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Audio

Why wait for the Pono portable high-resolution music player? The FiiO X5 is here now

The Pono player is due in October, but the X5 is cheaper, plays more types of file formats, and sounds sweet says the Audiophiliac.

Neil Young's recent Kickstarter campaign was a rousing success, and his high-resolution Pono music player is expected to start shipping in October. I hope it lives up to the expectations of the crowd funders. We'll have to wait and see, but FiiO's terrific sounding and more affordable X3 and X5 high-resolution (up to 192-kHz/24-bit) music players are available now. The X5 handles APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, WAV and DSD files (Pono won't decode DSD); the player lacks internal memory, but it has slots for a pair of 128GB MicroSD cards (not included) for up to 256GB of storage capacity. The aluminum chassis feels substantially built, it measures a trim 2.7 inches by 0.6 inches by 4.5 inches (67.6 mm by 15.6mm by 114mm). It's a portable device, but can also be used as a USB digital converter/headphone amp with your computer. The X5's connectivity options include 3.5mm headphone, analog stereo, and coaxial digital output jacks.

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FiiO X5 FiiO

With Audio-Technica's new ATH-M50x over-the-ear headphones the X5's muscular sound rocked my world. That's the first thing you hear, the X5 sounds powerful; playing identical ALAC files on my iPod Classic, the differences in sound quality were readily apparent. The iPod sounded vague and blurry next to the pristine X5, that player made every file sound more immediate and clear than it did on the iPod. The X5 can also drive insensitive headphones like my Hifiman HE-400 better than the iPod or most phones.

Listening with the all-new Westone ES60 custom fit in-ear headphones the X5 was an ear opener of major proportions. Resolution was extraordinary, ditto for dynamics, bass power and definition. Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What album in high resolution 96 kHz/24-bit audio was truly spectacular. The X5/ES60's clarity combined with power is unprecedented in my experience from an all-in-one portable music player, digital converter, headphone amplifier. The delicacy of the acoustic guitars, the sense you can hear his fingers moving over the strings, makes it sound more you-are-there realistic. I'll review the ES60 soon.

Continuing with Wilco's live concert album Kicking Television I compared the X5 and iPod Classic. The X5 breathed life into the sound, and the Classic flattened the dynamics, air, detail, and stereo imaging. Once you get used to the X5 the Classic sounds blah and murky. Those comparisons were made while listening to standard resolution ALAC files ripped from CDs for both players with the M50x, ES60, and NuForce Primo 8 headphones.

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The X5's headphone, analog and digital outputs FiiO

I loved the sound, but the X5's controls and navigation aren't easy to get used to, the text on the screen is really tiny and hard to read, and the X5 crashed a few times. I had to restart to get the music to play. That said the X5's sound quality is stellar with high-resolution files, and still pretty amazing with standard resolution files, the ones you already own.