Tanks to their all-round versatility, modern-day smartphones are no longer just communication devices. Whether it’s clicking photos, checking social media updates or anything else, they can do it all. But perhaps their most-popular use is as portable music (and by extension, media) players.
And that makes perfect sense, given how convenient they are. Just transfer your favorite tracks to your smartphone’s internal storage (or a microSD card, which in turn can be popped into the phone, if supported), grab a pair of headphones/earphones, and you’re ready to roll. That’s how simple it is, and that’s precisely why smartphones have become the de-facto personal music players for just about everyone.
Be that as it may, there are some for whom a smartphone playing a bunch of low-bitrate MP3s, cranking out distorted output through a pair of run-of-the-mill earphones, just doesn’t cut it. These are discerning audiophiles (such as yours truly) who’d settle for nothing less than the purest-quality sound, and who’d go to great lengths to curate an enviable collection of lossless digital music. And for these folks, a high-resolution portable music player (PMP) is the only way to go.
If that’s something you can relate to, then you might want to take a gander at the FiiO X5. The Chinese company has made quite a name for itself in the past few years, thanks to its affordable yet feature-packed Hi-Res audio products. And the new X5, now in its third generation, is supposed to be among the best FiiO has ever made.
But is that really the case? Or at a hefty price of Rs 27,299, is this thing is ultimately too costly for its own good?
Take one look at the FiiO X5, and you can’t help but appreciate its solid build quality. Although it has a rather unassuming cuboid-shaped construction, the subtle design touches sprinkled here and there add to the PMP’s overall aesthetic appeal.
Let’s begin with the sides. On the top end of the right side, there’s a small circular Power/Sleep button that has a Blue-coloured Power status indicator LED at its center. The button itself is enclosed by a Red-colored outline and the whole arrangement is placed inside a slightly-recessed section, which looks quite nice. Move a little down to the center, and you’ll see two microSD card trays.
The bottom side of FiiO X5 is also its busiest. Left to right, it consists of a 3.5mm headphone port, a 2.5mm balanced output port, a microUSB port (for charging and data transfers) and a 3.5mm line-out/coaxial digital output port. Two tiny screws are here as well.
As for the left, this is the one that lends a funky character to the otherwise straightforward design of the FiiO X5. The whole left side is a slightly-protruding one and slants a bit inward while going from bottom to top. A much smaller section of this protrusion starts from the top and again, slants inward to meet the bigger one head-on, thus creating a recess between them. It’s this recess that hides the FiiO X5’s most distinctive-looking button -— a volume control dial -— which makes the adjustment of playback volume a walk in the park. On one side of the dial, there’s a Play/Pause button while on the other, a Forward/Rewind rocker is located.
Get to the front, and you’ll see the only element that sticks out like a sore thumb in the X5’s otherwise premium construction — Display. Although the 3.97-inch touchscreen is usable, its absurdly low 480×800 pixel resolution is tacky. The fact that it’s a TFT panel doesn’t help things either. It’s true that the primary focus of the X5 is music and not video consumption (or playing games), but we think that an LCD panel with a slightly-higher resolution would’ve been much better suited, especially given the PMP’s high price.
The FiiO X5 packs in some serious audio processing hardware underneath. It’s fitted with not just one, but two power-packed 32-bit AKM AK4490EN DACs (Digital to Analog Converters), one taking care of each audio channel. It also has a low-distortion architecture with digital filtering and decoding support up to 768kHz. And the dualities don’t just end there. The X5 comes with two crystal oscillators, one that handles DSD sampling rates like 44.1kHz and 352.8kHz, and one that deals with regular sampling rates such as 48kHz and 384kHz. The company claims that these help in eliminating compression artifacts almost completely. Then there are two dual-channel OPA1642 chips for low-pass filtering and a custom OPA426 chip for amplification.
Now, that’s a whole lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, but what does it mean for you, the end user? To put it simply — great sound.
Using the magic of both hardware and software-level audio enhancement, FiiO X5 makes the sound come alive, allowing you to listen to subtle details that’s just not possible otherwise. And you won’t be able to enjoy those details through a cheap pair of earphones. Grab a nice pair of headphones/IEMs from a specialist audio accessories manufacturer like Sennheiser or Altec Lansing (we used the BT Sport), load up some FLAC files, and hear the difference. For our test run, we used the FiiO X5 to play lossless tracks covering genres as diverse as Alternative rock, Acid jazz and Electropop, and the X5 didn’t disappoint us.
The dual DACs ensure that all frequency ranges (e.g. highs, mids) are properly separated, and make even background vocals sound clearer. There’s no distortion in the audio output at all, even when the volume levels are cranked all the way up to the maximum.It’s worth noting that FiiO’s lossless music player can also make standard MP3 tracks work better, thanks to built-in ViPER effects (although many of them are paid) and a 10-band equalizer with multiple presets. There is audio gain support included as well.
As far as the user experience goes, FiiO X5 runs a customized build of Android 5.1 Lollipop. Although it’s visually not much different from regular Android Lollipop, it’s a trimmed-down version that includes just the music-related essentials and extra software-based settings (e.g. Audio gain, Low pass filter). There are two UI modes — a standard mode that includes a homescreen, complete with app drawer; and a Pure music mode that locks the UI to just the music player. The latter is fairly easy to use and includes all standard options like playlist creation and management, grouping of tracks based on genre, artist etc., as well as multi-folder music playback. It goes without saying that the X5 supports nearly all audio formats (both lossy and lossless) out there, including everything from FLAC and ALAC to MP3 and WMA.
While the combination of a quad-core RK3188 chipset and 1GB of RAM may not be the best out there, it gets the job done. Having Android as the core operating system (instead of a custom OS) also lends the FiiO X5 the ability to access the plethora of apps available on the Google Play Store, including everything from streaming music services (e.g. SoundCloud) to lightweight games (e.g. Temple Run 2).
A particularly noteworthy feature of the X5 is USB Audio support. It essentially means is that you can hook it up to your PC via USB, connect an external speaker through the player’s line-out port and enjoy high-quality sound which is enhanced by the X5 DACs before being transmitted to the external speaker. All you need to do is download a companion USB audio driver from FiiO’s website and install it on your PC. From movies to games to YouTube videos, it makes everything sound better.
FiiO X5 comes with 32GB of internal storage, out of which about 26GB is user accessible. While this is definitely inadequate for anyone who has a decent music collection (especially if it’s all lossless music), the good thing is that the X5 comes with not just one, but two memory expansion slots, each capable of holding a microSD card of up to 256GB in size. That equates to 538GB of storage, which is definitely more than sufficient for just about everyone.