FIIO BTR5 REVIEW
CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN: 8.5/10
CONTROL & INTERFACE: 9/10
THE PLUS: Great sound, Powerful Output, Full physical control, Both balanced-unbalanced output, Battery life, Stable connectivity, USB-DAC, Gain, Value (at 120$)
THE SO-SO: Lack of USB-C to USB-C Cable, Not very sexy plastic clip
FIIO is a well know Chinese audio company that does not need an introduction. In fact, they are the only ‘’ChiFi’’ company that is easily accessible here in Canada, as we can even find most of their products at Best Buy and such.
Another thing that FIIO is known for is to launch new products faster than anyone else. In term of Digital Audio Player, this can be hit or miss due to how fast android based DAP world evolve. They are no slouch with Bluetooth DAC-AMP too and launch in the last 2 years four of them which include super budget UBTR, budget-friendly BTR1, it’s upgraded version BTR1K and the mid-tier BTR3. None of them really triggers my interest until they launch the extremely promising BTR5 model, which I will review today.
Why is it the only FIIO Bluetooth DAC-amp that sincerely intrigues me? Well, it’s because my benchmark is the excellent Radsone Earstudio ES100. I don’t want to downgrade and it’s exactly that the BTR5 promise: a step up from ES100 in terms of sound quality, battery life, connectivity, construction, and amping power.
The FIIO BTR5 uses high-end dual sabre es9218 DAC that promises low impedance output and extremely low harmonic distortion. It can deliver tremendous power output from it’s balanced out. It uses the latest Xmos XU208 chip that permits to take full advantage of its USB DAC-AMP connection. It uses the latest flagship Bluetooth chip Qualcomm CSR8675 so you can use any codec you want including Ldac. And this is just an introduction of what is hidden in the sleek BTR5 body.
Let’s explore this little but powerful marvel in this review.
You can buy the FIIO BTR5 directly from HifiGO Store HERE. To note that the price was 120$ and suddenly go up at 150$ everywhere, I hope it will go back at high value 120$ price wich is way more appropriate.
DISCLAIMER: I wanna thank HifiGO for sending me the FIIO BTR5 at my request. I choose this product myself, because of how promising it looks. I’ve not affiliated in any way with HifiGO and keep my full independence of views in this review.
For its size, the BTR5 has a lot of nice hardware hidden in its body. Begining by dual sabre ES9218P DAC, which promises highs dynamic and reference decoding, FIIO really pushes the sound boundaries both for portable Bluetooth and USB dac-amp purpose. The use of flagship Bluetooth chip CSR8675 promises the highest quality of sound transmission and the independent control chip XMOS XUF208 can give you the support of the highest sample rate up to native 384kHz/DSD256. As well, it uses a dual independent crystal oscillator with FPGA clock management to limit any clicking or signal instability. In fact, the BTR5 is so fully packed of high-quality audio implementation one would think it could be either buggy or affect battery life but be reassure, it doesn’t.
Packaging is well presented in a plastic box, but really, there not alot of accessories apart from instruction manual, a must needed transparent plastic protective case that act as clip belt too and a USBc to usb cable. The problem is about the lack of USBc to USBc cable, wich is necessary to connect the BTR5 to your phone or tablet. As well, the plastic protective case look little cheap, affecting overall esthetic of the product.
The BTR5 is made of double-sided hard 2.5D glass taking in a sandwich it’s all-metal body. Audio port are made of plastic, not metal, but feel of good quality enough. Button too are made of the good plastic quality and click weel without being too loose or too tightly implemented. Though quite small with its 7cm body length and 3cm large, it has some weight to it too (43g) which explain why a clip is even more useful. The clip isn’t particularly sexy, it’s all standard thick transparent plastic, while it does its job, I feel one drop on hard floor might break it. The little screen is very welcome and shows brightly any option you choose with OLED light. All in all, construction has an elegant design, is smooth in hands and feels of great quality and durability.
Unlike some portable DAC-AMP that lack control buttons for either volume or tracks skipping, the BTR5 offers you full physical control including being able to change the sound filters, gain and even EQ preset. The fact you can control everything without the need of using your phone or an app is really welcome freedom because though I’m a big fan of Radsone ES100, I always wish it has gain buttons. All options can be trigger with 4 buttons, but it’s so simple I will let you discover these by yourself.
I feel this review will be non-stop raving about how perfect is the BTR5 in every possible way. You need a powerful Bluetooth dac-amp? You find it with the BTR5 that will be able to even push your power-hungry cans at full potential with its 240mW with 2.8V at 32ohm. Yes, this means it can drive most headphones properly up to 300ohm (depending on their sensitivity). I was blown away to discover it deliver a full dynamic sound for my hard to drive Hifiman Sundara. It must be noted that high output power can be only achieved with BALANCED output, as the unbalanced 3.5mm output delivers just a respectable 80mW with 1.6V output. To give you an example of single-ended output power of portable dac-amp, the Radsone ES100 deliver 1.1Vp at 16ohm, Audirect BEAM deliver 48mWat 32ohm and FIIO BTR3 only 25mW at 32ohm, so indeed, BTR5 is among the most powerfull amping in both balanced and unbalanced output.
With the NFC technology, it’s made easier than ever to connect to your phone. But it’s as easy to connect even without this tech because once you connect it one time to your laptop, phone or dap, it will connect automatically to it if Bluetooth is available. One you power ON the BTR5, he has only one mission: connect to something. Be aware, he’s good at it, so if you have multiple Bluetooth availabilities like 2 phones and a laptop, it might connect automatically the one you don’t use! He’s in a hurry to connect to anything and blow your mind with its sound!
The signal is very very good, thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, it’s both stable and powerful. I do not encounter clicking or sound cut apart if I go very far or behind a lot of walls, because again, we cannot hide in a bunker at 50 feet from the audio source, but sure at 10 meters even with some walls here and there.
A lot of times, company state battery life that doesn’t stand the test of reality, Radsone being a good example with their ridiculous 14H statement (it’s more like 5-7H). With BTR5 we have a solid 7 to 9H of autonomy depending of output and volume used, but this can extend easily if you use it as USB DAC for your laptop, because it can charge while playing music. This is another big plus from this device. As well, the big advantage of battery-powered dac-amp is that if you hook it to your phone (and choose the option to NOT charge it), it will not affect it’s battery at all.
The FIIO BTR5 is among the rare DAC-AMP I can safely consider as capable in terms of sound and amping as a 200$ DAP. When connect through USB, it can even be compared with lot of sub-500$ mid-tier DAP. It sounds more dynamic and fuller than my Xduoo X20, as good in tonality and timbre but cleaner than my Xduoo XD-05plus and yeah, better than my oh so beloved Radsone ES100 (i say it). I would call the BTR5 as near-neutral sounding injects with extra thickness and weight in the attack in a very nuanced and revealing macro-musicality. I would put this type of energic sound rendering in the middle of sharp reference ultra-transparent sound of Ibasso DX90 (dual ES9018 DAC) and thickly textured sound of Xduoo XD-05plus (AKM4495 DAC). It really finds the sweet spot between neutrality and fun, thickness and richness, precision and musicality.
SOUNDSTAGE is of average wideness, with good deepness and tallness and must of all a holographic presentation where the instruments have sens of relief, giving tactile rendering to sound nuances.
TIMBRE is slightly thick, but keep a good sense of transparency due to its lush texture.
TONALITY is natural, not clinical, cold or overly warm. It has a hint of extra treble.
BASS is well-textured, with sharp separation between the sub and mid-bass. It is rather flat without a drastic extra boost in the lower end but still offers a weighty, thick presentation. It has no difficulties digging down to 20hz.
MIDS is very clean and well centered, even flatter than bass and treble. It flows naturally and has high definition and resolution that tend to sharp instruments presence and layerings.
TREBLE is full and dig a lot of details without unbalancing the sound. It tends to add layers in the back and show you nuance in music you might have never noticed. I feel it have perhaps a little boost in upper highs, which can expose extra micro-details.
I wasn’t expecting the BTR5 to be able to drive properly this capricious and rather hard to driver Planar Dynamic Headphones, but it really power it at full potential even if I have to crank up the volume up to 55 of 60 steps. If it wasn’t properly amped, it would sound dry and thin and unbalanced, here we have a full-bodied sound, with excellent separation, the bass extends well even if it do not gain extra. I don’t say it’s the pinnacle of pairing, no, for that I use 2000mW Xduoo TA-10 or even more powerful vintage Sansui Solid-state amp, but the sound is dynamic, the imaging is open and everything flow musically, the background isn’t the blackest one but overall clarity is great and definition have nuanced meat to it. I’m extremely impressed by this ultra portable pairing.
FINAL AUDIO A8000
These are rather sharp sounding iem with high clarity and transparency, what the BTR5 do is adding some warmth to tonality and thickness to timbre. The A8000 upper mids feel more rounded and vocal fuller. The dynamic gain in weight but lose a little transparency and resolution. Bass too gain in thickness, transforming the A8000 into a more fun sound signature than the serious one we can get with reference highly resolved DAP like Ibasso DX90.
The Starfield benefit from a dynamic audio source and indeed BTR5 delivers just that. As a smooth sounding IEM, a too warm of flat sound source will make them sound not enough lively, with BTR5 the bass gain in weight impact, mids which are already full of presence gain in lushness and attack, treble which is rolled off suddenly dig more micro details, that does not affect balance, just enrich whole sound experience subtly.
The T800 can be very sensitive with impedance output and need low harmonic distortion to shine due to its 8 balanced armature. I was worried the BTR5 impedance would be too high for them but I test them both balanced and unbalanced and can confirm the sound is great, free of any tonal imbalance or distortion. Layering is clean, the soundstage is vast, the bass is perfectly controlled and not boomy like with too powerful, unclean or high impedance DAP or DAC-AMP can do. This pairing is excellent and perhaps the best one after Ibasso DX90.
VS RADSONE ES100 (100$):
In terms of construction, the ES100 is all plastic, feeling a little cheap aside from the BTR5, but it’s near 2 times smaller AND weightier, making it more portable, as well, the clip is made of metal and part of its body. The battery life of ES100 is around 6H, which is notably inferior to the BTR5. In terms of decoding, again, it loose as it only can decode 48khz-16bit. In terms of power, it’s quite similar, but BTR5 is a hint more powerful, especially in an unbalanced way.
SOUND is quite different from these 2. One using dual AK4375a and the other dual ES9218P. I find the ES100 slightly brighter, more vivid and transparent sounding than the BTR5. As well, it’s more neutral and dry. Timbre is less thick and natural with the ES100, and the definition is less well rounded too. Bass is less weighty and punchy, again, more flat and dry. Mids are a little more forwards, but not as lush and full sounding than BTR5. Treble dig as many details but tend to not be as layered as the BTR5, still, imaging is more accurate with the ES100. The soundstage is very similar, but extra transparency of ES100 gives a wider and airier feel.
VS TEMPOTEC IDSD PLUS (140$):
So, this isn’t a Bluetooth DAC-AMP but portable USB DAC-AMP. The IDSD is like 4 times bigger and 3 times heavier. It has both 3.5mm and 2.5mm output like the BTR5. Now, it uses excellent dual ES9018 dac, so, this will be hard to beat for the BTR5. To be honest, BTR5 sounds 95% as good as the Tempotec, but have slightly lower macro-resolution. The biggest difference is in overall ultra-clean clarity that Tempotec achieve, making it more reference sounding than BTR5. As well, if more neutral, the bass is not boosted and more transparent. Sound is a little more analytical, and timbre a little less thick. For example, the vocal has more decay and realism, while with the BTR5 its more present and less transparent. Treble is a little more delicate and metallic in upper highs with the IDSD too.
All in all, these 2 sound near the same, and BTR5 sure win in term of value, portability, versatility and power output (balanced, as it loose against the 120mw unbalanced of IDSD).
VS SHANLING UP4 (80$)
Unfortunately, I do not have this very promising Bluetooth DAC-AMP that look extremely similar to the BTR5 in term of hardware and most specs. The UP4 has same dual ES9218 DAC and it has as well a balanced and unbalanced output. Their 2 things that look to outclass the BTR5 and it’s unbalanced output wich offer 91mW@32ohm against the 80mW of BTR5 and especially Battery life of 15H single ended compared to 9H with BTR5. Where it loose is in balanced output power wich is 160mW@32ohm against the powerfull 240mW of BTR5n and the lack of full interface control because UP4 only have a volume wheel. To be noted that USB DAC of BTR5 might be better too due to the use of latest Xmos XUF208 xcore multicore multicontroller for USB decoding.
Can we ask for more, really, can we?
The FIIO BTR5 exceeds what we can expect from a sub-200$ Bluetooth DAC-AMP, both in terms of sound quality and amping power.
I have tested many portable DAC-AMP, and to me, this do-it-all product is as exciting in 2020 as the Radsone ES100 was in 2018. Right now, it’s the very best Bluetooth DAC-AMP you can get to cover all your audiophile need. With its long battery life, small size, solid construction, stable connectivity and it’s numerous control options like amping Gain, Sound Filters and EQ preset, the BTR5 is the pinnacle of portable DAC-AMP from FIIO.
If you search for the most versatile DAC-AMP option that can cover all your portable and desktop need, I think the FIIO BTR5 can be enough to make you discover the joy of audiophile sound on a budget. In some way, the BTR5 makes most DAP obsolete because everybody has a phone nowadays, and you can now transform it into a high-end digital audio player. I would never have thought to say this one day, but this is pure truth: the BTR5 sound as good or better than a lot of pricier DAP.