Pros: Sound quality, build quality, options
Cons: File transfer speed, navigation memory
To be able to value my review I think it is important to mention some things about my preferences and experience with audio equipment and writing reviews. This is my first review for audio gear and I got involved in the audiophile world about 5 years ago when I bought my first earphone upgrade with the Ultimate Ears Superfi 5. Later I got the triple fi 10, UE900, Unique Melody Miracle and Cosmic Ears CE4E. I’ve been listening to my iPod with a Meier Audio 2Stepdance and was always very happy with this gear. I’ve tried the Colorfly C4, Fostex HP-P1, Fiio X3, Ibasso DX50 and DX100, but neither of these convinced me enough to trade in my iPod combo. Not that they weren’t good, but the upgrade wasn’t worth the money in my opinion. I have to admit though that it’s been a while since I listened to the other players. I would very much try the AK240 and compare it to the X5 but it is and will be beyond my budget.
I am a detail freak. I like to hear everything in a song and I don’t like to use eq, because I’d like to hear the music the way the artist intended it to sound.
I have tested the X5 with the Cosmic Ears CE4E.
To my ears the sound can be described as very detailed, spacey and without coloring. I mean that neither the bass nor the highs are emphasized, well-balanced that is.
I decided to give you my impressions based on some songs that I know very well and that I always use as a reference when I listen to new gear. I don’t care a lot about UI and I think the build quality has been discussed enough so I’ll skip that and I am satisfied with it anyway. The only thing I would have liked is that you don’t lose your place in the folder when you go from the main menu back to the ‘now playing’ song. You have to browse to the song folder again from the main menu. Fiio is constantly updating the firmware so this might not be an issue in the future. One of the reasons I was willing to try the X5 was the possibility to have up to 256 GB of storage. I would very much like to express my appreciation to the Fiio people who show that they are really committed to make a product that meets the wishes of the customers to whom they are actually listening! I have no relation with Fiio besides being a customer.
I listened to CD quality songs and HD songs, but unfortunately I couldn’t hear a significant difference. So besides the Beatles remasters at 24bit I used 16 bit/44khz files.
I Am the Walrus The Beatles
I always found the Beatles recordings sound a bit amateurish and not very transparent, but when I listened to the 24bit remasters with the X5 it sounded very transparent and I heard instruments I hadn’t noticed before, for example I never noticed that there was an electric guitar playing along with the electric piano in the verse part. The strings are very pronounced where you can hear the overtones and the bow touching the strings. Even when there are other instruments playing at the same time.
Chuck E’s in Love Rickie Lee Jones
I’ve always loved the production of this song. Really clear and you could always hear all of the instruments. The X5 didn’t reveal things that I hadn’t heard before, but some instruments are a bit more refined. For example the kick drum isn’t just like a low bump, but it has more details, as if you were standing next to the drum kit when you can even feel the kick.
Getting Better The Beatles
Like I Am the Walrus, more details and a wider soundstage. A silly detail that caught my attention was the click (a guitar being turned on) you hear when the ‘high’ guitar part (the one the song starts with) comes back in the chorus. These kinds of details, however not musical, make me happy.
Dogs Pink Floyd
I have been listening to this song since I bought the album in 1985. There are acoustic guitars almost throughout the whole song (except the electronic intermezzo that I used to skip…). When the acoustic guitars fade in in the beginning of the song they sound really dry and natural and you can even hear the pick touching the strings, wonderful! Until I Iistened to the song with the X5/CE4E I didn’t really notice the acoustic guitars in the part of the guitar solo just before the lines ‘…And when you lose control..’ They are really present and detailed where they were masked by the electric piano and bass listening to it with my old gear.
Babylon Sisters Steely Dan
I find the production of this song already very pristine, so transparent, but I was surprised that it could sound even more transparent. The best way I can describe it is that it made me feel as if I was ‘in’ the song. I could ‘feel’ the music like you feel a kick drum when you are standing next to it.
It seems to me that well produced music sounds even better with the X5/CE4 combination, but that it doesn’t improve bad recordings. If tried songs that I thing lack dynamics and they are not sounding better with the X5. For example While You See a Chance from Steve Winwood. Although I love this song it has always sounded ‘thin’ to me and it still does with the X5/CE4, even the 2012 remaster. Matter of production I guess.
For my needs the X5 is a wonderful player. It has been a very big upgrade from the iPod and although I haven’t tested it with headphones of lesser quality I thing you need a good pair of IEM’s to fully appreciate the power of the X5 (as I have done with the Cosmic Ears CE4). I participated in the European tour of the demo unit, but I had ordered an X5 even before I forwarded the demo unit as I didn’t want to miss that listening pleasure! I hope I have given you a useful impression of the device. Any questions? Please let me know.