Pros: Sound quality, black background, build quality, long list of features
Cons: *most of my gripes with the X5, I believe, have been taken care of with the newest firmware*
Fiio has become a well known brand in the last few years by people in this hobby due to their very affordable and well built products. Pretty much everything you need for your portable set up they've made available for a great price and solid performance on top of that!
From interconnects, line-out docks for idevices, iem cables, amplifiers and DAC/Amp combos, and most recently their very own Fiio X3 DAP. The follow up to the Fiio X3 is this little device I have here which I am about to review...
Before I go any further, I would like to give a big thank you to Fiio and special thanks to Head-fi member Joe Bloggs for letting me get a sneak peak of their newest addition to their product catalog, Ladies and Gents... the Fiio X5!
For the record, I have no affiliation with Fiio and this review unit is and will remain the property of Fiio as it is only on loan to me for ten days for this review.
As I mentioned before, this is a preview sample of the X5 that is on loan to me from Fiio, which has not been released yet in North America, so packaging, accessories and/or even the X5 itself might slightly differ from the final release version that will be due out very soon...
The X5 comes in an attractive retail box which is overall black in color with some red overtones.
After opening the retail box you are greeted by a textured black cardboard box that contains the X5 and other goodies, which include:
1. Fiio X5 unit
2. Black silicone case
3. USB Cable
4. Micro USB card reader
5. 3.5mm to RCA digital coax adapter
6. Two extra LCD screen protectors
7. Three 3.5mm dust covers for your 3.5mm ports
8. User manual, and other paperwork
*MISSING - The OTG cable was not included in my review sample, but will be provided in the retail version*
I must say I am impressed with this unit. It is very well built, nothing about it seems cheap and it has a very nice solid heft to it. The whole body seems to be made of machined aluminum. The power button, volume keys, the "select" button that is in the middle of the scroll wheel and the four buttons on the front of the unit are also made of metal. There are three 3.5mm jacks on the top side of the unit that are of excellent quality reminiscent of my Meier Audio Corda Quickstep amp.
The scroll wheel reminds me of a sansa player I had some time ago, it has a rubber texture on it and quite frankly I don't see it being an issue, or at least not an issue for a good few years of heavy use, imo.
Operating the Unit:
Being the manly man that I am, I did not read the user manual and dug right into the X5.
I found the X5 to be just as intuitive as I have found any other unit that I've own in the present/past. Your basic operations are easy to figure out in no time, while other features will come out as you spend a bit more time with the player.
As you all know, at this point in time there are many excellent and in depth reviews about the Fiio X5, so instead of going on and on about every single detail when it comes to operating the unit I will refer you to the User Manual which can be downloaded through Fiio here: (http://fiio.com.cn/support/download.aspx ) and does an excellent job at explaning how to operate the X5.
The X5 is packed with features that make it extremely attractive if you are in the market for a Hi-res DAP, in my opinion. Not only is it able to play a large array of Lossless and lossy formats (DSD decoding will also be available at a later date through a firmware update), but it is also able to natively play Hi-Res content of up to 192k/24Bit! The X5 can also be used as an Asynchronous USB DAC from your computer which is a great feature!
On the hardware side of things, you have two micro sd card slots at the bottom of the unit that can handle the newly released 128gb micro sd cards (must be formatted to Fat32) with no problems! That means you can use two 128gb cards for a combined capacity of 256gb (approx) of storage! but wait! There's more!... In the near future, Fiio will release a firmware update that will enable otg capability for even more external storage capacity! *Please note that the X5 does not have any internal memory for storing music*
On the top side of the X5 you have three 3.5mm ports, these are a headphone out(duh), a dedicated line out and a digital coax out. For my particular uses, this works out great! My current desktop setup is an older headphone amp/dac made by Headroom. The dac protion of this unit only goes up to 16/44k via usb but can do 24/96 via optical or digital coax. My old pc which is connected to this setup does not have either optical/coax out, so in this case with the Fiio X5 using the provided 3.5mm to digital coax adapter I was able to play some music files I had in Hi-Res in their native resolution through the Headroom's DAC.
Although I didn't get to try it out for myself, in theory, the X5 could be used as a USB to Digital Coax converter for situations like I stated above. I'm not sure if many people would use it in such a way, but good to know it's there if you did need it.
How's it sound?
First of all here is the gear I used with the X5, please note that my main purpose for a DAP is to use it on the go with iems, so most of my listening was done with the Audio-Technica CK10 and the AKG K3003i.
As far as headphones go, I tried it briefly with my Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs 3.2 and Grado Sr325 non "i" version.
The Amps I used was mainly my Corda Quickstep, along with a brief audition on my Headroom Desktop Amp.
First of all the Fiio X5 has a very nice black backgroud with my gears. Please note that my iems are not terribly sensitive such as other multi-ba customs like my recently sold jh13 for example, so keep that in mind.
The mid bass is definitely a bit north of neutral, just enough to make it a slightly warm signature and was the very first thing that came across to me since my first listen and has remained my impression throughout my short stay with the X5.
I find the midrange and treble quite neutral and a little flat to be honest. I tend to prefer a slightly brighter signature which to me sounds more lively as opposed to laid back.
It is important to note that even though I consider the X5 to have a slightly warm signature, there is no lack of details in the music. Even on busy passages of music, there is a spotlight highlighting every instrument. There was a couple of times I was distracted by this which is not something I can say I enjoyed, as it wasn't natural and took the focus away from the main instrument or voice in a particular song.
I love the X5 for many different reasons, here is a shortlist of pros and cons that I would like to point out:
Having the two micro SD cards is fantastic, the line out is very good vs headphone out when using an amp, otg capability will be good to have, but not really something I see myself using. Digital Coax out to my desktop DAC, Asynchronous USB DAC, good internal amp section, good overall UI. Manually updating the library, my 128gb sd card along with a 64gb sd card took around 2-3 minutes to scan then after that the X5 only takes about 10-12 seconds to start playing music every time you power it up. Also worth mentioning, when it comes to updating firmware, Fiio did an excellent job at making this task super easy and it also updated very fast.
Cons: (including some present quirks that may be fixed later through firmware)
Here are some of my gripes with the X5:
When skipping songs, it is a fraction of a second too slow which can get very irritating very fast. When the unit is in my pocket (which keep in mind that this is how I use my DAPs 90% of the time) the front buttons are too sensitive and I accidentally kept bumping things(very lightly, mind you), hitting forward, pause, and the previous buttons. While on the lockscreen (again in my pocket) when adjusting volume, if I hold down the volume rocker up or down, it also doubles as a forward and previous button, which is totally unnecessary in my opinion, so instead you must keep depressing repeatedly to achieve the desired volume. The X5 has many steps on the volume control, so when on lockscreen in your front pocket, it is a total pain in the ***** to have to keep pressing repeatedly for desired volume. Since there are two lockscreen modes, I think Fiio should keep lockscreen 1 mode as-is, but change lockscreen 2 to not skip forward or previous track on the volume rocker.
Another thing to note is that while I had no trouble the first time I used the X5 as a USB DAC, I wasn't able to do it again. I tried a few times, but due to lack of time, I wasn't able to fully troubleshoot and get it going again. **Please note that there have been some hardware changes in the USB interface between the tour unit and retail units and so USB functions including DAC and OTG may have improved.
I wasn't able to do a battery test, although I found battery life acceptable, a longer battery life is always welcomed.
The Fiio X5 is definitely a winner in my book and it would be very hard to beat at this price range. yes, it's a good looking piece of gear. Yes, all the extra features are great. Yes, the UI (while not perfect) is very good, and nothing to complain about. What I really miss the most about it is it's very clean and detailed sound, and that my friends, is the most important thing of all, the sound!
Thanks for reading!