Music player provides retro music-playing experience that may not be worth the cost.

Born in the early 1980s, I was lucky to experience the transition from cassette tape, through compact disc, through standalone MP3/MP4 players through various generations of iPhones. Our ability to listen to portable music has certainly expanded since the advent of the Sony Walkman in 1979. As smartphone tech has expanded, many of the features of standalone devices have become integrated into them. Now we can use our phones to navigate via maps/GPS, to watch movies/TV, to read magazines/books, to compose messages/articles/papers, to draw, and so much more. Streaming services and digital sources have reduced the need to purchase hard copies of music. It has become quite convenient to pay a monthly subscription instead of paying for music or larger hard drives/storage options. With an iPad/iPhone/Apple Watch/iPod Touch, you can still choose to purchase music, download what you want from the cloud, and then delete it without the need to ever hook your device up to a computer. I have not missed searching through a stack of SD cards to find the desired file, messing with a card reader, or the need to manage libraries/files on my computer. Other than for my Nintendo Switch and DSLR camera, I really have no need for SD cards.

I received the FiiO M5 Portable High-Resolution Music Player for review and questioned the relevance of the device in the era of the smartphone. I would not consider myself an audiophile but I have tested several players and headphones. I wanted to give it a fair chance, based on its own merit but struggled to understand the cost to value. The M5 Portable Music Player arrived in an attractive 3 5/8 inches wide by 5 15/16 inches tall by 1 inch thick hanging retail package.  The clean white packaging served as the perfect backdrop for the colorful square image of the music player, which reminded me a bit of my Apple Watch.  The FiiO company name, in bold black font, was listed along the top left of the cover and you will find two square icons denoting Hi-Res Audio (Wireless) to the right of the FiiO name.  Along the lower section of the cover panel, you will find the “M5 Portable High-Resolution Music Player” name and four icons: Qualcomm aptXHD, Qualcomm aptX, Bluetooth, and LDAC.  With the cover facing up, the side panel to my left displayed “FiiO” in silver/grey font and the opposite side had M5 in the same silver/grey font.  The top panel housed the semi-opaque hanging tab and the bottom panel was left blank.  The rear panel provided several of the product manufacturing labels and copyright/legalese information. To access the product, I removed the thin outer plastic, gripped the hanging tab, and pulled upward. The inner box smoothly slid out of the surrounding slipcover. 

Within the outer layer of the box, you will find two smaller boxes.  Along the top, you will find a 3 7/16 inches wide by 3 1/8 inches tall by 9/16 inches thick foam block with included M5 player.  Along the bottom, you will find a 3 7/16 inches wide by 2 5/8 inches tall by 7/8 inches thick accessory box with a 32 1/2 inches long USB-A to USB-C cable and a clear plastic belt-clip case.  Beneath the foam layer with M5 player, you will find a 3 7/16 inches wide by 3 inches tall by 1/2 inches thick box with an included screen protector, multilingual Bluetooth instruction manual, and a warranty disclaimer booklet (1-month guarantee for replacement, 1 year of free maintenance, no warranty for the accessories). Lastly, you will find a multi-lingual quick start guide, with three pages for each language.  I turned to the English language section and found a useful labeled diagram of the 1 5/8 inches wide by 1 3/4 inches tall by 9/16 inches thick music player.  The 36-gram device had a 1 1/8 inches square touch screen on the front panel, a 3.5mm port, volume down/up buttons, dual microphones, and power/lock buttons along the top panel.  On the bottom panel, you will find the USB-C port and the Micro SD card slot (not included).  To activate the device, hold the power button, and enjoy a brilliant touchscreen image displaying “FiiO Born to Music.” After a few seconds, the player will display a large pink triangle with the words “Now Playing” beneath it. You can change screens by swiping to the right or to the left. As you swipe from left to right, you will scroll through several screens: Category, Step Counter, Recording, Settings, BT Receiver, and Browse Files.

My favorite feature of the M5 Portable player was the BT Receiver mode. Once the device was powered on, I swiped left to right several times until the BT Receiver icon was present on the screen. I tapped the Bluetooth symbol to “Enable Bluetooth” and subsequently navigated to Settings, selected Bluetooth, and then FiiO M5 from the list on my iPhone 11 Pro Max. This feature allowed the M5 player to pair with my iPhone, similar to other Bluetooth headsets. Thanks to the included 3.5mm port, you can plug your favorite pair of wired headphones into the M5 player to enjoy a pseudo-Bluetooth listening experience. Since the device does not have embedded speakers, you will need to provide your own at added cost to the virus. I paired my RHA IEM earphones with the M5 and listened to many of my standard headphone test tracks and a few new 8D options through Spotify and Amazon Music Unlimited. I also used a pair of 1More wired IEM earphones as well. I added the M5 device securely within the clear belt clip and listened for several hours. The 550mAh LiPo battery lasted approximately 10 hours and charged in about two and a half hours. I was pleased with the sound, with the portability and with the ability to remain handsfree from my iPhone. The volume up/down buttons quickly changed the volume of the headphones and I was able to play/pause music with the button on the top. Unfortunately, the RCA headphones lost the function of the inline button control. Despite the M5 feature, I already own several 3.5mm to Lightning and 3.5mm to USB-C dongles (iPad Pro). It was for that reason that I found the $99.99 price tag hard to swallow. If you want to add your corded earphone/headphones to your smartphone, simply purchase a headphone dongle for $9. While testing the device, I repeatedly found myself trying to find a feature/function that my iPhone 11Pro Max could not do for me. I liked being able to carry the lighter weight M5 while jogging/riding my bike. I could have my iPhone 11 Pro Max in the saddlebag of my Trek Mountain Bike but I could have placed the FiiO M5 on my lapel for music. Again, I found it difficult to beat a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Throughout the testing, I could not stop thinking about the laughing Apple Dongle video and that I might have the most expensive iPhone Dongle that currently exists. Since nearly everyone has a smartphone, I did not compare the price of the M5 to the purchase price of an iPhone.

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The M5 paired well with my iPhone and remained connected throughout my tests. In addition to the Bluetooth receiver test, the M5 had the ability to act as a Bluetooth Transmitter through SBC, aptX, and LDAC formats. I paired it with a Tribit XSound Go speaker and was pleased with the sound output. To test this, I played the sample track that came with the player. I also paired the M5 Player with a pair of Tranya Bluetooth Speakers. The downside to the music player was the need to have onboard music. As an added benefit, the M5 player had a built-in pedometer, and dual microphones along the top to capture high-quality audio (need a memory card). Again, my iPhone can capture audio and I do not also need to purchase/format a microSD card (up to 2TB). The website states that there are several accessories for the M5 to include a clear belt clip and a watch accessory. The CNC machined aluminum alloy M5 is available in Meteorite Black, Radiant Red, Starry Blue, Dreamy Silver, and Moonlight Titanium. You can wear the device with the included clear belt clip, or you can purchase the watch accessory from the website.

At first, the user interface was pretty easy to navigate and the functions of the device were not difficult to learn. However, after several days of using the device, I found myself struggling with the clunky touchscreen. It did not want to respond to my finger swipes and this problem was exacerbated by the included screen protector. I was disappointed that they did not include even a small micro SD card with the kit. Personally, I find it time-consuming to try to add music to a memory card to then insert it into the device for a portable player. The thought of doing that brought up several memories of Napster and my college days of MP3 and data files. With modern streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Unlimited, and YouTube, you can listen to whatever you want, when you want to, from your smartphone. I am sure that there will be some audiophiles who feel that smartphone sound is terrible and a DAP is the goto setup. Since I did not notice much of a difference in sound quality from the M5 or my phone with wired or bluetooth headsets. The M5 does not have its own speaker and thus it relies on the quality of headphones that you select. By the time you have purchased the device and memory card, you will likely be quite close to a reasonable pair of Bluetooth headphones. In fact, some like 1MORE have their own App that allows you to gain EQ functions. As another downside when compared to an iPhone, the device did not support video playback.

For the price, the device should have come with a memory card, possibly a silicone strap, and should have had covers for the USB-C, 3.5mm port and micro SD port. I did not find any mention of waterproofing, which decreased the utility further. So unless you want a retro MP3/MP4 experience, I would recommend that you save for a better quality pair of earphones/headphones and continue to use your smartphone as your jack-of-all-trades device. I appreciated the watch like structure, the ability to rotate the screen, and the equalizer functions. However, I disliked the screen’s lack of responsiveness. The user interface felt basic, the device had no radio transmitter, and I was unable to see what was playing when in Bluetooth Receiver mode. I read several other reviews to try to see what I was missing but continued to return to my original question of “what does the average person gain by purchasing this device?”

Learn more about the FiiO M5 Player.
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