boodi

Headphoneus Supremus
Portable luxury and performance , done right . And a bit more .
Pros: attractive premium and functional design
solid build
full package
versatility , balanced and unbalanced operations
sound quality
sound balance
details retrieval
Cons: not many cons
maybe a bit heavy
lack of PEQ
Background
__________________

Lately I have been in a quest for ultimate sound quality on portability . I bought quite a lot of portable dac/amp solutions , including different usb dongles , bluetooth dongles , smartphones , and a Chord Mojo Dac/Amp ; and still have some of them . I am audiophile or audio enthusiast ; been training in piano and drums when younger ; have quite demanding ears and can't get along happy with my listenings if there's a weak bass rendition or a lean body or a too light timbral representation of instruments .




Gears Used
_________________

Grado Hp2 for tonal balance/ timbres ( still king of neutraily & naturality , to my ears )
Grado Gs2 for acoustics and similarly some jazz
Sennheiser hd600 for general purpose , pop and classical
Grado Ps1 to test bass reach presence articulation , some pop and some electronic music
Onkyo A800 for rock metal and other mixed / technically dense styles

All have their balanced cable and option.

My preferences for music in not particular order are :
solos and tenchical players instead of ensambles ( bass guitars viola piano etc ),
some orchestra works i.e. Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Wagner ,
and prog / fusion / metal / jazz mixes , both old style and modern , for bands and non-classical related genres .
All music I played is lossless and/or hi-res audio .




Fiio Q5s-TC operations and basic informations
________________________________________________________________


The unit comes boxed in a very complete package that leaves very little to be desired or cables to be bought after ; a nice pouch and elastic bands for attaching it conveniently to the smartphone when on the go are included .

It is based on the design of his predecessor , the Fiio Q5s with the difference of the new Type-C usb port , a new AM3D THX Amp module ( quite different then the previous AM3E module ) , a new QCC5124 as Bluetooth chip (support for Aptx adaptive format among things ) and only a 4.4mm balanced out instead of overlapping 4.4mm and 2.5mm sockets as present in his previous version ; with it shares an ultra-solid build in attractive design , a steel little volume knob superbly mechanised and encarved micrometrically and functionally into the square design of the unit ; that doesn't get any better for both feel and use ; and buttons that are easily reachable and at hands ; it is well designed , a pleasure to hold in hand and very functional to operate with 1 hand only.

The device switches on instantly after the click when turning the volume knob , then it becomes operational in 2 - 3 seconds.

There is 4 convenient buttons for operations : one for input select on the right side ( input are Usb, line in, optical and coaxial ), and three for bluetooth operations on the left other side.
There are 2 micro-switches on the upper side : one is for low-hi gain select ,
other is for bass boost ; I did not use it very much as for my usage I preferred EQ/HibyMusic MSEB only , anyhow and for the record : the bass boost seems to boost a wide region of bass>sub-bass frq.es ;
positioned aside of the switches there are line-in and line-out sockets.
All is conveniently designed.

Bluetooth pairing is fast , it links in 1 second or even less depending on source you pair with.
Fiio Control App is a bit slower to load and to find the device , it takes 3 - 5 seconds ; it offers decent customizations , with a software on/off switch for battery charge when plugged ; a software on/off switch for the light that signals bitrate processing through different colors ; a standby timeout for the unit ; a decent 12 band equalizer (but no set for parametric equalizer as option) ; an R/L balance level ; 6 audio filters that operate finely , even too finely so , on the timing or frequence of attack and decay when building the audio signal ; an OTA firmware upgrade option and a User Guide ;
and little else.

It took me quite a time to fully explore the versatility use build and performance capablities of the Fiio Q5s-TC Dac/amp . I thought it could take less but it is not a simple unit , a complex packet build instead that does quite many things . To my experience of 3 weeks with it, it does them fast, well and without technical issues.




Sound signature and performance
________________________________________

First thing to say , I have been extremely pleased in finding the audio grade of fidelity of this unit is quite high / surprising high , moreover then expected .
This Dac/amp is very fast .
If we are speaking of p.r.a.t. / resolution it leaves no thrills to be desired ; it pairs well with fast and ready-to-go cans but better and even better with slower cans when it provides an extra kick in speed for presentation and resolution .

Unbalanced
Since many will use it in balanced operations with just an option for unbalanced , I will just report shortly , the unbalanced out sounds not so far dissimilar from the balanced out .
Same sound signature , the major differences VS the balanced out is bass , dynamics handling and overall definition : these are more loose on unbalanced operation , tonal balance and timbres are less defined ; a side note worth adding is that this option is not unappealing , in fact I enjoyed quite the unbalanced-out when trying it ; the balanced out is superior anywhere or so for technicals but it is not always far better or more enjoyable as the unbalanced can make for a more relaxed listening ; it happened to me .

Balanced
Describing sounds has never been an easy task and when the bar rises describing what is better and why becomes elusive or complicated at times and more of a side search or a personal quest for what is more fitting a personal appeal ; in this regard I will write also a brief comparison with the Chord Mojo which I have used quite regularly last months along with other dongles , the comparison will likely provide some hints.

The balanced out sounds better then the unbalanced out : it is tighter , more defined , both tonally and dynamically better , as expected . It is easy to hear.

The voltage and power at 560mW at 32Ω is adequate to possibly pair a quite wide set of different ohm cans ; many top headphones benefit of high voltage or voltage high enough that can move their drivers dynamically and adequately , or anyhow closer to their full extents . If not present , some of them will sound veiled or with a fog or distant and not so dynamic .
Fiio Q5s-TC is quite good company for them .

There are 6 filters that you can switch in-the-app for slowing a fast character ;
I didnt play too much with them and used the standard filter, which is supposely the fastest one .

The overall presentation is not completely flat but : balanced and/or slightly brightly so at first ; it reveals only after a while some other characters , that are : decently smooth present mids to high-mids to highs frequencies transitions ( as oppsed to recessed mids or V shaped , which it is not ) ; a dry controlled and articulate bass window , that does not add or color any free euphony or warmness yet explores deep ; and well extended present higher frequences array that can engage , even energically , with no hint of digities , zero shrillness and no emphasys , as I already wrote a character of the the Q5s-TC that appears from first is a good balance .

The dynamics -both macro and micro- are there , and deliver the transients with good p.r.a.t. resolution and expression . The change of volume or pressure is very fast at times , the decay too when it's meant . Precise . I've been surprised in some tracks I played .
Drums parts are completely intelligible even with pieces that have very high b.p.m. , and when bass is slightly upped or equalized too; when drummers you are listening are the most talented in the world and like to overdue theirselves , telling if it is a crash that played , or the other , or the ride cymbal inside a fast multi-tempo controlled chaos of a drum solo inside a piece is very fast

Detais presentation is very well balanced , with a slight tendency for being analitical or analitically bright ; mellow and very detailed tones are preserved on mids and high mids ( i.e. voices and guitars ) but hardly with an upfront position ; the Q5s-TC is quite a fast and rich detail gives when headphones can receive and land the feed , and this quality can be heard in mids too ; but they will not deserve a specially hot or that superlush spotlight for it , they are treated quite unpartially.


The articulation is not only in the bass , the Q5s TC is all-fast and articulate . Details are a lot and never missing . Presentation is rich and hardly lean . The 4.4mm balanced heaphones-out -with the right revealing cable-headphones combination- sounds very revealing and very engaging too. The noise floor at high volume levels is really low or not audible , I had to double check my right channel plug on a song because at a point I thought it wasnt plugged or a bad contact .., no , it was just the beginning of a track that was missing the right channel audio signal ; so when music plays a black silence it really seems to show the record , black silence

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Fiio Q5s-TC VS Chord Mojo
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Something many are interested .

I can't say that the Fiio Q5s-TC is completely better ( or worse ) then the Chord Mojo , a lot of factors play big in synergy in medium-high level gears and where one goes well with an headphone, the other goes better with another .

If one wants to judge all factors that goes into portability, build and usability , then there are many things that piles in favor of the Fiio device ;
if we are basing solely on sound quality for giving the award , well.. at least I would be very hard pressed to say the Chord Mojo is clearly better

So , let's try to visit them side by side and better tell differences

-Both units are portable and have a similar price ,
-Both units aim possibly at the top market of pocket-size hiend portable gear

Q5s-TC comes full fledged with anything you can think about from package to inputs & outputs , from wireless to non wireless usability , to form factor and materials , to design and feeling . Apart MQA format ( not sure if a firmware update can add it and pile this other value in it ) .
Chord Mojo is a bit more basic , it does not offer bluetooth or wireless : unless upgraded ; it offers less or far less input-ouput options ; it weights a little less ; in regards to form factor and usability I would leave it to personal appeal , they are quite a different things one from the other and apart of a very good level performance or surprising so for being portables, they do not share so many similarities.

Q5s-TC offers a fast and easy-on-ears sound ; that can be appreciated more and more deep with time too , for technicalities and ranges , without major compromises in its signature ; there's no digities when on Usb Dac bit-perfect use ( that I can hear , anywhere) ; and the performance in his most lossless fashion is very interesting to hear . Bluetooth operation doesn't reach the same cohesivity and continuity , and the bass can sound an inch less organic to the rest ; but it is very good nontheles.
Chord Mojo offers a slower , smoother darker more relaxed warm presentation it is more organic and less layered ( less soundstage ) , takes a little bit more to be measured by ears ; it sounds more analoguish then the Fiio Q5s-TC , it also exposes a good amount of micro detail but more hidden then the Fiio which presents them more evidently, and at times quite exceeds the Chord in this regard.

Q5s-TC plays bass deep and articulate , with little less resolution then the Chord Mojo for textures ; the quality of bass is dry , precise , deep , not meddling at all with mids , can reach a quite decent feel and compression : as to vibrate headphones pads on cheeks ; as well as a thrilling soundcape where it is ambience bass.
Chord Mojo plays a quite more analogue quality of bass , it is more wet and textured too but doesnt feel deeper so. Chord Mojo bass isn't overwhelming at all , it is warm and gripping but a touch more soft in parts where it's harder on the Q5s-TC ; and so less hard-hitting on the Mojo and quite a bit more on the Fiio Q5s-TC , at times.

Q5s-TC mids are good ; they do not sound digital anywhere and they show that slightly mellow half inch upfront smooth behavior for upper-mids transitions to highs , which is good and pleasing .
Chord Mojo have more upfront mids overall more convincing , more transparent , more lifelike ; they are closer and quite much better for emotional drive . Mids are possibly the best things of the Chord Mojo.

Q5s-TC does the highs right , in the way that they are not overfloating or dreamy like in some Shanling DAP or other dongles adding artifical glare or contour to them , and they are not tamed at all. Highs are definitely nice , extended and well separated , they represent quite well what have been recorded and can be energic or leverage a little on stereo effect , which can make for an airier presentation too .
Chord Mojo : the highs must be searched and when found sometimes they can feel tamed or other times too much similar and inglobated into the mids ; for some genres of music they sound hidden or lacking, I see that someone can ask for a little more here.

Instrument separation is great in both unit , the Fiio Q5s-TC paints the separation more decisely and easily to spot while listening , the Chord Mojo draws an organic picture in which you first turn your sight to that instrument then (instantly) can separate the different subject/s .

Soundscape or soundstage is a bit better with the Fiio Q5s-TC. Layering is different because of the organic analoguish presentation of the Chord Mojo and the more traditional and solid-state like of the Fiio unit. I can't say one is better then the other but they are very different in this regard , the Mojo can play bidimensional at times where I did not have this feeling with the Q5s-TC but then in small ensambles of jazz and voice , or classical piano solos i.e. , the feed it gives to ears is more life-like and more transparent then what Q5s-TC is able to ,which delivers a slight quantity more of brightness on instruments and ultimately this can detract from realism .

Chord Mojo is warmer , very transparent , without brightness . This gives an emotional and extra natural color to the music .
The Fiio Q5s-TC is faster and feels more linear ; gives a dynamically engaging drive and possibly an easier fun ride . Attack and speed feel overall quite better on the Fiio ; timbre of instruments feels more natural on the Chord and more energic on the Fiio - more engaging too at times; timbre on the Fiio is very good there's no hint of shrillness , glare or ringings , but Chord unit is closer to excellence for this aspect of sound as it almost disappears with some renditions ( voices and male voices on all ) , where it also shows the slightly emotional and precious character. Dynamics/ranges/changes/transients ( both micro and macro ) seem more incisive on the Fiio , they are not worse on the Chord but makes for a little less dynamic listening , more relaxed .

I might go on more on how they are different for sound : as they are ; as anticipated if I had to judge for sound quality only it is not clear to me that one is better then the other ; sure it is that they are different things and hold different sound signature .





Conclusions
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The Fiio Q5s-TC is a surprising contender for world-top portable solution as a dac/amp combo . It feels solid , extremely well designed and engineered , functional , with no evident faults that I noticed on both operational use and output ; and some surprising strenghts .

The sound signature is fast , not warm , balanced , very dynamic ; it is leaning towards analitical and towards detail retrieval , rather then natural or organic ; but not lean or thin : politely rich instead and with an extended bass of deep and dry quality that it is easy to appreciate , and that will not save any impact when needed .

The Fiio Q5s-TC will possibly drive a large group of headphones , I tried it with different set of cans and it provided enough power for all of them .
Both its wired and wireless performances are definitely high grade and very good, the wired performance is the more hi-end alike and excels notably the bluetooth one in almost all areas i.e. detail nuances and richness , cohesiveness and bass coherence , as expected .

EDIT : after a little more listenings and A/Bing I would "dare to say" , that while the bluetooth performance is good , enough , and very customizable , the performance in wired mode as USB DAC is in a league of his own , same sound signature but quite much higher level of refinement

Hope it can help
Last edited:
boodi
boodi
@alota : I guess many would love to have it (still king of neutral /natural timbres / solid-holographic , for me );
problems are :
1. weight/comfort is simply horrible , you hardly can move around with them on
2. lack of bass pressure is something that does not make them first tier for heavy or rhythmic p.r.a.t. genres ( a lot of my music falls there ); bass is nicely neutral and fairly extended , or tight enough , but not very guttural here
alota
alota
agree with you. i sold the headphone because the comfort. i hade two. last i sold for only 700€. crazyness LOL
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boodi
boodi
@alota I sold two of them too ..
One hp1 and other hp2 , as you know same drivers and same sound ; and kept one : forever likely ;
sold but not gave away like you did!
I sold also one ps1 and kept the other , again forever possibly . I don't even have a right system for them at moment , they are so demanding to sound right ( but when they sound right then .. )

These old Grado flaghsip' , they just go up in price too in time ; it seems so.

Now I have 3 Onkyo A800 ( discontinued rare etc ) ; bought them afraid of not being able to source them anymore if one failed ( or obsessed, you choose :) ) ; not selling any at moment let's see what happens in time with them

Other headphones I have , all just 1 pair .

Anyhow I found that I am not the only here on head-fi that piles multiples of the same heapdhones

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
A Masterpiece refined
Pros: - Reference quality sound
- THX-78 Balanced amplifier
- Powerful and dynamic
- Bluetooth 5.0
- LDAC and aptX adaptive
- 4 different inputs
- USB type C
- Full of accessories
- Compatible with all the amp modules
Cons: - Battery duration could be better
- Without 2.5mm balanced output
The Q5s TC was kindly provided by FiiO and is still under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

FiiO Q5s (Type C) is a new version of the very popular Q5s.
There are only two differences between the two versions.

Differences between Q5s TC and Q5s

1 - The Q5s TC includes the standard THX amp module AM3D 3.5mm+4.4mm (the Micro USB port is changed to Type C port), while the Q5s includes the AM3E (2.5+4.4+3.5+Micro USB port).

2 - Change of the Bluetooth chip from CSR8675 to QCC5124 which supports the new aptX adaptive. Besides, EQ adjustment is available under all Bluetooth codecs, esp. LDAC.
But it no longer supports HWA.

All supplied cables are changed accordingly to type C versions.

Please be careful because as FiiO has stated the AM3D module with the type C port is not sold separately.
So if by any means you need a type C port then you must buy the new version Q5s TC.


Of course the AM3D module is available with the micro USB port so current owners of Q5s can add the THX amp module sans the type C port.

The Q5s Type C is compatible with all the existing amp modules of FiiO.
IMG_20201202_182619.jpg


Technical specifications

For the new readers that are not familiar with the Q5s let's remember the specifications.

The Q5s Type C is FiiO's flagship dac/amplifier with bluetooth support and a retail price of about $400 or €420.

It features two AKM 4493EQ dacs in dual mono configuration aided by six carefully implemented op-amps for a truly balanced audio design.
Four channel analog volume control with Panasonic film capacitors and high grade audiophile power supply help a lot with the performance.
The analog , digital , low pass and amplification circuits are independently powered and isolated from each other for the best in class results.
IMG_20201202_183222.jpg

The Q5s Type C utilizes the XMOS XUF 208 USB decoding chip paired with precise clock management system allowing for support up to 768kHz/32bit PCM and native DSD decoding.

The AM3D is a THX AAA certified module with two THX-78 amp blocks in a fully balanced configuration for superior audio performance with low distortion and higher power output.
The Q5s Type C is rated at 560mW/32Ω for the balanced out and 210mW/32Ω for the single ended one.

The new Qualcomm QCC5124 chip supports bluetooth 5.0 with the high resolution formats LDAC and aptX HD plus adding the new aptX adaptive switching from low latency to high quality on demand.
IMG_20201202_183242.jpg

The analog potentiometer volume knob aided by ADC curve reconstruction technology eliminates low volume channel imbalance thus allowing for greater precision in adjusting the volume in tiny steps.

The Q5s Type C is compatible with the FiiO Control app which allows for greater flexibility and customisation.
We can adjust various parameters such as charge function on/off , RGB light on/off , low pass filter selection , custom equalizer etc.
Screenshot_2020-12-07-18-37-27-151_com.fiio.control.jpg

Full specifications are available here https://www.fiio.com/q5stypec_parameters

Physical

The Q5s TC features an all aluminium sandblasted body carefully finished with CNC manufacturing process with an added layer of PU leather at the back to help stability.
Dimensions are about 124x64x16mm with a weight of 195gr.
Handling and feeling are very good with a nice touch to the hand although our specific unit had some sharp edges.
The Q5s TC packs a lot of hardware inside so weight and size are a little increased but we can still count the device as a portable one.
IMG_20201202_183135.jpg

Looking at the unit from the top we will find the low/high gain and bass boost switches plus the line out and combined cox/optical/line in jacks.
The one side sports three buttons that can be used to control our music playback under bluetooth mode.
We get the previous/next song button plus the play/pause middle one that also acts as the pairing button when it is long pressed.
At the other side there is one button plus four small LEDs that indicate the chosen input.
Pressing the button once will cycle through the inputs and long pressing will display the remaining battery at four levels of 25% each one.
At the bottom of the device between the main body and the amp module there is a six color RGB led that can display various functions such as sampling rate or bluetooth codec.
The amp module itself has a 3.5mn and a balanced 4.4mm output but sadly no 2.5mm and the type C USB port that is used for charging and data.
IMG_20201202_183201.jpg

The Q5s TC has a clever auto detect function that can cut charging current when the device is connected to a phone.
This feature is compatible with iOS phones and for Android we have to do it manually from the FiiO Control app.

The internal battery is a huge one measuring 3800mAh and it can power the device for about 7 - 8 hours of real life use.

Accessories

As always FiiO is very large with the supplied accessories.
We get a USB A-C charging cable , dual USB C , lighting to USB C , 3.5mm line , coaxial patch cable , optical adapter , 4 binding straps , non slip pads , screwdriver for the modules and a carrying pouch.
IMG_20201202_183903.jpg


Listening

We have tested the Q5s TC with all the possible configurations except the line in and with the latest firmware applied.
Setup is very easy and hassle free both for cabled and bluetooth operations.
Plug in the USB C to C cable and you are good to go or press the bluetooth button to enable it and get into pairing mode.
The best supported codec is chosen automatically.
IMG_20201207_191502.jpg

We have used various headphones at our disposal such as the Sennheiser HD660S , the Hifiman Ananda and HE400i 2020 or even the Meze Empyrean.
Several iems as the FiiO FA9 were used to further test the noise floor.
With the very efficient Soundz Ultra (https://www.soundzcustom.com/ultra/) 10Ω/119dB we didn't hear any kind of noise.

Driving ability from the balanced output is very good and the FiiO Q5s TC can drive all the above mentioned headphones with ease and headroom so it can be sufficient for most use cases.
One further note is that although the Q5s TC and FiiO M11Pro share the same amp module with the same specs for some strange reason the Q5s TC appears to be more powerful.

Sound

The overall sound signature of the Q5s TC is of absolute reference quality with a perfectly flat and neutral response.
Extension to both ends is good with great bass and all the needed brilliance and detail up top.
Don't expect the Q5s TC to change your headphones signature but on the contrary it is the perfect tool to listen to the pure truth from the source to the transducers.
IMG_20201207_191623.jpg

The Q5s was already very good but the Q5s TC is even better thanks to the THX AAA amplifier.
We are not necessarily fans of the THX technology but we surely are of FiiO's implementation of it.
They manage to squeeze every bit of the performance in a perfect combination with the AKM dacs.

Bass is full bodied but still very tight with excellent layering and audiophile quality.
It is hard hitting without any added reverb or echo and can naturally portray even the busiest of the passages.
Mids are of course perfectly flat and crystal clear but they are not dry at all as they sound fully engaging with a weighty presentation.
The timbre is very natural and the instrumental tone is perfect so if you are up for some warm or coloured kind of sound just look elsewhere.
The same applies to the higher registers which are precise and very naturally toned.
Thanks to the exemplary clarity aided by the black background we can dig up all the micro details which are very well implemented into the whole adding to the great sense of reality.
IMG_20201207_191844.jpg

The soundstage is presented in an effortless way with ample space and precision and with the right headphone the experience can be very lifelike.

The THX module as was the case with the M11Pro or even the budget Q3 is an excellent performer with unrestrained dynamic behavior serving its duty silently letting the dac be the first actor than itself.

The bluetooth implementation is truly remarkable and with the LDAC codec engaged you will have a really hard time to tell the difference between wired and wireless.
We liked it so much that combined with the ease of use we preferred the bluetooth mode most of all.
IMG_20201207_183712.jpg

The bass boost function is by now a very mature analog circuit implemented by FiiO and gets its job done without any major drawbacks.
We get about +6dB of extra bass with an added mid bass rise and a slight decrease in overall clarity.
Further sound tweaking can be achieved through the FiiO Control app with the fully customizable equalizer and the six different low pass filters.

As is the case with all the inherently balanced designs of FiiO (and not only) like the Q3 or the M11PRO while the single ended out is already good enough it is the balanced that it is exceptional and of the utmost quality.
Both sound and power wise.
So we would recommend going balanced to truly enjoy the Q5s Type C in it's full glory.

At the end

The million dollar question is can you improve an already excellent performer?
Well it seems that the answer is yes at least in the case of the Q5s TC as it takes from the already magnificent Q5s and manages to squeeze even more reaching out for perfection.
There is not much left to say than that the Q5s TC is a true reference quality portable dac/amp with bluetooth support and a flagship desktop performance at a very competitive price.
It should definitely be at your shortlist as it is one of the best available options at the market right now but even if you already own a Q5s then we suggest that you should try the separate AM3D module despite its dated micro usb port.
Highly recommended without any hesitation and if you decide for it then hurry because we are afraid that due to the recent AKM factory fire this one is going to be discontinued.

The test playlist - http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2020.
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much.
SteveK27
SteveK27
Do you know if the q5s-tc have MQA support?
Ichos
Ichos
No it doesn't have.
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