• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

Fiio X7 review: A premium portable music player for Hi-Res sound

fiio

Although iTunes is popular, you may not use it because you want to listen to high-resolution music files or files in formats that iTunes does not support. It also means you’re using a portable music player that isn’t iOS-based but is capable of handling a wider range of files, including high resolution. Audio files of this type are often distributed in FLAC format (although it is easy to convert FLAC files to Apple Lossless files and use them in iTunes), or even Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files (a format created for Super Audio CDs, and now sold as downloads from some vendors), which offer even higher resolution than is available in more common formats.

A number of portable audio players support these audio files, and Fiio, a Chinese company with a strong reputation for cheap, high-quality audio hardware, offers a full line of these devices. The latest is the Fiio X7 (MSRP $600, $600 on Amazon), an Android-based device that supports almost all commonly used audio formats: MP3, AAC, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA, WAV, AIFF, APE and OGG at up to 384 kHz sample rate and up to 64-bit resolution, as well as DSD up to 5.6 MHz.

Rugged feel with microSD support

The X7 comes with 32GB of internal storage, and you can add up to 128GB on a microSD card. As with any such device, its actual storage is unlimited, as you can have as many microSD cards as you want. You could have one card for your rock music, another for jazz, another for classical, etc. This is important due to the size of high resolution files: for example, you would need around 300MB of space to store a Mahler symphony ripped from a CD and encoded as a FLAC or Apple Lossless file. You would need about 2.3 GB to store the same music as a two-channel 2.8 MHz DSD file.

Here’s another story you’ll want to read: The best mid-priced hi-res digital audio player

This aluminum alloy device is heavy in the hand: at 218 grams (7.7 ounces), it’s 50% heavier than the iPhone 6s, almost the weight of two regular iPods. The main body of the device, without the amplifier module, is about the same size as an iPod classic, but much thicker. Build quality is good except for the bulge on the back (similar to Apple’s iPhone charging case) and the screen not flush with the body of the device. But you’re not buying this for its thinness; you buy it for its ability to play all your music, if you have a collection of this type of audio files.

fiio vs ipod

The Fiio X7 next to an iPod classic.

The device comes with a headphone amplifier module connected at the bottom with screws. You can also purchase other amplifier modules, such as Fiio’s AM5 High Power Amplifier Module ($99 at Amazon), if you need to drive headphones that need more juice. The device has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a 3.5mm digital coaxial line out/jack (an adapter is included). As such, you can use the X7 while connected to home stereo equipment; you can even use it as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) connected to a Mac via USB, outputting audio from one of the jacks. You can also buy Fiio’s RM1 Bluetooth Remote ($25 on Amazon) to control the device, which would be ideal if you hook it up to your home stereo, and the device can stream via Bluetooth to speakers or listeners.

x7 flat fiio

The amplifier modules connect to the bottom of the Fiio X7.

Practice with the X7

You control the device’s apps with its touchscreen, but there are also hardware buttons on either side of the X7. By default, the left side has volume up and down and a power button, and the right side has next/previous and play/pause, but you can change the configuration. These buttons are active even if the screen is locked, unfortunately, and it’s easy to accidentally press the next or previous button, or pause playback.

One problem with this device is that the only documentation (other than some FAQs and videos on the manufacturer’s website) is all in Chinese, so it takes a while to figure out how to do anything other than play music.

fiio songs list currently playing

On the left, the Fiio X7 interface for playing music. On the right, the currently playing screen.

You can download apps to the X7 using the Google Play Store. I was able to install the Apple Music app and you can download apps for Spotify and other music services. You can download other apps if you want to use this device as more than just a music player.

The reading is a bit clumsy. You’re basically navigating through a file system, with folders and files, and pressing one to start playing. When I tap on a song, I sometimes see File not found, but the song starts playing a bit later; this happens with high resolution files, and it may be because they are larger and the sd card i am using is not fast enough. Overall, the software experience isn’t great, but I got a firmware update during my testing, which made things a little smoother.

What about sound?

This is one of the most important elements of a device like this, especially considering its price. The X7 sounds as good as any portable device I’ve heard, but for some headphones it’s a little weak. With my 62 ohm AKG K702 headphones, I have to push the volume almost to the maximum; if you have high impedance headphones, you may need to combine this device with one of its more powerful amplifier modules. But with smaller, low-impedance headphones, there’s no problem. The sound is clear and crisp, with a wide and expansive soundstage; it’s not too heavy or tinny, and you can adjust the sound using a built-in equalizer.

The X7 also offers Pure Music mode, which you can toggle in the settings screen that appears when you swipe down from the top of the screen. This boots the device directly into Fiio’s music player app, rather than loading the Android OS. I found the sound to be a bit better and the volume higher in this mode. But you cannot use other apps, such as Apple Music or Spotify, in Pure Music mode.

At the end of the line

The Fiio X7 is aimed at music enthusiasts who listen to high-res audio, and as such it does its job well. If you’re a casual listener, and especially if you depend on iTunes to manage your music, you’d better have an iPhone or iPod touch for music, but if you have more complex needs, or want to use this device as an external DAC connected to your computer, the Fiio X7 is a solid product with many advanced features. It may not be the legendary iPod killer, but for many users it provides access to files and formats Apple doesn’t support, and that’s good enough.