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FiiO Q5 Flagship Bluetooth and DSD-Capable DAC & Amplifier

Rating:
4.61538/5,
  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. HiFiChris
    FiiO Q5: Swiss Army Knife - (almost) Reference
    Written by HiFiChris
    Published May 23, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - • price-performance-ratio
    • inputs/ways to connect it to a source
    • versatility
    • interchangeable amplifier modules
    • lots of included accessories
    • clean, linear sound
    • precise, digitally controlled volume (perfect channel matching)
    • Bluetooth sound quality
    Cons - • AM3A output impedance could even be a little lower
    • rather close, but not perfectly hiss-free with extremely sensitive in-ears in quiet passages
    • coloured LED indicators, input switch button and pressing a button during Windows USB DAC connection can be confusing at first
    Introduction:

    Besides the few products from their very beginning, FiiO have always been known well for making portable headphone amplifiers and DAC-Amps with good specs and reasonable pricing.
    Then they successfully started offering digital audio players (beginning with the original X3 that was way delayed, but eventually it was released and I was among the first people who purchased it) – but that is another story.

    The Chinese audio company however has never stopped progressing – some might even say that they progress too quickly – and implementing new features and innovations into their products.
    Starting with the Q1 MkII DAC-Amp that really only shares the name with its predecessor, FiiO began to implement a digital volume control into their new product releases with “traditional” appearing volume potentiometers, and I have to say that this is something I value a lot, not only because I have suggested it multiple times in the past, but also because it eliminates the bad channel matching at low attenuation settings that traditional analogue potentiometer implementations have – great!

    While FiiO’s Q1 MkII DAC-Amp is a great little device on its own and offered at a very reasonable price, it isn’t alone in the Q product line – new is the Q5, a truly feature-loaded DAC-Amp with a dual-mono implementation of its audio path, aptX Bluetooth and replaceable amplifier modules known from their X7 and X7 MkII digital audio players (it comes bundled with the AM3A module).
    It is set to be FiiO’s flagship DAC-Amp, which seems plausible given the audio implementation and features.

    DSC05169-small.JPG

    How well does the Q5, positioned as FiiO’s flagship DAC-Amp, perform? Let’s find it out.


    Full disclosure: The Q5 was provided to me free of charge as a sample for this very review.
    My review is, as always and nonetheless, unpaid, as honest and unbiased as humanly possible, and reflects nothing but my own impressions, just like with the plethora of audio gear I own myself and have possibly reviewed and/or talked about as well. I wasn’t given any directions/guidelines, no matter how it would turn out.


    Technical Specifications:

    International price before Taxes: ~ $369.99
    German/European Price: ~ €419

    Full Specs: http://www.fiio.net/en/products/83/parameters


    Delivery Content:

    As one (or at least I) would expect, FiiO’s flagship DAC-Amp comes with plenty accessories in its nicely designed box:

    A protective storage pouch, a silicone pad for stacking, two rubber bands for stacking, a really nice looking screwdriver to remove the amplifier module, a USB cable for charging and DAC use, a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable, one TOSLINK to 3.5 mm TOSLINK adapter, one coaxial to 4-pin 3.5 mm adapter and last but not least a lightning to USB cable for DAC use with a more recent iDevice.

    You might have noticed that no micro USB OTG cable is included, which is because the Q5, just like the Q1 MkII, is advertised with MFi certification but not for Android use, so compatibility with Android-based devices may and will be limited.


    Aesthetics, Haptics, Build Quality:

    The majority of FiiO’s most recent devices has got a quite unique and stylish, beautiful design, and I would say that this is also true for the Q5, although to a lesser degree compared to some other recent FiiO products such as the X5 MkIII, X7 MkII and Q1 MkII.

    Don’t get me wrong, the simple elegance of the Q5 and its understatement convey a classy spirit and I really like its black, textured pleather back panel, however I also think that the design looks a bit plain and boring compared to some of the several design prototypes’ elements (such as the pinstripe look that I really liked) – I just wish that there was a bit more going on at the large front panel, design-wise. Then again, FiiO made the design so that the amplifier modules for their X7 and X7 MkII still fit, and I highly applaud that. Still I personally think that the Q5 might age less well than the Q1 MkII that I honestly somehow find more attractive. I still find it good looking though.

    By the way, there are the red design elements, recessed volume dial, pleather back panel and last but not least top side with the gain and bass switch as well as digital and analogue inputs as well as a line output that I find visually very well done and especially like.

    - - -

    Build quality is really good – the chassis is made of CNC-machined metal, just like the buttons and volume dial. The back panel is covered with textured black pleather whereas the front panel is brushed.

    The included lightning cable is just awesome – short, but extremely soft and flexible.


    The optional Leather Case (LC-Q5):

    The LC-Q5 is currently only available in black leather, and I certainly wouldn’t mind to see more leather colours in the future.

    Build quality-wise, it is fine and well-build, however I have to say that similarly as the iBasso DX200’s stock leather case, it doesn’t necessarily look or feel premium compared to what manufacturers such as Cowon, Astell & Kern, Miter or DIGNIS offer. It might well be because some of the DAC-Amp’s design elements and lines are covered since those aren’t sculpted into the case, making it look somewhat like an unemotional black brick, but it’s also due to it being more functional than elegant.

    DSC05164-small.JPG

    Nonetheless, key features such as the LED bar, the DSD light along with the button and volume dial, the top of the unit as well as the bottom of the amplifier module (even headphone plugs with a big shell still fit nicely) are cut out precisely and remain easy to reach. Last but not least the playback control buttons are still quite easy to feel as they’re embossed into the leather. And the case fits like a glove.

    To me, it is more of a protective than a stylish or premium appearing leather case (I definitely like the appearance of the Q5 better without the case). So yeah, it does its job just fine and I would probably still get it for portable and semi-portable (=stacking or desktop listening in my case) use even though it doesn’t convey the luxuriousness of other leather cases I know.


    Ports, Buttons/Switches, Features:


    The Q5 really offers pretty much all what you need in terms of inputs, some of which are achieved by shared sockets and included adapter cables: a line input, coaxial input, TOSLINK input, USB DAC input (the amazing part about this one is that it works driver-less with Windows 7/8/10 while holding down the “previous” track control button while connecting the DAC-Amp to the computer) as well as Bluetooth and a separate USB input solely for charging the device (conveniently, it won’t draw any power from the source with an implementation like this, however it also means that there are two USB input sockets for two different purposes – that’s why an implementation similar to my Leckerton UHA-6S.MkII that has a switch that lets you disable USB charging would have probably been an even more elegant solution). It’s also got a line output and of course replaceable amplifier modules, so people who calling it the “Swiss army knife of DAC-Amps” are quite right.

    Since the bundled AM3A module offers both unbalanced 3.5 mm TRS and balanced 2.5 mm TRRS sockets, that part is covered too.
    What I don’t like about the amplifier modules is however that their screws have to be removed completely in order to take off the module – in this regard, iBasso Audio’s amp module screw implementation is superior.

    DSC05166-small.JPG

    Additionally, the Q5 also offers a DSD light, separated on/off button and volume control wheel (wherefore the volume level is “stored”), aptX Bluetooth, a light bar that indicates the mode the Q5 is in, playback control buttons (for Bluetooth connection), as well as gain and bass boost switches.

    Some criticism: FiiO has an app that lets you customise things like automated shutoff, the digital filter, L/R balance and the LED bar. However, it is, at the moment, only available for devices running iOS 8 and up, and not distributed to Android, Windows, Mac or iOS versions below iOS 8 at the moment, which is a pity.
    FiiO is however, as they assured me, working on an Android version of the FiiO Music app, and at the time of writing these lines it is already in the phase of internal beta testing, so it should hopefully come out soon.

    Some more (and more serious) criticism: while the line/coax/optical input socket is super convenient, it unfortunately is somewhat loose with some cables loose – the other sockets are definitely tighter, and the optical socket on the iBasso DX200 and DX150 or HiFime 9018d is tighter as well. Therefore it can happen that the cable that is plugged into this socket gets removed on the go or even if you are not paying attention for a moment during desktop use. Some cables seem to fit tighter though and cannot be unplugged unintentionally, such as some cables I soldered myself that are using 3.5 mm ViaBlue plugs.

    - - -

    Yup, that’s quite a lot of features, and I think I covered everything in this paragraph. Forgive me if I haven’t.
    Turns out I have and didn’t mention the reset pinhole on the left hand side of the device.


    Sound:

    It should be noted that all measurements, impressions and comparisons were done exclusively using the included AM3A amplifier module in single-ended use. The other offered modules may (and likely will, given their specs) perform differently. The used digital filters in DAC mode were always sharp roll-off or short delay, sharp roll-off.

    Volume Control:

    A fully analogue implementation of the volume control usually has the disadvantage that channel matching in the low potentiometer adjustment range is pretty bad and that one side is quieter than the other until you raise the volume. That is why I have developed a bit of hatred towards fully analogue volume control implementations over the years.

    Fortunately, just like the FiiO Q1 MkII, the Q5, also it appears like it might, doesn’t have a typical analogue volume control implementation – the pot that you operate controls the volume level on the digital domain wherefore channel imbalance is completely avoided, even if the potentiometer is in the very low adjustment range. Indeed, it is great to see an idea I have recommended to FiiO multiple times in the past to be finally implemented. I just love it.
    What’s great about the Q5 is also that the power button and volume control are separated wherefore the last volume setting is stored.

    The Q5 has got 256 digital volume steps more than the Q1 MkII, resulting in an even somewhat more precise and smoother operation than what the Q1 MkII already offers. Not that one would really notice this advantage though.
    One advantage one immediately notices though is that the Q5 won’t click when the bass boost is enabled or disabled whereas the Q1 MkII does.

    The Volume is almost muted during the first two, three mm after turning the DAC-Amp on, but then suddenly increases immediately although increments are smooth and gradual above that threshold – in the latter way, the Q5 feels just like a regular device with a traditional analogue potentiometer, but with the advantages of the digital attenuation (ideal channel matching), and this is probably exactly what FiiO wanted to go for.
    (Very personally, as someone who has come from preferring analogue attenuation to clearly preferring fully digital attenuation, I would still prefer a small screen and volume buttons or a pot with infinite turns and probably steps coupled with a small screen for the sake of even higher precision and always getting the exact volume setting I want, ideally with 256 steps à 0.5 dB in total, but I can totally see why FiiO went the way they did. Very personally, I also wouldn’t have minded an even slightly lower starting volume at times in order to sometimes being able to listen at super quiet volume levels just above the audible threshold with very sensitive in-ears – but that’s just me and for regular quiet listening even with very sensitive in-ears, the volume scaling is fine. Still I think that this (a gain reduction) might be an interesting feature/setting to add to the FiiO Music app that is required to access the Q5’s settings.)


    Frequency Response:

    One of the most basic and fundamental things an audio device should have is a flat unloaded frequency response in the important range of 20 to 20000 Hz. While it is anything but sorcery to achieve this in modern days, some (however mainly inexpensive and rather no-name) audio devices still fail to achieve this very basic thing.

    So let’s see how the Q5 measures (in single-ended use) when used as a…

    … pure Amp (Line In):

    Line in HPO.jpg

    … DAC-Amp (USB in):

    USB DAC HPO_3 (sampling rate in mixer has to be set acordingly).jpg

    … DAC-Amp (Optical in):

    TOSLINK DAC HPO.jpg

    … pure DAC (USB in -> Line Out):

    USB DAC LO_3 (sampling rate in mixer has to be set acordingly).jpg

    … Bluetooth DAC:

    BT DX150 HPO.jpg

    As we can see, no matter what signal path (analogue or digital) is used, the Q5 basically always puts out a desirably flat signal (probably useful hint: at first I was disappointed to see the USB DAC filters acting too aggressively (starting too early), but then I fortunately quickly figured out that the default sampling rate was mismatched in the Windows audio settings. Setting it accordingly solved the issue and led to the desirably flat response seen above).


    The Q5 additionally also offers an additional bass boost:

    Bass Boost TOSLINK.jpg

    As one can see, it adds ca. 5.3 dB of broad bass boost below 100 Hz.

    Output Impedance:

    Even when having a flat frequency response without load or with a simple load (such as a headphone that has got the same impedance over its entire frequency response), things are getting quite a bit more difficult with most multi-driver in-ears that have got more than just one driver and a crossover circuit that causes the in-ears’ resistance to vary along with their frequency response.
    If the audio device’s headphone output doesn’t have a low output impedance, the in-ears’ frequency response and therefore heard tonality will be skewed and they will (depending on the player’s output impedance and the in-ears’ specific impedance response) sound more or less different compared to when driven by an audio player that has got a low output impedance.
    To maintain an unaltered sound even with low impedance multi-driver in-ears, it is therefore best to have an audio device that has got an output impedance of around (or ideally even less than) 1 Ohm.

    This is what the FiiO Q5 puts out when connecting a critical, low impedance multi-driver in-ear to its single-ended output:

    Line In TF10.jpg

    The connected load was my Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10, an in-ear that is among the more source-picky species of its kind and changes its sound rapidly as the player’s output impedance climbs (yes, it even makes a perfectly low output impedance of 0.1 to 0.5 Ohms visible). I therefore pretty much always use it for measuring the frequency deviation compared to a simple load. Based on this, the output impedance can be calculated.
    The measured deviation in combination with the FiiO AM3A is still on the more reasonable side and can be calculated to be around 1.3 Ohms, which is still a fairly good value and proves that the player can drive the vast majority of multi-driver in-ears without (or with only slightly, which is the case for divas such as the Triple.Fi 10 or Shure SE846) altering their sound unlike players that have a rather high/higher output impedance. This also backs up FiiO’s specs that state around 1.2 Ohms.

    While that value of around 1.3 Ohms is reasonable, it can however already lead to some slight tonal changes with some really low impedance in-ears with a high impedance swing (e.g. Triple.Fi 10, Andromeda, SE846), so for the reference flagship device the Q5 is supposed to be, I would wish for an even lower output impedance below 1 Ohm, closer to the 0 Ohm perfection (hint hint, AM1).

    I didn’t perform any output impedance measurements of the balanced output, but the spec stated by FiiO spears rather realistic and there’s no reason to not believe in it given FiiO’s previous honesty with their specs.


    Hiss:

    As someone who is quite sensitive to hearing hiss when it is present and as someone who is also using many sensitive and some very sensitive in-ears such as the Shure SE846, Ostry KC06A or Pai Audio MR3, three models that are real “hiss-magnets”, having an audio device with as little audible hiss as possible has always been an important thing to me. The destination of perfection, a hiss-free audio player in combination with super sensitive in-ears, was what I could reach with my iBasso DX90, the Plenue 2, as well as the Luxury & Precision L3 and L3 Pro, though the L & P players don’t have the ideal output impedance for every kind of in-ear. And devices such as the iBasso DX200 with its stock amplifier module came very very close to it.

    Using the Q5, regardless in what mode, the amount of audible hiss with extremely sensitive in-ears such as my Shure SE846, Pai Audio MR3 and the Ostry KC06A is fortunately on the quiet side and quite faint, quite close to being not present at all. However, it is ultimately still not as quiet as my fantastically quiet iBasso DX90, Leckerton UHA-6S.MkII or the Cowon Plenue 2. It also hisses very slightly more than the iBasso DX150 or DX200, and is also a hair less quiet than the FiiO Q1 MkII (line in). Nonetheless it is among the best devices on the market in this regard and slightly quieter than the popular Chord Mojo that I own as well, or my Apple iPhone 4, but for perfect reference, and the Q5 is designed as a reference device, I would wish for even more quietness during quiet passages using extremely sensitive in-ears.

    Grade: Reference A--/B++; close enough and among the best devices, but not 100% there with extremely sensitive in-ears.


    Subjective perception of Transparency, Details and Soundstage…

    … in Wired Mode (Line In, TOSLINK In, USB DAC):

    Now to the quite subjective part of my review. My opinion and experience regarding the perceived “character” and “transparency” of source devices and amplifiers is this one: there can be an existing audible difference between various devices, but it should definitely not be overrated – simply because the basic character of a headphone won’t be completely changed (if the circuit follows a clean design philosophy and the output is load-stable), but sometimes rather slightly “shaped” and is usually very subtle in many cases and is (in most cases) just slightly present (if even there) and not “huge” or like “totally different classes” or “night and day”.
    DAPs, DACs and Amps are also no music instruments and don’t “extend further” in the lows, don’t have “more bass and warmth” and don’t have “less mids” when compared unless their measured sound output says otherwise – and fortunately there are only very few devices that don’t have a flat output nowadays.
    I am not a fan of exaggerations and hyperboles here because as long as the objectifyable parameters of an audio player are neutral and not too shabby (loaded frequency response, distortion, crosstalk, dynamic range, noise, …), the audible difference, if there is any, will be quite small at best if two devices are compared with proper volume matching that cannot be done by ear but only with instruments, since even small differences in loudness can be perceived as a technical advantage by our ear and brain.

    A more detailed, German article written by me concerning the “audible difference between comparable audio devices, if there is any”, can be found here: […]

    So let’s go on with my subjective impressions and observations (for this critical listening, I mainly used my UERM, Audio Technica ATH-IM03, Etymotic ER-4S, Audeze LCD-X as well as the NocturnaL Audio Atlantis and Fidue SIRIUS in single-ended mode. I also used a few more headphones and in-ears from different price and performance ranges for listening but more for personal enjoyment than for the sake of critical listening and comparisons. The main DAC/source for the Q5 in use as a pure amplifier was the iBasso DX200 with the stock AMP1 module’s line output whereas my PC served as digital source for USB and TOSLINK input:

    First and foremost, I’m happy to report that the Q5’s sound quality is basically identical regardless of what wired analogue or digital input you select (there is a minimal difference with the Q1 using super sensitive in-ears due to slightly different “intensities” of hissing).

    The main advantage, besides the replaceable amplifier modules and even more features, you get with the Q5 over the Q1 MkII is a tighter sound. While the Q1 MkII is a great product on its own, it can, for whatever reason, sound a bit soft (/”mellow”) with high quality in-ears. Not so the Q5 that sounds just as tight, clean and transparent as an impeccable audio device should. Not a night-and-day-difference, but the slightly softer presentation can be noticeable with sensitive in-ears. Not really with full-sized headphones though where it makes little to no difference, probably unless you’re driving the DAC-Amp to its limits.
    So it sounds just as tight, clean and transparent as it should be. Period. And that would justify that FiiO positions it as flagship device.

    Using the analogue inputs, the perceived “timbre” is neutral to my ears – the (frequency response and distortion) measurements are anyway. Just flat and neutral, unlike devices such as the Chord Electronics Mojo or iBasso DX80 that measure flat as well but appear subjectively a little “smoother”/”richer”/”less aggressive” sounding – not that it would be an exaggerated night-and-day-difference though.

    Spatiality with in-ears is good and the Q5 with its AM3A module “sounds” rather spacious, falling somewhere between the iBasso AMP1 and AMP6, sounding a bit more spacious compared to the Q1 or AM1 module. Since it’s just a nuance and not a large difference in absolute terms, as it wasn’t to be expected otherwise anyway, there’s no real need to go into further nonsense detail.
    The sphere “created” by the Q5 also appears round with equal amounts of width as well as depth (with my beloved iBasso DX90, I get the feeling of a stage presentation that is somewhat more wide than deep – but again, it’s tendentially just a nuance).

    - - -

    Together with the precise digitally controlled volume and very low (although just a step below perfect) noise floor with super sensitive in-ears, this guarantees for a lot of carefree listening pleasure.
    And all in all, there are also reasons why I see the Q5 standalone combination as superior to my Chord Mojo, such as the more precise volume control (finer steps), ability to listen more quietly, lower noise floor, constant output impedance, higher versatility and lower price.

    … in Wireless Mode (Bluetooth – Apple iPhone 4, Apple iPhone 7, Hidizs AP200):

    Very nicely, FiiO has implemented the Bluetooth path really well, as there is no added noise or other undesired stuff going on even when connecting super sensitive low impedance in-ears to the Q5. The heard signal remains just as clean as with any other connected cable source, which is extremely good to hear.

    DSC05168-small.JPG

    Linearity over Bluetooth is flawless, as long as the source device transmits a linear signal over Bluetooth. But what about transparency/general audio quality? Well, that ultimately depends on the device that transmits the Bluetooth signal. While some SBC sources can show some variance when it comes to audio quality (my Laptop’s output Bluetooth quality is garbage, for example), portable Apple devices that transmit the AAC codec as well as sources such as the Hidizs AP60, AP200, BlackBerry Q10, Apple iMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and several modern high-end smartphones that transmit aptX should sound identical (at least the ones that I have tested so far, for example with the Mass Fidelity Relay, a really good stationary Bluetooth DAC that was the first Bluetooth device to sound audibly transparent to me in a blind test, did and didn’t show any quality or sound differences).

    So, how audibly transparent is the Q5? When the aptX or AAC codec is transmitted, I would call it audibly transparent – as in not being able to tell the difference to a wired transmission. In that way it is equal to the Mass Fidelity Relay I just mentioned. The only thing that would hinder me from using Bluetooth more frequently really is just my mental border. Other than that – there is no area where I see (or better: hear) a disadvantage of the Q5’s Bluetooth quality. And the sound quality is already really good with good SBC streaming sources, with only slightly compressed highs and just a slight loss of perceived spaciousness.
    Finally another audibly transparent Bluetooth audio device, and this time it’s also portable.


    FiiO AM1 (a.k.a. “Wait, this Review isn’t over yet!”):

    As mentioned and obvious, all amplifier modules available for the FiiO X7 and X7 MkII can be used with the Q5. Thus, also the AM1 module that is targeted towards very sensitive in-ears. Unfortunately, this very module was, to my surprise (and sadness), meanwhile discontinued since only relatively few people were interested in it compared to the other modules.
    No, this right here isn’t going to be a full review of the AM1 – I’ll save that for later. Nevertheless this short-ish paragraph will contain all the info that will also be available in the standalone-review. And the main reason why I included this paragraph right here is to tell you why getting the AM1 module in addition to the already included AM3A might be definitely worth it for your specific in-ears.

    The AM1 module is the least powerful module out of FiiO’s interchangeable AM range, and this was done on purpose. As a result, it won’t only somewhat increase battery life, but also output less power into a higher Ohm load than the other modules even though it’s still plenty powerful for most needs and full-size headphones. You may ask yourself why this might be an advantage – well, there are sensitive/very sensitive multi-BA in-ears, and there are extremely sensitive low impedance multi-BA models (and very few dynamic driver models that fall into this category, such as the Ostry KC06A). Even though the Q5 (thankfully) has a digitally realised volume control implementation that guarantees perfect channel matching even when the pot is at a very low setting, having an amplifier module with less power output can be beneficial for the latter sort of in-ears since it increases the low level volume control precision by a hair.

    Then there’s the output impedance, the biggest factor – while the AM3A’s ~ 1.3 Ohms are still reasonably low and sufficient for the majority of multi-BA in-ears and don’t affect their frequency response, some low impedance multi-BA divas with a quite strong impedance swing in their impedance response, such as the Shure SE846 and Campfire Audio Andromeda, can already show some slight audibly (and definitely measurable) frequency deviation in some parts compared to an output with ~ 0.2 Ohms output impedance. As a result, if you are an output impedance perfectionist with low impedance in-ears with a strong impedance swing, I think that the AM1 will fill you with greater inner pleasure and satisfaction (it definitely does in my case) as it is closer to 0 Ohms output impedance perfection.

    Both modules perform pretty much equally well when it comes to hiss performance with super sensitive in-ears – in this regard, the difference is negligible (the AM1 is ever so minimally quieter by a μ).

    The only minor disadvantage is that you might lose a hair of transparency and spatiality using sensitive in-ears compared to the AM3A – but the difference is small enough to not matter to me and that I consider it negligible.

    - - -

    So when should you get the AM1 over the AM3A? If you are an output impedance perfectionist and have got low impedance in-ear divas with a high impedance swing that already react to output impedance figures that are usually good enough for most other multi-driver in-ears that wouldn’t show slight tonal changes yet. So guess what, I personally consider the Q5 with the AM1 module the actual, true “reference flagship” combination.


    Conclusion:

    The FiiO Q5 DAC-Amp is designed as a super versatile, competitively priced Swiss army knife perfectionist flagship. And it deserves this status. Well, almost – because I wouldn’t go as far to call it perfect. Yes, it might hold the flagship status as in being FiiO’s most expensive and versatile DAC-Amp at this time, and its performance is very good, however a step below perfection in some areas: The bundled AM3A module’s output impedance (~ 1.3 Ohms) could be lower for reference flagship status (although it is reasonably low on its own, it is only “good” but not “perfect” compared to the 0 Ohm perfectionist target) (hint, hint, AM1), and for absolute perfection with the most sensitive low impedance in-ears on the market, a minimally quieter noise floor with empty audio files/in quiet passages would make it even more perfect (it’s very close and one of the best devices on the market, but slightly behind the best, although you will almost not hear the faint hissing anymore when you are using extremely sensitive in-ears as soon as the music starts playing quietly).

    DSC05165-small.JPG

    So yup, I basically only found two “flaws” – the output impedance (can be perfected by getting the (unfortunately discontinued) AM1 module) and noise floor (that is really low, although just a little higher than perfectly quiet reference bliss). Other than that, and generally, the Q5 is a super versatile, clean and transparent sounding device that offers a lot and doesn’t cost much. And it sounds great over Bluetooth.
    1. turbo87
      Nice review. Can you comment more about the mojo versus the q5, since have both of them. Thanks.
      turbo87, May 24, 2018
    2. HiFiChris
      @turbo87

      Q5 has the more precise (finer steps) volume control and also allows for quieter listening w/ very sensitive IEMs.
      W/ AM1 module, the Q5 is even more linear in the high treble with in-ears that don't have a flat impedance response.
      Q5 hisses less.
      For me it is Q5 > Mojo unless you need that extra power.
      HiFiChris, May 24, 2018
      AllenWalker likes this.
  4. ryanjsoo
    Fiio Q5 Review – A New Challenger
    Written by ryanjsoo
    Published Apr 26, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - - Solid build
    - Clean Bluetooth implementation
    - Refined sound
    Cons - - Slightly more laid-back high-end
    - Design isn’t especially sleek
    Introduction –

    Like many, my first DAC was from Fiio, the humble but mighty Q1. It illuminated to me just how significant a source can be in the audio chain, inevitably leading to subsequent upgrades. It felt like yesterday when I first saw the idea of an exciting flagship Q5 floating around on the forums. In turn, an elusive feature-packed DAC/AMP was teased and now before me, the finished product. It may have been almost 2 years since then, but the wait was well worth it. The Q5 is a highly competitive portable DAC/AMP featuring dual AKM DACs, the same interchangeable amp system as Fiio’s flagship X7 DAPs and the introduction of a very intriguing Bluetooth implementation. The Q5 represents ambition in design and thought in execution.

    For instance, each integral component is driven by a separate power supply, Fiio have cherry-picked a high-end USB interface chip and selected Panasonic film capacitors, all to maximise sound quality. This is engineering that people were gawking at just a few years ago on Chord’s venerable, but also considerably more expensive, Mojo. Of course, these features aren’t unique to the Q5, but Fiio’s $350 USD asking price is very palatable. It’s not insubstantial but far from premium, especially considering the internals on offer. Though it doesn’t challenge flagship devices, perhaps Fiio’s latest DAC/AMP is an example of truly positive return in a market of inflation set to diminishing performance gains. You can read all about the Q5 on Fiio’s website here.



    Disclaimer –

    I would like to thank Lily from Fiio very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the Q5 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAC free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.



    Accessories –

    [​IMG]
    The Q5 is packaged similarly to Fiio’s other devices with an attractive two-tone box adorned with punchy renders. Inside is a hard box containing the Q5 within a plastic sleeve well-protected within laser-cut foam. Removing the DAC reveals the accessories below. Fiio provide almost all of the cables buyers could need, a 3.5mm to coax adapter, 3.5mm interconnect, micro-usb charge+data cable and a lightning otg cable.

    [​IMG]
    It would have been great to see Fiio include some OTG cables for Android devices though they are widely available online for just a few dollars. In addition, the Q5 comes with stacking bands, a padded pouch similar to the Q1 MKII and a T5 screwdriver should users want to swap the included amp module for another.



    Design –

    The Q5 has a terrific design that harmoniously balances luxury and practicality. Its flexible inputs and control well suit home use while its rigid build and smartphone-like form factor are well-equipped to survive the rigours of daily life. Its edges may not be as smoothly formed as Hiby’s R6, but its design feels congruent with other high-end devices such as the X7 II; a notion reinforced by its use of the same amp modules. It’s precisely machined and sharply styled while maintaining a tapered back that sits comfortably in the hand.

    [​IMG]
    The Q5 is more compact than the X7 II but identical in width and depth. As a result, the Q5 can be a little cumbersome when stacked with a smartphone. Its housing is solid aluminium with zero flex, and the contrast between its brushed front, bead-blasted sides and polished edges catch the eye like few others. I’m personally a fan of the Q5’s faux leather rear. It isn’t supple like the genuine leather on Oppo’s HA-2, but is harder wearing and prevents scratches with similar aplomb.

    [​IMG]
    The bottom of the player houses the main audio interfaces. As aforementioned, it uses the same interchangeable amp modules as Fiio’s flagship DAP, enabling more flexible driving power and outputs. Fiio include the AM3A from factory which is my personal favourite for IEMs. It has both 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced outputs and attaches via two T5 Torx screws. As always, I find Fiio’s amps to provide reliable audio, I didn’t experience any issues with the connectors or sound cutout.

    [​IMG]
    What makes the Q5 quite outstanding is Fiio’s attention to detail. For instance, the left side houses a second micro-usb port that exclusively charges the device, in addition to the port on the bottom. The Q5 will still charge from the bottom port, and it does so automatically depending on the connected device; drawing from its internal cell when connected to a smartphone for instance. By separating the charge and data circuitry, Fiio promise superior sound quality and lower interference when charging during use.

    [​IMG]
    The right of the player houses the power button identical to that on the X7 MKII in addition to a large chamfered analogue volume wheel. It provides smooth, fine grain volume adjustment while retaining enough friction to avoid accidental adjustment. The left side houses the Bluetooth controls with 3 media buttons; play/pause, skip forward and skip back. The buttons are all clicky and well delineated ensuring convenient pocket use.



    Usability –

    Windows users will have to install a driver from Fiio, after which the Q5 is plug and play. The DAC is easily operated, attempting to establish connection after power-on. It has a pulsar status light just like the X7/MKII, however, unlike the X7, the Q5 signifies the type of source it’s connected to via an RGB LED. It brings the same analogue/digital hybrid volume control from the Q1 MKII, digitally compensating for channel imbalance at lower volumes. This provides greater flexibility at low-volumes and helps to retain bit-perfect audio as volume doesn’t need to be digitally reduce on the source. Fiio promise over 10 hours of battery life when used as a DAC/AMP, a figure I was reliably able to meet.

    [​IMG]
    The Bluetooth feature is undoubtedly a highlight of the Q5, one of the first devices I’ve seen to implement this method of connectivity and easily the best sounding. Once powered on, holding the play/pause button on the left side enters BT mode, signified by a blue pulsar light. The Q5 pairs just like any BT device and delivered impressive range similar to an over-ear headphone and hugely improved over Fiio’s BTR1. I experienced no cut-outs at all, phone in hand, Q5 pocketed, even within the city at peak hour. What surprises most is the quality of that audio. Where I had previously assumed Bluetooth to be the most limiting factor of wireless gear, the Q5 disproves a lot of my beliefs, demonstrating that there is hope after all.

    [​IMG]
    The Q5 doesn’t apply any DSP, delivering unadulterated sound and a balanced signature. Its analogue volume control eliminates noise, with none of the hiss and buzz that the majority of BT implementations are prone to. The Q5 is also very EMI resistant, I didn’t notice any interference over either a wired or wireless connection, something that bothered on the HA-2. Though the Q5 does sound compressed and lacks treble extension over Bluetooth, it still sounds a lot better than a lower-end wired source and I can see this as a perfectly feasible on-the-go solution for those that dislike stacking and have a pocket to spare. Colour me very impressed, the differences are there but they’re nowhere near as large as one would think.



    Sound –

    AMP –

    The Q5 comes with Fiio’s AM3A, the same that ships with the X7 MKII. It uses 3x AD8260 op-amps combined with 3x OPA926 pre-amps; one pair for the single ended 3.5mm output and two pairs handling each channel on the balanced output. It’s not as analytical as the AM1 nor is it as full-bodied as the AM2. Rather, the AM3A is slightly engaging with a touch of additional bass impact and a cleaner overall presentation. It’s articulate but not overly so, retaining realistic midrange voicing. In addition, as the AM3A doesn’t introduce additional mid-bass/lower-midrange body, it sounds very clean, delivering precise transience and a neutral tone that maintains transparency.

    The AM3A has minimal hiss, just a little more than the AM1 which I find to be essentially silent. Hiss is perceptible when listening through very sensitive in-ears such as the Campfire Audio Jupiter but doesn’t irk when music is playing. The Q5 is also fairly EMI resistant, I didn’t notice any noise when listening through my laptop regardless of WiFi and CPU activity, and listening over Bluetooth also doesn’t introduce any additional noise. Though not the highest gain amplifier, the AM3A delivers deafening volume to IEMs and portable headphones. All of my portable gear sounded well-dampened and controlled, driven to potential.

    The Q5 even did a fine job driving the Advanced Sound Alpha, a large planar magnetic headphone in addition to the Sennheiser HD6XX though both sounded more controlled and dynamic from my Schiit Magni 3. The AM3A has a low output impedance (<1.4ohms) which, combined with its fairly low noise floor, makes it very well suited towards low-impedance multi-driver IEMs. This was reinforced by subjective impressions using the Hyla CE-5, an 8.9ohm earphone that is highly source sensitive. The CE-5 sounded as balanced through the Q5 as through the X7 MKII and DX200 w/AMP5. The Q5 received well over 150hrs of burn-in prior to testing to ensure optimal performance.



    DAC –

    The Q5 uses a dual AKM4490, the same as the X5 III. However, the Q5 sounds appreciably different due to its different amplification hardware. In particular, the Q5 has a more accurate timbre due to its greater balance in addition to sounding generally cleaner and more resolving. As such, I won’t provide DAC specific sound analysis, though this is a nice chip that Fiio have been able to implement well in the past and one with wide codec support (provided on their website here).



    Tonality –

    The Q5 is as any great source should be, balanced and transparent. It has some slight flavouring to its sound, lying on the smoother, more refined side overall; though this is chiefly due to some slight treble tweaks with the remaining sound impressing with its linearity. This serves to create some additional contrast forming a sound that is mostly accurate and never clinical. As always, these comments are relative to other sources I have on hand, and all sound characteristics outlined will be more subtle than those between earphones and headphones.



    Bass –

    The Q5 demonstrates that one shouldn’t judge a source by its components. Where I expected a warmer, fuller AKM bass response, the Q5 instead reciprocates with an impressively well-defined and neutrally toned presentation. It extends terrifically into the lowest frequencies, reaffirmed by tight, very slightly enhanced impact. This is especially evident coming from Saber 2018 sources such as the Oppo HA-2 which tend to sound a little cooler with less sub-bass weight. The Q5 rather delivers concise impact free of bloom and muddiness and its subtle elevation grants its low end with a more physical character without introducing excessive colouration.

    This is reinforced by a neutral mid-bass tuning and excellent control throughout. Accordingly, the Q5 delivers a transparent tone and accurate note size. Through this style of tuning, the DAC sounds just a little more engaging while remaining nicely separated and well-defined. Upper-bass is also fairly neutral, extending linearly into the lower-midrange and providing the foundation for a transparent image. As bass is very balanced with well-judged sub-bass emphasis, the Q5 never overpowers higher elements and its slightly more aggressive texturing brings details to the fore. This is heightened by accurate decay and attack providing precise, separated notes that remain composed during faster tracks.



    Mids –

    The Q5 MKII has quite an enchanting midrange on account of its refined, natural vocals and crisp instrumentation. Its lower midrange extends linearly from its bass response, providing accurate body. These comments extend to its centre midrange with spot-on vocal body and size. Resultantly, the Q5 produces a realistic timbre and defined yet delineated layers. It thoroughly impresses with its transparency, just like the X7 II, though it isn’t quite as clear due to the positioning of its upper-midrange. Vocals are also well-present and natural as a result, where the X5 III sounded more laid-back and lacking intermediate density. By contrast, upper-mids are very slightly laid-back, a character carried by Fiio’s other AKM sources including the Q1 MKII and X5 III.

    [​IMG]
    None of these sources are veiled in the slightest, especially the Q5 so I wouldn’t consider this an issue. That said, it is evidently denser sounding compared to sources such as the X7 II and DX200. Still, as lower-treble has a touch of emphasis, both male and female vocals are well-articulated with an uptick of clarity; so the Q5’s slightly attenuated upper-midrange rather grants female vocals a smoother, more liquid character devoid of any blunting or truncation. And despite its slightly smoother, more laid-back upper-midrange presentation, the Q5 is a very detailed source; a result of both excellent resolution and great linearity that flatters the smaller intricacies in the background while providing wholly resolved notes in the foreground. It’s tonally correct and transparent with very linear tuning. In short, this is a very well done midrange.



    Highs –

    The Q5’s higher-frequencies are a synergistic blend of crispness and organic body. It doesn’t sound quite as composed as higher-end sources such as the DX200, but doesn’t fail to impress with its well-detailed and controlled presentation. Lower-treble has a touch of emphasis that grants the Q5 with slightly more articulate notes and a slightly more aggressive presentation of details. It’s not spiked nor is it aggressive to the extent that instruments sound thin or sharp; they’re just a little crisper. In fact, the Q5 actually sounds a little more bodied through its treble. Perhaps this can be attributed to its gradual slope into an attenuated middle treble that grants the Q5 with a dark background and a sense of cleanliness throughout its presentation.

    And as the DAC extends very well up top, resolution is excellent and air is maintained. The result is a treble presentation that engages with its concise attack and remains impressive under scrutiny due to its textured, well-bodied notes. Instruments such as cymbals are flattered with realistic shimmer and decay while strings are natural and accurately placed. Though the Q5 isn’t the most immediately open and airy sounding source, it presents a detailed and richly textured image through a highly refined lens. Where many high-end sources pursue a more reference sound or a musical low-end counterbalanced by an energetic high-end, the Q5 prides itself on organic body and liquid smoothness.



    Soundstage –

    The Q5 delivers a larger stage among portable sources, achieved through a combination of a more neutral low-end and slightly laid-back high-end that pushes the background further into one’s periphery. The result is a nicely expansive presentation and one with enough body to avoid sounding sparse and uninvolving. The Q5 layers well and its instruments are accurately placed besides female vocals that can be pushed back on some tracks. Its combination of extension and control enable pinpoint directional cues and its lower-treble energy imbues a slightly more pristine sense of attack to every high-note. Separation is a strength of the Q5, chiefly on behalf of its concise, neutrally sized notes that occupy nothing but their rightful place in the stage. Its darker background makes the Q5 sound more composed than most sources, but at the same time, its high-end can lack an iota of air and sparkle in the highest octave.



    Comparisons –

    [​IMG]
    The comparisons below were done using the Fibae 3 to avoid the effects of output impedance. Though it doesn’t represent exact real-life usage, this does ensure each source is fairly represented as the effects of output impedance tend to vary from earphone to earphone.

    Fiio Q1 MKII ($100): The Q1 MKII is tuned similarly to the Q5 but executes its signature with less refinement and technical aptitude. The Q1 MKII has greater sub-bass impact but it’s slightly looser and less defined. It has a warmer mid-bass that delivers larger but also less separated notes. The Q1 MKII has a fuller midrange with less clarity but a pleasant tone and modest layering. It has slightly enhanced treble energy like the Q5 but lacks the same linearity and extension. As a result, the Q1 MKII sounds more superficial, it’s perceptibly less detailed and less airy, also taking a considerable hit to resolution. The Q1 MKII’s soundstage is considerably more intimate compared to the Q5, it’s less separated and less layered and its presentation is generally less dynamic. Of course, the Q1 MKII is just a third of the price and certainly offers a significant upgrade over almost any smartphone. However, the Q5 has clear advantages, as it should. On the flipside, the Q1 MKII has a little less hiss, though it’s also significantly less powerful.

    Shozy Alien+: The Alien+ is less linear and bodied, leaning further towards the engaging side. The Q5 has a more neutrally bodied low-end where the Alien+ sounds cooler through its mid-bass. The Alien+ extends just as well, it has great sub-bass control and impact but isn’t as linear. The Q5 has more lower-midrange body, it sounds more natural and accurate where the Alien+ is quite thin but also more revealing. The Alien+ has similar vocal presence, but sounds a touch over-articulated; clearer but also less realistic in timbre and comparatively ill-defined. The Alien+ has noticeable lower-treble emphasis, more than the Q5, bringing details to the fore. It’s also very detailed, enhanced by its crisp, clear delivery. Finally, the Alien+ extends well and has nice air up top. Despite this, the more refined Q5 is more resolving and linear, it has a larger soundstage and considerably better imaging. Both are musical over-analytical, the Alien+ more so. As such, it’s more immediately engaging but also less realistic and discerning of fine detail. A benefit of the Alien+ is its hugely versatile amp that has zero hiss and immense power that few portable sources can match, including the Q5, making it best suited for harder to drive headphones.

    Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A: The X7 II is slightly more resolving and more balanced overall. That said, the Q5 is actually a little more discerning down low. Primarily, the X7 MKII has slightly larger bass notes and a hair of additional warmth where the Q5 is more neutral and slightly more separated. The X7 MKII is more linear through its midrange, chiefly with regards to upper-mids that are slightly more forward. As such, female vocals are more accurately positioned and it’s a little more linear into its treble, delivering slightly more detail. That said, the Q5 is slightly more engaging with a crisper lower-treble that brings details more to the fore. The Q5 has a darker background where the X7 MKII delivers greater linearity into the highest frequencies and a more resolving image. It’s not immediately obvious due to the Q5’s laid-back midrange, but the X7 MKII has a larger stage with greater separation on account of its airier sound. The X7 MKII hisses slightly less for those with sensitive IEMs.

    DX200 w/AMP5: The DX200 is a very resolving source that finds nice musicality with the AMP5 module. It has less sub-bass impact than the Q5 but delivers a slightly tighter, more controlled low-end. The DX200 is similarly well-defined but has greater separation. Both have a neutral tone and great linearity into the midrange. The DX200 is slightly more full-bodied than neutral, but it has a more accurately positioned upper-midrange. The DX200 is aggressively detailed though it’s actually less emphasized than the Q5. It has gobs of detail with a slightly crisper presentation where the Q5 is less subtle in its presentation and a little less refined. It sounds less nuanced and lacks the same linear extension into middle and upper-treble. Accordingly, the Q5 sounds slightly muted compared to the airier, brighter DX200, but it also sounds cleaner. Still, the DX200 manages terrific foreground detailing while maintaining a composed background. The DX200 has a much larger soundstage with greater separation throughout. It’s more layered and has more precise imaging. The DX200 hisses slightly less than the Q5 while offering similar driving power.



    Verdict –

    The beauty of Fiio’s line-up is encapsulated by their price/performance; either priced conservatively enough to appeal to the majority, ala Q1 MKII, or providing sufficient performance to please more discerning listeners, the X7 II to name an example. In turn, Fiio’s Q5 hits a sweet spot, as one of the most impressive DAC/AMPs I’ve recently tested in terms of value. It should also be noted that this isn’t just due to its sound, as the Q5 is impressively feature packed. Its wireless connectivity is genuinely compelling while Fiio’s implementation of the same swappable AMP modules as the X7 enhances its versatility (though at additional cost).

    [​IMG]
    The Q5 also doesn’t compromise functionality or build quality, with well thought out controls, and a design that’s just as comfortable during daily commute as tethered to a PC at home. In listening, the Q5 performs admirably with a very clean, refined presentation combined with moderate driving power. Female vocals may sound a touch laid-back and the Q5 isn’t remorselessly revealing or airy. However, in return, it rewards listeners with a smooth, detailed and tonally brilliant sound that finds great synergy with a wide range of gear. The Q5 is an absolute bargain for those searching for a mature, tonally transparent DAC/AMP.

    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed my review, please see my website for more just like it!
    1. KopaneDePooj
      Great review and superb photos! The dark fabric complements the Q5 very well.
      KopaneDePooj, Apr 26, 2018
      ryanjsoo likes this.
    2. ryanjsoo
      ryanjsoo, Apr 26, 2018
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
  5. betula
    Fiio Q5 and the competition
    Written by betula
    Published Mar 5, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Clean, clear, detailed and dynamic sound. Fast, precise and accurate. Firmware upgradable Bluetooth functionality is a big plus.
    Cons - Treble is nice and detailed but might be too bright for some. A little more 'soul' to the sound would be nice, but this is nit-picking and personal taste.
    I would like to say thank you to Fiio for lending me the new Q5, their flagship DAC/amp for ten days in exchange for my honest opinion.

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    Like many of us here, I like Fiio for their friendly attitude to us customers since they came out with the first version of their X3 DAP back in 2013. The device itself was slightly bulky, but had a unique and warm sound with its Wolfson DAC chip. I liked it very much back then, and owned its predecessor too, the X3 2nd gen. Since I sold that DAP a few years ago I haven’t really been following Fiio’s new products. In 2015 I purchased my first Chord Mojo and didn’t need a DAP anymore. I am aware though, how Fiio keeps contact with us here on Head-Fi, and takes our opinion and suggestions seriously in future product development.

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    After testing and reviewing the most popular and most interesting DAC/amps in 2017, the iFi Micro iDSD BL, iFi Nano iDSD BL and Chord Hugo2, I was more than curious to see what Fiio has to offer on this small but very competitive market of portable DAC/amps in early 2018.

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    As you can see from my other reviews, I really like my Chord Mojo’s natural and lifelike sound, this device has been my reference point for a while. Being very close in price (Q5: £329, Mojo: £379) it makes sense to compare them in this review.

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    Package, specs, build quality

    Keeping things simple and to save some space, you can read the specs on the product page if you are interested.
    The Q5 comes in a nice and neat box, with plenty of accessories. They even put a screwdriver in the box in case you want to swap amp modules.

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    Build quality is superb. The only very minor issue I could mention is the led-light on the power button. When I turn the Q5 on, I simply don’t know how long I have to press the button as the indicator light is right under my thumb. This however is obviously just nit-picking.

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    The Q5 is bigger than I expected, but still is a good size if you want to use it with smart phones on the go. The Oppo HA2SE is sleeker, but I am not a big fan of its sound. The Oppo’s sound is just not natural enough for my taste, especially at the treble. The iFi Micro BL is too big to call it portable, the Nano BL and the Mojo are small enough, but much shorter than a phone so it feels bulkier than a Q5 or Oppo HA2SE stack.
    The Q5 is much taller and slightly wider than the Mojo or the Nano BL, but it is slightly thinner making it a more comfortable stack to carry around.

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    In my opinion the unique selling point of the Q5 is its Bluetooth (aptX) functionality, which is firmware upgradable for future improvements in Bluetooth technology. The future of audio, especially portable audio will be wireless, and aptX compatibility seems to be the first big step in minimizing the compromise we make in sound quality when ditching the wires. Having the Q5 in your bag and controlling your music on your phone without any wires is indeed very appealing. You don’t lose much in sound quality compared to usual Bluetooth connection, and you don’t really notice the difference traveling on public transport. Mojo can also do this with the Poly add on, but the two together cost £860, which is out of budget for many. People who simply want to go wireless won’t pay this much for the very versatile Poly.
    Going wireless for £329 (buying the Q5) though is something even a Mojo owner ‘on a budget’ might consider, as sound quality wise the Q5 is not very far from Chord’s smallest DAC.

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    Sound and more

    Like the majority of us here, I am also the most interested in sound quality. Comparing DACs in the £200-£500 price range is not the easiest job as the differences are more subtle than they are between headphones. I am mentioning this, because when I am talking about sound differences between the Q5 and the Mojo the differences are also not huge by any means. They are present and probably audible to most of us here on Head-Fi, but I think in a blind test the average listener wouldn’t be able to pick up the differences. That is the reason why portable Hi-Fi DAC/amps are niche products.

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    The most obvious sound characteristics of the Q5 coming from the Mojo, is how clear, clean and precise the Q5 is. The Q5 has a very fast, accurate sound. This is true for the whole sound spectrum, but the most obvious is in the upper mids and treble. The Q5 has a very ‘brave’ treble, much brighter than the Mojo. Listening superficially it almost gives you the impression of more details. This brighter and tighter sound however occasionally can be slightly more aggressive to my treble sensitive ears than desired. The Mojo in comparison sounds more natural, softer, warmer, more rounded and relaxed. The sound is slightly richer and has a slightly bigger body. To my ears it is more pleasing. I am not saying the Q5’s treble is harsh, it is just more sparky and dynamic, which someone either likes a lot or dislikes and prefers a softer presentation.

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    Bass is fabulous on both devices. The Q5 has a bass switch, but I hardly ever used it. Mojo does not need a bass switch, as somehow it automatically knows the perfect amount of bass quantity you need. At 90% of the tracks the level of bass on Mojo and Q5 with bass switch off was equally satisfying. In the remaining 10%, sometimes Mojo offered slightly more bass. The bass switch on the Q5 however obviously changed this, but to my taste it was almost always too much, making the whole sound slightly boomy. Whether you need the extra bass is highly headphone dependent. Most headphones won’t need it in my opinion, however with bass shy headphones or IEMs this function can be very useful on the Q5. With my Nighthawk the bass switch just puts a boomy cloud on the sound, however with my Flare R2Pro IEMs sometimes it was a fun addition to certain electronic tracks.

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    The Q5 does have nice and clear mids, but the magical lifelikeness of vocals that the Mojo offers is missing. This however is only obvious when A/B comparing them. The Mojo’s very lifelike, natural vocals and true to life acoustic instruments make Chord’s least expensive DAC a clear winner here, and anywhere else in my opinion. To my ears no other DACs are able to reproduce this lifelikeness and soundstage depth, not even the otherwise fantastic iFi Micro BL. This is not Fiio’s shortcoming but Chord’s advantage ahead of the competition.

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    Treble is where things start to become interesting. This is where the Q5 is at its best. Precision and clarity pays off at the higher notes, giving that treble sparkle many audio enthusiasts look for. It is always clear, always precise. For ‘treble-heads’ I would almost recommend the Q5 over the Mojo, except with live acoustic music. The Mojo does feel slightly less agile and softer in the treble; however when you pay attention to its more laid back presentation you realize all the details are still there. To my ears the Q5’s treble can only be slightly too much with music which has a lots of percussion in it.

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    There are a few things which I didn’t write about, simply because they are not too important for me personally. One of them is the DSD capability. I do have some DSD files, but FLAC is more than enough for me when it comes to storage space/sound quality, and I think the majority of the buyers will hardly ever listen to DSD files. This is still a must have feature though on DAPs and DACs these days. It is similar with people who like to know their car is able to reach 300 km/h, even though they might never drive it that fast.
    Another thing I didn’t write about is the different amp modules you can use with the Q5, which are interchangeable with Fiio X7 DAP’s amp modules. For someone who already owns a Q5 or X7, this can be fun.

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    The amp module which comes with the Q5 (AM3) by default has a 2.5mm balanced output too. This is again very fashionable these days on portable devices. However I share the opinion of Chord’s designer Rob Watts, who says single output done right might be even better than balanced. I do not deny, some headphones might benefit from balanced mode, but the whole single/balanced debate is a much more complex issue than just declaring balanced output to be better than single.
    Power-wise the Q5 will be able to drive any average headphones. Mojo is significantly more powerful though, I wouldn’t use the Q5 for high-impedance headphones (300Ω).

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    Conclusion

    Overall the Q5 is a very impressive device. Top notch build quality, very impressive sound quality. It is up there with the best portable DAC/amps available today. I could be happy with a Micro BL, or I could be happy with the Q5. I personally however keep my Mojo, simply because for me the magic is there in the most lifelike sound. The Q5 and the Micro BL are very close second, although they are quite different. In the end it comes down to personal taste. There is no better or worse on this level, just different.

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    My subjective list of preference looks like this:
    (I have tested or owned all of these DACs in the past year.)

    1. Chord Hugo2 (£1799) – simply put: this is another world
    2. Chord Mojo (£379) – for the most lifelike sound and greatest soundstage depth
    3. iFi Micro BL (£549) – for power, versatility and a grandiose sound
    4. Fiio Q5 (£329) – for clarity, dynamism and sparkle + BLUETOOTH
    5. iFi Nano BL (£199) – unbeatable sound quality for the price
    6. Oppo HA2SE (£289) – the only one I didn’t like much due to the least natural sound compared to the DACs on this list

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    The Q5 is one of the best available portable DAC/amps today with some unique selling points: clean, clear and dynamic sound plus firmware upgradable Bluetooth functionality. The competition is tough, but I am sure the Q5 will bite out a good chunk of this relatively small market of portable Hi-Fi DAC/amps. It is a good size for portable use, very good sound quality and Bluetooth aptX for less than a Mojo.
    1. KopaneDePooj
      Great review, thanks! Interesting comparison with the Mojo, I'll have to manage somehow to find and listen to one, you made me very curious. Because I like natural, lifelike sound too :)
      KopaneDePooj, Mar 5, 2018
      surfgeorge, earfonia and betula like this.
    2. Ears Deluxe
      A great review and very, very helpful. It sounds like your taste in sound is very similar to mine, which makes this especially useful to me. And your English is exceptional. In fact, it's far better than most of the native English speakers I see online (and I say that as a professional editor and writer). Thanks for your hard work on this.
      Ears Deluxe, Apr 5, 2018
      surfgeorge and betula like this.
    3. surfgeorge
      Great review! Your comparisons and asessments feel so refreshingly clear and free of hype or prejudice. Nice photos too!
      Thanks for sharing!
      surfgeorge, May 25, 2018
      betula likes this.
  6. KopaneDePooj
    My name is Bond, James Bond...
    Written by KopaneDePooj
    Published Feb 9, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - sound quality, versatility, build quality, design, ergonomics
    Cons - can’t take calls over Bluetooth, leather case not bundled
    ...I’m agile, resourceful and refined. The FiiO Q5 Review.

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    Introduction:
    I’ve become interested in headphones and related gear more intensively for about 4 years and during this time I have tried to find my preferred sounding headphones for various occasions and uses. Three months ago I bought my 1st “better” source - the FiiO X5 3rd gen - and being interested in how it compares to other products I applied for the FiiO Q5 Review Tour.

    Disclosure:
    The FiiO Q5 sample was loaned to me by FiiO, free of charge, for a 10-day evaluation and posting of my opinion of the product. After the 10-day period I’ve sent the unit to the next reviewer.

    About me:
    I’m 49 years old, male.
    Music preferences: classic rock, prog rock, metal, grunge, jazz, roots reggae, world / ethnic, classical, some 80's new wave, some electronic / pop
    Some of my prefered bands: Marillion (with Fish), Rush, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Genesis (P. Gabriel), Jethro Tull, Iron Maiden, Porcupine Tree / Steven Wilson.
    Only 1 album to take on an island: The Beatles - Abbey Road. OK... take one more: ABBA: The Album.
    Sound preferences: I like a warmer than neutral sound signature with 2 to 3 dB elevated bass, full-bodied vocals and detailed but natural, not harsh or grainy upper-mids to highs. I’m particularly sensitive to elevated or harsh 3K to 8K region, and I don’t like thin, dry, sterile, abrasive, clinical sound. I don’t believe in “detail retrieval”. I think details don’t need to be “retrieved”, brought forward, they need to remain in the original form, tonality, loudness and position relative to the other sound elements as a whole. To be there in natural amount. I believe in realism of the MUSIC reproduction. I also don’t listen at crazy volume. I generally listen at a volume comparable to someone singing loudly, 3 meters away from me, with no amplification. If that makes sense. I don’t know how to translate that into decibels.

    This will be my first product review and I’m not a native english speaker. So please bear with me. Or don’t. I like constructive criticism. I didn’t read any review about the FiiO Q5 prior to this, to avoid bias.

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    Tech highlights:
    • DAC: dual AKM AK4490EN
    • Supports up to 384kHz/32 bit sampling rates and native DSD up to DSD256
    • Interchangeable amp modules, fully compatible with FiiO’s lineup
    • Bundled with the AM3A amp module with both single-ended and balanced outputs
    • aptX Bluetooth audio
    • Digital Inputs: USB / Coaxial / Optical / Bluetooth
    • Analog Inputs: Line IN
    • Analog Outputs: Headphone Standard 3.5mm / Headphone Balanced 2.5mm / Line OUT
    • Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16~150Ω(PO); 16~300Ω(BAL)
    • Battery Capacity: 3800 mAh
    • MSRP for US market: is about $349.99 and subject to change for other markets.
    Full features here
    Full specs here

    Packaging and accessories:
    The Q5 comes in a sturdy hard box with a foam padding frame inside and accessories in a compartment below the main unit. The packaging is well made and similar in size and layout to the one that FiiO X5 comes in.
    It is well accessorized and includes the following:
    • micro USB to Lightning short cable for connecting to Apple devices
    • 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male short cable for line IN or line OUT use
    • USB to micro USB long cable
    • 3.5mm to RCA coaxial adaptor cable
    • optical adaptor
    • screwdriver and 4 extra screws for amp module replacement
    • silicone pad for placing between devices when stacking (if necessary)
    • 2x long straps and 2x short straps for stacking
    • carrying pouch
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    In addition the review bundle included the following accessories which ARE NOT included in the retail package:
    • LC-Q5: Leather case of Q5
    • LC-Q5i: Dedicated case for bundling the Q5 with iPhone
    • L27: WM port to Micro USB digital audio cable
    • L28: Coaxial digital audio cable
    • Micro USB to Type C USB short cable
    • Micro USB to Micro USB short cable
    I really wished the leather case LC-Q5 would have been bundled in the retail package instead of the pouch, as with the FiiO X5 3rd gen, where you receive a leather case and a TPU case in the box. The leather case is much more useful than a pouch especially when stacking because it prevents slipping of the silicone straps.

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    Build and design:
    FiiO has really come a long way from my old E06 that I had velcroed back to back with my Sansa Clip a few years ago. The design of the Q5 follows the new trend that started with the X5 3rd gen / X7 Mk II DAPs and won some well deserved iF and Red Dot design awards.

    The build quality of the Q5 is nothing short of outstanding. Elegant aluminium alloy sandblasted body, bold (or is it Bond...?) angles combined with rounded corners, lasered shiny chamfered edges, different metal surface textures and the PU leather cover at the back. All these make for a sharp looking gadget. If James Bond would be an audiophile this is what he’d use. This gadget should be called Agent Fii007/‾.

    The RGB LED between the amp module and body is a very nice design element, and also provides information about the selected input, glowing in different colors. Because it is recessed relative to the metal body there is no annoying bright light when charging at night. It pulsates and “breathes power” very gently.

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    Operation:
    All the buttons and switches are tactile and responsive, providing a reassuring feedback when operated. Especially the volume potentiometer is well done, having enough resistance to avoid accidental turning in your pocket. That resistance also helps with setting a fine controlled volume level with ease, especially from 11 o’clock position and on, where the volume rises more steeply. The jacks and USB inputs are also of good quality which is to be expected at this price point.

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    Usage and pairings:

    Smartphone to Q5 USB in:
    Although the Q5 has no official support for using with Android devices, I used it with my HTC 10 with no problems. Using the provided USB-C to micro USB cable my phone instantly recognised and connected with the DAC. I used Tidal Hi-Fi and USB Audio Player Pro app which operated in Bit-Perfect mode with various resolution files including native DSD with no problems.
    You can find more about the Q5 and Android in the article written by Product Manager Demond here.

    PC to Q5 USB in:
    The FiiO USB drivers need to be installed, and if you want to play native DSD also, some drivers and components for ASIO and DSD support in Foobar2000.
    This guide can help, but use the latest drivers in the Download section here.
    All installs went smooth and the music playback with my PC to Q5 was flawless.

    Smartphone to Q5 Bluetooth:
    No problems here either, I got aptX connection with both my HTC 10 and X5 to Q5.
    The sound quality was surprisingly good over Bluetooth with just a slight loss of depth and resolution, but the sound character of the DAC/AMP was kept intact.
    The Bluetooth ability of the Q5 is really of great convenience if you want to avoid stacking on-the-go. The Q5 stays in one pocket with the headphone cable attached, and the smartphone in another pocket, free to operate independently. My only gripe with this usage scenario is the lack of a “phone bluetooth” profile support. You cannot take phone calls on the Q5, cannot use your headphone cable inline remote or microphone. But the ringtone and notifications sounds are sent to the Q5 so at least you know if someone calls you.

    For the next iteration of this DAC I propose that FiiO ads Bluetooth phone call support and links the - fwd / pause / play / back - buttons to the headphone cable inline remote also.

    FiiO X5 line-out to Q5 line-in
    Using the Q5 as an amp for the X5 went with no problems and was very beneficial for the X5. More of that in the “Sound” section.

    FiiO X5 coaxial to Q5
    All good.

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    Bass Boost
    Generally I’m not a fan of bass boost, and I didn’t test it very much because everything sounded properly without it. What I found is that with some thin sounding recordings it brings live and punch by elevating a good chunk of bass and taming the mids without adding distortion. So it can be beneficial in some situations

    Headphones
    Tested the Q5 with my Sennheiser HD 598 SE, HD 518, Momentum 2 over-ear, Koss Porta Pro.
    In all cases the sound was improved and the matches were good. My critical listening I have done with the Sennheiser HD 598 SE.

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    Sound:
    Sound evaluation will be made in relation to the FiiO X5 3rd gen DAP which is the best source that I own, but the sound description also stands on its own.

    HTC 10 > USB Audio Player Pro / bit perfect > USB type C to micro USB > FiiO Q5 > Sennheiser HD 598 SE
    vs.
    Fiio X5 > Sennheiser HD 598 SE

    Listening notes:
    1st impression - fresh out of the box:
    Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
    Q5 vs X5 - More effortless, more focused, cleaner upper mids with less grain but more detail, more even in the midrange, deeper bass, more extended highs.

    2 days later in-depth listening:
    Lars Erstrand and Four Brothers - Body And Soul - DSD Showcase 5 - 1bit DSD
    Eric Bibb - Where The Green Grass Grows - DSD Showcase 1 - 1bit DSD
    Diana Krall - Peel Me A Grape, Narrow Daylight - 16bit FLAC
    Jethro Tull - The String Quartets (flac album)
    Q5 - Liquid, organic, with great micro-detail and resolution, but not abrasive, no harshness in the vocals, upper mids or highs, yet cristal clear and natural. Smooth, yet focused.
    Seems like every sound element is polished and has its own space and breathe room in relation to the others. Very good dynamics and transient response. Bass goes deep and it has texture. Soundstage has more depth, layering and is more three dimensional. X5 feels more compressed in comparison.

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    4th day:
    Pink Floyd - Money
    Steven Wilson - Luminol
    Dead can Dance - Song of The Stars
    Q5 has more authority, goes to the same loudness more easier, maintaining great separation and relation between frequencies. Vocals remain natural sounding when loud. When I turn up the volume the sound gets BIGGER and richer, while on X5 it gets LOUDER, struggling more to maintain sound integrity, and the vocals becoming a bit more shouty and somehow rough. The Q5 feels like it can reach the same volume while not hurting your ears. Also the Q5 feels less compressed, you can feel more air between every sound element. Everything is arranged against a contrasting dark background, so “the edges” and contours of every sound element are clearly distinguishable. I guess this is what they call a “black background”. It is the first time I experienced it.

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    Opus3 DSD Showcase no. 1 to 5
    Tracklist and description > http://shop.dsdfile.com/category/samplers/

    Alan Taylor - Kerouac's Dream
    Cyrill Lutzelschwab & Martin Hess - Boxenkiller
    Henry Mancini - Pink Panther
    Carl Orff - Introduction Fortune
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Concerto No21 Andante
    Giuseppe Verdi - La Donna E Mobile
    Giuseppe Verdi - Requiem Dies Irae
    Dire Straits - Water Of Love
    Dreadzone - Yeah Man
    Genesis - Battle Of Epping Forest
    Genesis - Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
    Gigamesh - All My Life (Original Mix)
    GusGus - Deep Inside
    Iron Maiden - Afraid To Shoot Strangers
    Iron Maiden - Revelations
    Kem - Heaven
    Metallica - Don't Tread On Me
    Metallica - Sad But True
    Michael Jackson - Jam
    Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
    Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
    Rammstein - Mein Herz Brennt
    Rammstein - Sonne
    Rebecca Pidgeon - Spanish Harlem
    Robert Plant - 29 Palms
    Rush - Tom Sawyer
    Seal - Crazy
    Rachelle Ferrell - Sista
    Rachelle Ferrell - Will You Remember Me
    Zucchero - Il Volo
    Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy
    Macy Gray - Redemption Song
    Rebecca Pidgeon - The Raven
    Paquito D'Rivera - Como Arrullo De Palmas
    Amber Rubarth - Don't You

    Sound conclusion:
    Q5 vs X5 sound differences:
    Bass - Q5 a bit deeper and punchier, with better dynamics, harmonics, and more detail.
    Mids - here is the biggest difference with the X5 having a bit grainier more abrasive high-mids, and a bit more forward. Q5 mids / vocals are cleaner with better resolution and less digital, more organic, natural, even sounding. Making an analogy with photo processing the Q5 feels like an image that comes untouched from a high quality prime lens with great focus, contrast and color, while X5 feels slightly sharpened / enhanced in post-processing.
    Treble - Q5 feels cleaner, more natural, and more extended.
    Sound stage, stereo image - the X5 sounds a bit compressed in comparison to Q5.

    IMO a great deal of the sound difference comes from the better external amp module used in the Q5, because when testing line-out of X5 to line-in Q5 (with the AM3A module being used for amping the X5), the sound quality is somewhere in between the two on their own.

    Please observe the intensive use of “a bit”, and “feels” in the description above. The FiiO X5 is a great sounding device on its own.

    But, in the end, IMO the Q5 is a step up over the X5. Although they share the same dual DAC, the combination of different DAC tuning + the external AM3A amp module + no Android to deal with (speculating a little here) - makes for an improved audio experience.

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    Final words:
    Day 10, listening to “The Wall”. Pink says to himself:
    “There must be some mistake, I didn’t mean to let them take away my soul, am I too old? is it too late?
    Where has the feeling gone? Will I remember the song? The show must go on...”

    I’ve come from noticing the Q5 main thread a few months ago, to really being interested in it, then losing patience and buying the X5 on Black Friday, to returning and applying for the review tour. After a long(ish) wait and some annoying customs paperwork, I finally received this beauty. There were 10 days of intense usage, photo sessions, touching, petting and most of all delightfully music listening. I’m in love with this device and sooner or later it will replace my X5 3rd gen.

    Note: After reading it a few times, I realize that part of my review including this final words may sound a little overenthusiastic, but this is because I genuinely liked the Q5 very much. Please don’t take this as it will necessarily work the same for you. Generally my advice is: go and try to listen to audio gear before you buy and form your own opinion. This hobby is highly subjective and nothing can replace the act of testing for yourself. For me the Q5 is a great device and I will make it my own. For now, it is time to pass it to the next reviewer. Bye-bye Q5! But see you soon!

    "Wrong! Do it again! Wrong! Do it again!
    If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding!
    How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?
    You! Yes! You behind the bike sheds! Stand still laddie!"
    -- Roger Waters

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      chrisba, Gonzalez, Tragic and 16 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. AudioBear
      Thanks for taking the time to write a really superlative review. Oh, and you can never use that non-native speaker excuse again since you write better than most native speakers.
      AudioBear, Feb 22, 2018
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
    3. KopaneDePooj
      @audiophilefan Thanks man! The pineapple crown shots look more "dangerous" because I angled the camera :) In fact the Q5 was very well secured between the stiff leaves. I wouldn't have put it into danger :))
      @AudioBear Thanks, I appreciate :)
      KopaneDePooj, Feb 23, 2018
      audiophilefan likes this.
    4. audiophilefan
      You're welcome! Nice to know it's safer than it looks. Haha. :wink:
      audiophilefan, Feb 26, 2018
      KopaneDePooj likes this.
  7. darkdoorway
    Fiio Q5 Impressions - Pairings and Bluetooth
    Written by darkdoorway
    Published Feb 3, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Detail Retrieval shines through
    Fun sound
    An AptX based wireless anti-stack solution
    Cons - Can be a little clinical depending on what you pair it with
    IMG_20180204_102017.jpg

    A bit of background for this impression:

    I am not on the review tour. I have not been sent this unit for review purposes. I am a mostly UK based head-fier, who has been quite interested in the Q5 for a while. A fair while. And now that the unit is out, I'm interested in sharing my experiences.

    I was the 17th person that ordered this product from Fiio's AliExpress store. Being part of a limited first batch available to non-Chinese, this unit comes with Fiio's leather case. And a soft Goat.

    IMG_20180204_100837.jpg

    Impressions:

    Build quality - let's put that at the end. More flavoursome stuff first:

    After quite a lot of Reddit and Head-fi, I was looking for a couple of things from the Q5. I've mostly found them.

    Detail Retrieval:

    I'll write further about this in the pairings section. I feel detail retrieval is above par for this price range. Fiio has a clean implementation of the dual AK4490. I don't detect a background hiss. Details do shine through:

    Billy Joel's Pianoman - At about 30 seconds in there's a distortion mostly hidden by lower end equipment, but brought out on more disecting kit. With the Fiio Q5 - Check, it is there and obvious to me. This is more a quick litmus test rather than a full quality check. So doesn't by itself say the Q5 is great for detail.

    Dire Straits- Sultans of Swing - Great audiophile check track. Multiple layers of instruments spacially distributed. A listen on the Q5 shows some fine details brought out. The Fiio unit picks out the soft instruments on this track and presents them without having to strain to listen for them.

    Baby Driver Soundtrack - Bellbottoms - I love using this track to test audio equipment. Bellbottoms can sound just dead on some equipment and shows the value of a good DAC/Amp. Instrument separation and vibrancy across the audio spectrum do shine through with the Q5.

    Power:

    This was the second thing I was interested in. The AM3 module paired with the Q5 does deserve its reputation and has already had a lot written about it. So I will only say, that as part of this impression, the unit performs as previously written about.

    I will, however, comment on Bass and Gain Switches. The Q5 paired with the AM3 module feels powerful. I have given up any high ohm stuff to test it with, but there is plenty of room on the voulme knob. The gain switch adds fairly extreme gain, so in my opinion should only be used with high ohm equipment. Your results may vary.

    Now. The bass switch. I've used amps in past with a bass switch, a switch that had the potential to turn a nice piece of kit into a fart blaster.

    I was expecting a little fart blasting when switching the bass on the Q5. Nope. No fart blasting. Wait... is this even working? First batch. Maybe it is defective. Nope, it is not. The Bass switch on the Q5 is not defective.

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    The switch does, however, focus on lows and sub-bass and pretty much leaves mids alone. I say 'pretty much' as there is a detectable change to mids if you listen for it.

    This bass switch makes select music have some amazing depth. Especially when testing with some trance albums:

    AvB 666 - A memorable episode from Armin - the bass switch on this episode adds some depth which does enhance lows considerably and adds even more vibrancy to the episode. Female vocals feel untouched.

    Tron Legacy Reconfigured - bass detail with the switch makes you feel like you're next to a giant speaker at a daft punk concert.

    Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - Lots of fine tracks on this album to speak to sub bass.

    The Q5's bass switch doesn't work in some cases and can cause distortion:

    AM - Arctic Monkeys - I expect the bass switch effect on this album, specifically the distortion is to do with the way this album was mastered, making further enhancement of lows problematic.

    Comparisons:

    Comparing this device to the Audio Opus #11 which I had for a fair while ( but not A/B-ing as I have since passed the Opus to someone else ) I would say that to my ears, the Q5 is in another realm in regards to detail, sub-bass and power. And that is saying a fair bit, as the #11 is a device with solid detail retrieval and highlights the upper regions. Detail of sound on the Q5 outclasses the Audio Opus. I acknowledge that this may not be a fair comparison. The price ranges are slightly different as well.

    Pairings:

    Shure SE425 VE:
    The se425, winning What HiFi's award for top IEM in that price range every year for the last few years - Pairing the se425 VE with the Q5 plays to the IEMs strengths. Not a bass heavy IEM, the 425 is well balanced, fairly disecting and easy listening for long periods. With the Q5, these attributes are all retained making them a good match.

    Cosmic Ears CE6B / Linum Music Cable:
    Note, the CE6B (formerly called the CE6E) is comparable with a 1964 V6s. (Check out Lieven's excellent shootout review between these two)

    The 6B is a smooth listening and forgiving relaxing experience. Paired with the Q5, this doesn't change. The 6B really shines on bass centric tracks and the Q5 adds another dimension to that, making the IEM more enjoyable.

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    ADDIEM:
    Just because I've always thought. "Man the ADDIEM would really fly with a great source."
    And it does, but not by much. Quite a bit of warmth and bass response are added to this iem when paired with the Q5. So it does address some of the shortcomings of this iem, but not to a level where it can compete with another price bracket.

    VE Monk (original)
    OK. Had to try the Fiio with this little piece of witchcraft. The original monk benefits a lot from this DAC Amp combo. Please note, i'm not saying the Q5 transforms the monk. The flaws exhibited in the monk are still present, but if you love the monk and want it to sound better, the Q5 will do that.

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    Bluetooth Connection:

    The Q5 provides a stable Bluetooth connection with an AptX capable source. I did encounter some issues with Poweramp, but on testing, those turned out to be specific to that application. The AptX option works and delivers a quality stream to the Q5 from source. This option removes the need to stack, allowing the Q5 to be safely tucked away, leaving you portable with your phone.

    In my humble opinion, one of the main reasons to get the Q5.

    Vs OTG
    I can't leave this section without writing about the Q5 with a wired connection. I'm a big OtG fan. And, correctly volume matched, I honestly can't tell the difference between connecting the Q5 via wireless AptX or wired OtG. I don't want to get too much into a compressed Vs uncompressed opinion in this impression, save to say that on balance, I will not be using OtG or any other wired connection again with this device, and do not feel the need to.

    Screenshot_20180204-092811.png

    Build Quality:

    Fiio advertised the Q5 as having a premium feel with leather highlights. I would say the device does have a premium but rugged feel.

    This isn't a ceramic and glass encased baby. More an industrial and sleek machine. Not quite an Oppo HA2, the Q5 exhudes a functional premium look.

    The included leather case is very sleek and made to fit the device snugly.

    It will easily go in your pocket.
      snellemin, Gonzalez, chrisba and 7 others like this.
    1. Rautej1
      Hey mate, coud you please corroborate a bit on the Bluetooth bit? Does it work like this: Phone pairs Q5 like a "headphone" and sends sound right in, Q5 then converts it via DAC, amps in in AMA3 a plays it via wired headphones?
      Is there some way of having it connected as bluetooth DAC and feed data instead of sound to it, or is it just cable DAC if I want to have full capability?

      Are you saying, that differences between these two (BT vs usb) are indiscernible by ear?

      Thanks, Jan.
      Rautej1, Feb 15, 2018
    2. darkdoorway
      Hi. I'm....not too sure what you are asking. It is a Bluetooth DAC. You pair it with your phone / computer / whatever and play. The Q5 receives a wireless digital signal , amps and plays it through the headphones connected to it.
      darkdoorway, Feb 23, 2018
  8. 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 at 3:47 AM
  9. Dobrescu George
    FiiO Q5 - Rule Them All
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published May 7, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent peformance similar to X7mkii, Versatility, APT-X Bluetooth, All the inputs and ouputs you could ever need, Volume Wheel, Nice Aesthetic Design, Modular AMP stage, Price is really good for its performance, Good DAC implementation and overall sonic performance, hassle-free usage on all platforms, FiiO's extended support
    Cons - Considering its sonic performance, only the fact that you'd need to stack to use it, otherwise, there are no cons at this price point and performance levels, even the price is very friendly
    FiiO Q5 - Rule Them All

    FiiO Q5 is a newly released DAC/AMP made by the Chinese giant FiiO. They promise a lot of performance for a very modest price with the newly released FiiO Q5, and we're going to see how much they can deliver on their promise.

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    Introduction

    FiiO has now become known by almost every single audiophile out there as one of the most respected and loved audio companies, offering both quality and impressively good pricing on all their products, having made true audiophile grade equipment accessible to those who are on a budget. FiiO always impressed us in the past with their service and customer care quality, and they even are known to offer a great amount of help to any music lover who purchased their products. Quite the amazing company with quite the amazing service through and through.

    It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with FiiO, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by FiiO or anyone else. I'd like to thank FiiO for providing the sample for the review. The sample was provided along with FiiO's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with FiiO Q5. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in FiiO Q5 find their next music companion.



    About me

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/about.html



    Packaging

    First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:

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    FiiO always packaged their products in impressive packages, and here we're not talking about the size. The fact that all of previous products we unboxed from FiiO came packaged with a great deal of accessories made us really curious what they'd package their flagship DAC/AMP with.

    They didn't let us down...


    FiiO Q5 comes packaged with just about every single cable and rubber band, adapter and accessory you will probably need in your time with it. There are rubber bands for attaching it to your smartphone, there are cables to attach it to your smartphone, DAP, and even to work as an amplifier or DAC alone.

    You have all your needs checked when purchasing FiiO Q5, and although FiiO also sells higher quality cables, along with special cases for Q5, the basic package really includes already pretty much everything that one might ever need for taking advantage of the full power of FiiO Q5.

    While Q5 comes packaged in a cardboard box of medium size, beneath it you can find the true marvel of FiiO packaging, along with the large number of accessories, even a carrying pouch for keeping Q5 safe. Compared to the pouch we received with FiiO E12A years ago, even the pouch for Q5 has been thought a little better, allowing for both much better impact resistance and for much better heat dispersion while Q5 is within the pouch, if one would want to use it like that.

    There isn't anything we could add to the package really, FiiO thought this one through really well.




    What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAC/AMP

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/what-to-lookl.html



    Technical Specifications

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    Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware

    Starting with the build quality, FiiO Q5 is FiiO's best built device to date. The device is literally a large metal slice with every button and even the volume wheel well protected under a large metal side. The buttons are slightly recessed so they are protected by the main case as well. FiiO's AMP locking mechanism is the same as the one we've seen on FiiO X7mkii and as we still have the mighty X7mkii up and running, without a scratch, we're absolutely sure that the mechanism is pretty future-proof.

    The aesthetics of Q5 are even better than FiiO's most devices, and it now looks both sleek and elegant, without having that industrial side some of the older devices had, not that we don't like an industrial-looking device once in a while. The front side is a large metal panel, with a little LED light at the bottom which either stays lit when Q5 is in typical usage, or which breathes when Q5 is charging. The back side is covered in a pleather layer, thing which is pretty awesome for stacking FiiO Q5, not to mention that it presents far less scratches, or better said, no scratches even after being stacked multiple times with multiple devices, some of which can be fairly pointy.

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    There is no UI to speak about, and FiiO Q5 connected flawlessly to any of our Android devices, while on Windows we required a little driver to be installed, but it works flawlessly nevertheless. The firmware is backed by FiiO's latest tech, and there are a few features we should talk about before going over to the sound quality of FiiO Q5.

    APT-X: FiiO Q5 sports the latest APT-X Bluetooth abilities. We only tested Q5 as a received of APT-X signal from Samsung T580 so far, and the combination worked flawlessly. The connection takes around 10 seconds before everything works, and then it keeps working just fine. As long as we kept the two in a relatively close proximity, there were no signal cuts and no issues we can speak about. APT-X yields much better results (sonically speaking) than the typical Bluetooth signal, so we urge you to use APT-X whenever possible for your best experience.

    AMP Modules: FiiO Q5 is not a standalone DAC/AMP, but it is a modular DAC/AMP, featuring the same AMP modules as the ones we've seen on FiiO X7mkii. This means that all the modules that work with X7mkii will work with FiiO Q5, and that you can fine tune the sonic performance of Q5 after you bought it, as it originally comes with AM03A. The most prominent upgrades from AM03A are AM03B and AMP05, both of which we'll explore in this review.



    Sound Quality

    The sound quality of Q5 is outstanding, or rather, for the price it is unbelievable. The sonic performance is exactly the same as that of FiiO X7mkii, as long as both are running the same AMP module. This means that our entire review of X7mkii's sonic performance yields true for FiiO Q5 as well. Instead of going over the same things once again, we're going to review the AMP modules that you can buy for FiiO Q5 and X7mkii, and what the differences between them are, and which is the best suited for your needs. The short answer is that Q5 will have the same sound as X7mkii, which is the sound of one of the best things we've heard. After trying each with AM05 and AM03A and AM03B from FiiO, we deduced that X7mkii and Q5 sound like they are the same device when they are connected to the same AMP module.


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    FiiO AM03A - This is the default module both FiiO Q5 and FiiO X7mkii come with. It is a vivid-sounding, energetic, sparkly and open-sounding AMP module that we reviewed in our FiiO X7mkii review.

    The bass of AM03A is incredibly deep, going as low as it needs to go, down the the absolutely lowest octaves. It is a quick bass when it needs to be quick, it is a slow and natural bass, when it has to be slow, being quite transparent and good at painting the music track just the way it was recorded. AM03A can drive all IEMs I tested it with, with an excellent authority, giving them just the right type of bass they need to have. Both the rumble and the impact are outstanding when they are called for.

    The Midrange of AM03A is extremely clear, detailed and has a very enthusiastic nature to it, being quite vivid and giving all music a vivid edge, making things sound dynamic and well separated when they should sound like that, and making them pop out and feel lively. With slow music, it sounds slow, with fast and aggressive music, it sounds fast and aggressive, being a colorless module that lets the true nature of the music shine through it. One of the best things about the midrange of AM03A is how clear, detailed and revealing it is, being worthy of how a true flagship should sound like. There is no tilting towards any area in particular, and the sound is generally wide, having good instrument separation and definition, along with excellent timing and dynamics.

    The treble of AM03A is like the rest of its signature, extremely clear, vivid, and in its nature, very transparent. It is not bright nor smooth, instead letting the music and the headphones do the coloring of the music. The top end has the right amount of shimmer and glimmer when it has to and can sound quick, as well as well behaved when it has to, reaching even the highest octaves possible, letting the treble shine when the IEM / Headphone can shine, and making it tame and quiet when the music or the headphone paints it as such.

    FiiO AM05 - Here, AM05 sounds similar to AM03A, but with a deeper soundstage, reaching far deeper in all directions, with more weight to each musical note, and with a slightly smoother texture response, but very slightly. The treble is still excellent, and it sounds sparkly when it should sound sparkly, it sound smooth when it should sound smooth. The midrange is quite similar, but again, there's a touch of smoothness added to the mix. The bass, on the other hand, is heavier with more impact and with a slightly slower response, placing it in the natural territory. AM05 has only single ended outputs, and its power is far stronger than AM03A, ensuring proper drive for headphones that need it, like Beyerdynamic Amiron or LCD-MX4. In all honesty, this is our favorite FiiO AMP module to date, being the most versatile one, and the one that spent most time on both our Q5 and X7mkii. The main thinking behind that is that AM05 can drive anything from the little IE800S and RE2000, all the way to big headphones, so it is a true jack-of-all-trades AMP module, without sacrificing any quality over its versatility, being probably the most natural sounding and the most detailed of all the AMP modules. In all honesty, we recommend it for usage with virtually any headphone and In-Ear, AMP5 simply works with everything incredibly well.

    FiiO AM3B - AM3B is actually a very interesting offering from FiiO, the 4.4mm balanced module. The fun part is that FiiO thought about their customers who want to take advantage of it, but who don't have the 4.4mm cables necessary for it, so they are also creating a 2.5 to 4.4mm adaptor, along with a single ended output on AM3B, so even if you don't own any balanced cables, you can take advantage of the sound of AM3B right away. The sonic performance is different from AM03A, being much thicker, with more bass emphasis and with much more weight to each musical note. It is noticeably thicker than AM03A and than AM05, it sounds really weighty and warm, but the good news is that the treble is not only there, but actually has a very nice strength to it, presenting all music with excellent overall impact and dynamics, being rather amazing and intriguing what FiiO managed to do in this one AMP module. Given the scarcity of balanced cables in general, not to mention of 4.4mm balanced cables, we can only say that this is something one can take full advantage of if they know well what they are doing, but otherwise, it represents a really good upgrade from the stock module if one prefers a thicker sound, with a more lush and meatier overall presentation, but which still stays sparkly and interesting in the treble. If one of our biggest issues with FiiO X5-3 was that it was too smooth for a lot of music, AM3B surely doesn't have this issue, instead being rather interesting and fun, presenting music in a very enjoyable fashion. We feel that those of us who have IEMs or headphones that have a more neutral or brighter overall tuning, and who want to balance that, would be really happy with AM3B. IEMs like UM Martians, Dita Truth, FiiO F9Pro and even Sennheiser IE800 are outstanding pairings with AM3B. Headphones like Beyerdynamic Amiron or Ultrasone Signature Studio also make excellent companions for this AMP module. We don't quite recommend it with IEMs and Headphones that are already overly warm or thick-sounding as one might overdo that, so Beyerdynamic Xelento, for example, might get too thick and lush for most casual listeners.



    Soundstage

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    The Soundstage of FiiO Q5 depends on which module is connected, but we'd like to mention that all modules have a really good and well-extended soundstage, with AM05 being the deepends, and AM03A sounding the widest. AM3B sounds less wide than AM03A, but it sounds similarly deep as AM05. The soundstage of FiiO Q5 has no issues in presenting classical music as a wide and enveloping experience, while it can present a rock concert with the right amounts of impact and dynamics it needs to have.



    ADSR/PRaT

    The ADSR and PRaT (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and Pace Rhythm and Timing) characteristics of FiiO Q5 also depend on which AMP module is connected to it. In a few words:

    AM03A - This is the reference AMP module since it comes with Q5 by default. ADSR and PRaT is quick, textures are presented in a really revealing fashion, everything feels nice and has a good amount of detail in it.

    AM3B - This module is the smoothest from the 3 AMP modules we've heard, textures are tilted by the thicker presentation into sounding slower and smoother, things don't have the same edge as with AM03A, but it is fair to mention that the impact and overall impression is that this will be extremely impressive. While it isn't the quickest, it provides the most of the bass textures, along with a slightly smoother midrange and treble presentation, making an excellent companion for Jazz or more laid-back music.

    AM05 - This is the module we've been using the most, and this is the one that sounds most natural from FiiO's current offering. The textures are presented in a natural fashion, not too quick, nor too slow, music feels enjoyable, but not overdone, everything is well balanced across the spectrum and in all fairness, this is what most people might be looking for, if they want a general and versatile AMP module. We felt that AM03A was even more to our liking for music that should sound very textured, so it would have our thumbs-up more, but for a wider range of music genres, we recommend looking into AM05 more.



    Portable Usage

    Here is where things get interesting. We generally do not recommend any DAC/AMP over a specialized DAP due to the DAP being more convenient to carry around. This time, it is a little different. First, FiiO Q5 comes with something named APT-X, and what this basically means is that it has a rather good-sounding Bluetooth connection. This will make a large difference for those listeners who like to enjoy the best music there is, all while keeping their connection somewhat portable.

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    The other aspect is the size and shape of FiiO Q5. It is more or less exactly the same shape and size as a FiiO X7mkii. This makes it far more stackable than shorter and thicker devices, or than devices which follow a different build type. For example, when compared to Chord Mojo, Mojo isn't even close in terms of portability, being short and thick, occupying a lot of space in a pocket when stacked with something, slipping away easily and being hard to carry around. iDSD Nano BL is thinner, but at the end of the day, it is a big short, making stacking a little harder than its larger brother, iDSD BL Micro, which, despite its much larger size, was actually quite easy to carry around and to use. The short version is that iDSD Micro BL became the pole to which a device was attached, while Nano still is a bump away from a device, resulting in a better carrying solution for the larger device.

    Compared to all of those, FiiO Q5 has one of the most conventional shapes and sizes, being as carry-able as HIDIZS DH1000 which we reviewed recently. In all fairness, we weren't expecting this, but it seems this is the way it goes.


    The battery life is actually very good, around 10 hours of playback time measured by us with mixed usage, with AMP5, and we know it might be longer for somebody who doesn't listen as loud and who doesn't use the DAC/AMP usage, but this is a safe promise for this little device.

    The overall driving power is extreme, FiiO Q5 is actually able to push Beyerdynamic Amiron and Audeze LCD-MX4 as much as we could imagine them being pushed, beyond the listening volumes we use, so really really loud. With AM05, the driving power was never used at full, our potentiometer stayed around 12 to 1 AM at max, so there is a lot of headroom to spare for FiiO Q5 based on its rated power alone.

    The blind usage is fairly simple, a volume wheel for volume, none of the buttons doesn't seem to work in DAC mode when connected to any of our devices, so we believe they only work in Bluetooth or with certain apps.

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    The bluetooth connection is strong and it stays connected even while being used outside, but with cables as awesome as FiiO makes for connecting Q5 to a DAP, there's no reason to use Bluetooth unless one really wants to.

    FiiO Q5 works with all our devices that we tested and provides excellent results with each one of them.

    We weren't able to detect any changes in the sonic performance of FiiO Q5 when connected to different sources, be it FiiO x7mkii, Hiby R6, Xiaomi Mi Max 2, or Samsung T580, everything was able to make FiiO Q5 shine the same way as long as the volumes were matched, and as long as the file and the app playing the music was the same.

    Basically, the portability factor of FiiO Q5 is reaching beyond what we expected and it is at a golden level. There is literally nothing we could want improved, besides, maybe the battery life, everything being top-notch and perfect as far as we're concerned.




    Select Pairings

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    Please note that for any pairing, the IEM has more impact on the final result than the DAC/AMP, and we are generally describing the AM03A AMP module here, as it is the one that Q5 comes with from the factory.

    FiiO Q5 + HiFiMAN RE2000 - An interesting combo because FiiO Q5 can really shine a sparkly light on the already amazing RE2000 from HIFIMAN. It is interesting to notice the finer details and nuances in every song. The combo generally sounds vivid, dynamic, has an excellent bass depth, impact and just a visceral presentation that is hard to imagine without hearing it. The treble is sparkly and well controlled, while the midrange is as detailed as it always is.


    FiiO Q5 + Audeze LCD-MX4 - Here's a really nice one. FiiO Q5 can actually drive LCD-MX4 really well, and they make a lovely pair together, with an excellent amount of detail, an excellent impact that really serves metal and percution a great favor, and with a really well-extended treble that is natural and which feels rather relaxing to listen to. Everything seems to be right where it has to be, presented with a large soundstage, and with a very good instrument separation.

    FiiO Q5 + Beyerdynamic Amiron - Here things get a little on the edge, as FiiO Q5 with its AM03A is able to drive Amiron quite loud, but we felt that it does a much better job when AM05 is installed. Both modules have a good control over the impressive desktop headphones, and FiiO Q5 is generally able to give Amiron an interesting introspection into music, with an excellent amount of details and with a speedy, precise and tight bass. The treble is detailed and has a good sparkle to it, while the soundstage is incredibly spatious, yet precise.



    Comparisons

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    FiiO Q5 vs FiiO X7mkii - This one is probably the most interesting of the comparisons we are doing today as X7mkii is the only device that is able to hold its ground in every possible aspect when placed against FiiO Q5. The short version is that they sound the same as long as you're using the same AMP module at the same volume. We couldn't detect any changes in sound, and we are able to tells cables apart, so we feel it is safe to say they sound the same. In practice, we could detect some minor changes in sound, where X7mkii has ever so slightly better ADSR / PRaT characteristics, but the differences can only be noticed if the two devices are tested next to each other in multiple tests, volume matched, and even then, they are small enough that we feel it is mostly safe to say that the typical user will find X7mkii and Q5 to sound the same. When it comes to their software, FiiO X7mkii is an entire Player, with a display, software, RAM memory, internal storage, and many other things that we feel might add to its price. FiiO Q5 is a DAC/AMP, the firmware is very simple and just works, but you absolutely need another device, even if say, it is the least expensive smartphone on the market. When you factor in the cost of a smartphone next to FiiO Q5, it does cost around the same amount as a FiiO X7mkii, or slightly less in total, but most of us have a smartphone or a tablet already, and maybe are accustomed to their device already, and might find it hard to go to X7mkii or a dedicated DAP.

    FiiO Q5 vs iFi iDSD Nano BL - Here, the comparison is interesting to show what we meant earlier by convenience when it comes to FiiO Q5. We know that iFi has some other amazing devices in the cooking, with more Bluetooth abilities and such, but at the moment of writing this review, iDSD Nano BL doesn't have Bluetooth or those bells and whistles that one might want from their DAC/AMP, like FiiO Q5 does. FiiO Q5 can work as a line out, it has coax-in, it has balanced in form of 2.5mm, 4.4mm, single ended, and enough power to drive from IE800 all the way to Amiron from Beyerdynamic and HD800S from Sennheiser. All in the shape of a smartphone. iDSD Nano BL, on the other hand, is more made for IEMs and easier to drive headphones, but it does have balanced output as well, via its 3.5mm balanced output. When it comes to its sonic abilities, iDSD Nano BL doesn't have modular AMPs, but it has a pretty amazing sonic performance by itself. There's nothing quite like having the convenience of having iDSD Nano BL's sonic performance for its price, and we should note that especially out-of-the-box, it is less expensive than FiiO Q5 by a good amount, so if you're looking for a great bang-for-the-buck, iDSD Nano BL still gets an award for providing that. FiiO Q5 though, has modular AMPs and is more versatile for the users with an extremely large collection of headphones and IEMs, with varying degrees of power requirements.

    FiiO Q5 vs HIDIZS DH1000 - Interestingly, this comparison will start from the price. At its price, FiiO Q5 feels more like a good long-term investment, but if you factor in an extra AMP module, then DH1000 becomes a pretty good-looking alternative that is less expensive. Both can connect hassle-free to a smartphone, both have excellent sonic performance (although FiiO Q5 has a deeper soundstage and better detail revealing abilities with most modules), while only Q5 has line-out abilities. DH1000 has the fact that both the balanced and the single ended outputs can work at the same time going on for it, if you require that. FiiO Q5 has APT-X Bluetooth, and it has more connectivity options, like coax in, and such. If you're looking for the less expensive option, then DH1000 looks pretty good, but if you're looking for the ultimate experience, FiiO q5 mightr be better at providing that. This isn't to say that DH1000 isn't great already, Q5 just provides a few more things for a little more money.



    Value and Conclusion

    We have to start by stating that the value of FiiO Q5 varies between 350USD and 500USD, depending on the location you're buying it from, and depending on whether you want to add extra AMP modules to it or not. In all honesty, there's a device that we can recommend instead of it if you can manage to place this money for a DAC/AMP, and that is FiiO X7mkii. Although that is true, because X7mkii brings the convenience of carrying a single device with you, you have to consider that FiiO q5 can provide a better experience, especially when it comes to Android and the smoothness of the operating system if you're looking at using a TOTL smartphone with it. This is where things get tricky, as one needs to ask, to stack or not to stack?

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    If you don't mind stacking, then FiiO Q5 is excellent, and there are very few devices that look as compelling to be bought at 350$, especially given how amazing AM03A is from the start, lowering the need to invest more in secondary AMP modules, especially if you don't have hard to drive loads, that would require AM05, or balanced outputs and need of a thicker sound, like those that AM3B can provide.

    You're looking at a device to use for a long time, with APT-X Bluetooth abilities, all the inputs and outputs you can imagine you'll need for a long while, and with some extras that will come in handy even years after buying Q5 (like the line out which means that you can use FiiO Q5 in your audio system in the future, due to its excellent DAC implementation).

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    At the end of the day, this is more than a DAC/AMP, this is an entirely new concept on what a DAC/AMP can be, and what it can do. How portable it can be, how ergonomic it can be, and how much fun it can bring in the life of the user. At 350USD, FiiO Q5 is a true steal, and it provides an extremely fun experience, with a sound that honestly competes with FiiO's flagship device, FiiO X7mkii. With a neutral sound out-of-the-box, excellent extension both ways, excellent PRaT and ADSR, a deep and impactful bass, and with a clear, clean, detailed and well-layered sound, FiiO Q5 sure is going to make you fall in love at first listen, and the more you'll listen to it, the more you'll fall in love with it. We find that if you want a DAC/AMP to use with a wide array of devices, including desktop devices, but also portables, and to provide a fun and hassle-free experience, you should really check out FiiO Q5 and give it a listen! If you find that you love its sound, but don't want a separate DAC/AMP, then you can check out FiiO's X7mkii, which is a DAP (Digital Audio Player) as impressive as FiiO Q5 is!



    I hope my review is helpful to you!



    Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!




    Contact us!

    (Click Buttons)




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    ---
      monsieurfromag3, bflat, FiiO and 5 others like this.
    1. KopaneDePooj
      Good review and useful comparisons between amp modules!
      KopaneDePooj, May 7, 2018
      Dobrescu George likes this.
    2. Dobrescu George
      Dobrescu George, May 7, 2018
  10. chrisba
    Authority in Sound&Design for all your mobile devs
    Written by chrisba
    Published Mar 25, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Organic, balanced and natural sound with relaxed but imperious bass
    Build and design
    Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB, 3.5 mm jack: 2x digital and one analogue
    Dual USB – one for charging while one working as digital input
    Cons - USB digital input is draining source battery (at least my setup)
    X5 III doesn’t seem to work as USB source (not Q5’s fault)
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    Introduction


    First, I want to thank FiiO for giving me the opportunity to write a review of their newest DAC & Amp Q5 by taking part in the review tour and test this baby free of charge.
    I get nothing else, but the chance to help others (you) by expressing my honest experiences during these days.
    FiiO listens very closely to the communities so I hope to help them continuously improving their gadgets while also helping others making an informed decision before purchasing.

    It might help more people in the forums to write in English and not using German for (egoistic) simplicity.
    So, I want to thank all the native speakers to tolerate my grammatical and linguistic mistakes, because English is not my native language.
    This is also my very first review ever, so please have mercy! :)

    This review contains no frequency graphs (because I’m not equipped to measure) and I will concentrate on the sound impressions.
    I also won’t go into detail regarding the specs and there is no chance to 100% volume match the setup. You may get this from other sources, e.g. @Brooko (thanks for all measures like F9pro!).
    What I’ve done hopefully still makes sense, as this is what you’ll do day by day: open your drawer and decide which item to take, by what you “remember” it sounds like.

    The package

    What tour members find in this package is enormous! The downer: most of the items need be purchased separately – but anyway, as good news: they exist.
    The plethora only let us miss one thing: the USB OTG cable for us Android users.
    This is the reason that FiiO for safety decided to dedicate the device to Apple only, although you can use it without problems with Android devices, but they are not all alike.
    So, one might experience issues like draining battery while playing over USB with one device where others using a different model are fine. It’s all about different implementation by different manufacturers – and Android users often tolerate this for the freedom they get, compared to the shackles in the Apple cosmos.
    Usually there is a workaround for most of the problems – but you’ll have to search (e.g. for the right OTG cable not draining the battery – see also threads for “Q1 Mark II” for possible solutions).

    Accessories provided in the Tour-Package:
    • Apple lightning to micro USB cable
    • Sony WMPort to micro USB cable
    • 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm 3-pole cable
    • 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm 4-pole coax cable
    • 3.5 mm to RCA coax cable
    • optical adapter
    • USB to micro USB cable
    • 2 leather cases: one for piggybacking the Q5 with an iPhone and one solo case
    • Screwdriver and spare screws for exchanging the amp module (AM3A included)
    • a rubber pad for stacking the device to a player using the also included rubber bands of 2 sizes
    • a mesh pouch
    Sadly, you’ll have to buy the most of them separately as explained here: www.head-fi.org/threads/the-review-tour-of-fiio-q5-flagship-bluetooth-and-dsd-capable-dac-amplifier-starts-right-now.869076
    “The review Q5 will ship along with some amazing accessories including the following (which need to purchase separately if needed):
    • LC-Q5: Leather case of Q5
    • LC-Q5i: Dedicated case for bundling the Q5 with iPhone
    • L27: WMport to Micro USB digital audio cable
    • L28: Coaxial digital audio cable
    • Third-party provided Type C and Micro-to-Micro cable”
    This is what I found in the tour package:
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    Connectivity

    Bluetooth (AptX!) for me is “a” great (if not “the” major-versatility-) feature, as this does eliminate the need for stacking and gives you the opportunity to walk away over 10 meters from your source (direct distance with no walls between) without losing the signal. It’s possible to use the play/pause, skip or rewind buttons also on the Q5 instead of the source device.
    The step up in sound quality using the Q5 with my S7 was outstanding (esp. at higher volume)!
    But you also can use the 3-pole analogue cable – or a 4-pole (double sided or one sided to RCA) coaxial cables as well as the optical adapter and the USB cable as output for digital sources for bit-perfect playback over the Q5 (with DSD256: up to 256 times the sample rate of a CD).

    I fell in love with the warm sound of my X5 III and wondered if and how the Q5 would match and enhance the experience. I’ll get to this point in detail at the Sound part of the review but in advance: Bluetooth provided a crispy clear and airy response with a punchy bass, same with every device – but using a double sided 4 pole 3.5 mm jack coaxial cable delivered the best sound impression, keeping the warm sound of the X5 III combined with the strength and airiness of the Q5.

    As many would ask:
    Yes – my S7 also got drained while digitally connected with the Q5 using my own 2 different OTG adapters!
    I remember there already have been some hints for 5 pin OTG adapters or manually manipulated ones working and other member’s setups working without any modifications (at least as I remember– please check “Q1 Mk II” threads).
    This uncertainty seems to be the reason for FiiO to skip the OTG adapter from the accessories list (to eliminate the source for arguing with users of the many different android devices).
    It won’t be of much interest for me, because I’d either choose Bluetooth or double sided 3.5 mm jack when wired.

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    Build quality

    The build quality is on par with all the other new audiophile mid- to high-end devices appearing on the market these days:
    Aluminium body – partially brushed, with leather like looking plastic on the back, preventing scratches on your wooden table or the device you attach it to.

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    Devices used and strategy of comparison

    Disclaimer:
    The impressions described here are totally subjective and are biased by the songs I’ve chosen as my standard checklist and the headphones I used.
    Please do yourself one favour: actually try to get the chance to audition the Q5 with your personal setup and songs!
    Maybe wait for the Q5 to appear at your local HiFi store or – if you can’t wait – use the possibilities (returning goods) the big web shops provide.

    Player
    The comparisons are mainly done using those devices:
    1. Phone: S7 with built-in/Google Music/Neutron/Hiby/Onkyo-HF - Players
    2. DAP: X5 III
    using 320 kbps MP3, FLAC up to 2 Mbps and some DSD samples (DSD64-256).

    Headphones
    The following headphones were used in descending order of preference
    1. FiiO F9 – IEMs (yes, the originals, as for me they’re providing the widest and deepest soundstage – I do not like the Pros as much – Want to buy them? Just PM me :wink: …)
    2. PSB M4U 2 – Closed Overears (soundstage a bit less wide but nearly the same depth, with best instrument representation)
    3. FiiO FH1 – IEMs (more bass, but sometimes little bleeding into the mids)
    4. FiiO F9 Pro – IEMs (I don’t like the peaks between 2 and 4 kHz, wrong sound signature for me)
    5. Teufel Areol Real – Open Overears (for everyday listening without getting deep into music)
    For this review, I concentrated on the first 3 devices mentioned, providing the best sound to my ears.

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    Sound quality

    To give an impression of the power you can get out of the Q5, I’ll let you know the level where the sound subjectively happens to be very loud but still enjoyable.
    Using the S7 for sound quality testing between the different modes made no sense. The X5 III was simply superior – so I retained it for all the tests: X5 III solo vs. Q5+X5 III (short: “Q5”).
    My baseline was the X5 III’s solo maximum enjoyable volume at Low Gain compared with it connected to the Q5 also at Low Gain (volume knob imaged like a watch with dot for “off” at 6 o’clock) – depending on the genre (e.g.: classic vs. hard rock).
    Subjectively I think you can get more volume from the connected Q5 at an enjoyable level, compared to X5 III solo.

    Low Gain max enjoyable volume for
    Overears:
    PSB @ X5 III: 70 to 90
    PSB @ Q5: 11 to 2 o’clock​
    IEMs:
    F9/FH1 @ X5 III: 75 to 85
    F9/FH1 @ Q5: 10 to 12 o’clock​

    With
    X5 III having its max at 120
    Q5 having its max at 4 o’clock​
    there is plenty of headroom while switching to high you can decrease the settings level by
    at least 10 points for the X5 III and
    at least 1 “hour” for the Q5​

    Songs used for testing
    These songs are my main test candidates and I want to describe how I used them and the key insights they provided.

    Maybe I’m A Leo (Glenn Hughes & Chad Smith ; Re-Machined – A Tribute to Deep Purple ; MP3)
    This song often gets fatiguing when played with a bad source and/or critical headphones:
    The intro’s bass part gives a good impression of the device’s bass response and the capabilities in instrument separation.
    The difference between S7 (sounding like a garbage can compared to FiiO’s Q5) and esp. the combination of X5 III with Q5 was night and day. This combo makes it enjoyable even at a fairly-high volume.

    Cinderella Smile (Mr. Big ; Stories We Could Tell ; MP3)
    Billy Sheehan‘s bass sounds the way I love it. A full and well defined low end should be produced without effort and the upper frequencies of his strings should be good audible – like a low string of a good (grand) piano.
    Where the X5 III’s tamed treble is holding something back the Q5 provides phenomenal separation and airy treble – and you can even use the bass boost without harm.
    The PSBs can be driven by the Q5 without thinking again of Room Feel tm – there’s nearly no difference audible with or without it, besides of the additional noise introduced by this active PSB part when activated.

    Hotel California (The Eagles ; Hell Freezes Over ; WAV)
    The guitar in the intro should sound warm and sparkling, with high dynamic range. Then the kick drum comes in – here the bass will be hit or miss.
    The main part of interest (for my tests) is when the intro comes to its end and you can hear the crowd flare up celebrating their heroes.
    This song is another example for delightfully using the bass boost. I enjoyed it with all headphones (PSB doesn’t improve that much but you can use it), except the FH1 which almost gets bloomy in bass.

    Emergency (Roachford ; Permanent Shade of Blue ; MP3)
    All instruments should simply “work” together, as the mix is very laid back but nevertheless very groovy.
    Ideally this song should extend in the lows and develop its drive without having to be pushed to loudest volumes.

    Rocks On The Road (Jethro Tull ; A Little Light Music ; FLAC)
    Ian Anderson’s voice is mixed very (too?) bassy and this live concert presents a very large stage.
    The auditor can easily distinguish between clean and genuine sounding devices compared to enhancing ones esp. concerning the bass section.
    My A-B headphone test with a colleague unmasked his Skull Candy headphones as intolerably bass-heavy for me, when we checked out this song.

    Royal Station 4-16 (Melissa Etheridge ; Brave And Crazy ; FLAC)
    One of my favourite songs! You could figuratively imagine the screeching steel wheels on the rails, smell the steam, feel the engine stamping.
    Melissa’s voice and especially the harp played by U2’s Bono gives you the chance to find out if something sounds too bright or even harsh.

    Gypsy (Suzanne Vega ; Solitude Standing ; WAV)
    This last song on my list (not to mention the different DSD stuff only used to round the test) is the one, I always use to check a device for its ability to shine.
    The song is sparingly instrumented but if you listen closely, you can easily hear differences in imaging when using different gears. Suzanne’s voice is at the edge of clashing – and this would be annoying with the wrong device.

    Sound differences between modes

    Bluetooth = Blue Light – regardless of the source (set to max volume):
    The sound is very neutral with just about enough yet punchy bass, resolving mids and precise treble, which for me is on the edge of being fatiguing. Using the bass boost helps bringing more warmth into the sound.
    My headphones reacted as follows – beforehand: in general bass boost is helpful at very low volumes (though not needed with FH1).

    PSBs:
    The most enjoyable way to bring in more punch was to use the built-in amplifier of the PSBs (called: Room Feel tm). Using the bass boost of Q5 with higher volume made the bass bleeding into the mids resulting in a somewhat muddy sound.

    FiiO F9s:
    Very similar feeling to the PSBs but slightly sharp (almost harsh) treble. In contrast to the PSBs the bass boost does a great job here! The sound gets more punch in the bass and only a bit in the lower mids, keeping it enjoyable especially in quieter situations (listening before going to sleep). Bass boost on while listening louder comes around 11 o’clock to the point where you can disable it without missing bass.

    FiiO FH1:
    Same as F9s but no need for bass boost. For bass-heavy songs it sometimes gets even too much to be bearable, but I enabled it during a live-video listening session of Snarky Puppy and Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles where the boost gave them the extra live bass kick as you would experience standing in the first rows (near the speakers).

    Of course, there are many options using the EQ of your source device, but unfortunately X5 III owners are limited to the EQ of the FiiO Music app (no third-party EQ is working).

    What I heard (or better: not heard) the first time is a totally black background – the total absence of additional noise (of circuitries)!

    The minimum bitrate I used is 320 kbps for MP3s. They sounded magnificent!
    My ears are not the youngest and rehearsing with my former band (where I played the bass in neighbourhood to the drummer’s crash cymbals – and he solely played rim shots on snare!) have taken its toll. I’m also suffering from tinnitus, stealing me a frequency range in the treble section (don’t know the frequency but I’d guess it’s somewhere between 6 and 10kHz).
    But – nevertheless – maybe because of my hobby as musician, not only played bass but still playing trumpet in the funky NMKS Big Band, I’m an attentive listener to details of the songs I know and like.

    DIGITAL section

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    USB = White Light
    Source:
    • S7 running UAPP, Hiby or Onkyo HF Player and using my own OTG cables with the USB cable provided to connect to Q5, playing files up to DSD256
    • PC/Notebook with foobar2000 plus the provided USB cable as input to Q5 – I was only able to play some DSD64 (gave up more testing)
    • X5 III still doesn’t seem to work as USB source at all ☹
    Sound quality is gorgeous, especially when playing sample DSD files (e.g. tried DSD64 files of David Elias and a DSD265 recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 “Mahler 1st - IV - finale - 2.8MHz-DSD.dff”) – although I am not planning to change to DSD because my older ears perfectly tolerate FLAC and 320 kbps MP3s as well.
    So, I won’t see this green “DSD” lamp glowing very often :wink:

    Optical = Purple Light (not planned to use in real life – so not tested)
    Honestly, I have no idea how and why I’d want to use this.
    My gear is perfectly working with the next digital opportunity: coax.
    The only players I could think of are my DVD player, my PS4 (as Blu-ray player) or perhaps my Yamaha surround amp amplifying the sound from my fire-tv.
    No … not really of interest … so purple won’t show up just as little.

    3.5 mm coaxial cabled = Yellow Light (used the 4 pole double sided 3.5 mm jack cable, RCA also possible)
    This is where the pairing with X5 III shines to my ears!
    Everyone describes this DAP to be on the warmish side (which absolutely matches my taste).
    This comes at the cost of airiness and stage depth due to the tamed treble of the device.

    Using the Q5 delivers all the potent robust power which extends the already great lower end of the X5, combined with the slightly missing treble also getting boosted by the Q5.
    No need for any bass boost or EQ-ing – just the right pound of vivid sound including powerful bass!
    I only wish the yellow colour wouldn’t be so similar comparing to the green light.

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    ANALOG section

    Cabled: Phones Line-out to Q5s- Line-in = Green Light (multicolour bar, not the green “DSD” - using the 3 pole double sided 3.5 mm jack cable)

    Treble stays flattened and overall precision steps noticeably back towards all the digital options above.
    When volume is raised, I can hear it getting “non-transparent” (somehow “distorted”/muddy without being harsh) cause of the instrument and frequency separation getting lost. The good thing is the non-fatiguing treble in this constellation.
    This still is an option, someone with harder to drive headphones and no high-end player would be very happy about.

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    CONCLUSION


    Do I like then sound of the Q5? Can I recommend it?
    Yes, I do!
    This device simply sounds great (separation, soundstage depth and width) with the only drawback of the treble in Bluetooth setup being almost harsh.
    For me it’s okay without constraints (esp. using back boost in quiet situations) – someone being very sensitive to treble should audition the Q5 before buying.

    Would I buy it?
    Yes, if I not already had my X5 III.
    But … to frighten my wallet: Actually, I’m considering a purchase to further improve the already great sound of the X5 III by the more precise and punchy bass and sparkling treble out of the Q5.

    For which customer type do I recommend it?
    All users who want to get into HiRes Sound, planning to purchase a DAC/Amp for their phones and maybe struggling with the question of buying a DAP (maybe also wrangling with its often bad UI performance):
    This nice-built gadget would offer you so many luxury possibilities like
    • Improve your phone as source
    • Eliminate the need to stack by using AptX Bluetooth (operate the wired Q5-headphone combo via App of your unleashed phone)
    • Use it with your many other HiFi devices
    • Power high impedance headphones (maybe also using AM5 instead of the included AM3A module)
    • Even improve already existing HiRes DAPs (like the X5 III)
    which are really hard to resist!

    I hope this gives you some valuable impressions and maybe answers questions as well.
    Maybe you disagree or find your opinion the same? Did I make a bad mistake?
    Don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the comment section or via PM.

    All the best,
    ChrisBa

    P.S. I might also post a review in German – extended by a review of my current FiiO IEMs FH1 vs. F9 vs. F9pro (far too much for my English skills)

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    1. View previous replies...
    2. misteral201103
      Great review, I really enjoyed reading it - you packed a good deal of information in without it being too lengthy!
      I also have an X5III - did you find the soundstage width/depth was much improved with the Q5, or only a very small amount?
      misteral201103, Mar 26, 2018
      chrisba likes this.
    3. chrisba
      Thank you very much!
      Now I have to answer lengthy :wink:
      The major improvement to me was the ground solid bass with enhanced treble providing more air and fun (bass makes me happy).
      When I remember correctly the width was "enlarged" due to the treble - but not that much. For me it is already very wide, especially with IEMs.
      The bass and even more the vivid mids made the stage feel deeper.
      By which amount is hard to say, but I had much fun with this experience - and I miss it already.
      chrisba, Mar 27, 2018
      misteral201103 likes this.
    4. chrisba
      In the end it's more about bass and mids than treble I think.
      Maybe you find this useful and hopefully it matches your taste and experience when you audition the Q5.
      I can recommend at least to try it! :)
      chrisba, Mar 27, 2018
      misteral201103 likes this.