I love the sound of the new Fiio X5. A clear upgrade from the X3, the X5 sounds so much more cleaner, more spacious, and a blacker background too.
The first comparison I did was with my daily driver portable player, that is the AK100 Mk2. I enjoy the X5’s sound more than the Astell & Kern AK100 (Mk1 or Mk2 variants) though I have to admit that the Astell have more steps, more resolution, and easily sounds richer in the small details. For some reason the X5’s sound is less tiring and more analog. Certainly the Fiio sounds darker in tonality, though the brilliant clarity still shines through the black background of the music. It’s undeniable that the AK100s is a step up in resolving micro details, portraying ambiance, and seems to have far more steps in the gradients from soft to loud passages, but these strong points fail to dull the X5’s sound quality. The X5 felt more analog, somewhat like a poor man’s Altmann Tera. The superior depth of the X5 combined with the wider soundstage and blacker background, makes the music more palpable than on the AK, even if the X5 doesn’t resolve as much micro details as the AK. The X5 also sounds more planted on the low end, and I’m not talking bass presence here (though the Fiio’s bass slams harder), but rather a feeling of weight that gives each note in the music a more realistic feel.
The dynamic range is better on the AK (the steps from soft to loud passages), but the dynamics or the explosiveness is far stronger on the X5, even when driving easy IEMs from the lowly Visang, Ocharaku’s Donguri, to the mighty FitEar MH335DW. My verdict between the AK100 (Mk1 or Mk2) and the X5, in this case, is that while the AK resolves more, the X5 makes a more lifelike music.
Talking about the X5 and the Ibasso DX50, I easily would choose the X5’s sound over the DX50 every single time. The DX50 is clean, smooth and spacious, but as I’ve written on the DX50 review, I find the dynamics and dynamic range rather constricted on the Ibasso. I don’t know what caused the Ibasso to be like that, but it severely hurts the performance of the DX50. Side by side with the DX50, the X5 matches everything that’s good about the DX50’s sound, while adding more depth, dynamics, and range. It’s a clear win for the Fiio.
Just to give an idea of where things stand now in terms of SQ, it’s: X3 < DX50 < X5 < AK100 Mk1 < AK100 Mk2
Now I want to move on to talk about other aspects of the player.
The player is rather big and in person it’s definitely bigger than it looks on pictures. For some reason, I know we use to live with players like the HM-801 and not complain. But these days, the AK is my benchmark player in terms of overall day-to-day usability and the X5 comes out a little too big. Not HM-801 big that I’m going to get mocked carrying it around, but the X5 definitely doesn’t win any favours from me just because it’s so big by today’s standards. I think the DX50 is the maximum limit of what I’m willing to live with these days when it comes to portable players.
The build quality is good and I love the semi-gloss finish on the front and sides, but I can’t understand why Fiio has to finish the back with that hairline anodised finish that falls totally out of place in this piece of sleek modern design. As nice as the overall player is, it doesn’t feel as refined as the Ibasso DX50 or Astell players and so in that sense it’s still fairly disappointing to see the X5 that looks very nice in the computer renderings coming out not as refined as I had hoped.
The user interface is another “why” point for me. Why oh why do they have to try so hard to make an UI that’s simply not intuitive to use? Or why oh why do they have to try to mimic Apple: the king of the UI world? It’s like going to the Voice and choosing a song usually sang by Michael Buble. You know you’re just gonna make yourself sound worse than you really are.
In comparison, the Ibasso DX50 is very easy to use with its large Play/Forward/Back controls on the front. One of the beef people have with the X3 is in its controls and the way the buttons are laid out, and the X5 seems to be repeating the same mistake. Who designs the UI for Fiio, by the way?
The Jog dial on the X5 rotates a little too loose to navigate the menus and songs, and one control that I expect it to do, it doesn’t: volume level. We all know how jog dials rotate to adjust volume levels as we all grew up with the Ipod. That should be the one thing they implemented, then they can afford to loose the volume button on the side too! And don’t get me started about the four corner buttons that nobody knows what they do when you press them. Yes, eventually you’ll figure the four buttons out, but why do they have to make it so un-intuitive?
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