Sound. AKA “The Part You Have Been Waiting Most For”
There’s good and bad to talk about but let me get it out of the way and say that the X1 in no way is a giant killer.
The X1 sound in general is a tad smoother and a little more on the warm side but not too much. Sound stage wise it is average and it’s actually a fairly centered between your ears kind of sound. Same goes for the detail retrieval: it’s not bad but it is nowhere near the level of the high end DAPs (and only normal so).
It’s not as neutral or linear tuned as most high end players. I’m not saying the X1 is bass heavy but even with the EQ off, you will always have quite the bass presence. Bass unfortunately isn’t the tightest, most detailed or fastest. I would best describe it as foot tapping fun bass and I’m sure a lot of people will love it. On the other side we have the treble and just like with the bass, the detail level isn’t the absolute best and it isn’t that extended either. Treble is missing some air and sparkle too. The mids are fairly smooth and engaging but like before, the detail levels unfortunately aren’t the highest and I find the voices to be a little more forward sounding.
I know that doesn’t sound too convincing but the weird thing is that the X1 is incredibly fun to listen to, it just isn’t as detailed, wide and clear as the high end players. The weaker element of the X1 to me is the ISL28291 AMP section. It just isn’t the best in my opinion. I do love the digital volume control though. It has 100 steps and it has a wide range. Your sensitive IEMs will never sound too loud at low volume. With those sensitive IEMs however there do is some audible ground noise. I’m sorry but I just can’t get to love using the headphone out on the X1. Not even for a $99 device. But there’s a but. And a big one.
The X1 can be set to be used as Line Out (with a useful warning when switching outputs) and I actually found the X1’s Line Out to perform really well. That was a happy surprise for me and I even fell in love with the X1 using it in combination with the portable Picollo amp. Bass, treble and mids all seriously improved: there was better clarity, detail, more air and a bigger sound stage. A much higher quality sound.
Just to be sure it wasn’t me hearing wrong things, I asked several people at Canjam Europe to listen to the X1 with and without using the Line Out with their own portable amp. I of course didn’t tell them what my opinion was. The result was a confirmation of my findings and they all preferred the Line out over the headphone section of the X1. The basic conclusion of the Canjam Europe test group was that the UI is great together with the X1 form factor. The downside was the amp section but they all loved the very good line out and they all preferred using it that way. For $99 using the LO, the X1 sounds very good. It’s that simple.
The X1, if you do decide to use the headphone out, has more power than you’ll ever need to drive the normal on the go headphones. It even has enough power to drive headphones like the 250Ohm Beyerdynamics and the 300Ohm Sennheisers. I didn’t say they sounded their best, but power-wise there were no real issues. With none of my full size headphones the ground noise was audible either; a very good thing.
Compared to the AK players the X1 of course is miles behind but it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to them either. Is the X1 better sounding than an iPod? Yes, when using the Line Out but the big advantage of the X1 is that it plays all the High Res file types and that’s something your normal iPod won’t do. So yes, it does do better than a standard iPod. I only just received the ibasso DX50 and DX90 and I will be comparing the X1 to both of these once I had some time with both of these players. The Fiio X3 might be the X1s biggest competitor but it doesn’t have the great User Interface and button lay-out of the X1 and that’s too bad. Personally I prefer the more detailed and clear sound of the X3 by far. The X3 has a bigger sound stage and pretty much sounds better all the way with better bass, mids and treble and with a lot more detail. The X3 might miss some smoothness in the mids but it’s a better sounding player (running on the latest firmware). For me the perfect combination would be the X1 device with the X3 sound section.
So what does all that finally mean? Is the X1 a bad DAP? No it certainly is not, not for the price it is selling for. The thing to remember is that the X1 looks great and has a really good User Interface. At the same time it plays all High Res files and it gives you a very enjoyable and fun sound in return. What other DAP does that for only $99?! That’s also what I think Fiio means with the DAP for the young: Fun sound with good bass for an affordable price.
Looking at the X1 in an objective way I can only say it’s no high-end sounding DAP. For the price it is selling for there however is nothing wrong with that. No one expects it to have AK level sound for $99 although I had hoped for a better headphone out. When you switch the X1 to the Line Out however and use it in combination with an external amp, a whole new world opens up and it becomes this awesome little source with a great UI for only $99. I love it!
So who can I recommend this DAP to then? Well that’s simple: to a whole lot of people. I’m pretty sure the normal music and iBud loving people would enjoy the X1 as an MP3 player. It would also be a great first DAP for starting young audiophiles or for those on a small budget. I don’t think this is the DAP to get when you’re a more experienced listener, the X3 doesn’t cost that much more nowadays. Too bad the UI isn’t like this one. If, like me, you will be using it just as a source with the Line Out, the X1 is an excellent buy: if you get a chance to try the X1 in this combination, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
I have been using my X1 & Picollo combo on a daily basis. Yes, the Astel&Kerns of this world sound better but I do feel so much more comfortable using the Fiio when on the go. I really love it and like I said in the podcast: for this price everyone should get an X1, I’m sure you’ll find a way to use and love it.
The Fiio X1 is shipping worldwide to all dealers right now and will be available almost immediately from now on. I don’t think I have to repeat the price again, do I?