We’re in an age of miniaturisation where electronic devices are getting ever smaller at an alarming rate. It’s no surprise that the effects of Moore’s law are in full effect in the portable audio arena as well. This brings us to today’s subject as we review the FiiO M5, an ultra-portable Hi-Resolution Audio Player.
The M5 boasts a lot of functionality in its tiny form factor, including bi-directional Bluetooth, a pedometer, colour touchscreen display and USB DAC to name a few. Does this teeny little player deserve a place in your pocket, bag or even on your wrist? Let’s get into it.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
FiiO M5 Review
Value for money
User friendly interface
No custom EQ
Package and Accessories
The M5 comes in a small white box with an image of the player on the front. Inside the box you’ll find:
FiiO M5 player
Transparent plastic clip-on case
USB Type-C cable
2x protective films
It’s a basic but practical bundle and I really appreciate that there is a protective case included, as well as the protective films. FiiO normally provides a solid set of accessories and they’ve done so again with the M5.
Build Quality and Design
The tiny CNC machined aluminium alloy body has dimensions of 45.3 x 42 x 13.7mm, which is about the size of an average men’s wristwatch. 2.5D curved glass covers the front and rear of the device and the surrounding aluminium alloy edge has a smooth matte finish.
On top of the unit is a 3.5mm headphone output that also functions as a lineout and S/PDIF. A multi-function rocker button sits next to the phone out and controls the volume with a short press or changes tracks with a long press. There’s also the power button that is used to turn the device on or off, turn the display on or off and play/pause music.
On the bottom edge are the Micro-SD card slot and USB-C port which is used for charging, file copying, external DAC and digital output. The M5 build quality feels really good, similar to that of the BTR3 and the device weighs a mere 38g.
The IPS 1.54″ touchscreen display has a resolution of 240*240. It is bright enough to see easily outdoors and has bold, vibrant colours. It supports gestures and taps to make navigation and use as simple as possible.
UI and Functionality
Running on a custom Linux-based operating system, the M5 UI boots up fast and is responsive without any visible lag when operating. From the Home screen, swiping left and right gives you 7 menu options:
Settings: The usual system and playback settings options.
Recording: Using the built-in microphone, the M5 can be used to record audio.
Step counter: The M5 has a basic pedometer built-in. It can be useful for health and exercise monitoring, especially when used in conjunction with the optional M5 silicone wrist strap.
Category: Access to the media library where you can browse by album, artist category etc. as well as favourites and playlists.
Now Playing: Takes you to the now playing screen where you have access to playback controls. From this screen, you can also change the play mode and add a song to a playlist or to your favourites. Additionally, a single tap on the display will show you the fullscreen album art. Swiping left gives you shuttle controls, and shortcuts to EQ, track information and delete track option.
Browse files: Opens the structured folder navigation.
BT receiver: Your M5 can work as a Bluetooth receiver which means you can stream music from another device or your smartphone. In this mode, you can use the M5 to answer incoming calls as well, using the built-in microphone.
As you can see, there is a lot of functionality packed into this little player. But there’s more too. Swiping left takes you to the previous screen and tapping the small home icon on any sub-screen or menu will take you back to the main menu.
The lockscreen shows the current time (if enabled in settings) and there are 5 different clock faces to choose from. There is an option in the settings to wake the display when you raise your hand or double tap on the display.
Additionally, you can adjust the display orientation, which is really cool. I found this really handy because I normally clip the player to my shirt pocket and in the default orientation the headphone jack is on the top. This makes it quite awkward and I’m always worried it will fall off. So, I simply reversed the player in the removable clip case and now the headphone jack is positioned on the bottom of the player and feels much more secure. Brilliant!
The FiiO M5 is powered by an Ingenic X1000E processor which has low power consumption and high performance. For the DAC chip, the M5 uses the low-distortion and low-noise AKM AK4377 which additionally has native DSD support.
In charge of Bluetooth duties is the Qualcomm flagship CSR8675. For Bluetooth receiving, the M5 supports SBC/AAC/aptX/aptXHD and LDAC. For transmitting Bluetooth it supports SBC/aptX and LDAC.
In terms of audio output, the M5 has a headphone out, line out and coaxial out. On top of that, it can output audio via USB up to 384kHz/32bit in DoP and D2P. FiiO’s M5 can be used as an external asynchronous USB DAC and supports up to 384kHz/32bit and DSD128.
A 550mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery is what powers the M5. You can expect music playback for up to 10.5 hours in wired mode or 13.5 hours in Bluetooth mode. A full charge takes around 2.5 hours and the player can stay in deep sleep standby for about 22 days.
So what can you expect when it comes to audio quality with the little M5? Well, unless you’re from another planet or being unrealistic in your demands, I hardly think anyone would be disappointed. On the contrary, the FiiO M5 delivers a stellar sound that is perfect for an on the go audiophile.
Bass is enhanced slightly, giving the sound fullness without compromising on detail. The extra bump in the bass adds some body to the lower midrange as well but the M5 still sounds fairly transparent.
Apart from the little added body from the bass in the lower mids, the M5’s midrange is neutral with good resolution. It doesn’t dissect music as well as more expensive DAPs but you have to expect some compromise with something so tiny and affordable as this.
Treble performance is solid too with good detail retrieval and tone. The soundstage is average and the layering is sufficient for an entry-level player. Of course, this and the rest of the sound will depend heavily on the IEMs or headphones you’re listening to. There are 7 EQ presets available which is better than none but I’m sure people will be demanding a custom EQ option with a future firmware update if it’s possible.
Matchability and Pairing
The M5 works particularly well with IEMs. With sensitive earphones, I couldn’t detect any background hiss or interference. The player had no trouble driving the notorious Tin Hifi P1 planar IEM, although there was not a lot of headroom left on some quieter recordings.
It’s a similar story with the Hifiman Sundara and BLON B20 planar headphones; the sound is full-bodied and satisfying but again the volume needs to be pushed high without much power left to spare.
Of course, there needed to be a comparison with the Shanling M0 (review here). This and the M5 are near identical in size and weight but they do have some physical differences. The most obvious is the wheel on the M0 where the M5 has the rocker and power buttons. Another difference is the M0 has a cover on the Micro-SD card slot and the M5 does not.
In terms of output power, the M0 has a little more but both have more than enough for just about any IEM which both are aimed at rather than full-sized headphones. Battery life is comparable between them as is display quality. The M5 has some additional features, such as the ability to answer calls using its built-in microphone, the pedometer and screen orientation.
When it comes to sound quality there’s actually very little separating the two and which one sounds ‘better’ will come down to personal preference more than anything else. Both players are very alike which is quite remarkable considering the M0 has been available for more than 2 years already.
There’s a lot to like about the FiiO M5. It has lots of features and a great sound packed into its pint-sized body. Additionally, it can work as a Bluetooth amplifier and external DAC as well as a fully functioning standalone player. All things considered, the M5 offers good value for money and should be high on your list if you’re looking at an entry-level DAP.