Author: Lieven

Review from: Headfonia

→→ Read the original article on Headfonia: >> Click here

Disclaimer: Fiio sent us the Fiio A5 portable amplifier free of charge in exchange for an honest review.The unit doesn’t need to be returned to China, Fiio is also is a site advertiser.



The Chines Fiio no longer needs an introduction. The brand’s popularity has only increased over the last years and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. Simply put: Fiio makes high resolution audio available for everyone. For me Fiio lately has been focusing on two main “things”: Updating their huge existing product-line (at a (too) fast pace) and bringing new High Res audio players to the market. With the DAPs, Fiio – with the X7 – also started selling more expensive gear then we were used to from Fiio but the X7, and now the X5iii, simply are top quality DAPs.

The Fiio unit that impressed me most over the last few years is the Fiio E10(K)/Olympus and it still is one of the units I love using at home and at the office for casual listening. While Fiio certainly developed other great units, I’m still waiting for something new and exciting like the E10K, a unit that shook up the business. I hope to see such a creation soon as I feel it lately has been getting rather predictive. I always liked the sound of the E12A amplifier so my hopes for an improved version are high.

A5 Amplifier

The new Fiio A5 portable amplifier is available in a titanium and black color. The A5 also holds the official golden Hi-Res Audio label. Some A5s seem to come with the famous logo stickers, though I couldn’t find any in my box. It’s not that important to me though. The A5 is the newest unit of the E12 amplifier series but the look and feel still mostly is the same.

The A5 continues to use the E12A’s highly effective MUSES02 + LME49600 OPAMP combo. According to Fiio, all major components utilize high-precision metal film resistors in order to keep improved channel balance and lower noise floor. A +/- symmetrical supplied power allows for the elimination of coupling capacitors, reduces distortion and increases dynamic range. The Output power is up to 800mW (at 32Ω), along with high/low gain switch, which makes the A5 capable of driving most of the headphones and earbuds in the market.

With the Fiio A5 you’re supposed to get longer battery life backed by smart rapid charging. The battery inside the A5 is an 880mAh 3S (three cells in series) battery. The A5 can automatically adjust the amount of current to the battery when charging by detecting your particular charging equipment. With a 5V/2A charger, the A5’s battery can be fully topped up in 2.5h only.  With normal use, the A5 should last you for a lengthy 13 hours. Charging the unit while using it is perfectly fine btw, and you won’t hear any weird noises because of it.

The price of the A5 is set at $129,99USD and the amplifier is available on or your local dealer. The multiple page Head-Fi thread can be found here:

Design & Build Quality

The A5 with its typical design is built to be used mostly with a smartphone, it also has the smartphone size and that means it size-wise won’t be compatible with smallest of the popular DAPs on the market.

The Fiio A5 is well built (I do like the E12A more) but it isn’t perfect either. Don’t get me wrong, it is built like a tank and I’m 100% convinced this is an amp that can take a serious beating, just like its ancestors. The point I’m referring to – and this isn’t new – is that the lines of the A5 do not match up with the lines of the head and tail section. OCD-sensitive audiophiles might not like to see this even though it functionally has no impact at all.

The A5 no longer comes with a brushed metal case but this time Fiio chose to use a sandblasted enclosure. I have to say it does feel more plastic-like but it does result in a more durable paintjob. For most people the new design probably is more striking in appearance but I still prefer the E12A’s finish. Different people, different tastes. Of the three models, the E12A still is my fav design wise. Especially the E12A and A5 look very much alike. The Original E12 had some extra switches on the side for gain and crossfeed.

The new A5 does have a dedicated LED specifically designed to let you know the device’s charging status immediately. It also sports CNC (stainless steel) milled headphone connectors which replace the copper ones. The effect should be that the connectors are sturdier and have no gaps, as it is called. The most attractive part of the Fiio A5 to me is the beautifully designed volume/power knob with fifty-six(!) etched 45° lines and a red line. It looks so fancy but at the same time I don’t really like theimplementation of the volume pot. When the A5 is lying flat on your desk, changing the volume with just one hand/two fingers is not the easiest, that however isn’t an issue when it’s stacked next to your source.

On top of the unit you’ll find the power and charging indicators and the classic Fiio logo. On the front from left to right you have the 3.5mm input, the 3.5mm headphone out, the H/L gain switch (13dB which is -3dB compared to the E12(A)) and the power/volume know. On the left side of the unit you have Fiio’s awesome Bass Boost (+5 dB) switch and the micro-USB charging port. The unit measures 124 x 65.5 x 14.5mm and weighs 168g which is perfectly ok, it is the heaviest of the E12/A5 series though. The Fiio A5 is just a tad bigger than their new killer X5iii DAP.


Fiio is proud enough to mention the 33% lower THD rating compared to the original E12 and the improved signal-to-noise ration of 115dB in their marketing communications. Like the E12A, the A5 doesn’t come with a cross feed option. Power wise the A5 comes in second as the original E12 was more powerful. You’ll find however that the A5 has plenty of power to drive almost anything. The A5is over 800 mW(32Ω/THD<1%)  and ≥150mW(300Ω/THD<1%).

The full list of Specs is below:

Accessory wise the Fiio comes with a whole bunch of stuff:

  • 2 silicone patches to put between the A5 and your source, so they would stay in place and not scratch each other. I myself stick 4 3M bubble feet underneath the A5

  • 2 sets of Fiio labeled stacking bands

  • 1 Micro-USB charging cable

  • 1 of Fiio’s awesome ultra-short 3.5mm ICs (interconnects)

  • A typical E12/A5 soft carrying pouch (which I personally do not like at all)

  • There might be Hi Res stickers in the box.


According to Fiio: “A gain level close to that of the E12 but with improved channel balance, lower noise floor and a purer sound.”

When plugging in my Jomo Samba – it is great for testing units – I was pleasantly surprised:

  • No crackling noises (like on the X5iii)

  • An almost non-existing “plop” when turning on/off the A5

  • Complete silence, no hiss or floor noise whatsoever

  • A completely silent volume control

There still is very light channel imbalance in the beginning of the pot but even at my lowest listening volume this wasn’t audible anymore. The volume pot itself – in low gain – has enough headroom to set the right volume. It does get loud quickly but no to that you would accidentally hurt your ears by spinning the dial too hard. So far the Fiio A5 is perfect.

With a lot of people preference in sound changes over the years. That can simply be because you hear things different getting older or it could just be that your taste has evolved. Many many years ago I would have always had the Bass Boost on the Fiio devices set to “on”. In fact it would be stuck there with all of my gear but nowadays that no longer is the case. Fiio is famous for their bass boost though and a whole lot of people buy it especially because of this feature. What BB does in the A5 is add +5dB of gain and it just makes bass body increase exponentially. If you’re a bass lover, you’ll absolutely dig it. If you’re not you’ll probably find the A5’s BB ads mid body as well and you will notice that it makes bass run into the mids. You do get a big and bold sound with great impact tough, there’s no denying that. Unfortunately this does has a negative impact on the audible detail and the precision level. But again, if you’re all about the bass, then you’ll have a smile from here to Tokio. With a headphone such as the AudioQuest NightOwl in example, bass became way too present for my personal taste. But I’m sure some people want just that.

With the Bass Boost turned off you get a more neutral sound and lighter sound where the mids sound a bit thinner with forward vocals. I’d still put the A5 on the warmer side of neutral though, even though this isn’t a really warm sounding amp with the BB of. With BB on it does sound warmer. I do find it to have Fiio’s typical darker sound signature but it isn’t like in the good old original E10 days. Speed is good but it isn’t the fastest sounding solid state amp either. Amps like the Duet and Vorzuge – which I know cost 5 times the A5 – logically perform better in this and all areas. But speed is good just like the level of detail is. You won’t get the very best but for the $129.99 price tag you’ll be very happy.

The sound stage level, just like the detail, is good for the market this amplifier is in. Again it isn’t the widest and certainly not the deepest but it’s good and perfectly in line with the A5’s price. Separation and spaciousness are good though, so the A5 doesn’t immediately give you the impression of a congested and concentrated sound. Without the bass boost, the bass has a rather neutral presence but it has good body and impact at the same time. It’s slightly more than “neutral” bass and that means no one will be complaining about being it too much or too little. Bass is fairly tight but not the most detailed or layered, it’s more the impact/presence kind of bass.

I absolutely loved the rich mids of the E12A and I like them again now. Like I said, the mids do sound a little thinner with forwarded vocals without the BB. Turn it on and the mids become a lot thicker while the voices stay forward. For my personal taste the mid body could have been just a little bigger and the voices a little softer/more natural, but we all have our own preference. I find the mids to go deepest with the best layering. Treble is good, soft and easy to like. Fiio isn’t a brand that’s famous for treble extension and it’s no different with the A5. Treble isn’t offensive and the delivery is smooth yet energetic enough to contrast the bass and mids, especially with the bass boost activated.


The original E12 amp does make noise when it’s charging and the A5 doesn’t so that’s definitely a first improvement. The sound on the A5 is more spacious with better separation and it has more depth. Vocals sound more natural on the A5. The E12 was more about the power but the A5 is all about the sound, and then power. It is richer sounding in a more musical and less aggressive way. The original E12 has more mid body but has a noisier background. The E12A which was designed for IEMs but also works great with full sized headphones. The sound from the A5 is cleaner compared to that of the E12 and it has a blacker, more silent background. The E12A also shows a little more body in the mids but the voices and timbre are pretty much alike. Rich sounding mids, natural tone, musical delivery. The difference in sound signature between these two amplifiers is not that big.

Compared to the JDSLabs’s C5 amplifier, the A5 has a smoother and calmer presentation. The A5 also sounds more spacious where the C5 has a more intimate and aggressive presentation. The C5 is faster than the A5 amp. The A5 also sounds richer to me. The Bass boost in the C5 focuses more on the sub bass where the BB in the Fiio A5 adds body to bass and mids. The separation bass-mid in the C5 is also better and bass overall is tighter and has a better kick in the C5.

Fiio’s up-level E17K (used just as amplifier with the line in) sounds a tad cleaner, clearer and more neutral than the softer A5. To my ears the E17K has the richer sound but separation and depth aren’t that different and the presentation is more alike than it is different.

Most of the portable amplifiers in my collection are several times the price of the A5. Do they perform at a higher level? Yes of course, so there’s no real point in comparing them directly. It simply isn’t the target group Fiio is aiming at with this amplifier


The custom 8-driver Jomo Audio Samba sounds completely in control with a fast pace, tight notes, great separation, spaciousness and awesome bass. The Jomo on the A5 has a very good clarity level and detail is everywhere, I really love this combination although the Samba owner probably won’t be looking at the A5, this really is a nice combo. The Samba easily picks up hiss but it’s perfectly silent on the A5. Impressive.

The universal German Inear ProPhile 8 sounds neutral and precise with a lot of detail. The clarity on the PP8 is impressive and the A5 really drives it well giving it a musical boost with a good low range. There’s also no hiss audible at any time and the A5 and PP8 simply sound good. The Radius hp-twf41is quickly becoming a favorite universal IEM of mine and again I can’t say anything bad about the Radius and the Fiio A5 pairing although you have to like more than average bass body. Same goes for the Fidue A91: great voices, a darker presentation but with excellent voices. Bass is rather big on this pairing though, even more so than with the Radius and a lot of people might find it too much. If you can look past the bass then you’ll love this combo.  This amplifier simply rocks with almost all the BA and Dynamic driven IEMs I threw at it.

The Audioquest NightOwl is my headphone of the year so far and it sounds divine with the A5. The Owl has enough bass on its own so I don’t recommend turning on the BB. If you didn’t like the Hawk because it sounded dark or muffled, then you’ll love the Owl. The A5 drives it with authority, although the Owl doesn’t really need that much amplification. The orthodynamic Audeze LCD2.1 which I’ve been rediscovering also matches great with the Fiio A5 on low gain. Like the A5 it doesn’t show the best detail, widest/deepest soundstage and dynamics but it is musical, engaging and unique with powerful bass. When the LCD2.1 came out it blew everything away and with the Fiio A5 I’m reliving that headphone period all over again. Great pairing!

The latest technology orthodynamic Hifiman HE-1000 sounds best on high gain but while there’s enough power to drive the Hifiman, it doesn’t have the layering, depth, width and detail these cans can show you with a high level amp. So it’s doable but you’ll miss out on a lot. The good thing is that people who own the $2999 HE-1000 probably have an amp that can make it sound its best. The dynamic driven Sennheiser 300Ω HD800 isn’t the easiest headphone to like and drive and the amplification is hyper important with this headphone. With the Bass Boost turned on it actually is quite enjoyable but you basically get the same story as with the HE-1000, this just isn’t the amp for this kind of headphone, although the bass on the HD800 was impactful/enjoyable. The smooth and airy Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is easy to drive and it pairs with the A5 quite well. I personally am not a fan of the bass boost with the Amiron when listening to music but I’m sure there will be people who swear by it. To get better bass when listening to music on the Amiron, I would recommend a different amp. I did like it a lot while I was watching music, something I love doing with the Amiron and that’s the great thing about the Amiron Home: it’s excellent for music, movies and even gaming. It’s a recommended combo for sure. I love the bass/treble contrast of the Beyerdynamic DT1990PROstudio monitor and I loved it with on the A5 without the bass boost. Turn the BB on and the DT1990PRO becomes a little bass monster. I have to admit it was excellent with techno so if that’s your thing, this is for you. Like with the Amiron, this combo just works. Ear candy all the way.


The A5 is a really great amplifier for the price. The downside is the unit isn’t the smallest in size and that you get a basic but nice design. But the build quality (except for the lines not matching up) again is really good. This isn’t really the portable amplifier for high end equipment but this is an amplifier that will improve the sound quality from your normal MP3 players and phones, or power your headphones when your normal source isn’t up to it. I certainly liked it with a whole range of head- and earphones.

For the $129 price you get a whole lot from Fiio and beside the sometimes extreme bass boost I can’t really complain about anything. Not that I’m trying to complain but Fiio just delivers very good value for the money and I hope they’ll keep doing that for a long time to come. As a result the A5 is another success to me, it’s that simple.

Personally, just looking at the 3.5mm line out, I even preferred the A5’s sound signature over that of some of the latest DAP’s. That of course doesn’t mean this amp will improve the sound of all your DAPs. I in example still – just looking at sound – prefer the headphone out of the AK70/AK380 and Cayin i5. Whether they have enough power, now that’s a different story. Anyway, it’s another great amp from Fiio, one that’s fairly close to the E12A and that’s a very good thing.

The Fiio X5iii has been used a lot as my to-go-to DAP the last couple of weeks and it has really opened up, expect a review real soon.