Pros: Fantastic sound signature; outstanding build quality
Cons: New UI to learn.
Firmware: 1.20; 1.22 Beta; 1.23 Beta
Gapless Playback: On
Files Used: FLAC (16/44.1)
MicroSD Card: Sandisk 32GB, formatted to FAT32
Music used during review:
The Beta Band – the Three EPs
Devandra Banhart – Cripple Crow
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Miles Davis – Musings of Miles
John Wizards – John Wizards
Amampondo – Raw and Undiluted
McCoy Tyner – Extensions
F. Gulda, K. Abbado, Wiener Philharmoniker – Mozart, Great Piano Concertos 20, 21, 25 & 27
Headphones used during review:
Magnum X drivers in Cabillas Mahogany Cups
Blox M2C (2013/2014 edition)
Vintage Grado SR80 Pink Drivers in African Blackwood Cups
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80
Fostex T50rp (unmodded)
Sadly, this is not virgin territory. There have been a slew of X5 reviews prior to this one, and at this point not much new can be said for this product. Like a man who meets a delightful young lady on a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the best I can do is perhaps add my voice to the cat’s chorus of people who have also met said young lady, and alongside them, sincerely voice my appreciation of her company. The unit I reviewed is my own, purchased at full price, from B&H Photo and Video in New York.
I applaud FiiO for what they have done. I am a firm believer that quality audio (in fact, quality anything…) can be had for a reasonable price. Money does not equal superiority, class cannot be bought, etc, etc… (insert anti-elitist, pseudo-libertarian, wannabe-anarchist cliché here). Anyone interested in this concept should read Robert M. Pirsig’s classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. With regards to the X5, read on for a subjectivist’s impressions…
The unit comes very well packaged, and has a plethora of accessories. Some of them will never see the light of day for me…they are nice to have nonetheless. A side note of little relevance: the X5 does not include earbuds, but this is not a con in my book. I am waiting for the day FiiO ventures into headphone and earbud territory. They will more than likely be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, if you are buying an X5, the odds are that you already have a headphone/earbud/iem of preference.
The X5 is solidly built, and in its complimentary silicon case feels rather comforting to hold (like a lead-filled baseball bat or perhaps a nice police baton…or just a nicely engineered piece of consumer electronics). All of the entry points are secure and solid (I am going to refrain from making an improper joke here). The SD card slots are a touch awkward to get to, but once the cards are in, they are safe (again…refraining from inserting yet another improper joke). I added and removed music without using the micro-SD card reader so thoughtfully provided and encountered no problems at all.
The user interface was built by FiiO from the ground up apparently. As such it is a completely new animal for all of us. I am not completely used to it, but I will be soon enough I am sure. It’s hard to override all that muscle memory built up from years of using iPods…Like a man confined to a hospital bed for 3 months while his broken leg heals, I now find myself having to walk down the hall to take a leak again…It’s going to be a little wobbly at first, and there will be accidents, but I am pretty sure after a little while I will be whizzing (see what I did there?) through the system effortlessly.
The sound the X5 puts out as both a portable device and a USB DAC is absolutely perfect for my tastes. It is neutral, but not completely so (if it were, it would be a dreadful bore to listen to). Not only does it sound good, it is (as noted by others) very detailed. I haven’t used this old chestnut for a while: I heard things on old favorite albums I have never heard before. Gapless playback worked flawlessly for me. There was no noticeable pause, not even a miniscule little hiccup, between tracks for me. I do not use playlists or replaygain, so I shall refrain from commenting on these. I was impressed with its ability to drive even the dreadful stock T50rp (See? I had good reason to include the wretched old studio mules in my headphone list at the beginning…) and Beyerdynamic DT770 80 to acceptably enjoyable levels.
For someone looking for a step up from the iPod, or a reliable on-the-go player with superior sound, I highly recommend the X5. For those who feel that being asked to pay upwards of $500 to enjoy decent sound in a portable player is asking you to perhaps invest too much of your hard-earned income into something that should feel like a pleasurable pursuit as opposed to a spending habit that rivals a nice combination of a crack habit and a gambling problem, I say pursue the X5, pursue it with a gleeful heart and enjoy it when you have it.