FIIO X7

por­ta­ble mu­sic player

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Fiio has cre­ated a ded­i­cated fan-base for its high-res por­ta­ble play­ers, and the X7 is no slouch on DAC du­ties at home ei­ther.

There seems to be a boom­ing mar­ket for high-end por­ta­ble au­dio play­ers — iPod-like de­vices which are not only ca­pa­ble of han­dling loss­lessly com­pressed and high-res­o­lu­tion mu­sic, but of ac­tu­ally treat­ing it with re­spect. One of the ma­jor play­ers in this space is Fiio, and its top-ofthe-line por­ta­ble player is the X7. Let’s see if this is wor­thy of res­i­dence in the pocket of a high-end au­dio­phile. (Spoiler: it is.)

Equip­ment

The X7 is in­deed pock­etable, though it may drag at the waist­band a lit­tle thanks to its 220 grams of mass. That’s in part due to the build qual­ity of the body, which is mostly a one-piece CNC-milled struc­ture.

On the front of this is a touch-sen­si­tive con­trol and dis­play screen. On the left are vol­ume up/down but­tons and a power but­ton. On the right are track skip for­wards/back keys, and play/pause. A set­ting in the menus can switch the skip keys with the vol­ume keys if, for some rea­son, this would prove more con­ve­nient for the user.

On the top edge is a 3.5mm socket for line out­put and coax­ial dig­i­tal au­dio out­put (a short adap­tor ca­ble for the lat­ter func­tion is in­cluded). At the bot­tom is the head­phone out­put and a Mi­cro-B USB socket for charg­ing and data trans­fer.

There is also a mi­croSD slot on the left. That’s im­por­tant. The unit only has 32GB of built in mem­ory for your mu­sic (mi­nus a bit for the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and other work­ings). The slot sup­ports up to 128GB cards, so you can put quite a lot of high qual­ity au­dio on it, at the cost of the owner hav­ing to pur­chase the card (rep­utable brand ones are avail­able for less than $100 these days from rep­utable sources, and, of course, will get cheaper still over time).

Things are ac­tu­ally a lit­tle more com­pli­cated with re­gard to the head­phone con­nec­tion. The bot­tom 25mm sec­tion of the unit is re­mov­able (al­though se­curely screwed on) be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally a head­phone mod­ule. The AM2 comes as stan­dard, but there are also AM3 and AM5 mod­ules, be­ing Mid­dle and High Power re­spec­tively (the AM 2 is ap­par­ently op­ti­mised for in-ear mon­i­tors and por­ta­ble head­phones). Each mod­ule is avail­able for $145.90. No head-gear is sup­plied with the unit.

With re­gard to the coax­ial out­put, I’m in­clined to think that op­ti­cal might be prefer­able thanks to the elec­tri­cal iso­la­tion it of­fers. Still, I can imag­ine that those with an even higher-end DAC may want to ex­per­i­ment with us­ing the coax­ial dig­i­tal.

That might take a bit of do­ing, though. The DAC built into this unit is the ESS Sabre ES9108S, with four chan­nels bridged for each of the left and right stereo play­back chan­nels for higher per­for­mance. Fiio spec­i­fies the line out­put SNR at 115dBA.

You can use the unit as a USB DAC for a com­puter if you want (a driver will be re­quired for Win­dows, none for Mac).

In­ter­nally this is an An­droid de­vice, run­ning An­droid ver­sion 4.4.4. Fiio hasn’t placed much of a skin over this, so any­one used to An­droid phones will have no trou­ble learn­ing to use it very quickly. But you can hide its An­droid na­ture by hav­ing it start straight up in Mu­sic Player mode.

You can ap­par­ently in­stall some apps on it, al­though we had some kind of an au­then­ti­ca­tion prob­lem with the Google play store. The Fiio mar­ket­place had a bunch of apps, mostly la­belled in Chi­nese, but in­clud­ing Spo­tify and Tidal. I down­loaded Spo­tify three times be­fore it oc­curred to me that this was a man­ual in­stal­la­tion… I used the sup­plied file man­ager to nav­i­gate to the Down­load folder and found three copies of the Spo­tify ap­pli­ca­tion pack­age. Se­lect­ing one al­lowed in­stal­la­tion.

This less-than-usual An­droid con­ve­nience was also ev­i­dent in the firmware up­date pro­ce­dure. You have to down­load this and copy it to the in­ter­nal mem­ory (or in­stalled card) and then use an up­grade app to select the file. It worked well enough, but was much less seam­less than nor­mal An­droid phone up­dates, and there are is no ap­par­ent pro­vi­sion for up­grade no­ti­fi­ca­tions.

The im­por­tant app is ‘Fiio Mu­sic’. This is a com­pe­tent mu­sic player that sup­ports darned near every­thing: DSD64, DSD128, DXD up to 352.8kHz, WMA Loss­less up to 24/96kHz, and APE, Ap­ple Loss­less, AIFF, FLAC and WAV up to 24/384kHz. Plus, for lossy for­mats, MP2, MP3, AAC, WMA and OGG. In ad­di­tion to play­ing from in­ter­nal stor­age, it can also play from DLNA servers on the net­work.

Per­for­mance

Set­ting up is pretty sim­ple. You can con­nect to your Wi-Fi net­work (2.4GHz) through the set­tings menu, re­quired if you want to use things like Spo­tify, or to ac­cess DLNA mu­sic from your net­work. The unit runs a quad-core pro­ces­sor so it’s snappy in op­er­a­tion.

You will want to load up the in­ter­nal mem­ory and any in­serted mi­croSD card with mu­sic, of course. The sim­plest way is to plug it into a com­puter (Win­dows or Mac, both) via the mi­cro-USB port. It will ap­pear as a drive. You nav­i­gate to the ‘Mu­sic’ folder, or to the ad­di­tional SD card, and drag in all the mu­sic you want from your com­puter. Al­ter­na­tively, if your mu­sic is re­sid­ing on a NAS, you can use the sup­plied ES File Explorer app to log onto the server and then copy and paste mu­sic from it to in­ter­nal stor­age wire­lessly.

Fi­nally, if your com­puter sup­ports it, you can just plug the mi­croSD card into it, copy your mu­sic onto the card, then put it in the player and use the set­tings in Fiio Mu­sic to scan the card to up­date its li­brary.

For our lis­ten­ing we used mainly the Fiio Mu­sic app, lis­ten­ing to a va­ri­ety of

loss­lessly-com­pressed CD qual­ity tracks, plus plenty of high-res­o­lu­tion tracks in 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64 and DSD128 for­mat. I also used Spo­tify a fair bit (it must have been an older ver­sion of Spo­tify be­cause it did not sup­port send­ing mu­sic to a Chrome­cast Au­dio de­vice, al­though it did sup­port Spo­tify Con­nect).

The mu­sic de­liv­ered up by the Fiio X7 sounded glo­ri­ous, whether via the line out­put through an au­dio sys­tem, or via head­phones. There was an ut­ter ab­sence of noise on mod­ern DSD and high res­o­lu­tion PCM record­ings from au­dio­phile la­bels, while the far more abun­dant CD-stan­dard mu­sic also sounded first class. It worked with all my test files with res­o­lu­tions up to 384kHz, and DSD128. I used rea­son­able qual­ity ear­bud head­phones for some lis­ten­ing, and Oppo PM-3 head­phones for closer lis­ten­ing. In both cases the amp of the unit pro­vided high lev­els ef­fort­lessly and cleanly.

The only wrin­kle was that the Fiio Mu­sic app would not show up a num­ber of my test sig­nal files via the usual Al­bum and Artist lists — for rea­sons I couldn’t work out. It would dis­play four of them, but not the other half dozen with sim­i­lar nam­ing. Yet all the ac­tual mu­sic files I loaded onto it ap­peared with no prob­lems. But you can nav­i­gate via folder to the mu­sic, and that worked fine. I was also able to play the same tracks di­rectly from the server via DLNA.

I tried the unit as a USB DAC. That was chal­leng­ing be­cause there were no in­struc­tions I could find (the firmware to sup­port this func­tion had been re­leased only days be­fore re­view dead­line). Even­tu­ally by pok­ing and prod­ding I dis­cov­ered that if you pulled down from the right top of the dis­play a set­tings panel was dis­played, and one of the icons thereon switched be­tween USB Stor­age mode and USB DAC mode.

I plugged it into my Mac Mini, and OS X recog­nised it im­me­di­ately. I set it as the out­put de­vice for the Audirvana Plus mu­sic player, and all PCM-based mu­sic files up to 192kHz worked per­fectly. OS X re­ported that the unit sup­ported a max­i­mum of 192kHz sam­pling. I was un­able to get it to work with DSD over PCM from Audirvana Plus, al­though that soft­ware works fine with all other DSD-ca­pa­ble DACs we’ve used, so pos­si­bly more work needs to be done on the Fiio’s firmware to al­low this.

I’m happy to re­port that the out­put im­ped­ance of the head­phone am­pli­fier is rated at just 0.2 ohms, rather than the ridicu­lously high level of some. Con­se­quently vir­tu­ally all the power is avail­able for your head­phones, and head­phones with im­ped­ances that vary widely by fre­quency should suf­fer no ill ef­fects on tonal bal­ance.

The out­put is lim­ited by gain rather than clip­ping, by which I mean that with the vol­ume ad­vanced to the max­i­mum set­ting, the three 0dBFS test tones were com­pletely undis­torted. I pre­fer amps that will go over the top in clip­ping, be­cause if a record­ing is en­coded at a low level there’s plenty of gain to hear it at your pre­ferred level.

For the re­sults of noise and fre­quency re­sponse, see the graphs and the in­for­ma­tion along­side.

Con­clu­sion

The Fiio X7 is a thought­fully de­signed, true au­dio­phile qual­ity por­ta­ble mu­sic player, and should prove very com­fort­able in the pocket of lis­ten­ers with the high­est stan­dards, es­pe­cially given the head­phone mod­ule flex­i­bil­ity. Stephen Daw­son

The An­droid-based in­ter­face for the Fiio X7 is high on set­tings and on in­for­ma­tion, pro­vid­ing every­thing from bit-rate to for­mat to chan­nel count. It’s highly codec-friendly as well, sup­port­ing darned-near every­thing in our test pile, in­clud­ing AIFF, FLAC and WAV to 384kHz.

Le­ chan­nel Right chan­nel Le­ chan­nel Right chan­nel PCM DSD64 DSD128

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