The source ? A computer, my iPhone (11) and the FiiO M11.
Obviously, the FiiO Q5S sounds A LOT like the FiiO Q5.
The double AK4493EN gives a flat response from top to bottom. There is no bump, unless you activate the bass-boost effect, which gives a +4dB boost from the lowest point to the 100Hz wall. It also lowers the curve from 1000Hz to 20kHz by 1dB, not much but definitely audible with the Meze 99 Classics.
In case you haven’t listened to any of the modern FiiOs, you’d be surprised to find out that the previous mid-focused signature is now gone. The FiiO Q5S is very neutral, with a wide sound stage and great layering : you can spot each instrument and each singer with ease and there is no channel imbalance to ruin the experience.
The sound signature icompared to the first gen FiiO Q5 is not vastly different. It’s precise and dynamic, so bad recordings are not welcome as the experience will turn out for the best. There are small improvements here and there : better dynamics overall, better bass control and smoother higher-mids. This last quirks are the easiest ones to spot on the long run, especially with techno tracks like Dre from Solomun.
The double AK4493EN of the FiiO Q5S is allegedly better than the AK4490EQ but, to be honest, unless you have the two devices in your hand at the same time, it’s hard to spot the difference. Even more if you switch the amps modules, as the FiiO Q5S remains compatible with the previous modules.
The FiiO AM3E sounds equally good as the AM3A. It packs a tad more punch in balanced mode, but that’s marginal. If you put the volume at the same level, on the same track, with the same source and the same headphone, you may hear a bit more details on the FiiO Q5S. But, again, this is mostly a 10% improvement in my opinion.
But, if you take it the other way, that also means you can have the same performances the FiiO M11 boasts, with any source or player you want. Yes, the FiiO M11 can also be connected as a Bluetooth receiver, but it doesn’t support as many modes as the FiiO Q5S. And it’s a player, not a DAC.
Overall, a very good DAC, even more if you take in count the fact that it can virtually be connected to ANY type of sources. Obviously, use USB as long as you can to get the best sound, but I have to confess I mostly use Bluetooth when I’m in the train.
Hiss / Power / Balanced
The FiiO Q5S is not hissy, or at least not on 99% of the ears/headphones available on the market. Only my old Onkyo IE-C3 could catch a thin residual noise when the DAC was used in Bluetooth. When connected with a coax/optical source, the problem didn’t occur, so again : use the wired connection when/if you can.
Regarding the power, the Q5S packs a lot of it. Unless you really want to push it over the limit, the amp will be enough to drive 99% of your headphones. The Audeze LCD-X was driven with ease, once the high-gain mode was activated. Sure, I plugged it in balanced to exploit the full-circuit and as for the first Q5, there is a vast difference between the balanced output and unbalanced output.
If some devices just feel more powerful when used with the TRRS output, the FiiO Q5S feels like a very different animal. The bass is more accurate, more tense, and the mids are so much more clearer. The sound stage sounds at least twice as wide and you can immediately feel the surge of power coming from the DAC.
I didn’t feel much difference with the Meze 99 Classics but on the Audeze LCD-X, this was heaven and earth. So yeah, give it a try. Really.
Thanks to the digital volume control, there is no imbalance even at low volume, this is rare enough to be noticed. This is true with both single-ended and balanced outputs, so you do not have to worry.
Bass : dry and fast. This is a time in my life where I can confidently say that FiiO has nailed the low end on their last models. The FiiO Q5S never lost composure and always offered a tight, fast bass. There is no shallow echo nor dragging sensation, and you can confidently listen at low volume with your big headphone without being disappointed.
Test track : Bad Boy – Billie Eilish
Mids : clean and linear. Gone is the mid-centric sound signature, the FiiO Q5S now behaves like a real high-tier DAC. The voices feel natural, maybe too sharp sometimes, but what would you expect from an AKM chip? The bass-boost effect warms up the voices but I never felt that was an issue.
Test track : Saint Honesty – Sara Bareilles
Highs : just on spot. The Q5S avoids the classical upper-mid boost, often found on mid-tier DAC. If that gives a sensation of precision, it can also lead to some sibilant on sensible headphones. None of that was found on the DAC fortunately, and electro tracks such as Naive response from Daniel Avery never scorched my ears.
Test track : New Moon – Almunia
The FiiO Q5S is excellent in every regard. It packs all the connectivity you will ever need and it sounds superb thanks to the double DAC and powerful amp module. And it costs less than four hundred bucks.
At the same time, the differences between the Q5S and Q5 are marginal, so if you still got a 1st gen model, you can happily keep using it . But for all the others, you should seriously take some time to listen to this new one. It’s FiiO M11 good, but then for those who don’t want a player.