Right from the start I honestly had no clue what FiiO where going to come up audio quality wise with the X7. I mean clearly it had to be a step up from their previous offering and indeed it is. You could be forgiven in days gone by simply saying ‘great for the price’. Not anymore. Price it at $649 and you are playing with the big boys audio quality wise and you do not get a free pass. When I actually first played the X7 for about 30 minutes I did indeed play through that rather ‘hard to please’ barrier and even remarked that its not quite as magical as it could be to someone else testing it and whom slightly agreed. But then that is 30 minutes for you.
ES9018 Done Well
Roll on one month and things are very different indeed. Apart from the fun of the app side, I actually think FiiO have been quite clever in how they tuned the X7. FiiO have retained the resolving capability of the ES9018 DAC chip, which to me is very important given the drawbacks to the battery life, and at the same time injected a little bit of filtering to keep it away from sounding too neutral, too thin or too analytical. I have heard some ES9018 configs before and although I never found them to be brittle, thin or annoying I did often find them to be musically less compelling than say a Wolfson DAC and the odd time a bit too bright up top.
Listening Beyond The Gear
The X7 manages to avoid that problem more so than I expected it would or could. The X7 IEM module has a little hint of warmth especially in the low end response and slight richness to the mid-range, just enough and not overdone, to give it that natural tone. Vocals are more forward giving the X7 a slightly intimate feel on vocal tracks. The top end is impressively controlled as well as sounding clear and detailed without any harsh metallic glare or unnecessary sibilance which crept in now and then on their lower X range of DAPs.
All of this is presented with an excellent sense of space, instrumental separation and very good imaging indeed. The X7 does not have the widest of sound stages and height wise the slight roll off top end just stops it short of having flagship level extension. However, the depth combined with the excellent instrumental space and accuracy makes for a very immersive 3D imaging capability from the X7. Pair the X7 with sound stage kings such as the VE6XC or the ADEL A12 and what you get is very engaging presentation indeed.
Overall I get a more natural but transparent vibe to the X7 and as such I find it a really absorbing listening experience because I am not hearing the darn DAP. For once, I am listening to my music and not the gear and as a reviewer that can sometimes be rather hard to do.
This is, for now, an open book since the X7 is module based the matchability of the X7 to different headphones will increase and not to mention the DAC interface with PC’s and MAC’s which is not yet activated. Therefore, you can call the X7 a work in progress and this a mid-term report. The core unit hardware wise will remain untouched but new firmware and new modules will bring a lot more out of the X7 than what is currently available. That is what makes the X7 a very exciting project.
The stock IEM module is rated at >100mW into a 32 ohm load. That means excellent sensitivity for a broad range of IEMs and customs and enough power for the majority of efficient and easy to drive headphones portable or otherwise up to around 32 ohms and perhaps beyond depending on the driver.
Noble Audio Wizard Savant
Pretty easy to drive IEM with zero hiss or background noise on low gain.
This a much superior match and both seem made for each other. Vocals are excellent with a very smooth reproduction; bass is present though more in the sub-bass than mid-bass which remains polite. That slight thinness in the lower mids is still there but that’s more to do with the Savant than the X7 and I didn’t find it terribly distracting and if anything that slightly heavier note in the lower mid of the X7 suited the Savant well.
The X7 with the Savant works really well with a wide variety of genres being equally at home with rock, 80’s pop and modern EDM categories such as ambient house and trance. Flexibility is a key ingredient with these two. If you want pace and detail then Guthrie Govan’s spectacularly pacey bass intro on Wonderful Slippery thing didn’t miss a single beat with the Savant and X7. Yet at the same time the languid and atmospheric Almost Home from Moby sounded very credible and engaging and allowed the X7 plenty of space to show off that soundstage and imaging capability.
Noble Audio Classic 4c
Incredibly flat and neutral and liner and perhaps tinny and thin sounding. You feel the need to add some coloration over the sterile analytical match you have here. The Noble 4C is just not a tool to bring life to an already transparent and neutral source. Yes you get the detail, the resolution, the accuracy and speed but you also get a certain lack of soul that makes listening to the X7 with the Noble 4C seem like homework. It’s just too flat and lacking in beef to give you a inspiring experience. Best to match the 4C with something a bit richer, thicker, warmer or with character. The IEM module is not the match for the 4C
Another IEM that had no issues being driven by the X7 IEM module without any hiss on low gain.
A punchier bass line than the Savants smoother bass response but with a little less sub-bass rumble. It still won’t rattle bass heads as I still find it relatively controlled. With the X7 what you do get though is a an open, transparent, and detailed presentation and a big soundstage that is heaven to this DAP’s DAC’s capabilities.
If you are on a tighter budget this is an excellent alternative to the Savant paired with the X7. It is not as resolving as the Savant, slightly sharper treble and bit more of an out of your head experience but it did feel a bit more planted in the lower end which may suit pop and arena rock lovers.
Volume: 55-60 (DSD crept up to 70 on some DSD64 tracks)
Excellent match with none of the overly brittle treble response I can get sometimes with the IE800 on other sources. That slightly laid back treble response and generally natural flowing signature of the X7 works very well indeed with the IE800. It is not the last word in detail retrieval, DAP’s like the AK240 have the edge here but the X7’s tonality makes this a very easy to listen to pairing.
A decent match for me personally with the PM-3’s eye for neutrality and relatively smooth response meshing well with the X7’s natural but accurate and detailed signature. No problems with power also with a more than adequate 75-80 on high gain to reach the sweet spot. Bass is tight, full sounding but not hugely impactful. Mids are thickish with good vocal presence mid-range but not a huge soundstage. If anything those with different tastes might find this combination too polite well the good news is that it is equally competent with the PM-2 and PM-1 which have that more planted bottom end to allow the rumble to go up a notch.
MrSpeakers Ether C
The X7 can get the Ether C up to adequate levels of volume to be able to enjoy the Ether C but it is not as full sounding or dynamic as it could be. Vocals are smooth and with decent texture, the top end is controlled if a little muted, however the bass signature is a bit thin and lacking in impact to convince as a quality match. For this we will have to wait to one of the higher rated modules for power or the balanced module to get the best out of the Ether C match.
The K812 needed a bit more volume than I thought it would but the sound didn’t match that well sounding a bit too thin and sharp and lacking in substance in the low end. Vocals, though well controlled and clear, fell back a bit also and soundstage was not as good as it could be. Detail was excellent though but overall this matching is lacking in dynamics. Again another one for future modules maybe.
Still not quite as efficient as the Oppo PM-3 but unlike the K812 and Ether C the X7 IEM module did a much better job with the HE400C sounding smooth, dynamic and full sounding. Detail was very good and the mids are still the strong point as ever on the HE400S matched with the X7. The X7 won’t mess around too much with the sound of the HE400S so this is a pairing I would be reasonably confident in using on a regular basis even though the module is not pitched to planars.
The NAD is very easy to drive on high and low gain when paired with the X7 topping out at 70-75 on high gain without any noise and a very nice black background. Sound is a little thick and quite linear but then again that’s the HP50 more for you rather than any ‘hocus pocus’ from the X7. Detail is strong, the treble is smooth but articulate and the bass remains relatively linear and polite though fuller sounding than the HE400S or PM-3. A moderate level of gain and EQ adjustment via the X7 equalizer can easily enhance the bass response but my preference is to pair them flat.
FiiO Vs FiiO
It is not the only DAP out there at this price marker and the sub $500 category is also full of FiiO’s lower end DAP’s also. However, the X7 blows the older FiiO units out of the water in terms of audio reproduction and usability with only battery performance and the dual memory card slots working in favor of the X3ii and X5ii. All 3 share similar base characteristics in terms of having a neutral tonality but the X7 has a superior instrumental separation and imaging as well as slightly fuller sound The level of micro detail is superior and I also prefer the way the X7 presents the vocals presence over both the X5Ii and X3ii.
The UI and modular system puts the X7 well beyond the well matured but more limited house UI of the two smaller DAP’s. The experience of using the X7 is really that far more engaging with features such as WiFi, BT, apps and of course the module system. The flexibility is there to take the X7 life cycle well beyond the other DAP’s in their range.
The closest in terms of price to the X7 is the Cayin N6 and whilst I found the N6 to be very competitive in terms of audio performance the UI and physical ease of use to be very far behind the FiiO’s more modern UI and features. The Cayin N6’s light and breezy house UI is fine, there are no hitches but it is very limited and old school now compared to the FiiO myriad of playback options through the apps system.
Sound wise the N6 has that little bit more power but be reminded things can change with the module system. It is also a bit more neutral, sounding a bit thinner than the slightly weightier and more natural sounding FiiO X7.
I will reserve full comments on the DX80 until I have rolled out the review but be reminded the DX80 is half the price of the X7 and as such performance should be taken into context. Those saying which should I get should consider that it really is not a like for like choice. Some people might prefer the DX80’s slightly richer presentation and dual memory card slots but the UI is still a proprietary UI and still needs a lot of work to catch up which is odd given the DX90 is already quite matured and flexible. The X7 UI is proven and the apps are also proven.
This is a long review, a very long one indeed but a thoroughly deserving review for a thoroughly enjoyable DAP. It is FiiO’s best yet no doubt and also their most expensive. They are no longer the budget kings but I think the X7 represents immense value compared to similarly price DAPs in the market today.
What is so important is what FiiO have envisioned with the X7. It is not just their best DAP but its an entire ecosystem that they can build on for at least a few years and beyond. I really hope I do not see an X7 mark two next year, that would be self defeating. Perhaps this can be a modular system such as DSLR’s if they actually do decide to upgrade the X7 main unit eventually. Modules can be paired to upgraded to X7 bodies much like cameras to lenses. Throw in a UI that can grow, expand and an apps list that is getting longer and more useful and you have something here that can possibly run and run.
And finally of course the X7 sounds fantastic. Its unfair to throw it in against an AK240 in some ways but I found it equally pleasurable for the underdog and surprise factor. It is a sound signature that will not immediately grab you but it will grow on you more and more. Natural, detailed, excellent imaging and a really nice ability to suck you right in without a hint of fatigue. I am really looking forward to the next module to get the best out of my headphones but right now this is my go to mid-fi DAP for all things portable.
|Dimensions:||130 x 64 x 17mm|
|Supported File Types (audio):||APE, FLAC,WAV, ALAC, AIFF, WMA (Lossy/Lossless), MP3, AAC, OGG|
|Battery:||3500 mAh (Non-replaceable)|
|Digital Out:||Yes, 3.5mm to Coax cable (included)|
|External Storage:||1 Micro-SD slot up to 128GB Supported|
4 inch 480×800 touch IPS
|Processor:||Cortex A9 Quad cord 1.4ghz|