Fiio X1 – The New Benchmark In low Cost DAPs

A Review On: FiiO X1 Ultraportable Hi-Res DAP

FiiO X1 Ultraportable Hi-Res DAP

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Audio Quality
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Price paid: $60.00
Brooko
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Pros: Build, value, sonic excellence (for value), easy to use UI, output power, boot speed

Cons: UI features not yet complete (refer to the review for details), scroll wheel a little loose (similar X5), screen a little washed out

Click any image for full size (1200 x 800) resolution

INTRODUCTION

I’m a proud owner of the Fiio X5 – it’s been my go to DAP for some time now, with the only drawback being ultimate portability if I’m jogging, or just out and about wanting a really simple set-up.  So when Fiio started talking about a new entry level DAP in the sub $100 market, and already knowing what they are capable of developing, I was immediately interested. I was originally supposed to be part of one of the X1 tours – unfortunately we had some “personnel issues” along the way – and the X1 never made it down to our part of the world.  So with the help of James and Joe from Fiio, I arranged to purchase a new unit, and we’ll be using that for a tour through Australia and New Zealand.

 

Everyone on Head-Fi should know about the Fiio Electronics Company by now – but if you don’t, here’s a very short summary.  Fiio is a relative newcomer to the audio scene, first founded in 2007.  Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which to be honest were often scoffed at by some seasoned Head-Fiers.  But Fiio spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range.  They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by their current flagship DAP (the X5) – which despites its reasonable cost (300-350) has been able to compete with models from other manufacturers costing hundreds of dollars more.  Fiio’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding wonderful.

 

DISCLAIMER

 

Although the X1 (and E11K) that I was provided by Fiio are about to embark on an Australasian tour, they are units that I have pre-agreed to purchase at the end of the tour.  I am in no way affiliated with Fiio, and this review is my honest opinion of the X1.  I would also like to thank Joe & James for assisting and facilitating the tour (and making a second set available due to the numbers involved).

Note - I later purchased the review sample direct from Fiio

 

PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).

 

I'm a 47 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5 > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs (I do also have the Beyer T51p, but IEMs command most of my portable time) - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83 & A81, Dunu DN-1000 and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

 

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced.  I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though).  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and  DT880.  I also formerly owned several portable amps - the most notable being an Arrow 4G and GoVibe PortaTube.  I have also in the past owned Fiio’s E7, E9 and E11.

 

My experience with DAPs in the past have been initially with very cheap Sony offerings, then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, my iPhone4 and iPod Touch G4, HSA Studio V3, and Fiio’s X5.  I've also listened to various other devices along the way - including Cowon's J3.

 

I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent.  For my portable listening – it has been my preferred format (for space vs quality), but for my X5 I use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 as space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).

 

I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 47, my hearing is less than perfect.

 

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

 

WHAT I LOOK FOR IN AN ULTRA-PORTABLE DAP

 

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I was looking for from the X1.

  • Small form factor
  • Great (neutral) sounding – but with body (not thin)
  • Good build quality
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Easy to use interface
  • Good pairing with my main IEMs
  • Bonus (if it was possible) - able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.

 

Did I get all of this with the X1?  Well yes – it exceeded my expectations in many areas, and the rough edges should (hopefully) be solved with firmware updates.  Read on for an in-depth look at the X1.

 

THE REVIEW

 

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

 

The X1 arrived in a flat retail carton, with a simple red and black design – featuring a picture of the X1 on the front, and some specifications (in English and Mandarin) on the back.

Quick note here – the box on my unit arrived slightly torn – not Fiio’s fault – I think someone from customs in NZ might have been a little rushed opening it.

 

Box and inner tray X1 and accessories

 

On opening the retail outer box, you are presented with an inner tray containing the X1 (already sheathed in its silicone cover for added protection) wrapped in plastic.  The X1 sits inside a foam cut-out and appears to be fairly well protected.  Alongside it is a narrow white box which contains the charging/data cable (micro USB).  In a bag underneath the X1 are spare screen protectors, three different stick on covers, and the warranty info and quick start guide.

 

Stick on covers Carbon cover

 

The stick-on covers are interesting, as they are designed to cover the entire player.  It’s an interesting concept, but I wasn’t too sure how good they would actually look until I saw a couple of examples in the X1 threads – where other users have applied the included stickers.  See below for examples of the wood and carbon – thanks to users @phillipwareham and @Dogmatrix respectively for the photos.

 

Wood stick on cover Carbon stick on cover

 

The entire package is IMO pretty good, covering everything you initially need for the player.  Materials are all good quality.  The cable seems sturdy – and can also be interchanged with the X5 cable.  The black silicone case fits the player perfectly, and looks pretty good in place.  It also provides very good protection – with the only drawback being that it can pick-up a little dust/lint from time to time.

 

Black silicone case The naked X1

 

One last note – the X1 does come with a screen protector intact.  This protector is in two pieces – the actual protector and a plastic cover with tab attached.  When you pull the tab, the top cover is supposed to come off – leaving the actual protector below it.  Some new users have confused this will the actual protector coming off – but I can assure you that it remains securely in place.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

 

The table below lists most of the relevant specifications.  I’ve collated these from information on the box, information found on and line, my own personal experience with the X1

 

Dimensions

57mm x 96.6mm x 14mm

Weight

106g

Display

2.0” TFT Colour LCD (320x240)

DAC

TI PCM5142 (supports up to 192/24 res)

Amplifier

Intersil ISL28291

Outputs

Combined 3.5mm Headphone Out & Line Out (software switchable)

Storage

1 x microSD (max support 128gb at time of review)

Battery

1700mAh Li-Polymer, up to 15 hours playback (~12 hours currently)

Charge Time

< 4 hours

Supported Formats

APE, WAV, FLAC, WMA, ALAC, MP2, MP3, AAC, OGG

Headphone Output Impedance

<2 Ω

Crosstalk

>70 dB@1KHz

THD+N

< 0.004%@1KHz

MAX output voltage

> 4.2 Vp-p

MAX output current

> 46 mA

SNR

> 110 dB

Output Power

100 mW@16Ω  THD<1%, 65 mW@32Ω, 8 mW@300Ω

Line-out Output

> 1.46 Vrms

Left/Right Channel Adjmt

5 dB

Recommended HP Impedance

16-100 Ω

Volume Control Type

Digital – 100 steps

Not Present

Gain Selection, Bass/Treble Boost, USB DAC, Digital Audio Output Jack

 

For graphs of X1’s performance, as measured by Fiio, go here and choose specifications from the menu: http://fiio.com.cn/products/index.aspx?ID=100000060437344&MenuID=105026016

 

BUILD

 

The build on the X1 (IMO) is incredible for a DAP in this price bracket, and a lot of thought has gone into the overall design.  The casing looks to be a 2 piece aluminium alloy chassis – with a clean silvery finish (somewhere between a gloss and a matte).  The corners are nicely rounded, and the bevel on top and bottom adds a touch of design class.  The headphone/line-out socket is firm fitting, as is the microUSB port at the bottom.

 

Headphone out Micro USB charging / data port

 

The buttons give a really nice tactile response, and for my hand, are nicely located within easy reach.  Nice to see that this time they are also labelled (this was a fault corrected from the X5).  The only thing I don’t like about the button placement is that if adding an amplifier (like the E11K) – using a rubber band is not ideal, as it partially covers the buttons.  The only way around this is with a stacking kit – which I understand Fiio will be bringing out.
 

X1 button layout - side and top Problem with add-on amp, no room for band (covers buttons)


Personal preference – I would have preferred the on/off button at the top like the X5, and just the volume buttons on the side.  This would have created more space for attaching an amp via rubber band + also stopped me (often) going to change the volume and instead turning the screen on and off (a little frustrating!).

 

Next to the side buttons is the reset hole.  The only issue I’d have with this is that it is quite small, and would need a pin or needle to press the internal reset button.  A paper clip is actually too wide.  If Fiio do make a revision, this is one thing I would change – just slightly.  Just for the record, I’ve had no freezes at all so far.

 

Screen comparison X1 and X5 Size comparison X1 and X5

 

The screen has a good resolution, and is relatively clear and easy to read.  It does suffer a little in direct sunlight, but just shading the screen with your hand helps, and you can also turn up the brightness.  It was also not until I compared the X1 with the X5 screen that I noticed it was definitely not as vibrant – but by itself, you don’t notice at all.

 

The scroll wheel flows nicely, and is easy to spin.  Like the X5, there is some side-to-side play with this unit – not much but it is there.  Less than my X5 – but this is probably due to its smaller size.  Probably the only part of the unit that feels a little flimsy.  The wheel itself is (like the X5) relatively sensitive, and takes a little getting used to – but practise makes perfect, and the buttons are also very easy for advancing and reversing through menu choices.  One neat thing I noticed that when using the wheel, the main menu comes up circular.  When using the buttons it appears banded (or linear) – just another of the little surprises, and proof again that Fiio were really looking to innovate with the user experience.

 

Micro SD port X1 alongside E11K

 

Finally the micro SD port – no cover this time, but this is OK as it provides easier access and suits the overall aesthetic a little better.

 

Overall – the build for me is a solid 4.8/5.  I can’t really see how Fiio could have improved the X1 further – apart from adjusting the button locations, and reset hole.  It really is incredibly well made for $100.

 

UI (USER INTERFACE) / USABILITY

 

Please note that this is with beta firmware 1.03.

 

Let me preface by saying that for me the overall usability of the X1 sits above my experience with the X5, well above my former Studio V3, but still falls a little short of the benchmark (Apple).  However – the surprising thing for me is how good the interface is – I guess I’ve got used to Fiio’ layout pretty quickly.

 

On starting the X1, you are greeted with an animated “welcome” screen – before moving to the menu.  The menu can be navigated using either the scroll wheel or buttons.  At the top of the menu is a status bar which shows (left to right) : volume, output mode (headphone or line-out), current screen, play status, sleep timer (if set), TF card, and battery level indicator.

 

Theme selection Main menu screen

 

The main menu choices include: now playing, category, folder mode, audio/play settings, and system settings.

 

The system setting and audio setting screens are straight forward, and pretty much include everything you’re likely to need.

 

System settings menu Audio settings menu

 

System settings include media library updating, lock screen settings (3 options), timeout settings, brightness and power off settings, sleep timer settings, output settings (H/O vs L/O), 6 colour theme options, settings to adjust display and language, info about the X1 including storage, tracks and FW version, and a format option (for the TF card).

 

Audio settings give access to the play and resume modes, gapless on/off, volume default settings, and access to the built in equaliser and also balance modes.

 

The equaliser is 7 band, and comes with 9 presets including ‘off’ and a custom one you can save.  The presets are OK – I probably wouldn’t use them – but the custom one is handy, especially if you have a headphone that needs a tweak.  My only wish would be that there was an option to add more custom EQs, or simply ditch / override the presets, and replace them with your own.  I would rather have 3 or 4 EQs for different headphones rather than different music types.  It would have been nice to have a parametric EQ setting – but the 7 band is functional and works OK (and the presets are much better than Apple’s).  Unlike the X5 – using the equaliser does not drop the output by 6dB.

 

Folder mode works very well, and is essentially the same as the folder mode on the X5.  It is also the only mode you can access externally made playlists at this time.  There is still no option to play sub all folders from the root folder – which is a bit of a shame.

 

Folder view on the X1 Options in tagged view - all songs, album, artist, genre and favourites


For those who prefer to keep their players on permanent shuffle – setting the play mode as shuffle then going to “all songs” works quite admirably, and I’m pleased to report that it is a true shuffle.  Restarting again from the first track brings up a new random list – nice!


In tag (or category) mode you can select one major level of operation, and then two minor levels – e.g. choosing artist brings up the artist list, then album list, then the files are shown.  In album mode – there are two levels – album and track.  In genre mode, you get a genre list, but then all songs with that genre are lumped in filename order.  It would have been nice to have genre > artist > album > track, but I guess this is expecting a little too much at this early stage.  The good news is that Fiio is continuing to work with the community on the UI.  In all songs mode – again the files are just listed in filename order.

I’ve had no issues with either folder or tag mode – but I need to stress that all my files are meticulously tagged (I own an X5 so I know what works).  I use hierarchal folders Artist > Albums, and my file naming always goes track # - title.  I use very few tags – just artist, album artist, album, title, track #, genre, year and artwork.  All my artwork is embedded and standard 600 x 600.

 

The upper left button brings up a context menu that is dependent on the menu you are in.  Amongst this is an add to playlist button (circle with a plus sign in it) so that you can save a song to a playlist.  This works OK, and it is quite easy to add and remove songs using the context button.  The good news is that you can now save multiple playlists - but you have to do this song by song.  The other method is to create them externally.  Externally created playlists work well – but you need to navigate to them from folder view (they don’t appear in the playlists category yet).

 

All songs - needs work, but shuffle works nicely! On screen info

 

The upper right button is a back button, and puts you back up one hierarchal level.  The bottom two buttons are forward, back / up, down / fast forward, rewind – depending on your application.

The middle button is simply to select (i.e. action button).  Like the X5 – if you want to change volume – hold this button in (when screen is active) and the wheel volume control is activated.  Nice little touch.

 

The side volume buttons (when in lock mode 1) double as both volume buttons and also as track up/down buttons.  Tapping the volume buttons raises or lowers the volume.  Holding the button down advances or goes back one track.

 

Overall the UI is quite responsive – much better than the X5 with very little lag.  There can be slight delays on screen when moving from track to track (whilst playing), but overall I am extremely happy with the UI.

 

A final note on the UI – gapless play is seamless for me so far.  All my tested albums have worked well.

 

Overall – if the Apple (think iPod Touch 4 / iPhone4) UI is a 10 (and that’s what I’d give it) – this initial release would come in about a solid 7 or 8.  It’s usable, has plenty of features, and I believe will continue to get better with more firmware releases.

 

TEST GEAR USED

 

During the course of the review, I have used:

  • Fiio X1, Fiio X5 and iPhone 4
  • Fiio E11k
  • Audio gd-NFB12 (PC)
  • Fidue A83, Altone200, Dunu DN-1000, Beyer T51p, Sennheiser HD600
  • Some of the test tracks used for critical listening can be found here : http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks

 

SOUND

 

Probably best if I preface this section with a small note so that you are aware of my thoughts on audiophile type DAPs.  I like my iPhone4.  It is linear, user friendly, sounds pretty good actually – and I can tailor the sound via apps.  When I had my Studio V3, I was very surprised in the increase (to me) of perceived SQ.  Sonically the Studio seemed to have a more holographic/spacious sound to it.  Now I’m not sure if this was crossfeed, a dsp they were using, or simply in the frequency response (I know the Studio was a bright DAP).  All I know is that I liked it.  Sadly I don’t have the V3 to compare any more.  Nowadays most of my listening is with the Fiio X5 (and I love this unit) – it has a fantastically black background, and sounds simply wonderful with whatever headphones or IEMs I pair with it.

 

iPhone4, X1 and X5 iPhone4, X1 and X5

 

When doing comparisons – to make sure I’m comparing correctly – I equalised the volume on all 3 devices with an SPL meter, and used the same files for all 3 devices (X1 and X5 were FLAC, iPhone 4 was aac256 encoded from same master).  The volume matching was done with constant test tones.

 

So without further ado ….

 

The X1 (IMO) sounds phenomenal for a $100 DAP.  It’s been quite hard to characterise the overall sound without directly making comparisons, so the following impressions are all in comparison to both the X5 and iP4.  For this section I’ve mainly used my Fidue A83 triple hybrid IEMs – as they are nicely balanced, and are both easy to drive, and also detect contrasts.

 

The X1 (to my imperfect ears) is quite a neutral sounding DAP – with a slight touch of warmth, very similar to the X5. Where the X1 differs is that it has a very slightly thicker, or fuller overall sound compared to the X5 – the X5 sounds comparatively cleaner, instruments sound more precise, with more space.  The differences are there – but they are not huge – but to me they are noticeable. This can give the X1 the impression that the mid-range might be ever so slightly forward, but with the volume matching and constant back and forth during testing, I think that’s just an impression.  I personally think what I’m hearing is the X5’s blacker background, and greater refinement – it’s simply more effortless in its presentation.

 

Queuing up bassier tracks (some hip-hop and electronic) and I’m finding similar contrasts with the bass.  The X5 remains slightly cleaner and more defined – and the X1 is slightly more confined – but the overall tonality is very, very close.  For those who already have the X5 – but want a more portable solution for an active lifestyle – you’re going to love the X1.

 

Moving to Amber Rubarth’s binaural track Tundra to check soundstage – and level matched, the stage is very similar between X1 and X5.  The overall width and depth of stage is slightly better with the X5 – again that beautiful black background is the major difference – but the X1 is again really close.

 

Switching now between iP4 and X1 – and now the differences are easier to spot.  The X1 comparatively is a lot smoother, warmer and fuller – especially through the mid-range – where the iP4 just has a slightly thinner edge to it.  Tonality is similar in its overall neutrality, so it really comes down to your preference on signature.  I like both. To me this is the beauty of this little DAP – it doesn’t strive to shine in any one area – it just present s a beautifully smooth and balanced presentation.  No, it doesn’t have the effortless detail of higher end DAPs like the X5 – but for the price I’m not complaining.

 

X1 LINE-OUT

 

For the next section, I paired the X1 with the Fiio E11K portable amp.

 

X1 and E11K X1 and E11K

 

This was far harder to objectively compare – mainly because I couldn’t fast switch.  Each time I changed, I had to plug and replug the amp and IEMs, plus also switch the setting between headphone out and line out.  Because I couldn’t rapid switch – it just became too hard to reliably detect any differences (and this was after very accurately volume matching).  So all I can say so far is that:

  • The Fiio E11K is to my ears a really nicely neutral amp, and if this is the way Fiio are going with their house sound (IE away from some of the very warm offerings in the past), then I am definitely impressed.
  • The difference between line-out and headphone-out (to my ears) is very minimal – with the obvious difference simply having additional power on tap for harder to drive headphones.

 

I’ll leave the speculation that the line-out is cleaner to other reviewers.  I’m not hearing it.  Both H/O and L/O sound very similar to me – and also very good quality.

 

POWER

 

The X1’s amp section is surprisingly good.  The power output is listed in the specs earlier in the review.  We already know the X1 has no problems driving low power IEMS, so how does it do with something more demanding – like the HD600 at 300 ohm?  Again after some careful volume matching using test tones and an SPL meter, I put the X1 up against my NFB-12, just to see how well it could drive the HD600.

 
X1 with Fidue A83 X1 with HD600

 

After a lot of A/Bing, I came away really impressed.  Yes, the X1 was requiring around 60% of its power to drive the HD600, but I wasn’t finding a huge loss of dynamics.  This little DAP really packs an incredible punch – and I’d be almost as happy listening to the X1 unamped with the HD600s on a Sunday afternoon, as I would be sitting at my desktop.  I needed to find out how the E11K would affect things though, so I tried again with the line-out engaged, E11K plugged, and the same tracks queued on the X1.  The difference now is the amount of power available.  I’m about 33-35% on the pot with the E11K (on low gain) and still getting the same glorious sound.  Switching to some really dynamic classical, and there is plenty of headroom – and this is where the X1 + E11K combo shines.  These two look like they were made for each other, and pair together really well.  I simply can’t think of a better combination right now - $100 DAP and $60 amp – and the result is sonic bliss able to drive most mid-fi headphones.

 

BATTERY PERFORMANCE

 

Fiio rates the battery life under current firmware at around 12 hours, and thinks they can get up to 15 hours once the firmware matures.  I apologise as I’ve been traveling with clients since the X1 arrived and haven’t had time to I run a ‘real world’ test. But I can say that I’ve been playing the X1 for around 7-8 hours a day, and it’s having no issues.  Charging is relatively quick – around 3 hours.  And you can play the X1 whilst it’s charging.

 

SD MICRO CARDS (PERFORMANCE/SCANNING)

 

From first power on, it’s taking the X1 around 9 seconds to get from cold start to the menu screen.  That’s plenty quick enough for me.  So far I have 825 tracks loaded onto a 64Gb card.  When running a manual scan – the 825 tracks take approx. 9 seconds to run a full update.  Compared to my old Studio V3 this is pure bliss!

 

FORMAT SUPPORT

 

In order to test the X1’s performance with different formats, I took one of my Dylan albums (Infidels) originally purchased at 24/96, and transcoded the album into the following formats – 24/96 WAV, 24/96 FLAC, 24/192 FLAC, 24/96 ALAC, 24/96 AIFF, 16/44.1 MP3 (320 kbps), 16/96 aac (256), and  16/44.1 ogg – each track a different format.  The X1 played them all admirably with no issues at all – except for a slight noise (clicking) when switching between some of the formats.

 

SUMMARY

The interesting thing I found when Fiio first announced the X1 was that they advertised it as the DAP for the young.  I’m guessing this may be more a reference to the beginning audiophile, or maybe someone who can’t afford any of the emerging HQ DAPs being offered in the $300+ range. Now I’m probably not going to be (at the ripe young age of 47) considered as their main demographic audience – but as I stated earlier, I’ve already committed to buy this unit, and I have absolutely no regrets.  Maybe the reference should be to the young at heart – then I’m a definite qualifier.

 

For $100 + the price of a micro SD card, you get an incredibly well built and stylish DAP, which sounds extremely good, is very well sized for portability, has a really good UI, and has power to burn – at least enough for any IEM and most portable headphones.  Add Fiio’s E11K amp for another $60 and you have a portable solution that’ll drive most mid-fi headphones out there (at least up to 300 ohms).

What’s more, the X1 has no right sounding as good as it does at this value point.  Fiio has (like they did with the X5) set a new bar for cost / performance ratio on a budget.

 

The X1 is not just for the beginner though – it’s for everyone. The worst part for me now is that I have to pack both the X1 and E11K up tonight, and send them through Australasia on their 4-6 week tour.  I’ll really miss the ultra-portable solution over the coming weeks – but at least I can look forward to the fact that I will be getting it back in the near future (and then it’s permanently mine).

I would unreservedly recommend this DAP to anyone looking for a low cost ultraportable solution. In my mind, this IS the bargain of 2014.

 

Well done Fiio – you've reset the standard once again.

 

38 Comments:

Thank you for the detailed review and also for setting up the Oceania tour!
My pleasure Joe.  And kudos to Fiio - great job, yet again :)
Damn, Brooko, it is a very fine and detailed review. You always do the most informative reviews seriously.
Nice of you to feature Pearl Jam in the photos... excellent review!
Brooko - start your own website. Your reviews are too good for you to not get something in return other than kind words from fellow members.
Thanks guys. Nope I'm in this for the love of the hobby. This community is enough exposure
How about plugging in the T1s? Just because.
Fantastic review Brooko! You got me quite interested in the X1 now :p I own a Sansa Clip Zip+ for outside use and although it is uber convenient and portable, i feel like the sound is missing something (particularly in the top end).
 
Might grab an X1 in the near future.
Forgive me for what may be a dumb question, but being new to all this and ensconced in the the Apple ecosystem (for better or worse), does this device plug-n-play with iTunes (for Mac), or is there another way by which I could transfer my music collection to this X1 from my Mac without iTunes?
@xbk - thanks. I just wish I had a Sansa to compare. Might have to pick one up next time I'm in the US.
@forkboy - unfortunately I don't have a Mac - but the X1 operates in essentially a drag and drop mode. So it's just creating folders and copying files.
Great review!  I currently listen to my library (mostly 320 kbps MP3s) using a Samsung Galaxy S4 and Poweramp with mostly low impedance IEM's and headphones (12 to 50 ohms).  Would I notice a substantial improvement ($99 worth) in SQ with the X1?   
Thanks sp.  Unfortunately I haven't heard the S4 - but have to assume that the Galaxy would be on par, but not better than my iPhone4 (I still regard the iPhone4 as being one of the best sonically that Apple released).  If that's the case - then for me, the purchase was definitely worth it - YMMV though. The best thing about it is the true portability factor - and the fact that no amp needed unless you really want to drive something a lot hungrier.  As far as the SQ being $99 better than the S4 - that's really a question only you can answer.  Is there any way you can get on one of the tours?  I think Joe was looking for more takers in the US and Europe.  Check Joe's edited first porst in this thread - http://www.head-fi.org/t/729177/fiio-x1-preview-world-tour-open-for-new-applications-14-18-october.  That way you can try it first.
Brooko, thanks for the response.  I'll check in to Joe's post.
Brooko, you've done a great job here.  The X1 is a definite must buy.
Thanks mate - it may not suit everyone.  EG some Sansa fans may feel it doesn't add a lot to what they already have (small, low cost).  But the build is top notch, and for someone coming from a slightly bulkier set-up, and wanting a smaller form factor with similar tonality to the X5 - it really is a great little unit.  Definitely not the same level of refinement (vs X5) - but for the price, to me it's a winner.
Thanks for your wonderfully detailed review!
Hello Brooko,
 
Great and detailed review. Would the X1 be an improvement over the Cowon D2? Would it pair nicely with the FiiO E17?
 
Regards,
Dragos 
It is really cheap at USD99 only. It must be one of the best buy. However, Fiio is virtually no customer service if you have any issue on the product while it is not uncommon.
 
It will be perfect if it can play .dsf file and it becomes unbeatable.!
Thanks for the kind words.  I haven't heard the D2, but from my reading it may not be a fair comparison as the D2 is both more expensive, and also a great deal larger.  So it's kind of comparing apples and oranges. However I can say that I still went ahead and bought the X1 myseldf - despite owning the X5 (and that is in a superior league).  My reason was pretty simple - the X1 is more portable, and you don't lose too much in SQ when on the move.  If you value that - then it's well worth getting.  As far as the E17 goes, it'll be larger than the X1, and I'm not sure how much improvement you'll get - but they would work together.  Personally I prefer something more neutral, and better form fitting - so the E11K suits better IMO.  You could always sell both the D2 and E17, and buy the X1 and E11K.  Likelihood is that you wouldn't lose anything on the deal.
Thanks Brooko. The E17 is also a DAC, which is its main use, while the E11K is only an AMP. Also, the D2 is quite small, maybe thicker, and it's not in production anymore. At the time it was a bit more expensive than the X1. The difference is the D2 is more of a multimedia device, being able to play movies, supports some apps and flash games and does have a FM radio module. Except for the radio, i have my mobile phone for the rest, so my main concern is in the music section only. For the future i'm thinking of adding an E09K to the E17 to pair them together and have a nice desktop DAC+AMP. The other variant would be to sell the E17 and buy a dedicated desktop DAC+AMP, as i don't use any high-impedance cans for the outside world. Do you have any cheap & good suggestion for such a device under the 250-300$ mark?