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FiiO Q5 Flagship Bluetooth and DSD-Capable DAC & Amplifier

Rating:
4.61538/5,
  1. Sonic Defender
    Great things really do come in small packages
    Written by Sonic Defender
    Published Jun 26, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound, Bluetooth implementation, form factor, build, design
    Cons - LED status light difficult to see outside in daylight,
    Preamble
    A few things before I begin, I have decided to not bother with pictures, at least for now. By this point there are many reviews ahead of me with fantastic images and I suspect most people skip past pictures so I feel that I am not short changing anybody in that respect. I do love the images others have taken and I am always glad that people take the time so my omission is not because I don't see value in reviews with images, quite the opposite, and if my review was one of the earlier efforts, I most certainly would provide images.

    Spoiler alert, I love the FiiO Q5! I always look for two take away conclusions from a review, does the gear in question sound good, and would the reviewer buy the item or recommend that others do so. In the case of the Q5 my answer to both questions is an enthusiastic yes. The Q5 sounds fantastic, and I did purchase it and feel that it is one of the better purchases that I have ever made in audio. I did not give a 5 star rating simply on principle, I do not believe anything is perfect, but in all sincerity, to this point I have to say the Q5 has been as close to perfect as I have ever encountered.

    I am working from a particular perspective/assumption, and that is that the Q5, like any well designed source, does not change the sound, or if it does, it must be very subtle. This is a good thing in my view. I am completely sure others will not agree and suggest otherwise feeling that the Q5 does change the sound, but that is not my take, nor do I feel that is what a source should do, that is the job of the headphone and or DSP that the user may use for personal preference. So if you are okay with this line of thinking, or at least willing to indulge me, please read on.

    Design, build and ease of use
    Attractive, elegant and simple, those are a few adjectives I would quickly throw out. The Q5 has a very nice heft to it and it feels wonderful in hand, and it fits very well in hand. I do not use it in hand often, but when I do I always notice and appreciate how solid it feels, and how ergonomically correct for me that it feels. In my mind, the size is just perfect. Perhaps not the most important factor, but nonetheless appreciated. I love the elegant simplicity of the lines, the Q5 looks to me both rugged and refined. It has that Hi-Fidelity look about it, and it somehow just looks like a piece of audio gear should look. It is quite aesthetic in my mind.

    No need to go into a great deal of discussion about build quality. Everything feels solid, and it inspires confidence in me that this device is going to last. The volume dial is perhaps one of the most used physical elements and it is completely evident to me that FiiO took this aspect of the design seriously. The volume wheel is perfectly located, smartly tucked into a functional, and protective recess and it feels just right as I adjust it. The knurled edges and positive feel is greatly appreciated. I also very much like the fact that there is enough resistance that the wheel will not spin the volume up easily in case of accidental slips, but if I do try, I can manipulate it with one finger. Well thought out and implemented FiiO.

    Every other functional element looks and works as I would want. All of the buttons feel substantial and made to last, and they all function smoothly and perfectly. Usability is very important to me, and out of respect for the reader I will not go into detail, but the build and engineering considerations that went into the Q5 controls are spot on and very well done. Button groupings are well thought out, positioned just right, easy to use and like the volume wheel, neatly housed in tactile and protective grooves. To use the title of a Radiohead song from Kid A that I just love, Everything in it's right place, that would describe how I feel about the layout of the Q5.

    Two small quibbles. One, I would like to have the LED status light bar show activity at any stage of charging. My understanding is that unless the Q5 battery is at a certain state of discharge, the LED lights will not visually indicate charging is occurring. Not very important, but I do believe that the user should always receive visual confirmation that charging is occurring. Next, out in daylight I found it very difficult to see the LED light bar and as a result I kept turning it on and off as I was not able to see the lights. In fairness, I do know that my eyesight isn't the best, so perhaps that was at least partially responsible for this. In either case, it is simply a minor annoyance.

    I had a little problem performing the update procedure initially, but I quickly recovered and found updating both the Q5 and Bluetooth firmware very easy to do. I very much like that FiiO has a well established track record of listening to customers and providing updates and bug fixes as required, and I feel that based on my experience having already completed a full update that I can easily live with the somewhat less intuitive update process. I am not saying there isn't room for improvement, but as it stands now I am quite confident that without too much trouble Q5 owners will be able to update their units. I will optimistically hope that this continues to be the case.


    Bluetooth performance
    The Q5 connected very easily to both my Dell laptop, and to my LG G6. My friends phone (a newer Sony) also had no issue at all pairing with the Q5. Reconnecting has always been very responsive and I have had no issues at all with this aspect of the Q5. I have tested the range and again not had even the slightest drop out when my phone is in another room, or in my pocket when I take the bus around town with the Q5.

    I have been a big proponent for Bluetooth inclusion with audio gear for quite some time now and the Q5 is a great ambassador for Bluetooth. Personally, I think wired connections will be extinct in due time, and based on my experience having embraced Bluetooth for several years now, I will not mourn the inevitable passing away of wired connections. I do suspect that wired connections will be included, at least for the foreseeable future, but it won't be because they sound better than Bluetooth which was the case in the early days, rather the wired interfaces will be there for compatibility. That is the exact opposite relationship where Bluetooth was once provided as the alternative connectivity option, with wired connections being conceptualized as the primary and desired connectivity option. I would suggest that the audio reproduction quality we are currently enjoying is so good, that in multiple trial, blind listening tests, I suspect the vast majority of users would find a Bluetooth connection transparent as compared with wired, but I digress.

    The Q5 via Bluetooth sounds simply fantastic, it has been rock solid stable for me, and it is easy as pie to use. What more could I ask for? I am not sure if there is a viable user scenario for me by which I would want the Q5 to also function as a Bluetooth transmitter, but intuitively I suspect that if that functionality was implemented, I would find a way to enjoy it.

    Wired (USB) performance
    I have used the Q5 with my laptop and it has been a breeze via USB, No issues at all getting the Q5 recognized on my Windows 10 install, rock solid stability when connected, and very responsive when reconnecting, almost instantaneous. I have not found any sound quality issues at all when connected via USB, it sounds just perfect to my ears. Currently I have not made use of other connectivity interfaces as I have no need to do so, but when and if I do, I will update my review.

    Sound quality
    This is where the rubber hits the road, and this is also where I will perhaps differ from many people. I feel that when describing the sound, frankly users are describing the sound signature of the headphone being used, in combination with the music they are listening to. To my ears, the Q5 does not colour the sound, what goes in is what comes out, and isn't that what we want? Do we really want our source devices audibly changing the sound?

    I am not going to try to make the whole wire with gain argument as I do not have such a black and white view, nor do I know with certainty how acute my (or anybody's for that matter) hearing is to very small changes. Perhaps there are changes made to the sound, in the case of the Q5, if this is occurring, the changes are subtle enough that I will not say that I can hear them. I embrace both subjectivity and objectivity, but I do not pretend that I am some finely tuned audio reception machine capable of teasing apart tiny, granular differences. I will leave that respectfully to others who are confident in their abilities. It is not for me to deny, or confirm these skills in others. I can only speak for myself.

    I have been able to use a few headphones that I know the sound signature of very well with the Q5 and I can say with complete certainty that in each case they sounded as I know them to sound across different sources, and they all sounded well driven. I have used the Sony Z1R, Pioneer SE Monitor 5, ATH M40x, Fidelio M1 MKII, Onkyo A800 and H900M on several occasions, predominantly my Pioneer, and as previously mentioned, they all sounded as expected, and they all sounded full and well driven. I used the Z1R balanced as it accepted the balanced cable from my Pioneer so both headphones were auditioned balanced (as well as unbalanced) using the same cable.

    I noticed no attenuation in my audio memory of these headphones sound signatures, or with sound stage. There may perhaps have been the slightest change in sound stage depth via the Q5, but here again, the perceived change (narrowing of field) was so slight that frankly it could easily be explained simply by the fact that I was listening for changes so expectation bias (which is an absolutely 100% scientific fact proven by mountains of research so not even debatable unless one decides to invalidate scientific inquiry altogether). Again, I digress.

    I have several time tested songs that I listen to new gear with, my audio calibration tracks so to speak. I make sure that all of the fundamental aspects of musical instruments are covered, acoustic, electronic, female and male vocals, horns, woodwinds, purely sampled music (I love electronica) and purely acoustic. I listen for cymbal naturalness as a great test of treble accuracy (I have played drums off and on for well over 30 years now). I like the bell hits and body strikes to be tonally realistic (within reason as after-all, these are recorded sounds not live in the room with me).

    I have several test tracks where string reverberation is evident and I listen for the naturalness of these sounds and how well notes decay. I love female vocals and as such I feel the reproduction of the female voice is a true test of audio reproduction and the Q5 in combination with my headphone pairings did not disappoint. I heard exactly what I have learned to expect with my headphones. Bass tones are full where they should be, fast to decay or slow and spreading as the source material provides. I do not hear the Q5 changing anything, and that is exactly what I want and expect from my sources.

    I have tracks with electronic/acoustic fusion which again is a great test of audio reproduction and I make sure to play complex and busy musical pieces looking for separation and instrument layering abilities. Again, I found no evidence that the Q5 isn't doing exactly what it should be doing, everything is in it's right place. I am going to provide a short list of my test tracks for you, this should give you some idea of the range of music that I use to evaluate a piece of equipment. I do not at this time listen to classical or opera via headphones, so you will notice an absence of any such material. I use speakers for those particular genres when I do listen to them. Here are some of my standard test tracks, many of them I am sure will be recognizable to you.

    Hotel California (live): Eagles
    One Trick Pony: Holy Cole
    Negative Girl: Steely Dan
    Warpigs: Black Sabbath
    When We Were Free: Pat Metheny
    Badman's Song: Tears for Fears
    Slip: Deadmau5
    Bye Bye Blackbird: Saint Germain des Pres Café collection (wonderful collection of music, get them all)
    The Chain: Fleetwood Mac
    Grandfathers Waltz: Bill Evans
    Take Five: Dave Brubeck
    Tea Leaf Prophecy: Herbie Hancock
    Tundra: Amber Rubbarth
    Chan Chan: Buena Vista Social Club
    Let You Down: Dave Matthews Band
    Smile: The Crystal Method
    Supertramp: If Everyone Was Listening
    Song of the Stars: Dead Can Dance
    Obsession: Dosem
    Drive: Joe Bonamassa
    Cryogenic Dreams: Phutureprimitive
    Loveeeeeee Song: Rhianna
    Bridge: Slowly Rolling Camera
    Two Months Off: Underworld
    Six Feet Under: The Weekend
    Distant Green Valley: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
    Brain: 9Bach
    The Grudge: Tool
    Under Neon Lights: The Chemical Brothers
    El Macho: Mark Knopfler
    Run Like Hell: Pink Floyd
    Dreaming While You Sleep: Genesis

    Concluding thoughts
    I am perfectly content with everything about the Q5 to this point anyway. With the default AM3A amplifier module attached there seems to be more than enough power for any moderate to easy to drive headphone. I do typically listen at about 85dB to 90dB sustained, so certainly loud (but short sessions). I like the impact of louder playback volumes, but I also did listen at more modest volumes and I found the Q5 was still engaging.

    I don't know if you will share my impressions of the Q5, or agree with my beliefs about what an amp and DAC should do, but I do believe that the Q5 is very, very good sounding, it is easy to use, well built, it looks great, the form factor is pretty darn spot on, and with fabulous Bluetooth available, I just feel the Q5 does it all, and it does it just as it should do. The Q5 is certainly capable of being your daily and main headphone driver, at least with the proper headphone impedance (I did not test high Z, or very low Z loads) but as a portable system, I just can't imagine needing more.

    I look forward to using my Q5 every-time that I turn it on, and that is a great sign to me. Yes, as always happens, eventually I will want to try something else, that always happens with me, but when I do it won't be because the Q5 doesn't sound fantastic, it will be because I want to try something new.

    I remain on the fence in some respects, maybe even subtle sound signature differences are there and I respond to them, even if at times it is hard to tell exactly what is different. Audio memory is notoriously short, and not as accurate as we like to assume, but I do know that audio signatures can be tailored, and there may be source devices with deliberate flavouring (the Mojo comes to mind, I very much liked it) so while I say the Q5 isn't coloured, it could be, but if so, it is modestly so, and well done at that, and I do not hear any very obvious colour added by it.

    I am glad that I followed the Q5 thread from the very beginning, and I would like to congratulate FiiO for the considerable achievement that the Q5 represents. Well done FiiO, well done.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Sonic Defender
      Thank you KopaneDePooj, that is very kind of you to say, and you make a very good point about comparing with devices that were already coloured and how it can influence how we perceive a sound signature. And in true audiophile fashion, I also must acknowledge that the hearing brain seems to change throughout the day and there have been times that the Q5 sounds slightly warm to me.
      Sonic Defender, Jun 27, 2018
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
    3. Sonic Defender
      ... I tried to write about my "average" impression and that would be the Q5 doesn't change the sound very much, but that doesn't mean there isn't some changes going on. I loved your enthusiastic review and that of others. Send me some of your test tracks!
      Sonic Defender, Jun 27, 2018
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
    4. KopaneDePooj
      KopaneDePooj, Jun 27, 2018
  2. Medikill
    Exceptional in every meaning of the word
    Written by Medikill
    Published Dec 4, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound
    Inputs
    Bluetooth
    Usability
    Cons - Nothing significant
    Would've been good to have play ,pause, skip to work in wired mode
    Preface:
    I'm not affiliated with FiiO nor was this review paid for or biased in anyway. I purchased this for full MSRP.
    I've summarised below the key points, as i prefer to keep things succinct and to the point rather than a plethora synonyms.

    Packaging:
    FiiO have always been good with their packaging, a simple cardboard box with a more stylish black box containing the gear inside the outer box. As usual there is the authenticity scratch off.

    One of the strengths is the amount of cables and accessories already provided, which is simply exceptional other manufacturers usually sell required cables aftermarket which can make enjoying your equipment out of the box troublesome and in some cases, not feasible.

    Build:
    Very good build quality. Made with a complete metal exterior as expected at this price point. The back is adorned by a nice soft black faux leather protection pad to stack with. The silver bluish hue of the device is very aesthetically pleasing.

    The modularity of the AMP module is a nice idea for those looking for extra power for harder to drive earphones.

    Volume knob and buttons are well made and not flimsy.

    Connectivity:
    A key reason to get this device being AptX and Hi-Res audio certified. The bluetooth connection is very stable and has a good range, i found it to be about 15 - 20 meters with direct visualisation of the device. I found the bluetooth connectivity extremely useful, running flawlessly from an Iphone and even of my mac. The play pause fwd rwd work very well, pity it is only in bluetooth mode.

    I should note, that the discrepancy in sonic quality bluetooth vs. wired is very minimal. 3 - 5 % at the most, and that's being very picky.

    There is the usual slew of micro usb, co-axial inputs.

    Output @ 3.5mm & 2.5mm balanced.

    There is also the option for line out which is nice, but i don't know who would use this as purely an AMP.

    A fun side note, it works from an apple watch as well!! I was messing around and realised it could stream direct via the apple watch (LTE) - albeit only apple music but still nonetheless extremely impressive.

    Sound:
    In one word. Reference. The sound signature is very flat. Which is very nice. The additional bass boost increases the sub and slightly the mid bass making for a very compelling sound signature for those who are bassheads like myself. The highs are crisp, not sibilant.

    I'm not sure what more to say about the sound.

    Comparisons:
    Chord mojo
    - I found the mojo to be a troublesome device. Cables were hard to find, especially when using OTG.
    - the mojo sound signature was more energetic to a point almost V shaped
    - I prefer the Q5 for the reference sound with the ability to add the bass boost for certain tracks, which is very very well implemented.
    - Build is similar of the 2 devices. Battery life from the Q5 easily gets to 10 hrs as advertised running 32 ohm IEMs.
    - $999 for blue tooth connectivity is a joke.

    Final words:
    I think this is definitely worth it's price. FiiO have done an exceptional job and perfecting this device. Improvements would be to include a USB C to micro out of the box. And to switch to USB C output. Other than that, the device itself is exceptional.

    Thanks for reading!
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
    1. FiiO
      Thank you for sharing!
      FiiO, Dec 7, 2018
  3. Mshenay
    Little Something for Everyone
    Written by Mshenay
    Published May 4, 2018
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Convince, Fiio Customer Support, Acceptable Sound Quality, Apple Plug n Play Ready
    Cons - Finicky Digital Inputs, Inconsistent Sound Quality, Poor Value Overall
    [​IMG]

    Fiio's Q5 is a portable DAC/Amp featuring a dual AK 4490EN Chipset and a focus on wireless connectivity via BluTooth. Priced at $349 via Amazon, the Q5 also has a module Amp design with a dedicated 3.5mm sigle ended line out, dedicated digital Coax/Optical input and both 3.5mm single ended and 2.5mm fully balanced output for the headphone amp section.

    In terms of sound quality, I found the USB Performance to be some what stuffy or hazy sounding. Overall it's performance was most impressive with Optical In and many of my subscribers and readers were also impressed with it's BluTooth Quality. Non the less with a hard wired optical in I found the Q5 to be;
    • Fairly Neutral
      • Tonality did change slightly depending on the file format
      • At times it was very natural
      • Other times it was a bit hard and rougher sounding
    • Having a thicker full low end
    • Fairly Smooth on the Top
    • Quite cohesive with good precision
    So if you happen to own an older Digital Audio Player like the ole school iRiver Models the Q5 is a great way to use their Optical output and breath life back into them! I in-fact really enjoyed the pairing of the Q5 with my own iRiver H140. I had a Source with lot's of storage and a quick Graphic Interface and a DAC/Amp that I could pair it with so I got the best out of both devices!

    [​IMG]

    I also enjoyed the Q5 with my wife's iPhone. It's included iPhone friendly Case was super convenient, so in terms of pure convenience for iPhone users the Q5 is un-matched!

    [​IMG]

    So if your more concerned with ease of ownership than you are sound quality, I have to say the unique iPhone Case for the Q5 was the easiest portable solution to carry. As the phone retained full functionality with the DAC/Amp tucked neatly away behind it.

    Though outside of iPhone Users who are looking for something super easy to own/use, I would likely recommend Android or Digital Audio Player owners to consider other options. As overall I wasn't impressed with this unit at the current price. Maybe a different amp Module would help but right now I don't see a common situation that this would serve well in.
      Liviu Nicolof likes this.