FiiO Q5 - Rule Them All

FiiO Q5 - Rule Them All

FiiO Q5 is a newly released DAC/AMP made by the Chinese giant FiiO. They promise a lot of performance for a very modest price with the newly released FiiO Q5, and we're going to see how much they can deliver on their promise.







Introduction

FiiO has now become known by almost every single audiophile out there as one of the most respected and loved audio companies, offering both quality and impressively good pricing on all their products, having made true audiophile grade equipment accessible to those who are on a budget. FiiO always impressed us in the past with their service and customer care quality, and they even are known to offer a great amount of help to any music lover who purchased their products. Quite the amazing company with quite the amazing service through and through. 

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with FiiO, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by FiiO or anyone else. I'd like to thank FiiO for providing the sample for the review. The sample was provided along with FiiO's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with FiiO Q5. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in FiiO Q5 find their next music companion.



About me

https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/about.html



Packaging

First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:














FiiO always packaged their products in impressive packages, and here we're not talking about the size. The fact that all of previous products we unboxed from FiiO came packaged with a great deal of accessories made us really curious what they'd package their flagship DAC/AMP with.

They didn't let us down... 

FiiO Q5 comes packaged with just about every single cable and rubber band, adapter and accessory you will probably need in your time with it. There are rubber bands for attaching it to your smartphone, there are cables to attach it to your smartphone, DAP, and even to work as an amplifier or DAC alone. 

You have all your needs checked when purchasing FiiO Q5, and although FiiO also sells higher quality cables, along with special cases for Q5, the basic package really includes already pretty much everything that one might ever need for taking advantage of the full power of FiiO Q5. 

While Q5 comes packaged in a cardboard box of medium size, beneath it you can find the true marvel of FiiO packaging, along with the large number of accessories, even a carrying pouch for keeping Q5 safe. Compared to the pouch we received with FiiO E12A years ago, even the pouch for Q5 has been thought a little better, allowing for both much better impact resistance and for much better heat dispersion while Q5 is within the pouch, if one would want to use it like that. 

There isn't anything we could add to the package really, FiiO thought this one through really well. 



What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAP

https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/what-to-lookl.html



Technical Specifications









Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware

Starting with the build quality, FiiO Q5 is FiiO's best built device to date. The device is literally a large metal slice with every button and even the volume wheel well protected under a large metal side. The buttons are slightly recessed so they are protected by the main case as well. FiiO's AMP locking mechanism is the same as the one we've seen on FiiO X7mkii and as we still have the mighty X7mkii up and running, without a scratch, we're absolutely sure that the mechanism is pretty future-proof. 

The aesthetics of Q5 are even better than FiiO's most devices, and it now looks both sleek and elegant, without having that industrial side some of the older devices had, not that we don't like an industrial-looking device once in a while. The front side is a large metal panel, with a little LED light at the bottom which either stays lit when Q5 is in typical usage, or which breathes when Q5 is charging. The back side is covered in a pleather layer, thing which is pretty awesome for stacking FiiO Q5, not to mention that it presents far less scratches, or better said, no scratches even after being stacked multiple times with multiple devices, some of which can be fairly pointy. 







There is no UI to speak about, and FiiO Q5 connected flawlessly to any of our Android devices, while on Windows we required a little driver to be installed, but it works flawlessly nevertheless. The firmware is backed by FiiO's latest tech, and there are a few features we should talk about before going over to the sound quality of FiiO Q5. 

APT-X: FiiO Q5 sports the latest APT-X Bluetooth abilities. We only tested Q5 as a received of APT-X signal from Samsung T580 so far, and the combination worked flawlessly. The connection takes around 10 seconds before everything works, and then it keeps working just fine. As long as we kept the two in a relatively close proximity, there were no signal cuts and no issues we can speak about. APT-X yields much better results (sonically speaking) than the typical Bluetooth signal, so we urge you to use APT-X whenever possible for your best experience. 

AMP Modules: FiiO Q5 is not a standalone DAC/AMP, but it is a modular DAC/AMP, featuring the same AMP modules as the ones we've seen on FiiO X7mkii. This means that all the modules that work with X7mkii will work with FiiO Q5, and that you can fine tune the sonic performance of Q5 after you bought it, as it originally comes with AM03A. The most prominent upgrades from AM03A are AM03B and AMP05, both of which we'll explore in this review. 



Sound Quality

The sound quality of Q5 is outstanding, or rather, for the price it is unbelievable. The sonic performance is exactly the same as that of FiiO X7mkii, as long as both are running the same AMP module. This means that our entire review of X7mkii's sonic performance yields true for FiiO Q5 as well. Instead of going over the same things once again, we're going to review the AMP modules that you can buy for FiiO Q5 and X7mkii, and what the differences between them are, and which is the best suited for your needs. The short answer is that Q5 will have the same sound as X7mkii, which is the sound of one of the best things we've heard. After trying each with AM05 and AM03A and AM03B from FiiO, we deduced that X7mkii and Q5 sound like they are the same device when they are connected to the same AMP module. 




FiiO AM03A - This is the default module both FiiO Q5 and FiiO X7mkii come with. It is a vivid-sounding, energetic, sparkly and open-sounding AMP module that we reviewed in our FiiO X7mkii review. 

The bass of AM03A is incredibly deep, going as low as it needs to go, down the the absolutely lowest octaves. It is a quick bass when it needs to be quick, it is a slow and natural bass, when it has to be slow, being quite transparent and good at painting the music track just the way it was recorded. AM03A can drive all IEMs I tested it with, with an excellent authority, giving them just the right type of bass they need to have. Both the rumble and the impact are outstanding when they are called for. 


The Midrange of AM03A is extremely clear, detailed and has a very enthusiastic nature to it, being quite vivid and giving all music a vivid edge, making things sound dynamic and well separated when they should sound like that, and making them pop out and feel lively. With slow music, it sounds slow, with fast and aggressive music, it sounds fast and aggressive, being a colorless module that lets the true nature of the music shine through it. One of the best things about the midrange of AM03A is how clear, detailed and revealing it is, being worthy of how a true flagship should sound like. There is no tilting towards any area in particular, and the sound is generally wide, having good instrument separation and definition, along with excellent timing and dynamics.


The treble of AM03A is like the rest of its signature, extremely clear, vivid, and in its nature, very transparent. It is not bright nor smooth, instead letting the music and the headphones do the coloring of the music. The top end has the right amount of shimmer and glimmer when it has to and can sound quick, as well as well behaved when it has to, reaching even the highest octaves possible, letting the treble shine when the IEM / Headphone can shine, and making it tame and quiet when the music or the headphone paints it as such.

FiiO AM05 - Here, AM05 sounds similar to AM03A, but with a deeper soundstage, reaching far deeper in all directions, with more weight to each musical note, and with a slightly smoother texture response, but very slightly. The treble is still excellent, and it sounds sparkly when it should sound sparkly, it sound smooth when it should sound smooth. The midrange is quite similar, but again, there's a touch of smoothness added to the mix. The bass, on the other hand, is heavier with more impact and with a slightly slower response, placing it in the natural territory. AM05 has only single ended outputs, and its power is far stronger than AM03A, ensuring proper drive for headphones that need it, like Beyerdynamic Amiron or LCD-MX4. In all honesty, this is our favorite FiiO AMP module to date, being the most versatile one, and the one that spent most time on both our Q5 and X7mkii. The main thinking behind that is that AM05 can drive anything from the little IE800S and RE2000, all the way to big headphones, so it is a true jack-of-all-trades AMP module, without sacrificing any quality over its versatility, being probably the most natural sounding and the most detailed of all the AMP modules. In all honesty, we recommend it for usage with virtually any headphone and In-Ear, AMP5 simply works with everything incredibly well. 

FiiO AM3B - AM3B is actually a very interesting offering from FiiO, the 4.4mm balanced module. The fun part is that FiiO thought about their customers who want to take advantage of it, but who don't have the 4.4mm cables necessary for it, so they are also creating a 2.5 to 4.4mm adaptor, along with a single ended output on AM3B, so even if you don't own any balanced cables, you can take advantage of the sound of AM3B right away. The sonic performance is different from AM03A, being much thicker, with more bass emphasis and with much more weight to each musical note. It is noticeably thicker than AM03A and than AM05, it sounds really weighty and warm, but the good news is that the treble is not only there, but actually has a very nice strength to it, presenting all music with excellent overall impact and dynamics, being rather amazing and intriguing what FiiO managed to do in this one AMP module. Given the scarcity of balanced cables in general, not to mention of 4.4mm balanced cables, we can only say that this is something one can take full advantage of if they know well what they are doing, but otherwise, it represents a really good upgrade from the stock module if one prefers a thicker sound, with a more lush and meatier overall presentation, but which still stays sparkly and interesting in the treble. If one of our biggest issues with FiiO X5-3 was that it was too smooth for a lot of music, AM3B surely doesn't have this issue, instead being rather interesting and fun, presenting music in a very enjoyable fashion. We feel that those of us who have IEMs or headphones that have a more neutral or brighter overall tuning, and who want to balance that, would be really happy with AM3B. IEMs like UM Martians, Dita Truth, FiiO F9Pro and even Sennheiser IE800 are outstanding pairings with AM3B. Headphones like Beyerdynamic Amiron or Ultrasone Signature Studio also make excellent companions for this AMP module. We don't quite recommend it with IEMs and Headphones that are already overly warm or thick-sounding as one might overdo that, so Beyerdynamic Xelento, for example, might get too thick and lush for most casual listeners. 



Soundstage



The Soundstage of FiiO Q5 depends on which module is connected, but we'd like to mention that all modules have a really good and well-extended soundstage, with AM05 being the deepends, and AM03A sounding the widest. AM3B sounds less wide than AM03A, but it sounds similarly deep as AM05. The soundstage of FiiO Q5 has no issues in presenting classical music as a wide and enveloping experience, while it can present a rock concert with the right amounts of impact and dynamics it needs to have.



ADSR/PRaT

The ADSR and PRaT (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and Pace Rhythm and Timing) characteristics of FiiO Q5 also depend on which AMP module is connected to it. In a few words:

AM03A - This is the reference AMP module since it comes with Q5 by default. ADSR and PRaT is quick, textures are presented in a really revealing fashion, everything feels nice and has a good amount of detail in it. 

AM3B - This module is the smoothest from the 3 AMP modules we've heard, textures are tilted by the thicker presentation into sounding slower and smoother, things don't have the same edge as with AM03A, but it is fair to mention that the impact and overall impression is that this will be extremely impressive. While it isn't the quickest, it provides the most of the bass textures, along with a slightly smoother midrange and treble presentation, making an excellent companion for Jazz or more laid-back music. 

AM05 - This is the module we've been using the most, and this is the one that sounds most natural from FiiO's current offering. The textures are presented in a natural fashion, not too quick, nor too slow, music feels enjoyable, but not overdone, everything is well balanced across the spectrum and in all fairness, this is what most people might be looking for, if they want a general and versatile AMP module. We felt that AM03A was even more to our liking for music that should sound very textured, so it would have our thumbs-up more, but for a wider range of music genres, we recommend looking into AM05 more. 



Portable Usage

Here is where things get interesting. We generally do not recommend any DAC/AMP over a specialized DAP due to the DAP being more convenient to carry around. This time, it is a little different. First, FiiO Q5 comes with something named APT-X, and what this basically means is that it has a rather good-sounding Bluetooth connection. This will make a large difference for those listeners who like to enjoy the best music there is, all while keeping their connection somewhat portable. 





The other aspect is the size and shape of FiiO Q5. It is more or less exactly the same shape and size as a FiiO X7mkii. This makes it far more stackable than shorter and thicker devices, or than devices which follow a different build type. For example, when compared to Chord Mojo, Mojo isn't even close in terms of portability, being short and thick, occupying a lot of space in a pocket when stacked with something, slipping away easily and being hard to carry around. iDSD Nano BL is thinner, but at the end of the day, it is a big short, making stacking a little harder than its larger brother, iDSD BL Micro, which, despite its much larger size, was actually quite easy to carry around and to use. The short version is that iDSD Micro BL became the pole to which a device was attached, while Nano still is a bump away from a device, resulting in a better carrying solution for the larger device. 

Compared to all of those, FiiO Q5 has one of the most conventional shapes and sizes, being as carry-able as HIDIZS DH1000 which we reviewed recently. In all fairness, we weren't expecting this, but it seems this is the way it goes. 

The battery life is actually very good, around 10 hours of playback time measured by us with mixed usage, with AMP5, and we know it might be longer for somebody who doesn't listen as loud and who doesn't use the DAC/AMP usage, but this is a safe promise for this little device. 

The overall driving power is extreme, FiiO Q5 is actually able to push Beyerdynamic Amiron and Audeze LCD-MX4 as much as we could imagine them being pushed, beyond the listening volumes we use, so really really loud. With AM05, the driving power was never used at full, our potentiometer stayed around 12 to 1 AM at max, so there is a lot of headroom to spare for FiiO Q5 based on its rated power alone. 

The blind usage is fairly simple, a volume wheel for volume, none of the buttons doesn't seem to work in DAC mode when connected to any of our devices, so we believe they only work in Bluetooth or with certain apps. 






The bluetooth connection is strong and it stays connected even while being used outside, but with cables as awesome as FiiO makes for connecting Q5 to a DAP, there's no reason to use Bluetooth unless one really wants to.  

FiiO Q5 works with all our devices that we tested and provides excellent results with each one of them. 

We weren't able to detect any changes in the sonic performance of FiiO Q5 when connected to different sources, be it FiiO x7mkii, Hiby R6, Xiaomi Mi Max 2, or Samsung T580, everything was able to make FiiO Q5 shine the same way as long as the volumes were matched, and as long as the file and the app playing the music was the same. 

Basically, the portability factor of FiiO Q5 is reaching beyond what we expected and it is at a golden level. There is literally nothing we could want improved, besides, maybe the battery life, everything being top-notch and perfect as far as we're concerned. 



Select Pairings





Please note that for any pairing, the IEM has more impact on the final result than the DAC/AMP, and we are generally describing the AM03A AMP module here, as it is the one that Q5 comes with from the factory. 

FiiO Q5 + HiFiMAN RE2000 - An interesting combo because FiiO Q5 can really shine a sparkly light on the already amazing RE2000 from HIFIMAN. It is interesting to notice the finer details and nuances in every song. The combo generally sounds vivid, dynamic, has an excellent bass depth, impact and just a visceral presentation that is hard to imagine without hearing it. The treble is sparkly and well controlled, while the midrange is as detailed as it always is. 

FiiO Q5 + Audeze LCD-MX4 - Here's a really nice one. FiiO Q5 can actually drive LCD-MX4 really well, and they make a lovely pair together, with an excellent amount of detail, an excellent impact that really serves metal and percution a great favor, and with a really well-extended treble that is natural and which feels rather relaxing to listen to. Everything seems to be right where it has to be, presented with a large soundstage, and with a very good instrument separation. 

FiiO Q5 + Beyerdynamic Amiron - Here things get a little on the edge, as FiiO Q5 with its AM03A is able to drive Amiron quite loud, but we felt that it does a much better job when AM05 is installed. Both modules have a good control over the impressive desktop headphones, and FiiO Q5 is generally able to give Amiron an interesting introspection into music, with an excellent amount of details and with a speedy, precise and tight bass. The treble is detailed and has a good sparkle to it, while the soundstage is incredibly spatious, yet precise. 



Comparisons




FiiO Q5 vs FiiO X7mkii - This one is probably the most interesting of the comparisons we are doing today as X7mkii is the only device that is able to hold its ground in every possible aspect when placed against FiiO Q5. The short version is that they sound the same as long as you're using the same AMP module at the same volume. We couldn't detect any changes in sound, and we are able to tells cables apart, so we feel it is safe to say they sound the same. In practice, we could detect some minor changes in sound, where X7mkii has ever so slightly better ADSR / PRaT characteristics, but the differences can only be noticed if the two devices are tested next to each other in multiple tests, volume matched, and even then, they are small enough that we feel it is mostly safe to say that the typical user will find X7mkii and Q5 to sound the same. When it comes to their software, FiiO X7mkii is an entire Player, with a display, software, RAM memory, internal storage, and many other things that we feel might add to its price. FiiO Q5 is a DAC/AMP, the firmware is very simple and just works, but you absolutely need another device, even if say, it is the least expensive smartphone on the market. When you factor in the cost of a smartphone next to FiiO Q5, it does cost around the same amount as a FiiO X7mkii, or slightly less in total, but most of us have a smartphone or a tablet already, and maybe are accustomed to their device already, and might find it hard to go to X7mkii or a dedicated DAP.

FiiO Q5 vs iFi iDSD Nano BL - Here, the comparison is interesting to show what we meant earlier by convenience when it comes to FiiO Q5. We know that iFi has some other amazing devices in the cooking, with more Bluetooth abilities and such, but at the moment of writing this review, iDSD Nano BL doesn't have Bluetooth or those bells and whistles that one might want from their DAC/AMP, like FiiO Q5 does. FiiO Q5 can work as a line out, it has coax-in, it has balanced in form of 2.5mm, 4.4mm, single ended, and enough power to drive from IE800 all the way to Amiron from Beyerdynamic and HD800S from Sennheiser. All in the shape of a smartphone. iDSD Nano BL, on the other hand, is more made for IEMs and easier to drive headphones, but it does have balanced output as well, via its 3.5mm balanced output. When it comes to its sonic abilities, iDSD Nano BL doesn't have modular AMPs, but it has a pretty amazing sonic performance by itself. There's nothing quite like having the convenience of having iDSD Nano BL's sonic performance for its price, and we should note that especially out-of-the-box, it is less expensive than FiiO Q5 by a good amount, so if you're looking for a great bang-for-the-buck, iDSD Nano BL still gets an award for providing that. FiiO Q5 though, has modular AMPs and is more versatile for the users with an extremely large collection of headphones and IEMs, with varying degrees of power requirements. 

FiiO Q5 vs HIDIZS DH1000 - Interestingly, this comparison will start from the price. At its price, FiiO Q5 feels more like a good long-term investment, but if you factor in an extra AMP module, then DH1000 becomes a pretty good-looking alternative that is less expensive. Both can connect hassle-free to a smartphone, both have excellent sonic performance (although FiiO Q5 has a deeper soundstage and better detail revealing abilities with most modules), while only Q5 has line-out abilities. DH1000 has the fact that both the balanced and the single ended outputs can work at the same time going on for it, if you require that. FiiO Q5 has APT-X Bluetooth, and it has more connectivity options, like coax in, and such. If you're looking for the less expensive option, then DH1000 looks pretty good, but if you're looking for the ultimate experience, FiiO q5 mightr be better at providing that. This isn't to say that DH1000 isn't great already, Q5 just provides a few more things for a little more money. 



Value and Conclusion

We have to start by stating that the value of FiiO Q5 varies between 350USD and 500USD, depending on the location you're buying it from, and depending on whether you want to add extra AMP modules to it or not. In all honesty, there's a device that we can recommend instead of it if you can manage to place this money for a DAC/AMP, and that is FiiO X7mkii. Although that is true, because X7mkii brings the convenience of carrying a single device with you, you have to consider that FiiO q5 can provide a better experience, especially when it comes to Android and the smoothness of the operating system if you're looking at using a TOTL smartphone with it. This is where things get tricky, as one needs to ask, to stack or not to stack? 




If you don't mind stacking, then FiiO Q5 is excellent, and there are very few devices that look as compelling to be bought at 350$, especially given how amazing AM03A is from the start, lowering the need to invest more in secondary AMP modules, especially if you don't have hard to drive loads, that would require AM05, or balanced outputs and need of a thicker sound, like those that AM3B can provide. 

You're looking at a device to use for a long time, with APT-X Bluetooth abilities, all the inputs and outputs you can imagine you'll need for a long while, and with some extras that will come in handy even years after buying Q5 (like the line out which means that you can use FiiO Q5 in your audio system in the future, due to its excellent DAC implementation). 



At the end of the day, this is more than a DAC/AMP, this is an entirely new concept on what a DAC/AMP can be, and what it can do. How portable it can be, how ergonomic it can be, and how much fun it can bring in the life of the user. At 350USD, FiiO Q5 is a true steal, and it provides an extremely fun experience, with a sound that honestly competes with FiiO's flagship device, FiiO X7mkii. With a neutral sound out-of-the-box, excellent extension both ways, excellent PRaT and ADSR, a deep and impactful bass, and with a clear, clean, detailed and well-layered sound, FiiO Q5 sure is going to make you fall in love at first listen, and the more you'll listen to it, the more you'll fall in love with it. We find that if you want a DAC/AMP to use with a wide array of devices, including desktop devices, but also portables, and to provide a fun and hassle-free experience, you should really check out FiiO Q5 and give it a listen! If you find that you love its sound, but don't want a separate DAC/AMP, then you can check out FiiO's X7mkii, which is a DAP (Digital Audio Player) as impressive as FiiO Q5 is! 




I hope my review is helpful to you!

Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!





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