Introduction:

Since March 2014 I am a fan of the FiiO’s X5 DAP, a thing that probably can be felt by reading my further reviews. X5 totally changed my perception of what a DAP can do especially performance wise. It impressed me so much that I decided to sell my DAC and started using my small player how this holy duty – music playback.

Since then I didn’t use any PC/MAC software that playback’s music because I just connect line-out of the player directly to some active speakers or to headphones, music being stored totally on the microSD cards.

To this moment nothing dethroned my favorite music player, but every time there is room for improvement.

I present to you X5 second generation, developed by FiiO for the last year.

Fiio X5 II (1 of 1)

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Presenting the second gen was a pleasant surprise, but seeing that X3 got its successor, it was just a matter of time when X5 will be updated to new look and quality standards.

As you can see from pictures newest X5 looks almost identical to its smaller siblings X1 and X3.

I’m glad to report that the interface was improved and it is more intuitive and that the scroll wheel and the materials used are one step forward as well.

The DAP is lighter by 30 grams compared to old gen and approximately 12% less voluminous, improving ergonomics quite much.

Display and front buttons doesn’t stick out anymore and are on the same level with the body, this way the chance of scratching the display is much lesser.

Colors are popping and are more alive, having a way better contrast; I presume a higher quality IPS screen was used.

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Interface and menu is more intuitive to the old model, everything moves faster, instant-on feature was implemented what can wake up the player from hibernation even after one month of stand-by.

X5 Second Generation (X5 SG from now on) as well as X3 SG are using a hybrid jack that can output a true line-out or it can be a coaxial out (digital transport), the second jack is the headphone amplified jack.

As in case of the rest of FiiO DAPs, it doesn’t have its own flash memory, but offers two slots of microSD cards which supports up to 256 GB of music.

Being of small dimensions and lighter than older gen, the DAP is held comfortably in hand and in pocket and doesn’t attract much attention.

When you touch it, you’ll have the same feeling that it’s built from a single bloc of duralumin, having a solid and precise construction that is pleasant to the touch.

I was saddened a bit that it is sold only in one color and that I cannot have the classic black of the X5 that I liked so much, let’s hope that in future more color variation will be offered.

Personally I like the industrial look of newest X5, but the X5 has something special as well. One thing somewhat disturbing represents the navigational buttons – those are on the same level as the body itself (to not be accidentally pressed in the pocket) but I prefer them taken out from relief, I feel that I have more control this way. I prefer the feeling of the buttons on first gen more, as well as the design itself, it has more personality.

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Another aspect that raises a question mark is the giving up on the microSD card slot rubber doors that protected against dust. The new model doesn’t have them, when two cards are inserted it’s not an issue, but in case when just one card is used dust can leak inside the DAP.

Speaking about the scroll wheel – it’s a massive upgrade compared to old model, it’s more precise now, more robust, offering a higher degree of physical resistance.

OK, let’s get inside this player, for me things are more interesting there.

DAC chip used did not change; the same high performance TI PCM1792 was used, I/V conversion is done by two OPA1652 FETs for an ultra low distortion that are followed by two OPA1612 one for low pass filter and one for voltage amplification stage in the headphone amp.

For me the most interesting part is the headphone amplifier section, namely current amplification that is done by BUF634.

This BUF634 chips are desktop class components that can offer up to 250mA into your headphones. As a comparison older X5 had maximum 150mA output.

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Two crystal oscillators have been implemented as well (instead of just one) to lower digital noise, this way one oscillator deals only with DSD material or with PCM sample rate multiple of 44.1Khz and the second one only with sample rates multiple of 48Khz. Thus X5 natively supports DSD and PCM material that has a sample rate up to 24bit/192Khz, having just 1ps of digital noise, an improvement of around 25 times better than the old gen. Both crystal oscillators are made by SiTime in USA. Besides the new X5 is well furnished inside with components of highest quality, Wima capacitors or PGA2311A – BurrBrown’s highest performance analogue volume controlling chip, reinforcing the impression that we are dealing with a device built to the highest standards.

Hey buddy, nice words, but how all of this impacts the sound quality? Will found out soon.

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Fiio X5 II (1 of 1)-57

Audio Performance:

The first thing that jumps out is the depth of the stage and the sensation that everything just flows.

First gen X5 impressed me by width and grandness of the stage, the depth although being OK, it wasn’t deep enough so that you could just walk through the recording.

That extra current/amperage and those two oscillators had a great impact on the sound quality.

At last besides the spectacular width of the stage, depth started to be apparent, sublevels of information and hidden sounds were easily perceived.

This is the major addition to the old generation – much improved sound depth and fluidity.

In the article I did last year I wrote about linearity and naturalness of the first gen X5 which I welcomed and appreciated it at the time. It seems that not everyone appreciated the linearity and the new player was a bit retuned for a more lively and fun sound signature.

For example now the bass is deeper, it strikes with more authority, its faster and is more airy. This makes you think that the new player is a little warmer in terms of frequency response.

The slight bloom in the bass jumps out almost immediately listening to the new album Infected Mushroom – Friends on Mushrooms(2015).

Impact is excellent, slowly beating  the bass rendering of the old generation. Bass lovers will appreciate the change.

Of course being a product for the true music lovers, the change is not major, it is not a player for those seeking boom box type of sound, super bloated and muddy.

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I think it’s the first FiiO DAP that has an extraordinary balance in terms of frequency response.

Mid frequencies are well defined and full of substance that incite and high frequencies are quite detailed and airy that subtle extension of notes can be heard without disturbing with sharp or abrasive sounds.

The older X5 is slightly more linear and plain sounding, has less substance, but not by much.

Another area where I felt an improvement compared to old gen is the mid frequency rendering. Everything that means voices, string instruments and other sounds have more emotion and substance attached, the tone is a bit thicker and has better shape compared to the old generation. The notes seem to be more saturated and the colors are more vivid.

Only after comparing these two players head to head, you realize only now that the first gen X5 sounds a bit softer, paler and slightly poorer in terms of emotions carried by music.

As a small comparison I own a legendary portable CD player namely Sony Discman D-250 that sounds sublime for it’s26 years of age, I was always impressed by the naturalness and fluidity it possess.

Well, newest X5 almost sound as natural and has the right amount of flow and timbre.

Listening to some Nirvana in PCM 16 bit format on X5 as well as on CD It was enough for me to understand that the new X5 is something special.

Rawness, heaviness of rock and small subtleties found on the live album are appearing with so much ease that if you are quite relaxed you can teleport yourself in the concert hall.

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Tridimensional sound and the practically holographic image are strengthening this feeling.

One can easily listen to any kind of music, from intimate instrumental and digital compressed music, to grand orchestral masterpieces.

By comparison X1 or X3 first gen are difficult at listening to classical music or live concerts, the absence of air between the notes, the lack of a large stage sensation had a negative impact and I could not recommend those devices for all musical genres.

Speaking of high frequencies, I felt those are approximately on the same level as on the old model.

They had good extension, a right amount of sparkle and a slight bite by the ear as well as tons of micro details and hidden sounds in the upper side of the spectrum that I was feeling every hit in my chest of the drums and cymbals.

Possibly some would prefer some more aggressive highs and maybe an even better extension, but I like them only when they do not scratch my ear and doesn’t frown my forehead.

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Headphone amplification:

I’ve had two pleasant surprises listening to X5 on some special headphones.

First surprise was when I connected X5 II to some Audeze EL-8 (both versions, Open and Closed) when I’ve heard a full, meaty and a very natural sound. Like I plugged both headphones to a dedicated desktop headphone amplifier.

EL-8 sounded unexpectedly well, they came to life and I even do not see the point of using a dedicated amplifier for these headphones.

The extra current (250mA vs 150mA) really said it’s word, having a better controlled sound, more coagulated and precise to the old gen X5.

Other headphones tested as Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, Amperior or Sony MDR-1A sounded excellent on both devices, expect that on the new machine I’ve had a better depth and a more natural presentation of the music.

The second surprise was when I connected my custom IEMs – Ultimate Sound 3D.

This little earphones are very efficient, having a low impedance and 3 balanced armature drivers per canal, those sound extra detailed in regards to hiss, background noise or digital noise of the DAP.

I’m glad to report that for now it’s the first player on which I not hear at all digital noise or hiss on ultrasensitive headphones.

All other DAPs that I tried until now had a bigger or a smaller degree on hiss and noise, that prevented me from using my US 3Ds directly for headphone out, I was forced on using the E12A portable IEM amp.

The new X5 sounds very good with any IEMs, be those dynamic or armature based, having 10 or 150 Ohms resistance, You’ll never hear the annoying hiss (only if the recording is poorly mastered).

For headphones that have more than 150 Ohms or on more expensive planar magnetics the limitations of internal headphone amp can be heard, sound becoming thin and former 3D sound becoming 2D in a moment.

I’m pretty impressed with well designed implementation of all components which together form an unbeatable device.

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Comparisons:

  • X5 vs X5 II

The headphone power is almost the same on both devices, but on newest X5 sound depth and the ease with which music is playing takes on a new dimension.

X5 II sounds more alive, more natural, outlining slightly bass and mids.

I hear more layers of information and a more airy sound, like the music is played on several dimensions.

X5 II works well with low impedances, hiss and noise is not an issue any more on ultrasensitive IEMs, older X5 is not so excellent on those types of earphones.

Line-out provides a touch more micro-details on the new model.

Overall the differences are not huge and on the first listening the difference might be not so obvious, but over time they are becoming more apparent.

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  • X3 II vs X5 II

X5 offers more power and a better control on any type of headphones.

X3 doesn’t sound as smooth and does not project a huge soundstage around the listener. Depth of scene on X3 is good though, almost approaching the X5 one.

X3 sounds slightly more aggressive and incisive; it emphasizes more the extremities than the music as a whole. Some even might prefer X3, in detriment to X5 because of that.

On X5 you can walk through the recording easier, X3 by comparison sounds more closed in, likes music is projected on a smaller screen.

Frequency response is very alike, but X3 is more linear/neutral, while X5 is more alive and colorful.

X5 offers more micro-details and better extracts the information from the second levels.

Dynamics seems better on X5, jumping from low to high intensities of sound is more noticeable. Focusing on only one note from a complicated recording is easier on X5, stereo image becoming more holographic.

Both devices sound excellent, the differences are bigger between the two, but that’s normal considering the price difference.

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Conclusions:

The time has come when my X5 was dethroned; the funny thing is that it was done by another X5…

Besides all the features of the old model (DAC, digital transport, headphone amplifier, hi-res player) the new X5 has arrived with native DSD decoding that first model didn’t have. I did not wrote too much about this aspect because I do not see the point of this format, but the cult followers of DSD can use with confidence the new X5 for this purpose.

Design and internal components were updated to the new quality standards. I appreciate all the improvements made and I hope to see it on black very soon (Ain’t I darku?). I positively appreciate a better screen and small size compared to the first generation.

Best news?

Price. Remained. The same.

I cannot stand when smartphone or even audio gear manufacturers update their models and are asking more money for the new generation of the same device, luckily FiiO does not have such policy.

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Pros:

  • Multifunctional device (DAC, digital transport, hi-res player, headphone amp)
  • Good quality of materials, pleasant industrial design
  • Native decoding of DSD and PCM material
  • Two microSD slots are welcomed
  • Detailed sound, airy, having a good shape
  • Extra large stage now became extra holographic with great depth
  • Excellent frequency response for my tastes
  • Price remained unchanged
  • Very good price to performance ratio

Cons:

  • lacks aggressiveness (can be also a pro)
  • Lack of on-board memory
  • Exterior design is more plain
  • MicroSD card slots does not come with dust protection

Gear used for review:

FiiO X3 II, X5, X5 II, E12A, Audeze EL-8 Open + Closed, Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, Amperior, Sony MDR-1A, Ultimate Sound 3D, Audioengine A5+

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