The comparisons below were done using the Fibae 3 to avoid the effects of output impedance. Though it doesn’t represent exact real-life usage, this does ensure each source is fairly represented as the effects of output impedance tend to vary from earphone to earphone.
Fiio Q1 MKII: The Q1 MKII is tuned similarly to the Q5 but executes its signature with less refinement and technical aptitude. The Q1 MKII has greater sub-bass impact but it’s slightly looser and less defined. It has a warmer mid-bass that delivers larger but also less separated notes. The Q1 MKII has a fuller midrange with less clarity but a pleasant tone and modest layering. It has slightly enhanced treble energy like the Q5 but lacks the same linearity and extension. As a result, the Q1 MKII sounds more superficial, it’s perceptibly less detailed and less airy, also taking a considerable hit to resolution. The Q1 MKII’s soundstage is considerably more intimate compared to the Q5, it’s less separated and less layered and its presentation is generally less dynamic. Of course, the Q1 MKII is just a third of the price and certainly offers a significant upgrade over almost any smartphone. However, the Q5 has clear advantages, as it should. On the flipside, the Q1 MKII has a little less hiss, though it’s also significantly less powerful.
Shozy Alien+: The Alien+ is less linear and bodied, leaning further towards the engaging side. The Q5 has a more neutrally bodied low-end where the Alien+ sounds cooler through its mid-bass. The Alien+ extends just as well, it has great sub-bass control and impact but isn’t as linear. The Q5 has more lower-midrange body, it sounds more natural and accurate where the Alien+ is quite thin but also more revealing. The Alien+ has similar vocal presence, but sounds a touch over-articulated; clearer but also less realistic in timbre and comparatively ill-defined. The Alien+ has noticeable lower-treble emphasis, more than the Q5, bringing details to the fore. It’s also very detailed, enhanced by its crisp, clear delivery. Finally, the Alien+ extends well and has nice air up top. Despite this, the more refined Q5 is more resolving and linear, it has a larger soundstage and considerably better imaging. Both are musical over-analytical, the Alien+ more so. As such, it’s more immediately engaging but also less realistic and discerning of fine detail. A benefit of the Alien+ is its hugely versatile amp that has zero hiss and immense power that few portable sources can match, including the Q5, making it best suited for harder to drive headphones.
Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A: The X7 II is slightly more resolving and more balanced overall. That said, the Q5 is actually a little more discerning down low. Primarily, the X7 MKII has slightly larger bass notes and a hair of additional warmth where the Q5 is more neutral and slightly more separated. The X7 MKII is more linear through its midrange, chiefly with regards to upper-mids that are slightly more forward. As such, female vocals are more accurately positioned and it’s a little more linear into its treble, delivering slightly more detail. That said, the Q5 is slightly more engaging with a crisper lower-treble that brings details more to the fore. The Q5 has a darker background where the X7 MKII delivers greater linearity into the highest frequencies and a more resolving image. It’s not immediately obvious due to the Q5’s laid-back midrange, but the X7 MKII has a larger stage with greater separation on account of its airier sound. The X7 MKII hisses slightly less for those with sensitive IEMs.
DX200 w/AMP5: The DX200 is a very resolving source that finds nice musicality with the AMP5 module. It has less sub-bass impact than the Q5 but delivers a slightly tighter, more controlled low-end. The DX200 is similarly well-defined but has greater separation. Both have a neutral tone and great linearity into the midrange. The DX200 is slightly more full-bodied than neutral, but it has a more accurately positioned upper-midrange. The DX200 is aggressively detailed though it’s actually less emphasized than the Q5. It has gobs of detail with a slightly crisper presentation where the Q5 is less subtle in its presentation and a little less refined. It sounds less nuanced and lacks the same linear extension into middle and upper-treble. Accordingly, the Q5 sounds slightly muted compared to the airier, brighter DX200, but it also sounds cleaner. Still, the DX200 manages terrific foreground detailing while maintaining a composed background. The DX200 has a much larger soundstage with greater separation throughout. It’s more layered and has more precise imaging. The DX200 hisses slightly less than the Q5 while offering similar driving power.
The beauty of Fiio’s line-up is encapsulated by their price/performance; either priced conservatively enough to appeal to the majority, ala Q1 MKII, or providing sufficient performance to please more discerning listeners, the X7 II to name an example. In turn, Fiio’s Q5 hits a sweet spot, as one of the most impressive DAC/AMPs I’ve recently tested in terms of value. It should also be noted that this isn’t just due to its sound, as the Q5 is impressively feature packed. Its wireless connectivity is genuinely compelling while Fiio’s implementation of the same swappable AMP modules as the X7 enhances its versatility (though at additional cost).
The Q5 also doesn’t compromise functionality or build quality, with well thought out controls, and a design that’s just as comfortable during daily commute as tethered to a PC at home. In listening, the Q5 performs admirably with a very clean, refined presentation combined with moderate driving power. Female vocals may sound a touch laid-back and the Q5 isn’t remorselessly revealing or airy. However, in return, it rewards listeners with a smooth, detailed and tonally brilliant sound that finds great synergy with a wide range of gear. The Q5 is an absolute bargain for those searching for a mature, tonally transparent DAC/AMP.