Review Date: 12 December 2021, Re-reviewed 29 January 2021
NOTE: This review was done in 2021 format, originally posted in Head-Fi. Now inducted into my own #donglemadness page with additional tests with my new equipment.
- Chipsets: ES9281 Pro + Dual ES9603Q
- Hardware buttons: Volume up / down
- Format support: PCM 32bit/384kHz, DSD128（DoP), MQA
- Indicator light: Status and playback sample rate / format indicator
- USB port: Type-C
- Headphone port: 4.4mm balanced + 3.5mm SE Adaptor
- Output Level: 2Vrms @ 32Ω
- Output Power: 125mW + 125mW @32Ω
- THD+N: 0.0015%
- SNR: 114dB
- Crosstalk Rejection: 71dB
- Frequency Response: 20-90kHz
- Dimensions: 582212 mm
- Weight: 22.5g
- FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)
- Beyerdynamic DT880 (Dynamic Drivers, 600 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
- Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
- TRN VX Pro (8 BA + 1DD Hybrid, 22 Ohm, 106db Sensitivity)
- TIN HiFi T3+ (Single DD, 32 Ohm, 105db Sensitivity)
- Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)
- CCA CA16 Pro (Multiple Hybrid)
- KZ ZEX Pro (Multiple Hybrid)
- VE Asura 3.0 FE (Single DD, 155 Ohm)
- VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (Single DD, 320 Ohm)
- Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (USB 3.0 Power)
- LG V50 ThinQ (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
- Sony Xperia X Compact (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
- Creative SX-Fi App (Windows & Android)
Comparative Reference DAC/Amp:
- iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN CAN Stack (15.1 Vrms)
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
HiBy FC5 MQA. For some reasons HiBy opted to stick with ES9281 series of DAC chip, similar to the older model of FC3. With an exception now HiBy redesigned the whole setup to accommodate dedicated Amp modules of ES9603 (dual). From certain perspective I can totally understand why they opted to remain with the same DAC chip, ES9281 is still among the best out there with native MQA support, also considering that HiBy would already be well versed with a DAC chip that has been successful to them. As opposed to trying out different chips that may require new learning curve. As it is, it is evident to me this resulted in a very matured sounding unit that is clearly a much-improved unit over the old FC3. The FC3, while being a decent Dongle by itself, does have some cons that I find detriment to overall listening enjoyment, highly technical yet overly bright. FC3 was a unit very raw with ESS glare and brightness, being great only when paired with warm sounding listening devices. Thankfully, the FC5 does not have this raw ESS sound anymore. What I am hearing is a beautifully clean sounding unit that is truthfully neutral and well balanced throughout the dynamic range.
One aspect that pleases me the most is how powerful this FC5 is. Unlike the FC3 which has some limitations with highly demanding IEMs/Headphones/Earbuds, the FC5 exhibited amazing driving capabilities even with my Fostex T40RP MK3, a magnetic planar headphone that is notoriously known to be among the hardest to drive at 91db of sensitivity. The mark of proper synergy is a sound output which is effortless and liquid smooth, no hint of strain anywhere. The T40RP sounded at home with FC5, Bass being rich and deeply extended, Treble with similar traits. Mids being very transparent and engaging. This is consistent with the rest of my “hard to drive” equipment, the Etymotic ER4SR, VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (320 Ohm) and VE Asura 2.0 FE (155 Ohm).
On the other end of the spectrum, FC5 exhibited amazing prowess working with highly sensitive IEMs like the CCA CA16 Pro (which is notoriously prone to hissing and noise). My CA16 Pro sounded super clean with black background. Similar results for the likes of TIN HiFi T3+ and KZ ZEX Pro.
Another element worth mentioning is the soundstage. The width, depth and height are so very unlike a typical ESS based DAC. HiBy must be commended for this feat. Comparing against another of my favorite ESS 9281 Dongle, same thing observed with Hidizs S9 Pro and E1DA 9038SG3, all exhibiting tall but narrow staging. It is evident to me FC5 has better width and space. Both comparatively tall. However, I must admit that the THX Onyx remained the undisputed champion on soundstage width and expanse among all #donglemadness contestants.
On the subject of MQA, FC5 delivers. From my own experience with Tidal Masters, some ES9281 dongles may exhibit crackling artifacts with some songs. But with FC5, after some extensive testing, I did not encounter a single occurrence of this happening. So, I am assuredly very happy with that.
Last but not least, despite being primarily a 4.4mm Balanced unit, FC4 came included with a beautifully made 3.5mm SE adapter that will allow for usage of normal stereo plugs. Through my own observation the quality variance is not audibly apparent be it BAL or SE. Perhaps the actual power delivery could be less with the SE, and this will work perfectly with easy to drive IEMs. However, for more demanding ones, it is best to use the 4.4mm BAL to ensure full might of the 2 Vrms driving power.
Ultimately, what clicks for me is the overall tuning of FC5. This time HiBy hitting it right with balance and neutrality albeit not being as analogue/organic as how I normally prefer. No offensive brightness or coloration of Mids and Bass. Also, FC5 can synergize with practically anything. From serving as AUX feed for Shure KSE1500, highly sensitive IEMs and Hybrids or something outright demanding, FC5 does it all with great finesse and articulation. A true winner in my book.
Pro and Cons
- Neutral and natural timbre with exceptional coherence level
- Superbly controlled Dynamics, mature, effortless, and airy.
- Reference grade Treble, Mids and Bass extensions, textured and detailed
- Reference grade Macro and Micro details, crisp imaging
- Great technical prowess, exceedingly technical and resolving
- Crisp and clean percussions, guitars, synth, piano, and cello
- Neutral Mids, realistic Male and Female vocals
- Excellent Sub-Bass presence and textures, with great extensions
- Reference grade speed and dynamic transients handling
- Precise layer separation and spatial positioning, great imaging.
- Great sibilance resistances despite being sparkly bright.
- Amazing driving power for a 2 Vrms Dongle
- Very useful hardware volume adjuster, independent of the source
- 20X MQA unfolding working flawlessly with Tidal Masters
- Professional and beautiful build. Very solid
- Great battery conservation to the host, does not drain power too much
- 3.5mm Single Ended Adapter included
- The build among one of the heavier ones in this class, slightly hefty
- Volume adjustment may be not as refined for highly sensitive IEMs
- Less organic sound due to tuning focus more on modern Hi-Fi sound
As part of #donglemadness 2022 standard procedures, driving tests with two of my most difficult to drive Headphones. My desktop stack of iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN Can (15.1 Vrms) used as a reference to ascertain how close FC5 able to drive those two juggernauts. With the ZEN stacks providing 100% experience, this is how FC5 compares:
Song: Diana Krall “The Look of Love”, FLAC (24bit, 96kHZ 3087 kbps), Player: UAPP USB Exclusive mode (bitperfect) on LG V50 ThinQ
HIBY FC5 4.4 BAL (ADAPTIVE GAIN)
- Fostex T40RP MK3: 80% (Vol 70/100)
- Beyerdynamic DT880: 75% (Vol 75/100)
The percentage being indication of how close FC5 to iFi ZEN Stack. Of which the criteria for comparison as follows:
- Listening loudness (proper level)
- Dynamic transients and density
- Headroom spacing and staging
- Imaging strength
- Details articulation
Nothing less from FC5, I actually expected it to perform as great as it is, scoring up to 75% of ZEN Stack output is no small feat driving that super stubborn DT880 600 Ohm.
The biggest X factor for HiBy FC5, being very well tuned to produce output that is naturally balanced and uncolored. It has great power as it is with fidelity level. Such a contrast compared to the older FC3 which now sounded metallic, dry and bright to my ears. Keeping with HiBy signature, they kept it super clean sounding as it is crisp. However I must admit I wished that FC5 tuning could use a bit more of organic touch to it, a matter of personal preference.
PS. I would like to thank HifiGo for providing me this unit. HifiGo has been very helpful with #donglemadness since the very beginning, offering me generous discounts due to my repeated purchases in large numbers.
Best Pairing: Flexible up to 600 Ohm
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