Although we still don’t know when Spotify will launch its Hi-Fi service, between Tidal, Apple Music, Deezer, Qobuz and Amazon Music HD, there is no shortage of streaming services jumping on the Hi-Fi bandwagon. one problem with that, though; you need an external DAC to take advantage of any of those Hi-Fi levels. There’s nothing new about using external DACs and amps to get the most out of your music, but on a phone? Big music streaming services are pushing mobile hi-fi, and you probably don’t have what you need to enjoy it.
A DAC (digital-to-analog converter) takes digital audio files and turns them into a smooth analog signal for the speakers in your headphones or earphones. There’s already a DAC in your smartphone, but not all DAC chips are created equal. The chips found in the $130 FiiO BTR5 2021 are much closer in quality to those you’d find in a desktop DAC. This allows it to handle files with higher sample rates and higher bit depths, and also helps you get better sound from lower resolution files. However, it’s still a $130 Bluetooth accessory, so we’re clearly in audiophile territory here.
The FiiO BTR5 delivers desktop-quality sound for your smartphone and brings high-quality Bluetooth codecs to your wired cans, but it’s Android’s patchy support for USB DACs that’s holding it back.
- Mark: FiiO
- Formats supported: MP3, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, DSD, MQA
- Connector: USB-C, 3.5mm, 2.5mm Balanced
- Weight: 44g
- Battery: 550mAh
- Maximum impedance: 150Ω (balanced) 100Ω (unbalanced)
- Codec: AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, LDAC
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Bluetooth or wired
- Hardware support for MQA
- 2.5mm balanced output
- The amp is powerful for something so small
- Display is small and could show more information
- EQ is Bluetooth only and does not work with LDAC
- Requires non-intuitive setup to get the best quality out of it
- May need 3rd party music app to play lossless quality
Design, Material, Box Contents
The BTR5 functions as a plug-n-play DAC, but that doesn’t mean you have to have it plugged in to use it. In wired mode, the BTR5 replaces the crummy 3.5mm adapter that came with your phone (if you’re lucky). It is also a wireless Bluetooth receiver that can transmit high quality audio to a pair of high-end wired headphones.
It took a lot of design cues from modern smartphones. It has the same glass sandwich design we’re all used to, with curved edges. While he Is having a screen behind this glass face only takes up a tiny fraction of the available space. It doesn’t have to be very big as it only has to show basic information like battery and volume levels, what Bluetooth codec it’s using, sample rate or if it’s decodes an MQA file. It would be nice if the screen was bigger to be able to display more data, but not knowing the sample rate of your MQA files or the current bit depth is not the end of the world.
All the controls are on the right side, along with a microphone. In wired mode, the volume rocker only adjusts your volume, but in Bluetooth mode, it can skip tracks back and forth. The power button brings up the screen so you can see the battery level and your current sample rate or if you are decoding an MQA file. In wireless mode, the screen will simply tell you which Bluetooth codec is in use. Holding down the power button will bring up the menu so you can do things like toggle charging or change EQ modes. The unmarked button is only used for menu navigation in wired mode, but it is the play/pause/assistant and call answer/reject button in Bluetooth mode.
The top of the BTR5 features an unexpected audiophile feature in the form of an additional headphone jack. It’s not for two people listening at the same time – I just tried to see if it would work and it didn’t. This jack is actually for a balanced output. In addition to having a smaller plug, balanced cables also isolate left and right audio channels more to reduce interference. The BTR5’s balanced jack is designed with higher headphone impedances in mind, at a recommended maximum of 150 ohms, as opposed to the 100 ohm recommendation FiiO gives for the 3.5mm jack. I tested this with my 250 ohm Beyerdynamic DT770s, and it sounds like I’m maxing out the BTR5.
The base model BTR5 comes with a Type-C to C cable and a Type-C to A cable, that’s all you need to use it on Android, Windows, and in the USB Type-A port of your car. The “Apple” version includes a Type-C to Lightning cable and costs $10 more. That might seem expensive for a short cable, but the cheapest Lightning to C OTG cable I could find was $16, so if you have an iPhone or iPod touch, the extra $10 isn’t a bad thing. case.
For fanny pack and music player nostalgics (me), you’ll be happy to see that FiiO has included a belt clip for the BTR5. In wireless mode it was a decent way to anchor my headphones somewhere so they wouldn’t bother me while I was on my phone, but it can be a hassle in wired mode whenever you need to take out your phone. No one is forcing you to use the clip, but it’s still better than leaving it hanging down or floating around in your pocket.
Software, audio and battery life
When I say the BTR5 has office quality sound, I’m not exaggerating. It is comparable to an entry-level DAC in the same price range. There are obviously trade-offs when you compare it to a desktop setup, but sound quality isn’t one of them.
There are 2 different apps that integrate with the BTR5. Fiio Control lets you change settings and configure EQ profiles. While the BTR5 has plenty of easily accessible options in its menu, the control app lets you do so much more, like force specific audio codecs. The FiiO Music app has all the same controls hidden in the settings menu, but is also a music player. Both apps work well, and putting the controls in their own app is a good consideration for anyone who wants to do all their listening through their favorite app.
As mentioned before, the BTR5 can be used as a USB DAC or a Bluetooth receiver. As a USB DAC it supports sample rates up to 384kHz at 32bit, but there is a caveat to this. There is no universal way for all Android devices to interact with external DACs, so not all phones will automatically pass decoding to a USB DAC, and many will simply choose to use their internal DAC. It’s not FiiO’s fault, it’s just a weird quirk with Android right now. With the right phone, music on the FiiO BTR5 sounds flawless.
Support for MQA tracks on Tidal and other services is one of the main selling points of this device, but you’ll only hear the higher quality audio if your phone properly connects to the DAC. Unfortunately, you won’t know if that’s the case until you try. I tried the BTR5 with PC, Mac, iPhone and several Androids. I’ve only had trouble getting hi-fi quality sound with Androids. It seems that Samsung handles this quite well as they already sell devices with external DAC chips, so if you have a Samsung, chances are none of this applies to you. Using an app like USB Audio Player Pro completely gets around this problem, but it’s demoralizing to spend the extra $12 on an app to get your $130 DAC working properly for MQA. This is a big question since MQA isn’t even lossless.
As a Bluetooth receiver, things are many luckily simpler. With aptX HD and LDAC support, until lossless aptX becomes more widespread, you won’t be able to get a better Bluetooth audio experience than this. Between the two, LDAC has more bandwidth, so you’ll probably want to go with that. At the maximum speed of 990Kb/s, according to Sony, LDAC comes barely has the bandwidth required for lossless CD-quality FLAC files, unlike aptX HD. There will be some loss if you use files with more bit depth or higher sample rate, but that’s the same for all Bluetooth devices right now.
FiiO claims nine hours of battery life and a full charge in an hour and a half, which seems realistic based on my testing. There is, however, room for huge variance depending on factors such as the volume level and the impedance of your headphones. This is a bigger concern in wireless mode, as you can easily charge the BTR5 from your phone while you’re using it.
Should I buy it?
It depends. Honestly, I love the sound quality I get from the BTR5. My wired desk headphones sound better on Bluetooth than any of my Bluetooth headphones a mile away, and it wasn’t that unusual for me to spend over 12 hours a day on headphones once I started to use the BTR5. I think it hits the perfect intersection between desktop quality sound and a size handy enough to take anywhere. I want to to recommend it to everyone, but it took a lot of troubleshooting due to Android’s patchwork DAC support. That’s a lot of hassle when most people listen to subpar audio well. The FiiO BTR5 is a good product, but it’s only good for audiophiles.
Buy it if…
- You have an Apple or Samsung device, and want to get into hi-fi and lossless music
- You want to take your audiophile experience on the go.
Don’t buy it if…
- You want a hassle-free plug-and-play experience
- Your streaming service doesn’t support third-party players and you don’t have a Samsung phone.
We hope you like the items we recommend and discuss! AndroidPolice has affiliate and sponsored partnerships, so we receive a revenue share from some of your purchases. This will not affect the price you pay and helps us provide the best product recommendations.
About the Author