I guess this is the bit most people will want impressions about – how the X5ii sounds. For each of the below comparisons, I used my HD600 with the DAPs on high gain, HM5 (for its neutrality) with the DAPs on low gain, and DUNU Titan, again on low gain. I used an SPL meter to volume match (test tones @ 1kHz). Files used on all devices were exactly the same and consisted of a mix of my usual test tracks – in lossy, redbook, 24/96 and DSD. The files used were exactly the same on each device.
Test tracks used were:
- Let It Rain – Amanda Marshall
- Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits
- The Bad In Each Other – Feist
- Chelsea – Sophie Bridgers
- For You – Angus & Julia Stone
- Aventine – Agnes Obel
- Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town – Pearl Jam
- Turning Tables – Adele
- Hotel California – the Eagles
- The Last Resort – the Eagles
- Cali – Quiles & Cloud (DSD)
X5 (original) vs X5ii
First up was the HD600, and interestingly, level matching with an SPL meter and 1 kHz tone had both DAPs at even 60/120 on high gain – comfortable listening level, and matching to within 0.1 dB. I played a medley of tracks. And had both DAPs playing simultaneously so that I could switch really quickly, and practically seamlessly. The first thing to notice is that both DAPs sound practically identical in tonality. In fact – the only thing I really noticed, and this was pretty hard to pick up, even with close A/B, was a very slight lift in spatial sense with the X5ii. I find it really hard to describe, and I even had to check a couple of times to make sure that the two DAPs were still volume matched. The X5ii sounds very slightly more vivid, more present to me. But the overall change with the HD600 is very, very minor. Both continue to sound clean, clear, detailed, and consistently having that black background and sense of refinement I really like.
Time to switch to the HM5, and this time on low gain there was a 0.2 dB difference with both DAPs at 54/120 (the X5ii was very slightly louder). Again, the tonality is really close – with the only real difference being that faint sense of wider spatial presence on the X5ii, and again that sense of slightly more vividness (cymbals with Pearl Jam). But other than that – the differences to me are really minor, and not at all what I thought I was hearing last week before A/B’d both DAPs at volume matched levels.
Finally – onto the DUNU Titan. The reason I chose the Titan was simply because I know a lot of people have it, plus it has a lot of upper level detail. Once again I level matched. This time there was a 0.2 dB difference with the X5ii at 39/120 and the X5 at 40/120 – with the X5 being very slightly louder (if I had both at 40, then the X5ii was louder by 0.3 db). With the Titans, the difference is exactly the same – the X5ii once again shows a slightly wider spatial sense – but it is extremely subtle.
So the sound is very, very close – what are the other differences? Well there is the slightly smaller footprint, and the slightly sleeker looking physique, and apart from that the biggest difference is the instant-on feature which I love. Folder play through has been implemented from day one (which is a brilliant feature) – something the X5 original did not have until recent updates to the firmware.
I have to admit, I was expecting more difference after reading the literature. And I do wonder if the talk of increased dynamics and more power have influenced me into hearing what I was expecting to hear when I was testing last week. The reality, now that I’ve had a chance to A/B closely and volume match before comparing is bringing me to reality. Either my hearing is not as acute as other reviewers, and I accept this as a very real possibility, or the % gains over the original X5 are a lot smaller than I was led to believe. Either way, I am extremely happy with both units, and am hugely enjoying both.
I am still convinced that there is a very small change in spatial presentation (how did you do that Fiio?) and to some who were not fans of the original X5 (especially if you found it “flat”), this subtle change may be the difference you were looking for. But anyone expecting big gains – if they volume match properly and A/B closely – I think are going to be surprised (how close the two are).
X3ii vs X5ii
Again –same test set-up, 3 headphones, all volume matched as precisely as I can get them using my calibrated SPL meter and test tones. Again – the exact same files used.
With the HD600s, and high gain on both devices, the X3ii required 63/120 to match within 0.1 db of the X5ii’s 60/120. This time (although tonally both are similar) the X5ii does give a little more width in the overall stage – but again I’m stunned by how well the X3ii performs against its higher spec’d sibling. The X3ii sounds just a tiny bit more congested and close – where the X5ii seems to have a greater sense of refinement, and although every bit as vivid, just sounds wider and cleaner. Again though we’re not talking massive amounts.
This trait was repeated with the HM5 and Titan – with once again very similar volume matching on the pot (with the HM5 the X3ii was 63/120 on low gain to the X5ii’s 59/120).
So how do the overall differences stack up between X3ii and X5ii? Well first there is the portability factor, and the X3ii has that well and truly won. It’s not really fair to compare this test unit’s build and finish to the X3ii, as the wheel is a little loose at the moment, and I know this is going to be fixed before final. The X5ii is slightly more powerful, has double the potential storage, and does sound marginally cleaner and more refined. For those seeking the best that Fiio has – the X5ii is that, but for me, the X3ii still represents the best features and sonics on a value basis.
So let’s look at the other features that I haven’t covered yet with the X5ii.
First – looking at the outputs – I tested coaxial (into my iDSD), and as expected it worked really well. The only thing the X5ii doesn’t seem to do is feed DSD over DOP, but maybe that is something that can eventually be added via firmware updates. One of the really nice things though is that the EQ does work over spdif (not on high-res though) which I find quite handy (it also works on line-out). The coaxial out is ideal for anyone who is away from home (e.g. at a Meet) and wants to test an audio chain – but with their own music.
Just like the X5, the line-out to an external amp is essentially very clean, with no discernable noise or degradation of SQ. I’ve used this feature going to the iDSD, and also my LD MKIV (T1’s sounded great on this set-up). I haven’t really noticed any difference in sonics on the line-out vs headphone out (after volume matching).
As a DAC. As I already have the unified drivers for Fiio’s X series installed, and had been through this before, it was just a simple matter of reinstalling the new driver, with the X5ii plugged in via USB, and set to DAC mode. The driver installed without hitch, and the X5ii was immediately recognised. I then set it as default in Windows (7) and it played with no issues. I also tried with Foobar using WASAPI, and the X5ii played faultlessly – just crystal clear sound. I’d actually have no issues using this as a stand-alone DAC – especially on a portable (lap-top) set-up.
I then checked with both X3ii and X5 plugged, and Windows successfully recognised each dvice. Nice!
The two features I haven’t tested so far are OTG (I have no adaptor), and native DSD play from Windows. Last time I did this with the X3ii, it took a lot of playing around, and to be honest I was running out of time.
Power and Conclusion on the last page