The original E12 amp does make noise when it’s charging and the A5 doesn’t so that’s definitely a first improvement. The sound on the A5 is more spacious with better separation and it has more depth. Vocals sound more natural on the A5. The E12 was more about the power but the A5 is all about the sound, and then power. It is richer sounding in a more musical and less aggressive way. The original E12 has more mid body but has a noisier background. The E12A which was designed for IEMs but also works great with full sized headphones. The sound from the A5 is cleaner compared to that of the E12 and it has a blacker, more silent background. The E12A also shows a little more body in the mids but the voices and timbre are pretty much alike. Rich sounding mids, natural tone, musical delivery. The difference in sound signature between these two amplifiers is not that big.
Compared to the JDSLabs’s C5 amplifier, the A5 has a smoother and calmer presentation. The A5 also sounds more spacious where the C5 has a more intimate and aggressive presentation. The C5 is faster than the A5 amp. The A5 also sounds richer to me. The Bass boost in the C5 focuses more on the sub bass where the BB in the Fiio A5 adds body to bass and mids. The separation bass-mid in the C5 is also better and bass overall is tighter and has a better kick in the C5.
Fiio’s up-level E17K (used just as amplifier with the line in) sounds a tad cleaner, clearer and more neutral than the softer A5. To my ears the E17K has the richer sound but separation and depth aren’t that different and the presentation is more alike than it is different.
Most of the portable amplifiers in my collection are several times the price of the A5. Do they perform at a higher level? Yes of course, so there’s no real point in comparing them directly. It simply isn’t the target group Fiio is aiming at with this amplifier
The custom 8-driver Jomo Audio Samba sounds completely in control with a fast pace, tight notes, great separation, spaciousness and awesome bass. The Jomo on the A5 has a very good clarity level and detail is everywhere, I really love this combination although the Samba owner probably won’t be looking at the A5, this really is a nice combo. The Samba easily picks up hiss but it’s perfectly silent on the A5. Impressive.
The universal German Inear ProPhile 8 sounds neutral and precise with a lot of detail. The clarity on the PP8 is impressive and the A5 really drives it well giving it a musical boost with a good low range. There’s also no hiss audible at any time and the A5 and PP8 simply sound good. The Radius hp-twf41 is quickly becoming a favorite universal IEM of mine and again I can’t say anything bad about the Radius and the Fiio A5 pairing although you have to like more than average bass body. Same goes for the Fidue A91: great voices, a darker presentation but with excellent voices. Bass is rather big on this pairing though, even more so than with the Radius and a lot of people might find it too much. If you can look past the bass then you’ll love this combo. This amplifier simply rocks with almost all the BA and Dynamic driven IEMs I threw at it.
The Audioquest NightOwl is my headphone of the year so far and it sounds divine with the A5. The Owl has enough bass on its own so I don’t recommend turning on the BB. If you didn’t like the Hawk because it sounded dark or muffled, then you’ll love the Owl. The A5 drives it with authority, although the Owl doesn’t really need that much amplification. The orthodynamic Audeze LCD2.1 which I’ve been rediscovering also matches great with the Fiio A5 on low gain. Like the A5 it doesn’t show the best detail, widest/deepest soundstage and dynamics but it is musical, engaging and unique with powerful bass. When the LCD2.1 came out it blew everything away and with the Fiio A5 I’m reliving that headphone period all over again. Great pairing!
The latest technology orthodynamic Hifiman HE-1000 sounds best on high gain but while there’s enough power to drive the Hifiman, it doesn’t have the layering, depth, width and detail these cans can show you with a high level amp. So it’s doable but you’ll miss out on a lot. The good thing is that people who own the $2999 HE-1000 probably have an amp that can make it sound its best. The dynamic driven Sennheiser 300Ω HD800 isn’t the easiest headphone to like and drive and the amplification is hyper important with this headphone. With the Bass Boost turned on it actually is quite enjoyable but you basically get the same story as with the HE-1000, this just isn’t the amp for this kind of headphone, although the bass on the HD800 was impactful/enjoyable. The smooth and airy Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is easy to drive and it pairs with the A5 quite well. I personally am not a fan of the bass boost with the Amiron when listening to music but I’m sure there will be people who swear by it. To get better bass when listening to music on the Amiron, I would recommend a different amp. I did like it a lot while I was watching music, something I love doing with the Amiron and that’s the great thing about the Amiron Home: it’s excellent for music, movies and even gaming. It’s a recommended combo for sure. I love the bass/treble contrast of the Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO studio monitor and I loved it with on the A5 without the bass boost. Turn the BB on and the DT1990PRO becomes a little bass monster. I have to admit it was excellent with techno so if that’s your thing, this is for you. Like with the Amiron, this combo just works. Ear candy all the way.
The A5 is a really great amplifier for the price. The downside is the unit isn’t the smallest in size and that you get a basic but nice design. But the build quality (except for the lines not matching up) again is really good. This isn’t really the portable amplifier for high end equipment but this is an amplifier that will improve the sound quality from your normal MP3 players and phones, or power your headphones when your normal source isn’t up to it. I certainly liked it with a whole range of head- and earphones.
For the $129 price you get a whole lot from Fiio and beside the sometimes extreme bass boost I can’t really complain about anything. Not that I’m trying to complain but Fiio just delivers very good value for the money and I hope they’ll keep doing that for a long time to come. As a result the A5 is another success to me, it’s that simple.
Personally, just looking at the 3.5mm line out, I even preferred the A5’s sound signature over that of some of the latest DAP’s. That of course doesn’t mean this amp will improve the sound of all your DAPs. I in example still – just looking at sound – prefer the headphone out of the AK70/AK380 and Cayin i5. Whether they have enough power, now that’s a different story. Anyway, it’s another great amp from Fiio, one that’s fairly close to the E12A and that’s a very good thing.
The Fiio X5iii has been used a lot as my to-go-to DAP the last couple of weeks and it has really opened up, expect a review real soon.