IEMs (or earphones) give you a lot of freedom compared to full-size headphones. But sometimes those wires get in the way and you just want to be completely rid of them. There are many good TWS options but for the most part, they still don’t sound quite as good as wired earphones. In this article, I’m looking at the FiiO UTWS5 true wireless Bluetooth amplifier.
The FiiO UTWS5 comes with an independent AK4332 DAC along with the Qualcomm QCC5141 and supports up to 96kHz/24bit Hi-Res wireless with aptX Adaptive. It retails for US$129.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by FiiO for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
The UTWS5 comes in a box with the same high-quality finish we’ve seen on many of FiiO’s other product boxes recently. Inside the box, you get the UTWS5, a USB charging cable and some documentation.
Weighing in at 122 grams for the case, including the adapters, the UTWS5 is small and lightweight enough to easily fit into a pocket. The case is made of a rigid plastic material but the lid is aluminium with a brushed finish. Although the case is lightweight, it feels sturdy in the hand.
There’s a USB C port at the back for charging and 3 LED indicators on the front. The larger middle LED displays the battery level of the case, while the 2 smaller ones show the status of the earhooks.
Inside the case, there’s enough space to comfortably fit fairly large IEMs, although there’s not quite as much space as the iBasso CF01 has. There’s a little button inside the case too which when pressed displays the battery level. A medium-length press puts the adapters into pairing mode while a long press does a factory reset.
As for the earhooks, the main body is made of smooth plastic and each one has a single multi-function button. Hardened rubber hooks connect to the main body and hook over your ears. The hooks are soft and flexible enough to be comfortable. There are 2 microphones on each earhook for making phone calls.
With the earpieces, you’re looking at around 6-7 hours of continual use, depending on the codec used and playback volume. The case provides up to 4 additional charges and the case itself takes around 1.5 hours to charge.
FiiO Control App
Want more control over your UTWS5? With FiiO’s Control app, you can get OTA (Over-the-Air) updates that avoid the confusion and pitfalls of updating manually. The app gives you control over many options including idle power-off time, car mode, Bluetooth codec, DAC filter and even EQ (EQ coming later in an update).
Controls and Bluetooth Connection
Controlling the UTWS5 works just like most TWS earphones. I love the way the volume controls work independently from the source volume, just like it does with the Hiby FC3 and Shanling UP5.
Keep in mind the controls can be customized in the FiiO Control app but my unit was set to ‘Button function 2’ by default. Note that the buttons function the same both on my iPhone and on my PC. The controls are as follows:
Single click: Resume playback, decrease volume, answer a call
Double click: Pause
Triple click: Activate voice assistant
Long press: Previous track, hang up, decline a call
Single click: Resume playback, increase volume, answer a call
Double click: Pause
Triple click: Activate voice assistant
Long press: Next track, hang up, decline a call
Calls, Video and Gaming Performance
Call quality is something that most TWS earbuds struggle with. Of course, some do it better than others and there are many factors that make a difference here. Earbuds with stems generally perform better simply because the microphone is closer to your mouth.
With earhooks, the microphone challenge is significant and unfortunately, that is obvious with the UTWS5. To put it bluntly, the call quality is awful. You can get through calls using the built-in microphones but it doesn’t sound good, even when you’re in a quiet environment. If there’s background noise things get even worse. It’s not an issue for me because I mostly never use devices like this for making calls but if you do, it is something you should consider.
When it comes to watching videos and gaming, the UTWS5 fares much better. There’s little latency and I’m able to watch videos or YouTube without any sync issues on both my PC and iPhone. Gaming on the iPhone is pretty satisfying too – there’s hardly any latency even when playing fast-paced FPS games.
IEMs used for testing include the FiiO FD3/FH3/FH5s and FH7. I also tested with my custom multi-BA M-Fidelity SA-50 and Tin Hifi P1, both of which require a reasonably beefy source to perform well. The UTWS5 handled both of these IEMs well but it was reaching its power limits with the P1.
For my testing, I used my iPhone (AAC), my Windows 11 PC and FiiO M6 (aptX). aptX yields the best results but I’m surprised just how good the UTWS5 sounds streaming Spotify Premium and flac files from my iPhone.
When it comes to sound signature, the UTWS5 has a vibrant, clear and confident sound. There’s a hint of added warmth in the bass and lower midrange combined with an open, extended treble. The bass is delightfully controlled regardless of the extra body, sounding earthy and natural but tight.
Despite its beefy output power, I don’t hear any background noise or buzzing, even when using sensitive IEMs. This gives it excellent resolution and aids with instrument separation and soundstage as well.
I find that although the treble is spacious and has good extension, it’s a tad less forward. This actually works in the favour of some IEMs, most notably the FiiO FH5s that has fantastic synergy with the UTWS5. In fact, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the FH5s with this combo as it takes just enough edge off of its exuberant treble without compromising on details.
Even when using high-end IEMs, I didn’t feel limited by the UTWS5. Obviously, you’re not getting the same quality you would from a proper desktop amplifier or premium wired source but the difference is almost negligible, especially when using aptX unless you’re doing critical listening.
iBasso CF01 ($138)
The iBasso CF01 is similar to the FiiO in terms of outward appearance but they do things quite differently. The iBasso is all plastic whereas the UTWS5 has a metal lid. Despite both devices having similar size cases, there’s quite a bit more room inside the CF01 case. Even my largest custom IEMs fit into the iBasso but only a couple of the smaller ones fit inside the FiiO case.
The CF01 also has some soft silicone padding inside the case, making it more suitable for precious CIEMs. However, when it comes to hardware, the UTWS5 has some advantages. First of all, it has a better battery life but perhaps more significantly, the FiiO has significantly more driving power (33mW@32Ω vs 9mW@32Ω). On top of that, there’s the dedicated AKM DAC chip on the FiiO but the outcome of that is more subjective.
Audio purists may prefer the neutrality of the CF01 but those who prefer a natural, slightly fuller sound will like the UTWS5. As a result of the iBasso’s more transparent sound, it has tighter bass, starker treble, a bigger soundstage plus the overall resolution is improved as well. However, depending on which IEMs or headphones you pair with the CF01, it might sound fatiguing compared to the UTWS5 which has a smoother, more musical presentation.
Some of the FiiO’s extra musicality might actually be a result of its extra driving power; with over 3x the output power, the UTWS5 might just be getting better performance from the earphones and headphones being used.
The FiiO UTWS5 takes a familiar concept and refines it with the addition of a dedicated DAC chip and increased output power. It’s also one of the more practical options in terms of design and ergonomics. The only real drawback, in my opinion, is the less-than-stellar call quality. Apart from that, the UTWS5 does everything else right and is a great companion for audiophiles on the go.