Today, we take a look at the FiiO M5, the smallest and cheapest DAP from the brand. It began as a bluetooth receiver and become a fully-fledged player, Apple Watch sized, available for 99$/€.
This is part of our Picture Sunday series, where we take a quick look at some products in the review cycle. You can find all previous First look Sunday posts here.
FiiO should not need any introduction anymore, but for those of you who may still be ignorant, let’s just say they are one of the pillars of portable hi-fi systems. From DAP, to DAC and earphones, FiiO nailed it like a champ and they successfully rose from the chi-fi sandbox, to the head-fi playground.
Nonetheless, what we care about at Headfonia is sound, and sound only. So when the brand sent us the FiiO M5, telling us it will be the ultimate “tiny-bluetooth-receiver-headphone-amplifier”, we were eager to find out if that’s true or not.
FiiO M5 – The design
If the FiiO M6 with its small footprint remains my to-go player, I have to admit that the FiiO M5 puts it to shame. The M5 is almost twice as small as the M6, which is quite impressive, to be honest.
I previously owned an Apple Watch, and from afar, you can easily mistake the M5 for the smartwatch. You don’t need a designer degree to understand that FiiO swiftly took the watch design, and fitted it for its DAP. They even sell a silicone strap so you can wear the FiiO M5 as a watch…
That said, once the player has been turned on, the differences begin to appear. First, the bezel is much thicker and the screen only covers 70% of the full slate. This is not a real issue for an audiophile perspective, but if you expected a full coverage like the one found on the latest Apple Watch or the FiiO M11, you might be disappointed.
The I/O is minimalist, but that was to be expected for a player which is only 42mm wide. There is only one 3.5mm Jack, but it can be either an Headphone-out, a Line out or even a S/PDIF out. Yes, you can use the FiiO M5 as a little digital source, and plug it to a DAC like the Chord Mojo.
Next to that port, you get the volume up/volume down control and two microphones. Those two mics support CvC protocols, so you will be able to take a phone calls through Bluetooth pairing, or use the Recorder function, embedded inside the player.
The lower part gives you a micro-SD port, to play your own tracks, and save your vocal recordings. Last, but not least, we have the USB-C entry, to charge the FiiO M5 and plug it as a DAC when connected to a computer. It also works backward and you can connect a DAC through the DAP and only use it as a source.
Very promising, don’t you think so?
FiiO M5 – A quick view
For 99$, the FiiO M5 is much more than meets the eyes.
The UI is pretty snappy, it boots fast and even if the screen is small, everything appears clear and crisp. You can definitely use it straight off the box, with your tracks copied on a micro-SD card. But, I think that’s what makes it cool, is the Bluetooth receiver/emitter function.
It supports all of the high-resolution protocols (apt-X/LDAC/SBC/AAC), and that means you can just bring a pair of TWS earphones like the Jays M-Seven or the mighty Sony WH-1000XM3 and go for a run. It’s one of those tiny players you can leave in a bag, so you’ll never run out of music.
And, there is one thing that put the FiiO M5 above all the other Bluetooth receivers I tried, or owned: the embedded microphone. Sure, this is not on the audiophile checklist, but boy… being able to get good sound from a player that small, AND answer calls from the same device, is a real delight. Call it a first-world problem if you like, but for me, that’s the future!
Sadly, if the USB-DAC function works pretty well, you can’t use the microphone function once connected to a computer. Not a big deal, but that would have made the FiiO M5 a true all-rounder for low-budget gamer, or audiophile business conference.
Fiio M5 – First impressions
Sound wise, the FiiO M5 is the exact opposite of the Fiio M6.
If the latter put the emphasis on the low section, the M5 is much more clinical. Everything sounds flat and neutral, as if the brand chose to get rid of its older sound signature. The AKM AK4377 is a very different kind of animal compared to its elder siblings, missing the Velvet Sound signature that I always praised.
You’ll have to be extra careful when choosing a pair of headphones/earphones for your FiiO M5. With my Onyko IE-C3, the sound was too dry, missing the usual fun that drives me to the day. When paired with the Fearless S6 Rui, it tamed the warm, heavy bass mutating them into the S6 Pro.
On the other hand, you get a very precise sound, much more accurate than your classic phone could get. If you ever owned a Dragonfly Red from Audioquest, you might be surprised by how close this little DAP comes to.
See you in a few weeks for the full review