Review of FiiO X5 digital audio player (DAP) w/lots of pics!!!
This is a review of FiiO X5 digital audio player (DAP). http://www.fiio.com.cn/products/inde...nuID=105026016
I have shared with you a lot of different headphone reviews, especially of audiophile quality, because I consider headphones to be very important part of our lives. Many people's entertainment world evolves around their smartphone that we use to listen to music, to watch movies, to stream videos, to play video games, or to communicate with others. We have consolidated a lot of the other gadgets into this one universal device with headphones being a gateway to our entertainment world. That is why I put a high value on quality of the sound. Typically with high quality headphones you end up rediscovering sounds all over again and hearing new details for the very first time. To my very pleasant surprise, when I received FiiO X5 DAP - I actually ended up rediscovering my headphones, all over again!!!
It's great to have a portable entertainment system where you can do everything, but often NOT everything could be done at it's best because we are limited by the hardware. Sure, you can build a library with only lossless format files and you can get the best pair of audiophile grade headphones, but you are still limited by a path of digital files converted into analog sound to drive your headphones. You can get a quality audio app and even external amp, but the source of your audio will still come from a smartphone with every electronic component cramped in there, without any proper power filtering, and with low bit resolution and low sampling rate to deliver that sound. Yes, it's very convenient and you can significantly improve your sound quality by using, for example, Neutron MP app, external usb OTG DAC/amp like E18, and quality headphone cables and headphones (RC-SE1 cables with W40 IEMs in my current setup). This is a very adequate setup even for an audiophile, but there is still room for improvement. Nothing will match a dedicated Digital Audio Player (DAP) where from step one you will be processing your music source at the highest sampling rate with a highest bit depth resolution!!! There is a number of such DAP players available on the market, but often they cost north of $700 with a higher quality ones starting at $1000. That is why FiiO shook audiophile world when they introduced their next flagship X5 DAP priced at $350. This is my first experience using DAP, since I don't count my previous iPods or Sansa players as quality audio sources; and I can tell you with certainty that listening to X5 and Sansa Clip+ is like night and day. Let's take a closer look to find out more about X5.
There is no question you are dealing with a premium product the second you see their package box. You are greeted by a high res 1:1 scale picture of X5 on the front cover, and the back of the box has all the main function highlights. My review sample also had a sticker on the back mentioning that DSD playback and USB OTG support will be added in future firmware updates. Out of the package box, the actual X5 is stored inside of another "gift" box which is built out of sturdy carton with a nice foam padding inside to hold accessories as well. It's not exactly intended for traveling, but it definitely comes very handy to store X5 when not in use (the same with E18 and its storage box). Once you get a chance to hold X5 in your hand, you do realize it's not exactly lightweight at 210g (that's including 2 loaded micro-SD cards and silicone protection skin), although it's on par with typical smartphone weight. It was very clever for FiiO to include a high quality silicone protection form fitting sleeve. It enhances the grip, covers up aluminum CNC unibody to protect from scratches (although some might argue you would rather show it off!), and covers up volume and power buttons, as well as covering up Line out and Coax out ports leaving only headphone port exposed so there is no confusion which 3.5mm port to use. Furthermore, it comes already with pre-installed screen protector covering its gorgeous 400x360 res 2.4" IPS screen, and 2 more screen protectors for spare. Other accessories that come with X5 are high quality usb to micro-usb charging/data cable, 3 push plugs for each 3.5mm port, coaxial cable adapter, USB OTG cable, micro-SD card reader, and detailed easy to read manuals. I'm sure some will prefer to take X5 out of silicone protection sleeve to show off it's sexy aluminum brushed body, the same finish used in E18, but for others - you have an option to cover it.
Inside of silicone skin
Out of the skin
Of course, the biggest eye candy of this design is the mechanical control wheel. What looks like a miniature DJ spinning record is one cleverly designed control to scroll through the available menu options, song selection, and other controls. Some people mind find it resembles a classic iPod from a distance, but only by geometry of the circle. This is an actual mechanical wheel you can spin with your thumb and which provides a very tactile response and control of your selection. In the middle of the wheel you have a multifunction Ok/Play/Pause button, and at the corners of the wheel there are 4 other multifunction buttons to enable various controls and selections. In theory, you can use these 5 buttons without even a need for a wheel, but being able to scroll through selection or menu items or to adjust the volume with a wheel is just super cool! It gives an analog touch to the control and makes it feel more premium. At the same time, it's nice to know that function of analog wheel is duplicated with extra buttons which comes especially handy when you want to control your X5 without looking at the screen (skip, fast forward, pause, etc.).
X5 is not just an eye candy outside, its a power house inside. In order to handle every available lossless format (DSD, APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, WAV) and all MP3s without skipping a beat, X5 is equipped with a dual core 600MHz Ingenics CPU which supports 192k sampling rate with 24B resolution. It also has asynchronous USB DAC functionality where you can use it as an external DAC for your laptop or computer. The internal power distribution uses quad-balanced power supply architecture to avoid any coupling noise from capacitors. Remember, power supply reference is very important in order to process a clean signal without any distortion. Also, it uses a very advance DAC/pre-amp/amp audiophile grade path (from reading digital audio to analog headphone output) with some of the top electronic components available on the market. And this is not just a statement. FiiO actually provided a detailed diagram of that path with part number of every component used in their circuit to support their claim. They even have a detailed screen shot with a layout of their PCB. These guys are definitely proud of their achievement and have nothing to hide!
The storage for your music media is provided on two removable micro-SD cards. With a current firmware support, you can use 2x 64GB cards for a total of 128GB storage, and future fw upgrades promise a support of 256GB and 512GB. If you think about it, this is solid state storage, not a mechanical hard drive or internal memory that can never be upgraded or replaced. Here you have a total control of your storage with a smallest footprint media. You can either copy files using provided micro-SD adapter or connect X5 to your computer (select Storage instead of DAC mode), and copy files directly to your DAP. Once USB OTG connection will be available, most likely you will be able to connect an external usb storage, such as HDD or usb flash drive. Btw, when you are using X5 as external usb DAC or connected to copy files, it charges the device automatically. With a 3700 mAh internal battery, you get up to 15hr of interrupted play (which is going to be available with future fw update), while currently it works for approximately 11-12hr. Although charging from PC usb port is possible, I would recommend using external 2A wall charger for a faster speed.
Once the battery is fully charged and you are ready to go, turn the power on and enjoy what comes up next! The crisp high resolution IPS screen has fantastic colors and highly visible from wide angles. It bring up a great visual since X5 is capable of displaying the song artwork or using a default background when playing your tunes. Also, there is an extensive amount of customization with a lot of options of how you want your DAP to function, under System Settings, to how you want it to play your songs, under Play Settings. It felt almost like I'm using my smartphone, the level of customization was that detailed. It even included a full readable manual of how to use X5. There are a lot of ways how you can play the songs, browse by favorites, play by category, browse folders, by artist, by album, etc. There is also a fantastic 10-band graphic EQ to fine tune your sound with included presets or by customizing it on your own, but in my opinion leaving it at Normal is the beauty to enjoy it's pure sound. I was very pleased to hear neutral signature of this DAP without any coloring of enhanced bass or treble, at least to my ears. This becomes especially apparent when you start switching your favorite set of headphones between different audio sources. The sound really comes alive!!! I can even tell you that listening from my Note 2 w/E18 and comparing it to X5, I found X5 to have a bit wider sound, more sparkle in high, better extension and control of lows, and overall a little bit more details across the whole frequency spectrum. Without a doubt, headphones play a significant role in sound quality, but if you are not driving it with a clean source - you can't polish a turd lol!!! If you look at the spec of X5, it has some very serious power of 460mW@16ohm and 28mW even at 300ohm driving the most demanding high impedance audiophile headphones. It also has low/high gain setting to boost output by additional 6dB, and with Line out you can even drive an external amp, if you desire.
Overall, to say that I was impressed with FiiO X5 would be an understatement. Since the day I got it, I have been trying to find every possible excuse to use it. This brings me to one very important question, why would I want to set aside my current setup of Galaxy Note 2 and E18? What I discovered, my current smartphone total integration has its positive and negative sides. It's convenient, no doubt about it. But in order to enjoy your music to a full potential, you need to tune out the outside world. Doesn't matter if you are listening to EDM, Pop, Rock, Rap, R'n'B, or Jazz or Classical. If you are relaxing and want to enjoy listening to the sound, you don't want to be interrupted by another email or text message or social media update or reminder to update an app. Smartphone is a jack of all trades, while X5 is a master of one - the PURE SOUND QUALITY. Based on what I have seen and heard while using one, and read from other audiophiles on head-fi.org, FiiO X5 achieved and mastered that goal quite well at the price which is a fraction of competition. In my opinion, if you decided to invest into high quality audiophile equipment and spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to achieve your goal - this little DAP will be an excellent investment. Or, if you are saving money for $700-$1000 DAP, don't be cautious by $350 price tag of X5 and give it a serious consideration!