Monday, August 08, 2005

iAudio X5 vs Sony HD5 musings, part one

So I'm back home and while typing up some reports I was playing with the iAudio X5 versus the Sony HD5. I'm using the Audio-Technica ATH-W2002 to take my attention away slightly from the highs and lows and to concentrate more on the overall detail and presentation of these two players.

It's interesting listening to just two as opposed to the broader comparison I'm doing at the moment, because the sense of difference between each is amplified compared to when testing several. When you're evaluating lots of players, the point of focus necessarily becomes more diffuse. Whether one is more valid than the other, I can't say... so invariably when I have the opportunity, I'll do both types of tests.

So far I'm not finding the navigation of the loaded files that different between each machine, with the X5 being a tad more intuitive when working through the folder list to play a track. The X5 has a three or so second pause if you select tracks ad hoc from a variety of folders, while the Sony has few seconds delay for the artist/album list to show up. In an album however, both players can skip between tracks at more or less the same speed, although the X5 is more variable... cache algorithm differences undoubtedly. I can't ascribe any particular superiority in navigation to either player if you have them sorted how you want.

However the X5 does not have the ability to navigate based on tags, so there's an advantage for the Sony if you don't have your music organised the ways in which you may want to search. The X5 also does not have the initial search feature, or anything like it which allows you to work your way through all the songs quickly. In terms of finding what you want, the Sony is definitely more versatile.

As far as a precis of my opinion on the X5 goes (since I don't think I've talked about it before on the blog), I have to say I'm not exactly blown away although it is a highly capable machine. I'll leave it at that for the time being. Anyway, we'll get onto the usability issues of each player much later. For now, initial views on the sound.

I volume matched both players (basically just play the same sine wave back on both machines and use a VU meter to set the same volume with the headphone load inserted), and set them playing on the same album ripped in 320K MP3.

(A passive audio switch is used for testing. The switches are used once per track and the track repeated)

And I've turned to both to see if I have any EQ/FX on so many times that it's getting a bit ridiculous... as frankly, I'm still a bit doubtful that the Sony could be this much of an underachiever in a relative terms. The difference becomes all the more clearer when the musical passages get more complex.

In terms of the incisiveness of the sound and the effective overall detail it delivers, the X5 is definitely in a class above the HD5. It's not just a difference in the lows and the comparative wallowyness of the HD5 which affects this... the Sony just in general serves up a smooth yet relatively unresolved performance in comparison. The difference in the ability of the X5 to present sonic information is particularly present in the attack and decay of voices and stringed instruments and the consequent space inbetween notes, as well as the ability to separate them when multiple layers of such sounds are present. With the Sony, things seemed to be more jumbled up into a uniform middle ground. Definitely not unpleasant, but less capable.

As far as what you can do to the sound is concerned, things are pretty evenly balanced: The Mach3bass and BBE DSP effects of the X5 do genuinely pep up the sound albeit at some expense of sound quality, whereas the Sony has the "VPT Acoustic Engine" (aka "which version of listening out of a drainpipe would you like?"). The X5's EQ and DSP modes work in all codecs, while the Sony's only works when using ATRAC. When using MP3 the Sony only has treble and bass controls. When using ATRAC, Sony does however have a 6-band EQ with boost and cut, whereas the X5 has a 5-band EQ with boost only but with finer control over the level of adjustment. I don't like boost-only EQ because it is nowhere near as effective as having the ability to both take away as well as add.

No word on the Line Out tests as of yet as I haven't done it. Next up, the iRiver H320 joins the fray.

EDIT 11th / August:
I run another test for the HD5 vs X5 using the Sony MDR-EX71 earphones. As some of you may know, I'm not exactly a fan of these. Well designed from an ergonomic point of view and they are handy earphones, but poor quality sound and bloated lows make them only marginally recommendable. However, they are very popular and a test is merited with these.

The low impedance bass falloff of the X5 was definitely present with these 16 ohm phones. I have established that the falloff effect is a) not quite as pronounced as on the iPod and b) actually cleaned up the overall sound of the bloated EX71 a little!

For a test of sound quality with these phones, I tried two tests... a straight listening test as before, but also with a <80hz cut to remove variability of opinion based on the bass falloff. Although because of the poor quality of the MDR-EX71 sound it was necessarily harder to tell the X5 and the HD5 apart, I was still getting it right every time as to which was which.


ChrisWoznitza said...

Great page!!! Greatings from Germany!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi from Russia!
Usefull pages, greate and best reviews all!
When will we see iaudio x5 vs ipod review in terms of sound quality?
It will be great intresting to see in not far future a comparison review several players like this: ipod, iriver320(340), iaudio x5(M5, M3) and sony Mz-nh1 (PCM mode), and may be some thing else, in terms of sound quality only.

Great thanks once again ! ! !
Could you make a font a little bigger?

Indigo said...

I'm sorry for previous post - I easy may enlage font by my IntExp.
Does anyone know if the difference exists between iaudio x5, M3, M5 in sound quality?
What is the best buy iaudio, iriver, ipod in hhd range in terms of sound quality?

With kind regards from Russia...