I think a lot of buyers have a certain faith in Fiio as an audio manufacturer; we always have a basic security knowing that we’ll receive a well-performing device that offers pleasing value for money. However, with the X7, their former flagship audio player, Fiio really reached beyond the status quo, providing a true flagship experience at a premium but well-justified price point. And hot on its heels was the X5 III, an Android based sequel to the wildly popular X5 that arrived to a mixed critical reception. While I found the X5 III to be a nice device for Fiio’s asking price, it did fail to encapsulate the profound value of their past offerings.
But I would argue that the X5 III was never intended for greatness, it was a midrange device designed with a budget in mind rather than peak performance so to speak. And that’s where the X7 II comes in; Fiio released the new X7 just a few weeks ago, presented as thoroughly redesigned inside and out while maintaining compatibility with accessories for previous devices. As a true flagship, designed to maximise performance without compromise, many were excited to see what the Chinese company could produce and whether the device could live up to the legacy of the original. With such fervent anticipation, can the X7 II recapture the glory of Fiio’s early flagship players? Let’s find out.
I would like to thank Sunny from Fiio very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the X7 II for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAP free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The X7 II is very nicely presented with a two tone box with bold, punchy renders and some specifications. Inside is a protective hard box that slides open to reveal the player with a tempered glass screen protector and transparent TPU case pre-installed. Underneath are some additional accessories similar to those included with the X5 III and appreciably improved over the setup included with the original X7.
The included TPU case is pretty nice, slim and clear to showcase the striking design of the X7 II underneath. I appreciate that the ports no long have flaps like the X5 III, it makes the player that much more convenient to use. Otherwise, the case is well moulded and buttons remain clicky and easy to discern when the device is pocketed. Fiio provides buyers with an additional faux leather case that features a more premium aesthetic and perhaps a little extra drop resistance.
The X7 II also comes with a 3.5mm to coaxial cable, micro usb cable, T5 screwdriver for swapping amp modules and a small metal plate that buyers can mate to an X7 amp module to keep the design looking congruent. There are also some basic instructions and warranty papers for peace of mind. Overall, Fiio provide a nice setup with the X7 II, the included TPU case is actually useable and the leather one is a nice bonus. The extra amp plate and tempered glass screen protector are also a really nice addition, I’m happy Fiio didn’t skimp on the accessories given the X7 II’s price.
As mentioned in Fiio’s promotional material, the X7 II is a comfortable fusion between the X5 III and the original X7, sporting a very similar design to its predecessor with that angled ridging on the left-hand side. But that’s not to say that Fiio simply stuck that control bar onto the side of the original X7 and called it a day, while they may not be radically different, the X7 II has been considerably reformed and refined. And like these models, the X7 II has impeccable build quality with a full aluminium build, lustrous chamfered edges and super tight tolerances to every angle. The X7 II also maintains the modularity of the X7 with swappable amplifier modules and due to some smart engineering on Fiio’s behalf, the X7 II retains compatibility with the original amp modules designed for the X7.
The X7 II is a handsome device and very much an improvement over the X7 is almost every way. Starting with dimensions, the X7 II has been slimmed down by a millimetre so the screen lies flush with the front of the device, it’s subtle but makes the entire device look that much cleaner. The X7 II is slightly shorter but is a tad thicker on behalf of that angled side bar. Fiio has also updated the finish of the device, their new flagship sports a finer sand blasted finish that feels softer and more tactile in the hand. While the X7 II retains the plastic antenna window of the original, the back of the device is appreciably more uniform and refined as a result. And in culmination, these styling tweaks make the X7 II look considerably thinner and sleeker than the X7 even though their dimensions are mostly similar.
When it comes to machining and materials, the X7 II tells much the same story as before. Despite being slightly smaller, it is not a light or particularly compact device but one that has incredible rigidity and durability. From perfectly machined chamfers to that strikingly angular control bar on the left side, the X7 II is both bold and handsome. Furthermore, the device’s taller, smartphone-like dimensions conformed excellently to my smaller hands. But perhaps the biggest difference between the X7 II and the original X7 is its updated control scheme. The X7 II forgoes the symmetrical controls of the original in favour of a more separated layout that avoided any accidental presses in my testing, much improved over the X5 III and its more delineated controls are easier to operate than the X7 when in a pocket.
The right side is now completely dedicated to two micro sd card slots with integrated trays like the X5 III, an improvement over the single exposed slot of the original.
Meanwhile, the left side now houses a volume wheel instead of the rocker of the original with a track skip rocker just below and play/pause button just above. The wheel is similar to the X5 III, very nicely knurled and thoroughly premium, but it is still a bit insensitive for larger volume adjustments when in my pocket (though Fiio have a digital slider on the screen to speed this up).
The power button has also been relocated to the top right corner, it is larger and more distinct, no longer suffering from accidental presses in my pocket. I also noticed that the buttons are far clickier than before with greater travel, they feel far more tactile than those on the X5 III and original X7. The outputs have also been updated, at the top, the X7 II retains the line out/coax output of the original, however, at the bottom, users will notice that the X7 II now comes with a balanced output from factory in addition to a regular 3.5mm jack.
The X7 II also retains exactly the same modular interface as the X7 which maintains compatibility with the AM1-5 modules. Of note, the added ridge on the side is just a metal plate that slots into the main housing and screws onto the side of the module.
The X7 II does stick with a traditional micro-usb connector to maintain compatibility with DK1 and K5 though reversible micro-usb cables can be easily found online should you want that functionality.
The X7 II marks Fiio’s third Android based DAP with a modified version of Android lollipop (5.1.1 at the time of review) running on the same RK3188 SOC as the original X7. However, Fiio have clearly learned from past mistake, the hardware has been revised and the software has matured over the years creating a considerably more refined experience. As such, the new X7 is instantly the fastest Fiio device and perhaps the fastest Android based DAP I’ve used, and the improvement is much larger than the mild spec bump would suggest. Namely, Fiio have upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 2GB however, the X7 II is so much faster than other Android DAPs, I’m sure Fiio have done some other tweaks, perhaps refining the governors and memory management to achieve better performance. Whatever the reason, the X7 II no longer experiences freezes like the X5 III and X7 and feels very snappy to use if not Google Pixel or HTC 10 fast. The DAP also comfortably multitasks and both browsing and music streaming are much faster and smoother to navigate yet alone a combination of the two that would seize up an X7 completely. The X7 II does still suffer from the occasional stutter and hiccup, but for vast majority of my month of testing, the X7 II provided a fluid and responsive experience without any prolonged freezes.
And beyond basic hardware, that smoother UI now looks a lot better too, the screen on the X7 II is hugely improved over the original and X5 III as well. While not dedicated for video, I still think a good screen is imperative for what is inherently a visual based operating system and luckily, the new screen pops with much higher saturation, deeper blacks and notably improved max brightness. As such, album art is more discernible on the device’s smaller 4” 800×480 display and legibility when under direct sunlight is completely adequate. Videos are also well serviced in a pinch and the X7 II has impressive vibrancy and immediacy to visual elements. In addition, the touch screen itself supports multi-touch and was just as responsive as a modern smartphone in my testing, there was no latency like the AK Jr or Hidizs AP100. Of note, the X7 II actually forgoes a few of the lesser known features of the X7, no longer is the device equipped with an accelerometer and ambient light sensor so the screen has to be manually rotated and adjusted. I didn’t find this to really affect my experience with the device too much but it is something to consider if you’re upgrading from the X7 and appreciate this functionality.
Users with large music libraries will be delighted to hear that RAM isn’t the only component that’s been upgraded, the X7 II now comes with double the internal storage featuring 64GB of NAND flash (55GB user available) and two micro sd card slots. While I would have liked a faster storage solution, the X7 II is just slightly speedier than the X5 III in write performance but identical in read, I didn’t find the internal storage to bottleneck the device in any way and those faster write speeds did aid large file transfers from my laptop. What hasn’t improved are the Micro SD card slots which are just as sluggish as before. The slot barely reaches above 10MB/s so it’s a waste to purchase a faster card for the X7 II since it won’t be able to take advantage of that extra speed. However, again, the X7 II had no issue navigating my 100GB ~8000 file music library of 320kbps MP3’s and Lossless files. Fiio’s music app scans the device storage every time a music file is copied over, building up a cache that speeds up navigation. While it take a second for album arts to load, general usage was slick and smooth.
And on the note of Fiio’s music app, the app has been slightly revised though that could be brought to Fiio’s older players via a software update. It is mainly a cosmetic update though some functionality has been added such as an extended menu on the now playing screen. Otherwise, the app operates almost identically, albeit smoother on that revised hardware, with the same swipe based interface and layout.
The new skin does look cleaner though and I think Fiio’s player is one of my favourites amongst other Android based DAPs, especially Chinese ones which tend to be a bit convoluted. One new feature that I did notice, was that the new music player now remembers the user’s last position in an album/song list where on previous devices it would reset back to the beginning. The app also stays open in the background so music doesn’t stop if you accidentally close the service in the multi-tasker.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Android is so appealing is its wide application support, especially with regards to music and video streaming. Again, Fiio have made nice progress with the X7 II by implementing 5GHz WiFi. If your router support it, the X7 II will provide noticeably faster download speeds and lower latency when streaming since the 5GHz WiFi spectrum offers vastly lower interference than 2.4GHz in addition to potentially higher throughput. Potential buyers will also be delighted to hear that the X7 II is much better shielded from EMI noise; where the original X7 had some buzzing and fizzling when WiFi was active or a phone placed beside it, the X7 II experiences no such issues. I did notice the occasional blip though they were very low in volume and very infrequent, I only detected trace noises from my most sensitive IEMs. That being said, Fiio sent out a firmware update while I was testing the device that seems to have addressed that issue. Firmware is easily upgraded from the technical support app though users can also receive updates over the air.
And plugging the DAP into a computer reveals the same USB DAC functionality as the other Fiio DAPs. The X7 II isn’t plug and play, I was required to download a driver from Fiio’s website, but if you currently have a Fiio DAP, the X7 II will run just fine on the pre-installed driver. USB DAC functionality was reliable in my testing, the device quickly connected to my laptop and audio was routed through with no complications or glitches.
Battery life is actually reduced from the X7 and X5 III despite using a larger 3800mah battery. The X7 II is rated for around 8hrs of playback and 7hrs when running balanced. In normal use, primarily using the Fiio music app and Spotify, I was able to consistently achieve that 8hour figure though users could definitely exceed that by exclusively using Fiio’s app and disabling all wireless radios. The player also charges rapidly since it supports Qualcomm quick charge 2.0 like the X5 III, it did indeed top up a lot faster than the original X7 though a QC adapter is not included in the box. Apt-x Bluetooth also makes a return on the X7 II, unfortunately not 5.0 but that’s likely a limitation of the RK3188 chipset. The device paired quickly and maintained a reliable connection, range was also above average and latency when using an apt-x enabled headphone was minimal.
The X7 II is Fiio’s flagship DAP and from basic perusal of its specifications, it seems very competitive with current devices and appreciably updated from previous generation players though real world testing will reveal whether Fiio’s implementation stacks up. At face value, the X7 II may seem comparable to cheaper devices such as the Oppo HA-2SE with it SABER 9028 DAC chip, however, the Fiio player implements the Pro variant as opposed to the Q2M; the X7 II is using the desktop chip, not the portable variant, translating to higher audio quality at the cost of a considerably higher power consumption. So while the Oppo HA-2SE sounded very similar to the 9018 based HA-2 to my ear, the X7 II provided a comfortable performance advantage over both my HA-2 and original X7. The X7 II also comes with a completely new amplifier module, the AM3A. Utilizing the AD8620 OPAMP, it is a slightly more engaging module than the old AM1 and AM2, the output power is also notably improved over the stock AM1 that came with the 1st generation X7, especially the balanced output which benefits from a 50% power increase over the TRS output. And this technical prowess underpins a delightfully natural sound that is markedly less “digital” than previous players, I think a lot of buyers who had issues with the X5 III will find the X7 II a large upgrade. You can see the full list of specifications and supported file types over at Fiio’s website here.
As with the original X7, the II utilizes a modular amplifier system that enables users to switch between various power outputs tailored towards various uses. However, the X7 II comes with a completely new module, the AM3A, that is markedly more versatile than the AM1 that came preinstalled on the original model, featuring increased power output, a more engaging tone and a balanced output. The AM3A is a very nice sounding module with plenty of power output for any portable earphone/headphone in addition to some easier to drive full-size headphones. It forgoes the very smooth, lush tone of the Muse based AM2 in favour of some added clarity and engagement. However, Fiio’s new amp module still does a fine job at keeping that Saber glare in control, the X7 II has a noticeably smoother upper mids/lower treble transition than the Oppo HA-2 which makes it the more refined source. This is also likely due to Fiio’s particular implementation of the 9028 DAC chip yet it’s still good to see that users can extract great performance from the stock setup since the X7 II is a flagship device. In terms of noise, the AM3A is a little noisier than the AM1 and AM2 which isn’t terrible since both of those are almost dead silent. With my Campfire Jupiter, probably one of the most hiss sensitive earphones out there, the AM3A produced a light hiss that was quickly masked when music was playing, even at lower volumes around 10 of 120 steps. By contrast, the AM1 and 2 are just barely audible. The AM3A also produces a notably wider soundstage than the AM2 which is only compounded upon by the superior DAC chip in the X7 II.
The 9028 Pro is a really excellent DAC chip that compounds on the strengths of the 9018 and in Fiio’s case, tones down that Saber glare in favour of a more neutral, linear sound. The X7 II is a very balanced source to my ear and an exceptionally transparent one that allowed the strengths of whatever earphone/headphone I was using to shine through. I’ll talk about the X7 II’s sound-staging first because the player really surprised me. Plugging in the Master & Dynamic MH40, and the X7 II offered notably improved space over the X7. Width is excellent, depth is very good and separation is among the best I’ve heard from a portable source. This is especially clear when listening to more complex tracks or slightly darker, more laid-back headphones like the MH40; where the MH40 can sound a little congested or distant with inferior sources, they simply sound spacious with the X7 II. The Fiio didn’t drive the M&D’s quite as well as the iFi Black though it was surprisingly close in terms of space, separation and imaging with a more linear tone to top it off.
And speaking of tone, the X7 II is a very linear, neutral and transparent source, one of the most immediately balanced I’ve come across. However, it is also an engaging source and this response starts with their bass reproduction where I recruited the help of the ultra-dynamic Cardas A8. The X7 II delivered excellent extension into the lowest of lows, sub-bass was super tight and rumble was textured. Steely Dan’s “I Got The News” was snappy and visceral with drums linearly feeding into mid-bass riffs. The X7 II also delivers a very nice midrange, they retain that smoother tone of the X7 with a little extra clarity on top. As such, the X7 II is more engaging, it isn’t quite as lively as the iFi Black but mids are clear and transparent. Vocals also have great definition and a very natural tone that was free of any grain; whether I was listening to modern pop or the mellow tones of Utada Hikaru, the X7 II produced excellent layering and clear separation of instruments. The X7 II isn’t an analogue sounding source, but it doesn’t sound overly digital to my ears either. Highs are probably the biggest upgrade over original X7 and other 9018 based sources. I didn’t notice any glare to the X7 II, upper mids are natural and treble well integrated, a step up over the Oppo HA-2. When listening to the exquisite Campfire Jupiter’s, the X7 II invigorated them with quite an effortless sense of detail combined with great treble texturing and separation. Furthermore, the X7 II provided great treble resolution and a little more shimmer than the most smoothed off X7.
The Mojo is the source that so many others aspire to be, and while it may no longer be the outright industry leader around this price, it is still a venerable and versatile device. Off the bat, what impressed me most about the Mojo was it’s very organic, natural tone combined with excellent detailing that prevented it from ever coming off as dull or congested. The Mojo also has exquisite resolution that really slices through any congestion and its excellent soundstage only serves to enhance this impression. The X7 II is similar in a few ways and quite different in others. To my ear, the X7 II is the more neutral source where the Mojo seems to have a slight sub-bass emphasis and a little extra body by comparison. The X7 II is also the airier source, I personally prefer its more balanced tones to the Mojo as addictive as it may be. However, the Mojo is still slightly more detailed and simply cleaner in is presentation; while the X7 II can sound quite effortless with the right source material, the Mojo is more consistently resolving and composed. I suppose some would say the X7 II sounds a little more digital but I would hardly consider it to be in isolated listening. Both are also pretty similar in terms of sound-staging, perhaps the Mojo images slightly better but the X7 II provides a truly commendable performance here too. The Mojo also has a notable advantage when it comes to output power with around double the power of the stock module. Despite this, the Mojo has minimal hiss with sensitive IEMs, both sources were similarly quiet. That being said, I did prefer the Mojo when listening to my HD700’s, they were simply more spacious and organic sounding though that could also be as a result of their better synergy with the Mojo’s tonality.
iFi iDSD Black Label –
The iFi Black is a terrific source, and certainly, one of the most engaging I’ve personally had experience with. The Black has excellent power to its lows and bundles of both clarity and resolution to its highs without sounding too overzealous. Furthermore, the DAC is loaded with features, the most notable to me being the inclusion of iFi’s iEMatch which makes the Black similarly versatile to the X7 II and Mojo despite having by far the most output power of the bunch (a staggering 4W into a 16ohm load, 10 times the X7 II’s more powerful balanced output). Of course, the Black is also the largest device and doesn’t have any sort of processing or interface like the X7 II, but it is a very real competitor and I’m sure many would like to see some comparison in this review. In terms of tone, the Black is the more vibrant of the two sources, their power, even though iems and portable headphones really gives sub-bass some extra kick though bass remains very tight and dynamic. Again, I do think the X7 II is the more objectively balanced source though the iFi’s sound doesn’t come with any notable caveats unless you have a really treble forward earphone. Otherwise, the X7 II is a little tighter and more defined within the bass response at the cost of that visceral impact and power though both are very textured. Mids are fabulous on both, the iFi has some extra clarity, the X7 II is more natural and perhaps less digital. The Black does have really exceptional space due to its stratospheric high-frequency reproduction that the X7 II can’t match though the X7 II is still a more spacious source in the grand scheme of things. The X7 II does sound slightly cleaner on account of its smoother sound though it doesn’t flatter laid-back earphones/headphones like the Noble Django quite like the Black even if resolution is excellent. Treble will be the most polarizing aspect of the Black, it is very well detailed and clarity makes other sources sound thoroughly lifeless by comparison, however, for a lot of earphones like the ie800, Black can push things just over the comfort limit, at least for my ears. I think this will depend a lot on your specific uses and sensitivity to higher frequencies because the Black is a little airier and clearer than the X7 II in their highs but the X7 II is undoubtedly the more natural, neutral sounding source.
Fiio X7 –
I will be testing the X7 with my preferred AM2 module since it offers power more in line with the AM3A. I understand this does not make for a perfectly fair comparison but I didn’t want a $100 module to bias my impressions of a $650 device. Unsurprisingly, the X7 and X7 II are similar sounding sources, neither are as vibrant as the iFi Black nor as lush as the Chord Mojo though both do sound a little smoother, very neutral and transparent. The X7 II has more resolution throughout and is noticeably more separated in all areas which is probably its largest advantage over the X7. This makes the X7 II sound immediately more effortless and composed during more complex tracks; each element has a nice, defined space where the X7 had some smearing between instruments and vocals by comparison. Tonally, both are also very similar, if I had a main complaint with the X7, it’s probably that their sound was a little smoothed off and lacking some engagement. The X7 II adds just a hint of vibrancy over the old X7 which is a very welcome change, namely, the X7 II has more upper midrange clarity. The X7 II’s improved treble separation also aids micro-detail retrieval as the X7 could blend these finer elements together. In addition, cymbals sound thinner and less textured on the X7 while the X7 II tends to sound more lifelike and immediate.
Lower mids are also a little muddy on the X7, to a very small extent of course, but their full-bodied sound could sound a bit too thick on already fuller earphones like the Cardas A8. The X7 II by comparison, is the clearly more transparent, linear source with increased clarity throughout. While I would have been inclined to call the X7 II the slightly smoother device, it is not lacking resolution or bite, quite the opposite. Pinky pointed out the description I was looking for, the X7 II is less digital sounding than the original, a common complaint of Fiio’s players but not one that I really appreciated until I heard the X7 II and Mojo. To describe that in a bit more depth, the X7 tends to sound slightly grainier even though it is a smoother, more laid-back sounding device, this was most noticeable to me when listening to vocal tracks. And switching between both devices also reveals that the X7 II has a larger soundstage in both width and depth. Vocals aren’t as intimate but extend a lot better which, combined with their improved separation, makes the X7 II the more immersive player. Bass also gets a little nudge, especially with regards to really low content. The X7 II has more defined bass in general due to its increased resolution though I noted the biggest difference with sub-bass rumble that was appreciably more textured and visceral on the X7 II. So ultimately, the X7 II is a great upgrade to an already very impressive sounding source and it doesn’t have any immediate shortcomings by comparison.
Fiio X5 III –
The X7 was already an appreciable upgrade over the X5 III, even though it was an older device, so the X7 II marks a significant step up as far as the differences between DAPs go. From the outset, the X7 II is cleaner and more transparent with greater resolution. The X5 III has a slightly fuller low-end in addition to a more aggressive lower treble and upper midrange, however, the X7 II is just as engaging to my ear. The X5 III suffers from some muddying of lower mids and has some crunch in the highs when the track gets complex. This is especially noticeable on already more aggressive earphones like the Dunu DK-3001 where some smearing is evident. The X7 II, on the other hand, remains more composed, it is clearly more refined and balanced sounding while also maintaining an advantage in resolving power. The X7 II also has considerably less hiss with sensitive IEMs; where the X5 III was almost unbearable with my Campfire Jupiter’s, noise on the X7 II is just audible. The X5 III does have more power output, I did find them to do a pretty good job driving my 150ohm HD700’s though the X7 II has the ability to produce significantly more power, it just requires the additional purchase of an amplifier module. I still find the X7 II to be the more versatile player since I mainly use in-ears and though the X5 III has more output power, I found a more agreeable experience with the X7 II simply due to its superior resolution and transparency. As a result, the X7 II finds better synergy with the majority of the gear I have, it is neither overly full nor does it have any notable glare to its higher registers, the X7 II is simply a nicely balanced, refined source. And finally, coming to soundstage performance, the X5 III actually did have more space than the original X7, but the X7 II is more evenly matched. In addition, the X7 II is more rounded so imaging and centre image are more accurate. While I would still give the X5 III a slight advantage on width, the X7 II is ultimately the more immersive, realistic sounding player.
As listeners and enthusiasts, we want to find connection to emotion and music. Perhaps that explains so many’s affinity towards analogue audio. The X7 II may be expensive, but it provides a delightfully neutral yet natural listen that also provides an abundance of technical ability. It isn’t as purely resolving as the iFi Black Label nor is it quite as detailed and effortless as the Mojo, but the X7 II is more balanced and dare I say transparent than both. Those modular amplifiers also grant it with versatility that rivals these models though at an additional cost to the consumer. And apart from sound, the X7 II provides a huge upgrade to usability over last generation Android DAPs, it is zippy and well thought out with no experience shattering glitches or freezes. The upgraded screen and storage options are also a nice bonus on top of an already compelling experience. While the X7 II is priced like a flagship, the sonic performance and user experience that it provides very much live up to that asking price.
Verdict – 9.5/10, The X7 II marks a return to form for Fiio, compounding on the strengths of their previous flagship while addressing a lot of their weaknesses. While amp modules are an added cost, the X7 II’s included unit is far more versatile than the AM1 included with previous devices. The user interface is also hugely improved and the controls and ergonomics are similarly a step above.
The X7 MKII is available from Amazon for $650 USD, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.