Upon first hearing the Opus #1 by theBit, Pinky’s dwindling follicles were not blown back in awe. It sounded digital and artificial to me, like many budget-fi and mid-fi products. Then I listened to another album, and another, and realized the Opus merely reveals exactly what is recorded, and does so with powerful fidelity. SEA CHANGE by Beck uses a lot of digital filters, and I could hear those filters in vivid detail. Moving on to The Rolling Stones, and you hear all the analogue distortions they use to create their iconic sounds. You listen to an artist who records clean, like Amber Rubarth, and you get crystal clarity.
In truth, this device is 100% free of inherent harshness or digititis. It feeds your headphones only what is contained within the source file. It is quite neutral, but not the dry, or thin neutral you sometimes get. The Opus is fuller and livelier than, say, the FiiO X7. Yet just as detailed and revealing. The dynamics on display here are top shelf. There is better treble sparkle than I hear on the Astell&Kern AK120II, and maybe a little harder punch down below.
The AK120II is warmer, overall. There is lushness, found most notably in the vocals. It’s thicker, with more weight to the notes. On the Opus the vocals sound thin, but not in that bad way. They are so clear and vibrant that I don’t care if they lack some of that weight the AK produces. In the bass department, either one has ample power. They both sound rich and natural, and very detailed. Due to its brighter treble though, the Opus will seem more detailed.
The soundstage on the AK is wider. I couldn’t tell any difference at first, not until I played my 24bit masters of The Beatles. Those have a great sense of space, and as I switched between the AK and Opus, the difference is plain to hear. But on Led Zeppelin IV, I heard no change. Take this as evidence of just how good the soundstage is on the Opus. It’s properly expansive. Only in extreme scenarios does it fall a little behind.
Despite their enormous price difference, I can’t honestly say which is better. I listened critically, using an A/B switcher, and I feel my choice would come down to signature preference, or headphone pairing. In spite of how much it pains me to admit, there is nothing about the audio capability of my AK that bests theBit. The rendering of the Opus#1 is faultless.
I now have the Opus#2, and this DAP is warmer. Somewhere between the AK120II and Opus#1. It is highly resolving. Smoother than #1, with meatier notes. The soundstage is a bit wider. Opus#2 possesses a more organic and refined sound. It has a realism to it that simply bests everything else I’ve heard. But honestly, the differences are not very large at all. theBit forged a mighty competitor in the Opus#1, and even their far more expensive player only manages to barely out-perform it.
Pinky also has the Cayin i5 on hand. It is a rockin’ good DAP. I would put it close to the same level of the Opus. Except it doesn’t do balanced, and only takes one microSD card. That’s a big deal. The Opus is clearer, and will sound much more detailed. The i5 is a warmth monster. Huge bass, thick mids, and less prominent treble. They are both highly dynamic-sounding devices. Very musical. As a virtue of its signature, the i5 gives you a smoother, richer sound. It also has significantly more driving power. Of course, the Opus is no slouch here, but good lord that i5 packs some power.
I won’t even go into how this thing compares against my old FiiO X5 Classic. Except to say, I replaced the X5 with the Opus#1 as my backup unit. I’ve now passed on the X5 to my father, for I simply have no use for it any more. Let me say, it is novel to own a backup so good that I may choose it instead of my principle player, depending on how I’m feeling that day. I never dreamt of such a thing with the X5. Between the inferior sound and annoying UI, it did not see daylight beyond the occasional comparison for a review.
FiiO’s newest player, the X5 3rd Gen is a full-featured Devil-Lord. Killer driving power. 2X microSD slots. Open Android OS, with App Store. At the time of this writing, there’s nothing which competes with its price:feature ratio. Unfortunately, its audio performance fails to keep pace with these other assets. The X5 is dark and lethargic sounding. Detail retrieval is low, the soundstage small, and there’s a pall of dullness over everything. Opus is the exact opposite, with immense energy and dynamism. Its staging outreaches the X5 in all dimensions. While Opus does not have the same quantity of bass, it has more than enough, and punches harder. In fact, Opus attacks stronger at every point on the spectrum. Resolution is a good few steps higher than FiiO. There is so much more air in the treble region on Opus, making it a great pair-up for warmer/darker transducers. It’s a DAP which aids a headphone where it’s weak. Whereas the X5-3 needs headphones with bright treble and high energy just to compensate for its own weaknesses.