Fiio Q5 Review – A New Challenger

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Sound –

AMP –

The Q5 comes with Fiio’s AM3A, the same that ships with the X7 MKII. It uses 3x AD8260 op-amps combined with 3x OPA926 pre-amps; one pair for the single ended 3.5mm output and two pairs handling each channel on the balanced output. It’s not as analytical as the AM1 nor is it as full-bodied as the AM2. Rather, the AM3A is slightly engaging with a touch of additional bass impact and a cleaner overall presentation. It’s articulate but not overly so, retaining realistic midrange voicing. In addition, as the AM3A doesn’t introduce additional mid-bass/lower-midrange body, it sounds very clean, delivering precise transience and a neutral tone that maintains transparency.

The AM3A has minimal hiss, just a little more than the AM1 which I find to be essentially silent. Hiss is perceptible when listening through very sensitive in-ears such as the Campfire Audio Jupiter but doesn’t irk when music is playing. The Q5 is also fairly EMI resistant, I didn’t notice any noise when listening through my laptop regardless of WiFi and CPU activity, and listening over Bluetooth also doesn’t introduce any additional noise. Though not the highest gain amplifier, the AM3A delivers deafening volume to IEMs and portable headphones. All of my portable gear sounded well-dampened and controlled, driven to potential.

The Q5 even did a fine job driving the Advanced Sound Alpha, a large planar magnetic headphone in addition to the Sennheiser HD6XX though both sounded more controlled and dynamic from my Schiit Magni 3. The AM3A has a low output impedance (<1.4ohms) which, combined with its fairly low noise floor, makes it very well suited towards low-impedance multi-driver IEMs. This was reinforced by subjective impressions using the Hyla CE-5, an 8.9ohm earphone that is highly source sensitive. The CE-5 sounded as balanced through the Q5 as through the X7 MKII and DX200 w/AMP5. The Q5 received well over 150hrs of burn-in prior to testing to ensure optimal performance.

 

DAC –

The Q5 uses a dual AKM4490, the same as the X5 III. However, the Q5 sounds appreciably different due to its different amplification hardware. In particular, the Q5 has a more accurate timbre due to its greater balance in addition to sounding generally cleaner and more resolving. As such, I won’t provide DAC specific sound analysis, though this is a nice chip that Fiio have been able to implement well in the past and one with wide codec support (provided on their website here).

 

Tonality –

The Q5 is as any great source should be, balanced and transparent. It has some slight flavouring to its sound, lying on the smoother, more refined side overall; though this is chiefly due to some slight treble tweaks with the remaining sound impressing with its linearity. This serves to create some additional contrast forming a sound that is mostly accurate and never clinical. As always, these comments are relative to other sources I have on hand, and all sound characteristics outlined will be more subtle than those between earphones and headphones.

 

Bass –

The Q5 demonstrates that one shouldn’t judge a source by its components. Where I expected a warmer, fuller AKM bass response, the Q5 instead reciprocates with an impressively well-defined and neutrally toned presentation. It extends terrifically into the lowest frequencies, reaffirmed by tight, very slightly enhanced impact. This is especially evident coming from Saber 2018 sources such as the Oppo HA-2 which tend to sound a little cooler with less sub-bass weight. The Q5 rather delivers concise impact free of bloom and muddiness and its subtle elevation grants its low end with a more physical character without introducing excessive colouration.

This is reinforced by a neutral mid-bass tuning and excellent control throughout. Accordingly, the Q5 delivers a transparent tone and accurate note size. Through this style of tuning, the DAC sounds just a little more engaging while remaining nicely separated and well-defined. Upper-bass is also fairly neutral, extending linearly into the lower-midrange and providing the foundation for a transparent image. As bass is very balanced with well-judged sub-bass emphasis, the Q5 never overpowers higher elements and its slightly more aggressive texturing brings details to the fore. This is heightened by accurate decay and attack providing precise, separated notes that remain composed during faster tracks.

 

Mids –

The Q5 MKII has quite an enchanting midrange on account of its refined, natural vocals and crisp instrumentation. Its lower midrange extends linearly from its bass response, providing accurate body. These comments extend to its centre midrange with spot-on vocal body and size. Resultantly, the Q5 produces a realistic timbre and defined yet delineated layers. It thoroughly impresses with its transparency, just like the X7 II, though it isn’t quite as clear due to the positioning of its upper-midrange. Vocals are also well-present and natural as a result, where the X5 III sounded more laid-back and lacking intermediate density. By contrast, upper-mids are very slightly laid-back, a character carried by Fiio’s other AKM sources including the Q1 MKII and X5 III.

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None of these sources are veiled in the slightest, especially the Q5 so I wouldn’t consider this an issue. That said, it is evidently denser sounding compared to sources such as the X7 II and DX200. Still, as lower-treble has a touch of emphasis, both male and female vocals are well-articulated with an uptick of clarity; so the Q5’s slightly attenuated upper-midrange rather grants female vocals a smoother, more liquid character devoid of any blunting or truncation. And despite its slightly smoother, more laid-back upper-midrange presentation, the Q5 is a very detailed source; a result of both excellent resolution and great linearity that flatters the smaller intricacies in the background while providing wholly resolved notes in the foreground. It’s tonally correct and transparent with very linear tuning. In short, this is a very well done midrange.

 

Highs –

The Q5’s higher-frequencies are a synergistic blend of crispness and organic body. It doesn’t sound quite as composed as higher-end sources such as the DX200, but doesn’t fail to impress with its well-detailed and controlled presentation. Lower-treble has a touch of emphasis that grants the Q5 with slightly more articulate notes and a slightly more aggressive presentation of details. It’s not spiked nor is it aggressive to the extent that instruments sound thin or sharp; they’re just a little crisper. In fact, the Q5 actually sounds a little more bodied through its treble. Perhaps this can be attributed to its gradual slope into an attenuated middle treble that grants the Q5 with a dark background and a sense of cleanliness throughout its presentation.

And as the DAC extends very well up top, resolution is excellent and air is maintained. The result is a treble presentation that engages with its concise attack and remains impressive under scrutiny due to its textured, well-bodied notes. Instruments such as cymbals are flattered with realistic shimmer and decay while strings are natural and accurately placed. Though the Q5 isn’t the most immediately open and airy sounding source, it presents a detailed and richly textured image through a highly refined lens. Where many high-end sources pursue a more reference sound or a musical low-end counterbalanced by an energetic high-end, the Q5 prides itself on organic body and liquid smoothness.

 

Soundstage –

The Q5 delivers a larger stage among portable sources, achieved through a combination of a more neutral low-end and slightly laid-back high-end that pushes the background further into one’s periphery. The result is a nicely expansive presentation and one with enough body to avoid sounding sparse and uninvolving. The Q5 layers well and its instruments are accurately placed besides female vocals that can be pushed back on some tracks. Its combination of extension and control enable pinpoint directional cues and its lower-treble energy imbues a slightly more pristine sense of attack to every high-note. Separation is a strength of the Q5, chiefly on behalf of its concise, neutrally sized notes that occupy nothing but their rightful place in the stage. Its darker background makes the Q5 sound more composed than most sources, but at the same time, its high-end can lack an iota of air and sparkle in the highest octave.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

6 Comments

  1. Surya Pratama Wijaya on

    Great review Ryan,

    May i ask for a brief SQ characteristics comparison with oppo ha2 SE, ifi micri black label and also chord mojo.

    Best regards,
    Surya

  2. Henry Dihardjo on

    Hi, do you have the chance to compare it to onkyo dp-x1 or pioneer xdp-300r?

    thanks.

    • Ryan Soo on

      Sorry Henry, haven’t had enough time with either DAP to provide accurate comparison!

  3. Cody on

    Thanks Ryan, great review. Which of Fiio’s AMP modules would you suggest if I wanted the blackest background (minimal hiss) with my Q5? I’m listening with Campfire Andromedas.

    • Cody on

      And how might your suggested amp (if any) impact the sound compared to AM3A?

      • Ryan Soo on

        Hi Cody,

        The AM1 has the least background hiss of Fiio’s modules. It’s slightly more organic sounding and slightly less crisp up top while the AM3A is a little cleaner, has less body and a bit more midrange clarity. That said, for the Andromeda, the AM1 will be a good match especially with its slightly lower noise floor.

        Cheers,
        Ryan.

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