This week we tested the FiiO X7 Mark II, an updated version of the FiiO X7, whose musical qualities had previously won us over. An audiophile-grade portable music player featuring multiple headphone, line-level, and digital outputs, in addition to Bluetooth connectivity, the FiiO X7 Mark II runs Android and is designed to handle Hi-Res Audio files as well as online music services.
The FiiO X7 was the very first of the Chinese brand’s DAPs to run Android. While the DAP’s sound was undoubtedly intoxicating, the software had gotten off to a bit of a rough start, and the update from Android 4.4 to Android 5.1 was a delicate process. For the FiiO X7 Mark II, the brand has announced impeccable software and an even higher-quality DAC.
The FiiO X7 Mark II incorporates a Sabre 9028PRO ESS converter, directly derived from the highly acclaimed ES9018 that equipped the first X7, in addition to many other high-end audio players. The 9028PRO is notable for its lower distortion rate, higher energy efficiency (the 9018 DAC was an energy “hog”) and new oversampling filters. As it is capable of processing 8 channels simultaneously, it also offers a 2×4 channel parallel mode for stereo applications, which is ideal for minimizing distortion. Thanks to the 9028PRO, the FiiO X7 Mark II can decode audio files up to 32-bits/384 kHz and DSD up to 5.6 MHz. Two digital clocks are present to ensure optimal conversion of multiple 44.1 kHz (CD, HD, DSD) and 48 kHz (HD) files.
FiiO X7 Mark II: compatible audio sources
The FiiO X7 Mark II DAP offers 64GB of internal eMMC storage, of which 5GB are dedicated exclusively to Android. The DAP’s storage capacity is thus 59 GB. In addition, there are two microSD card readers, each of which is compatible with 256 GB cards. In total, the potential storage capacity of the FiiO X7 Mark II X7 is over 570 GB, or enough to keep thousands of HD audio files on hand.
Playing audio files from a home server via WiFi connection is possible. Good news, the FiiO X7 Mark II’s controller functions on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, which should ensure stable streaming, especially on the less congested 5GHz band (a set-top box or 5GHz WiFi router is required). The FiiO X7 Mark II is also compatible with DLNA servers (computer, set-top box, NAS, etc.).
The user may choose to install Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal, Google Music or Apple Music apps from the Google Play Store. We’ll come back to this later.
FiiO X7 Mark II: battery and autonomy
The FiiO X7 Mark II is equipped with a 1.6GHz quad-core Rockchip SoC. Relatively old, this set of components isn’t manufactured for outstanding efficiency, but since DAPs aren’t primarily intended for gaming, the battery life seems suitable (at least 8 hours). Furthermore, the FiiO X7 Mark II is fitted with a LiPo 3800mAh battery, compatible with fast charging. However, a quick charger must be purchased separately (FiiO does not provide it) to charge the battery in a little more than an hour and a half. The FiiO X7 Mark II DAP is compatible with an 18 W power supply (12V/1.5 A). However, a 5V/2A or 5V/1A charger may be used, albeit with slower results.
FiiO X7 Mark II: software
Android 5.1 is the driving force behind the FiiO X7 Mark II. This is obviously not the most recent version: since Lollipop, Google has proposed three iterations of its mobile OS, and Android 8 Oreo has just made landfall. However, having a slightly antiquated version of Android poses no problems for an audio playback device. FiiO has integrated two “stores” with apps to install. The first is called FiiO Market, the second Google Play Store. The FiiO Market includes a few Android applications, including Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal. The Google Play Store provides access to millions of Android apps. All you need to do is fill in your Google/Gmail account information.
It is also possible to install an alternative store (Aptoide, for example) or download applications from the internet individually (.APK files) to avoid storing personal information (Google account) in the FiiO X7 Mark II DAP’s memory.
FiiO X7 Mark II: Exclusive Music Mode
The Fiio X7 Mark II features two user interfaces: the classic Android interface and a simpler version dedicated to operations carried out via the on-board audio playback app. Why? Simply because Android natively limits audio stream sampling to 48 kHz, which prevents bitperfect playback of HD audio files. Music Mode, which can be activated via a button in the Android Notification Bar, disables the OS mixer and allows the FiiO Music app to communicate exclusively with the DAC. In this case, you can listen to 24-bit and 96kHz files, as well as DSD for example, without any modification.
The FiiO Music app
FiiO has invested a great deal of time in its FiiO Music app, which was also featured on the first FiiO X7. Now ultra-fluid and functional, it offers the listener everything that can be expected from an audio player. Gapless playback, gain adjustment (for headphones with low sensitivity and/or high impedance), a resume function (after the device has switched to standby or off), playback of selected folders (from internal memory or microSD cards) and an assortment of digital filters. The most demanding music lovers may choose to activate the Viper Effect software (an optional, paid service) to access sophisticated audio filters.
The app has been designed to offer an enjoyable user experience. If no cover image is embedded in the tag of the audio file being played, one may be automatically downloaded (and manually edited). The player can even automatically retrieve and synchronize lyrics during playback. Sometimes, the app confuses Janis Joplin with the Spice Girls, but this is fixable.
Headphones: The FiiO X7 Mark II is equipped with two headphone jacks: one 3.5mm unbalanced mini jack (standard) and one 2.5mm balanced mini jack (for headphones with a compatible Y-cable). The dual headphone amplifier is made by Texas Instruments (OPA926 + OPA1612) following specifications specially determined for the FiiO X7 Mark II.
The output power is 2×150 mW into 32 Ohms in unbalanced mode and 2×400 mW into 32 Ohms in balanced mode (and up to 63 mW into 300 Ohms). The FiiO X7 Mark II can therefore theoretically drive demanding headphones without difficulty.
Line-level: the line-level output may be set to fixed or variable, at the user’s choice. The FiiO X7 Mark II DAP may thus be connected to an integrated amplifier or a power amp, for example.
Bluetooth: Good news, the FiiO X7 II features a Qualcomm Bluetooth transmitter, and aptX transmission is enabled. A message appears when pairing the DAP with a pair of aptX compatible headphones, or an aptX compatible speaker or amplifier. Keep in mind, however, that Bluetooth wireless transmission degrades the original audio signal. Furthermore, it bypasses the DAP’s DAC/headphone amplifier module, which is responsible for the device’s hi-fi qualities. In other words, Bluetooth is convenient, but a smartphone doesn’t do any less well.
The FiiO X7 Mark II comes with a micro USB to USB Type A cable for recharging and transferring files with a computer. Also included are a 3.5mm mini jack to digital coaxial adapter cable (for the line-level output), a transparent soft silicone cover (to protect the DAP from shocks), a genuine leather case (with cut-outs for the controls and display) and a screwdriver allowing the user to disassemble the device. The latter may be used to detach the amplifier (lower part) from the rest of the DAP’s body and replace it with another module. The pre-installed amplifier module is a FiiO AM3, which is suitable for most headphones. However, FiiO also offers other modules, such as the FiiO AM, FiiO AM2 and FiiO AM5, which are optimized for in-ear headphones or headphones with a low sensitivity rating.
We tested the FiiO X7 player with a pair of Meze 99 Classics headphones and a pair of Focal Elear headphones, and we listened to FLAC and DSD files of different resolutions. We noted that the DAP didn’t heat up at all during our listening sessions (unlike the FiiO X7, which required more power for the DAC, however). No app crashes, slowdowns or problems were encountered. DLNA servers were located with no trouble at all.
Admittedly, the FiiO X7 Mark II and FiiO X7 have very similar sound signatures, with more precision however for the FiiO X7 Mark II. Not exactly a revolution, but a serious upgrade in terms of software and ergonomics, which gives FiiO’s flagship portable music player its excellent credentials. The listening experience is characterized by an irreproachable dynamic balance throughout the audible spectrum, particularly evident when listening to vintage recordings. A flawless delivery of Move Over by Janis Joplin (Pearl, 24/96), whose voice remains crystal clear despite a very rich orchestration (organ, bass, guitar, drums, percussion). The technical prowess of the DAC/amplifier combo place the listener at the heart of the music, and everything sounds coherent. The artist’s movements toward and away from the microphone are audible.
The FiiO X7 Mark II successfully ensures a neutral restitution, without imposing its sound signature, to such a point that we enjoyed listening to a track with powerful bass (M.I.A’s Paper Planes, for example) as much as the very old My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker, without feeling like the second mix was of lesser quality.
This is a telltale sign of exemplary hi-fi equipment. With the FiiO X7 Mark II, it’s hard to find a track that lacks appeal, since fine details rarely heard with other DAPs become audible.
Differences between the Android and Music modes
It’s difficult to pick up on any differences, and although the Android mode compresses DSD and 96kHz files (to 48kHz), the impact on the highs and on the breadth of the soundstage remains negligible. The DAC/amplifier combo can turn even a compressed audio file into a thrilling experience. Take a Youtube video of Angus & Julia Stone performing You’re The One That I Want (Milk Live At The Chapel), for example, with its AAC soundtrack. It’s a heavy hitter, with a very wide dynamic range and realistic bass levels. Indeed, a lossy audio file with great audio recording and mixing can be incredibly enjoyable, even more so than some Hi-Res Audio files.
Lows: superb textures, without any excess in the infrabass and very little distortion
Mids: as precise as can be desired, for long, fatigue-free listening sessions at high volume, and unwavering breadth in all circumstances
Highs: smooth and reserved, always slightly below the mids so as not to constrict the soundstage, and able to finely illuminate the most subtle strumming of strings or discreet breathing of an artist.
What we liked:
- The exceptional audio performance
- The neutral restitution of all audio recordings
- The output power
- The USB DAC mode (sound card mode with any computer)
- The well-designed and well-translated software interface
- The functional OTA updates
- The included silicone cover and pre-installed protective glass
What we would have liked:
- An even more compact design.
FiiO has made great strides in its mastery of Android, and the FiiO X7 Mark II is an accomplished DAP from this point of view. OTA updates work well, the Play Store is pre-installed and the audio playback app works like a charm. Musically speaking – to focus on what is essential – the FiiO X7 Mark II delivers pure audio bliss that no one’s ears should fail to appreciate. Even if you only listen to Deezer, this player will allow you to rediscover your playlists. And if you’re lucky enough to have DSD or 24-bit FLAC files, you’ll be in for treat.French