NerdyStuff’s Stuff for Nerds: FIIO X5ii DAP Review

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The iPod was the music player that made portable sound near ubiquitous to the post-Walkman, post-Discman generation. When used with a massive music collection, it was something quite remarkable to have up to 160 gigs of decent enough audio to schlepp along with us on planes and subways.

It’s been years since Apple has taken their audio devices seriously, and with the move to streaming services via apps, the entire idiom for portable music playing is shifting. On the one hand the vast majority use their phones with the crummy buds they get for free, while another, slightly more passionate community are looking for genuine “high fidelity” from a device that can be held in a pocket.

There are slews of players out there from manufacturers you may never have heard of, from Pono (being pimped by Neil Young) through to the iRiver Astell & Kearns series that has a model that tops out over $3500. An up-and-comer in this new DAP (Digital Audio Player) market is Fiio, and they too have models that go from the reasonable (their X1 runs about $100) to their newest model, the X5 Generation 2.

The think looks like an iPod – it’s got a scroll wheel, a small display, and a bunch of jacks. It’s different in a number of salient ways – first, it has no memory inside the unit. Instead, there are two slots on the bottom for microSD cards – those same little ones that some phones allow you to insert. With 128 gig cards available for relatively cheap, that means in addition to the $400 player you’re still looking around $600 for 256 gigs of portability. Who would need that much music?

Well, me. For not only does the player store more than any iDevice, it also plays back formats that Apple wouldn’t even dream of supporting. The unit plays back the usual stuff such as WAV and MP3, but also the more esoteric formats like DSD, the native 1-bit audiophile methodology for presenting digital sound that is also used on SACDs, yet another format that many might never have heard of. With FLAC playback up to 192khz/24bit, and DSD 64/128 native processing, you’re basically getting what’s pretty close to topline, studio quality digital reproduction out of a unit not much bigger than a pack of cards.

Overall the X5ii is the perfect device for my needs now – with two slots I can have one card with thousands of MP3s ready to go while another has a collection of high-resolution tunes for when I’m sitting down to actively listen. The firmware is upgradable (and even hackable – there’s a community of modders making their own themes for it!), and listening to some of these tunes has been a real joy with this thing.

For those of us still caring about what our music sounds like, particularly from vintage recordings, and want the flexibility of taking that on the road, the Fiio X5 is an excellent device to consider. As loads get into the joys of actively listening to music on vinyl rather than the more disposable audio from MP3, the world of lossless high-res audio might be something for them to explore.

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