DAC & Others
With firmware 1.8 the X7 also became a USB DAC and in combination with the Fiio K5 that makes the X7/K5 a desktop quality (mid fi?) setup. I have to admit I’m a sucker for the Sabre chips but at the same time I don’t really see myself using the X7, or any DAP for that matter, as a DAC in a desktop system. That being said, the DAC is pretty darn good and Sabre is known for its detail and clarity, so a quality sound is guaranteed should you go that route.
The X7 can of course also be connected to a Hugo/Mojo or any other external DAC by Coax. That way you’re actually bypassing the X7’s DAC and I myself only do that when I really feel like using the Hugo with full sized headphones like the LCD-2, HE-1000 and HD800. I don’t use the Mojo in this way as the internal DAC and amp of the X7 is just as good, if not better. The only time I use a DAP as a source connected to a DAC is when my laptop isn’t at home, then I tend to use the AK120II and V850 DAC connected by optical. When the misses is out, I spin records on the 1Xpression Carbon Classic by Pro-Ject Audio using my speaker setup.
The Fiio X7 DAP is very versatile and you can use it as DAP, DAC or as a transport. No matter how you use it, you get a top quality sound that, to me, often surpasses its $650 price tag. The Earphones I used most with the X7 are the Maestro, the Aether, the Warbler and the Jomo5. I can’t really say there was one specific monitor I especially liked with the X7 as I found them all to sound really good. Full sized headphones used are the Hifiman Edition X, the good old LCD-2, the Sennheiser HD650 and the HE-400i. While some combinations surprised me more than others I can’t say I used the full sized headphones for anything but testing. With a Violectric V281/V850 setup and the K5 in your living room, you tend to use that instead of the X7.
Comparisons with other DAPs
Fiio X5SG: The JZ4760B+SA2000+PCM1792A+PGA2311A chip combination in the X5SG works great and the X5SG up to now was my number 1 Fiio DAP as it has the best detail, clarity, best sound stage, best separation off all Fiio DAPs and it sounded most neutral. Well the X7 does all that and more, especially in the layering and timbre category the X7 scores big. The difference between both players, to my ears, isn’t small and comparing it directly against the X3SG wouldn’t be fair. The X5SG is available for around $339USD and that still makes it the recommended player if you’re on a smaller budget.
L&P L5pro: As I already mentioned, the X7 with AM2 sounds a lot like the L5Pro. The L5Pro has a little more body in bass and mids and sounds a bit tighter, showing more authority. I still give the L5Pro the edge over the X7 for what depth and layering is concerned but AM2 does a great job of sounding almost just as good. The L5Pro is priced around $800.
L&P L3: Luxury & Precision’s new L3 is a DAP made especially for IEMs. That means it in theory should be compared to the balanced AM module but, just like the L3, it hasn’t officially been released yet. L3’s balanced output is very good (even right out of the box) and it reminds me a lot of the Cayin N5’s balanced output. These both have excellent layering, the right amount of space, good separation and a wide and deep layered sound stage. The L3 excels in “holographic soundstage”, delivering a very natural sound. On some devices (like the AKs in example) I often find the balanced output to be bass light and even more often the mids and bass miss body but this isn’t the case with the L3 and N5 and that’s why they’re so addictive. In my non review time I most often find myself using a balanced output and I really look forward to see how Fiio implemented it as it will be their first time (if I’m not mistaken). The L3’s price is still to be confirmed but it will be somewhere between $300 and $400.
Cayin N5: I think the Cayin N5 goes for about half the price of the X7 and it resembles the sound signature of the (L5pro and) X7 on AM2. The N5 has more body in bass and mids but the X7 is more refined, has better detail from bass to treble and has better layering with more space between the instruments. The Cayin N5 is a really good sounding player but the difference in price does show the difference in sound quality as well. The N5 goes for $349 on Amazon.
AK120ii: The big advantage the X7 has over the AK120II is that it has AM2 and AM4. I often find myself using external amps with my AK DAPs where I don’t have to do that with the X7. We don’t know yet how well AM4 will do with the orthos or other harder to drive headphones but I’m sure it’ll be easier for the X7 than for the AK120II. The AK still has the edge over the X7 for what detail, precision, sound stage and layering is concerned but the X7 simply drives your headphones better. The X7 will also sound more musical because it sounds just a tad more smooth/warm than the AK120II which rather has a “light” presentation. I’ll be very interested to see how the balanced module does against AK’s balanced output (which to me is just a tad bass light). The 120II still goes for over $1500.
iBasso DX80: For the moment the DX80 isn’t here. My first unit unfortunately had some issues with clicks, plops and playing at an accelerated speed and the second unit hasn’t gotten to me yet. With all these great new DAPs I’m not really in a hurry though, the DX80 didn’t impress me as much as any of the DAPs mentioned in this review. It’s a shame really as I really like their discontinued DX90. The new DX80 goes for $389 on Amazon.
The Fiio X7 is great player: it sounds oh so good (even in its leather case), it’s extremely user-friendly, it’s well built, it’s customizable because of the Android system and behind it there’s a company that listens to the consumers. Fiio also keeps improving the X7’s performance by regularly releasing new firmware updates and the support for the X7 is guaranteed seeing they most likely will release an X7SG at one point in the future. The use of AM modules can either be seen as brilliant or annoying but that depends on what you want your DAP to do. The Fiio X7 is also versatile as it can be used as DAP, DAC or just as a source. Then there’s also the K5 DAC/AMP that transforms the X7 in a desktop system, and that’s something that will convince a whole lot of fans to get the $650USD X7.
The Fiio X7 to me isn’t the ultimate or end game DAP as others have called it but it is a very² good DAP and it certainly performs better than its $650USD price point would suggest. With the X7, Fiio voluntarily stepped down the “Budget King” throne as this DAP clearly is no longer budget friendly in Fiio’s norms. If you look at the fact that the X7 sounds extremely well for the price it’s going for, it takes that throne right back though.
Now when is that AM3 coming out?