For two years already I know a lot of work have been done on a very special project – a portable player that was going to revolutionize the DAP market.

Finally, after intensive work, hundreds hours of testing, tuning and retuning of the sound, I am pleased to present something that from now on will be called FiiO X7 – the flagship DAP from FiiO.

From the first touch I realized that I have in hand a completely different product from what they did before. The size, the weight, the lack of scroll wheel, the addition of a touch display are all major changes.

It’s important to mention that this device was exclusively created for portable musical enjoyment at the highest level, putting a great emphasis on sound quality and less on portability and small size. It is intended for enthusiasts and music addicts, it’s not an do-all gadget at all.

X7 it’s big and heavy and battery life is shorter than on previous FiiO DAPs. All these sacrifices were made to squeeze as much technology and boutique components in a sigle case crafted from a single block of aluminum alloy.

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X7 under the hood

X7 has been designed on the Android 4.4 platform, using components that consume as little power as possible.

Thus the CPU is a quad-core Cortex A9 (RK3188 SoC) running at 1.4 GHz, it has 1 Gb of RAM and ROM memory is at 32 Gigs from which 27 Gb are usable for installing third-party applications or for storing music.

The display has an IPS panel with a diagonal of 4 “and resolution of 800 * 480 pixels. We must understand that for such a device, all components must consume less power than a traditional smartphone, but in the same time it should work  fast and smoothly without hiccups.

This is why the display is slightly smaller than the current trend of the latest smartphones and the resolution is also lower. FiiO X7 doesn’t need a fast, top of the line CPU or a large amount of RAM memory, because  in most cases up to two apps will be opened simultaneously.

In terms of audio components, things are completely opposite.

The manufacturer made absolutely no compromise.

I see chips and components that are used in home audio equipments that are mains powered.

Thereby DAC chip used is the much acclaimed ESS 9018S (desktop variant, not the mobile 9018MK2 version) – spec wise it’s currently the best commercial delta-sigma chip on the market.  The downside is that this chip consumes lots of power and it’s almost impossible implementing it into mobile devices.

It’s important to know that this chip is 100% custom programed using FPGA coding, the volume is digital this time, also programmed from the same ESS 9018S.

I/V conversion is made using two OPA1612 and line-out buffer is also powered by an OPA1612.

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Very interesting to me is the implementation of the headphone amp.

It is detachable, a clever modular design as we can see from the pictures.

The stock module uses OPA1612 and AD8397 combo.

At this moment manufacturer works on another 3 headphone amp modules: medium power module (based on MUSES 02 op-amps, that were used in the excellent E12A portable head-amp), a high power module and a ballanced module.

The aluminum alloy used to fully build the metal housing is a serries 6000, if I am not miskaten Appe uses the same alloy for construction of its iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, due to super resistant characteristics of this alloy.

For a number of components this large, the use of high capacity battery is a must have, so it has a capacity of 3500 mAh.

The DAP also has a microSD card slot that currently supports up to 128 GB cards.

For complete specs please visit the following link.

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User Interface

X7 can be used in two modes. It can be booted as a simple Android device – the only way to install and use third party apps.

In Android mode I installed music playback apps such as Neutron Player and Onkyo HiFi Player but I didn’t feel that those offered more options or are more special that the stock music playback app by FiiO.

A very important feature that X7 has is the use of streaming services in lossless formats if you are within range of a strong Wi-Fi signal.

I installed apps such as Spotify and Apple Music, but most of my time I used Tidal that works flawlessly with X7, as if they were made for each other.

Selecting highest quality setting, loading audio files with an wi-fi signal of ± 70 mb/sec is virtually instantaneous. On average I wait about 1-2 seconds before playback starts.

Tidal having a vast collection of international music I was pleasantly surprised to find the majority of Romanian composers and all the bands that interested me.

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The second way to use the DAP is in the Pure Music Mode. By doing that the stock Android interface basicaly disappears and only the stock FiiO playback program can be used. This way the FiiO stops majority of secondary Android processes that prevented more or less the sound quality.

Also in this mode battery will last slightly longer. Normally, listening at medium volume and using only easy to drive headphones the autonomy was about 9 to 10 hours – depending on the brightness of the display and volume. If Bluetooth or Wi-Fi radios are engaged the autonomy drops.

For testing purposes of Bluetooth connectivity I used two wireless speakers namely HP Roar Plus and Philips SBT30. Both speakers were recognized instantly and worked without a problem. Operating range was pretty big, at about 10 m distance the signal was still strong and audio didn’t drop out.

Using FiiO’s own music playback app I was welcomed by a user friendly interface, music can be sorted by artist, by album, by music style or even be browsed by folder which I used the most.

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Custom playlists can be loaded and played, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a playlist from a .CUE file can be played as well (in case that CD rip was done in a single WAV or Flac file).

Custom playlists can be created within the DAP itself, favorite music can be selected and saved as a playlist, search function is also very helpful.

EQ this time is very well done, no more a -6 dB attenuation, but a real EQ gain, besides the 8 EQ presets, custom EQ can be selected and played with that is cleverly displayed on top of the display.

X7 supports almost all lossless formats, PCM streams up to 24 bit 384 kHz, as well as DSD64 and 128, even extensions such as .iso, .dsf or .dff.

My music collection consists mainly of .flac, .wav or .ape files and of very few DSD files, all were played without a hitch.

It is clear to me that the Firmware used by me (FW 1.1) is still not the final release and because of that X7 can sometimes restart, USB DAC feature is still not implemented, but in near future this feature will be added in a firmware update.

For complete features please visit the following link.

Let’s get to the interesting part.

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Sound Performance

Without any doubt it’s the best sound I’ve heard from a portable device. There is little I can compare it with at it sounds very special.

These two years of research and development have been paying off and the sound X7 produces is extraordinary.

Although for me the benchmark in terms of portable sound was X5-II, X7 dethroned it quite easily.

I heard countless times different implementations of the same ESS 9018S chip, for example in the Burson Conductor it sounded warm, very alive and full of substance and on Auralic Vea it sounded extra airy and super detailed, with lots of layers and sublayers of information, both devices however sounded very different.

I have a feeling X7 borrows something from both of those devices.

X7 sounds very airy and detailed but the same I was talking about X5 and X5-II, but only now after I compare all 3 devices I realize that X5 sounds a bit grainy, less airy and as if a veil covers some musical notes. If I do not compare with X7, all those downsides are quite hard to spot.

X7 have a very low harmonic distortion that even test gear struggles to showit, in this regard X7 is not a magnifying glass for the music but a true microscope!

Using X7 every hidden microdetail, any imperfection of a recording is so evident that those sometimes can bother me. On old recordings such as The Beatles, but even on newer ones  as Queen, Deep Purple or Pink Floyd the flaws of recording and mastering are so obvious that I no longer need special attention or a total silence to hear them. Even on my active speakers that are at most mid-fi, if not entry-level – Audioengine A5+ I heard a distinctive difference compared to X5-II.

I had the feeling that  I changed the speakers with better ones within a higher class.

Not only the detail level was improved but transparency as well, the void in which sounds flow, the size of the stage and it’s depth. Weaker speakers and headphones cannot replay quite right the sense of space, of being there, the perfect placement of sounds in the audible field is not easy to do.

All of this becomes child play for this DAP.

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On X7 I’ve heard sounds not only in width and height, but some even came from behind me and others came from an angle to the listener.

On top audio equipment all this effects are often found, but on portables it’s first time I encounter such performance.

In my X5 and X5-II reviews I was mentioning the large and holographic stage that those DAPs had. Well X7 with ease surpasses that.

The limits of the stage in the 3D field is felt just a little bit on closed headphones, but I hear no limits on open headphones.

On speakers some artists are simply in the room with me and some instruments are coming from outside the audition room.

The sound quality is largely attributable for ultra fast transient that it has.

Every sound is a new story, I can clearly hear the start of the note, the message of the note and its decline, everything happens so fast and yet so precise and well played.

Having fast transients, the DAP doesn’t have issues with playing very crowded music,  busy passages or drastic changes in dynamics and sound intensity are made with so much ease that the concept of sounds completely dissappears. Music becomes as a whole, flowing like a refreshing river.

It’s interesting that the sound seemed very neutral and linear but still natural and pleasing to the ear, not beying dry, bright or lacking substance.

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X7 doesn’t have an sound signature, it sound very linear and not a single frequency seemed cut or pumped up.

On modern electronic music the bass was always fast and deep, having aothority and substance. Slow subwoofer effect was never heard, nor the one note fat bass.

The quickness and depth of bass was welcomed on other music genres as well, even on classical music all instruments sounded controlled and very majestic.

Mid frquencies sounded precise and transparent, melodious and well integrated in all tracks. Mids and highs are extra transparent and precise, I always get the feeling that I listen to something real, that happens now.

The greatest trump of this DAP is that everything just sounds right and real, I do not want to analyze the music anymore but just to relax and listen to it for hours.

In the following lines I will do a small comparison between X5-II and X7.

X5 sounds full and warm, has a slight sweetness to the mids, but sounds grainy, not so precise and smooth. As a slim veil covers part of the music that clouds the stereo image.

The imaginay walls of stage are felt on X5 but not on X7.

X5 doesn’t sound as fast and doesn’t have the same attack on the notes, sounds retire slower and because of that the recordings are becoming more crowded.

X7 sounds airier, much more spacious and holographic, it also extracts more information from the original file.

X7 seems more like a microscope for the music and X5 more like a magnifier.

Also on X7 high frequencies sound more real and believable, on X5 they seem slightly blurred and upper registers seemed cut.

For me is pretty obvious that X7 is in another league, a higher one.

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Headphone amplifier modules

In its stock form the DAP comes with AM1 module – an in-ear (IEM) headphone amp module, so the power is not really impressive.

It has about 200 mW in 16 Ohms and 100 mW in 32 Ohms, pretty good numbers comparing to other portables, but not impressive comparing to X5 or X5-II for example that offers double the power.

Using the stock module I didn’t have any issue driving my Sennheiser Momentum M2.0, Amperior, AKG K545 or the FiiO EX1.

It worked very well with the likes of Audeze EL-8 open and closed versions and with Oppo PM-3 as well.

I really appreciate that FiiO decided equipping this DAP with this module, it consumes less power and has very good performance regarding noise levels and hiss.

Speaking of hiss, it is intolerable for such a device and I never heard it on any of headphones or earphones tested, beying it very sensitive or hard to drive.

Certainly that majority of X7 users will never need another headphone amp module, the stock one offers enough power and control of any portable headphone.

Of course on hungrier headphones things are completely different, the volume is not sufficient even on high gain setting and because of that it starts clipping – distorts and bottlenecks dynamics.

It’s not recommended for hard to drive headphones, for those in short time high power and balanced modules will be available.

Will come back with new information when those 3 modules will be available.

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Conclusions

X7 again exceeded my expectations, besides playing the music from its internal and external memory I can finaly listen to music from cloud using streaming services of a highest quality.

Tidal worked excellent for me, I even discovered some new music, by my preferences it sugested me some new bands of the same music genre.

The only impediment is that a strong wi-fi signal is needed, and outside if you use your phone as an internet access point it will eat pretty fast your internet data plan, nevertheless a Wav or a Flac file has around 20-50 mb

It’s pointless to say something about build quality, it can be easily used in emergency cases as a melee weapon.

Device looks simple and nicely crafted and modular design is a very good idea. I look forward to trying the other modules.

Sound performance was impecable and I simply found no apparent weaknesses.

Besides the fact that the software restarted on me few times and that USB DAC feature is not implemented yet, I have nothing else to object, I like it from all point of views.

Unfortunately a no compromise DAP means a large sum of cash.

In Europe it will be sold at around 700 Euros. I know, it’s hard to digest such a price, but we are speaking here of a top-performing device that has really nice components inside and among the best specifications.

It is an exclusive DAP and I understand that very few will afford it, but even so it gets my full recommendation.

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Pros:

  • Robust and strong build quality
  • Modular design, external line-out amps are not needed anymore
  • Extra cool features are welcomed (Hi-res music streaming, bluetooth and USB DAC function in the future)
  • At last first FiiO DAP that has an internal ROM memory
  • Extra detailed and transparent sound, very airy and extended
  • The size of the stage rivals expensive home audio equipment
  • Realism and incredibly fast transients, you are being there
  • Excellent frequency response, linear and neutral but natural and pleasing as well
  • Very low distortion and nonexistent hiss

Cons:

  • Internal memory at only 32 Gb, a single microSD expansion slot
  • As for now USB DAC is not active (will be implemented shortly via an FW update)
  • Battery depletes faster than on rest of the FiiO DAPs
  • Top quality comes at a higher price

 

Gear used for review:

FiiO X7, X5, X5-II, EX1, Sennheiser Momentum M2.0, Amperior, AKG K545, Audeze EL-8, Oppo PM-3, Audioengine A5+

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