: It does sometimes get noticeably warmer than most DAPs or smart phones when used for a while, but not uncomfortably.
  • Indexing: The player took my DX50 MicroSD cards without issue and indexed them rather quickly – both of them – while showing progress.
  • Charging: This seems to take a very long time compared to my DX50 S3 batteries given the larger battery size. This was never a problem with the DX50 with their removable batteries that could simply be swapped out and charged independently. However, charging requires planning with the X5 that I will have to get used to.
  • Battery: I have yet to run the battery out as I am constantly charging it afraid it will not be charged when I need it. This constant topping off could shorten the battery life if the battery has a maximum number of charge cycles which could be an issue as the battery is not user replaceable. However, there is also conflicting advice that this could be better for a battery than letting it run dry at this site:
    http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries.
  • Battery Indicator: The only battery status I could find is the small typical graphical indicator at the top of the screen. It is difficult to tell where the battery charge is at as it is small and there is no numeric percentage next to it.
  • Volume: While the X5 has a very large sweet spot throughout the volume that is appreciated, controlling it could be improved through some interface tweaks. For better control, it would be nice if the screen would turn on –for a second or two - when adjusting to show the volume as a number. This is the one time that I think at least most of us can agree that it would be nice for the screen to briefly engage. Otherwise, it is hard to tell if the press did anything at all. I typically find volume numbers that work for me for different uses and adjust to them.
  • HP Out: Music pauses when the headphone is unplugged.
  • Line Out: Music pauses when the line out is unplugged. The volume control has no effect on the line out.

 

Ergonomic Conclusion: My main use cycle is to turn on my DAP, and resume where I left off playing a folder or a playlist randomly. I tend to forward through the songs a lot as I get bored of the current song. I occasionally go into the interface and change folders. So really, I mainly need a DAP to turn on quickly and resume while allowing me to easily forward through the songs. The X5 did very well with this. The only real issue was the buttons being easily pushed when in my pocket and unexpectedly forwarding songs. Otherwise, I find the X5 very usable assuming the battery is not an issue. Having gotten used the convenience of the DX50’s easily swappable batteries I am very concerned about battery management which is the only downside I can see in moving to the X5.

 

Sound Overview:

Sound reproduction to me is all about producing that “being there” feeling. This is something that the X5 does better than any other DAP I have heard. While it is difficult to forget that you are wearing headphones and are attached to a device, what the X5 does right is to effortlessly produce realistic full speaker sized sounds that feel like they are coming from a full sized humans and instruments in the same room. This is in part due to the very detailed and realistic sounding DAC that is very surprisingly analog sounding and a powerful amplifier that is able to project these sounds to full size with realistic texture and impact. I almost said slam, but there is nothing artificial here which slam almost implies. While the X5 does not project the full speaker setup realism, there are times with the correct recordings that I do feel like I am there.

 

When I say analog, what I am referring to is a lack of metallic, artificial, or digital sounding artifacts that destroy the illusion of “being there.” The X5 also has an extraordinarily black background that allows the details to flow and the textures to layer 3 dimensionally. However, what is most impressive is how the player creates this sound so effortlessly allowing a very large sweat spot on the volume dial to play with. The sound stage and full spectrum realism flows to very low volume and high volumes can be reached without the X5 sounding shouty or strained. In the end, as good and realistic as it sounds, it is the headphone sized sound stage coming from the headphones holding the X5 back, not the X5 itself. I will be very impressed when I hear another DAP that is significantly better and not just a different sound signature.

 

Sound Breakdown:

For those that prefer a traditional Head-Fi sound description:

  • Signature: A very neutral signature with reasonable extension at both ends with a touch of warmth.
  • Bass: The X5 has a very honest bass. It is big and punchy if that is how it is recorded. However, poorly recorded or poor digital reproductions and sound thin, deflated, or clicky. What is most important is that the bass is neutral and not in the way of the detail coming from the other frequencies. In fact, it borrows from the other frequencies to better define the bass sound for better realism. Having said this, there is a touch of warmth in that the bass is very capable with a powerful amp that is not afraid to rise to the occasion.
  • Midrange: As a neutral signature with above average extension in both directions, the mids can seem neglected sometimes, but are usually just right. To get it right, it is better to listen to the X5 in a quiet room without distraction. In noisier rooms the tendency is to turn up the volume to compensate which may make the treble and bass too much for some. However, in the right environment paired with the right music and headphones, the midrange can be heavenly.
  • Treble: The treble is surprisingly analog, smooth, and effortless  until the volume goes too high. The treble is the first thing to get shouty at too high of volumes or with bad recordings. However, what is special about the treble is how it typically gets out of the way of the music by integrating with the other frequencies to add to the realism and 3D effect.
  • Sound Stage: The X5 sound stage is excellent for a DAP with a nice sized airy sound stage with reasonably 3D instrument placement. What is special about the sound stage is really the very black background to help with placement and the space between instruments. Unfortunately, being made to power headphones is the X5’s “Achilles heel” only allowing it to produce the head stage that the headphones are able to produce.

 

Volume Performance:

I set my volume by focusing on the mids and increasing volume until the singer sounds full sized. Then I make small adjustments to blend the bass and treble to produce the most pleasing sound resulting in a full sized sound stage with a properly sized singer and instruments. If the performers cannot be sized correctly, the frequency range doesn’t blend correctly, or if the sound becomes shouty or incoherent, the “being there” feeling is lost. What is wonderful about the X5 is that it has a wide sweet spot on the volume dial where the sound is realistic to low volumes scaling correctly to rather high volumes. Turning down the volume feels like moving further back away from the stage where lesser DAPs lose their coherency. The X5 sound stage only loses cohesion at extremely low volumes and sound quality only becomes shouty at overly high volumes. This is unique among my DAPs that typically have very small ranges or require an amp to perform at low volumes.

 

This awesome low volume performance is very important to me as a large percentage of my X5 listening mileage will come at night while going to sleep. Now if only the screen would engage momentarily – a second or two - when adjusting volumes with a volume number to allow easy and accurate volume adjustment.

 

Line Out:

To test the line out capabilities, I tested the X5 with my BH2, miceblue’s O2, and my Mjolnir:

  • X5/BH2:
    Compared to the headphone out, the line out paired with my BH2 is a lot boomier with the HO being tighter and more realistic. The BH2 adds an unrealistic bass boost that creates a fun and euphoric sound that I enjoy greatly, but the HO also has a weighty presentation with impact that is much more realistic getting closer to my “being there” goal. What was surprising was that my DX50 was holding back my BH2 sound wise. I already mentioned that the X5 wipes the floor with the DX50 one on one. In addition, pairing the BH2 with the X5, the woofer/sub-woofer sound went from a cheap $300 DJ setup to an audiophile $2000 subwoofer with $2000 high end speaker sound with much tighter, more realistic quality. That I wasn’t expecting. One more point, the BH2 is much more forgiving of poor bass recordings than the X5 HO where the X5 HO is much more realistic. The difference is reduced considerably when the BH2 is powered through the X5 vs. the DX50. For those that know that BH2, I always have all switches on as I feel it sounds best that way.
  • X5/O2 (Borrowed from miceblue):
    Paired with my NT6pro, the O2 brings the entire presentation forward for a nice intimate sound stage. It also brings a tad brighter sound losing some of the richness of the X5 presentation. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other but are two different very capable presentations. So the convenience of the X5 as a single solution vs. a transportable but not portable stack is a no brainer. However, when using the LCD2 or the LCD-X, the extra power is appreciated allowing the Audeze signature to scale closer to the Mjolnir sound. This comes at the cost of a portable solution, so I would personally opt to go direct from the X5 deferring to my desktop solution when I want to hear the ultimate in sound quality.
  • X5/Mjolnir:
    There is nothing unexpected here. As a balanced setup, the only headphones that I can use with my Mjolnir are my LCD2s and the tour LCD-X. Both appreciate the additional power and make full use of it. As expected, the Mjolnir spanks the X5 amp badly, but it is not in any way portable so is likely irrelevant. More interesting is the comparison to my desktop DAC. While the Caiman is not a very expensive DAC/AMP unit, when used as a DAC it  excels and has tempered my motivation to get the Da8 DAC that I have been eye balling. However, when compared to the X5 as a DAC, the X5 loses.  Even though the X5 sounds very good, when compared it is more aggressive, bright, and has a smaller sound stage. The Caiman as desktop unit is sweeter, more musical, and more effortless with a better sound stage. But hey, it’s a desktop unit.

 

Line Out Conclusion: Following these tests, I came to the conclusion that I would never personally use an amp with the X5 as there is no need and often a step backwards.

 

DAP Comparisons:

For those looking to move up from lesser devices, here is a comparison to the ones that I own.

 

  • DX50:
    My main comparable rig is with my DX50. The DX50 is dialed in with FW1.2.8, paired with my BH2 as a two piece stack. Without the BH2, the X5 wipes the floor with the DX50 with great authority and a much superior DAC providing a much richer/blacker/punchier/3d sound. The problem that I have with the DX50 now that I have the X5 to contrast is that the DX50 often sounds strained or thin or both. Think of it like with American Football and the recent 2014 Super Bowl. While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos both obviously had skills making it to the top game in professional football, the Seahawks obviously had some extra magic that allowed them to make the Broncos look like a high school football team easily taking the 43 to 8 win. Yes, I am from Seattle. :smile:
  • DX50/BH2:
    Adding the BH2 amp, the DX50 sound is closer adding the punch and richness of the X5. However, the BH2 has warmer more euphoric sound that is aggressive and sometimes fatiguing in its slam with the NT6pro. The X5 is a little more laid back allowing the details to flow through widening the sound stage a bit. The other notable difference is that the BH2 focuses a bit more on mid-bass while the X5 bass response is flatter going really deep into the sub-bass allowing the sub-bass to shine through without covering it up. This plays well with the NT6 Pro signature promoting its unique frequency extension both directions.
  • C3/BH2:
    The C3 is a nice sounding detailed DAP that works well with highly efficient IEMs. However, the magic happens when it is paired with the BH2 that allows the sound to become full sized and powerful. As a stack, the C3/BH2 is very different from the “being there” signature of the X5, unless by being there you mean a large Rave party with oversized subwoofers and a large pounding, euphoric, in your face sound. This is a very fun combination that sounds extremely good with my LCD2s and everything else. But like being in a loud night club, it can become overwhelming after a while unless this is the sound you are after.
  • Clip Zip/+:
    As a value DAP, at $30 to $40, nothing beats the Clip. I use this smooth, musical, and open sounding DAP more than anything else as my main mobile use is when working out. However, it is not in the same league as the X5 so there is no way to compare the two. However, when working out, the distractions and the noise eliminate the ability to hear the additional sound quality anyways so it is good enough in these situations. The Clip replaced my Apple devices that sounded a bit shouty and congested in comparison. While it was nice having my phone with me when I was working out, it is more convenient to simply clip the light Clip Zip to my shirt and not have to deal with an arm band case or the weight of the iPhone.
  • iPod Classic (Gen5):
    iPhone 5:
    Although the iPod and iPhone signatures are somewhat different, at this lower level, the Apple products are more alike than different so I am grouping them. While I was surprised listening to them again after a while to see how much talent they really had - compared to the X5, they are irrelevant in terms of sound quality. My like for these devices is more for the ecosystem that allows me to store, manage, and sync music easily. On top of that, it is very convenient to have my phone, email, applications, and the Internet available at all times. But when listening to music, they sound too flat and 2D and way too shouty. In addition, the realism is just off with both performers and instruments sized incoherently and often metallic sounding.

 

X5 Headphone Pairings:

For those looking to pair their headphones correctly, below is a description of how my collection pairs.

 

  • LCD2.2:
    The LCD2s sound very good with the X5. However, that is not saying much because the LCD2s are fairly easy to drive and make most everything sound good. The LCD2s even sounds ok with my Clip Zip so I think it requires a little more explanation.

    IMO, what is unique about the LCD2 is its ability to scale down extremely well. The LCD's signature changes significantly when scaling from warm and euphoric with a small congested sound stage with low end low power sources to crystal clear, punchy, black background, and a much more realistic sound stage with higher end, higher powered sources. Throughout the scale, the LCD2 has a very realistic "being there" sound. At the higher end of the scale, the signature ranges from laid back and rich with something like a Bryston BHA-1 to aggressive/engaging with my Mjolnir. The difference is being able to take a pleasant nap while listening to spending half your listening time up on top of your chair involuntarily playing air guitar. You know what I’m saying. :smile:

    My impressions of the LCD2s with the X5 are this:
    • Power: The X5 has enough power that the LCD2 sound stage opens up a bit and the warmness clears up a lot, but not as much as a Mjolnir or Bryston that boast between 5 and 8 watts.
    • Laid Back: The signature leans more toward the Bryston laid back signature than my Mjolnir's more aggressive signature.
    • Stackless: The most important point is that I don't feel the need to amp the X5 as the sound is very pleasing as is.
    • Realistic: It is a very full size and realistic sounding experience.
    • Mobile Option: It is not as good as through my Mjolnir, but that was never expected.
  • LCD-X (Tour Unit):
    While I don’t own the LCD-X myself, I happen to have the tour unit to test with the X5. Compared to my LCD2, the LCD-X feels shifted up in the frequency range and a little faster providing even greater clarity than my LCD2.2/Mjolnir pairing which is saying a lot. It’s not that the LCD-X is lacking in the bass department, but the bass seems to be turned down a notch keeping it from getting in the way of the rest of the frequency range. The result is a very realistic sounding sound stage that is even wider and closer to being there than the LCD2.2.

    Now, paired with the X5, I was surprised by how good the LCD-X sounded directly from the X5 headphone out. The X5 coupled with the O2 amp (borrowed from miceblue) is even better giving the LCD-X enormous sound on the go. What is really noticeable is the clarity and wide sound stage of the LCD-X scaled down to the level of a DAP where the LCD2 is more euphoric, warm, and congested. Both are enjoyable, but the LCD-X obviously scales down better than the LCD2.2.
  • Fostex TH900 (Borrowed from m2man):
    While I thought that the Fostex TH900 sounded awesome through the X5, m2man thought it sounded a little boomy. To prove his point, we plugged into his Laptop > Off-Ramp 5 > PWDmkII > Schiit Mjolnir home setup and indeed, it did sound bigger, clearer, and more neutral - but you would expect that from $8000 setup vs. a $350 one. So that doesn’t take away from how good the TH900 sounded with the X5. However, a better comparison was to compare the LCD-X to the TH900 where we both agreed that the LCD-X sounded better. The reason was that the LCD-X sounded closer to the $8000 home setup sound on the $350 X5 than the TH900 did. The LCD-X just simply scales down better.
  • HD595:
    The HD595s were the second best pairing that I heard. As very neutral sounding, open eared headphones, they have the largest sound stage of all my headphones in a mobile context. Matching the X5’s neutral signature, they project that black background very effectively enhancing the already very large sound stage. With nothing to get in the way of the details that X5 is capable of, the HD595 matches the NT6pro’s bell like clarity with a larger sound stage. The only thing holding the HD595 back is it’s neutral bass response. With no warmth, it may be considered to be bass light by some which the X5 helps to supplement with its touch of warmth. This only effects the HD595 pairing at excessive higher volumes where the bass falls off. However, the HD595 is my low volume top performer with the ability to reach deep with realistic sub-bass performance down to extreme lower volumes. Being my most comfortable and best low volume performers, they are what I like to listen to at night to fall asleep.
  • Hidition NT6 Pro:
    The NT6 Pros are outstanding with the X5 and the best pairing that I heard. The things I appreciate with the X5 paired with the NT6pro:
    • Stackless: it has all the punch and authority that I need with the NT6Pro so no stack required.
    • Effortlessness: the sound is full sized with rich texturing and without any clipping or thinness. The sounds from each singer/instrument sound like they are on the same stage and are scaled correctly. Drums sound like drums rather than like weird clicks.
    • Neutral Signature: as discussed so far in the X5 threads, the X5 is neutral across the frequency range with a slight warmness that pairs very well with the NT6pro enhancing its signature and supporting its extension both directions.
    • Sub-bass Authority: The X5 has the power and signature to support an authoritative sub-bass down to the bottom of the range showing off what the NT6pro can really do.
    • Low Volume Performer: The X5 has authoritative power, full sized sound, and a realistic sound stage down to very low volumes. This is particularly important to me as I am a low level listener usually needing an amp to keep the sound from falling apart at lower volumes. The X5 has a very wide sweet spot in its volume range that is much greater than most DAPs.
    • Realistic Details: The detail is all there, but in a much more natural sense than the DX50 with a much blacker background to support the 3d sound stage. For example, a singers breath between passages sounds like you were standing next to them vs. an unnatural metallic sizzle that is pushed forward.
  • TF10:
    The TF10 pair very well with the X5 and sound better than I have heard them sound before. What is interesting with the TF10/X5 pairing is that the mids are pushed way forward to take center stage where they are normally somewhat recessed with a V shaped signature. The mids are really outstanding with this combo. I never felt the need to amp the TF10 with my prior setups as the TF10s don’t really require it, but the power of the X5 is giving them real authority that they don’t typically have. The sound stage isn’t enlarged that much with the X5 showing a weakness in the TF10s, but it is much more believable with the X5 with larger sized performers and much more realistic sounding instruments. The other place the TF10 is showing its limitations is with clarity and the associated detail. While they have never sounded so clear before, the TF10 is not a NT6pro nor a LCD2 or an LCDX. So while the X5 is holding the TF10 to new heights, the TF10 is holding down the X5. Regardless, I would still chose to pair the TF10s just to enjoy those great mids, wow.
  • Monster Coppers:
    My Coppers are my most comfortable IEM that seal almost as well as my CIEM. This is quite an accomplishment as I tend to find IEMs as uncomfortable – although convenient – and typically have difficulty getting a seal at all. While it is nice that the Copper is very efficient, it is not a plus with the X5 that boasts a very powerful amp. The Coppers are also quite warm in signature with the most bass boost of any of my headphones giving it a very smooth signature. However, I find that this hides some of the X5 detail and congests the sound stage. While the Copper sounds great with the X5, I find that the Copper holds the X5 back from its full potential. The Copper is probably my worse pairing with the X5. I do use them though to pair at night as a comfortable low volume listening option when the open ended HD595s disturb my wife.

 

Conclusion

 

I think it is pretty obvious to anyone reading this review that there is a X5 in my future. Although it is possible that the uber expensive DAPs may meet or exceed the sound quality of the X5, I cannot imagine it being by much and certainly not by enough to justify the additional cost. As a portable music player I would rather carry something that I can afford to lose or damage without crying. Otherwise bringing it along stops being fun and it ends up being left at home. I would rather put my significant investments into my speaker or desktop system that stays home - safe and sound. The X5 is good enough that I don’t care what the other DAPs sound like any more……….. well, not as much. :smile: 

39 Comments:

Very good review. I am surprise I did not bring the issue of getting back to Now Playing. I guess I got too busy immersing myself in the sound. I really like your rating chart, it makes it so obvious how you feel each combination of devices performed compared to each other.
Thanks musicheaven, I borrowed the rating chart idea from average_joe as I always liked the perspective it gave.
Nice review I'll soon have a chance to listen for myself
Great job Barra! Being next in line I can not wait to try it out next to my DX50/D42 combo.
Like you, I to will probably end up buying it.
Thanks Howdy, you are going to love your TF10s through them - the mids have never sounded as good. However, as good as they sound with the X5, the X5 still had more to give. I will be interested to hear how your lineup pairs.
 
By the way, unless I am missing something, I cannot imagine anything in your lineup needing the additional amp. In most cases for me, it downgraded the sound or just changed it. It has been really nice to be free of the stack shackles. The beauty of the X5 is how the amp integrates some perfectly into the DAC to create the whole bigger than the sum of the parts. Amping made me feel like the X5 DAC was missing its soul mate.
Great review Barra, I plan on ordering my X5 soon to pair with my IEM's (Shure SE846's). Hopefully there is some good synergy there as well!
Even my worse pairing, the Monster Coppers sounded greater on the X5 than on my other DAPs. Its just that they bottleneck the X5 capabilities more than my other headphones. So with a nicer headphone like your SE846's, they are more likely to help lift them to new heights for you. That is the nice thing about a neutral DAP, it is easier to pair headphones with.
Super review. With reviews like this and others we already know what the X5 is.
Thanks for focusing on one of my favorite issues with my X3: the lack of one button
return to the "now playing" page...I was so used to this with the Sony players that I
took it for granted!
The other thing that the Sony players get right, at least the new ZX1, is the dedicated FWD/ST/BK buttons all on one side of the player for ease of control and not requiring being on the "Now Playing" page to control these functions.
fantastic review, great work! thank you because I know how long it takes to make such a review
While it did take a while, listening to the X5 made it a pleasure. The hardest part is that I have to pass the X5 on to the next person on the tour knowing that there is no availability for a month. 
I like everything about the X5 except the design. It looks like one of those mid-90's Aiwa cd-players.
Me too, although it is not as bad in the hand as in the photos. In reality, the only player design that I really like is my iPhone 5 which is stunning but lacks dedicated forward/pause/stop buttons like the Sony ZX1 has. The ZX1 has a big butt and no storage. I guess I like the usability of my Clip Zip light clipable design but it isn't really pretty either.
Was thinking of getting one of these with either the KEF M500, B&O H6 or the NAD Viso HP50. The reason I've held back is that I have been loyal the iPod Classic for so long; it's combination of storage size, UI, battery life and build quality has made me to reluctant to get something new due to a minor increase in sound quality (though it seems that with the latest DAPs, it it much more than a 'minor' increase). Hmm..
 
Great review though ;)
Like you, all my music is on iTunes. I use a Mac for this (I'm not sure if you are a Mac or PC user) and in the Music folder on Finder on a Mac, music is filed (by default) by artist name, then by album of that artist. Can you elaborate on how easy it is to (a) copy these files onto the SD card (I only have 400 GB), and (b) when using the X5, how many steps to find artist or album name from, say, a home screen? Thanks
I actually use both - a Mac Mini as my media server in my entertainment room and my PC to burn and manage the media for convenience. The biggest problem that I have with iTunes is no syncing option between libraries and a network that chokes on large library transfers between the PC world and the MAC world. 
 
My copying is mainly from a PC using a usb/microsd adapter to create a file by the name of my playlist, select a playlist within my iTunes interface and from the menu chose > edit > select all, then I drag and drop into the folder. My assumption is that it would be the same for working with the Mac. I have 5 32GB cards with different playlist that I rotate as I update which thankfully isn't too often.
 
Please keep in mind that the iTunes links rather than embeds the album image so unless you purchase or import from another source, your album art will not likely show up. This can be corrected with a the suggestions in this article: http://techland.time.com/2012/02/23/how-to-auto-embed-album-art-in-your-itunes-tracks/
 
If you want to retain your folder structure, you could select all the artist folders you are interested in directly within the iTunes music folder and drag and drop the same way. I usually select a batch and check properties to see if the selection would fit and adjust until it does.
 
So testing the steps required from the home screen on my playlist only folder structure that has been indexed by the X5, these are the steps:
1) Rotate the jog wheel to play by category and select.
2) Rotate the jog wheel to select album, artist, or genre.
3) Rotate the jog wheel to scroll through list and select desired option.
 
Keep in mind that one of my ergonomic issues was that you are scrolling through a to z which can take a while on a long list. However, the firmware changes page that Joe just created shows that they are implementing a scroll bar of some sorts to assist with this.
I think I can have it replacing my ipc..
How much better would one of these sound compared to a Dragonfly 1.2, Audioengine D3 or something like that? Since these new DAPs double as DACs, I was thinking of replacing my D3. Will I see a sound quality upgrade, or do I need to spend more (DX90, etc.) for that?