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Digital Audio (FLAC/MP3/etc) Players (DAPs) item created by Brooko, May 2, 2016
Pros - Power to drive HPs that like more power, weight to the note, transparency
Cons - After market purchase - wished it was a choice at original X7 purchase
Disclaimer: I do not own the X7 nor the AM5 yet with this being tour sample that was provided by FiiO. I will be sending this on at the end of my 10 day trial to the next participant. Thank you FiiO and Sunny for including me once again as your products never fail to impress. Having said this, below is my honest opinion as always with no punches held back. But in this case, the good outweighs the bad so no worries.
With the completion of the FiiO X7 amp module lineup, I was given an opportunity to get the tour package back with the addition of the amp modules AM1, 2, 3, and 5. The real eye opener for me was the X7 SQ vast improvement on an already stellar performance that was achieved just through firmware updates. Since AM1 was the original amp module that came in the tour, the discussion there is about this improvement in SQ from the first tour.
AM1 - Firmware Updates SQ Significantly This is the same setup as the original tour, but with firmware updates that have taken the X7 to a new level. The X7 has succeeded where many other Sabre implementations have failed - smooth HQ sound without the sharp edge. While the am1 does not have the grunt for the more power hungry HPs, it provides killer SQ that can be enhanced by your favorite amp pairing such as my C&C BH2. Paired, we are talking desktop quality in a DAP.
AM2 - A touch More Volume While I appreciate the effort, I was not able to hear a significant difference in SQ between 1 and 2 so I did not spend much time with this unit. Was looking for more weight in the note, not just volume. If given the choice in an initial purchase I would go 2 for the additional volume, but would not buy aftermarket given my other choices.
AM5 - Top Dog Between 1, 2, and 5 - 5 was the obvious. However, I didn't realize that the balanced module 3 was in the box free floating until packaging up to send to the next participant. So needless to say, I did not get to spend much time with it. My time was therefore mostly spent with am5. I found that it was a very transparent amp with nice weight and impact. There is no doubt I would go for the AM5 for the nice weight added to make the X7 a stand alone DAP and avoid traveling with a stack. This one is worth the after market purchase to me.
AM3 - Ops, My Bad Unfortunately, I only found this module the day I needed to ship out. It was buried in the box in the peanuts without its own box which the others had. For the little I listened, 3 and 5 were close, but I never got to try the balanced mode which would have likely put it over the top. Wish that I could have spent some time here. Now I have a tougher decision given I like the balanced design and my CIEMs tend to work better with them. In a pinch, I would probably buy the AM3 over the AM5 and take a chance since they were close single ended and hope that the balanced option would take it over the top. Hoping that FiiO is at CAMJAM so that I might A/B the two and answer this question.
C&C BH2 Amp Comparison Overall, while these modules all make the X7 a stand alone DAP, they are about transparency and detail. This is great, but I still like my BH2 amp better in its warmer more dynamic/euphonic signature. However, this is a personal signature preference as technically, they are probably equivalent. So at home I would stack, and on the go I would go single with the am3 or 5. This would provide versatility in signature for my many moods.
Overall The real eye opener was the improvement in the X7 sound quality by itself through firmware updates. Listening to the X7 with my BH2 and the HEX was magical. The DAP was great before, now it is even better and I am not a Sabre fan. I am missing the X7 sound and plotting to get one when I can get it past my wife's scrutiny. I am also looking for an opportunity to buy the X7 with the module of my choice which I suspect will happen soon.
Pros - Sound quality, drives a wide range of headphones well, overall build quality
Cons - Lower battery life, color doesn’t exactly match rest of X7
Table of Contents
Volume-matched Comparisons with other amp modules
(Before I even begin with the introduction, I wanted to say that the above table of contents is for your convenience. I’ll also include a tl;dr summary at the beginning of each major section.)
Tl;dr: FiiO lent me the unit for my honest opinion, and a bit of background about myself.
Spoiler: Spoiler: About Me
A little bit about me: I consider myself to be a relatively inexperienced audiophile, having only taken this hobby seriously for the past 2 or 3 years. Funnily enough, I actually began to take an interest in my headphone system with the purchase of a FiiO E7. The next logical upgrade from there was the FiiO E17, which I appreciated but soon found it a bit lacking in sound quality after I was exposed to other audio equipment. Now, after having been away from FiiO for a while I am now back with their X7 DAP.
I tend to like a neutral sound signature, perhaps with a bit of warmth. But if one were to ask me to pick between a very warm or a very bright sound signature, I’d go towards the brighter one. I like a large variety of music including rock, pop, jazz, classical and orchestral, J-Pop and J-Rock, and C-Pop.
This review is specifically about the AM5 amp module designed for the FiiO X7 DAP. For a review of that particular player, you may want to click here for my review or take a look at the many other reviews of the X7.
I would like to thank FiiO for letting me demo all of the X7 amp modules in exchange for my honest opinion!
Before we go onto the rest of the review, it might be handy to have a specifications table on hand.
AM1 AM2 AM5 AM3 Balanced AM3 SE
OPA1612 MUSES02 MUSES02 OPA1622 OPA1622
AD8397 BUF634 TPA6120A2 OPA1622 OPA1622
Output into 16 ohms
>200 mW (16Ω/1 kHz) >350 mW (16Ω/1 kHz) >800 mW (16Ω/1 kHz) >420mW (16Ω/1kHz) >250mW (16Ω/1kHz)
Output into 32 ohms
>100 mW (32Ω/1 kHz) >300 mW (32Ω/1 kHz) >500 mW (32Ω/1 kHz) >540mW (32Ω/1kHz) >190mW (32Ω/1kHz)
Output into 300 ohms
>10 mW (300Ω/1 kHz) >30 mW (300Ω/1 kHz) >55mW (300Ω/1 kHz) >70mW (300Ω/1kHz) >25mW (300Ω/1kHz)
<0.5 Ω (32Ω load) <0.5Ω (32Ω load) <0.5Ω (32Ω load) <0.3 Ω (32Ω load) <0.3 Ω (32Ω load)
≥115 dB (A-weighted) ≥118 dB (A-weighted) ≥120 dB (A-weighted) ≥115dB (A-weighted) ≥115dB (A-weighted)
THD + N
<0.0008% (32Ω/1 kHz) <0.001% (32Ω/1 kHz) <0.001% (32Ω/1 kHz) <0.0008% (32Ω/1 kHz) <0.001% (32Ω/1 kHz)
>73 dB (32Ω/1 kHz) >72 dB (32Ω/1 kHz) >72 dB (32Ω/1 kHz) >110 dB (32Ω/1 kHz) ≥72dB (32Ω/1 kHz)
Peak Output Voltage
>5.2 Vp-p >8.8 Vp-p >11 Vp-p >11 Vp-p >7 Vp-p
Max Current Output
>250 mA >250 mA >250 mA >160 mA >80 mA
9+ hours 8+ hours 6+ hours >6 hours >6 hours
Tl;dr: Great build quality. Perhaps the only con is that the color doesn’t exactly match the rest of the X7.
The AM5 amp module, like the rest of the X7, exhibits some great build quality. The metal feels smooth and polished, with no rough edges. AM5 also snaps in easily, where it is flush, tight and secure to the rest of the X7’s body once you put in the included screws.
It pretty much looks like it belongs with the rest of the player, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a much darker shade of grey compared to the rest of the X7’s brighter silver color. Honestly, this isn’t such a big deal for me since I’m not looking at the player for much of the time. There’s also the fact that you won’t notice this at all if you buy a cover for the X7.
Not much for me to complain about here.
Tl;dr: You take a pretty substantial hit to battery life compared to AM1, but that’s the price of having that much power on tap.
Unfortunately, more power on tap means that the battery life will inevitably suffer. In AM5’s case, the hit to battery life is notable.
I conducted my battery life testing under the following conditions: the X7 powering the Etymotic ER4S at low gain at a volume level of 38, using the FiiO Music app in Android mode, and with the screen, pulsar light, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth off. The music the X7 cycled through was mixture of CD-quality and high-res FLAC, as well as some DSD tracks. CD-quality FLAC tracks made up the vast majority of the music.
Under those constraints, as seen in the screenshot below I managed to get about 6 hours and 30 minutes of playtime. In comparison, with the AM1 amp module volume-matched and under the same conditions, I got 8 hours and 22 minutes of playtime. With the AM2 amp module under the same conditions and volume-matched, the X7 could play for 7 hours and 41 minutes. With AM3 SE powering the same headphones volume-matched and playing under the same conditions, the X7 could squeeze out 7 hours and 14 minutes out of its battery.
This is my major complaint with the AM5 – battery life on the X7, which was only acceptable to begin with on the AM1, now takes a pretty big hit. Hopefully you aren’t going anywhere without a charger for long (or even moderate) periods of time if you plan to pair up your X7/AM5 combo with your full-sized headphone.
However, at the same time, I also understand that FiiO really can’t do much about this situation, short of maybe adding an extra battery to the amp module which would probably add lots of challenges (as well as probably increasing the price). This is the price of trying to driving big headphones with a little player.
Tl;dr: The AM5 does well with a wide variety of headphones, from IEMs (surprisingly) to many (but not all) full-size headphones. Better than AM1 and AM3 SE, and IMO slightly better than AM2, though the latter is debatable. However, I did end up liking AM3 balanced over AM5.
Headphones primarily tested with: FiiO EX1/Dunu Titan 1, Etymotic ER4S, Hifiman HE-400i, and Sennheiser HD700.
Now is probably the most important part. How does it sound?
Overall, I would say that the AM5 has a neutral tone. It’s not very slightly warm, as some may perceive with the AM2, nor is it slightly bright, as some may say with the AM1. Really, it’s in between those two.
AM5 sounds plenty detailed and has great separation. While the soundstage is only moderately large (but by no means small), it boasts pretty good depth. Altogether, this makes for a very 3D soundstage with good imaging and layering (it’s easy to pick out sounds in terms of left/right and near/far).
AM5 also has the finesse to drive IEMs despite having way more than enough power for them. I could not detect any hiss or noise when I paired the AM5 to the Etymotic ER4S and the FiiO EX1, even with the music paused and the volume cranked up to max on high gain. Combined with the low output impedance, the AM5 is actually well-suited for driving in-ear monitors.
AM5 also did well with full-sized headphones, as it was designed to do. It never made my Hifiman HE-400i and Sennheiser HD700 sound underpowered with strained notes or uncontrolled bass or with any of the tell-tale signs that a headphones is not receiving enough power.
All comparisons here were conducted under volume-matching with a C-weighted SPL meter.
The AM1 in comparison to the AM5 sounds “brighter” and a little more “metallic” and “brittle.” The AM5, in contrast, sounds somewhat “warmer” but also more natural in that notes are still as detailed without sounding like the detail is forced like AM1 can at times. For example, cymbals come across more cleanly on AM5 than on AM1 because on the latter, cymbals are too strong. This also means that stuff like vocals are given more “depth” and nuance on AM5. AM5’s soundstage is about the same width as AM1 but is slightly deeper, making for a more 3D soundstage in which it is easier to perceive depth and layering of notes. All of this can be noticed even when using easy-to-drive IEMs like the FiiO EX1.
AM1 also sounds somewhat underpowered in driving full-size headphones in comparison to AM5. Not only do we get less grainy and strained notes, more-controlled and deeper and textured bass with AM5, but separation also seems to be somewhat better.
All in all, I definitely prefer the AM5 over the AM1 purely in terms of sound quality no matter what headphones are used. However, one has to consider the significant advantage in battery life the AM1 holds over the AM5 (in this case, perhaps the AM2 is better).
AM5 and AM2 for the most part sound very, very similar. However, notes seemed to be a bit clearer, perhaps sharpened up a bit (but not overdone) on AM5. This can, for example, make wind instruments seem a tiny bit airier and vocals a bit “breathier.” AM5 also perhaps has a slightly wider soundstage, but depth of the soundstage is comparable between the two. I must emphasize that all of these differences are not that big, and that the two sound very close to each other.
To be honest, there’s not much improvement (if at all) in going to AM5 over AM2 for IEMs, even for harder-to-drive ones such as the ER4S. However, there seems to be an audible, if not major, improvement in using AM5 over AM2 to drive full-size headphones – for the HD700 and HE-400i, I thought I heard on AM5 that notes were slightly less grainy, slightly more open-sounding, that there was slightly more hard-hitting bass, and with slightly more separation.
So AM5 or AM2? Honestly, I think the biggest difference between the two is really how much power each can provide, and so this really depends on what type of headphones you listen to. If you mostly listen to IEMs with perhaps the occasional moderately power-hungry full-size headphone, go for AM2 because it has better battery life. If you frequently listen to hard-to-drive full size headphones, go with AM5.
First off, overall AM5 sounds very similar to AM3 in terms of soundstage size, detail retrieval, separation, imaging, etc. AM3 even sounds similar to AM5 in that they both seem to present notes that are a bit “sharper” than on AM2.
For IEM’s, you’d be hard pressed to tell any differences between AM5 and AM3 SE. However, for full-size headphones, AM5 as expected comes out ahead. AM5, to me, simply produces less grainy notes and better-controlled and better-textured bass than AM3 SE when powering larger headphones.
But what about AM5 vs. AM3 Balanced? Here, I actually prefer AM3 balanced by a bit. AM3 balanced presents a slightly wider soundstage with slightly airier notes (perhaps due to the blacker background given by balanced operation). Separation is noticeably better (more separated) on AM3 balanced than on AM5. This also means that imaging and especially layering are better on AM3 balanced than on AM5.
However, both AM5 and AM3 balanced powered my HE-400i and HD700 just as well as each other. I really couldn’t hear a difference in this respect.
Overall, I wouldn’t say you are missing out on much if you choose to take AM5 over AM3 in balanced mode. The real noticeable difference between the two is the better separation of AM3 balanced (which also leads to better layering, etc.) but otherwise they both sound as good as each other when powering larger headphones. Battery life is also similar between the two amp modules. I would say go for AM3 if you have balanced headphones that you want to get the best out of, otherwise you will do just fine with AM5.
Tl;dr: The first and last sentence of the next paragraph.
The AM5, at only $99, is a relatively affordable way to really give your X7 the power it needs to drive a wide variety of headphones, as well as giving better sound quality than the included AM1 amp module. My only major complaint with the AM5 is the worse battery life, which is unfortunate but unavoidable due to physics. Perhaps more people would be better served by the AM2 if they don’t have so power-hungry headphones, due to its similar overall sound quality but with better battery life. And there’s also the AM3 balanced module, which IMO is the best for full-sized headphones but obviously requires investment in balanced cables. Overall, get the AM5 if you want something that can really drive larger headphones well but without having to spend more to get into a balanced setup.
Thanks for reading my (somewhat) long review of the AM5 amp module!
Pros - Sound quality, power, low impedance, easy to swap in and out
Cons - Lower battery life
For larger (1200 x 800) images, click any picture INTRODUCTION
A lot of you will see the style and information with this review as being pretty similar to the one I did on the AM2. And the reality is that a lot of the physical aspects are very much the same. So for similarity I can't do much about it. I can assure you however that I performed the same testing, and the same comparisons I've done previously. I reviewed FiiO's TOTL Android based touch screen DAP – the X7 – in early November, and the AM2 module in February.
For my full review of the X7 go here, and of the AM2 go here. And please note that the X7 (with subsequent firmware updates) is now a much more complete DAP than when first released. I can now go artist, album, track, the DAC works beautifully, the blue light can be turned off, the battery indicator seems to be a lot more accurate, and with the release of the AM2 medium power module, and now the AM5 high power module, those with harder to drive cans now have choice for the power they may be looking for.
By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary. FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X3 2nd Gen (X3ii), X5 2nd Gen (X5ii), M3 and X7.
FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.
The X7 and add on AM5 module were provided to me gratis as a review samples. I have made it clear to FiiO that I still regard any product they send me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request. But I thank them for the ability to continue use of the X7 – both for follow up comparisons and also for my own personal use. It is still my intention to purchase the X7 from FiiO at some stage in the future.
I have continued to use X7 and its modules for follow up reviews, and I recently inquired if I could purchase the devices from FiiO. They have insisted I keep the X7 + modules for my own use. So I acknowledge now that the X7 I have is supplied and gifted completely free of any charge or obligation. I thank FiiO for their generosity.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
Spoiler: Click here for a summary of my known preferences and bias
I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and of course the Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.
I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays).
REGARDING THE X7
This review is essentially about the AM5 high power amp module released by FiiO for the X7. For a detailed look at the features of the X7, and a quick run-down on the AM1 (default) IEM module, I would recommend you read my X7 review or indeed any of the 30 something reviews on the X7 currently listed. For information regarding the AM2 module you can ready my review or the other one listed by Alex (Twister6)
This is a purely subjective review of the AM5 high-power module – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own views.
THE REVIEW PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The AM5 arrived in a small black retail box measuring approximately 90 x 120 x 25mm. On the front of the sleeve is a picture of the bottom half of the X7 with AM5 module attached and some text telling you that this is the AM5 amplifier module. On the rear of the box are QR codes which will take you to FiiO’s website or Facebook page.
Front of the retail box Rear of the retail boxInner metal container
Removing the outer packaging reveals a plain tin box with a nice powder coated finish. Removing the lid reveals a black cardboard envelope, and under this is a foam cut-out with the AM5 module nestled safely inside.
Inside the envelope is a warranty booklet in multiple languages, a full set of stickers (which match the ones from the X7) and 2 replacement screws. The stickers are a nice touch and show FiiO are thinking about their customers. If you’ve brought and applied stickers to your X7 already, the last thing you’d want is a new amp module with no adornments. Although I don’t use them, I can appreciate the foresight.
The FiiO envelope containing the accessoriesFull package including the AM5My modified container for the amp modules
As far as the AM5 goes, the other nice thing to note once again is the rubber dust cover/protector over the connection pins. So far everything is a mirror of the AM2 module, and this includes the lack of specifications on the packaging. The good thing is that FiiO have already listed the specs for the AM5 in the X7 section on their website. One last thing before we conclude this section – the case is actually large enough to store 3 modules. So my suggestion for FiiO would be to modify at least one of their releases to give that option. If not, then you can modify yourselves (see above).
The table below lists most of the relevant specifications. I have (as a comparison) also listed specifications from the default AM1 and also the AM2 module.
~ 64 x 25 x 16mm
~ 64 x 25 x 16mm
~ 64 x 25 x 16mm
≥120 dB (A-Weight)
≥118 dB (A-Weight)
≥115 dB (A-Weight)
<0.001% (32Ω/1 kHz)
<0.001% (32Ω/1 kHz)
<0.0008% (32Ω/1 kHz)
Output into 16 ohms
>800 mW (16Ω/1 kHz)
>350 mW (16Ω/1 kHz)
>200 mW (16Ω/1 kHz)
Output into 32 ohms
>500 mW (32Ω/1 kHz)
>300 mW (32Ω/1 kHz)
>100 mW (32Ω/1 kHz)
Output into 300 ohms
>55 mW (300Ω/1 kHz)
>30 mW (300Ω/1 kHz)
>10 mW (300Ω/1 kHz)
<0.5 Ω (32Ω)
<0.5 Ω (32Ω)
<0.2 Ω (32Ω)
Peak output voltage
Peak output current
>72 dB (32Ω/1 kHz)
>72 dB (32Ω/1 kHz)
>73 dB (32Ω/1 kHz)
BUILD / DESIGN
Front and bottom of the AM5 including portsBack and bottom of the AM5Internal connector
Again not much to talk about here – the AM5 has the same dimensions as the AM1 and AM2, and the main differences are internal, but also in their exterior colouring. Where the AM1 has a brushed titanium appearance on the front and powdered titanium appearance on the rear, the AM2 and AM5 are both slightly darker shades, and powdered finished on both front and back. Otherwise they all look and feel identical. The AM2 and AM5 colouring appears to be the same. There is white text on the back of each designating the model number.
AM5, AM2 and AM1 - with cap, hex screwdriver and screwsAM5, AM2 and AM1AM5, AM2 and AM1
Replacing the modules is extremely easy – just a matter of using the small hex screwdriver included with the X7 – undoing two screws, sliding one module out, and sliding the new module in. The fit on the AM5 is perfectly flush, and the only thing very apparent with the AM5 fitted is the change in colour (compared to X7). This of course disappears when used with the cover.
Expanded schematics, courtesy of FiiOX7 with AM5 (front)X7 with AM5 (rear)
DESIGN – INTERNALS
Although you can’t see them, it is probably a good idea to mention the internal electronics. Where the AM1 uses an OPA1612 for voltage and AD8397 for current, and the AM2 uses the Muses02 and Buf634, the AM5 this time uses a combination of the Muses02 along with the Texus Instruments TPA6120 A2. All have impressive measurements for distortion, SNR, output impedance and channel separation. The biggest difference is really the voltage output, and power delivery. As far as power goes, the AM5 is able to produce more than five times the output of the AM1 into 300 ohms, and almost double the output of the AM2 medium power module. It also has a higher peak voltage output.
POWER OUTPUT – REAL WORLD
So the specs are listed above, bit what does that mean in the real world? The obvious test was going to be with my HD600, so armed with a 1 kHz test tone, and my trusty calibrated SPL meter, I set about volume matching. To aid quick swapping in this exercise, I simply undid the screws, and left them off – so I could easily slight amp module in place, and then quickly swap as I needed to. The SPL meter was left in a fixed position, and comparative measures taken were (with the 300ohm HD600 – I couldn't get the cups fully sealed – but close enough):
AM1 at 77/120 = AM2 at 66/120 = AM5 at 66/120
AM1 at 86/120 = AM2 at 75/120 = AM5 at 71/120
All the above were within 0.2 dB. I then used those measurements playing actual music and recording maximum peaks – and again all were within 0.2 dB.
I also checked the SPL level at max volume from the X7 (120/120) and measured 93.8 dB (AM1), 99.4 dB (AM2) and 99.7 dB (AM5) respectively (A-weighted). So what does all of this mean and why isn't the AM5 showing double the volume? Well simply because the AM2 is able to drive the HD600 pretty well, it isn't exactly a difficult load, and the extra power on tap simply isn't gaining anything. Or is it? The thing we haven't taken into account is peak voltage, and the HD600 is a headphone which subjectively seems to respond to more voltage than current. I should also note that all 3 amp modules supply the same current peak current (250 mA) so maybe this is why the volume appears to have reached its limit in my set-up?
Please note – I didn't bother testing IEMs in this scenario as nothing I have requires a high power module. And I also did not check hiss as it is the same output impedance as the AM2, and also because the general use of this module will be fore higher impedance, lower sensitivity headphones, so hiss won't be an issue.
Although FiiO publishes their own real world tests with their modules, I also like to conduct my own. Using the HD600 with a volume of 80/120 I'd managed 9 hours and 42 minutes life, the AM2 module at 70/120 managed 8 hours and 49 minutes, and the AM5 module at 70/120 managed 6 hours and 29 minutes.
This was with the screen off most of the time, and continuous music playing. The level of 70/120 would give me 65-70 dB average listening volume which actually ties in nicely with my normal listening levels. I should also mention I was using low gain on the X7 with all 3 tests.
Of course this will also be dependent on what else you have running, what headphones you are driving, and also if you are using Wi-Fi, Blue-tooth, or using the screen a lot.
So here we are again, after covering the specs, build, power and effect on battery life. I'll repeat what I said last time - my ears are probably not as sensitive as many of you, I volume match very closely, and I’m subject to the same amounts of potential placebo as all humans. The swapping for the comparisons were as quick as I could make them to preserve auditory memory (same procedure as before – screws undone – swap units, adjust volumes to the pre-set levels, and listen). I varied between rapid swapping (portions of a track about 10-15 seconds) and longer listening periods (a full track at a time).
I used a mix of my usual test tracks - http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks and concentrated mainly on tracks exposing detail, dynamic contrast, sound-stage, bass quantity and vocal quality. This is just a comparison between AM2 and AM5 as the AM1 (whilst is is capable of driving an HD600) is probably more suited to IEMs and portables.
Remember this is pretty subjective!
With the HD600
My first test was sound staging (Amber Rubarth – Tundra). If there is any difference in stage it is very slight, and tends to favour the AM5 just a little in depth and width (really small differences). This could be in the very slight tonality change – in my critical listening I've already found that the AM2 is just a slight hint warmer than the AM5 with the HD600. The AM5 is to me just a hint more vivid / dynamic.
With the bass test the feeling continued – so much so that I had to recheck volume. Nope – still matched. The AM2 just seems little flatter and warmer, maybe a little more relaxed. The AM5 in comparison is a bit more dynamic, more raw and more vivid. I'm not sure if this is the added voltage or simply the tonality difference between the BUF634 and TPA6120 A2, and to be honest I don't care. I really like the pairing of the HD600 with the AM5, and I'm pretty sure I could pick it blind. The two modules are visually identical, and I've been losing track of which is which sometimes, so without looking at the screen I've been guessing and haven't had it wrong yet.
Switching to vocal tracks and its close between the two (they both sound really excellent actually), but I'm still in the AM5 camp. Female vocals still have that slightly more dynamic presence, and there is a little more bass slam with some of my rock. It's really hard to describe overall, but the more I listen the more it is apparent.
If anyone has the X5 original and X5ii they'll know what I mean. The X5 original was every bit as refined and had the same detail as the X5ii, but the difference was in the presentation. The X5 was very neutral, and slightly flat. The X5ii was a lot more dynamic – it sort of takes you along for the ride.
With the T1
So how does the AM5 do with the 600 ohm Beyer T1? Well for starters, at around 80/120 on low gain it's easily getting me my usual listening level of around 70 dB with peaks toward 80 dB. And I'm also noticing the same differences I had with the HD600. Slightly more dynamic and vivid presentation, maybe a bit more holographic in presentation of stage. The differences are small, but if I'm listening to full sized cans, there is no question – I'd be grabbing the AM5 despite the reduced battery life.
Like last time, the last thing I did before the final edit was to hook the X7 up as DAC on my PC, and record the output under loop-back to see how well the overall measurements were on frequency response. Again the one thing I need to stress here is the roll-off in the top end is the filter set-up on the X7 DAC section.
AM1 vs AM2 and AM5. E17K (green) included for referenceSame graph with scale magnified
You’ll see the three curves for AM1, AM2 and AM5 are practically identical. The roll-off you're seeing there is the filter on the DAC, and just so people aren't alarmed, I've seen the same on the all the FiiO devices with DACs engaged (the exception being the E17K), and also the Luxury & Precision LP5 which is the most expensive (and one of the best sounding) DAP/DACs in my possession. If you want to have a look at this graphically, check out the very bottom of my AM2 review.
So this tells us that all 3 amps are pretty linear, and that the output of the AM5 under loop-back is actually really close to the output of the AM2 – and it also confirms the close to 6 dB difference between AM1 and AM5 we recorded earlier using the HD600.
I was pretty happy with the output of the X7 + AM5 combo with the HD600. So happy in fact that I thought it might be pretty close in SQ to the aforementioned Luxury & Precision LP5 – a USD 1300 DAP which is easily the best sounding DAP I've ever heard with full-sized headphones.
So I volume matched both devices with test tones with the HD600 (this is not easy to do – but the meter shows I'm within about 0.2 dB, and they sound exactly the same volume when I'm switching). I then queued the same album and set both devices playing continuously (used adaptors so they wouldn't stop when I unplugged). I could then rapidly switch mid-song and essentially get continuity with both devices.
I chose Sarah Jarosz album “Build Me Up From Bones” because it has such wonderful tonality with the HD600, and also because there is some quite high level detail woven throughout.Now this testing isn't blind – so it's highly prejudiced – and I expected the X7 to come close, but ultimately the LP5 to win out (because it really is one of the most complete sounding DAPs I've ever heard with higher impedance headphones). To give you an idea of how good the LP5 is with the HD600 – it rivals my iDSD with or without a very good tube amp in tow.
I didn't see this one coming – they sound so similar now, that I'd be hard pushed to tell them apart. There is the slightest bit of further depth with LP5 – but it is so minor as to not matter (to me anyway). And that is probably the easiest way to sum up the AM5. It isn't just good with the X7 and HD600 – it is spectacular. I can't believe this $650 player and $100ish add-on module are now combining to be one of the best set-ups I've heard.
CONCLUSION This will be pretty short and sweet, as I’ve pretty much already summarised everything – but once again to put it in a couple of sentences …..
The AM5 module (like the AM1 and AM2) has a great build, is easy to fit, and measures as well as it sounds. It will cost you some battery life, but it easily handles both my HD600 and T1 with headroom to spare. Paired with a headphone like the HD600 it is quite simply one of the best combinations I've personally heard, and I'd put it in the same league as the Luxury and Precision LP5 (if not an equal, then at least playing in the same ballpark).
At an approximate release price of USD 99.00 there is nothing I can think of which makes me hesitate at all in recommending it. If you already have an X7 and want to take your higher impedance cans to another level, I simply cannot recommend this amplifier module enough.
When I eventually have the funds to purchase the review X7 from FiiO, the AM5 will automatically be the next purchase.
Once again thanks to Sunny at FiiO for giving me a chance to try the AM5 before its global release.
X7 + AM5 is simply an amazing matchand even rivals the LP5