Disclaimer: The Aune X1s sent to us for the purpose of this review is a sample and does not have to be returned to Aune. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.
The Asian market has given us a lot of goodies over the past few years, have they not?
Aune has been one of the more prominent Chinese brands out there and I am a long time owner of the older T1 tube amp, which was reviewed and enjoyed by me a very long time ago.
It has been a stretch since I’ve heard another Aune product and I am happy that they’ve worked with me to obtain a sample of the X1S 10th Anni Edition DAC/AMP combo unit with its nice price point of $249.
Build and Design
The X1S feels very hefty in the hand. Undoubtedly dense inside and sporting a full metal chassis. That is what I like to see these days. I want that very thick and heavy feel to my amps. I don’t want them to feel cheap or rushed in assembly, nor lacking any robust material usages.
At this price point, I am receiving exactly what I expected, so chalk overall build quality and parts rendered well into the very positive tier. This amp looks very nice and feels very nice as well. I like exterior designs that are all metal, such as this.
What I don’t like is the gentle curve on the top of the unit, which makes it less stack-friendly with another component on top of it. It really isn’t a big deal, but I think I’d prefer the top to be flat so I can stack things if needed and save desk space. I am told though by Aune that their own system product line will stack quite nicely on top of each other which makes sense.
I’d ask Aune to make the bottom of the unit mirrored in that regard so I can stack other Aune products on top neatly, later, if they made or sent me a pure amp product to stack on this one. Just a personal gripe there, mates.
Connections and Usages
The X1S is a bit of a jack of all trades. 32Bit/384khz and 128 DSD, line out, a solid amp circuit and plenty of power. Coax limited to 24bit though, so be careful if you were interested in primarily using that as your source input.
It is nicely setup here with what most of us audio nerds need. When it comes to all around good values, in terms of usages that are possible, this seems to be one of the better options out there in the tier that I’ve come across lately.
Oh no. It is back. Again. The 9018K2M. This DAC has no business in an amplifier and DAC product of this price range when two of them were included in the portable iBasso DX90 that started new at $299 years ago. I realize this Aune X1S is roughly a 2 years old now and was a product of 2016-ish but even then, it really should not have been used here.
Of course, a high bit rate is supported and so is DSD and an array of high-quality formats. But, it is a 9018K2M…it is what is inside of what are now relatively moderate and budget friendly portable music players. Seeing this in a midtier Amp/DAC combo is just heartbreaking to me and it is something I don’t want to see or hear anymore…because it is one of the cheapest DAC circuits out there that is least likely to be implemented well.
Tonality & Presentation
So was it implemented well? Sort of. I feel like the quality of the product, overall fidelity is just fine. It is tonality that is bothering me on a subjective level and I find it to be a bit all over the place in how the entire spectrum is portrayed to my ear.
The midrange is a bit dry and thin, somewhat emaciated by comparison to some other DAC’s I own. The entire bottom end is pure feeling and that is a wonderful thing, but it is lacking substance and texture, as well as a tonality that seems appropriate for what the midrange offers.
To “top” that off, the treble is somewhat bright. I feel like the innards were rushed here and not presented in a way that was intended from the start, if at all. I get a sneaking suspicion that the product was a result of X components being available to Aune and not a designer’s intended sound as the final sum comes out of production. Is that a bad thing? Sometimes, maybe here just a bit. But, it still sounds plenty good in quality.
The entire low end of this product feels lacking and it doesn’t seem like I am able to boost it with software EQ to levels that satisfy me. Especially not for bass heads. I don’t feel like responsiveness is anything special.
You can drop in a bit and squeeze more, but it isn’t exceptional and I was really hoping a product with so many inputs would also become a nicely responding DAC to programs like Foobar2000. So long as your headphones aren’t bassy or regarded as exceptionally bass prominent, you’ll be fine with quantities allotted down yonder.
Physical presence and substance factor is a bit of an issue, as I feel it to be too thin feeling at times. More heft is needed on a flat EQ. Quality is nice, no doubt there. Not a single quarrel with literal fidelity and cleanliness, which I, again, feel to be pretty good. If you have a moderately bass, or a bass light headphone, you’ll enjoy this one. I don’t really have a doubt there about it.
I hate to say it, but again, substance factor is a bit underwhelming for a price tag like this. I would expect a denser feel the entire frequency response, but I am hearing a similar prowess in substance to portable players that use a 9018K2M and that’s not a great thing.
Sure, some people don’t really care too much for that, so I am not knocking points off for it at all. That is subjective and objectively I think the midrange heft is relatively neutral feeling. It isn’t forward, nor is it recessed and when there are no defining features, one would hope the substance factor to vocals and certain instruments really hit home to make up for it. But, sadly, it doesn’t too much.
With that out of the way, quality is more than justified for the product’s current list price in the sub $500 tier. It meshes well with certain headphones and not so well with others. Vocal centered headphones do not pair as nice as wide-field, or those regarded nicely for classical music for instance.
The reason being that linearity and lacking physicality aspect to how the midrange actually feels to you as a listener. Fidelity isn’t at all the problem, same as the low end, both are objectively fine for the price.
While I do consider Aune’s house sound a tad on the bright side, I feel this one to be bright in the right way. It lacks a physical slam effect that is annoying, yet also retains good brightness and solid bite on dynamic impact levels.
What that means is the X1S is highly engaging and fun up top when it comes to physicality. It isn’t boring, or as linear feeling as the midrange or bass below it. This is a good thing because as listeners, we need something prominent for our ears to latch onto sometimes. If everything is hyper flat, it can lose engaging factor. So, I am glad they routed to a bit more kick up there. Don’t worry, it isn’t at all painful or annoying. If you have treble prominent headphones that are regarded for nice top ends, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
Physical slam is another term for it, I suppose. That literal quantity of impact and kick or slam effect. Usually, only found in the bass or treble regions. Sometimes notes are struck hard in the track and you can feel it. Sudden explosions in gaming, as well, routes this into your headphone’s kick factor. This amp seems to have a bit of a kick to it up top and that is a good thing sometimes when I was gaming online in some FPS’s.
I noticed my favorite headphones that I use with other gear often now sounded a bit harsh and engaging, whereas before, they were not. More testing with music leads me to note that the upper end of this one is very engaging, but not annoyingly so. It is vivid, sure. But, not overly impacting.
I only mention this because the treble seems prominent above the mid and bass response factors. In turn, the vividness of the dynamic kick is something that my ears seem to be homing in on more than anything. Perhaps, if there were more bass quantity, it wouldn’t feel so impacting. Again though, I think it is a good kick factor and not a harsh one.
The Aune series is not really known for excellent staging, to begin with. It wasn’t helped at all by that older 9018K2M inside, so I rate soundstage and airiness as just fine at best. Height and width factor seems shoulder shrug-worthy, but the overall separation of instruments is actually well into the very nice tier for me. Probably due to the nice treble response the unit has to offer.
The depth of field is also pretty good and reminds me a lot of the older Schiit tuning, which Aune predates actually. The overall imaging prowess of this model is just okay overall. I would not be pairing this with an HD800 or anything regarded for exceptional staging. This seems more along the lines of an all-around decent performer, rather than something specifically tuned for massive imaging reproduction.
Given that, you can still enjoy large sound field headphones and even speakers just fine. Directly connected to some of my active speakers from JBL that do not require an amp, the Aune here performs admirably off the ¼ to RCA/XLR requirements for my speakers and drives said powered speakers well enough to satisfying levels.
If anything, I’d recommend this model for speaker enthusiasts who want a good all arounder to plug into quickly that also gives lots of options for connection types. Great for college students or the casual listeners with good midtier bookshelf speakers. This is a no fuss, solid performer for that sort of direct connection to a DAC/Source.
Well, Aune does good work. We all can agree, I hope. They make good middle tier products that are solid performers, like my older Aune T1 DAC that I rated highly years ago. I think Aune can do better here if they invest more personal touch into their products. If anything, that would catch the attention of enthusiasts on the audiophile end of the consumer market.
For now, the X1S is a good DAC that offers a solid selection of possibilities. I recommend this to middle tier powered speakers owners foremost. I really enjoy how the pair sounds with my JBL’s, so I would expect others who want DSD capabilities in a direct connection will love that as well. I know I did.
I’d like more responsiveness to the low end boosting factors though, a bit more bass would be nice on a flat EQ. Beyond that, I don’t really have negative feelings about it. It does what it does and it does it good enough. Subjectively, I felt like it just needed more bottom end to even things out.
For now, this is still a good buy in 2018, so yes. I will recommend it.
Aune X1s Technical Specifications
- Input interface: USB, coaxial, optical
- Max word length: USB 32 bit, coax 24 bit, opt 24 bit
- Max sampling rate: USB 384 kHz, coax 192 kHz, opt 192 kHz
- Max DSD rate (DoP): DSD128
- Typical line output indicators: RCA
- Output voltage level at 0 dB: 2.1 Vrms
- Frequency response (from 20 Hz to 20 kHz): +/- 0.5 dB
- Dynamic range: 126 dB
- THD+N at 1 kHz: -110 dB
- IMD+N at 19 kHz and 20 kHz: -110 dB
- Stereo crosstalk: -112 dB
- Headphone out power: 200 mW at 300 ohms, 560 mW at 32 ohms (0.1% at 1 kHz 0 dB)