Review: Fiio X5 Second Generation Part 1

COMPARISONS

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.

OTHER FEATURES

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

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Paul is a Kiwi from Down Under (New Zealand) and spends his time selling Lamb by day, and playing round with audio gear by night. He's a self confessed music junkie, with wide musical tastes and a penchant for female vocalists. He is not a golden eared listener, prefers to review armed with an SPL meter and objective measurements, and does his best to balance objectivity and subjectivity. Mostly though, he can be found with headphones on his head, and a smile on his face - lost in the moment.

    77 Comments

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Brooko

      I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank Lieven for the opportunity to review the X5ii together. if there are any questions, I’ll try to answer them as best I can 🙂

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      V2760 .

      Is gain and volume have zero effect when using line out?

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Brooko

      Volume has no effect (as it shouldn’t – being a fixed line-out). I’ll get Lieven to answer on the gain as I honestly can’t remember, and the X5ii is currently on tour in NZ.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Jeff

      Surprised to see you here Brooko but great review 🙂

      • Reply June 15, 2015

        Headfonia_L.

        Hoping/planning on seeing him a lot more on here 🙂

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Brooko

      It was a kind offer from Lieven I couldn’t refuse. You guys will enjoy his take on the X5ii when he posts it tomorrow (I’ve already had a sneak peak) 🙂

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      dalethorn

      I think I understand the UI from reading this, but just wanted to clarify the search. I have all my tracks on i-devices (w/o folders) named as “Artist – Songname”, and tagged the same way for sorting in the music player. So on the i-device, to go instantly from “Lecrae – Falling Down” to “Julia Holter – Boy in the Moon”, I press the “J” button** and do a 1 to 2 second scroll and there I am. So with the FiiO, would you have to first change folders and then scroll? I wonder how long it would take to do what I described?

      **Actually when I need Julia etc. on the i-device, I usually press “K” and scroll backwards, since it’s closer.

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Hi Dale. There is no search function as such – I simply use folder view, with a hierarchy system to make the scrolling a lot less. So I have things folder sorted alphabetically into groups of 3 (A-C, D-F, G-I etc) – so 8 first level folders. Underneath that is the artist folders. Under those are the album folders. I have around 400 full albums on the X5ii, and can get to an albun within a matter of seconds using this method.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Anthony Kimball

      Great review, Brooko, thank you. I’ve enjoyed your postings in the past (I think our ears agree on many things)…I do hope you get the opportunity to review more here on Headphonia…a welcome addition IMHO.

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks Anthony. Hopefuly it will be the first of many opportunities to review alongside Lieven. We have mutual respect for each other’s opinions on audio, but have very different tastes. So hopefully readers will find the contrasts interesting.

        • Reply June 16, 2015

          Dave Ulrich

          I love a good contrast

        • Reply June 17, 2015

          Anthony Kimball

          I certainly do (appreciate contrast)…I look forward to it!

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      morecrassthanyou

      This is a really thorough review – thanks for taking the time to do it, Brooko, and thanks for sharing the nice hi-res pictures!

      I would like some advice. I’ve only used ipods as DAP’s and am ready to either amp it (as I’ve got HE-400’s that sound pretty weak with just the DAP) or buy a separate DAP that I would use for everything but gym listening.

      I’m looking for a portable solution that I’ll use primarily at home when I want a relaxing listening session. The only headphone amp/DAC I’ve had experience with is the Meridian Explorer, which provides plenty of power to the HE’s. I’d like to find a similar experience using a DAP as a source.

      Would you suggest a new DAP? Amping the iTouch? Thoughts?

      • Reply June 15, 2015

        Headfonia_L.

        I would suggest CLAS SOLO and Duet amp if you like using the ipod/pad
        I resized brooko’s pics and did some retouching 😀

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks. I know there are plenty of Apple nay-sayers out there, but I’ve always rated the later i-Devices pretty highly as far as sonics go. They’re just limited on expandable storage space and power – which is where the Fiios excel. Hard to go past the Apple UI though.

        I guess it depends on what you’re looking for, and what features you value. I personally haven’t heard a lot of the “increased dynamics / bigger sound stage etc” that a lot of reviewers talk about when adding amplification. To me – an amp changes 3 main (useful) things : impedance (useful if you have a higher impedance source and sensitive earphones), hardware EQ controls (eg bass boost), and most importantly and increase in clean and constant power (voltage & current). If your headphones need more current or voltage than your DAP can supply – which I’m guessing you need with the HE-400s, then that is where the amp will be necessary.

        For a nice portable solution – I always really liked the Headstage Arrow series, but if you’re going to be spending $300 on an amp, then it may be better to just look at something like the X5ii (and no amp) because you will get argaubly better SQ and features. For a cheaper solution – even the Fiio E11K supplies very good clean power.

        I’m not sure if Lieven has the HE400, or access to one? If he does, maybe he can try it with the X5ii, and tell you what he thinks.

        • Reply June 16, 2015

          dalethorn

          My iPhone 6-plus sounds better than my iPhone 5 and iPod Touches. But adding the Oppo HA-2 gains me very little over the phone alone, and my older Verza isn’t as good as the HA-2. If someone asked me, I’d say get a much better amp, or skip that and get the DAP.

          • Reply June 16, 2015

            independentskeptic

            …. by much better amp, can you give a few suggestions? Looks like Lieven (or the person who might be Lieven below) recommends Cypher labs’ stuff.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Ilias K

      thanks for the thorough review, it looks like a very complete dap. soo any comparison with ibasso and other daps would be out of place?..also i’m curious how the amp section compares to E12/E12A.. and..would a X3II paired with a E12A give better sound? many questions, i know XD

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Hi llias – thanks. If you wait for Lieven’s follow up tomorrow, he has a section on his comparison with the iBasso DAPs. I’m yet to hear an iBasso – but will try at some stage to get hold of one for future reference.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Chris

      Well, at least now I think it looks much better

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Definitely a sleeker and more modern look.

      • Reply June 19, 2015

        ohm image

        You finally made it here. Great to have you here.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      johthor

      A very nice review and much appreciated. I am looking forward to Lieven’s review and any differences with Brooko’s. Nice to see you here at Headfonia Brooko as I have often enjoyed your reviews and posts on Headfi. Great idea Lieven to have Brooko as a guest reviewer.

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks. Hopefully there will be more collaboration in the future if Headfonias readers enjoy the contrasts.

    • Reply June 16, 2015

      Tronco

      G’day Brooko,
      Nice (and long) review and I admit that for a second I thought about skipping it and jumping to the conclusion. I liked the review. Well written, structured, interesting and easy to read. It would be nice to see more of your reviews here in the future!

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks. I’m sure Lieven and I will be collaborating again in future. We just need to find some gear we have in common 🙂

    • Reply June 17, 2015

      Jeroen Wijnands

      Nice work, good writing. Surprised to see someone write that Fiio’s latest doesn’t bring all that much more. Not something you read often

      • Reply June 18, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks. It’s a step-up from X5 original, but its incremental rather than exponential, or evolution rather than revolution. The X5ii (IMO) still represents extremely good value for money – especially compared to some of the other boutique offerings.

        • Reply August 18, 2015

          Observer

          I think unless you absolutely need to have the X52G or you never owned the 1G, then perhaps you could give it a miss. Unless $350 is no skin off your nose.

          • Reply August 18, 2015

            Brooko

            What other DAPs are you comparing with, what headphones have you had experience with (with X5 and X5ii), and what is your rationale behind this comment? Genuinely curious 🙂

            • Reply August 18, 2015

              Observer

              OK.
              I have owned several DACs in the FiiO range and have absolutely no issues with any of them. Except perhaps earlier models had a bit of background hiss.
              My reference headphones are the Shure SE846CLs. Even my Oppo PM-3s don’t come close. But different strokes…

              I also purchased the Oppo HA-2, but to me, the FiiO E12A sounds better when paired with the FiiO X5. But all I am commenting on are my own personal preferences and opinions.

              Your taste in music may vary vastly from mine.

              I am a Jean-Michel Jarre, Andreas Vollenweider, Darshan Ambient, Tangerine Dream, Art of Noise, Jimmy Smith, Eric Gale, Herb Alpert, Barry White, Herbert von Karajan (with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), Beethoven kind of person.

              The review is well written and if I can get a buyer for my X51G, I will go for the 2G, but for now, I can play DSD256 with an iPhone 6 and HA-2 quite happily paired with my Shures.

              Just my opinion sir.

              • Reply August 18, 2015

                Observer

                I would recommend the following if you can get your hands on them. Just for reference purposes: ALL LOSSLESS PLEASE.

                1. Watch Your Step – Darshan Ambient (24-bit 96Khz)
                2. Tubular Bells, Introduction – Mike Oldfield
                3. Allegretto Movt. Beethoven’s 7th Conducted by Herbert von Karajan (DG label)
                4. Moments in Love – Art of Noise
                5. Your Love, So Good I Can Taste It – Barry White
                6. Hobo Flats – Jimmy Smith
                7. Mako D’amour – Eric Gale

                I could go on, but start here.

                • Reply August 18, 2015

                  Brooko

                  Thanks – I’ll be sure to look into them. Always on the lookout for new music. I have HvK’s entire set of Beethoven’s 9 Symphonies (DG), so totally no where you’re coming from with that recording 🙂

    • Reply June 28, 2015

      Freckle

      Great review! I’d love to see a comparison of the X5ii and the Astell & Kern Jr. I’m new to the DAP world – which would be the best to start with?

      • Reply June 30, 2015

        Brooko

        Thanks Freckle. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to listen to the AKJr – but I understand Lieven may be getting a sample unit – so hopefully he’ll eb able to make the comparison and recommendation for you. What headphones will you be driving?

        • Reply June 30, 2015

          Freckle

          I have a choice (both new to me) of the Blue Mofi with the built in amp or the B&O H6. I’ve read up on both so hoping at least one of these matches well with a new DAP (leaning towards an X5II purchase).

          • Reply June 30, 2015

            Brooko

            Haven’t heard either – sorry. Love the looks of the H6 though. If you do get one – please post back and tell me what you think of them. I’d really like to know your thoughts – especially if you end up getting the X5ii.

            • Reply June 30, 2015

              Freckle

              Will do. I’ve heard that both headphones are not bass-centric and have a balanced sound across the spectrum with a fairly wide soundstage. I’ll send some feedback once I have some time to break these all in.

              • Reply June 30, 2015

                Brooko

                Sounds like my kind of signature 🙂 If you’re ever looking for an open headphone with the same traits for home use – start with the HD600 🙂

                • Reply July 1, 2015

                  Freckle

                  I bought a pair of Grado 225s awhile back and they left many other headphones behind in terms of quality open headphones, but the Senns seem to be a good choice to 🙂 definitely highly rated on amazon, etc.

                  • Reply July 1, 2015

                    dalethorn

                    I haven’t heard the 225, but I have the 325 and it really is good – minor peak around 2 khz, but that’s the Grado sound.

                    • Reply August 18, 2015

                      Brooko

                      Loved the 325 when I had one. Always regretted selling it. Mine was modded quite a bit though – full wooden jacket, leather headband, mogami recable. I actually liked them more than the RS1 I had.

                      • August 18, 2015

                        dalethorn

                        I got the Brooklyn Tree (GH1) woodie recently. A little darker, more mellow than the 325e, but more uneven in the treble. Unless it flattens out some after the 150 hours already played.

                      • August 19, 2015

                        Brooko

                        I thought about trying the RS2 and seeing if that was closer to the 325 than the RS1 was. I think if I ever end up getting another Grado, it’ll be RS2 or 325 again.

              • Reply July 1, 2015

                dalethorn

                The H6 has some definite bass emphasis compared to the Senn HD600, but it’s a very solid bass with no bloat or mud.

                • Reply July 1, 2015

                  Freckle

                  I may have to tweak my EQ for the H6s. The Senn HD600s might have been a better choice for less bass emphasis.

                  • Reply July 1, 2015

                    dalethorn

                    Not a huge difference on a lot of music, but for some genres it really stands out.

      • Reply June 30, 2015

        Headfonia_L.

        I’m not getting the Jr, Nathan is getting it though. But he doesn’t have the X5SG

        • Reply July 10, 2015

          snip3r77

          It would be great if the same reviewer has the X5SG and the AKJR.

          • Reply July 10, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            Nathan will do the AK Jr. I could only keep it for one month and I don’t have the time for it.

          • Reply July 10, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            Well I already said he doesn’t… 😀

            • Reply July 10, 2015

              snip3r77

              Maybe send X5SG else there’s no benchmark/yardstick.

              The review is just it is so good, soundstage so great, it’s so pretty. Pls buy one LOL

              • Reply July 10, 2015

                Headfonia_L.

                I have no idea what you mean

              • Reply August 18, 2015

                Brooko

                Actually – the reviewer (me) points out good points and bad, doesn’t mention prettiness or sound stage (IMO with DAPS, the headphone has more influence on the soundstage than the DAP does), and actually says that its an incremental rather than exponential upgrade. I’d love to be able to review the AK Junior against it – but unfortunately I don’t have one, and at this stage no interested in buying one just for a single review/comparison.

    • Reply July 15, 2015

      Alfiero Ventura

      To be or not to be!
      X1 or X5
      this is the (my) problem

      The X5, or X5 II, worth the difference in money than in X1 or X3 ?

    • Reply July 16, 2015

      Alfiero Ventura

      Headphones is Sennehiser Momentum Over-ear.I would like to change my iPod 2ND 80gb
      the budget for €210 or €345 isn’t a problem, I like only listen a good music
      thank

      • Reply August 18, 2015

        Brooko

        The Momentums aren’t difficult to drive, and if you’re mainly using them on-the-go, I’d probably recommend staying with the X3ii. It’s cheaper, smaller form factor, and you’d be unlikely to kiss the lift in fidelity (particularly if most of your listening is portable). If on the other hand you plan to use the DAP also as a DAC, and as part of an integrated system, and if space (dual slots) is needed, then the X5ii has the upper hand. At the end of the day – I’d pick first on the feature set you need.

    • Reply September 3, 2015

      Ajay Marrott

      How is the X5ii compared to the DX90?

    • Reply September 23, 2015

      Roscoe Trey Nicholson

      Reading on the train, so may have missed it but how does the sound compare to your Micro iDSD?

    • Reply November 3, 2015

      Rajesh Madan

      Rm ….Has any one experienced X5ii stuttering on Hirez files 24b 96k and above.

    • Reply January 16, 2016

      Sergey Green

      Does it need to burn in to sound better? What is your take on it?

    • Reply January 27, 2016

      Nick Woolley

      Is it known if you can do more than the 128GB for each slot?

      • Reply January 27, 2016

        Headfonia_L.

        I haven’t tested it myself but it should be ok. The guys on Headfi also know more about it

    • Reply February 18, 2016

      John Hogendoorn

      Would love to hear yr comment on the x7 compacter to the x5ii, and is there an x7 ii coming up too?

    • Reply March 19, 2016

      Noel

      I have X3 2nd gen. Is it a wise idea to upgrade to X5 2nd gen or is it worth the upgrade. If the difference is too little I would like to be satisfied with my X3. Kindly suggest

      • Reply November 15, 2016

        johann

        wanna ask the same thing. planning to get an x3ii if the x5ii is not really a big step up for IEMs which aren’t power hungry.

    • Reply November 17, 2016

      pablo rey

      sorry, but it would be nice if you can answer just a question, i have a X1 1st generation on may way and I have a Senheiser Amperior, Now i have the chance of getting a cheap (in my country these gadgests cost more than twice) X5 2d generation.

      So my cuestion is : Do you think i would get a noticeable difference between the X1 and the X5II?

      • Reply November 18, 2016

        Lieven

        Of course there’s a huge difference. That’s logic.

    • Reply March 9, 2017

      Eric

      I am very new to the DAP world so please forgive my ignorance. I’ve been doing a lot of reading but still can’t seem to get the answer to my question, and you folks combine the technical skill with the real-world knowledge I look for in a reviewer.
      So, here’s my question: I recently ripped my modest collection of CD’s to FLAC using DBPoweramp (great tool by the way) and I have a little over 115GB of content I’d like to play on my tried & true (read ‘old’) receiver/amp and tower speakers. Are the Fiio DAP’s (X5iii and X3ii) a good answer for this, or should I be looking at a different solution? Portability is not that important to me, but getting good sound quality out of my music is.

      • Reply March 9, 2017

        dale thorn

        You can always find something that’s better, but try to maximize what you have first. Impedance matching, amount of gain, fine tuning for the gear and the room are all factors you should address.

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