Personal, portable hifi reviewed on a cross channel ferry, why not?
My use for a personal music player tends to be when I’m travelling and not in a car. At home it’s the big hifi that usually gets used or my desk based headphone system while I am working, I don’t commute…other than staggering up stairs after retrieving a vat of coffee, so other than some preliminary testing at home, I was waiting for a long journey to really give the X5 a go.
The Brittany Ferries Amorique will take all day to cross the not so tranquil waters of La Manche to Plymouth so I have 8+ hours to work my way through a few beverages and some serious tuneage.
As we pull out of Saint Malo, France is February-fresh, bright and sunny. ‘Pierre the Bear’, a fantastically racially stereotypical French bear in a beret, is taking to the stage to entertain the kiddies so I retreat to the bar, don my sunnies and headphones and get lost in music.
Mr Hifi Pig, fearing rough waters and rouge bears, does the same.
I have paired the X5 with the Oppo PM1s and their standard mini jack cable. I want to see what this little beauty can do on its own before I start messing around with different cables and headphone amps.
The FiiO X5 is a serious looking player. It has a reassuring weight to it and the brushed metal and retro-old-style-ipod looks have a subdued stylishness. It is not too heavy but you could probably use it as a weapon if ever the situation arose…if Pierre the Bear gets too frisky I can always give him a swift blow with it.
It fits snugly in the Oppo PM1 travelling case with the headphones so I have a nice portable set up, even with proper sized cans.
The minimal looks are enhanced by the black soft-silicon case and I have already applied one of the supplied screen protectors so we are ready to rock…or rave.
The player is simple and very intuitive to use, I love the wheel and this and the buttons are easy to operate one handed as the X5 sits comfortably in my hand.
The display screen is the perfect size, big enough so you can clearly see what you are doing but not too big….with great screen resolution and colour display.
It is really simple to flick through your music, skip tracks, replay etc. I haven’t yet used the playlist feature but I like the idea of it and I also like the way you can ‘favourite’ tracks…I have certain ‘go-to’ tunes that I like to use when reviewing so this makes it very quick to find what you are after.
Many people will see the FiiO line of players as competition to the more expensive Astell&Kern players, now I have not had in depth experience of the A&Ks but I have picked them up at shows and I have to say that I found the X5 immediately much more easy to use….and in a portable player I find ease of use to be one of my priorities, I don’t want to fiddling around for hours trying to find what I want to listen to when I just want to zone out from the surrounding world.
You can add up to 2 micro SD cards (max 128 GB each) and this does mean you are not constrained by the capacity of the player…if you commute a lot and have an extensive music collection you can travel with a few cards and just pop in the one that you want rather than having to take tracks on and off the player.
The X5 comes with several preset EQ settings and a custom option….though I found these unnecessary and stuck with the EQ off…but again, a nice option to have for personal tweaking.
The player supports a host of lossless file formats from FLAC to DSD, even Apple’s ALAC …so is basically going to play anything that you want it to. It can also be used on your desk as a DAC for your computer as well as a portable player, making it a sensible purchase if you are looking for both options.
Getting music onto the X5 is a simple affair from the laptop with the supplied USB cable, and it also charges at the same time…worth noting that it also has a long battery life and holds its charge when not in use, so very handy for people that travel a lot, there is nothing worse than digging your music player out of your bag to find it has gone flat.
I have put a wide variety of music on, mainly flac files but the odd mp3 has crept in, mainly because I quite often find a mix on Soundcloud that I want to listen to…..and I’m not a music snob who only ever listens to hi res stuff….. if there is something new that I want to hear and I can’t get it in anything other than mp3 then that will have to do, if I love it I can seek out a better quality version later down the line.
What better to kick off with than some real ‘take you on a trip’ music? I’ve got a Marcel Dettmann podcast of part of his 2014 NYE set from Berghain that I have been itching to listen to in its entirety.
This is ominous and dark but still uplifting techno that seems to perfectly suit the mood as the ferry slides out of the sunlight and under the dark clouds that herald stormy seas ahead.
I associate an ‘in the club’ sound with the PM1s, usually used with my desktop system, but I still get that same sense of depth, space and immersion using them with the X5.
With the driving bass I’m soon transported from a cross channel ferry to a Berlin nightclub…if zoning out from the real world is what you are looking for then the X5 delivers. In fact, after I finish listening to the hour and a half of the set that I have I have that ‘just stepped out of the cinema into the daylight’ feeling of having spent time in an alternate world.
Next on the cards is a bit of disco. The Nile Rodgers presents the Chic Organization, ‘Up all Night’ compilation is a favourite of mine and gets played when a boogie is in order….fortunately I don’t start dancing like a disco flash mob on the ferry but I’m having a hard time keeping still with the crisp hand claps of ‘Le Freak’ reverberating in my ears…by the time Sister Sledge and ‘He’s the greatest dancer’ kick in, I’m a disco on the outskirts of ‘Frisco …..well in my head anyway.
The urge to get up and dance continues as I move onto Curtis Mayfield, ‘Move on up’ sounds incredibly energetic with lively trumpets and, slowing things down a bit ‘Sweet Exorcist’ shows of Curtis’s honeyed vocals a treat.
Many, many more tunes get played and I think it is a strong testament to the FiiO X5 that I am just enjoying, rather than reviewing, it …it really is a ‘pocket rocket’ music player.
The listening experience is immersive, the soundstage is not just left and right but fully wraparound…..the way I want headphone listening to be, I suppose you could call it virtual reality for the ears.
Bass is not overpowering but there is plenty of it for me, piano sounds sweet and lively and vocals are glorious.
I am looking forward to trying the X5 with portable headphone amps and perhaps different cables just to see if I can get even more out of it. I will also be testing it with some IEMs for when I don’t want to take the Oppos out.
As a standalone portable player without adding any after market extras, I do feel that it is enjoyable to listen to, user friendly and ultimately portable…a music player that you can be proud to pull out of your pocket in public but open to some ‘pimping’ if that’s the road that you want to go down.
Build Quality – 9/10
Sound Quality – 8.5/10
Value For Money – 9/10
Overall – 8.83
At just under £300 this is a well priced, beautifully made, high quality portable music player. Teamed with your favourite headphones it is a hifi in your pocket…easily recommended.
Once I’d managed to prise the X5 out of Linette’s hands and given it’s overwhelmingly positive review by her it’s time for me to give my opinion and offer a second review.
I’ll not go into the whole background of this little player as Linette seems to have covered most bases. I used the X5 with a pair of Beyerdynamic T51 i headphones priced at £246 which seems a reasonable match price-wise.
LISTENING AND COMMENTS
The X5 has a good deep bass that is nicely controlled whilst listening to hard techno. There is a real feeling that the bass is pounding along like a foundry hammer – this is with no fiddling with the EQ. This bass isn’t overpowering though and the mids and tops also get a decent outing and overall there is a nice balance to the sound the X5 produces.
Soundstage appears to be neither overly exaggerated in width but neither is it constricted to the centre of your head so you get a good feel of the stereo image.
The top end is certainly not rolled off at all and you get a good sense of airiness around the upper frequencies. With the kind of music I tend to listen to whilst out and about this is pretty much perfect and leads to a precise and yet non-fatiguing listen which I thoroughly enjoyed.
On Really well recorded hi-res files the separation of instruments in the mix is exceptionally good and there is that balance to the sound that I mentioned with a slight warmth in the bass department. This again leads to an easy to listen to product which is a useful feature for a portable audio device to have.
To save on battery life Ii turned the screen down low and in any kind of sunlight i found it difficult to see and difficult to navigate…turn up the juice and it’s fine but you will limit the time you can use the X5. This is certainly no “Retina” display but it gets the job done fine.
Another little niggle is the user interface not being immediately intuitive but you do get used to it after a bit of a play…others may want to read the manual! The jog wheel has some stick in the past from various quarters but I really enjoyed using it and found it a breeze to use…though I do see how folk could describe it as being a bit on the vague side.
The unit feels purposeful in your hand and feels solidly constructed – there’s a weight to it that I find reassuring!
You can also use the X5 as a desktop DAC via USB and it will decode files up to 192kHz/24bit and also DSD 2.8Mhz/1 bit. Download the driver, pop a suitable USB into the bottom of the X5 and a line out to your amp and you’re away. It’s genuinely hard to criticise this extra feature and the sound for pound ratio is very high indeed. I wouldn’t use it as my main DAC, but for listening to files on the computer it’s fine and with the same characteristics sonically as when listening through cans – powerful and well balanced. I used it with a little pair of Roth OLi speakers and a Amptastic Mini 1 amp and it was great fun and allows for a desktop and portable system for less than £750 (£246 of which is in headphones)
Most of my listening is not done whilst out and about, but when I do listen to music on the train or plane I want it to be of a decent quality. In absolute terms the sound of pretty much all portable players is lacking when compared to the main rig, but the X5 manages to play your tunes in a most entertaining, non-tiring and pretty high quality way. It’ll play pretty much any file you want to throw at it too! Added to this the USB DAC functionality and for the £300 asking price the X5 becomes a no brainer.
Build Quality – 8.5/10
Sound Quality – 8.25/10
Value For Money – 9/10
Overall – 8.58