FiiO BTR5 Review – A Serious DAP Replacement

Overall Score 88/100
Sandu Vitalie Accessories

My Video Review:

FiiO never ceases to amaze me, when they enter a new market, they don’t do it for the sake of it, they are not just testing the waters but are bringing their full arsenal. Two years ago, they entered the portable Bluetooth market with the announcement of the BTR1 which I really liked at that time. Soon after FiiO released not one, but three additional products in the same range: μBTR, BTR1K and their highest performance BTR3 that was the first portable Bluetooth adapter to adopt the newest and best Bluetooth chip, the Qualcomm CSR8675. What was really unexpected about BTR3 is that it could be even used as a dedicated DAC for your smartphone or for your PC.

Time passed and FiiO again announced new Bluetooth enabled products such as BTA10, UTWS1, M5, EH3NC - their first wireless and noise cancelling headphones that we reviewed 2 weeks ago and a new flagship product that should stay above the rest: the BTR5. Let’s check it out and see what’s the fuss about it.

Unboxing & Package contents

With every new product FiiO learns a thing or two from their past mistakes, how to cleverly pack a premium product and they surely borrowed some ideas from the West companies too and I’m glad about this. I mean by just unboxing the BTR5 it is clear that FiiO put some efforts in this. FiiO used a simple sliding design and the actual product box is made out of plastic. Inside you’ll find the BTR5 unit put already in its clear case for protection. Underneath there is an accessory box that carries the user manual, a warranty card, some notes on how to use Bluetooth enabled devices and a short USB type-C cable. Everything to kickstart your wireless journey.

Looks & Build Quality

BTR5 is sleek looking without attracting a lot of attention. The front and the back are completely wrapped in 2.5D glass that is very smooth to the touch, that one is a tempered glass with a hardness of 6H that should be resistant to scratches, but for ultimate protection I recommend using the included clear case. Since Bluetooth signal is not passing through thick metal sheets the body of BTR5 is made out of a thin aluminum alloy. This is a high-quality device and nothing is wobbling around, buttons are positioned firmly and everything feels premium to me.

It has a rounded shape without sharp edges so again it is very comfortable holding in one hand or just attaching to a shirt with the included clip. It looks minimalist and it is very much in line with BTR5 or with their M5 DAP. I somehow dig the golden Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio Wireless logos underneath the glass, it adds a touch of class to it.

At only 72 x 32 x 11 mm and weighting only 43.7 grams it can be carried easily in any pocket, it weighs less than my Rode Wireless Go lavalier microphone so I’m more than happy with its size and weight.

Buttons & Inputs & Outputs

First of all, BTR5 is not a touch enabled device, swiping its screen for a minute didn’t enter some secret menu and a wish granting Djinn didn’t came out it.

BTR5 is relying only on its buttons and ports. On top it has 2 headphone outputs, one is a normal 3.5mm one and one is a much more powerful 2.5mm balanced output. The right side has a small microphone in case you want to use it in making or receiving calls with your phone, the next button is a multi-function button: Power On/Off, a 2-second press will enter its menu and will switch to any sub-position in the main menu. The next elongated button is again a multi-function button: It will play or pause your music, will answer, reject, end a call, this is the pairing button and the voice assistant button. The longest thingy is your volume up and down or changing menu settings buttons. Underneath it only a clean USB Type-C port can be spotted that has multiple duties too: it will charge it or it can transform BTR5 into a powerful USB DAC for your phone, PC or MAC. The front glass panel houses a small 0.5” OLED display and an NFC chip bellow it.

Every button has multiple functions and I would not want to be the FiiO’s system designer, so much thought went into it.

Display

FiiO included an actual OLED display underneath the glass with this one, older BTR3 was showing only a FiiO logo in different colors that was suggesting the sample rate of the music being played. That tiny 0.5” OLED display will show the Bluetooth codec that is being used, its battery level, the volume position. It also has a hidden menu where a lot of its features can be controlled.

A two-second press on the rounded button will enter its main menu where lots of features can be accessed as:

  • Changing its digital filter that are built-in directly into the DAC chip on the hardware level, there are 8 filters to choose from
  • Enabling or disabling EQ, it has 8 EQ positions, including a user defined one, please install FiiO Music App and set your desired custom EQ and it will be synced with BTR5, neat!
  • Dimmer, it has 6 brightness levels
  • You can change the USB Audio protocol for using it as a USB DAC, USB 1.0 is driverless and works by default with anything, for USB 2.0 you will need to install a custom driver from FiiO website, Apple users can use 1.0 or 2.0 without a driver. For Hi-Res and DSD content only USB 2.0 will work.
  • Car Mode: On or Off position, meaning it will automatically power On after the vehicle engine starts and will power itself Off when engine shuts off.
  • Charge: On or Off – self explanatory
  • Gain: H (High) or L (Low). I used High position most of the time
  • Version: it shows the actual Firmware version of the device, I am using V 1.0.4

Battery

BTR5 uses a huge battery capacity compared to BTR3. It has a 550 mAh one compared to 300 mAh on BTR3, however it uses a dual-DAC setup, an additional FGPA circuit and offers a lot more power. All that additional circuitry means it consumes a lot more so the actually battery life dropped to 9 Hours compared to 11 hours on BTR3. As long as it sounds better, I am accepting a small downgrade in the battery life department.

Under the 2.5D Glass of BTR5

If you asking yourself what exactly is BTR5 and what it does? Let’s break it down step by step.

1. First of all, it is a wireless Bluetooth receiver that will transform your wired headphones into wireless ones (but not into true-wireless, there is still a headphone cable attached)

For that FiiO implemented the best Bluetooth chip currently available on the market: Qualcomm CSR8675. This is why BTR5 supports all available Bluetooth codecs as SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, aptX-LL and LDAC using the newest BT profiles as A2DP and AVRCP. Combine that with Bluetooth version 5.0 and BTR5 should technically have the widest Bluetooth range and have a stable signal too.

2. It is a wireless or wired dedicated DAC

For that FiiO implemented not one but two ES9218P dedicated DAC chips from ESS Technologies. I already tested some devices with it inside and have an idea how it might sound. To squeeze the best out of them FiiO also put a really powerful XMOS XUF208 USB interface to lower the jitter and noise to inaudible levels. What really differentiates BTR5 from other Bluetooth receivers is the use of dual independent crystal oscillators (45.158 and 49.152 Mhz to better cover all PCM sample rates) and of a programmable FPGA (a field-programmable gate array). FiiO went really far with this one, even some dedicated desktop DACs don’t have so much tech inside, they went very serious about this one.

3. It is a portable headphone amp

ES9218P is not only a DAC, it is actually an all-in-one system-on-chip or SoC for short that besides decoding zeroes and ones it also amplifies the analog signal by incorporating a dedicated headphone amp circuit and the final output stage. This way the signal path is the shortest it can be and no additional circuitry was needed to drive your headphones. Since FiiO is using two ES9218P the output power is very respectable one, on the 3.5mm single ended output it will offer up to 80mW of power into 32Ω loads and 240mW in the same load on the 2.5mm balanced output, that is really a lot for a such small and portable device.

4. It adds two microphones to your headphones for making calls

FiiO used two higher quality microphones with noise cancellation, basically mimicking the one in your smartphone. This is an omnidirectional and high-sensitivity one, the same ones are being used with flagship smartphones so you should expect the same sound quality out of it.

Sound Performance

I. Connected to sensitive IEMs

The biggest question I had if it will hiss with multi-driver IEMs and I am very glad to report that noise was nowhere to be found even on high-gain, on maximum volume on 3.5 or on the 2.5mm headphone jack. It’s dead silent after pausing my music and after pressing play the same thing happens, all I hear is a super clean musical performance. FiiO states that it has 2 micro-Volts of noise on the 3.5mm and 2.2 micro-Volts on the balanced jack, that is even lower than that on my reference Benchmark HPA4! Impressive is not the right word here.

Volume wise I was at about 32 to 33 position out of 60 in the low gain with a pair of FiiO FH7 and up to 28 in high gain mode on the 3.5mm jack. Switching to a balanced connection in the low gain I was at about 25 to 26 and on high gain I was at about 22 position for the same SPL level across the board. Plenty of headroom left even for the most demanding tracks like high-resolution classical music.

Driver control was really nice and BTR5 chooses to have a speedier presentation in detriment of a smoother and slower one.

II. Connected to portable over-ear and on-ear headphones.

I then tested it with Sennheiser Momentum 2 and Momentum 3 (in wired mode), both are very close when it comes to power requirements so on high gain 35 volume position was plenty enough, in low gain I was at 42 for the same SPL. Again, BTR5 was able to drive portable over-ear headphones with plenty of headroom left, with great authority and drive. Diaphragm control was definitely there and Momentums didn’t sound muddy or slower as they do on lower quality sources and amplification.

One week ago, I was testing the Shanling Q1 which uses the same ES9218P SoC – but just a single chip compared to a dual-chip configuration of BTR5. I was quite moved by how different both devices sounded especially with portable headphones. Shanling Q1 was always smooth, musical somehow, relaxing and easy going with every track. BTR5 by comparison sounded explosive, very dynamically rich, speedier, with a better kick into my eardrums. BTR5 worked better for me with modern music and Q1 worked better with slower type of music.

III. Connected to desktop low sensitivity headphones.

For fun I decided connecting some full-sized headphones to it, mostly planar-magnetics. My desktop headphones are all wired with 4-pin XLR cables and I have their stock cables terminated in 6.35mm (1/4”) only, sadly I could test only the 3.5mm output of BTR5 with these.

Quad Era-1 actually worked not that bad with it at 58 to 60 (maxed) in high-gain. Overall performance was quite enjoyable but the more I listened to them the more I started hearing the obvious flaws of a weaker amplification stage: dynamics were not that impressive, speed was not the fastest, like I downgraded those drivers with some cellulose dynamic ones. Depth was not that deep and stage was much closer-in sounding. All in all, a passable musical performance if I am overlooking those dynamics and close to zero headroom.

Hifiman Arya which are very inefficient and weren’t made for portable devices, didn’t work even with a max out volume on the 3.5mm jack, it might sound decent on the balanced connection but I don’t have a cable for them terminated in 2.5mm to test that.

On the other hand, Sennheiser HD660S worked pretty impressive with it, again dynamics, speed, impact and soundstage were not the best, but micro-details were there, music was not crowded that much, muddiness was nowhere to be found. HD660S performed really nice and reminded me a lot about some entry level desktop solutions which is kind of nice.

IV. Connected to a desktop PC in the DAC mode.

For that I needed to install the USB DAC driver (V.4.47.0). DAC feature actually was implemented quite good, in this mode the OLED screen with show the sample rate and the volume level. FiiO Control Panel is simple and you really don’t need to change anything there, you might try choosing 32 bits at Output Format, you should try few Buffer Settings that are working best with your PC, for me 512 samples worked the best with Safe Mode enabled.

My windows machine recognizes it as a FiiO device and it worked fine with JRiver and Foobar2000 without a problem. I reconnected Quad Era-1 and resumed my listening session and it sounded basically the same as it did in the wireless mode. There is a bit of lag before starting a song, possible because of the buffer or of the up-sampling enabled but it didn’t bother me that much. BTR5 sounded really good in wired mode, it sounded maybe by a hair better, airier somehow and more articulated with a better driver control. I experienced the same with other wireless devices, wired mode always sounded faster and harder kicking to me.

V. Frequency Response

I will start with the best part of BTR5 and that is treble. It is so sparkly, so clean and so detailed. It is not bright by any means, just really extended that has a very detailed top-octave. I was surprised to hear some information past 16 kHz even on mediocre recordings that I know of. It reminded me a lot about higher tiered desktop DAC units.

Even from this very moment I can tell it has a better treble response than FiiO K3, K5 PRO, Q1 Mark II and probably even better than that of M11 DAP. I’m actually surprised by how clean and grain free it sounds in this region. From classical pieces to angry trash-metal tracks, the treble never bothered me but left a very positive impression.

Sub-bass, Mid-bass and midrange and all very neutral, but not boring by any means. Those are very present if the tracks are asking for them, very clean and outlined. It sounds sometimes musical, sometimes not that much but the more I listen to BTR5 the more I remember desktop DAC units.

Its overall frequency response is linear and extended to both ends so always expect a detailed and layered bass, a musical midrange plus a clean treble up to sub-sonic levels. In terms of frequency response, I have no issues.

VI. Detail Retrieval.

I consider this to be the second-best part of BTR5. It extracts a lot of information out of my favorite tunes, even tiny amounts of air moving around the room can be spotted. I’ve questioned myself how BTR5 can sound so clean and detailed, even more so than more expensive products from FiiO. And the only conclusion I can draw is that a dual-DAC chip configuration + a FPGA and dual high-quality crystal clocks do make a Big difference sound wise. With the right earphones and headphones BTR5 doesn’t sound like a tiny device at all at and will show even tiny details hidden in the background.

VII. Testing its wireless range

I connected it to my smartphone, I left my phone in my office and I started wondering around the apartment. It behaves a lot like newer Bluetooth enabled devices and has a strong signal even with 2 concrete walls between us. The only devices that have a better Bluetooth range that I ever tested were the Topping D50S, DX7 PRO and Burson Conductor 3 – but all three have an external antenna with a wireless booster so that makes a lot of sense. Compared to other devices like FiiO M5, BTR3 or Shanling Q1, it is at least of the same level or better than those.

While walking outside with a portable headphone on my head, BTR5 attached to my jacket and with my phone in the pocked I never lost a single beat. With first get BTR1 that happened sometimes, even μBTR had small drop-outs from time to time, BTR5 doesn’t have that. At least in a 2-hour walk it didn’t show a glitch, nothing like that, just a glitch-free musical bliss.

Comparisons

FiiO BTR5 ($109.99) VS FiiO BTR3 ($69.99)

When I tested BTR3 about a year ago it was the best wireless receiver with DAC capabilities at that time, it also uses an all-in-one SoC from AKM that works as a DAC and a headphone amp combo in a single silicon.

In terms of specs BTR3 is limited to BT version 4.2 so its Bluetooth range is not the best, BTR3 doesn’t use a high performance XMOS interface on its USB input, so DAC performance should be worse. BTR3 doesn’t use a programmable FPGA, nor dual crystal clocks so I am pretty sure it will sound not as detailed, clean and airy.

While listening and switching between them it was clear to me that BTR3 can’t move desktop headphones at all, even some portable headphones are sounding pretty weak. Take Erzetich Thalia as a good example, those sounded fine on BTR5 and limited not only in dynamics but volume wise too. BTR3 is limited to few portable headphones and to IEMs only. BTR5 will work with most headphones, portable or not, except for low sensitivity ones.

Power wise, even on the singe ended 3.5mm output BTR5 has a higher volume and a much better drive.

Apart from that, BTR3 sounds smooth by comparison, very easy going and relaxed. It is shy sounding somehow, doesn’t sound big and doesn’t have authority in crowded passages or in high dynamic range tracks. BTR3 sounds too smooth at times and way too relaxed with electronica and rock. BTR3 sounds a bit boring and not that engaging, it loses in terms of speed and a lot in the slam department. When bass hits, you feel it touching you gently, that Rocky bass punch is nowhere to be found. When I am listening to my hard-slamming music I want it to sound that way, not different. BTR3 is also rounding its overall performance, meaning it cuts off the sub-bass and the upper treble, you hear a lot of midrange with it and not a lot of bass and treble. Detail retrieval as you might expect is limited with BTR3, so it will not extract tiny amounts of air moving around or other small details.

When I am switching back to BTR5 it is like I moved to my desktop rig, like I am opening my windows to the music. It sounds way more detailed, wider spread, airier and much faster. It also kicks and slams better, with electronica I am feeling those punches, everything is back to normal. BTR5 sounds like a grown-up product and has everything a high-class Bluetooth receiver should have.

Many of you are wondering how it might sound compared to a FiiO M5 DAP so here we go.

FiiO BTR5 ($109.99) VS FiiO M5 DAP ($109.99)

In terms of features M5 is more advanced, I can understand that. It does everything BTR5 does but also can work as a digital audio player (DAP), it supports cards up to 2Tb, has a native DSD support, it has a colorful LCD touch-screen and a lightweight OS that moves and performs admirably. M5 is a really small and portable DAP.

M5 uses an all-in-one SoC from AKM, a slightly better one compared to the one inside BTR3.

Where M5 loses a lot of ground compared to BTR5 is that FPGA and that sexy dual crystal clock system and believe me, those two together make a much bigger difference and a much bigger impact in the sound quality department than the DAC chips alone. Oh, about those, BTR5 has a dual DAC chip configuration and M5 has just one.

M5 sounds like a slightly better BTR3, everything sounds a tiny bit better on it, but it isn’t on the same level with BTR5. BTR5 sounds more powerful even on the 3.5mm jack alone, sounds more detailed, especially in the treble area there is a big difference between the two. Sometimes M5 will sound like a mixture of sounds, crowded, closed-in, a bit muddy even, especially with lower quality recordings. BTR5 is decompressing all that mess somehow, it is clearer, more defined, every note has a start, a sustain and an end. It has a better outline of every musical note and as a result BTR5 sounds like a Hi-Fi product, M5 and BTR3 are sounding like consumer grade products.

I am dreaming about a portable DAP from FiiO with the sound performance of the BTR5 (including all its specs) plus a lightweight touch OS like that of M5 in a slightly bigger body than that of M5. Can that be made please? Pretty please (call it M5 PRO and I’m happy).

Conclusion

If you want the best wireless receiver that can also work as a dedicated DAC for your phone, PC or MAC then BTR5 is currently your best bet. It doesn’t sound like a tiny device it is, it sounds like a serious and grown-up product. I’m sure those years of testing grounds with wireless receivers and transmitters paid-off big time.

BTR5 impressed me with its build quality and sonics, it sounds impeccable for this size and for this price.

I do wholeheartedly recommend BTR5 and see myself using it a whole lot with my phone. At only $109.99 it can be an excellent Christmas gift for your audiophile friends that don’t have a smartphone with a headphone jack.

External dongles? move away please.

PROS:

  • Small, lightweight and portable
  • Durable aluminum alloy body with scratch resistant glass
  • A very neutral sound with a balanced frequency response across the board
  • Decent stage size, sounds deep and airy with the right tracks
  • The best Bluetooth codec support and a really wide Bluetooth range
  • Unexpectedly awesome detail retrieval
  • Transparent sounding, free of any grain
  • Noise-less headphone out, works great even with sensitive IEMs
  • Can work as a DAC via USB-C with your phone or computer
  • Great value!

CONS:

  • Has a bit of lag while using it as a desktop DAC

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT:

  • Sources: Xiaomi Mi9T Pro, Corsair One i160, Sony Bravia 65XE9005
  • Bluetooth receivers: FiiO BTR5, BTR3
  • DACs: Matrix Audio Element X, KECES S3
  • DAPs: FiiO M5, M11 Pro, Shanling Q1
  • Headphone amps: Benchmark HPA4
  • IEMs: FiiO FH7, Simgot EN700 Pro
  • True Wireless earphones Creative Outlier Air, Hifiman TWS600
  • Wireless headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
  • Portable headphones: Sennheier Momentum 2, Erzetich Thalia
  • Full-sized headphones: Hifiman Arya, Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S
  • Loudspeakers: KEF LS50W
  • Interconnects: QED Reference XLR, Aune AL3 XLR
  • Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x2)
  • Balanced Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC 400, KECES BP-600

Overall score 88/100

Value 94/100
Frequency Response 92/100
Power Output 80/100
Resolution 86/100
Dynamics 85/100
Feature Set 88/100
Graphical User Interface (GUI) 90/100
Build Quality 87/100
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