Thursday, August 11, 2005

iAudio X5 vs iRiver H320

The iRiver H320's relatively long in the tooth now and has been dropped or deeply discounted for clearance in some countries, but it does remain one of the few mini-Personal Video Players on the market. iRiver don't sell it as a video player, but it can play them back with the appropriate firmware. I've been carrying both around to compare them functionally for a while, and I've finally run the audio switch test in the same manner as the HD5. This time I used the Sennheiser PX200 as well as the Sony Qualia 010, and finally the Sony MDR-EX71SL in-earphones.

With the PX200 and even the Q010, it is very hard to tell the two apart. The X5 gives the impression of a better soundstage and an infinitessimally clearer sound, but in practical terms both players are pretty much neck and neck when it comes to sound quality. There are however definitely noticeable changes with the MDR-EX71. The X5 seems to suffer from the same low impedance bass fall-off as the iPod, and as such the amount of bass heard with something like the EX71 (16 ohms impedance) on the X5 is noticeably less than the iRiver H320, which has a response unaffected by impedance. Of course, you can EQ this up to your tastes and the fall-off does not seem to contribute greatly to additional distortion that can happen as a result of the fall-off.

Both have similar effects to screw up your sound ;) but the X5 packs a little more in it's armoury. The 5-band EQ is not there on the H320 (only bass/treble boost) and there are a couple of minor 'enhancement' options also not present on the H320. However in terms of the general level of adjustment available, the 5-band EQ is the only real advantage of the X5.

I think it's fair to say that the H320's sound quality is slightly worse but it's not worth worrying about the differences because they are so slight, and it does offer certain advantages as the H320 is less variable than the X5 in terms of behaviour with different phones. On balance, a tie but a slight nod in favour of the H320 for the lack of a bass loss with low impedance phones.

Both have video playback capability. And where it is 5 frames per second less on the H320 leading to a noticeably more jerky playback, the video is so much clearer on the H320, making use of the H320's much brighter, crisper, higher resolution screen. The X5 is blurred and murky in contrast although it has a noticeably higher framerate leading to smoother motion... but the motion advantage is not enough to overcome the fact that in comparison to the H320, the X5's movies look like... well, like shit. Using tools such as iRiverter, it is equally easy to convert videos for both, although the conversion process is not exactly quick. While I see the video playback on the H320 as a mere gimmick, the video playback on the X5 is a really bad gimmick.

The inferior screen of the X5 can present a detraction from viewing photos, but it has a very important edge: Zoom. It's not exactly lightning fast, but thanks to being able to get in close and pan around, you can obviously see more detail in the picture than the iRiver. Although it generated more errors in displaying some of my pictures, those which I was able to load were much better to look at on the X5 despite the crappier screen, especially as the iRiver H320 would sometimes put a border around the image which made it even smaller than the screen.

The X5 talks to a wider range of devices at a better speed than the iRiver. It makes it practically more usable to copy portions of your music library onto a self-powered flash player for example. Works a treat with my Mobiblu. The iRiver has many problems with OTG.

The X5 has on the go playlists, which allows you to queue up songs while away from a PC. The H320 does not. That's about the only major difference as far as playlisting is concerned... both have support for M3U playlists written onto the player.

Both tackled up to 320K MP3 and q9 Ogg in tests without any real problems. The FLAC support is something I haven't yet checked out on the X5, but it is said to be somewhat restricted in that it doesn't support the most efficiently compressed settings. The H320 can play back uncompressed WAV files, but not lossless. It is faster in starting to play tracks when they're manually selected. The H320 also has support for searching by ID3 tags, which is now quite workable through third party software like TDT. The X5 has no such ability although it is apparently planned by Cowon.

Both are very similar in terms of how to use it. The basic transport and menu controls are fairly easy to use but some other features require some scratching of the head in order to get them to work. The tiny joystick of the X5 is a handicap from an ergonomic point of view, while the H320's stiff buttons aren't that much better in terms of control but are much more comfortable to hold down while, say, fast forwarding. Both are USB Mass Storage players and are as such drag & drop when you connect them to a PC.

No contest here: While not smaller in length/width (in fact the H320 is slightly shorter), the X5 is significantly more svelte in the hand and also looks a lot thinner than the H320.

Both offer built-in Mics, and both offer line-in recording (in the case of the X5, with a 'subpack' attachment). Both are equally usable in this department, and both have similar problems with recording using the built-in mic in that the backlight cases a high pitched whining noise and also the hard disk spin-up/spin-down noise is very clearly recorded as well. Both players can support plug-in mics, but are much less effective than using a mic preamp. In terms of serious recording use, both are considerably inferior to Sony's Hi-MD machines.

The X5 is built as well as many other players such as the iPod or the Sony HD5, and features aluminium panels on the front and back. The back has moulded-in mini feet so that the panel doesn't get scratched as much and is a nice touch. However the H320, despite the lack of fancy metal bits is actually noticeably better built. One thing I have to say about iRiver's recent products, despite all the problems I have with their sometimes flaky firmware and software, is that they are really well built. Also, all the connections are built in to the H320. The power, USB and line in/out on the X5 are added via a separate 'subpack'. The connector for this is quite flimsy and the possibility of breakage is ever-present. The cradle is pretty much a necessity in my opinion for the X5, and it's the first thing I picked up.

The X5 offers a longer battery life, and also charges while connecting to the PC. The H320 does not connect to the PC automatically unless it is on when connected via USB, and is fussier about charging from USB.

RADIO: Not checked things out a lot in this respect, but once again, pretty comparable features and performance for the FM radio.

The X5 is a brand new product, and the H320 is one that's being obsoleted. The advantages that the X5 offers are On-the-go playlists, a 5-band EQ (boost only though), better photo viewing and better OTG support, a smaller size, better battery life with certain types of use, and faster navigation through a large library. That is counterbalanced by lack of tag support, truly crappy video, a considerably inferior screen, slightly worse build quality and a remote that noticeably affects sound quality.

Is that enough of an overall improvement compared to the downsides of the X5? Just about. If you do a lot with cameras, the X5 certainly makes a lot more sense. It is definitely an evolution, but the X5 is truly just an iAudio M3 (a machine released mid last year) with video, photo and OTG tacked on. I ultimately only need one of these players, and the fact that I spent AGES thinking about which to get rid of indicates how closely they are matched overall. I elected to rid myself of the H320, but it was a very close call.

All things said, I really did expect more somehow out of the iAudio. It's good, but the fact that it doesn't comprehensively outclass an outgoing product does raise some concern.

EDIT 19th August:
Regarding some comments in concerning the 'just an M3 with a few thingies tacked on'... I think I made it clearer elsewhere, but what I am referring to is that fact that the DAP (deliberate emphasis) features of the X5 have not moved on from the M3; a player with room for improvement in that regard.

By the way, I'll be reposting the results for the HD5 v X5 in a similar format to the above.


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bangraman said...

Thank you. I believe there are a number of Head-Fi members in Northampton, so if any of them are getting married I'll be sure to point them to your site.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could get a hold of an iHP-140 and use its optical with FLAC lossless files an make a comparison using a DAC? What about it?

bangraman said...

Not a practical portable set-up. At least not for me and 99.9999% of the people out there. And besides, you'll get a better 44.1/16 digital signal out of a number of Sony Discmen.

H320 Owner said...

What firmware version are you running on that H320 and where can we find it? the latest I have is 1.28 korea.

Anonymous said...

How do you play videos with H320?
One anoying problem with X5 when turned on you heart this anoying noise I had 2 differennt X5's and both of them had this problem in contrast to H320 which completely mute until you push the play.

Anonymous said...

Nice review! This blog always has great reviews, good to see another one up. A couple of questions, though...

First, some people on the iAudiophile forums (the name just screams "no bias", right?) said that the headphone-out's FR seemed to be flat even when driving a low-impedance 'phone (I think they used the EX71 as well, actually). Comments?

Other thing has to do with build quality. When you say the X5's build quality is worse, what do you mean? I'm looking at the two, and the argument for the X5 is that the body's made of metal, but I've not heard much beyond that. Is it the subpack that's cheesy, or is there something wrong with the unit itself?

Also, the X5 supports all FLAC settings now thanks to a fairly early firmware update. You might want to update that, at least.

Sorry if I seem critical (the second one isn't criticism at all, I just want to know what you mean), I really liked the review overall, just had a few comments :(

bangraman said...

H320 owner;
I was using the Music Pirate skin on the same firmware as you. If you go to and look under H300 players section and Skinning subforum, you'll find it there. I saw many good skins, but this stood out.

You play videos on the H320 in the same way as the X5. Selecting it and pressing Play.

anonymous #2; (no not you, you, no, him, yes you :D )

The bass falloff is most evident with phones like the EX71. If they're measuring it flat, then there's a problem in the measurement or there are two versions of the X5, which I doubt.

The build quality is basically the same as the M3. There is nothing 'cheesy' about it, as I remarked the overall build quality is roughly the same as the iPod or the HD5, it's just that it is a less solid build than the H320.

I'll run FLAC listening tests later and I'll update the review then.

bangraman said...

3rd anonymous:
Regarding your noise, if it is the "kerclunk" type of noise, that is the noise of the hard disk parking itself when switching itself off.

I note that the X5 is virtually silent as far as the audio output is concerned when the HDD is powering up and down.

Anonymous said...

>>The bass falloff is most evident with phones like the EX71. If they're measuring it flat, then there's a problem in the measurement or there are two versions of the X5, which I doubt.>>
What about the reports that, say, the E4 sounds a lot fuller and bassier with the X5 than with the iPod? Are they biting the sugar pill, or does the X5 have slightly less roll-off than the iPod, or what? I don't mean to be contrary at all, I'm just confused about how to sort out the conflicting opinions out there.

>>The build quality is basically the same as the M3. There is nothing 'cheesy' about it, as I remarked the overall build quality is roughly the same as the iPod or the HD5, it's just that it is a less solid build than the H320.>>
Fair enough, just curious about what parts felt a little less solid than they could be (or than they are on the H3x0, I guess). I've heard the joystick, at least, but not much more than that.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. I personally chose the iAudio over the Iriver because of the size. The Iriver is almost twice as thick as the iAudio from the look if it. I also don't think the video is that bad, it's just fine for putting a few TV shows on it to watch in the car. AS for build quality, I don't know how much more solid you can get than the iAudio. Plus metal >>>>>>>>>>>> plastic any day.

Nice, unbiased review though. :)

Tobu said...

Thnaks for the balanced review; it didn't help me much to see that the two are neck and neck.

I think that the iriver has an advantage in that the rockbox port may be released sooner for it, but not by much either (both still need a bootloader).

The killer feature of rockbox for me will be the spoken menus, and some playback improvements like gapless and ReplayGain.

Tobu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Nice review.
Unfortunately i had to return 3 H320 units because hiss that was clearly hearable all the time. Even before i touched the play button. The overall quality of the units was high. The sound was crystal clear. Unfortunately the hiss was not acceptable at all. A lot of people in the iriver forums are complaining about hiss. No review ever mentioned such problems. Now i am without a hd mp3 player. The X5 is no option for me.

Anonymous said...

I can confirm a small amount of background noise (not really annoying, hardly noticeable) when using low impedance phones. But with Sony MDR-CD 780 or Koss Porta Pro (60 ohms) the background noise disappears completely and the soundquality becomes outstanding. That means better than any other mp3-player I know.

Anonymous said...

I can confirm a small amount of background noise (not really annoying, hardly noticeable) when using low impedance phones. But with Sony MDR-CD 780 or Koss Porta Pro (60 ohms) the background noise disappears completely and the soundquality becomes outstanding. That means better than any other mp3-player I know.

k9vap said...

I just bought an x5 & also own a H320, which my son has now inherited. I have to take issue with the sound comparison. To my ears, there is no contest & the x5 is superior thru my Shure E5's, which admittedly, are very unforgiving. The BBE gives much more control where it counts & actually cleans up cluttered tracks. The sounstage is more precise & deep bass is 'felt', but was absent on my 320. All the iRivers hiss, (I also own an ifp) & is annoyingly noticeable with sensitive phones like the Shures. I was happy to give the 320 away!

bangraman said...

It's true that the H320 hisses more than the X5 with the E5. And the E5 is a very forgiving phone... it's one of the good things about it. It gives sufficient detail to be informative but doesn't reveal too much. The other thing about the E5 is that despite the quoted specs, it's actually a very low-impedance phone for most of it's frequency range. Headroom's measurements struck me as off until I did it, but they're right this time. Which means that the X5's bass fall-off affects the E5. The upshot is a 'leaner' sound out of the X5 which can be perceived as cleaner. In terms of actual quality, as I said both are very similar in overall circumstances. As I said before, you are correct in that the E5 and some other IEM's (not all) do reveal more hiss with the H320. Also, perhaps as befits it's forgiving nature, the E5 may not be readily revealing the quality degredation with BBE to you.

Terence said...

Build Quality:

Anyway, if any one unpacks the shell of the tiRiver H340, you'll find that the shell is actually aluminium inside wrapped with hard plastic. That is why some people commented that the H3xx looked and felt sturdy. Ony that sandwitch part between the fron panel and the back panel is pure plastic. But then the H3xx has steel chassis holes where the bottom docks onto the cradel.

Open it up and it'll be clear.

BTW: I now have the Cowon A2 and the H340, but I tested for 30 minutes the X5L in a shop. I decided to get the A2 despite it being all together a different thing from the H3xx and the X5.

Boozie said...

This is a great blog, and review. I just wanted to throw my 2 cents in the ring: I bought the X5, 30GB, mainly for recording music [my band mainly]. So far, i am very happy with it. there are some things here and there, but over all, a nice unit. well built, sounds incredible, and quite a lot of neat features. I don't think i know as much as our host here, when it comes to testing them out though. but for my needs, the video is REALLY clear [use MobileDVD convertor app], radio is sweet, yada yada. Nothing like watching Sin City at band practice waiting for guitarists to tune :)
Thank you for your BLOG!!!!

Molli said...


today i bought a X5 20 GB. The Sound is beautiful, but after refesh the n firmware 2.10V there is a problem with the channel search in the "Present on"-Mode. After searching automaticly the player crashed. So it is necessary to press the reset-key. Is there anybody, who know this Problem and maybe a solution?


Lightloch said...

Don't forget about using Rockbox open-source firmware for either of these players. Infinitely more features, and brings these players even more neck and neck than before.