Just a month before its release, we were lucky enough to try out the FiiO X7 high-resolution digital audio player, the Chinese brand’s new flagship device, which is both PCM 32 bit/384 kHz and DSD compatible. FiiO has, for a long period of time, made a name for itself with its range of portable devices, headphone amps and high end connectors at highly competitive prices. The FiiO X1, FiiO X3 II andFiiO X5 portable players have all enjoyed resounding success, highly deserved when you look (and listen) to the high quality components used. DACs and OP amps are carefully paired to ensure exceptional sound delivery.
With the FiiO X7, FiiO has clearly chosen to make a breakthrough by offering its first touch-screen DAP and also the first with an on-board ESS Sabre 9018S DAC, often considered, and quite rightly so, as the Rolls Royce of digital-analog conversion chips (dynamic range of 133 dB). We still remember the extraordinary musicality of the Audiolab 8200CD CD player, also using the ESS 9018S DAC and handling CDs better than most HD players. Let’s not, however, stray off the point. Another highlight of the FiiO X7 is that its amplifier module can be replaced (2 removable screws and screwdriver supplied). FiiO should therefore offer alternative modules in the coming months. A balanced output sound card has also been announced.
Test: FiiO X7 ? features
The FiiO X7 high-resolution DAP is fitted with a SoC (System on a Chip), which is well known among smartphone and tablet users ? the Rockchip RK3188 with quad core processor (ARM A9) and graphic unit (Mali400). These components ensure the player’s smooth use under all circumstances. The built-in 3500 maH battery offers 9 hours battery life for audio purposes. The 32 Gb internal memory can store up to 28 Gb of music with the option of extending it using a microSD card (up to 128 Gb, confirmed by FiiO but not checked during this test).
Hundreds of FLAC and DSD files can therefore be stored (up to 32 bits/384 kHz).
The FiiO X7 also features WiFi and Bluetooth (SBC) controllers for listening to music shared on a local network (DLNA servers), installing applications (offered by FiiO) and wireless listening using headphones, an amp or a Bluetooth speaker. As well as its 3.5 mm mini-jack headphone output, there is also a line output with a coaxial digital audio output.
Test: FiiO X7 ? design
Whilst it doesn’t equal the extremely precise design of the major players in its category (for example Astell&Kern), the FiiO X7 is nevertheless manufactured using high-quality materials. Brushed aluminium is the main material and the DAP is clearly very solid. The 4? touch screen displays 480×800 pixels, an adequate size in order to read menus with ease as well as a precise viewing angle. On the left side of the player are the volume and screen lock controls while the pause and track change buttons are on the right.
If the FiiO X7 cuts an imposing chunky figure, it’s down to the components needed for the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC as well as the interchangeable nature of the player whose amplifier card can be replaced. The section under the screen can be detached.
Test: FiiO X7 ? ease of use
The Fiio X7 features a version of Android minus certain features. There is no Google Play Store here and FiiO only enables the downloading of apps agreed by its services. Don’t think therefore of installing Qobuz or Deezer on the FiiO X7 even though, thanks to our contact with the group, we know that FiiO is clearly attentive to their customers’ needs. They will most likely offer these updates in the future. An update app is already featured in the device.
FiiO has developed a home audio playback app, which is compatible with all current audio formats, particularly FLAC and DSD files. This app handles Bluetooth listening as well as DLNA server support (not activated in this Android pre-version).
Test: FiiO X7 ? test conditions
We transferred dozens of FLAC and DSD files to the internal memory of the FiiO X7. What’s good is that the writing rate is close to 12 Mb/sec. All files were indexed straightaway by the playback app. We used the FiiO X7 with a variety of headphones ? Audeze, Audio Technica, Sony in order to make sure that the player could power them correctly, which proved to be the case, by simply adjusting the gain. The test was mainly carried out with our trusty Sennheiser PX-100.
Test: FiiO X7 ? listening impressions
This player delivers an absolutely astounding sound. Right from the very first notes, we immediately picked up on the distinctive and natural sound signature of the ESS 9018S. Everything is very melodious and simple. The FiiO X7 is at home with all styles of music, whether they are well or poorly recorded, carefully dissecting each sound layer with precision while delivering an absolutely coherent audio message to listeners’ ears. We hadn’t heard such a miracle since testing the Antelope Audio Zodiac.
The same energy is delivered from bass to treble without the dominance of a particular range. The use of the low-medium is exceptional and offers listeners a wealth of well organised details. There is no sound coloration and the balance of each recording is respected.
Proof that the FiiO X7 is excellent is that any female or male voice can be extracted from the recording and protected from any interference along with the audio message. This applies to both CD and studio quality files. We discover new instruments or voices which we hadn’t noticed before. Robert Plant’s vocal chords can clearly be heard wavering on Kashmir (?Let me take you there?).
Let’s Groove, Earth, Wind & Fire (FLAC 16/44)
The complex nature of the sound stage (synthesizer, guitars, percussion, backing vocals and the range of voices) is handled with ease. The dynamics of the instruments are constantly surprising. Timing is close to perfection.
Locked Out Of Heaven, Bruno Mars (FLAC 16/44)
Despite the strong dynamic compression, we’re carried along with the power of the drums which don’t smother the final charge. A credible mix.
Ma Benz (live), NTM (FLAC 16/44)
We’re transported to the concert venue thanks to the pulsating atmosphere. The crowd sings along with the three singers and this comes across with great subtlety on the FiiO X7. Excellent sound take.
Born in the U.S.A, Bruce Springsteen (FLAC 16/44)
This is a major test for the FiiO X7 as a poor delivery would make the snare drum sound sharp and overpowering, thus making the track unbearable to listen to. The track isn’t at all calm but the FiiO X7 skillfully reproduces the drums without compromising the space devoted to the guitars and synthesizer.
Hysteria (live, HAARP), Muse (FLAC 16/44)
Another major test which often turns into a racket. With the FiiO X7, however, it’s simply perfect. The timing of the bass guitar is well respected and we follow it from beginning to end even when the guitar roars. The density of the sound stage is impressive. When listening at a high volume, we come away with our ears ringing but we’re totally taken by it.
The same applies to Knights of Cydonia on the same album where, for the first time with our test headphones, we finally hear a clear foot pedal sound coming from the drum kit.
Chambre avec vue, Henri Salvador (FLAC 16/44)
A softness is constantly present. Percussion is extremely precise and we can clearly hear the micro-dynamics (the brushes on the snare drum). The bass groans without affecting the whispering wind instruments. Truly magnificent.
L’aigle noir, Barbara (FLAC 16/44)
You could almost be disappointed by the mixing of this track which places the artist’s voice further back in the sound stage. The interpretation is full of emotion and the vocals deserve to be much closer. Barbara’s phrasing is a real delight.
L’amour est un oiseau rebelle, Maria Callas (16/44)
Again the qualities of the FiiO X7 stand out. This 1964 recording is very difficult to deliver. Macro dynamics and clear gaps in volume follow each other. Mediums are sometimes pushed harder than the rest of the sound spectrum and a weak analysis of choirs affects the restitution of the singer?s voice. The FiiO X7 isn’t overpowering at all and succeeded in delivering a deep and consistent sound stage. We were transported right to the heart of the opera.
Absolute beginners (live at the BBC en 2000), David Bowie (FLAC 16/44)
A fantastic concert in a small venue but one with a deafening volume. The dynamic gaps are marked by all the instruments. The piano occasionally whispers but its sound can still be clearly heard despite the incessant drumming. Bowie’s voice in the centre is carried along by the female backing vocalists.
Bennie and the Jets, Elton John (24/96)
Once again, the atmosphere of the concert venue is delivered with success. The applause and whispers of the crowd are remarkably smooth. The sound stage is surprisingly wide.
FiiO X7 – what we liked
- The sound is fantastic
- The choice of the ESS Sabre 9018S DAC (a delight for listeners’ ears)
- The handling of FLAC 32/384 and DSD files
- Internal storage is quick and microSD cards of up to 128 Gb are supported
- The line output is doubled with an S/PDIF output (not tested)
- The (announced) possibility of replacing the amplifier card for balanced cable headphones
- The 7 hour battery life during our tests
FiiO X7 ? what we would like
- A more user-friendly interface
- An Android version with Play Store (to install an audio playback app, Qobuz or Deezer)
- An external USB DAC (FiiO is currently working on this)
FiiO X7 ? Conclusions
The FiiO X7 DAP allows users to listen to music simply with a level of detail and consistency reminiscent of the golden age of warm vinyl and headphone amplifiers. The level of pleasure offered, regardless of the headphones used, is surprising, be it with CD or HD quality files. The FiiO X7 sounds miraculous and this is no exaggeration on our part. Its design and ease of use could, however, be improved. The firmware of the definitive version (scheduled for the end of November) will offer these improvements.
Don’t hesitate in asking us about the FiiO X7. We’ll keep our ear to the ground regarding any further developments.