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The BTR5 is FiiO's latest Bluetooth amplifier, and we're impressed with its specs. It features dual ESS Sabre ES9218P DACs, additional balanced outputs, and an OLED display that generates enough power for full-sized headphones.
The result of all these technical improvements is an enhanced user experience and functionality. Sonically, the BTR5 offers listeners a natural, balanced sound with no noticeable harmonics. It’s a neutral-sounding Bluetooth headphone amplifier that’s technical and analytical yet engaging, emphasizing detail and dynamics over coloration.
Everything seems to fit together into a high-quality budget portable Bluetooth amplifier. But, since we’ve only scratched the surface of the FiiO BTR5, you may be curious about what will put its capabilities to the test or reveal its subtle weaknesses. Therefore, continue reading this review to better understand what BTR5, as a budget Bluetooth headphone amplifier, has in store for you.
FiiO BTR5 Portable Bluetooth Headphones Amplifier Review
DAC: x2 ES9218P Bluetooth chip: CSR8675 | Bluetooth: 5.0 | Supported Codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, Low Latency aptX, LDAC, LHDC | Frequency range: 20 Hz – 40 kHz | Output Power: 160 mW/32 Ohms | THD + noise: 0.003% LHDC or less | Signal-to-noise ratio: 120 dB | Channel Separation: 75 dB | Battery: 550 mAh | Charging time: up to 1.5 hours | Battery: 12 hours | Weight: 44g
This Bluetooth headphone amplifier arrives in a fairly small box that shows two high-resolution logos – Qualcomm Aptx, Qualcomm Aptx-HD Bluetooth, and LDAC.
These two high-resolution logos mean that you’ll get high-quality sound whether you use the device in Bluetooth wireless mode (standard LDAC protocol) or when connected via USB as a sound card.
In the box, you’ll find the standard user manual, warranty card, a USB cable adapter from regular USB to USB Type-C, as well as a plastic clip cover with a latch.
The amplifier itself isn’t particularly compact. The device measures 72mm (H) x 32mm (W) x 11.1mm (D) and weighs about 44g without the clip and 56g with the clip. Nevertheless, the FiiO BTR5 is so sleek that it feels like a luxury accessory. This is due to the double 2.5D glass glazing that covers the top and bottom of the unit. It should be noted that such a shiny surface can quickly leave fingerprints.
There is a USB-C port for charging at the bottom, and a 3.5mm audio jack for headphones and a 2.5mm balanced jack at the top. Controls are on the right side and include a volume rocker, mic jack, power button, and multi-control buttons. All controls are easily accessible and easy to touch.
The multi-function buttons allow you to switch between pairing modes, select listening modes, turn the equalizer on/off and adjust other functions. All commands are shown on the small display. By the way, the button can also be used for various functions, such as playback management, pause/resume, calling the voice assistant, and other features. You can also hold down the volume button to scroll through songs.
The OLED display provides information on several functions, but we found that visibility in the city is severely limited, even when the brightness is set to maximum. The size of the text displayed is also relatively small. It also seems sensitive to slight movement, and sounds can disappear for short periods when walking. A stable connection is possible when the device is firmly plugged in.
Looking at the specifications and features, the BTR5 doesn’t seem to resemble the models from the BTR line-up as it is a revision of the popular E17K. Indeed, the BTR5 features a full XMOS system that takes USB DAC functionality to the next level and improvements in the audio resolution area.
The Bluetooth headphone amp uses Qualcomm’s CSR8675 chip for wireless communication, which is compatible with the latest Bluetooth 5.0. It also includes XMOS’ XU208 chip to easily record at the highest “digital” quality of 384K/32bit. In addition, the DSD256 standard is also supported.
Despite the larger battery, the battery life is not impressive, but this is due to the higher power and advanced features: With the BTR3, you can listen for about 11 hours with 3.5 mm headphones, whereas with the BTR5 for about 9 hours. With balanced headphones, on the other hand, the autonomy is reduced to 7 hours. However, if you use the BTR5 as a USB DAC for your computer, you won’t have to worry about charging, as the battery will charge directly from the PC while you listen.
Like the BTR3, this portable Bluetooth headphone amplifier can be configured via the FiiO Music application. The app is divided into four tabs, but there are actually three if we exclude the fourth one since it’s just a user manual.
- The first tab is “Status,” where you can disable charging (useful to extend battery life, especially when using a USB DAC), enable auto mode, select your preferred codec, auto power-off time, sleep mode, etc.
- The second tab is “EQ,” a 10-band graphic equalizer with a range from 31.5 Hz to 16 kHz and several presets to choose from.
- The third tab, “Audio,” offers some advanced features. At the top is the headphone calculator, where you can enter the impedance and sensitivity of your headphones, and it will calculate voltage, current and sound pressure. Then we have a choice of digital filters (eight in total), channel balance settings, and more advanced features such as “distortion compensation” and “DAC clock divider level.”
The manufacturer doesn’t bother to explain the two last features, saying that they improve sound quality, although we failed to detect any changes after testing both options.
Obviously, the sound signature of this DAC is very different with wired and wireless connections. However, I will try to describe the sound of both, using LDAC as a reference and commenting on the effects of lossy codecs where needed. As usual, the wireless connection diminishes some of the quality, but in the case of the BTR5, FiiO manages to minimize this loss, despite the neutral sound character of the device itself.
The bass is smooth and neutral, and the fast attack and decay add some vibrancy to the bass, but saying that the receiver’s bass is “dry” would be an exaggeration. The lows have high-resolution reproduction and high-quality texture. Overall, the bass response is ideal for high-quality recordings of natural instruments, but it also has enough depth that you can hear synthetic bass notes well. However, it should be noted that the bass is one of the areas the wireless transmission may affect negatively. In this case, bass depth is somewhat reduced, though control is still quite good with wireless.
The mid-range is neutral and dynamic, with good resolution, just as the lows. Still, the sound quality of this unit depends heavily on the quality of the recording. With good mastering and mixing, the BTR5 impresses with subtle, emotional tones that build the soundstage realistically. The soundstage has average width and depth when sound is rendered wirelessly, but as a USB DAC, the BTR5 manages to create a wider than average soundstage that easily highlighted the three-dimensional landscape and emphasizes the stereophonic scenery beautifully.
The BTR5’s highs are better than any other portable Bluetooth amp we tested, with a good treble extension over the Bluetooth connection. In the USB mode, it’s even comparable to more high-end players in this context. The trebles have good resolution and naturalness with few layers, but it would be foolish to expect anything too much from a compact Bluetooth device under $150.
Clarity and transparency are somewhat emphasized in the treble range, mainly due to the fast attack and reduced decay. However, this emphasis does not detract from the natural character of the image. The sound response can be toned down if necessary using the tone-setting in the application. In the end, the highs are very balanced, and the clarity of expression depends only on the hardware and the headphones; over Bluetooth transmission and with LDAC, the highs usually play clearly and clean, but BTR5 does so with to a lesser extent.
Like most modern Bluetooth devices, the FiiO BTR5 can connect to two sources and quickly switch between them. Android also offers a “quick pairing” mode. To connect to a compatible phone, hold down the control button and tap the notification that appears on your smartphone. iPhone users simply enable Bluetooth in the settings and connect. Your device will be connected via Bluetooth within seconds.
In terms of compatibility, it’s best to use the BTR5 with in-ear headphones, IEMs, or headphones with low impedance or high sensitivity; with on-ear, over-ear, and monitor headphones, they should also have low power requirements and not be too demanding. It’s important to understand that this is primarily a Bluetooth amplifier for budget portable headphones, which isn’t a powerhouse and definitely not a full-fledged audio player. However, suppose you’re looking to improve the audio reproduction of your Bluetooth headphones or headset while using smartphones without a headphone jack. In that case, you will be pleasantly surprised by the result of FiiO’s flagship Bluetooth amp.
The main scenario for using this receiver is to wirelessly connect to a smartphone to listen to music on the go. FiiO’s BTR5 amplifier reproduces the soundstage well and provides listeners with neutral and technical music reproduction in most cases. With this wirelessly connected model, no one band is emphasized more than another, which benefits audio enthusiasts of neutral sound. Also, as long as the musicians put a lot of emotion into their performances and mixes, the BTR5’s sound won’t bore you.
FiiO is certainly a leader in the development of compact Bluetooth amplifiers. The flagship FiiO BTR5 Bluetooth receiver is feature-packed, unlike previous models. These include a display, advanced features, and a balanced connection option.
BTR5’s aluminum housing and curved glass are some of the aspects that give the user the feeling that it’s holding an expensive, luxurious high-end amplifier. Everything fits together perfectly; the buttons are satisfyingly clicky and very responsive. On top of that, the device is very intuitive to use and doesn’t overwhelm you with unnecessary features and controls.
In the end, the BTR5 does not disappoint. The brand has certainly improved its Bluetooth headphone amplifiers line-up by switching to ESS technology instead of Asahi Kasei, which offered the BTR5 the boost that made it a popular, successful Bluetooth DAC/AMP. The technology that gained BTR5 the popularity also extends to the tonally neutral and spacious sound with good extension in the upper-end of the audio spectrum, direct, and with high resolution.