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Fiio X7 Android-Based Digital Audio Player Review

By Smit Patel

Summary

  • Product Name: X7 Android-Based Digital Audio Player
  • Manufacturer: Fiio
  • Review Date: February 28, 2016 17:00
  • MSRP: $649
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool
  • Buy Now

  • Output power ≥100mW (32Ω load)
  • Recommended
  • headphone impedance
  • 16~100Ω
  • THD ≤0.0008%(1kHz)
  • S/N ratio ≥115dB (A-weighted)
  • Frequency response 4Hz-60kHz
  • Play time 9h ± 1h (normal listening levels through 32Ω headphones with screen off)
  • Charge time About 4h (using 5V/2A USB power adapter)
  • Output impedance <0.5Ω(32Ω load)
  • Max output voltage 5.20Vp-p

From their entry-level offerings to their more recent mid-fi propositions, Fiio have hoped to conquer all areas of the audio-fi terrain. It came as no surprise therefore, that their already hyped Fiio X7 model, would be received into open and welcoming arms. The X7 is a device of many firsts with Fiio aiming to push the boundaries between hi-fidelity and intuitiveness. Thus, the X7 comes as Fiio’s first Android-based DAP with the ability to convert to a Pure Music mode switch. Featuring a high-impact 4-inch multi-touch screen, the device has been highly anticipated to replace all other cumbersome mid-fi approaches to digital audio players.

At a price of $649, the X7 presents a plethora of features including 1GB RAM, WiFi/Bluetooth 4.0, symmetrical button layout and a patent-pending exchangeable headphone amp module. Perhaps this is one of the more exciting features of this device - the ability to switch amplifier modules to adjust the sound to suit your preferences. This intuitive approach in the category of DAPs has paved the way for an all-round immersive experience which hopefully should trickle down to upcoming generations.

The Design

The Fiio X7 is crafted from solid aluminum that is anodized and diamond cut to provide a premium look and feel. Next to an A&K model, the X7 does not look out of place at all and rather ties in to the former’s premium quality design.

x7dapback.jpg

With regards to the weight, the X7 measures in at 210g which although not heavy in itself, does lean towards the heavier offerings for Digital Audio Players. However, this has allowed the incorporation of a larger battery and larger screen which shall be discussed in the next sections.

x7dapvolume.jpg

The left hand side houses the volume keys, screen/power button and only micro SD slot. All buttons are sturdy and feature a concentric ingrained design that epitomizes Fiio’s move to the hi-fi category.

x7dap.jpg

The right hand side of the device houses symmetrical button placements which are responsible for moving between tracks, skipping them and playing and pausing. The symmetrical design enables easier accessibility of buttons for left and right-handers alike.

x7dapinput.jpg

On the top of the device, is the 3.5mm line/coaxial output. On the bottom of the device is the charging port in the center and the 3.5mm headphone out jack on the far left.

x7dapside.jpg

On the front surface of the device is a 480 x 800 raised panel multi-touch screen with a blue pulsating LED light between this and the amplifier module below.

Overall, the design is outstanding. Truly the mark of a premium and expensive-looking product which Fiio have implemented incredibly-well. Perhaps one area of improvement could be to reduce the dimensions of the device proportionally to make the device weigh less. Secondly, the raised panel screen could have been incorporated into the body of the device to make the appearance seem more consistent. However, these are just minor points for an already strong design language.

The Screen

As mentioned, the screen is a 3.97 inch 480 x 800 multi-touch IPS display that sits on a raised panel from the body of the X7.

Fiio have opted for a 480p display as a result of several compromises. 5.5 inch screens were initially ruled out due to their large sizes and 3.5 inch screens were ruled out due to questionable supply and quality issues. This left 4 inch 480p screens which Fiio could easily procure with their capacity of production and quality control.

Although ideally, it would have been nice to see at least a 720p screen display, Fiio’s end decision seems very sensible for three reasons. First, the 720p would have drained battery at a much faster rate than the current 480p screen. Second, the 480p screens are easier to obtain, and finally, the X7 has ultimately been designed for the purposes of audio rather than multimedia entertainment.

With this said, the 480p screen is by no means lacking and is certainly respectable in its own right compared with iBasso’s DX50 and DX90 models. The option for touchscreen is also a superb bonus and Fiio have made sure to incorporate a 5 touch point sensor for options they will release in the future. This, in my opinion, can be considered as a clear upgrade to the Fiio X5 2nd Generation device which used the scroll wheel as a means of navigation.

The User Interface

The operation system of the X7 is a slim-downed version of Android which removes all the unnecessary elements such as the camera app, recorder app, email, play store and maps dialer etc. However, the play store app can be downloaded in the latest firmware and all apps are able to be downloaded with Fiio’s cautionary disclaimer that some may impact on sound.

Several apps however, I think, are indeed beneficial in bringing the X7 closer into the category of a personal media player. These include Spotify and Tidal, both of which can be downloaded from the play store or from APK files online (The instructions to do so can be found on the Head-Fi ‘X7 White-Listing App’ Thread).

The other part of the UI includes Fiio’s very own music app. This is quite different from other third-party apps in that it offers a minimalist approach that has taken Fiio a long while to develop. The Pure Music mode allows only this part of the OS to take precedence and bypass most of Android’s normal functions. This is a great way to save battery and run the X7 as just a simple music player with Wifi and Bluetooth functionality.

Overall, the UI is incredibly intuitive and fluid as this is what most of us on Android smartphones are used to. The Fiio X7 Music app is well placed with a clean interface language that is also fits in line with usability. There is very little to critique here apart from minor bugs such as the play/pause button not working from time to time when the device’s screen is on standby. However, Fiio have taken this into account and promise to address it in the next firmware release.

The Internals

The Fiio X7 chose the ESS ES9018S DAC which is a 384k/32bit chip. They claim this to the best chip out there and also the most expensive on too. On Fiio’s preamble the ES9018 is said to come with 8 output channels, which can be ganged together for a further 4x multiplier performance. The disadvantage of using this chip however is that it is power-hungry and drains battery at a faster rate than other DACs.

The X7 opts for a RK3188 SoC model which was chosen primarily for its technical support and audio processing prowess. Speaking of computing prowess, the X7 provides 1 GB of RAM and a quad-core Cortex-A9 chip for fast and lag-free performance.

I have found in my testing that there is no lag and the whole experience is very fluid with plenty of RAM to play music from apps of my choice. As android services come in only at 300MB, the remaining 700MB has been issued to be more than enough to play from the native music app. One caveat however, is that with the recent firmware, the ability to download previously unsupported apps now means that users who download unnecessary and endless apps can outstrip RAM supply. Thus, it should be mentioned that only necessary and key apps be downloaded to enable this audio device to play without performance issues.

The Battery

The battery of the Fiio X7 comes in at 3500 mAh, a 200 mAh increase compared to the Fiio X5 2nd Gen DAP. Through daily testing, the average battery life experienced was 8 hours which did improve to 9 hours with reduced brightness, no Wi-Fi and Pure Music mode.

The X7 device takes up to 4 hours to charge from the mains but significantly longer through the USB output on a laptop or computer.

While battery life is not too bad, it could definitely be improved in a next gen device. 

Sound Quality

To start off with, the sound impressions are all done with Fiio’s stock IEM amplifier module (which can be disassembled with the provided screwdriver). Note that in the future, more interchangeable amp modules are likely to come into fruition; all of which, will undoubtedly bear an impact on not only sound but also the power output of the X7.

Immediately, the ES9018S DAC renders an evenly balanced sound signature that is neither colored nor unfaithful. Frequencies are well-presented with a neutrality that constitutes the backbone of the X7 sound. That is not to say that the sound is clinical or boring because that it isn’t. Rather, the clean macro-dynamics and slightly smooth character of the X7 instills some musicality that aids in the overall long-term listening experience. Bass notes are fast and yet full, mids are intelligible with some warmth and treble extends well with good detailing.

Compared with the X5 2nd Generation, the X7 shares a similar signature but boasts better instrument separation, detailing and a more neutrally-tuned sound. In terms of imaging, I am impressed with the three-dimensional soundstage of the Fiio X7 which is not only decent in width but also in the dimensions of height and depth. Instruments and vocals are well-separated which the X7 manages to do slightly better than its X5 2nd Generation predecessor. Next to the DX90 however, the latter possesses a slightly wider soundstage, albeit with similar levels of separation.

Although both the iBasso DX90 and X7 share many similar strengths such as their great levels of separation, neutrality and detail retrieval there are small differences in their signature. The X7, for example, possesses slightly more fleshed out lows which decays marginally slower than that of the DX90’s. It is important to note that these are very subtle differences. A more evident difference, however, includes the fact that the DX90 renders cymbal crashes and hi-hats in a more forthright manner than the X7’s slightly softer rendition of percussion notes. In addition, tracks with the DX90 are a little more transparent than the X7 which can be a double-edged sword; high-quality tracks, for example, may indeed benefit from this extra transparency but sibilant-prone tracks can be perceptively harsher. 

While I did think that the iBasso DX90 edged the X5 2nd Gen in sound, the X7 DAP is a much harder challenge to discern. Perhaps preferences would therefore dictate which is the more favored sound as the DX90 leans to a more neutral-bright affair whereas the X7, a neutral-warm one. Both, however, are very capable DAPs. The iBasso DX90 is able to drive IEMs to full-size headphones with ease. The X7, on the other hand, is limited to IEMs with its default IEM amplifier module. This should change with the release of headphone modules from not only Fiio but also third-party companies; a quite exciting prospect.

With regards to pairings, the X7 was not particularly fussy and synergised well with many of the IEMs thrown at it including the Rock-it Sounds R-50, DUNU Titan 3, Earsonics Velvet and DUNU-2000. The DX90, however, was particularly picky with some pairings such as the Vision Ears VE-5 IEMs and the DUNU DN-2000, resulting in a drier and less palatable sound signature.

Conclusion

Overall, the Fiio X7 is a very solid first iteration of Fiio’s new Android-based flagship DAP devices. Whereas before, many mid-fi offerings lacked the interactive finesse of a smartphone, the X7 bridges this gap by bringing a more intuitive experience for the end user. With that said though, the firmware still has a bit of work to be done for its minor bugs. In addition there is yet to be the option of experimenting with different amplifier modules which will no doubt improve the power output of the X7. However, in its current status the X7 is an excellent all-in-one portable solution for an audiophile on the go. The ability to use streaming devices such as Spotify and Tidal while at the same time having the option of a dedicated music app makes the X7 that much more versatile. Coupled with its nice build and pleasing aesthetics, the X7 undeniably represents $649 well spent.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.