The X7 is very user friendly and the great thing is it sounds really good too. Of all the Fiio DAPs, the X7 is the one with the most detail, the best layering, the widest sound stage and the best dynamics. The overall sound signature is more to the neutral side like the AK’s but with that touch of smoothness making it a very musical player. Maybe even a bit more so than the AKs, but those have other things going for them. Besides a reasonably wide sound stage, the X7 impressed me especially with its depth and layering. To me this is the first Fiio DAP that reaches this level and that is very noticeable when using CIEMs, the X7 sounds natural and effortlessly does everything and all formats. The X7’s sound is clean, very clear and the separation is good. The level of detail is also up there with the other well-known players and I actually think it performs above its price point. Bass is nicely layered and goes reasonably deep. The mids are clear, detailed, layered and have just enough body to get that impactful and engaging sound. To me the mids are what makes the AM1 module shine. Treble is extended but it certainly isn’t its strongest point, I’d say it’s about the same level as the X7’s bass.
Fiio’s original AM1 module shines when using inear monitors but it also powers easy to drive full size headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT770 or the Hifiman Edition-S. Just don’t expect your HD650 to sound as good as it can sound (and should). If it were me I would have added a balanced output to the IEM module, right now the 2.5mm balanced output is on the AM3. The AM1 is dead silent with my most sensitive monitors.
AM2 reminds me of the L&P L5pro where you get a full bodied sound, a very dark background, a lot of depth, clarity and more than enough power to drive most full size headphones. AM2 delivers the dynamics, detail and musicality of AM1 but with more power. AM2 sounds better than AM1, it sounds more complete. Last year the L5Pro came out on top of the X7 because the X7 only had amp module AM1 and at that time the L5Pro did the full range of headphones in a “better” way. On AM2 the sound signatures of both DAPs are very similar but I still give the L5Pro the edge over the X7 for what depth and layering is concerned. The L5Pro also has a little more body in the bass and mids and sounds a bit tighter, showing more authority. The X7 easily wins on user friendliness though. The great thing about AM2 is that it works almost as good with IEMs as well. I’ve been using it with the Unique Melody Maestro (12-driver), the CustomArt Harmony 8Pro and the H8.2 and while you won’t get the same level of finesse, detail and layering as you do with AM1, the level still is very good to say the least. AM2 powers my HE-400i very well and I can even live with it powering my HD650. I out of curiosity also hooked up the HE-1000 and HD800 directly to the X7 and I have to say I was surprised to hear them sound reasonably good. I expected both headphones to sound a lot worse and I still wouldn’t advise using them with the X7 but it does show the potential the X7/AM2 combo has. When I was only in possession of AM1 and AM2, the AM2 was the one that was always connected to the X7 and I still like it a lot today now that I have all 4 modules.
Fiio in the mean time has released an update of the AM2 module called the AM2A. The module is on its way to us now and we’ll of course add the review of that specific module to this review asap. AM2A – according to Fiio – presents a neutral but a little smooth sound signature. It is textured in high-mid frequency, clear and analytical in resolution and rich in low frequency.
The balanced Amplification Module 3 has both a balanced and a non-balanced output. I was surprised to see that the single ended output of AM3 is more powerful than both AM1 and AM2’s output. The balanced output (2.5mm TRRS) is more powerful than the 3.5mm output of the IEM card (AM1) and its own 3.5mm out but in balanced configuration that is rather normal. The single ended output delivers good body in bass and mids, and basically sounds very much like AM2 with a sweet and more relaxed presentation. Even more so as AM2 actually and for my liking it is a little too relaxed, missing a little bit of attack. You have to tune down the volume level as the module is more powerful. Separation and balance are really well done and you get great timbre and musicality. The AM3 SE output is dead silent with both the Edition-S and the CustomArt Harmony 8.2.
When the balanced module arrived, I connected the sensitive Jomo Audio 6R to the regular and balanced output of the AM3 using the Effect Audio Leonidas and Thor Copper cable. To my disappointment there was a reasonable amount of hiss audible from both outputs and as a result I put the AM3 aside for a couple of days. When I started testing it again with the Harmony 8.2 a few days later, the single ended output was dead silent and so was the balanced one. Just to be sure I plugged in the Jomo 6R again and immediately the hiss came back on both outputs. So if you have sensitive monitors that easily tend to pick up gear, the AM3 module isn’t for you. Unless you can hear past the hiss that is. I can’t. The balanced output hiss most of both.
When hooking up full sized headphones such as the HD800S, LCD-2 and the Hifiman HE-1000 via an XLR to to 2.5mm adapter, the Fiio X7 performs as expected: good but nothing special. The HD800S sounds reasonably good on high gain but it’s still nowhere near its potential. More or less the same story with the Hifiman HE-1000: not bad but not how it can and should sound. The LCD-2, which seems to get more uncomfortable each time I put it on, – except for the bass – doesn’t really impress me straight from the X7’s balanced output. On the regular 3.5mm output however the Audeze sounds a lot more engaging and dynamic, somehow the synergy just is better. Same story with the HE-1000 and HD800S: they sound a lot closer to how they should sound with good bass extension, energetic treble and great mids all delivered in an exciting way with lots of layering and detail. This is an excellent emergency setup, when no other gear is available. (You never know, right?)
For some reason I’m not too fond of how the balanced output sounds with full sized headphones. I just find it to sound rather lifeless when compared against the single ended output. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the balanced output of the V281, L3 and the AK380, which definitely sound better to me. I’m even more disappointed that the AM3 in balanced mode produces too much hiss when using sensitive monitors.
Fiio’s most powerful amplifier module should allow using your hardest to drive headphones directly from the X7. The AM5 actually uses the same MUSES02 as AM2 does but it uses a new buffer. In order for the AM5 module to work you need to install the latest Fiio firmware (FW2.0 but it should work on the 1.91 as well)
Because of AM5 using the same MUSES02 the tonal differences compared with AM module 2 are limited. You mainly notice the extra power AM5 has. That doesn’t only translate in a lower listening volume but the sound is more powerful – some might call it more “aggressive” – and the deeper bass gets a little extra kick. Because of this AM2 to my ears sounds a little more detailed with a more precise separation, making it easier to listen to with the more relaxed presentation.
While the AM5 is most powerful module, it still plays perfectly fine with easy to drive headphones like the Edition-S and CIEMs like the 8.2. It’s dead silent at all times, even with the sensitive Jomo 6R, and it still allows you to set the volume very low without any hiss.
For testing full sized headphones I again hooked up the Hifiman HE-1000, LCD-2 and Sennheiser HD800S to the X7, as these headphones need either current or voltage. Even with the most powerful module you’ll have to set the X7 to high gain though but I don’t really like how it makes any of these headphones sound and I prefer the sound of the AM3 in non-balanced config and especially the AM2 above the AM5’s.
It’s great that you can now buy the Fiio X7 without amplification module or with a module of your choice. Do note that the more powerful the module is that you’re using, the more battery it will use. So don’t count on getting those 10 hours you were hoping for.
All in all the sonic differences between the different AM modules are limited and it is nowhere near a night and day difference, but the differences are there. AM module 2 is still my favorite one as it has the best mix between power and quality for both full sized headphones and earphones. I find AM5 to focus a little too much on the power aspect and AM3 in SE mode is a little too relaxed sounding. If you have a range of normal IEMs and no extremely hard to drive headphones, then I advise to go for AM2. To me it’s the module that does it all. The biggest disappointment for me is the 2.5mm balanced output from AM3: it doesn’t sound particularly good and it produces hiss with sensitive earphones. If you really want to go the balanced route, I can’t really suggest the X7, but rather one of the AKs or the L3 if you’re only in to IEMs
If you’re not sure what module suits your needs best you could buy several modules and just try, but as each module sets you back $99USD, that could become a very expensive X7. I’m still not convinced that going the modular way was the smart thing to do and only time will tell.
The remote control makes using your Fiio a whole lot easier when you’re on the go as there no longer is a need to take the X7 out of your pocket. When you arrive at work you can either hook up the X7 to your pc by cable or you can click it in the $19.99 docking station. It doesn’t add any functionality to your X7 but it sure does look a lot nicer.
Now that Fiio is done with the AM modules, I wonder where Fiio will go next. A new DAC, a new amp? Maybe a new portable combo? In any way, the X7’s sound quality is so good that all Fiio fans will be expecting a lot of the future Fiio units. I can’t wait to find out what it will be.