December 02, 2015

(The article was written by Rezaul H Laskar & originally published in Hindustan Times here)

FiiO Electronics is a Chinese company that has established its reputation with a line of reasonably priced portable headphone amplifiers, digital-to-analogue converters and high-resolution digital audio players.

We looked at FiiO’s X3 portable audio player some months ago and were able to take its bigger brother, the X5 (2nd Gen) for a spin thanks to Headphone Zone.

For anyone familiar with FiiO’s X series of digital audio players, the X5 won’t pose many surprises. It’s called 2nd Gen because the company has made some changes to the original version of the X5, including support for DSD128 high-resolution files, better sound quality at high gain levels for headphones that need more power – in fact, 40% more than the original version, and better chips of digital-to-analogue conversion and amplification.

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The new X5 2nd Gen is also lighter and smaller than the original version and supports headphones with in-line remote controls (yup, the type you use with your smartphones) to play, pause, skip and rewind your tunes.

The icing on the cake: The X5 can also function as an outboard DAC to provide better sound when you hook up your computer-based audio player to an amplifier.

The X5’s aluminium alloy shell looks good and the player has no onboard storage though it supports two 128GB micro-SD cards for a maximum of 256 GB – which means someone with a larger music collection will possibly have to invest in several micro-SD cards and keep swapping them.

One of the outputs functions as standard 3.5mm headphone port while the other can be used as a line-out or SPDIF coaxial out – perfect for connecting to an amplifier or a better DAC.

As for the sound, the X5 flawlessly handled every audio file format that was thrown at it – from lossy MP3s to lossless FLAC, ALAC and DSD files. It had no problem decoding high-resolution FLAC files of up to 24 bits and 192 kHz.

Like its smaller brother, the X3, the X5 drove headphones with a wide range of impedances – from 16 ohms to 150 ohms – with no problems. The high gain setting came in handy with headphones that needed more power.

The sound, especially with high quality in-ear phones like the RHA T20, was robust and full bodied, the soundstage nice and wide with a rich mix of highs, mids and lows. As an outboard DAC, the X5 worked fine for what it is – something that is primarily an audio player and not a specialist DAC.

As with the X3, the X5’s 2.4-inch screen with 400x360 pixels won’t win any awards for its resolution and looks but it worked just fine – after all, this is an AUDIO player right?

The controls are similar to those of the iPod Classic but the UI seemed a little laggy at times and the scroll wheel was a tad loose for my liking.

For Rs25,999 (or much less if you look around on the internet), you could do a lot worse than the X5.

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