Pros: solid build, great sound, scrolling wheel control, solid firmware, price
Cons: none for its price range
This is a review of the upcoming FiiO X1 digital audio player (DAP).
Until my first experience with X5, a little over half a year ago, I used to refer to all dedicated audio players as "mp3" players. It wasn't my ignorance but rather a misunderstanding where I thought that I should focus more on higher bit rate songs and better headphones, and any "mp3" player or smartphone will play audio files just fine. Introduction to X5 changed all that and opened up my eyes to a world of music without being interrupted by emails, txt, or app updates, a world where audio player is not a cheap clip on gadget on my armband, a world where I ended up "rediscovering my headphones, all over again". X5 is great as a portable DAP, but in some cases I found it to be a little too bulky/heavy. In search for other quality audio players, I acquired some other DAPs, but nothing was able to replace the ease of navigation with a scrolling wheel. Now with introduction of X1, I can rejoice with a new pocket friendly super portable DAP that sounds as good as it looks, retains its scrolling wheel design, and cost a fraction of its big brother's price tag. But don't make a mistake thinking X1 is a cheaper replacement of X5. They can both coexist in a perfect harmony with their trade-offs in size versus sound quality. Others can think of X1 as a stepping stone for when you are ready to graduate from a basic mp3 player and want to get a taste of audiophile world - a taste that will whet your appetite for the next future upgrade when you are ready. Whatever your journey is, I think a lot of the people going to enjoy this little new gem from FiiO. Without further due, here is what I found while testing this fine little DAP.
My review unit arrived in a package similar to the latest E10k/E11k boxes resembling a size of double CD case. Inside, X1 was dressed in all black silicon skin with one screen protector already applied and two additional ones available for backup. USB to micro-usb cable also was included as part of accessory package. Since this is a review unit, I'm sure the final production package will probably going to have more accessories included. Silicon skin is definitely great for a basic scratch and minimal drop protection, but I wish it would have been gray like the one that comes with X5 since you can't see X1 charging light underneath of solid black. I'm sure with soon to be available bonus accessories, you will be able to get another skin color. But in a meantime, I took it out of the skin to enjoy a beauty of its brushed aluminum finish which I'm sure a lot of you will do to show off it's sexy curves!
Weighting only 108g with a measured dimensions of about 96mm x 56mm x 13mm, it gives a new definition to ultra-portable considering a very solid build and all metal front/sides with a silver finish hard plastic back. Having a size comparable to a deck of cards, the fitment in my hand was very comfortable with a great ergonomics of being able to reach every button/wheel control with a thumb. The aluminum finish and round buttons, especially power and volume on the side, makes it resemble a bit of an iPhone look. Buttons have a very nice tactile click response. At the top you have a single 3.5mm port, used as either HO or LO, selectable in Setting menu. On a right side at the bottom there is a slot for a single microSD card, keeping in mind that X1 by itself doesn't have any internal memory. MicroSD card is easy to access which is an improvement over X5 where it was a bit recessed. On a left side at the top you have a volume up/down buttons with an etched "+" and "-", a reset pinhole, and a power button. The volume buttons are slightly raised which makes it easy to distinguish them from power button by sliding your finger, and when you have silicone skin on - volume up has a raised dot bump on its cover. At the bottom you have a micro-usb port positioned in the center with two tiny hex screws symmetrically closer to the edges. This port is used for data transfer (no USB DAC support like X5) as well as charging up it's massive 1700 mAh battery which provides over 12hrs of playback time.
Top of the front panel is occupied by a display (2", 320x240 TFT), similar but not as bright as X5, which is a first indicator where they had to cut some corners stepping down from 2.4" IPS display in X5. Single microSD on X1 versus double in X5 is another change, though 128GB capacity still supported. For those familiar with X5, you will feel right at home with its scrolling wheel control and 5 control buttons with main Play/Pause/Select in the middle of the wheel, Return/Back in the upper right corner, Menu in the upper left corner, and Skip/Select next/prev buttons at the bottom. Otherwise, the wheel control is very intuitive and easy to get used to. Though the wheel looks and functions the same, it's updated from X5. When you turn it with a thumb - you can feel/hear micro-click action, and overall scrolling feels more solid and under a better control. I'm very pleased with this update, though would have been nice for a scrolling wheel to have a better texture, something I'm sure could be upgraded in the future with a textured sticker.
Once X1 is powered up, you are presented with a new updated interface. You still have icons arranged around the semi-circle but now at the top, and the scrolling logistics has changed from X5. Instead of 7 icons in X5, you now have 5 equally spaced icons with EQ and Favorite selections combined in other sub-menus in comparison to X5. Icons are placed at the top from left to right and instead of scrolling icons wheel, you have a scrolling glow pointer with a corresponding icon description text in the notification bar. Most of the Setting and Play Setting controls remained similar to X5 with one noticeable change being an option for Theme Color which helps to improve a contrast and to customize your DAP. I didn't notice any lag while scrolling through menu options or songs. The movement is fluid and as fast as with X5. Also, it really felt like a mature firmware release, and I'm sure FiiO team will fine tune it even further. Selecting to play a song displayed a name and ID tag info (if available), cover art (if available), and song format/encoding. Similarly to X5, at the top in notification bar you have volume with corresponding value, headphone/line out selection icon, EQ setting name (either built in highly usable presets or 7-band customizable one with a precise narrow band tuning), microSD card presence, and battery status.
So how would I describe the sound signature of X1? I found it to be warm and neutral. In comparison to X5, to me it sounded as neutral without any noticeable peaks or dips, just like you would expect a good source to be. Also in comparison to X5, X1 sounded a bit thicker and less detailed with narrower soundstage. That was expected and acceptable considering we are talking about scaled down version of X5 designed for a mainstream rather than audiophile audience. But don't get discouraged by this comment. Listening to X1, without driving yourself crazy with comparison to other DAPs, is actually very satisfying. You get plenty of details across entire frequency range, and X1 built-in amp was powerful enough to drive even some of my demanding headphones that typically require external amping. For example, I was able to drive B3 Pro I without a problem at 50% volume setting. It paired up well with anything I threw at it, either portable IEMs or full size cans, and even high sensitivity IEMs didn't exhibit too much background hissing. It looks like X1 has a single gain setting, and I noticed that it required volume level on average 10 ticks lower than with X5 in its default low gain setting.
Regarding HO sound quality in a comparison to X5, you can rest assure that X1 is not X5 killer. But at the same time, the difference is not really night'n'day. While X5 sound is more detailed and with a wider soundstage, X1 is not lagging behind by too much. This difference becomes even less apparent when you switch to LO with external amp. For example, while using E11k with X1 the sound gets more detailed, with a wider soundstage, and with a deeper and more detailed low end. The ability to switch between HO and LO, where internal amp is disabled, really sets X1 above other entry level DAPs with HO only output. Also, FiiO already announced a future accessory kit for X1 to stack up with other amps (similar to HS6 kit for X5). Plus, there was other mentioning about future accessories, such as armband holder, different cases, car mount, and even audio over micro-usb LO cable since X1 connector will accommodate a new docking amp in a near future.
Overall, testing X1 left me with a very positive impression about this new FiiO DAP. It feels very solid, it performs like a mature product, and it has a great sound quality for its price range. I liked all the improvements (over X5) with a new scrolling wheel mechanism, round physical buttons, and updated scrolling menu control. Sound quality is not equivalent to X5, but that is expected at a fraction of a price. At the same time, it's not too far off and when using external amp connected to LO, you are getting even closer to X5 or other quality DAPs. For $99 this DAP has an amazing value with a hard to beat price/performance ratio especially if you take into consideration everything from its build, design, sound, and firmware. The upcoming add on accessories will add more versatility to take this DAP anywhere with you on the go while keeping its bigger brother (X5) at home for a more serious listening. With such an impressive DAP line up (X3, X5, X1) one can only imagine what FiiO is going to come up with next to blow our mind with X7 release!
Here are the pictures.
Next to its big brother X5
Paired up with E11k
Next to its "brother from another mother" :)