Disclaimer: I, Lieven, asked Paul (aka Brooko on Head-fi) to do a double review with me on Fiio’s latest DAP, the X5 Second Generation. Because of the length of this very in depth review I will be posting Part 1 today (Paul) and Part 2 (Lieven) tomorrow. I, in no way changed anything in Paul’s review. Be warned, it’s a looong review. Paul, take it away.
Fiio X5 (2nd Generation) – Incremental Gains & Still Great Value For Feature Set.
I’m a very happy owner of Fiio’s X1, X3ii and the original X5 digital audio players (DAPs). I’ve used them all (a lot) over the last couple of years – and up until now, the X3ii has been my go to portable DAP for daily use. I still use the X1 for ultimate portability (eg exercise), and the X5 when I need a more power, mainly when I’ve been using full sized headphones. I’ve been using Fiio audio equipment for close to four years now (amps, DACs , and DAPs), and have watched them evolve in that time from a fledgling audio company to a serious player in the personal audio world. A couple of things have stayed constant in all of my time using Fiio products though – they’ve always strived to improve their performance, and they’ve always aimed to release audio products that measure well, sound great, and offer real value for money.
After seeing the improvements Fio made recently upgrading their X3 DAP to the X3ii, naturally I was keen to also see the changes in the transition from X5 to X5ii. So I arranged with Joe to organise the Fiio X5ii “Down Under” tours, and we now currently have two units touring through Australia and New Zealand.
By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the Fiio Electronics Company. If you don’t, here’s a very short summary. Fiio was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”. But Fiio has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5 (now former) flagship DAP – which despite its reasonable cost (300-350) has been able to compete with models from other manufacturers costing hundreds of dollars more. They then released the X1 – an ultra low cost DAP (~USD 100) which has done even more toward bringing high quality mobile audio to those on a tighter budget, and more recently the X3 2nd Generation (X3ii), and upgrade on the original X3 from 2013. Fiio’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.
I was provided the Fiio X5 second generation as a review sample. It will go on tour once I have finished reviewing it. There is no financial incentive from Fiio in writing this review. I am in no way affiliated with Fiio – and this review is my honest opinion of the X5 second generation. I would like to thank Joe & James for making this opportunity available.
PREAMBLE – ‘ABOUT ME’.
I’m a 48 year old music lover. I don’t say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last few years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (mostly Fiio X3ii and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top’s set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP or PC > USB > iFi Micro iDSD > HP). I also use a portable set-up at work – either X3ii > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs – and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, Dunu Titan, Trinity Delta, and more recently DUNU’s DN-2000J. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.
I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent. I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.
My experience with DAPs in the past had been initially with some very cheap Sony offerings, then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, X1, and X3ii.
WHAT I LOOK FOR IN A DAP
I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP.
- Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
- Good build quality
- Reasonable battery life
- Easy to use interface
- Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.
- Value for money
- Enough storage to hold either my favourite albums in redbook, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)
Did I get all of this with the X5ii, and more importantly was the X5ii an improvement on the original X5? Mostly – yes, and I hope that the shortcomings with the firmware will be improved over time. Fiio has shown commitment to the Head-Fi community in the past – in trying to improve the Fiio experience with better firmware releases over time.
This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.
From this point onward, I’m going to simply call the Fiio X5 2nd generation the “X5ii” – as much for ease of typing and understanding than anything else.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The X5ii arrived in a rather sombre looking black outer box, with the now traditional black inner box and lid nestled inside. Gone is the texturing on the 2nd box though – now it is a simple black matt with the Fiio logo subtly shown on the front. I love the simplicity of it. Note – this is not the final packaging though. Opening the box reveals a foam inner form fitting mould, with the X5ii nestled securely inside, already in its black silicone case – in turn covered in a plastic protective cover. Also included is a single card explaining the layout of the main features.
Underneath the foam (which lifts out) there is a thinner secondary box which holds the accessories which include:
- A USB charging / data cable
- A digital out to coax cable
- 2 spare screen protectors for the X5ii (plus one already prefitted)
- 3 different patterned sets of stickers (for personalising your X5ii) – wood grain, carbon and USA.
- A foldout warranty card
- The Fiio X5ii quick start guide
The entire package is practical, covering everything you initially need for the player. Materials are all good quality. What is missing (IMO) from the original X5 is the small Fiio USB card reader – which I have found extremely handy over the last couple of years.
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